How do you choose the top 10 movies of 2020?
I wish I knew an easy way to choose the top 10 movies of 2020. But the truth is it’s like trying to pick your favorite child: there are so precious few of them. Looking at the “Movies Seen 2020” list on my phone depresses me. I’d probably seen twice as many movies by this time last year.
Several of my favorite movies I saw this year were classics that I either saw for the first time or rediscovered after not seeing them for a decade or more. These include Love Story, North by Northwest, Sabrina (original Audrey Hepburn version), Enter the Dragon, The Last Waltz, and The Big Chill. The funniest thing I saw all year was an online showing of National Theatre Live’s One Man, Two Guvnors. If you want to laugh hard or if you’ve ever wondered why James Corden is a celebrity, watch this the next time it’s available on PBS or showing at a movie theater near you.
The worst movie I saw all year was Unhinged. It goes to dark, unnecessary places for no reason. It’s also more liable to add to the problem of road rage than to fix it. Friends don’t let friends watch Unhinged.
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I usually follow the Oscar race year round…
But with my ADD, if something isn’t playing at a theater, I often don’t see it. Having a movie ticket is a commitment to take the time to watch that specific movie. Therefore, there’s a lot of potentially great stuff that’s streaming, much of it award bait, that I can’t speak to because I haven’t gotten around to watching any of them yet. Also, several high profile films have yet to be released by me. Movies from both these camps include Mank, Kajillionaire, The Sound of Metal, Ammonite, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Uncle Frank, Soul, Da 5 Bloods, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Borat 2, the Small Axe films, Nomadland, Minari, One Night in Miami, News of the World, Wonder Woman 1984, and Promising Young Woman.
That said, the following are the top 10 movies of 2020 I actually did see.
Golden Man’s top 10 movies of 2020
10. Beast Mode (review coming soon)
This little gem of a comedy horror film was a welcome surprise. Its parody of Hollywood and the “monsters” that inhabit it brought a smile to my face. C. Thomas Howell leads a talented cast. Character actor Ray Wise (pictured above) steals the movie with his single monologue towards the end. The movie is light on gore, but does create a creepy atmosphere.
If you decide to check it out, stay through the credits. There are some fun outtakes. The movie is available for rent or sale on most streaming sites.
9. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder give breakout performances in this Sundance hit. The pandemic shut movie theaters down just as this was starting to be released. Luckily, it went to streaming. A teenage girl and her cousin go on a road trip to get an abortion. It’s the best character study I saw all year. (Although Sunny Side Up is probably a close second.) I’m hoping both actresses get Oscar nominations. Available on HBO Max or for sale on streaming sites.
You gotta love Blumhouse. Not only did they release 8 new horror films to streaming (Welcome to the Blumhouse), they delivered this treasure to theaters. (There is always a horror movie playing at Thanksgiving. It’s a law.) Vince Vaughn plays a serial killer who swaps bodies with a teenage girl (the excellent Kathryn Newton). She then has to try and warn all her teachers and classmates who are now fair game, since the killer is wearing her body and has the perfect camouflage.
Vaughn does the best impression of a teenage girl I’ve seen since Jack Black in the Jumanji films. Newton is a badass as the soulless killing machine. Misha Osherovich is the one who steals the movie as the gay best friend. The title is a nod to Freaky Friday and the genre of body-switching movies like Vice Versa and Like Father Like Son. The movie is perfect for fans of the Happy Death Day series.
Please check this one out if you haven’t seen it yet, because I really want a sequel. Still playing in theaters and available to rent on streaming sites. For more on Blumhouse releases, check out this article.
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7. Once Were Brothers/We Are Freestyle Love Supreme (tie)
I couldn’t choose between these two music documentaries. They both stole my heart. In Once Were Brothers, frontman Robbie Robertson recounts the history of legendary rock group The Band. The true tale of the sometimes Bob Dylan collaborators is touching and tragic. It’s hard not to fall in love with Levon Helm. This pairs well with last year’s David Crosby: Remember My Name. If you enjoy this one, I highly recommend Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, which chronicles The Band’s farewell concert.
We Are Freestyle Love Supreme is about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s side project, a group of guys he has performed with for many years. They do improvisational rap. Think a hip-hop version of Whose Line Is It Anyway? Like with The Band, it’s touching to see how close the men are. It’s also amazing to watch them perform. It takes creativity and skill to spit bars that fast off the top of your head. My only complaint is that member Daveed Diggs is largely absent from the film. This one is a must for any Hamilton fans. (All three films are currently available on Hulu.).
6. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Harley Quinn is one of my all-time favorite characters. And Margot Robbie is one of my all-time favorite actors. So this was naturally going to end up on my list. (It hurt a little bit to not put it in the top 5). Harley breaks up with the Joker and goes solo. Without the Joker’s protection, everyone is out to get her. She has to team up with the Birds of Prey to survive.
I wish this had done better at the box office, because I really want a sequel. Especially since the next Suicide Squad film may be her last. (Writer/director James Gunn had permission to kill off any characters he wanted.) I mean, she hasn’t even gotten to do a movie with Catwoman and Poison Ivy yet!
Available on HBO Max and for purchase on streaming sites.
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Golden Man’s top 5 movies of 2020
5. The New Mutants
Yes, this is the movie that took Harley’s spot. All I can say is it gave me a more original experience than Birds of Prey. A friend of mine likened this superhero film to a dark version of The Breakfast Club. She’s not wrong. It’s the final X-Men movie in the Fox franchise, but it’s unlike any X-Men movie you’ve ever seen. It features new characters never before on screen. No Magneto, Wolverine, or Professor X.
It’s about a group of young mutants being held in a psychiatric research facility. The tone of the film is pretty much horror.
I adore Anya Taylor-Joy in everything. Even though she starred in her own feature (Emma) this year, I like this one better. Game of Thrones‘s Maisie Williams is part of a lesbian couple in the film. It’s nice to see such strong LGBT representation in the X-Men series. Available for rent or purchase on streaming sites.
4. Palm Springs
This was one of my most anticipated films of the year ever since I read about it at Sundance. And it lived up to my expectations. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milloti play two members of a wedding party who keep reliving the wedding day over and over, Groundhog Day style. This is easily one of the smartest and funniest films I watched all year.
It’s the movie I recommend to everyone. A lot of indie films can’t maintain that initial hook that draws you in. Palm Springs, however, just keeps surprising and delighting up through the cut scenes during the end credits. Available on Hulu.
3. Miss Americana/Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions (tie)
It’s been a good year to be a Taylor Swift fan. Not only did she drop two surprise new albums this year, she was also the subject of two documentaries.
The Netflix film Miss Americana follows Swift during the Reputation album era. It’s a time when she was finding her voice. The movie gives fans a more intimate look at the singer’s life than they’ve ever had before.
Equally intimate is the Disney+ film Folklore. The album was created during quarantine and the collaborators never got to perform it together in person. When restrictions eased, they finally got to meet at The Long Pond Studio to play the album in full, something Swift states she needs for a sense of completeness. Folklore is her most stripped down album. Getting to see her perform it in its entirety is a treat. It feels like a personal experience, a private performance. The songs are interspersed with clips of her, Jack Antonoff, and Aaron Dessner discussing their songwriting process and how the album came together. It’s a celebration of one of the best albums of the year.
2. HAM: A Musical Memoir
Sam Harris is one of my new favorite performers. This one-man show showcases his amazing voice, his acting, his dancing, and his manic, sometimes self-deprecating, humor. If you love musicals, don’t sleep on this one. It made me laugh. It made me cry. And it has stayed on my mind ever since I saw it.
From the first off-stage joke between Harris and his piano player during the opening credits, to the final photo shown during the end credits, this movie is a delight.
Go see it. Available exclusively on Broadway HD starting in January.
Christopher Nolan made a noble bid to save movie theaters with the release of this action/sci-fi blockbuster. It’s a shame it didn’t bring in the box office it deserved. I saw it twice on the big screen and wanted to see it more than that.
It takes at least 2 viewings to fully comprehend everything that’s going on in the film. (Unless you’re my genius girlfriend who got it in one.) Don’t let that scare you away. This movie has sharp, witty dialogue, some of the best special effects I saw all year, amazing performances, and a smart script. For weeks and weeks, this was pretty much the only new movie playing at the cinema. It was essentially the only movie of 2020. It is the one movie more than any other this year that demands to be seen on a big screen.
And it was Nolan’s triumphant return to sci-fi (Inception, Interstellar). I know this is one of the movies I’m going to be watching for the rest of my life. One I’ll return to. My hope is that the Academy recognizes the movie in all categories and Nolan finally takes home his well-deserved Oscar.
Available for purchase on streaming sites. Available to rent starting Jan 5.
My top 10 of 2019 is here.
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Golden Man loves comedies, romantic films, superhero movies, and awards bait. He blogs about the Oscar race all year long at www.etchedingold.ninja
Join the conversation
I have to agree with you, Golden Man… my viewing habits are all over the place for this year as well! In 2019 I saw 349 films, 103 of which were at the cinema. This year I saw 584 but only 40 were outside of the house!
I have to agree that I struggled to understand the celebrity of James Corden. The only thing of his I’ve found remotely watchable was Gavin & Stacey and I think that was because he was supposed to be being a pillock. I saw adverts for One Man, Two Guvnors but discounted it because he was in it. I’ll seek it out on your recommendation and hold you responsible!
I have to admit that I tend not to see any bad films. Not because I have exceptionally low standards but because, thanks to my advanced years, if a film doesn’t keep my attention I just fall asleep. Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound? Pah! I can sleep through anything!
I’ve managed to see a few of the ones you’re waiting for. There was a charity screening of Ammonite which the whole family enjoyed I also managed to see The Trial Of The Chicago 7 in the cinema before I realised it was on Netflix! I enjoyed Mank and Soul but WW84 was a disappointment on a lot of levels.
As often happens with our “two nations separated by a common language” as GBS put it, I haven’t heard of a lot of the films you’ve included in your top ten but I have put them on my “to watch” list. I’ll admit that I wasn’t going to bother with Freaky mainly because I don’t ‘get’ Vince Vaughn in much the same way as I don’t find Jack Black funny… watchable if I’m brutally honest. The only things I really liked of Jack Black’s were his turns in the Jumanji re-boots so that gets Freaky another chance… on your implied recommendation again! Also I found my eyes opened to the whole Blumhouse studio’s output thanks to your article a wee while ago so I think I can trust your taste.
So Beast Mode and Once Were Brothers are also on my ‘to watch’ list. I must admit that I’m very fond of music documentaries that ring a bell for me which is why that one makes the list but the Taylor Swift one doesn’t… honestly, all I know of Ms Swift is that my seven year old granddaughter keeps asking Alexa to play her songs so I think I am out of that demographic by several generations!
I managed to see both Birds Of Prey etc. and The New Mutants in the cinema and, like you, I give the edge to The New Mutants. Birds of Prey seemed like more of the same whereas The New Mutants seemed fresh and genre bending. Also, when it comes to Marvel vs DC I’ve been in the Marvel camp since, about, 1964!
Palm Springs I loved and have to thank Jill Florio for recommending it to me. Anything in your article as yet unmentioned I haven’t seen or heard of. Apart from, of course, Tenet. I loved that film and went to see it a few times in the cinema and actually pre-ordered it at full price in the Apple store; there aren’t many films I’ll do that for!
I really, really enjoyed Tenet. I guess I’m somewhere between you and your genius girlfriend in that I knew what was going on from the first viewing but still got a lot more after seeing it again… and again… and again! Much easier to follow (IMHO) than Christopher Nolan’s earlier offerings.
Anyway… great list Golden Man, thanks.