2020 has been an unprecedented year, challenging us to our core. From health and well being to politics, these are harrowing times. Film is a way to escape these realities, however, most of our theaters have been closed since last March. Yet, the movies find a way to still reach an audience — through streaming or virtual cinema, we have found a way to connect with the movies and help heal our souls. Here are my picks for the 35 Best Films of 2020. — Arnold At The Movies
Noble Mentions: Another Round, Miss Juneteenth, Vitalina Verela, Kajillionaire, I'm No Longer Here, Never Be Done, Still Wylde, One the Rocks, Modern Whore, She Dies Tomorrow, Bacurau, Tesla, Possessor, Black Bear, Sylvie's Love, The 40-Year-Old Version, All In: The Fight for Democracy, Education, Alex Wheatle, The King of Staten Island, and Shirley.
An Arnold Recommendation (Great Film):
A powerhouse performance by actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, a career-best, that's also supported by a stellar Olivia Colman. Heartbreaking and devastating, The Father takes a sensitive but artful approach in exploring the tragedy of dementia. There's a reason why Hopkins won the Oscar for Best Actor because he's that good.
An Arnold Recommendation (Great Film):
Rejoice! Hamilton has finally arrived to Disney+, and it's better than ever. It's superior Theatre entertainment at its finest; that beautifully shines beyond Broadway's stage. This marvelous time-capsule is full of high energy and exemplifies the rap opera about our "ten-dollar Founding Father."
An Arnold Recommendation (Great Film):
Heartbreaking and enraging; 2020 has been a nightmarish year not only for America's politics but also for America's health and well-being. Director Alex Gibney refocuses our attention to effectively detail how our country got to this destructive point. Gibney lays out the timeline of the Trump administration's initial and continued failures throughout this pandemic. Totally Under Control shows us that our country most definitely does not have this virus under control.
An Arnold Recommendation (Great Film):
There's a lot to unpack in Netflix's Athlete A — a harrowing documentary that unveils the horrors of sexual abuse and a culture that allowed it to persist for years. Athlete A is a challenging documentary by its nature, but it is necessary to hear from these brave women — their stories are vital. USA Gymnastics' toxic culture needs to change — in light of the reporting, the trials, and this documentary, we see an organization whose main priority was to protect the brand and not the girls.
As someone whose wife went through two miscarriages last year, Pieces of a Woman absolutely gutted me — unveiling the horrors of parents losing a child, Vanessa Kirby’s powerful performance of grief and trauma is heartbreaking.
Vert is an astonishing Short Film that deals with acceptance, self-identification, and reawakening — giving a voice to the Trans community, and speaking up for what it means to truly be yourself. Vert exemplifies the this community and why their voice matters.
Reminiscences of the Green Revolution tells a ghost story about love and Eco-terrorism in the Philippines. It's a haunting piece of filmmaking that will keep you glued to your screen. Reminiscences of the Green Revolution is a fascinating Short Film that studies activism and social unrest within a country. This cast of young Filipino actors are, quite simply, magnificent.
#32 A Sun (陽光普照)
A Sun is an engrossing film that will gradually sneak up on you. Visually outstanding, as we power through two-and-a-half hours of grief and trauma. Weaving through this unpredictable narrative journey, we are left with a cinematic experience layered with emotional resonance.
Ambition and the naïve hope of bringing change to racist attitudes from within — director Steve McQueen shows us the hardships and failures that come with trying to achieve this goal. Red, White and Blue paints a brutally honest portrait of the toll it puts on someone striving for change.
Babyteeth is a powerful little film about life and death. A messy, yet rewarding, coming-of-age film strongly acted by Eliza Scanlen and Toby Wallace. Wonderfully written and creatively directed, Babyteeth knows how to sink its teeth into the essence of humanity.
The Vast of Night's eerie presence and monumental camerawork will seep through your bones. It's an engrossing 1950s sci-fi thriller that will haunt you after the final frame. Through fast dialogue and dark cinematography, writer-director Andrew Patterson's directorial debut is one for the books.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is an important film that everyone in America should watch. Powerfully acted and directed, filmmaker Eliza Hittman takes a sensitive approach in telling a story about a young woman's right to choose. A film that sticks with you long after the credits fade.
Mangrove is an urgent and timely film putting racism front and center of its story. Director Steve McQueen showcases the horrors that the Black community experience every single day through the view of a lens. Through Mangrove's vibrant voice is a film that cuts deep into history, trying to move closer to a society of equality.
Through humor and grace, director Kirsten Johnson's Dick Johnson Is Dead celebrates life and all of its beauty. A deep perspective on our morality and the meaning of life — Dick Johnson Is Dead is a wonderful documentary and a moving personal essay exploring the fears of dying.
#25 Birds of Prey
Birds Of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is blissfully messy throughout, yet, its upheld by color action sequences, glittery bullets, and a prideful performance by Margot Robbie. It's an explosive comic flick chop-full of grit and confetti.
The first half of Emma. is full of comedy, while the second half focuses more on emotional grandeur. On top of that, we have a marvelous musical score and breathtaking costume designs. In the end, Emma. is a delightful film led by a delightful heroine, actor Anya Taylor-Joy. This movie is a real joy.
Soul is a beautiful film inside and out. Disney-Pixar has made another compelling movie sprinkled with a heartfelt message and gorgeous animation for the whole family. Soul also promotes an animated story of Black lives, at a time when our country is grappling with social and racial equality. These stories need to continue to be made and heard, amplifying Black voices.
The Invisible Man (2020) is a fresh and modern retelling of an old story. Smart, scary, and well-acted by Elisabeth Moss. This film is a high-level fright night. Writer-director Leigh Whannell takes H. G. Wells' classic story and propels it into the Me Too era. The Invisible Man is a fresh twist with heart-stopping moments one after another.
One Night In Miami... kicks off Regina King's directorial debut with larger-than-life characters. Tremendously acted and exceptionally crafted, One Night In Miami invites you to sit and listen in to a conversation with Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Cassius Clay. The dialogue is crisp, as we wrestle with big ideas and the complexities of what it means to be human.
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm proves that Sacha Baron Cohen has not lost his comedic power — this sequel is full of laugh-out-loud moments along with nerve-racking gags crashing through the Trump era. It's a comedy that's full of heart; as we navigate our way through this scary new age of misinformation and alternative facts. Borat 2 is a movie 2020 desperately needs. Very Nice!
Tigertail is a beautiful love letter to America's immigration experience. This slow-burning family saga flourishes frame after frame — leaving our viewer's with a gracious cinematic wonder. Tigertail is a wonderful-little film, shedding light on the Asian-American journey and one family's pursuit of immigrating to America.
#18 First Cow
First Cow is a perfect little film about the 1800s Northwest. A radiant and beautiful picture captured by mystery and a minimalist narrative. In the end, director Kelly Reichardt's film is deeply rewarding from the first to the final frame.
#17 Beanpole (Dylda)
Beanpole is a haunting and bleak picture of the tragedy of war. Director Kantemir Balagov studies the heartbreaking realities of lives shattered by war and the toll it takes on oneself. Through daunting greens, yellows, and reds, we see broken lives trying to survive each day and slowly picking up the pieces they have left behind.
Hypnotic entertainment, David Fincher's Mank is a glorious achievement for cinephiles everywhere. Mank is a bold, haunting, and well-crafted picture on the age of Old Hollywood. On a technical scale, Mank is a cinematic wonder; this is a film that looks and sounds like it was made during the 1930s. This black-and-white beauty is a feast for your eyes.
Through glamour, silliness, and high-in production numbers — Eurovision turned out to be a delightful comedy. Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams' charm and chemistry keep this catchy tune full of visual fireworks and laugh-out-loud moments. COVID may have you down right now, but Eurovision can help uplift your spirits — Viking accents and all.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is an ode to Black culture, and it is also one of the best films of 2020. Ma Rainey's is full of trailblazing performances as our actors talk and play fast to the beat of jazz. It will also be marked as actor Chadwick Boseman’s final film. When the music plays, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom will sweep you off your feet.
#13 Palm Springs
A modern reinvention and provocation of Groundhog Day, Palm Springs is refreshing, funny, and brilliantly carried by its two leads (Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti). It's also one of 2020's best romances. You'll fall in love with Palm Springs, 2020's time-loop phenomenon that's dazzling, wild, and irresistible frame after frame.
#12 I'm Your Woman
I’m Your Woman is a slow-burning ‘70s crime drama that will keep you on the edge of your seat from the first to the final frame. Masterfully acted by Rachel Brosnahan and meticulously crafted by director Julia Hart — it’s a film that sneaks up on you.
David Byrne's American Utopia is pure, unfiltered bliss of the theatre. An artful experience of celebration to songs about hope and humanity. Director Spike Lee perfectly crafts this concert film with stylish fashion and a commanding force. It's an intoxicating experience and a love letter to artistry.
Emerald Fennell's Promising Young Woman is a thrilling pitch of black humor, with a dash of revenge. Powerfully acted by Carey Mulligan, who gives a tour de force to the role of Cassie. Fennell's directorial debut will have you hooked from the first frame, shattering your psyche by the end. Through its killer soundtrack, unapologetic storytelling, and timely themes, this is a movie every man should watch. Promising Young Woman takes the term 'nice guys' and kicks it to the curb.
Time studies how our justice system in America is broken and how it uproots family lives, specifically Black and Brown communities. This black-and-white documentary is patient, heartbreaking and beautiful, as we watch a family campaign for the release of a loved one. Blossoming with emotional resonance, Time will cut deep into your soul.
#08 Da 5 Blood's
Da 5 Bloods continues to prove that director Spike Lee is ahead of the game with a masterfully crafted, politically aligned, and fiercely vocal film about the injustice of Black lives in America. Da 5 Bloods is a combination of drama, trauma, grit, and activism, all piled into one hell of a movie. Like a head rush, Lee's newest Joint will seep through your bones.
#07 Lovers Rock
Lovers Rock was an intoxicating experience of freedom, moments in time, and an ode to Black pride. Lovers Rock could be classified as an experimental film — one that provides a singular viewing experience into the love and sound of an '80s London house party. Director Steve McQueen cuts loose with this film, giving us an exhilarating viewing experience through the eyes of young love and the joy of freedom. The cinematography is astounding, while the music is swaying, leading one to give in to the pure, unfiltered bliss.
#06 Sound of Metal
Sound of Metal is a powerful piece of filmmaking, thriving on actor Riz Ahmed's eyes and body language. Raw and passionate; director Darius Marder's picture is an emotional experience around the loss of sound. Featuring one of the best and most innovative sound designs in recent memory, Sound of Metal stands tall as one of the very best films to come out in 2020. A beautiful tale of healing and moving forward, Sound of Metal's poignant beat will strike you to your core.
Gorgeous animation with a marvelous tale, everyone should watch Wolfwalkers as soon as possible because it's one of the best films of 2020. Wolfwalkers breathes life into the Irish folktales through its astonishing animation, beautiful storytelling, and full-of-life characters. It's an enchanting film that will sweep you off of your feet to a magical world.
#04 Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre)
A beautiful and heartbreaking black-and-white Peruvian film; that depicts an Indigenous story. Song Without a Name is a hidden gem from writer-director Melina León; that will bury itself inside your psyche and will never let go. Song Without a Name is a haunting and tragic story of loss. It's incredibly impressive that this was León’s directorial debut, and it is also one of the best films of 2020.
Minari is a wonder. Such a beautiful and gentle movie about family. With splendid storytelling, this is a film that will sneak up on you in the end. An honest portrait of the immigration experience, recognizing the hardships along the way. Minari is an intimate portrait of life, love, and family. Director Lee Isaac Chung's gentle little picture roars with beauty and heart; Minari is simply one of the best films of 2020.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things: I loved it and I am excited to watch it again. 2020 has been an unprecedented year, and somehow Charlie Kaufman’s strange-beautiful film on life, time, death, and the human condition brought me fulfilled joy. I was finally challenged, with a film from this year that presented an unclassifiable craft and uncompromising darkness. Charlie Kaufman's newest masterpiece is a film I will be studying for the years to come. My head was spinning as we gazed into a glass window with actors Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons drifting to another dimension.
Watching director Chloé Zhao's Nomadland was a poetic experience. Nomadland is a gem full of beauty and hardship, perfectly captured by Zhao's natural craft and actor Frances McDormand's raw talent. It's a richly textured portrait of life drifting through the American Midwest. Though my traveling days have been put on hold, right now, due to this global pandemic — I felt like I was able to virtually travel through the comfort of my home; while watching Chloé Zhao's beautiful work of art. Nomadland jungles complexity, as we see a vast-open America and the forgotten people wondering around the dusty plains. The heavy-handedness of Zhao's film will sneak up on you until you are overwhelmed with emotions. Zhao's masterpiece is the best film of 2020.
For Your Consideration:
In Their Own League
Mashley at the Movies
Mike, Mike, and Oscar
Next Best Picture
The Movie Oracle
Untitled Cinema Gals Project