Most years, my top ten list would just be a list of the ten films I enjoyed the most or was thinking about when writing and I would hope a few people get something out of it, but in a weird year like this one, I figured I would take the opportunity to highlight a few films that had special meaning to me in some different ways and hopefully bring some attention to a couple of films and filmmakers that haven’t received as much as I think they should. The few times I returned to the cinema were all glorious, as was the Rotterdam Film Festival (the only one I got to go to this year), and films like Tenet, Mank, Da 5 Bloods, the Small Axe films, and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm were all quite special to me and wonderful films, but I’ve written about them all extensively elsewhere and other people have made my points better so they’ll just be getting these honorable mentions. In the same spirit as my previously announced new system, I will be listing my top ten alphabetically, apart from my number one film.
A breathtaking science fiction work from Angolan director Fradique, it follows the dreamlike odyssey of a security guard and a housemaid as they reckon with all the air conditioners in Luanda mysteriously falling down. It’s ostensibly a film about the dangers of global warming and the consequences we will soon begin to see, but it also touches on gentrification, colonialism, and civil war in a meandering and melancholic fashion that turns the pains of the world into a thing of beauty.
(Nabwana I.G.G., Uganda)
Nabwana I.G.G., the Tarantino of Uganda, is back (though perhaps he’s already been back a few times as there’s a certain argument to be made that this is a 2014 film) and his particular brand of filmmaking has never been better. Taking micro-budget filmmaking to its truest form, his crew of non-professionals made one of the funniest films I’ve ever seen and filled it with action that’s far more kinetic and engaging than most of the big budget Hollywood films today, plus it has a commentator. Blowing up Katz’s, shooting baguettes, and landing a Ryan Gosling (how did they land him on this budget?!) cameo, all during one scene set to the Indiana Jones theme song, is the type of innovation and absurdity that I need to see more of.
[Available to rent on Alamo On Demand]
(Pedro Almodovar, Spain/US)
Seeing The Human Voice as part of this year’s New York Film Festival was one of the few times this year I’ve felt hope about the future of film. Not only was it a reminder that the festival I have frequented and loved for years can continue to bring out great art and inspire more, it was a short film entirely filmed during the pandemic that was a lofty artistic achievement and showed the ability to adapt. Swinton and Almodovar, two immensely skilled cinematic veterans, have both never been better than here in Swinton’s one woman show that alternates through the full range of emotions in its brief runtime and finds a moment or two to playfully recognize that it’s a film.
(Steven Soderbergh, US)
Soderbergh may be my favorite living director but this is the first time one of his films has made my top ten list (though quite a few would if I retroactively made them for years before I started). Ever since coming out of retirement, he’s been experimenting with every film he makes. It’s always a fascinating product but many of them haven’t held much beyond that. Here, however, a continued partnership with Meryl Streep (that I truly hope continues and one day receives the recognition it deserves) focuses on improvisation as a means to critique and explain his styles and proclivities but also hits the emotional beats as a story about friendship and family with an excellent supporting cast and a reminder that people used to be able to go on cruises.
[Streaming on HBO Max]
(George Clooney, US)
This year’s space movie brought George Clooney back behind the camera for the first time since Suburbicon and in front of it for the first time since 2016’s Money Monster. It may not reach the same highs as some of the recent films in the same genre, and it suffers from a bit of Clooney’s standard directorial problem- films with fascinating concepts not quite living up to their promise- but it’s the type of visual stunner with an unconventional presentation and an emotionally charged ending that I always want to see.
[Streaming on Netflix]
(Armando Iannucci, UK)
One of the last films I saw in a cinema pre-pandemic and the one that held my top spot for longest this year, it’s a wonderful rendering of Dickens that respects the source material and gives it a few new twists to make it more modern and show why his stories are so timeless. Dev Patel has never been better than he was in this vibrant reimagining of Victorian era England.
[Available to rent on VOD]
(Steve Franks, US)
I’ve been a fan of Psych for quite a long time now, having watched the show when it was on and continued to use the iPhone case seen on the show to this day, seven years after the show stopped airing. As with the first film in 2017, it was wonderful to see the characters again and how they’ve grown in years away but also to get a dose of nostalgia that took me back to the days when I first started the show a decade ago. It may be no great cinematic feat but seeing Shawn introduce Gus as Poopington put a smile on my face that was exactly what 2020 needed. Yes, it’s a TV movie, but it stays on the best films of 2020 list until such time as someone can explain to me the meaningful difference between a film released on NBC and one released on Netflix.
[Streaming on Peacock]
(Zaida Bergroth, Finland)
Art as an expression of love is a subject that is endlessly fascinating and appealing to me. I’d long been aware of Moomins, though not so aware that I knew how deep the lore went or even really what they were called, but I will never look at them the same way again and every time one has popped up through my Twitter scrolling (which is more often than you would think) I’ve had a reminder of this delightful film and its heartfelt story of their creation and the relationships Tove Jansson experienced.
Normally I include eleven films on my top ten lists with a tie in the tenth place spot because I’m indecisive. This year there are only ten films on my list but, in the spirit of screwy 2020 rules, I’m going to have a tie in first place.
(Steven Brill, US)
I’ve always been an Adam Sandler fan but this year’s ridiculous increase in time for film watching finally gave me the opportunity to pursue a long held goal and watch every film he had ever been in. Watching some for the first time and revisiting other old favorites, though so many of them are almost painful to watch, they were all comforting as they provided the same familiar laughs and heartfelt moments they had for so many years before. By the time Hubie Halloween was released and the world had fully descended into hell, sitting down with a pumpkin flavored beer, wearing the ring Sandler wore in Uncut Gems, and watching him bumble about with his ridiculous voice while reacting to getting scared in the same way my dad does was the perfect recipe for a reprieve from the horrors of the world, and it made me so amazingly happy I couldn’t imagine not calling it the best film of 2020. Some films have great artistic merits and expand perceptions of the world but the film that lets us escape for a moment is always a worthy one.
[Streaming on Netflix]
(Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark)
In addition to increasing the amount of Adam Sandler films I watched, this year also significantly increased the amount of alcohol I drank. It often feels like a necessary activity as a way, like film, to forget about the world for a minute or at least look at it differently. And, like film, I may enjoy it more in a crowded room full of other people, but the lack of that has only increased my consumption. So when my two great distractions met on screen, I was destined to love it and give it the best of the year title, even if I had already planned on giving that honor to Hubie Halloween. It’s a perfect depiction of what the drinking experience can often be as it fluctuates between juvenile comedy and bursts of energy and joy but sometimes drifts into deep sadness, all grounded by Mads Mikkelsen, in a performance so good that he’s believable as a regular guy who’s also something of a loser. It avoids the neat message as it takes the European approach to drinking that I much prefer to America’s backwards thinking on all things fun, and recognizes that alcohol does have a place and can be a good thing, even as it leads some people to ruin. In some ways it seems a celebration of that drug that it also condemns, and it builds to an explosive, melancholic, yet joyous ending that I will now remember every time I take a drink. Like right now.
[Available to rent on VOD]
Best of 2020 adam sandler another round ar condicionado armando iannucci borat subsequent moviefilm crazy world da 5 bloods dev patel fradique george clooney hubie halloween indiana jones let them all talk mads mikkelsen mank meryl streep money monster nabwana i.g.g. pedro almodóvar psych 2 lassie come home quentin tarantino ryan gosling small axe steve franks steven brill steven soderbergh suburbicon tenet the human voice the midnight sky the personal history of david copperfield thomas vinterberg tilda swinton tove uncut gems zaida bergroth