Best of 2020- Staff

Through some dubious method that compiled all of our individual lists (which you can find by clicking on author names or the Best of 2020 tag) and assigned points based on how highly ranked films were and how often they were mentioned, we’ve created this composite list of Cinema Etc’s top 10 films of 2020. Enjoy!

9.(tie) Spontaneous

(Brian Duffield, US)

Every year, I feel like there’s one film that I don’t shut up about online. Some years have exceptions, when the films that really hit me are more widely loved, but in the years where I’m lucky enough to fall head over heels in love with a film that’s not as popular, I talk about it until I’m blue in the face. And just like The One I Love, or Blindspotting, Spontaneous’ great strength comes in articulating a feeling I didn’t know I was missing from the world of cinema. It’s not that Brian Duffield’s violent, tense rom-com does anything particularly ingenious, but the pieces of its story and world are put together in a way that I’ve found undeniably effective. The first time I watched Spontaneous, it was an unexpected delight. The second time, I broke down and cried. The third time, I started demanding as many people as I know watch it. The fourth time, it’s one of the movies I want played in the marathon I’ll make people have in my memory after I die. – Davey

Available on VOD and DVD

9. (tie) Hubie Halloween

(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. – Henry

[Streaming on Netflix]

First Cow

9.(tie) First Cow

(Kelly Reichardt, US)

Released in the final weekend before cinemas turned the projectors off, there hasn’t been a more elegiac depiction of male friendship released since. A sort of heist film with the pacing of a still creek, Kelly Reichardt’s latest masterwork unfolds like a folk story told around a campfire. John Magaro and Orion Lee are wonderful as two wayward souls who become friends that plan to get rich quickly through the allure of oily cakes sold to fur traders desperate for a good snack. Washed in beautiful cinematography of the Pacific Northwest and wrapped in beautifully quiet and tender moments of domesticity, it’s a film that connects the past to the present in more ways than one. It also stars an adorable cow; what’s not to love?- Cole

First Cow is now available to rent on most VOD platforms and for purchase on Blu-ray and DVD.

Review: One of 2020's best, 'Promising Young Woman' leaves a scar

8. Promising Young Woman

(Emerald Fennell, US)

Carey Mulligan’s devastating, desperately barbed performance is at the heart of a thriller that flips the rape revenge genre on its head. Every Saturday night she goes home, fake drunk, with a man, and every night they try to make a move. What results is a messy adrenaline rush of open wounds, the messy beast that is guilt, and a stinging nihilism that all the glittery girlboss ideals in the world can’t quite take down this toxic culture, and neither can one girl trying to teach those that hurt the one she loves a lesson. It leaves a sour taste, and many may not like how it all ends, but it’s a risky burn-it-all-down approach that feels the right way to leave the past two hours of dance-pop needle drops and spiked drinks as chilling as possible. – Sarah

[Now in cinemas]

7. Da 5 Bloods

(Spike Lee, US)

A film sadly made even more emotional by the passing of Chadwick Boseman only a few months after its release on Netflix, Da 5 Bloods is Spike Lee’s best in years. If BlacKkKlansman was a return to form then this is Lee bringing out the big guns, throwing away any commitment to the typical tropes of war film in favor of a realistic journey into the past and present of four Vietnam veterans and one of their sons. Featuring multiple candidates for scene and performance of the year, it’s an unforgettable trip. – Jennings

[Streaming on Netflix]

6. The Invisible Man

(Leigh Whannell, US)

Leigh Whannell’s junior directorial output sees him successfully and intensely placing a modern twist to H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man. A taut psychological thriller meets traumatic drama as go-to mentally unstable character-actress Elisabeth Moss delivers one of the best performances of the year. While it loses a lot of steam in its nonsensical third act—probably for the sake of having some cool marketable action shots—Whannell manages to deliver the suspense and lingering horror of all the negative space in frame. A genius maneuver in reimagining the classic Universal Monster tale into one of domestic abuse and misogyny, wherein the titular character so perfectly fits the emotional scarring and fear of so many victims. – Lee

[Streaming on HBO MAX, and available for rent/purchase on most streaming services and Blu-ray/4K/DVD]

Why Is the Golden Globes Making American Film 'Minari' Compete for Best  Foreign Language Film?

4.(tie) Minari

(Lee Isaac Chung, US)

Minari is a uniquely American story, no matter what the collection of groupie European journalists who comprise the membership of the Golden Globes have to say. A semi-autobiographical film based on Chung’s childhood, it focuses on the efforts of a closely-knit family of South Korean immigrants who move from California to Arkansas during the 1980s in an attempt to establish a better life for themselves and their children. Winner of the Grand Jury prize at Sundance, the film’s quiet strength and heartfelt passion makes it one of the most moving films of the year, if not the last ten years. Steven Yeun and Ha Ye-ri deliver heartbreaking performances as the parents of this nuclear family, and veteran actress Youn Yuh-Jung makes her American film debut as the family’s spiky grandmother with the force of a nuclear explosion. Hand her the Oscar already. – Cole

Minari played at virtual film festivals this fall and A24 is planning a theatrical release for February 12th, 2021, just in time for Academy Award eligibility.

4.(tie) Nomadland

(Chloé Zhao, US)

“See you down the road”. There was no film this year better than Nomadland, a softly-spoken masterpiece from Chloé Zhao, who is now one of America’s most important filmmakers. Based on a non-fiction book accounting the lives of nomads who travel from job to job in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the film is a beautiful depiction of the people who have slipped through the cracks in the capitalistic system. It’s all anchored by a possibly career-best performance from Frances McDormand, an actress who’s been gifted with a face that can reveal all the weariness of the world in just one glance. It’s a seminal work that will enter the canon of great American films with a swiftness not seen since Moonlight, and a film for the ages. –Cole

Nomadland played at virtual film festivals this fall, and A24 is planning a theatrical release on February 19th, 2021, just in time for Oscar eligibility.

3. She Dies Tomorrow 

(Amy Seimetz, US)

There’s nothing quite like this one. With a neon glow, Kate Lyn Sheil and Jane Adams are a knockout, both filled with a deep-rooted paranoia that they will die the next day, that spread to each person they tell. While often said to be an unintentional Covid movie, the origin of this paranoia plague appears to stem from Sheil’s character’s toxic ex-boyfriend (played by Kentucker Audley), who is shown in flashbacks. With a focus on these sequences, the film takes on an idea that it is the struggle to exist alone, to come into oneself, to make peace with your home and that life goes on in change. Sheil’s character runs her hand over the walls of her house, caressing them as she builds a relationship with her world in what she believes to be her final hours. Filmmaker Amy Seimetz says that the film is meant to be her own experiences with anxiety, and how she often feels that it is contagious when she expresses her feelings to others. The end result is a rewarding headache of anxiety, a question of whether a promise of death requires anything but one last ordinary day, and a marvel for its use of experimental filmmaking tactics at what could have easily been standard horror on the technical side of things. – Sarah

[Streaming on Hulu]

2. Another Round

(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 recognizes that alcohol does have a place and can be a good thing even as it leads some people to ruin, and in some ways it seems a celebration of that drug that it also condemns, and builds to an explosive, melancholic yet joyous ending that I will now remember every time I take a drink. –Henry 

[Available to rent on VOD]

1. Possessor

(Brandon Cronenberg, UK/US/Canada)

David Cronenberg has made a long career out of fusing the cerebral with the visceral, and his son is clearly following in his footsteps. Possessor has all the trademarks of a Cronenbergian techno nightmare, but Brandon puts his own stamp on his sophomore effort, incorporating a lush and vibrant visual aesthetic to compliment the graphic content. It’s an intoxicating, lean, and inventive thriller which stands amongst the best of the genre. –Kern

Available for rent/purchase on digital platforms

Best of 2020

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