By all accounts, 2020 didn’t prove to be a great year for movies — or for that matter anyone. The movie theaters remained shut down for most of the year, forcing studios to release their movies on streaming services. Most viewers weren’t complaining, after all, they got to see the latest films from the comforts of their homes. That begs the question then: will this trend of releasing big-budget films online continue or will theaters come back once this pandemic is over. For someone like me, who loves the movie theater experience, it would really be sad to witness the death of movie theaters, if that’s the direction we are moving towards.
To be honest, preparing this list of best films of the year wasn’t as difficult as other years. There were only a handful of films that I liked this year. Though, the stories put on the screen were as varied and as diverse as any other year. From mind-bending sci-fi to historical drama to intellectual horror, 2020 had something for everyone. I hope filmmakers continue to push their creative boundaries and keep us not just entertained with their stories but also fascinated by them. With that said, here’s my list of best movies of 2020.
10. The Way Back
Directed by Gavin O’Connor and written by Brad Ingelsby, ‘The Way Back’ tells the story of a former basketball star turned alcoholic construction worker Jack Cunningham (Ben Affleck) who is hired to be the basketball coach of the high school team he was a star player of in his teen years. The film also stars Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, and Janina Gavankar in pivotal roles. The film, for a sports drama, is quite understated — which is a good thing. Even though it is mostly predictable, what I liked about the film is how subtly it tugs at your heart. Affleck’s performance as the highlight of the film.
9. The Disciple
Directed by Chaitanya Tamhane, this Indian drama film was his first outing since the critically acclaimed 2015 legal drama ‘Court.’ It follows the story of Aditya Modak (Sharad Nerulkar) a vocalist devoted to studying Indian classical music. As time passes, he starts questioning if he will be able to chase his aspirations. With Alfonso Cuarón serving as the executive producer, ‘The Disciple’ is a film about passion and ambition. Those who are really ambitious in their lives will connect with the film more. And those who had to give up their ambitions to lead a normal, regular life will find the film cathartic.
If you rank all Christopher Nolan films from best to worst, ‘Tenet’ will fall somewhere in the bottom half of that list. So, yes, ‘Tenet’ is nowhere close to Nolan’s best work, but the reason why it is on this list is that it pushes the boundaries of cinema in a way that very few films do every year. From its unique storyline to its mind-boggling concept to its never-before-seen action scenes, ‘Tenet’ is more like an experiment in cinema. Yes, it is challenging to fully understand the film, but there’s no rule that says you have to fully understand a film to appreciate it.
7. Enola Holmes
Based on the namesake young adult fiction series by Nancy Springer, the film follows Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown), the sister of popular detective Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill), who goes to London in search of her missing mother. Directed by Harry Bradbeer and written by Jack Thorne, the film also stars Sam Claflin, Helena Bonham Carter, and Louis Partridge in pivotal roles. ‘Enola Holmes’ is a fun film from start to finish. In its own way, it drives home its feminist message without ever feeling preachy. What I love the most about the film is its climax, which leaves a smile on your face and warms your heart.
6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Written and directed by Eliza Hittman, the film tells the story of a 17-year-old girl Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who faces an unwanted pregnancy and is unable to get an abortion in her state due to the laws. She travels with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to New York City to get an abortion. ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’ reminded me of one of my favorite films of all time: ‘4 Months 3 Weeks 2 Days.’ And that’s the highest compliment I can give this film. It’s hard-hitting and makes you question if the laws around abortion would have been the same if men got pregnant.
Based on the film’s writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s own experiences growing up, ‘Minari’ follows the story of a South Korean family in the 1980s who migrates to a small farm in Arkansas in search of a better life and opportunities. The cast members of the film include Steven Yeun (Jacob Yi), Han Ye-ri (Monica Yi), Alan Kim (David), and Noel Kate Cho (Anne) among others. ‘Minari’ is an outstanding filmmaking achievement in so many ways. There are very few films that have dealt with the immigration story better than ‘Minari’. An absolute delight of a film.
4. Promising Young Women
Written, co-produced, and directed by Emerald Fennell (who is known as the showrunner of the second season of ‘Killing Eve‘), this dark comedy thriller tells the story of a young woman Cassandra Thomas (Carey Mulligan), who seeks revenge from people who were responsible for her friend’s death. The film also features Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, and Clancy Brown among others. ‘Promising Young Woman’ is a breath of fresh air from start to finish. From the treatment of the story to the background score, everything about this film is bold. Clearly, Fennell wanted to make a statement with the film. She surely does that and more. This film is a must-watch for all cinephiles.
3. Bad Education
‘Bad Education’ revolves around a school district’ superintendent, Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), and his assistant Pam Gluckin (Allison Janney) who become the prime suspect of a school embezzlement scandal. Directed by Cory Finley, the film is written by Mike Makowsky, who based the film on the real-life financial scandal of Roslyn Union School when he was its student. ‘Bad Education’ is one of those films that reveals itself like an onion, peel after a peel. It starts like any standard drama but soon turns into a deeply engrossing and emotional affair.
Adapted from the non-fiction book of the same name by journalist Jessica Bruder, the film is written, edited, co-produced, and directed by Chloé Zhao. It follows the story of Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman in her 60s who, after losing everything in the great economic recession, goes on a journey through the western part of America in a van. The film was awarded the Golden Lion Award at the Venice International Film Festival as well as the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival. ‘Nomadland’ is as close to meditation as a film can get. The film acts as a mirror to your own soul. It makes you question your place and purpose on this earth.
1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Written, co-produced, and directed by Charlie Kauffman, this psychological drama film is about a young woman (Jessie Buckley) who goes to meet the parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis) of his new boyfriend Jake (Jesse Plemons) on a remote farm. Based on the eponymous novel by Iain Reid, ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ is the sort of a film that lingers in your mind for weeks after you have seen it. What is so special about the film is that apart from being intellectually provocative, it is also emotionally moving. It forces you to think about all the wrong decisions you have made in life, or rather, all the decisions that you DIDN’T make in life. Simply brilliant!
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