It’s that time of year, dear reader. We join forces to give you insight into our top picks in a very strange year for cinema. Each of our staff writers and contributors (with the exception of Travis, he’s got his own gamut of lists you can check out here) have come up with their favorite 3 movies of 2020 and the one film they just couldn’t stand. One things for sure, in a year that many thought was a pit of despair for good movies we certainly have a wide range of winners!
2020 has clearly been a pretty awful year all around. Even with a bunch of major releases being pushed back, we still managed to get some great movies to grace our screens. The following three are my favorites from 2020.
3. CRITICAL THINKING
Everyone is under the impression that The Queen’s Gambit is the greatest piece of chess-centric entertainment that we got in 2020, but I’m here to set the record straight. A month and a half before came John Leguizamo’s directorial debut with Critical Thinking, and it was fantastic. Critical Thinking tells the true story of the 1998 Miami Jackson High School chess team that overcame numerous hurdles in their pursuit of a national chess championship. Leguizamo, who stars as well as directs, and writer Dito Montiel absolutely crushed it with Critical Thinking. From the jump, the film is a joy to watch. They both did a perfect job of capturing the essence of the late 90s. The film is a blast and Montiel and Leguizamo manage to turn a story about chess into a hilarious, heartfelt, fun, and unique movie. This is a film that has something for everyone – and one that I am looking forward to watching again.
2. THE INVISIBLE MAN
Needless to say, after the rocky start that Universal’s Dark Universe experienced with The Mummy, I was a little skeptical of The Invisible Man. Turns out that Universal just needed that mulligan, because The Invisible Man fires on all cylinders. Led by a terrific performance from Elisabeth Moss, this adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells tale gives us a modern technological twist. From the jump, writer/director Leigh Whannell brings the suspense and leaves us on the edge of our seats for the entire runtime. The notion of an invisible person terrorizing you is no easy feat to pull off. The strong directing, a believable concept and script, and fantastic acting showcasing a range of emotion from Moss make The Invisible Man a slam dunk. The Invisible Man is a thrilling ride that I have already taken numerous times and have enjoyed it just as much each time.
1. THE GENTLEMEN
2020 started off with a bang with my favorite film of the year releasing in January. It had been too long since Guy Ritchie went back to the British Gangster roots that we all know and love him for. Not only was he back, but he came back in a big way with The Gentlemen. I was super excited for this one going into it and it lived up (and surpassed) my expectations. The script was perfect, the acting was fantastic, and the balance of action and humor was spot on. I’m not sure I can think of another movie from 2020 where the cast looked like they were having as much of a blast as they did in The Gentlemen. I had to go back to theaters and watch it again to hear all the lines that got drowned out by laughter from my first go around. Being completely honest, it was somehow even better the second time. This is truly Ritchie at his finest. Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, and Colin Farrell are all fantastic – but it is Hugh Grant that steals the show. News broke that The Gentlemen was originally conceptualized by Ritchie as a TV show – and the way the story is told fits perfectly into that mold. It’s looking like Ritchie will be able to live out this vision as The Gentlemen has been greenlit as a television series that Ritchie will write and direct. I for one cannot be more excited, and really hope we get the same cast together – they were all perfect.
In a year with so many movies getting rescheduled to 2021, I was shocked at how hard of a time I had to narrow my list down to three. Usually I only slightly cheat with one honorable mention, this year I had to include 2.
I CARE A LOT
Rosamund Pike steals the show as a ruthless professional guardian that is working the system like a pro. I Care A Lot is stylish, sharp, witty, and compelling from the first scene until the credits roll. The cherry on top? Peter Dinklage as a Russian mobster – need I say more? I Care A Lot will be hitting Netflix on February 19th, make sure to check it out.
A horror romcom managed to crack my best of 2020 list. Not a combination that is seen very often, but Extra Ordinary delivers on all levels. The film is flat out hilarious – filled with that subtle humor that leaves you laughing throughout the entire runtime. A great script, solid cast, and plenty of references to prior supernatural films make Extra Ordinary a blast to watch.
WORST OF 2020
She’s Allergic To Cats
The worst film I saw in 2020 had to be She’s Allergic To Cats. Written and directed by Michael Reich the film reminded me of a terrible junior year film class project. A bunch of random scenes, a complete overreliance on any visual effect you can find in a standard movie editing program, and a subpar script/story combine to make this the bottom of the barrel of 2020 for me.
Despite 2020 being an exceptionally awful year and we really weren’t allowed to go to the movies for the most part, some great movies managed to come out this year on the big and (mostly) small screens. Here are my favorites for 2020.
3. ANOTHER ROUND (Review)
Taking the real-life psychological theory that human beings are born with a blood alcohol content level that’s 0.05% too low, Danish director Thomas Vinterberg gives us an exceptional study on alcoholism in Another Round. Mads Mikkelsen leads a cast of high school teachers who are all friends, and are all facing middle agedom. They come up with the idea of a “study” to see if they can function and improve their lives if they constantly have a blood alcohol level of 0.050%. At first, their lives actually do improve, but then each of the four members starts to succumb to alcoholism with devastating effects. Another Round (even more accurately named “Druk” in its native Danish language) is a great character study in dealing with a midlife crisis as well as watching in real-time how the disease of alcoholism affects people. An exceptional cast brings their A-game (especially Mikkelsen). The film doesn’t have a rosy happy ending, but watching Mikkelsen bust a dance move at the end to “What A Life” alone is worth the cost of a rental alone.
2. PALM SPRINGS
When I first popped on Palm Springs on Hulu, I thought I was just going to watch yet another Groundhogs Day rip off and simply find a way to waste two hours of my life during the pandemic. Little did I know that I was going to watch a charming, inventive, and brilliant romantic comedy. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti play two guests at a Palm Springs wedding when they get caught in a time loop and continue to experience the same day over and over, and over. Samberg’s character Nyles has been in it longer than Milioti’s Sarah, but eventually, she catches up and they just learn to continuously live their life the same day, yet differently each time. The two eventually fall in love and it’s authentic. A special MVP award goes to J. K. Simmons as a third person stuck in the time loop who is also zany, yet offers wisdom. By the end of Palm Springs, you are rooting for the two to get out of the loop and stay together at the same time.
1. BLUE STORY (Review)
As I am a HUGE Top Boy fan, I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into UK rapper/director Andrew Onwubolu AKA “Rapman’s” debut film Blue Story that showcases a bromance between two friends that live in different neighborhoods that are forced to choose between their friendship, or the gangs they are forced to become involved in. Based on Rapman’s cult YouTube series Shiro’s Story, Blue Story is the big-screen version of the popular web series with a much bigger budget and great performances, especially by lead actors Stephen Odubola and 2020 BAFTA Rising Star Award winner Micheal Ward. Rapman (because he’s a literal “rap man”) narrates the film using hip hop in the most clever and awesomely lyrical way. As a fan of 80s to early 2010s US hip hop (that the nonsense nowadays), Rapman’s lyrics also remind me of a time in hip hop when it was about lyrics as a storytelling device, not a means of false flossing, and he absolutely delivers. It’s no surprise that Rapman was offered a Quibi deal (I bet he’s glad he didn’t take it) and a management deal with Jay-Z’s management company. Blue Story is an inverted Romeo and Juliet but instead between friends that completely delivers.
PRINCESS OF THE ROW (Review)
Princess of the Row in an exceptional film featuring newcomer Taylor Buck as a young girl who has to take care of her mentally ill Iraq War veteran father played by Edi Gathegi while the two are homeless in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Princess of the Row shines a light on America’s homelessness problem as well as how we treat our veterans. Both Buck and Gathegi deliver exceptional performances as well as Martin Sheen, who plays a man wanting to adopt Bucks character during the film.
BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
Borat’s back! Not only did Sacha Baron Cohen manage to sneak film a new Borat film under the radar, but he also was able to do it during the year 2020 and capture all the craziness going on. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm shed light on our ever so present cultural divides, but also managed to make a charming movie that introduced us to Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter Tutar who hopefully put the final nail in Rudy Giuliani’s image and even more hopefully, she will get an Oscar nomination.
WORST OF 2020:
This is a little bit of a cheat as Gaspar Noé’s film Love came out in 2015, but thanks to Netflix, 2020 is when we here in America got a chance to see it. Love is labeled as an “erotic drama art film,” but let’s keep it 100, this is cinematic porn. Worse than porn because at least porn pretends to have a plot Within the first 10 seconds of the film, you know EXACTLY what type of film this is. Love doesn’t go more than 15 minutes without extreme hardcore unsimulated sex scenes between actors Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, and Klara Kristin. It’s amazing that this film was able to get financing of any kind from a studio after hearing the “plot.” Murphy (Glusman) is an American film student abroad and Electra (Muyock) is his French girlfriend who are already overtly sexual with each other. For some reason, they think that’s not enough and invite Omi (Kristin) into their bedroom… that’s it! It’s 135 minutes of the three of them (and plenty others) having sex with each other. It has WAY too many POV shots. Once again, porn has better plots than Love does!
Many of my fellow Punch Drunk Critics will say that this year was a lousy time for movies. I don’t know if I’m an optimist but this past year was not that bad — for indie film and streaming anyway. I found that my favorite films this year provided both escapist fantasy and some sort of emotional release. Maybe I’ve been trying to find meaning in the void, but the following films deeply impacted me this year and I hope they do the same to you.
3. BLOW THE MAN DOWN
When did it become a crime for a movie to be entertaining? This film has everything you could want in a 2020 movie. Taking place in a small Maine fishing village, Blow The Man is like if the Cohen Brothers and a sea shanty had a baby with a feminist twist. Featuring character actress Margo Martindale as a bordello madame, the film invigorates the modern caper, creating a fun and entertaining twisted ride.
Read my review here. Watch it on Amazon Prime.
2. PALM SPRINGS
There’s a lot about Palm Springs I could talk about. The chemistry between Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti is electric. Andy Siara’s script and Max Barbakow’s direction is smart and funny. But what really makes Palm Springs shine is the current moment we are living in. Somehow watching Samberg and Milioti deal with existential dread and the utter purposelessness of life helped us feel less alone and less helpless in our own current 2020 COVID Groundhog Day.
If any movie could capture the listlessness of 2020, it’s Nomadland. Director Chloe Zhao’s stark, bare, and beautiful visuals accompanied by Frances McDormand’s moving and natural performance captures a new take on the American Dream vs. the American Reality. Following a widowed woman as she adapts a nomadic lifestyle in the modern American West, Nomadland questions capitalism and its weight on a person’s soul. A shoo-in at this year’s Oscars, Nomadland is required viewing for all humans.
Read Travis’ review here.
WORST OF 2020:
Wild Mountain Thyme
Look if I wanted to watch a badly acted movie about a woman who falls in love with someone who thinks they are a bee, I would watch Bee Movie. Based on an award-winning play, Wild Mountain Thyme proves that not all source material should be adapted onscreen. Christopher Walken’s Irish accent is both horrible and the best thing about the movie. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what does.
3. Possessor Uncut
We have had an abundance of horror this year and I couldn’t be happier. There’s been plenty of standard horror faire that delivered exactly what we expect in a wonderful way. The real benefit of this embarrassment of riches is the innovation that needs to happen to stand out. That’s what Possessor Uncut brings to the table. Really, you should expect nothing less when a Cronenberg is involved, David in this case. What I thought would initially be yet another highly Catholicized film on demonic possession delivered something that was at the same time totally new while still hitting every note of what makes these films horrifying.
2. Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee tackling a group of African-American Vietnam vets headed back to the source of their worst days to retrieve a life-changing treasure, there’s no way this wasn’t going to be good. Taking on Lee’s most effective subjects, race, reflection and heists (Inside Man is still my favorite Lee film) accompanied by one of, if not the best casts he’s ever put together Da 5 Bloods is not a standard Spike Lee joint but it is now my favorite. The film is bolstered by the historical significance of being the last Chadwick Boseman film to release while the actor was still alive and the added bonus of being a showcase for Delroy Lindo, who’s always been one of my favorite character actors that just never got the spotlight he deserved.
1. The Gentleman
I’ve come to realize over the last 10 years that Guy Ritchie has low-key my favorite writer, if not my favorite overall film maker. There’s something about his rapid-fire colloquial British slang that is like music to me. The Gentleman, in my opinion, servers as the culmination of 25 years shaping his style into something of pure story-telling perfection. The cherry on top is the solidification of Charlie Hunnam as Ritchie’s new muse. The guy is just SO good at delivering his dialogue, I could watch a 90 minute film that was just Charlie Hunnam describing a movie via Ritchie’s dialogue.
Hamilton, The Invisible Man, Mank
WORST OF 2020:
Just…no. It doesn’t even deserver further discussion of it’s suckitude. Let’s just call it wasted potential on a cinematic level.