2020 Young Critic Awards
Top 10 Films of 2020
2020 comes to a close, a year that will undoubtedly live in infamy in history books, and we can only hope we can start looking back on its effects instead of living through them. The year has been an unexpected constant hurdle of challenges for many, the film industry was no different. Cinemas shuttered throughout the world freezing the release schedule as it was and setting the stage for messy experimental streaming release strategies. As such many top 10 lists will look different this year across critics, this largely due with the blurred line of what some may consider TV movies and cinematic ones. I have not been able to see every single film released in 2020, though I’ve tried to keep up in seeing the most prominent ones by famed or acclaimed talent or source material. I haven’t been able to attend film festivals were many of the likely Oscar 2021 players were first shown, thus I’ll only be reviewing films that were made available with wide distribution in 2020. Some films I’ve written reviews for, while others I haven’t, discovering much later on in from their release. Also for clarification, these films aren’t ranked due to the grade they received in my original review, I find grading to be a rather simplistic way of considering a film, but do so for the clarity of my readers. Thus some films here might appear higher than others that have a higher “grade.” This only goes to show you that ranking and comparing films is an extremely unfair act, but as a critic I must stand out 10 quality pieces to recommend to your readers. I hope you enjoy, and please comment below with what your top 10 list would be.
As always, I like to start with some honorable mentions, who just missed the cut to be included in my top 10 list:
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Da 5 Bloods
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The Trial of the Chicago 7
10. The Invisible Man
This proved to be the last big theatrical release in the US before theaters were shuttered indefinitely. The horror remake was an incredibly adept retelling of this famous H.G. Wells creation with the lens of domestic abuse. Director Leigh Whannel does a fantastic job at creating tension with his minimalist and subtle camera work, making viewers sprout cold sweats at the site of an empty chair. Elizabeth Moss meanwhile makes her big screen breakout as the heroine, capitalizing on so many years being the go-to girl in television.
The animated film from Cartoon Saloon and Apple TV+ is a charming family picture that crafts added depths using Irish mythology and history. The result is an insanely original film with incredibly likeable characters and a tense and involving narrative. There are some subtle commentaries made on colonialism and misogyny, resulting in Wolfwalkers being more profound and entertaining than the majority of family films.
8. Palm Springs
This film turned out to be the most expensive acquisition in the Sundance Film Festival’s history. Instead of having a breakout theatrical run, however, the film was dropped silently on Hulu. For those that did get a chance to see it, they were treated to the years’ best comedy, utilizing the overused time-loop trope in an incredibly original and humorous new fashion. The charismatic performances and incredible chemistry between Andy Sandberg and Cristin Millioti only enhance the love that viewers have for the film’s world and its characters by the time the credits roll.
7. Sound of Metal
This small film turned out to be one of the greatest looks at disability and deafness in all of cinema. The incredible original use of sound to convey vibrations and the use of other senses in order to make sense of the world proves to be an engrossing method. This along with the rather delicate and touching story of learning to accept one’s fate and see the gifts that different situations can provide makes Sound of Metal one of the most subtly groundbreaking films in recent cinema.
Pixar’s latest release forsook a theatrical release and dropped into viewers’ laps on Disney+. The charm, humor, and profound messages of the studio’s best, however, remain in this film proving to be a fascinating philosophical journey. Soul proves to ask questions and prompts about life, death, and everything in between that one might not have even considered before. The journey through these deep questions is carried out with a spectacular animation, some subversive inclusion of black characters and culture, and some fabulous voicework.
5. First Cow
This film from Kelly Reichardt might be the most accessible explanation of the evolution of capitalism in America in cinema. Set in the 1820s and following a set of baker entrepreneurs in the unsettled Oregon territories, the minimalist and neo-realist approach helps convey the wonders of how ingenuity can come forth due to the American promise, and how such dreamlike possibilities can so easily be popped with the greed and competition it can foster.
4. Another Round
This Danish film takes a look at how alcoholism can take its toll and grip on people. Following a group of disillusioned teachers, who decide to challenge themselves to have a constant blood alcohol level, Another Round looks at how psychologically alluring and deceptive substance abuse can become; an escape from one’s own demons that are temporarily drowned away. Mads Mikkelsen delivers another spectacular performance as the lead character, showing the pain, addiction, and frustration that his situation can bring about in a human being.
3. Rosa’s Wedding
This might be the hardest film to come by. I was fortunate enough to see it in theaters. Iciar Bollain’s latest doesn’t disappoint as the Spanish director takes the romantic comedy genre and turns it on its head; completely ridiculing and subverting the expectations and cliches that viewers might expect. The film is also a testament to the self-love that we all should give ourselves and to the complicated familial relationships that must be nurtured and addressed in order for happiness to occur in oneself. The Rosa’s Wedding cast might be the best of the year, as each performer is seemingly cast to play a genre stereotype, but they fabulously overcome it thanks to some stellar writing and their subtle and restrained performances themselves.
2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
The latest by Eliza Hittman is a searing view at the trip that two teenage cousins take in order for one to have an abortion. The use of the neorealist style is perfectly employed here making for an immersive and very restrained narrative that hits viewers emotionally in an unseeming way. The use of unrecognizable actors help make the story and characters all the more livid for viewers, and grants the young actresses breakout roles that will have many viewers excited about what they do next.
I considered Ammonite to be the best film of the year. Not only does it have some of the best performances of either actress’ career (Saoirse Ronan, Kate Winslet), but every aspect of the film is so meticulously crafted and directed by Francis Lee that the result is a film whose every scene impacts viewers. The narrative itself is fabulously structured through the human and romantic connection involved to the larger analysis of the female experience throughout time and into today. Ammonite was a truly dazzling film, who very clearly deserved to be my #1 film of 2020.
Thank you so much to everyone who’s read me this year. It has been a tough year, but entertainment and film has been able to make it all the more bearable. I look forward to 2021 being a better year in terms of health, security, and happiness and that we get some great films to watch then.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Sound of Metal
Winner: The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man
The Vast of Night
Best Family Film
The Croods: A New Age
Winner: Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round)
Kate Winslet (Ammonite)
Mads Mikkelsen (Another Round)
Delroy Lindo (Da 5 Bloods)
Chadwick Boseman (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom)
Candela Peña (Rosa's Wedding)
Winner: Rosa's Wedding
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The King of Staten Island
Best Action Film
Birds of Prey
Wonder Woman 1984
Winner: Iciar Bollain (Rosa's Wedding)
Francis Lee (Ammonite)
Kelly Reichardt (First Cow)
Eliza Hittman (Never Rarely Sometimes Always)
Max Barbakow (Palm Springs)
Iciar Bollain (Rosa's Wedding)
Winner: Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm)
Sidney Flanagan (Never Rarely Sometimes Always)
Talia Ryder (Never Rarely Sometimes Always)
Cristin Millioti (Palm Springs)
Kiera Allen (Run)