/Film's Top 15 Films of 2020

Over the past week, we have published individual top 10 movies of 2020 lists representing each member of the /Film staff. And today, we present the grand climax of that endeavor: the site’s overall Top 15 Movies of 2020 list.

Peter Sciretta, Jacob Hall, Ethan Anderton, Ben Pearson, Hoai-Tran Bui, and Chris Evangelista all contributed to this feature, with their personal lists being used to determine what made this main list and what did not. Let’s say goodbye to 2020 by celebrating one of its few silver linings – the movies.

Runners-up

The following films received at least one vote when we tallied up our totals for the top 15, but did not have enough support to make the list.

/Film’s Top 15 Movies of 2020

15. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

While Borat Subsequent Moviefilm delivers on the same kind of gags that made the first movie a memorable laugh riot, the kind of shenanigans that Borat is able to pull off are taken to a new level. This includes holing up with some conspiracy theory-touting rednecks for an entire week during the coronavirus pandemic, the infiltration of the The Conservative Political Action Conference where Vice President Mike Pence was speaking, and landing an interview with Rudy Giuliani that took a disturbing turn. They even managed to fit in a coronavirus twist featuring a Tom Hanks cameo that wraps up an impressively cohesive narrative that weaves through everything. It’s hard enough to make a comedy as good as this, but it’s astonishing that one can be this provocative and important while also being astoundingly inappropriate and offensive. It’s nothing short of comedic genius. (Ethan Anderton)

14. Da 5 Bloods

This is a masterfully crafted movie with killer tension and solid action (there’s a landmine sequence that’s unbelievably good), but the most radical thing about it is that it chooses to focus on perspectives that aren’t regularly explored in Vietnam movies – including a couple of Vietnamese characters, who are often minimized or outright ignored in American cinema about that conflict. (Ben Pearson)

Messy but brilliant, Da 5 Bloods has Lee firing on all cylinders, crafting a kind of mixed-media presentation that jumps around between filming styles, archival footage, and serious and comedic tones. It should not work, and yet – it does. (Chris Evangelista)

13. Sylvie’s Love

A cross between La La Land and If Beale Street Could Talk (but more hopeful than both), this is the type of movie that makes you think about and long for all of the movies with Black leads that Hollywood never made throughout its 100-plus-year-old history, and wonder how much richer our culture would be if the playing field was leveled. (Ben Pearson)

12. Possessor

It sounds like the set-up for a Philip K. Dick-like sci-fi thriller, but director Brandon Cronenberg is more interested in psychology and the savagery, relishing in close-ups of bodies and faces being obliterated beyond repair. It’s a shock to the system – the type of film that leaves you reeling and horrified, but also exhilarated. I’m always on the lookout for a movie that gives me something I never expected; a movie that knocks me on my ass and makes me sit up and ask, “What the fuck was that?” Possessor is that movie. And then some. (Chris Evangelista)

11. Minari

It’s a relatively simple story but it’s told beautifully, with Chung’s direction and Lachlan Milne’s cinematography rendering the landscape in rich, healthy greens and wide-open skies that clash with the tiny claustrophobic trailer the family moves into. Episodic by nature, Minari‘s leisurely pace allows us to become fully engrossed in the story of the Yi family as they struggle to make a home. You’ll cry your damn eyes out by the time the credits roll. (Chris Evangelista)

Though it’s a story we’ve heard several times before, presenting it through the lens of a Korean-American family allows it to resonate that much more. Despite being primarily in the Korean language, director Lee Isaac Chung tells an inherently American tale with Minari, and it’s about time these kind of stories weren’t defined solely by suburban white nuclear families. (Ethan Anderton)

10. First Cow

In an unlikely deconstruction of the Western drama, First Cow is an almost laughably low stakes drama that overthrows the hyper-masculine expectations set for these kind of rugged pioneer films, and instead focuses on the lovely, near-romantic relationship between Cookie and King as they dream of making enough money to strike out west and settle down together. The pair’s sweet interactions forming the beating heart to the Richardt’s tender frontier fable. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

It’s a whimsical set-up, and there is indeed plenty of whimsy afoot in Kelly Reichardt’s film. But First Cow is also sweet and melancholy, and its long stretches of silence fill up your heart. (Chris Evangelista)

9. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

There are no easy answers, and the answers we get are bound to leave more than a few viewers utterly perplexed. But Kaufman’s film is a wonderfully weird collection of impenetrable moments – a mix that results in a film that’s creepy, funny, and wholly unique. By the time a talking cartoon pig shows up, you’ll either be fully on board Kaufman’s crazy train or ready to flee for the nearest exit. (Chris Evangelista)

It becomes increasingly clear that this is all some kind of fabrication, the characters all players in a sad man’s delusions. Is it self-indulgent? Sure. Is it slow and infuriating? Yes. But who are we if not projections of another person’s memory? Are we not all performing in some sick play for the benefit of others? It reminded me, strangely, of a line from another favorite movie of mine, Before Sunset, in which a character jokes, “But we’re not real anyway, right? We’re just characters in that old lady’s dream.” (Hoai-Tran Bui)

It’s more of a mood piece than anything else on this list, but thanks to its thought-provoking script and outstanding performances from Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, David Thewlis, and Toni Collette, it kept me riveted and intellectually stimulated long after the credits rolled. (Ben Pearson)

8. Shirley

Director Josephine Decker loads Shirley up with strange, surreal sound effects – train whistles, insect hums, bird songs. It’s jarring and unnatural, and will no doubt leave some viewers cold or even hostile. But Shirley‘s warped portrayal of brilliance, madness, sex, and death is nothing short of amazing. (Chris Evangelista)

Part Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, part Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (right down to the Sapphic subtext), Shirley is an exploration of the feminine grotesque, the concept of ugly, complicated womanhood as as a monstrous, but strangely liberating thing. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

7. The Painter and the Thief

It’s a movie about perspective, forgiveness, and obsession, and it had my jaw on the floor multiple times, which is all I ever really want from a great documentary. Its final shot left me reeling, but I practically didn’t blink throughout the entire film because I was searching so intently for clues on these human faces about how these people were feeling in a given scene. (Ben Pearson)

In many ways, this documentary is a love story, a tale of soulmates drawn together because they share one thing: they see themselves as broken and desire only to be made whole. This tale of dual redemption, of a man and a woman pulling themselves and each other back from the brink, is messy in the right ways. The transformations would be unbelievable if you weren’t watching them in an actual documentary. (Jacob Hall)

Directed by Benjamin Ree, The Painter and the Thief switches back and forth between Barbora and Karl’s perspectives, to unveil a deep connection between the pair that is not always healthy, but is wonderfully human and complex. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

6. The Invisible Man

Direct Leigh Whannell’s strict control over his camera and its movement trains our eyes to look for things that aren’t there, keeping us constantly jumpy and on edge. This is horror filmmaking at its absolute finest. (Chris Evangelista)

All of this extraordinary filmmaking works in service of a through-line that couldn’t be more chillingly relevant to the year of its release: this is a horror movie about a victim no one will believe, about safe spaces being torn to pieces, and about dangerous men gaslighting their way through life. Whannell and Moss offer audiences a chance to fight back. (Jacob Hall)

5. Nomadland

Nearly every single frame of this film is a work of art – of raw, breathtaking beauty. America is a cold, cruel, hard place to be – but there’s beauty out there waiting to be found. The beauty of flowing rivers where birds sing loud; of sunsets across canyons; of pink-hued skies and landscapes that remain blessedly untouched and unruined. Your heart aches to go there. To hit the road. To never look back. But Zhao isn’t glamorizing Fern’s nomadic life; she’s simply presenting us with the situation and inviting us to watch; to feel; to understand. (Chris Evangelista)

Nomadland isn’t about a woman trying to overcome her grief. It’s about using it to fuel the creation of something new while never forgetting the old, and this is even literally expressed as she repairs a collection of plates she inherited from her father that are accidentally broken by a fellow nomad. The damage might be done, but Fern picks up the pieces and glues them back together. (Ethan Anderton)

Nomadland achieves a kind of serenity in its restless spirit, an acceptance of a different way of life that no one better embodies that than McDormand, who gives a quietly spiky and soulful performance for the ages. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

4. Palm Springs

Perhaps I’m letting 2020 do the talking here, but a movie about people trapped together in the same day over and over again feels like the definitive summary of the past 12 months. But the film’s final message, that the world is brutally unfair and the best possible escape is to power through with the people you love and to make your own destiny by force if necessary, feels vital. The world is cruel and life can seem like a joke. Yes. That is true. But we can break that loop – we just have to do it together. (Jacob Hall)

The film clever about the way it explores big ideas within its familiar framework, funny when it needs to be, occasionally nihilistic, and sometimes cheesily romantic. Samberg and Milioti are note perfect all the way through, bringing a level of charm and dramatic heft to these parts that makes the movie more than just a breezy watch. (Ben Pearson)

The sunny cynicism of Palm Springs wouldn’t work if it weren’t for the sparkling chemistry between leads Andy Samberg and Cristin Miliot, who sell the idea of eternal companionship as being a fact of life — though whether you take that with a glass half empty or glass half full is up to you. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

3. Wolfwalkers

Cartoon Saloon’s environmental themes and meticulous devotion to their craft set up the studio as the next successor to Studio Ghibli, but also as the last bastion of hand-drawn animation — a theme that plays well with the film’s melancholy undercurrent of change. People are forgetting the Wolfwalkers, and they themselves are the last gasps of a dying culture. But even as the forest that the wolves live in disappears, and people forget their ancient myths, Wolfwalkers suggests there’s still a little bit of magic left in the world. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

There’s a giddy danger in every frame of Wolfwalkers, recalling the earliest days of feature animation, when these movies were actual cinema, not something that exists to distract children. Wolfwalkers is not a distraction, nor is it a subversion (it’s ultimately a straightforward, if emotionally cathartic tale of friendship). But it is this: the best possible argument for the continued livelihood of 2D animation. (Jacob Hall)

Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers is one of those animated movies where every single frame is a stunning piece of art. Like an old children’s storybook brought to life, the drawings of these 17th century folktale feel like they’re sketched on parchment. (Ethan Anderton)

2. Sound of Metal

Loss is what Sound of Metal is good at, showing what a life in freefall looks (and sounds) like. The incredible sound design of Sound of Metal mimics the deafness that Ruben experiences, the oppressive silence threatening to smother you. But as Ruben gets used to the silence, Sound of Metal starts to linger — even relish — in the stillness between the big blow-ups and screaming matches, and find a little piece in the quiet. (Hoai-Tran Bui)

Bow down before Riz Ahmed, who runs the gamut of emotions in Sound of Metal and cements himself as one of the great performers of his generation. As a heavy metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing, Ahmed takes us through the denial, frustration, isolation, and sheer terror of that experience, as his entire life becomes totally unraveled. (Ben Pearson)

This is not a movie about a disabled man who overcomes his deafness – that would be a hoary cliche. This a movie about a deaf man who is forced to come to terms with the life he wants to live and how he wants to live it. And every step of that journey is beautiful and horrible and achingly real. (Jacob Hall)

There’s no happily ever after simply because he’s learned sign language, sparked friendships with fellow deaf people and squashed his rage. There’s simply a before and an after, and it’s how we make our way through the after that truly defines us. (Ethan Anderton)

1. Soul

Soul contains ambitious, bizarre new artistic strokes, some of the most beautiful and experimental computer animation Pixar has ever created, and an otherworldly score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. But Pixar is all about story, and co-directors/co-writers Pete Docter and Kemp Powers have crafted one of the animation studio’s most emotionally complex stories that doesn’t shy away from digging into complex questions about our purpose in life, getting lost in our own ambition, and whether we need to achieve our dreams in order to feel fully satisfied with our place in the world. The fact that it does all of that that with comedy that’s charming and still accessible for adults and children alike is even more impressive. (Ethan Anderton)

What should be treacly instead feels honest, and this low-key message is so wrapped up in stunning animation and imaginative ideas (enough to make the head spin, quite frankly) that Soul feels like the new platonic ideal of a Pixar movie. We’re going to measure the next five years of mainstream animated movies against this one. (Jacob Hall)

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