Hiya folks. Welcome to Dyl’s Movie Stuff’s yearly countdown of the best movies the year had to offer.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, 2020 was a weird year. The whole world was kinda turned on its head. I’m not really sure why. (Sarcasm.) But, that turn seemed to hit the movie industry especially hard. I didn’t make a most anticipated movies list this year, but, if I had, I’m not sure more than a handful of them actually came out. Honestly, not a lot of the big blockbusters did. I saw less than a third of the movies listed in theaters. That hurts. Also, that leaves Top 10 lists like this one in an interesting predicament. For example, the Oscars were supposed to be held tonight. They’ve since pushed back until nearly May. Many of the top contenders are coming out now instead of several months ago as the Academy has adjusted their window to allow for some 2021 movies to be eligible. But, not I. No. Even when the world throws everything into a tizzy, I believe the top 10 movies of 2020 should be made only of movies that, well, came out in 2020. So, I’m not gonna sit around any longer. I’m ready. I’ve seen most of the movies I think will qualify. I’ve arranged them nice and pretty. It’s go time. Let’s take away the Oscars spotlight. Oh… the Golden Globes are tonight? Eh, who cares? I feel like I have more street cred anyways. (Can you believe they put Minari in the best foreign language film category? It’s an American movie made by Americans in America about America! Anyways, moving on.)
Lastly, before we get into it, I feel like I need to put the same disclaimer that I do on every list. This is MY list. It’s super subjective. I do not claim to speak for everyone when I make this list. Therefore, your favorite movie of the year might not have made it. I’m sorry. I’m glad you liked it, but I either didn’t care for it as much as you did or I straight up haven’t seen it. If you bring it up in a fair and agreeable manner, I’d love to discuss it with you. On the flip side, there’s a decent chance that you hated one of the movies on my list. Again, sorry, but it’s MY list. Got it? Good.
As always, I’m gonna do a couple of smaller awards and then move onto the Top 10 list. Without further ado, let’s jump into it.
Worst Movie of 2020
Normally, I don’t like to do a “Worst of” but this year has had an especially long line of stinkers. This dawned on me as I was watching New Mutants and realized it wouldn’t even come close to making the list. Because I’d rather watch New Mutants five times in a row before I’d put on any one of these.
Imagine what it’d be like if Tommy Wiseau directed Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s 365 Days in a nutshell. Honestly, Disney was saved a lot of embarrassment by quietly posting Artemis Fowl on Disney+, because this is easily one of the worst movies the company has ever made. Fantasy Island is an absolute joke of a movie. Easily the worst time I had in theaters last year. The Turning just pisses me off royally, because I was semi-enjoying it until that out of nowhere twist ending that threw everything else out the window. And, finally, Robert Zemeckis is one of my favorite directors of all-time, but every single decision he made in The Witches felt like the wrong one.
And the winner is…
Honestly, it was a close call, but too much of Artemis Fowl is just permanently seared into my brain for the rest of eternity. You’ve got one of the least likeable leads in Disney history. Josh Gad doing this weird gravely Batman impression, which only becomes more terrifying when you see his real nature. Dame Judi Dench trying to be a badass while saying “Top of the mornin’ to ya.” That stupid, stupid looking unicorn. The god-awful special effects. And, the fact that the whole thing reeks of a Men in Black ripoff. Part of me wishes this had come to theaters like it was originally planned to, because I would’ve loved to see how hard this thing bombed. I haven’t read the books, but I’m guessing they deserved a lot more respect than this piece of garbage.
Now, onto the praise
Best Supporting Actress of 2020
Maria Bakalova somehow managed to hold her own against Sacha Baron Cohen, while also bringing a lot of the heart to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Barbie Ferreira absolutely nailed the socially outcast friend with the heart of gold in Unpregnant. In Hamilton, Phillipa Soo brought life to a character who’s often just a footnote in history. Youn Yuh-jung played probably the coolest grandma ever to come across in the big screen, portraying her as both playfully coy and lovingly earnest. Helena Zengel‘s role as a non-English speaking child who was raised by Native Americans and is forced to integrate back into American society could not have been an easy one, but she pulled it off tremendously.
And the winner is…
Easily THE breakout star of 2020, Maria Bakalova did the impossible. She stole the spotlight from Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat. Do you know how hard that is to do? But, she managed to be just as funny, while also imbuing her character with a lot of heart. She can do it all. From ruining Ruddy Giuliani’s career to making herself look like a fool at a gala to having a authentically moving moment with her would-be babysitter. All of this without ever hesitating. In fact, it was Cohen that had to save her from Giuliani because she refused to break character. Overall, I do believe that Tutar is a more rounded character than Borat ever has been and a lot of that praise should go to Bakalova.
Best Supporting Actor of 2020
Chadwick Boseman‘s death is going to sting for quite some time, but, luckily, his last performance in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was also one of his best. I was blown away by Bo Burnham in Promising Young Woman, as I found myself both loving and hating his character over the course of the movie. 2020 was 100% the year of Sacha Baron Cohen, as The Trial of the Chicago 7 gave him a chance to show of his serious side and he hit us with one of the year’s more powerful performances. Humanizing the man who killed one of our founding fathers out of jealousy is not a simple task, but it’s one that Leslie Odom Jr was perfectly suited for. I spent my Independence Day sobbing over his performance, which was definitely unexpected. And, lastly, Robert Pattinson gave the most villainous performance of the year in The Devil All the Time, as a scummy Southern preacher who preys on young girls.
And the winner is…
Chadwick Boseman was so good in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Honestly, even with how brilliant everyone else in this category is, it wasn’t even close. In fact, I’d probably say Boseman’s performance was THE performance of the year. The character he portrays in just so tragic. He’s had an arduous past and, unfortunately, will have an even worse future. And, Boseman portrays all of that pain and suffering wonderfully. You can feel the years of strain, as every single minor slight or inconvenience pushes him closer to his breaking point. He’s arrogant, brash, violent and more than a little foolish, but you still can’t help but feel sorry for the guy. It’s a beautifully complex character and an excellent example of Boseman’s natural ability. He was definitely taken from us too soon.
Best Actress of 2020
Haley Bennett managed to justify her character’s weird obsession with swallowing things by showing the realistic heartbreak in Swallow. In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Viola Davis showed us that Ma Rainy wasn’t going to let the system play her, even as a black lesbian in the 1920s. Frances McDormand gave us probably the most realistic look at the grieving process in Nomadland. Promising Young Woman gave Carey Mulligan the perfect opportunity to stretch her acting legs as someone trying to get revenge on men who take advantage. And, lastly, I didn’t realize that Aubrey Plaza had such strong dramatic chops. I’m glad she showed them to us in Black Bear.
And the winner is…
Carey Mulligan was an absolute force to be reckoned with in Promising Young Woman. First of all, she was intimidating as hell. I wasn’t sure if she’d be able to pull of the badass vigilante aspect but she definitely proved me wrong. How suddenly she managed to go from blackout drunk to stern and judgment was absolutely staggering. And the absolute savagery she’d lay down at the men’s feet was fantastic. I found myself rooting for her in the same way I root for Batman or John Wick. But, like most roles built on vengeance, it’s not enough to portray your character as badass. You’ve got to be a bit vulnerable too. And, Mulligan, of course, knocks that part out of the park. You can feel the years of distrust and heartbreak in every decision she makes. Getting into a relationship is especially hard for her, because she more or less has PTSD. She manages to hit that perfect balance between heartbreak and ass-kickery. It’s a wonderful role and I can’t imagine anyone other than Carey Mulligan playing it.
Best Actor of 2020
In The Trial of the Chicago 7, Yahya Abdul-Manteen II steals the show as a black man trying to get a fair trial while getting anything but. I know that he was essentially just playing himself, but Pete Davidson‘s emotional range in The King of Staten Island completely blew me away. Delroy Lindo‘s monologue towards the end of Da 5 Bloods alone would get him a nomination from me. There weren’t many cool action movie guy vibes in 2020, but, luckily, Matthew McConaughey brought enough to fill out the whole year’s quota as a marijuana entrepreneur in The Gentlemen. And, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda stole all of our hearts as the young, scrappy, and hungry revolutionist who did not throw away his shot.
And the winner is…
The Trial of the Chicago 7 is filled to the brim with Earth shaking performances. Seriously, all of the cast deserves recognition. However, it was Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who really stood out to me. He is just a man who’s trying to get a fair trial. He doesn’t want to be tried with the others. In fact, his lawyer isn’t even present during the trial. And, the judge won’t even allow him to speak. These repeated racist injustices build on him and break him down until he eventually snaps. What follows is one of the most hearbreaking and memorable scenes of the year. The judge wants to sell this guy as a big, scary Black Panther, when all he’s looking for is to be treated like a regular human being. It’s truly heartbreaking stuff. And Abdul-Mateen portrays all of that anguish and heartbreak perfectly. I don’t see his name brought up too often in this year’s Oscar race and that’s a shame, because he elicited more emotion out of me than most.
Best Director of 2020
Judd Apatow has a special gift for taking standup comedians and telling their stories in really meaningful ways, which he did again this year in The King of Staten Island. After decades of directing some of Pixar’s most moving films, Pete Docter may have went out on a high note with Soul. Even without all of the scares, The Lodge felt so cold and claustrophobic, which is a credit to Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. Aaron Sorkin somehow manages to tell us exactly the political story we need right now. This year it was The Trial of the Chicago 7. Great performances don’t mean a thing without a great director. In Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, George C. Wolfe is that director.
And the winner is…
For decades now, Aaron Sorkin has been taking what should be relatively boring subject matter and turning it into cinematic gold. And, he definitely did it again with The Trial of the Chicago 7. It’s a movie filled to the brim with passion and intrigue. Managing to make a story that’s almost fifty years old feels as fresh and vibrant as if it just happened yesterday. Sorkin manages to make the court room sequences just as tense as the passion boiling over during the riots on the streets. Every single performance, every single line, every single moment: they all land perfectly. While it may not feature as much flair as some other movies that came out this year, I can’t think of a more perfect directing job than Sorkin’s.
The Best Movies of 2020
The Devil All the Time is probably the most epic feeling movie of the year with a story spanning decades featuring tons of memorable characters and jaw-dropping moments. Like I said earlier, we didn’t get a lot of kick-ass cinema this year. Luckily, Guy Ritchie took care of us early with a good old fashioned violent, funny, adrenaline rush in The Gentlemen. It was honestly a blast. Never Rarely Sometimes Always was heartbreaking. Telling the story of two teens who travel to New York to get an abortion in one of the most realistic movies of the year, it’s not a fun movie. But, it’s definitely one of the most important of the year. (Side note: If you want a less heavy version, see the also incredible Unpregnant. Though, honestly, you should see both.) No movie I watched at home made me miss theaters more than News of the World. Between its intense shootouts and the moving story, I wish I had seen this with an audience. Swallow manages to make one of the weirder premises of a movie (a girl has an addiction to swallowing dangerous items) work really, really well by hitting you hard on the head with emotions.
10. Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman is an absolute thrill ride of a movie. I think I felt every possible emotion over its runtime. From the pure vindication you feel as she’s getting revenge on these scummy dudes to the heartbreak and anger as you learn more about why she’s doing it, it’s a real roller coaster of emotions. Plus, as you can tell in my actor nominations section, I thought the performances were phenomenal. There has been some discourse about the ending. Some people don’t think it quite works. And, while I see where they’re coming from, I had no problems with it. Everything rang true to me. But, again, different strokes for different folks. I, for one, very much enjoyed Promising Young Woman. I think it’s almost the perfect movie for our times. I think it’s a strong, feminist statement. And, most telling, it’s one I plan on revisiting soon.
9. The Invisible Man
Now, this is how you remake a classic monster movie! Don’t turn it into a bad, modern day action movie. Don’t just remake a classic almost beat for beat. You take what still works about the original, the scariest core concept, and you see how it would fit into today’s society. Make it scary for today. And, if you can, make it impactful. Give it a message. In short, do exactly what you did in The Invisible Man. This remake really drives home why you should be afraid of him. Not only can he literally attack you from anywhere, he can make you seem crazy by just as easily pretending not to be there. They’ve turned a campy, quirky villain into a homicidal, gaslighting psychopath. It’s very effective, managing to be both timeless and super timely. Plus, Elizabeth Moss knocks it out of the park as always. Just an all around, perfect, scary, movie. Now don’t screw it up, Universal.
8. Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods has a lot to say. It’s tackling our involvement in the Vietnam War, PTSD, what it meant to be black in the 70s, what it means to be black now, Trumpism, racism, manliness, and, honestly, probably a lot more that I’m not remembering. For most filmmakers, that would be a lot to tackle. Probably too much. But, for Spike Lee, it’s just right. Each of these is covered gracefully in really impactful ways. And, most surprising of all, this movie is a lot of fun. These characters are people I’d want to spend time with. They all feel real. And, there are some outlandish, hilarious moments that are going to stick with me forever. So, yeah, for it’s mix of poignant messages and laugh out loud moments, Da 5 Bloods easily earns it’s spot on my list.
7. The Lodge
The Lodge is one of those movies you recommend to people just so you have someone to talk to about it. I feel like it’s all I could think or talk about for two weeks after my viewing. I started so many conversations with “I saw the craziest movie the other day.” In fact, because I knew that my little sister isn’t much of a scary movie fan so she’d never see it, I explained the entire plot to her during a car ride one time. The entire thing. I didn’t miss a single beat. That’s how memorable all of this was to me. I haven’t been hit like this by a revelation in a very long time. Seriously, go watch The Lodge. If you like The Shining, it’s a lot in the same vein as that. Just a little different in ways I can’t quite comment on without being spoilery. And, the less you know the better. I loved it. I think you’ll love it too.
I’m not gonna lie. As a massive Pixar fan, I kinda sorta trashed Soul a bit after watching it for the first time. While I did enjoy it, I was reluctant to give it my full praise because it felt a tad too similar to Inside Out and Coco for my taste. I just felt that the movie was going over ground Pixar had already covered so beautifully. Luckily, none of that criticism stuck on my second viewing. I almost ended up having to look at it as its own independent experience and not part of the larger Pixar brand. And, on its own, Soul is an absolutely beautiful movie, both visually and emotionally. The animation in these movies keeps getting better. You could take a background frame from one of the city scenes, remove the cartoon characters, and pass it off as a photograph. It’s breath taking. Then, on an emotional level, I think this is one of the most grownup Pixar movies yet as it focuses on dreams and the meaning of life. Ultimately, it teaches us that it’s the little stuff that makes life truly worth living. That just being alive is worth it. That’s beautiful and resonant. And it’s exactly what we needed in 2020. Oh, and, of course, it’s got that Pixar charm with hilarious characters and a unique world building. If it’s not nominated for Best Picture, I will be quite disappointed. While still not my favorite Pixar flick, I don’t believe one has earned its nomination more than this one.
5. The King of Staten Island
As I said before, Judd Apatow has a gift for taking his comedian friends and telling their stories for everyone to see on the big screen. Take that and mix it with Pete Davidson’s really unique world point of view and you’ve got something special in The King of Staten Island. Also, like I said, I was blown away by Davidson’s remarkably honest portrayal. You could feel the sadness radiating off of him as a man struggling to take life seriously after the loss of his father. But, he also did a really good job of showing that spark he got when hearing about all of the wonderful things his dad did. It was a really poignant portrayal and one that impressed me quite a bit. And, he’s not the only one that brought the heat either. Both Marisa Tomei, as his heartbroken mom ready to finally move on, and Bill Burr, as the step-father figure trying to do his best, brought some of the best performances I’ve seen either do. Both were contenders for the best performances of the year and I’m still kinda upset neither made it. (It was just a really strong year though.) Also, surprisingly, Maude Apatow, Judd’s daughter, really gave a convincing performance as Pete’s little sister that was both disgusted by and wanted the best for her brother. That was really believable stuff. Honestly, the whole movie was filled with heartfelt and funny performances. I’d recommend it to just about everyone. Even if you’re not a fan of Pete Davidson’s, I think you will be by the time the credits roll. It’s one of the best feel good movies of the year.
4. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
It would be really easy to say that Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom coasts on some fantastic performances. After all, Viola Davis is a national treasure who brings her A-game playing a diva who knows how talented she is and isn’t going to take any shit even though she’s a black, gay woman in 1927. And, as I’ve already gone on about plenty, Chadwick Boseman gives the best performance of his life and possibly the year. So, yeah, the performances in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom are really, really good. But, I wouldn’t say that’s all it has. The script is nearly perfect. It laments on the struggles of African Americans during that time period without ever feeling preachy. Everything that’s occurring here feels like it would happen on your typical summer afternoon. Nothing feels like it was written specifically for the screen on stage, even though there are monologues aplenty. Plus, there’s the one-two punch of heart shattering moments at the end that’ll stick with me forever. I’ll never forget Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and I’m glad it exists to cement Chadwick Boseman’s legacy.
3. The Trial of the Chicago 7
When the Academy Awards are given out on April 25, I fully expect The Trial of the Chicago 7 to win Best Picture. Because, in my ways, it’s kinda the perfect movie. It’s wonderfully directed by Aaron Sorkin. The cast is made up of all-stars who each deserve praise and admiration. The script is beautifully elegant with each character getting their own moment to shine and plenty of quotes that could rallying cries. And it covers some of the most important topics that are relevant today. Are protesters patriotic? Are they to held responsible when certain factions of that group become unhinged? Is there automatically a tinge of racism in today’s justice system? These are all questions that were huge in the 70s and are still major struggles today. This is a movie that feels like it as written specifically for this moment in time. It’s both inspiring and heartbreaking. I would definitely call it mandatory viewing. I hope the Academy pushes it in front of as many people as possible.
2. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Sometimes the year-end Top 10 all comes down to timing. And no one has better timing than Sacha Baron Cohen. In fact, in the future, whenever someone asks me what 2020 was like, I’ll probably just show them Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Because it’s all here. Trumpism. Racism. COVID. Sexism. QAnon. #MeToo. It’s all here. It’s all on display. And, in ways only Cohen’s Borat can do, it’s all on display for us to laugh at. It’s both deeply disturbing and gives us a chance to lighten our loud a bit. And it’s exactly what I needed in late October of 2020. And, honestly, it’s kind of impressive how well this improv heavy script held its story together. Like I said before, there were parts of this movie that genuinely moved me. Now, of course, there’s the question of timelessness. Will Borat 2 still be funny when it’s no longer relevant? Personally, I think it will be. It’s just a perfect time capsule for what this shitshow of a year was. I think even future generations will get a kick out of laughing at our misery in the same way we can revisit Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. I hope we never need Borat again. But, I’m glad he’s always around if things get too bad. And, I’m more than grateful he gave us his Subsequent Moviefilm.
Honestly, I’m a little reluctant to have Hamilton on here. Because I can’t stop asking myself “Is Hamilton really a movie?” I mean… it’s a recording of a Broadway show. Surely that’s not cinema in its purest form. I’ve gone back and forth and back and forth on this for months now. This went on until literally the last second. I had a version of this list made up without Hamilton on in. And it felt weird. It was like making up the invites to your birthday party without your best friends. How was I going to leave out the moving experience I had all year? The movie that reignited my patriotism right when it was being tested the most? That restarted the flame that is my love for both musicals and history? The soundtrack that defined my entire year? No. There’s no way I could leave Hamilton off. And giving it an honorable mention didn’t feel right either. After all, it was my favorite movie of the year.
And, well, that’s it. Time to officially put 2020 to bed for the most part. I’ll probably write up one more piece on the Oscars, since they’re sure to be interesting. Other than that though. Yeah. We’re finally done with that shitshow of a year. Honestly, not bad movie wise though. There weren’t a ton of big releases but that gave the smaller stuff a chance to really shine through. And, overall, I’m not at all unhappy with my Top 10 list. It’d be solid any year, let alone one where I only saw two of them in theaters.
Hopefully 2021 will be even better though. I’m hoping to get back to the theater on a regular basis. Start reviewing stuff again. You know, the normal stuff. We should have more than enough movies in the pipeline to keep the theaters open. Unless everything turns to shit again, which I, optimistically, don’t think it will. But, either way, I’m looking forward to what movies 2021 has to offer. And, as always, I’ll be here to talk about them.
I’ll see you guys next time. Thanks.
Really happy that The Invisible Man made the list! I was impressed with it for all the same reasons you mentioned! And now I’m totally going to watch The Lodge. You made me hyped! Awesome article as always, Dylan!
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