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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2020

Best, worst and ruminations on 2020 films

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

February 25, 2021 -- Here is my list of the best and worst films, best actors, etc. from the year of 2020.

There are the usual caveats. I saw most of the year's top films with the exception of a few films which had limited distribution or promotion in this country, mostly foreign films.

So where are Minari, The Trial of the Chicago 7, First Cow and Mank? I saw them, but didn't think they were quite good enough to make my Top 10 list. The historical dramas, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank, also suffered from factual errors. I did include a couple of high ratings from these two films in some of the sub-categories below.

There are also a few 2018 and 2019 films in the 2020 lists below, mostly foreign films. Some 2018 and 2019 foreign films were not released in the United States until 2020. Others are domestic films that got delayed for some reason. The United States vs. Billie Holiday, for instance, is a 2021 film as far as I can tell, so I am not including it in this list. I try to limit this list to movies released during the 2020 calendar year as much as I can, but it's just been a crazy year.

My top 10 list is a bit different this year because of all the excellent documentaries I saw. Because of this imbalance, I took the documentaries out of the top 10 movies list and combined them with the honorable mention list to make a combined Documentary/Honorable Mention list, consisting of the top 10 documentaries I saw in 2020. As a result, I moved some non-documentary films that might ordinarily be ranked lower up to the top 10 list to round it out.

Below this list of top films, are honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, most romantic, etc. I've included a Dubious Distinction award for a film of “bad faith”. My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is tough to get right.

Page navigation: Commercial Links Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movies,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movies Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Most disappointing movies,   Dubious Distinction.

Best 10 films of 2020

1. Nomadland[4 stars]
This movie is so real it is almost a documentary. That's because a lot of the characters are playing themselves. This unique, inventive film is a hybrid form of cinema verite that I have not seen before. There is a script, and actors, but also authentic characters and stories mixed in with the fabricated characters and stories.
2. Da 5 Bloods[4 stars]
This is another masterpiece from Spike Lee, one of the greatest, and most underappreciated directors of our time. It combines war and family drama with a character-driven, heist movie plot in ways that transcend these genres. Along the way, it manages to examine the history of the Vietnam war in multifaceted ways.
3. Promising Young Woman[4 stars]
This endlessly surprising film has a lot of comic elements and some romantic elements as well, but essentially, this is a dark and tragic revenge story at heart. It is a perfect compliment to the “Me Too” movement.
4. One Night in Miami[4 stars]
This is a dazzling display of talent from the director, Regina King, her dazzling ensemble cast, the inventive screenplay by Kemp Powers (who is also co-director, and a writer of another top 2020 film, “Soul,” by the way) right down to the final song over the credits, “Speak Now” (Written and sung by cast member Leslie Odom, who is also a star of yet another top 2020 film, “Hamilton,” by the way).
5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always[4 stars]
A young woman travels to a distant city for an abortion. She must overcome many obstacles along the way with her cousin's help. Clues to her unhappy past are revealed along the way, but much is revealed when she must answer a series of questions with emotionally devastating responses that range from Never, Rarely, Sometimes, and Always.
6. Wolfwalkers[4 stars]
The best animated film of the year features a story about man's uneasy relationship with his environment in the guise of a supernatural conflict set in the distant past.
7. Hamilton[3.5 stars]
The play that took Broadway by storm is brought to the big screen in a very effective way. It is like being seated in a theater, but it is more than that, since nobody in a theater would get to see it from so many angles and distances from one seat. Its very entertaining, and it is a good history lesson at the same time.
8. I'm Your Woman[3.5 stars]
A woman marries a mobster and is willing to put up with the complications that brings her. But one day, her life and the life of her child are put in danger and she must fight dark forces to stay alive. She finds inner strength and new friends along the way.
9. The Invisible Man[3.5 stars]
An old, oft-told story is updated with an interesting new perspective. An outstanding performance by Elizabeth Moss lifts this film far above the science fiction genre that it occupies. Instead of a story about invisibility, it is a story about abuse, and the strength to fight through it.
10. Palm Springs[3.5 stars]
The best romantic comedy of the year bears a striking resemblence to a classic film, “Groundhog Day,” and it is just as good. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti play a man and woman trapped in an endless time loop, who fall in love, but then find that they must break free. J.K. Simmons adds his comic talent to the mix in this funny, poignant story.

Top 10 Documentary/Honorable Mention movies

Collective[4 stars]
A great example of newspaper journalists in action. Faced with massive corruption on all fronts, a handful of journalists, whistleblowers and government reformers fight corruption. This is a truly inspirational story, and it shows how people can fight back against corruption. Unfortunately, this is an endless battle.
Spaceship Earth[4 stars]
This documentary shines a light on a remarkable group of people and how they accomplished astonishing things. It also shows how Steve Bannon helped to screw up their greatest project, a vast closed ecosystem meant to show how people could survive in space, or on an alien world.
The Painter and the Thief[4 stars]
A documentary film crew stumbles upon a fantastic story about a painter and the thief who stole paintings from her, and how somehow, the two of them became good friends despite that. This story is so strange, with so many twists and turns, you could not make it up.
The Social Dilemma[4 stars]
Maybe not the best documentary film of the year, but certainly the most important one. This is not just about how the Russians influenced the 2016 election, it is about how Facebook and other social media platforms are tearing this country apart. In a way, it predicted the events of January 6, 2021, and it predicts far scarier things in our future.
Athlete A[4 stars]
I thought I knew all about this story, and probably you do too, but there is a lot more to it and this film plumbs the depth of the terrible people who preyed upon too many young women in USA Gymnastics. This story of physical, mental and sexual abuse is still unfolding, even now, as evidenced by the Feb. 25, 2021 suicide of USA Gymnastics coach John Geddert (not mentioned in the film) who faced multiple charges of abusing young female gymnasts.
Born to Be[4 stars]
This powerful and revealing documentary follows the career of a pioneering New York doctor in the relatively new field of transgender medicine. This remarkable doctor operates on an even more remarkable group of patients. It is a hard film to watch, but very enlightening about transgender surgery and why patients want it.
Welcome to Chechnya[3.5 stars]
This is a powerful documentary about attempts to rescue people from torture and death in Chechnya. Those in need of rescue are targeted by authorities because of their sexual preferences. The identities of witnesses and those rescued are protected by the use of a new digital facial replacement technique developed for this film.
Crip Camp[3.5 stars]
This documentary film highlights a groundbreaking camp for handicapped people. Some of these campers became so empowered by their experiences that they went on to become important activists in advancing opportunities for handicapped people.
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life[3.5 stars]
The last hurrah of famed neurologist and science historian Oliver Sacks, based on his autobiography, is given a thorough and moving treatment by documentary filmmaker Ric Burns. Filmed near the end of Sacks' life, it covers his life from beginning to end, depicting a brilliant, but troubled mind, which finally found peace late in life.
Time[3.5 stars]
This documentary, composed of some home video material, as well as footage filmed especially for this movie, tells a remarkable story of a family on the verge of success, plunged into dire straits, then fighting back to success again, against long odds. It is mostly about the determination of one woman, Sibil Fox Richardson, a real tower of strength.

Patrick Ivers’ favorite 2021 films (incomplete):

The Trial of the Chicago 7

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films on this page are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Chloe Zhao — Nomadland
2. Spike Lee — Da 5 Bloods
3. Emerald Fennell — Promising Young Woman
4. Regina King — One Night in Miami
5. Eliza Hittman — Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Best leading actor

1. Delroy Lindo — Da 5 Bloods
2. Lakeith Stanfield — Judas and the Black Messiah
3. Anthony Hopkins — The Father
4. Willem Dafoe — Tommaso
5. Andy Samberg — Palm Springs

Best leading actress

1. Elisabeth Moss — The Invisible Man
2. Frances McDormand — Nomadland
3. Carey Mulligan — Promising Young Woman
4. Olivia Coleman — The Father
5. Radha Blank — The Forty-Year-Old Version

Best supporting actor

1. Sacha Baron Cohen — The Trial of the Chicago 7
2. Daniel Kaluuya — Judas and the Black Messiah
3. Leslie Odom, Jr. — One Night in Miami
4. Will Patton — Minari
5. Eddie Redmayne — The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best supporting actress

1. Maria Bakalova — Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
2. Amanda Seyfried — Mank
3. Dominique Fishback — Judas and the Black Messiah
4. Vasilisa Perelygina — Beanpole
5. Marsha Stephanie Blake — I'm Your Woman

Best child actors

1. Sarm Heng — Buoyancy
2. Helena Zengel — News of the World
3. Alan Kim — Minari

Best adapted screenplay

1. Nomadland — Chloe Zhao
2. One Night in Miami — Kemp Powers
3. The Invisible Man — Leigh Whannell
4. The White Tiger — Ramin Bahrani
5. The Outpost — Eric Johnson, Paul Tamasy

Best original screenplay

1. Da 5 Bloods — Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee
2. Promising Young Woman — Emerald Fennell
3. Never Rarely Sometimes Always — Eliza Hittman
4. Wolfwalkers — Will Collins
5. Palm Springs — Andy Siara

Best animated feature

1. Wolfwalkers
2. Soul
3. Onward
4. The Croods: A New Age
5. Over the Moon

Best foreign language film

1. Buoyancy
2. New Order
3. Night of the Kings
4. The White Tiger
5. Identifying Features

Best cinematography

1. Tenet — Hoyte van Hoytema
2. News of the World — Dariusz Wolski
3. One Night in Miami — Tami Reiker
4. Da 5 Bloods — Newton Thomas Sigel
5. My Octopus Teacher — Roger Horrocks

Best editing

1. Nomadland — Chloe Zhao
2. I'm Thinking of Ending Things — Robert Frazen
3. Da 5 Bloods — Adam Gough
4. The Trial of the Chicago 7 — Alan Baumgarten
5. Palm Springs — Andrew Dickler, Matt Friedman

Best Original Score

1. The Midnight Sky — Alexandre Desplat
2. Hamilton — Lin-Manuel Miranda
3. Tenet — Ludwig Goransson
4. Soul — Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Jon Batiste
5. The Invisible Man — Terence Blanchard

Best song

1. Speak Now — One Night in Miami
2. Never Break — Giving Voice
3. Hear My Voice — The Trial of the Chicago
4. Satisfied — Hamilton
5. Wuhan Flu — Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Best visual effects

1. The Midnight Sky — Matt Kasmir, Chris Lawrence, Dave Watkins, Max Solomon
2. Mulan — Sean Faden, Anders Langlands, Seth Maury, Steve Ingram
3. Love and Monsters — Matt Sloan, Genevieve Camilleri, Paula Nederman
4. Tenet — Andrew Jackson, Andrew Lockley, Scott R. Fisher, Mike Chambers
5. Welcome to Chechyna — Ryan Laney

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest films of the year

Palm Springs[3.5 stars]
Bill and Ted Face the Music[3 stars]
The Forty-Year-Old Version[3 stars]
Onward[3 stars]
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm[3 stars]
The Croods: A New Age[3 stars]

Saddest films of the year

Buoyancy[3 stars]
Beanpole[3 stars]
Judas and the Black Messiah[3 stars]
Sound of Metal[2.5 stars]
Tommaso[2 stars]
The Wolf House[2.5 stars]
Collective[4 stars]
New Order[3 stars]
Never Rarely Sometimes Always[4 stars]
Sorry We Missed You[3 stars]
The Midnight Sky[2.5 stars]
The Lodge[2 stars]

Best love stories

Palm Springs[3.5 stars]
Ammonite[3 stars]
Emma[3 stars]

Scariest villains of the year

Rom Ran (played by Thanawut Kasro) murderous fishing boat captain and slaver in
Buoyancy[3 stars]
Adrian Griffin (played by Oliver Jackson-Cohen) the abusive, murderous unseen menace in
The Invisible Man[3.5 stars]
Sator (played by Kenneth Branagh) psychopath determined to destroy the universe in
Tenet[2.5 stars]
Blackbeard (Steve Tientcheu) ruthless prison strong man plans a murder before he dies in
Night of the Kings[3 stars]

The year's most overrated films

All of these films have won awards or have been highly rated by some critics groups, but I found them disappointing. Not bad, just not as good as I thought they would be. There are also historical inaccuracies in The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Mank. These are listed alphabetically.
Another Round[3 stars]
First Cow[3 stars]
Mank[3 stars]
The Reason I Jump[3 stars]
The Trial of the Chicago 7[3 stars]

The year's best films you've never heard of

Never Rarely Sometimes Always[4 stars]
Wolfwalkers[4 stars]
I'm Your Woman[3.5 stars]
Spaceship Earth[4 stars]
The Painter and the Thief[4 stars]
Born to Be[4 stars]
Welcome to Chechnya[3.5 stars]
Crip Camp[3.5 stars]
Oliver Sacks: His Own Life[3.5 stars]
Time[3.5 stars]

Worst 2020 films I've seen

While I saw most of the best films 2020, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including DolittleThe Last Thing He WantedEurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire SagaGuest of HonourThe Painted Bird365 Days/After We CollidedArtemis FowlThe Roads Not TakenCaponeSuperintelligence“Hubie HalloweenThe Wrong MissyAntebellumFantasy IslandSongbirdTyler Perry’s A Fall From Grace and Weddings and Other Disasters, among many others. I also missed most of the bad limited release bad films, so this is not in any way a list of the worst of the worst films, just the worst of the films I saw. I did see Ava, Irresistible, Bloodshot, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, and The Call of the Wild, and they did not make my “worst of” list. I saw Sonic the Hedgehog and Wild Mountain Thyme and liked them more than most critics did.
The Lodge[2 stars]
This movie got good reviews, but then it seems many critics like horror films more than I do. The plot is similar to that of The Shining, but it is not nearly that good, and it lacks the supernatural elements that made the latter film more effective. I could not wait for this movie to end.
The Prom[2 stars]
I was in no hurry to watch this, but I felt duty bound to see it. It does have one good dramatic scene and one good dance number, but that is about it. I do hope that James Corden gets a chance to do another good musical, like Begin Again he is talented, but after this and Cats he may not get another chance.
Shirley[2 stars]
This is a very literary film, with another great performance by Elizabeth Moss (to go with her performance in The Invisible Man) and a matching one by Michael Stuhlbarg, together with arresting cinematography. Unfortunately, all this talent is trapped in a flaccid, stagnant, bookish story peopled by annoying characters who are constantly squabbling.
Tommaso[2 stars]
I could not make much sense of this film, since the main character, Tommaso, brilliantly played by Willem Dafoe, seems to be very unstable and is sometimes given to hallucinations. So what's real and what's not real? I would not mind following this crazed character down this rabbit hole of a story if he was more relatable.

Dubious Distinctions

Bad Faith Award

The Bad Faith Award this year goes to Mank[3 stars]

This film is based on a true story, but it takes too many liberties with the facts.

The main character, Herman J. “Mank” Mankiewicz (played by Gary Oldman) is shown working on his award-winning script for Ciitzen Kane, but the story takes some detours into California politics, deceptive newsreels and an overlong, drunken diatribe by Mankiewicz against William Randolph Hearst.

The liberalized version of Mankiewicz in this film is not the real Mankiewicz. These detours don't really fit the main story all that well, and most of these plot details never happened in real life anyway. Now I'd like to think these historically inaccurate details were not added to the story just to appeal to many of Hollywood's awards voters to make them feel better about themselves, but it does seem suspicious.

Links to all my reviews are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Commercial Links  Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Most disappointing movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

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Copyright © 2020 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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