2020 may not have been as great a year for movies as it was for TV shows or video games, but there was still a fairly strong showing in the world of cinema. From hidden horrors to (literal) manhunts to harlequins, these past twelve months have given us more than a few unique and awesome motion pictures, and the following were the ones that stood out the most.
Honorable Mention: The Invisible Man
Even though the film’s title refers to its villain, The Invisible Man is Elisabeth Moss’ movie. The unseeable menace is great in his own right and updated in multiple, scary ways, but most of the dread and anxiety is sold through Moss’ Cecilia via a powerhouse performance. Watching Cecilia slowly crumble as her “deceased” ex toys with her is equally sad and terrifying, and knowing that nobody believes her raises her (and our) feelings of isolation and anxiety even further. And even though it’s predictable at times, the surprises it has in store – one of which is one of the most memorable movie moments of the year – more than make up for it. Here’s hoping that The Invisible Man can serve as the foundation for another Dark Universe (the previous one began and ended with 2017’s The Mummy) that breathes new life into the other classic Universal monsters, and adds some interesting ideas or twists like the ones seen here.
You can listen to Zac and I talk about The Invisible Man on a bonus episode of Middle of the Row: The Podcast here.
Number 10: Bill & Ted Face the Music
In my review of Bill & Ted Face the Music, I called the trilogy capper “Anti-2020: The Movie” because of its overwhelming silliness and positivity, and I stand by that alternate title. The world had been an absolute shitshow for the past few months before the long-awaited sequel dropped, so I had one Hell of a time watching this slice of pure, unadulterated wholesomeness. The rock-solid chemistry between the original dim-witted duo is as strong as ever and multiplied (in a sense) by the presence of their equally awesome daughters. Face the Music isn’t a grand evolution of the franchise, but it’s just as fun as the originals, works as a closing chapter for the series while leaving it open for something new, introduces some great characters (one of whom is the best from any of the movies) and reiterates the same thoughtful messages and themes that endeared me to the lovable goofballs in the first place.
You can read my full review of Bill & Ted Face the Music here.
Number 9: Soul
Pixar’s straight-to-Disney+ feature is yet another stunningly beautiful animated gem that allows audiences of all ages to explore deep, complex themes, and plays with a wide range of emotions like a masterful musician would with the notes of their instrument of choice. The acclaimed studio breathed life and emotions into our possessions with the Toy Story and Cars series’, personified emotions themselves with Inside Out, and now they’ve somehow tackled something that’s arguably even less tangible: life itself. Soul has one of the smaller voice casts in a Pixar picture, but also one of the best; the vocal performances from co-stars Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey are pitch perfect, brilliantly selling the protagonists’ “spiritual” journeys and giving the film its namesake. There’s also a ton of unique, vibrant, visuals, and the world-building in the first half is fabulous. Lastly, it features what is easily Pixar’s most impressive score to date, even if you aren’t a huge fan of jazz.
Number 8: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
For the longest time, Warner Bros’ DC Extended Universe wasn’t much more than a lackluster imitation of Disney’s mega blockbuster franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The DCEU had gotten better in the past few years with hits like Aqua Man and Shazam!, which were just ridiculous amounts of fun, but it wasn’t until 2020 that the DCEU finally, FINALLY had a movie that could really stand on equal footing with most of the MCU’s entries. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is wonderfully colorful, surprisingly violent, has a great sense of humor, an awesome sense of style, an outstanding group of leading ladies that kick all kinds of ass, and one of the best comic book movie villains to date. I strongly hope for more oddball super-adventures like this in the DCEU’s future, and with The Suicide Squad on the horizon, it seems likely that I’ll get my wish.
Number 7: Justice League Dark: Apokolips War
While the live-action DCEU was still figuring out what it wanted to be, the DC Animated Movie Universe was thriving, and the final film in the DCAMU’s first continuity, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War is one of the best superhero movies that I’ve seen in years, animated or otherwise. If you thought Avengers: Infinity War got dark, hold onto your butts because Apokolips War is even bleaker, creates stakes on par with Avengers: Endgame, and has a handful of fantastic superpowered brawls as well. The voice acting is stellar (Jerry O’Connell delivers my favorite Superman ever and Tony Todd is ultra intimidating as Darkseid), and the amount of character development we see among certain Leaguers, Teen Titans, and others is kind of amazing when considering that the movie is just shy of 90 minutes in length. And like Endgame did for the MCU, Apokolips War serves as closing chapter for the DCAMU and many of its greatest characters.
You can read my full review of Justice League Dark: Apokolips War here.
Number 6: The Hunt
The Hunt is an ingenious political satire, hysterical action comedy, and surprisingly intense thriller all rolled into one bizarre package. This The Most Dangerous Game-inspired romp employs what I like to call “the South Park comedic approach” by making fun of everyone equally and highlighting the ridiculousness of the extreme right and left sides of our current political spectrum. Combine that with a plot that keeps shocking you time and time again, and the end result is a thoroughly entertaining experience that keeps you laughing, guessing, and on your toes at all times. I think that the less you know about the cast and characters, the more you’ll end up getting out of The Hunt because it thrives on surprising you, subverting your expectations in sometimes hilarious, sometimes deadly, and sometimes hilariously deadly ways. It’s easily one of the most original, creative, funny, and enjoyable movies of the year.
Number 5: You Cannot Kill David Arquette
Way back in 2000, the then almost mega-star David Arquette won the most prestigious title in professional wrestling. Fans saw it as an insult to the sport, and it majorly derailed Arquette’s once-promising acting career. The 2020 documentary film You Cannot Kill David Arquette chroncicles the titular actor’s efforts to regain some of the respect he lost all those years ago by going back to the world of wrestling. It takes an unfiltered, and sometimes painful look at the Scream actor’s life, physical health, and psychological state. The highpoints, like his training with a group of luchadores, had me laughing and cheering, and the lows, such as seeing him get injured in the ring or savaged by critics and talk shows, were absolutely devastating. You Cannot Kill David Arquette gives you all the feels and all the insight you need to get into Arquette’s corner (and then some) but also worry for his safety and emotional stability. There’s all of that, and the cherry on top: it made me actually care about wrestling, which I never had before.
Number 4: Feels Good Man
Feels Good Man is almost overwhelmingly bizarre, and this is coming from someone who loves weird movies. This cautionary tale dives into the deepest and darkest facets of meme culture as it follows the journey of an artist who tries to take back his innocent creation from those who turned it into a political tool and a symbol of hate. On the way we glance into the lives of the most dedicated (and deluded) of meme-ers, learn about a meme-based currency, and see how far the internet can push, twist, and ultimately tarnish something that was initially harmless. With an uncomfortable honesty and frankness, Feels Good Man shows us that the world wide web can be a dangerous, toxic place, even for those who are fictional, but the film also has enough positivity to balance it all out. It’s weird, funny, sad, uplifting, and just like Pepe the frog, there really isn’t anything else like it. Feels Good Man definitely isn’t going to be for everyone, especially those with only a vague idea of memes and internet customs, but I would highly recommend it to those with a somewhat solid understanding of them. I found it to be quite an eye-opening and worthwhile experience.
Number 3: Host
One of the biggest cinematic surprises of 2020 was this short and terrifying treat courtesy of the horror-centric streaming service, Shudder. Host is the most inventive horror flick that I saw this year – it was shot on Zoom from inside the actors’ homes during the Covid quarantine – and the scariest, which is sadly appropriate considering how much time so many of us spent in Zoom meetings throughout 2020. The story is about as simple as you can get (a few friends experience an online seance gone wrong) but that’s totally fine because the amount of scares and horror that Host contains in its sub-hour runtime are all that it needs to work its magic. It evoked the same sense of dread I felt when watching Paranormal Activity for the first time; that kind that makes you feel so uneasy that you keep sinking lower and lower into your chair and blanket (it was cold, shut up) and are constantly holding your breath in anticipation of whatever supernatural happening is going scare the shit out of you next. And it was even scarier on my second viewing! Seriously, if you want the full Host experience, watch it on a laptop with headphones in the dark… If you’re okay with ruining your sleep schedule for a night or two.
Number 2: If Anything Happens I love You
This animated short, which centers on a pair of parents grieving the loss of their child in the wake of a school shooting, isn’t easy to watch. In fact, If Anything Happens I Love You pretty much destroyed me. Imagine if the last chunk of the opening of Up was the entire movie, and it was even more heartbreaking. That’s the kind of emotional devastation you should prepare yourself for with this. The twelve-minute feature has no spoken dialogue, but the rough animation style, ashy, muted color palette, melancholic score, and poignant visual storytelling do what words alone never could; make you feel a fraction of the emptiness and pain that a mother and father struggle with in the aftermath of an awful, senseless tragedy. If Anything Happens I Love You truly, genuinely affected me, and while it isn’t based on a specific, real event, it’s undeniable that many (too many) parents have gone through calamities of this magnitude before. It’s a heart-wrenching snapshot of grief with a message that is loud and clear: we need to do whatever we can to prevent terrible things like this from happening in the future.
Number 1: Palm Springs
The only information I had regarding Palm Springs going in were its genre (romantic comedy) its leads (Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti) and that was definitely the best way I could’ve experienced it for the first time. Because I avoided the spoilery trailer and synopsis – thanks for the warning, Zac! – I found myself caught off guard in the best of ways. Palm Springs is is still entertaining if you know where it’s going though; it had been in my top three films of 2020 since my initial viewing, and only grew on me even more through rewatches. It features an inspired blend of classic concepts, is laugh out loud funny, and has a heavy helping of genuine character development. Samberg and Milioti are fantastic together, effortlessly selling the humor and romance with their great chemistry and even greater comedic timing. They’re definitely among my favorite comedic duos of the past few years, up there with Billy Magnussen/Sharon Horgan in Game Night and Seth Rogen/Charlize Theron in Long Shot. The supporting cast members who occasionally pop in to deliver memorable dialogue, gags, or pearls of wisdom are instantly enjoyable as well. All in all, Palm Springs is a hilarious, heartwarming adventure of love, growth, acceptance, the best movie of 2020, and possibly my all-time favorite rom-com.
You can listen to our Palm Springs Episode of Middle of the Row: The Podcast here.
And those were my favorite films of 2020. If you liked what you read, check out this ranked list of every movie I saw this year, follow me on Twitter, Letterboxd, or bookmark my author page. Until next time, remember: the best seats are in the Middle of the Row!