Good movies were moving from media platforms to smartphones in 2020, even when everything else stopped. In a year which seemed like its own kind of tumultous Hollywood production, the movies — even if played onsmaller screens — were as necessary as ever. It was the year of the drive-in in hollywood , the backyard-bedsheet screening and the streaming service.
But wherever they played, the best films of the year offered some escape and connection: the possibility of grace, a spark of fury — and something the rest of the world couldn’t offer: the assurance of an ending. Here are our picks for the best movies of 2020:
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Eliza Hittman’s film, about a 17-year-old Pennsylvania young woman (newcomer Sidney Flanigan) having to travel to New York for an abortion, is a delicately restrained, heartbreaking neo-realistic drama. It’s about the hurdles to abortion in much of the U.S., but it’s also paints a vivid picture, through countless fraught interactions, of what its like growing up a teenage girl.
A legitimate double-feature to pair with his “Inside Out,” Pete Docter’s latest Pixar marvel spins deep existential troubles into a wonderous and wise family film. It’s also, with a glorious rendering of Harlem, one of the best New York movies in years.
This sharp Romanian documentary, about corruption in the country’s health care system, is one of the most powerful journalism dramas you’ll see this side of “All the President’s Men.” team of reporters exposes rot within the system — change within the system, following an insider’s attempts to respond to the journalists’ work.
Sound of Metal
Riz Ahmed’s potent performance as a punk-metal drummer with a heroin habit who loses much of his hearing is uneven, always unpredictable drama of recovery and self-realization. In a year of social distancing, intense and raw performances like Ahmed’s (and Carrie Coon’s in “The Nest”) telescoped the space between.
Set in the Oregon Territory of the 1820s, it’s a display of a friendship forged on kindness . The movie’s Western landscape with two poor travelers (played by John Magaro and Orion Lee) suggests criticism of capitalism as much as Ken Loach’s also great modern-day gig economy drama “Sorry We Missed You.” But the tenderness between them, despite it all, could hardly have felt more suited to the times.
It is five films anthology and not one, but I’d have as hard a time splitting up Steve McQueen’s work as I would “The Decalogue.” It functions best a whole, as a cycle of racism and resistance stretched over two decades of London history. The second chapter, “Lovers Rock,” is a bass-thumping standout, and may be the best house-party movie ever made.
It is full of contradictions. A clear-eyed tribute to Old Hollywood, made for a streaming service. An anti-auteur theory drama about the many minds that go into final detination to a viewer of a movie, helmed by maybe America’s most skillful and obsessive director.Mank is a head-spinning, atmospheric and greatly acted character study about a guy who gave something his all — and out came one of the greatest movies ever made.
Dick Johnson Is Dead
Kirsten Johnson has made two films as a director, both masterpieces of human connection. Following her collage documentary “Cameraperson,” her father, Dick, began to fall to dementia. Johnson resolved to make a film with him, rehearsing elaborate death scenes and reminiscing in between as a way to spend time together and preserve something of him on film. Both of Johnson’s films urge you to open your eyes to the world around you, and pick up a camera.
Lee Isaac Chung’s exhaustively detailed, autobiographical film is a classic immigrant tale and a compassionate family drama about his Korean immigrant parents (Steven Yeun, Yeri Han) after they moved to rural Arkansas. Its warmth and gentleness slowly but steadily bowls you over.
David Byrne’s American Utopia
Spike Lee’s fiction films make noise but he’s quietly one of the extraordinary documentary filmmakers we have. He might have delivered the best film of the year in his short film “New York, New York,” a tribute to an undefeatable pandemic-stricken city. But aside from his great Vietnam War drama “Da 5 Bloods,” Lee’s concert film of Byrne’s Broadway show — full of energy , dancing celebration of togetherness
Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland” is a gentle, humane and dizzyingly poetic tribute to the people on the fringes of American society, the ones who choose to wander and drift across the great Western landscape. Frances McDormand gives a performance that is so alive and unguarded that it feels like non-fiction. Many want to be the next Terrence Malick, but “Nomadland” proves Zhao is it.
Miranda July’s “Kajillionaire” is also about people on the fringe, but her protagonists aren’t highway goons . The Dynes, Robert (Richard Jenkins), Theresa (Debra Winger) and Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), are lousy small time con artists hiding in plain sight in sunbeaten, concrete Los Angeles. Original and surreal, you may wonder at the emotional punch this odd and lovely story packs and you’ll never look at a pancake the same way.
“Lover’s Rock” is a pulsating, 68-minute dance party directed by one of our living greats, Steve McQueen. It is sweaty, glittery, heady and, like a great guest, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
On the Rocks
Sofia Coppola’s this movie is beautiful , it might seem a little insubstantial. Manhattan haunts with Bill Murray and Rashida Jones in a convertible with caviar and champagne any day — it’s also a work of subtle power. It’s an accessible, thoughtful and wonderfully adult treatise on men and women in the most unlikely of packages — a father/daughter comedy.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
One of the year’s quietest but most devastating films looks at the decidedly unempowering experience of existing in a female teenage body, especially for a teenage girl living in rural Pennsylvania who needs an abortion. From director Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a tremendous exercise in mood and a beautiful showcase for some up and coming talents.
Promising Young Woman
A messy, bold movie about a messy, bold woman (Carey Mulligan) who has given up on her own life to become a kind of #MeToo vigilante, scaring strangers and enemies into seeing that there are no gray areas when it comes to sexual misconduct. The bubblegum pink brainchild of writer-director Emerald Fennell (who also plays Camilla Parker-Bowles on “The Crown”) is garish, beguiling and unapologetically itself. Mulligan is terrific, as is Bo Burnham.