Hello all! Welcome to my “best of” list! I usually do this in February closer to the Oscars. But, as you might know, that’s not until late April. I didn’t want to wait that long. For the last few years, I’ve written down all the movies that I missed seeing and try to use January and February as catchup. Being the perfectionist that I am, I want to make a really comprehensive “best of” list. But that’s the thing: I never watch all of them. There’s just too many good films to watch. Hamilton? Miss Juneteenth? The Outpost? The 40-Year-Old Version? None of them are on this list because I just didn’t get around to them. However, I am still very happy with the list I do have. Every movie on here has given me some form of enjoyment in one way or another. So, without further ado, here are my personal picks for the top twenty movies of 2020!

 

20.Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Let’s start off with Chadwick Boseman’s swan song. Boseman was one of my favorite actors. If he was in a movie, I was seeing that movie. But would you believe that his last performance is his best? Boseman and co-star Viola Davis are projected to get Oscar nominations for their roles here here. Boy do they deserve it. In fact, Boseman should win. It’s my favorite performance by any male actor this year. Frankly, when this film ended, I thought, “What?! No! I want more.” The best ones always leave you wanting more.

 

19. Swallow

On the surface, it’s a strange premise: a woman has an obsession with eating inedible objects (yes, you will cringe watching it). However, that’s just barely scratching the surface of what this film is really about. You may remember Haley Bennett from other films but you will remember her from this. It also has one of the best climaxes of 2020. Even if you don’t dig the rest of the movie, you have to admit that that scene and Bennett’s acting in it is gold.

 

18. Never Rarely Sometimes Always 

This is the film that features my favorite female performance of the year. Sidney Flanigan is absolutely incredible in this film. This being her first film, I seriously hope she gets more work. As for the film itself, this is a story about a controversial topic (abortion) told without any sensationalism. It’s not preachy for one side or the other. It just presents this story as it is and you decide for yourself. I like that approach. It’s a quiet film that resonates loud.

 

17. Inmate #1: The Rise of Danny Trejo

You know Danny Trejo even if you don’t recognize the name. In this documentary, we are told his life story from Trejo himself. Why is this film on the list? Because the journey that Trejo takes us on is truly remarkable. We get the whole story from his childhood to his current days as an actor. It’s a dark ride but a hopeful one as well. This is more than just a puff piece. It’s a completely absorbing testament to a tough guy with a heart of gold.

 

16. Nail in the Coffin: The Fall and Rise of Vampiro

I didn’t grow up watching wrestling so I certainly didn’t know anything about Lucha libre. This is Mexican wrestling and it had a star not from Mexico: Canadian Ian Richard Hodgkinson (otherwise known as Vampiro). This is his story. We get an inside peak into this man’s life and one thing is clear: he will always love the sport of wrestling (even if it takes an increasingly physical toll on him). It’s just a part of who he is now whether he’s in the ring or out. It can be a painful story but it’s always riveting.  Any filmgoers interested in wrestling should seek this one out.

 

15. The Gentlemen

Guy Ritchie came back to his roots for this one. I still consider Snatch to be his best film but The Gentlemen is up there. It’s a film where Ritchie does what he does best: write damn entertaining (and surprisingly funny) crime stories. We got a mess of gangsters, drug dealers and swindlers all trying to stay one step ahead of each other. For the most part, it’s a blast. Let’s give particular shoutouts to Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell, and Charlie Hunnam. It’s got a vulgar mouth and a loaded gun and it just wants to make you grin. Mission accomplished.

 

14. Mangrove

Make way everybody! New Steve McQueen movie coming through! The Oscar-winning Brit is back with another social drama to wow you. Mangrove is, like other McQueen projects, a film with fantastic acting and stark realism. You can feel the passion coming from actors Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, and Malachi Kirby. It’s a film about discrimination but isn’t typical Oscar-bait. You can feel McQueen respects this story and, especially in the second half, it’s a marvel to behold.

 

13. Premature

Premature is the kind of movie that makes you take notice of it’s cast and crew. Rashaad Ernesto Green, Zora Howard and Joshua Boone are all on my radar now because I enjoyed this film so much. It’s a film that feels so natural. I didn’t think I was watching actors acting but watching genuine characters onscreen. I actually cared about the relationship in here. I actually cared and really enjoyed my time spent with these characters. Writer/director Green and co-writer/star Howard have something real special here.

 

12. Kajillionaire

Hmmm…I’m trying to think of how to best describe this film in just a paragraph. I’ll first start off with this: Not everyone’ll probably like this film but I was delighted. Here is a true oddball. It’s another film that I can list as a reason why I love Evan Rachel Wood and Richard Jenkins. This is a film that can be light and charming at times while also being deep and personal at others. It handles that balance really well, always knowing when to switch gears effectively. What the film always is is eccentric (and in not in an annoying way). I am unfamiliar with director Miranda July’s work but this makes me want to change that.

 

11. Soul

If you know me and my film tastes, you know I have a massive heart for anything Pixar…well almost anything (Cars 2 has escaped me.) Soul takes the emotional lessons of their 2015 film Inside Out and goes even deeper. It’s rare to find a family film that is so existential as well as so beautiful. Like the best of Pixar, it takes a hold of your heart and doesn’t let go. Its whole world that it creates is so original and actually really profound. Soul is aptly titled because it has so much of it.

 

10. On the Record

This is likely the movie on this list that is the hardest to watch. It’s a documentary all about Russel Simmons and the many accusations against him.  We get interview after interview of the many women who have accused Simmons of sexual harassment and assault. It is, needless to say, one of the more hard-hitting documentaries I’ve seen in some time. Personally, it’s hard to watch this and not believe these women by the end. It’s also about how these women stand up and try to support one another after such a traumatic event. If you can handle the material, I highly recommend going to HBOMAX and checking it out.

 

9. Come As You Are

Come As You Are is one of those great indie finds that you just have to tell people about. This is a story about three young men with differing disabilities and their road trip to finally, um, get lucky. Refreshingly, this isn’t a film where the disabilities are their entire character. We do get to know these three guys and the relationship they form got to me. At first I thought this was going to be a typical sex comedy. By the end, I had laughed a bunch and even teared up. Well done.

 

8. The Trial of the Chicago 7

One of two Sacha Baron Cohen films to appear on this list, this is the latest film by screenwriting giant Aaron Sorkin. After his successful directorial debut Molly’s Game, Sorkin returns to the director’s chair for something even better. This depiction of a very famous court case is at times upsetting, other times funny, and all around fantastic. It’s got that typical Sorkin wit and the entire acting ensemble is on fire here. It’s a story that still strongly resonates today and Sorkin has told it masterfully.

 

7. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm 

Well damn. How the hell did this happen? A sequel to a comedy classic fourteen years later? How do you capture the magic again? Well they did. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm proves Sacha Baron Cohen can still effectively push the boundaries of what’s funny. The man is fearless. It’s a movie that’s both hilarious and jaw-dropping in the balls that it has. Yes, it’s a clever knock against trumpism. Rather surprisingly though, it’s also a charming film about a father-daughter relationship. All in all, this sequel is great success. 

 

6. Run

Oh Aneesh Chaganty, you overachiever you. Chaganty’s directorial debut, Searching, made my top ten in 2018. Well would you look at that? He returns with another winner. Everybody now knows that Sarah Paulson can act but can we talk about star Kiera Allen? In her feature film debut, she manages to really endear us to her character. All the fear yet curiosity she goes through? That’s also us going on this crazy ride with her. Run is a lean 90 minutes and what a suspenseful 90 minutes it is. Ready for film #3, Mr. Chaganty.

 

5. Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal stars Riz Amid as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer who starts to lose his hearing. This is an admittedly harrowing premise and the sound mixing expertly puts you in Ruben’s shoes (I seriously don’t know how they won’t win the Oscar for this.) But there is something about this movie that brings more than just tragedy. There’s something truly poetic about it. It doesn’t wallow in grief. It’s a film about carrying on. This is a film that has maybe my favorite ending shot of the year. As soon as it caught to black, I needed to tell everybody about this film. Riz Ahmed has been in solid movies before like Nightcrawler and Rogue One. But, like Haley Bennett in Swallow, this is the film that I will now think of when I hear his name.

 

4. Promising Young Woman

I waited pretty much a whole year to see this movie and man was it worth the wait. Promising Young Woman is something I want all my movies to be: fresh and unpredictable. This movie has got bite. Like the character Carey Mulligan plays, it’s a film with it’s own take-no-crap attitude. Mulligan’s character, Casandra, is a role any skilled actress could sink their teeth into and she does just that. This is Carey Mulligan like we’ve never seen her before. 2020 was a good year for actresses making their directorial debuts. Writer/director’ Emerald Fennell’s command of the material as it twists through different tones is highly impressive. I’m really glad this is getting awards buzz because it for sure knocked me out.

 

3. Collective

I had to rewatch this film for a second time just to soak it all in. This is a documentary with no talking heads or fancy camera tricks. This is simply a fly-on-the-wall approach to filmmaking and it blew me away. Following a tragic fire in Bucharest, the film follows journalists as they uncover corruption at the very heart of Romania’s healthcare system. You will not believe what they find out. Any investigative journalism story already has me hooked. However, Collective is more than just about corruption in a rotten system. It’s about those who try and stand up against it. This film, as heart-wrenching as it is, is one dedicated to those who fight on even in the bleakest of times. It’s an absolutely spectacular documentary.

 

2. Spontaneous

Within nine days, I saw this movie three times. I really liked it when I first saw it. Then I watched it again. Then I showed it to my buddy. With each viewing, my admiration for the film grew and grew. Spontaneous works on multiple levels: it’s a funny comedy, a charming teen romance, and a surprisingly deep drama. Who knew all that would come from teenagers spontaneously combusting? I had seen Katherine Langford in films like Knives Out and Love, Simon but here she really steps out into the spotlight. Her and Charlie Plummer are definitely two breakouts for me this year. This movie surprised the hell out of me. It probably won’t be long until I watch it again. It’s in a genre all it’s own and I loved it for that.

 

  1. One Night in Miami 

    What is the best film of 2020? What was the film that captivated me the most? What had the best acting ensemble? How about the best dialogue? I take this top ten list business seriously. If a movie is going to be my number one, it’s got to be special. It’s got to be a film I hold close to my heart. It’s got to be a five out of five or a ten out of ten. One Night in Miami is that film. First-time director Regina King and screenwriter Kemp Powers have made something funny, something stirring , something incredible.  You know your film is good when you want to tell people about it before it’s even over. If the Oscars are worth their salt, this is going to be a big player at their annual ceremony. I don’t know what else to say besides this: I adore this film.

 

Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):

David Byrne’s American Utopia (dir. Spike Lee)

Minari (dir. Lee Isaac Chung)

Becky (dir. Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion)

Get Duked! (dir. Ninian Doff)

Onward (dir. Dan Scanlon)

Embattled (dir. Nick Sarkisov)

Saint Frances (dir. Alex Thompson)

Bad Boys For Life (dir. Bilall Fallah, Adil El Arbi)

Mosul (dir. Matthew Michael Carnahan)

Happiest Season (dir. Clea DuVall)

Feels Good Man (dir. Arthur Jones)

Da Five Bloods (dir. Spike Lee)

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By Jeff Olson

Lifelong Chicagoan and film school graduate. Been passionate about film since I was a wee kid so writing about it feels like home.

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