We look at some of the rays of light that shone through the pandemic clouds, and celebrate our ten favorite films of 2020.
With Wonder Woman 1984 in the bag, we’ve covered the final movie in our most anticipated list (of those that didn’t get pushed back to 2021!) It’s time to pour over all of the movies we’ve covered and pick out which ten stood tallest in 2020.
Despite being a complete horror show of a year, there were a few positive stories coming out of the film industry. Below, we’ve rounded up three trends that provided a silver lining to a very bad year.
2020 Retrospective: Positive Trends
- Return of the Drive-In Movie
Hollywood was desperate to get people to see movies on a big screen. That desperation turned into a winning ticket for US drive-in industry. Not only did people flock to the drive-in in the spring and summer to catch movies that were otherwise unavailable, people used drive-ins for all manner of social gatherings. Hell, Joe Biden pretty much ran most of his campaign as a drive-in event!
- By Women, Starring Women
2019’s trend of seeing big movies led by women both in front of and behind the camera kept going strong this year. We kicked off 2020 with Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey and finished it with Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman 1984. Next year we’ll see Cate Shortland carry the torch with the release of Black Widow. That’s girl power we can all celebrate.
- Innovation and Cooperation
When the pandemic hit its first deadly peak, indie film makers stepped up to the plate to help their industry and their fellow workers. Following in the trail blazed by director Gary Lundgren with his film Phoenix Oregon, smaller productions partnered with local theaters to share profits of digital distribution. While big companies like Disney tried to dominate the streaming market while also slashing jobs, the indie market showed a way forward through the pandemic, together.
2020 Retrospective: Favorite Films
Honorable Mention: War (Nov. 2019)
While this film technically came out in the tail end of 2019, it wasn’t widely available till this year. After having been burned by so many Bollywood blockbusters of late, it was an astonishing pleasure to see all of the common tropes of that genre actually being used to make a good film.
Honorable Mention: Vivarium (Jun. 2019)
Another holdover from 2019, Vivarium deserves a spot on the list simply for capturing the stuck-at-home angst of 2020 in such a perfect manner, while delivering a weird and creepy science fiction allegory that hit more than it missed.
10. The Vast of Night (May 2020)
This science fiction piece had a shaky take off, but once the bird was in the air, it really entertained. The latest film to approximate one continuous shot featured some snappy dialogue and engrossing atmosphere, making the best of it’s 1950’s Americana aesthetic.
9. The Invisible Man (Mar. 2020)
Wow. Hard to believe this was the last movie I actually sat in a theater for. Director Leigh Whannell adroitly used misdirection to refocus the classic story of the invisible man to focus on his victims. Elisabeth Moss again shone in a dramatic leading role, giving the film a focal point to Whannell’s excellent scares.
8. Archive (Jul. 2020)
Archive came out of nowhere, but as soon as I saw the trailer, I knew I wanted to review it. The film cleverly used it’s science fiction elements to interrogate how westernized countries approach death and dying. Kudos goes to Stacy Martin for playing multiple rolls, including her own robotic doppelganger.
7. Horse Girl (Jan. 2020)
It’s hard to even remember January, as it feels like a century ago. Horse Girl feels eerily prescient as it explored social isolation and the ways being cut off from a larger community can cause mental trauma and instability. Another great drama in 2020 featuring a strong female lead in Alison Brie.
6. Sonic the Hedgehog (Aug. 2020)
One thing I noticed looking over 2020’s movie reviews is how many films pleasantly surprised us. Iron Mask was a delightfully entertaining mess, War managed to finally deliver a fun Bollywood action experience, and Sonic the Hedgehog managed to be a completely enjoyable, visually impressive video game adaptation. Now that’s a rare achievement.
5. Eurovision – The Story of Fire Saga (Jun. 2020)
Many people panned Eurovision TSoFS as just another “Will Ferrell plays a giant man-child idiot” movie…and they weren’t wrong, necessarily. They just missed what made this movie so much fun: the unabashed delight of the weirdly intoxicating music of Eurovision. Nearly every song in this farce was a diamond. I must have watched each dozens of times on YouTube, and I can still recite the lyrics to “Volcano Man” in my sleep!
4. Color Out of Space (Feb. 2020)
I expected Color Out of Spaced to be weird, what with it featuring Nicolas Cage and all. I just didn’t expect it to be so good. Cage actually modulates his dry persona/sudden manic lunacy to great effect, and young actress Madeliene Arthur stole the show. Director Richard Stanley, returning to directing a feature film after decades away, filled his film with gorgeous color and delightfully creepy visuals.
3. Archenemy (Dec. 2020)
Another RLJE film that exceeded expectations, Archenemy also featured weird imagery, gorgeous colors, and an unexepected star turn from leading man Joe Manganiello. If you like movies that keep you guessing, or dark anti-hero tales, Archenemy is for you.
2. Wonder Woman 1984 (Dec. 2020)
The year ended off strong with Patty Jenkin’s second Wonder Woman film, a sequel that improved upon the first in almost every way. It was emotionally resonant and character focused, yet still found time to have Gal Gadot kick a ton of ass in some pretty great action sequences.
1. Bill and Ted Face the Music (Aug. 2020)
I waited nearly 30 years for the excellent duo to return to the big screen, and the results were not a bogus journey. As the capstone to a trilogy you didn’t know you needed, the final outing was remarkably deep for the adventures of history’s two dimmest San Dimas slackers. Alex Winter especially felt like he didn’t miss a beat in character, and the Bill and Ted’s daughters were a delight, played by Bridget Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving. In a year of so many dashed hopes, Face the Music was a welcome surprise for fans.