M.N. Miller’s Film Year in Review: The 25 Best Films of 2020

January 3, 2021
M.N. Miller 0
Film, Ranked

The 25 Best Films of 2020

2020 has been one of the worst years in probably generations for millions of people worldwide. That being said, the cinephile and average film fan have been exposed to new kinds of films with subscription services moving in and telling theatre chains to take a hike. It’s time we celebrate the filmmakers who took the time to distract us from the pains and troubles of the world with some of the best films to come out this year. Yes, it has been 365 days to forget, but I am here to remind you of why this was such a strong year in film. Enjoy the 25 best films of 2020.

25. Human Nature

Here’s a documentary that premiered at SXSW over two years ago and finally premiered last March that proves to be actually ahead of its time or just damn timely. Human Nature is entertaining without being stodgy, engaging while never being unappealing, and educates when it could resort to patronization.

24. One Night in Miami

One Night in Miami is an absorbing and entertaining film about the power of conflicting ideals while striving for the same common goal. There is a quartet of fine performances, but it’s Ben-Adir’s stellar turn as Malcolm X that stands above the rest. Regina King’s directorial debut comes to Amazon Prime Video on January, 8th 2020.

23. The Other Lamb

Malgorzata Szumowska’s The Other Lamb is a striking work with a trio of great performances from Raffey Cassidy, Michiel Huisman, and Denise Gough, that at times rises to the level of pure genius. A terrifying, moody, atmospheric film that’s filled to the brim of admissions of unfeigned regret.

22. Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal‘s script is brave enough to embrace a life goes on mentality that’s full of bittersweet melancholy and offers no easy answers. Riz Ahmed displays a brooding intensity and emotional vulnerability that rivals Marlon Brando and Sean Penn — his performance is a rare thing.

21. Time

The Amazon Prime Video documentary Time is viewed through the human toll of racial economic disparity. It’s a slice of socioeconomic despair while living under a cloud of the faux culture of poverty, and mass incarceration that has replaced slavery. It is uncomfortable, lyrical, and beautifully done.

20. Soul

The faces are diverse, the personalities are distinct, and this latest Disney Plus entry distinguishes itself amongst Pixar’s legendary filmography. Soul is a thoughtful animated film with a tender nature, some sweet laughs, and an even kinder heart.

19. Swallow

Swallow has an uncommon raw power that most films can’t reach. The horrors of the emotional damage women suffer at the hands of men are obvious, with its final act a showcase for the talented Haley Bennett (and veteran character actor Denis O’Hare).

18. MLK/FBI

One of the year’s very best documentaries, MLK/FBI is a completely engrossing feature that gives a fair and equal treatment to its subjects. Mr. Pollard’s film gives a fascinating inside look at a systemic problem that remains in our government agencies today.

17. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Netflix’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 is made for the masses and applies the classic Hollywood treatment to its worthy subject matter. Aaron Sorkin’s film is scintillating, provocative, engrossing, powerful, devastatingly effective, chillingly relevant, and just so damn good.

16. Boys State

A fascinating look at how our future interacts with politics in action and an engrossing case study to answer the old debate if man is inherently good or evil. Boys State (Apple TV+) is a bird’s eye view of our future leaders at a time that is now more important than ever

15. Palm Springs

It’s hard to come up with something wholly original, but it may be even harder to reinvent a comedy classic’s plot point in such a completely fresh way it becomes new again. Hulu’s Palm Springs is an absolutely winning comedy, the best one of 2020, and you may not see a better next year.

14. Da 5 Bloods

Like most of his films, Da 5 Bloods (Netflix) is not comfortable or conventional. Spike Lee leaves you uneasy and vulnerable. His themes extend beyond our borders and closely within our own circles. It’s a harsh reality and blistering poetry on the never-ending battle against hate.

13. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Never has a subject been captured with such empathy and rarely has a single scene been so moving. Eliza Hittman proves that her film is sometimes capable of reaching an extraordinary level of authenticity and can always be considered great art

12. The Vast of Night

This auspicious directorial debut by Andrew Patterson is a remarkably self-assured throwback that captures the essence of a young Spielberg and Abrams. The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime Video) is intelligent, well-made, and completely satisfying storytelling

11. Father Soldier Son

Leslye Davis and Catrin Einhorn’s Father Soldier Son (Netflix) shapes our understanding of what is real sacrifice, the power of purpose, and even American Manhood. The themes are under the radar and have devastating effects that shape generations — it’s one of the year’s very best documentary films and no one is talking about it.

10. The Forty-Year Old Version

If anything, Radha Blank shows us not just adolescents come-of-age when they reach adulthood. Blank’s film, The Forty-Year-Old Version (Netflix), is razor-sharp and breathes new life into independent filmmaking. The story she spins blisters with a new and exciting voice. Her film is a fearless comedy about keeping white-washing and gentrification out of art.

9. Mank

Mank (Netflix) is different than anything David Fincher has ever done. A wildly entertaining throwback to the Golden Age of Hollywood filmmaking during political unrest tested loyalties and fear propaganda. A love letter to not only industry visionaries, but his father as well.

8. The Traitor

Marco Bellocchio’s The Traitor (Il traditore) is his latest slice of unconformist Italian cinema whose mafia tale is a brutal knockout. It has such a rare script that goes against everything we know about conventional mob-genre film rules. It’s a cinematic miracle.

7. Nomadland

Chloé Zhao’s portrait of reverting to a nomadic existence after the loss of personal and professional identity is remarkably mindful, stoic, and so beautiful. Francis McDormand dazzles here in a deeply personal journey of self-discovery and self-assured autonomy. Nomadland is one of the best American films to come out in years.

6. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

In one of the year’s most powerful and overwhelming scenes, Boseman leaves us with images of stunning raw power and painful resonance — you wonder if he was drawing upon his situation. Under George C. Wolfe’s direction and Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s adaptation of August Wilson’s powerful source material, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Netflix) cuts deep and more than most of us will ever know.

5. Minari

The only thing harder than holding onto the American dream is the pursuit of it. That’s why Minari may be the most American film in years. An honest slice of the Asian migration experience that’s stripped of theatrics then filled with love, pride, and hope.

4. Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan gives an iconic performance in Promising Young Woman, a daring and innovative work Hollywood needs to make more of. A blend of revenge thrills and pitch-black dark comedy, all packaged within a Barbie’s Dreamhouse box set. It’s a wicked film. Brave, ambitious, and one of the best films of 2020.

3. The Father

Florian Zeller’s The Father is an act of empathic genius. Never has a film taken such steps to put you in the mind of a dementia patient experiencing so much raw pain and tender mercy. Devasting, narratively brilliant, and one of the great adaptations in recent memory.

2. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

This film has a delicate psychological balance that gives it a haunting edge and Andy Kaufman’s adaption is a love letter to his very own interpretation of Iain Reid’s work. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix) is a masterclass in modern surrealist filmmaking that left me overcome with a range of emotions that I could not put my finger on. It is Kaufman’s finest film and Jessie Buckley gives one of the year’s best performances.

1. Babyteeth

Babyteeth is like no other film experience I have had this year. It is a celebration of life, no matter where it leads or how it ends. It’s euphoric without intoxication, it’s heart-wrenching without being detrimental. Shannon Murphy puts a protagonist on the screen that never looks back, only forward, and is always living in this very moment; even if she is pulling her family and friends, who remain in a constant state of suspended limbo, along with her.

Murphy’s subversive film works as a comedy about waking up to life from deep slumber and as a drama that opens your eyes to what’s important in life or vice versa. It grabs your attention and leaves you to ponder its devastatingly effective conclusion (that score by Amanda Brown, I swear, makes the hair on your arms stand up). It leaves you with the feeling of pure elation and palpable regret. It’s the very best film of 2020.

Honorable Mentions for the best films of 2020: The Kid Detective, I’m Your Woman, Bad Education, The Nest, Tigertail


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