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

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

The Most Surprising Films of 2020

Here is a list of films that exceeded my expectations, were pleasant surprises, or I found more enjoyable than the consensus of most film critics and audiences. Please seek them out and give them a chance. Also, note that I left films off this ranking that I included in my best films and documentaries 2020 lists.

Without further ado: The most surprising films of 2020.

10. (Tie) The Personal History of David Copperfield/All Day and a Night

For Copperfield director Armando Iannucci to jump from vantablack political satires to helm one of the most whimsical, delightful, and charming films in years must have been a palate cleanser. He displays more range than Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma.

All Day and a Night (Netflix) has deeply rooted themes of restricted opportunity that’s inherited and cannot be escaped. Along with a standout performance from Moonlight’s Ashton Sanders, Joe Robert Cole’s engaging film has more going for it than most critics are willing to admit.

9. Enola Holmes

Here is a YA-adaptation that is perfectly cast and is so completely charming, you’ll eventually forgive the long running time. Millie Bobby Brown is delightfully droll and clearly has the chops to carry this potential franchise for years to come

8. Godmothered

Godmothered (Disney Plus) is a funny, well-intentioned family-fantasy film that’s a bright light in a dark year. Jamie Bell is adorable as the innocent godmother to be. Along with Isla Fisher as her straight woman, they are an addictive duo that displays real chemistry together. Sharon Maquire’s delightful family comedy about mothers and daughters that is always on short supply.

7. Black Bear

Yes, it’s a fantastic turn by Aubrey Plaza. Yes, Lawrence Michael’s Black Bear is a lot to unpack. Though, it’s kind of like unpacking a bag you didn’t put together and putting it back in a different suitcase entirely that looks awfully similar. Right? Yes? No? You’re right, I don’t get it either, but I walked away not being able to stop thinking about it. You’re welcome, America

6. Alone

I was taken aback by Alone’s nerve-wracking suspense that director John Hyams and writer Mattias Olsson (adapted from his Swedish film Gone) managed to create with an extraordinary amount of self-discipline and a limited budget. A genuine, armrest grabbing thriller.

5. The Photograph

Many dismissed or made their minds up that this Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfeld romantic drama was pure drivel. Let me tell you the point of Stella Meghie’s beautiful looking film — it is about how life does not always go as planned, love will endure even when relationships drift apart, and learning from a shared history doesn’t mean anything is set in stone.

The Photograph is engaging and satisfying entertainment from a diverse cast and good script that Hollywood needs to me make of.

4. Buffaloed

Anyone who has seen Buffaloed may think the city’s extreme love for their football team is exaggerated as a way to bring humor into its story. If you watched ESPN recently where #BillsMafia caused a super spreader event in the middle of the first pandemic in 100 years, you now know they undersold it.

Tanya Wexler’s film, working with Western New York native Brian Sacca’s script, is flawed, but funny and always interesting. The real star turn here is Zoey Deutch, who gives a career-best performance. It is rare for a film to feature a female lead brimming with temerity that’s full of so much p**s and vinegar, you may be afraid she will spin-off her own axis — they have it here with Deutch.

By the way, the scene near the end of the film where a cop is attempting to arrest a bar patron, but both stop to watch their local football team score a touchdown and then happily embrace? That might as well have been documented footage because I’ve guaranteed it has happened.

3. The Outpost

Leave it to director Rod Lurie, a service veteran and former journalist, to find a story that shows you the political nature at play with played U.S. Soldiers and how the bravery they exude becomes second nature.

His film, The Outpost, has the ability to shake your core and rattle your bones. The movie’s relentless second half is dominated by battle sequences that feel like they had been lifted from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down. This is an honorable war film you won’t soon forget.

2. Sh*thouse

It is so unusual for a coming-of-age film to feature a male character with such a sensitive vulnerability that is a reflection of today’s modern masculinity; a benign femininity if you will. Cooper Raiff starred in, wrote, and directed this comic gem, Sh*thouse, that is well balanced, very funny, wonderfully acted, unassuming, and refreshingly honest comedy. He is someone to watch out for in the future.

1. The Kid Detective

There may be better films out there, but no other film surprised me more than this Canadian indie noir staring a former WB and OC heartthrob. Evan Morgan’s The Kid Detective satisfies a craving for a different type of gumshoe detective story with its dark comedy and a sharp script that it handles with a deft hand. Along with Adam Brody, who gives a career-best performance that is equal parts charming, funny, and surprisingly bittersweet, The Kid Detective makes this little noir a consistently surprising experience up until its final scene.


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