The Best Films of 2020

The 10 masterpieces I saw in theaters or online in 2020.

2020 was a horrible year, because of the COVID-19 virus, which forced big blockbusters like “Black Widow” and “Top Gun: Maverick” to be pushed back to 2021. But I was still able to find some masterpieces in this gloomy year at the movies. Most movies had to be placed online, while some were lucky enough to make it in theaters.

10.) “One Night in Miami”

Now Playing in Select Theaters and Coming to Amazon Prime January 15

Kemp Powers’ play makes it to the big screen or computer screen (depending on your location and survival skills), thanks to Regina King’s directorial debut. Four African-American legends (Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Jim Brown) played by four excellent actors (Leslie Odom, Jr, Eli Goree, Kingsley Ben-Adir, and Aldis Hodge) are under the same motel roof, and they all have a lot to talk about. It’s how King guides them all that makes this film adaption riveting.

9.) “Promising Young Woman”

Now Playing in Theaters

Carey Mulligan is outstanding as a woman who seeks revenge on the people who have wronged her dead friend, and those who treat drunk women like pieces of meat. Writer/director Emerald Fennell makes her directorial debut as a worthy addition to the #MeToo era, and allows the main heroine to have the smarts to rise to the occasion. With an all-star cast (also including Bo Burnham, Alison Brie, Adam Brody, and Connie Britton), dark humor, and a hot soundtrack, this masterpiece delivers for all the right reasons.

8.) “Palm Springs”

Now on Hulu

In the tradition of “Groundhog Day,” Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti both deliver the goods. Released on Hulu last summer, it takes place during a wedding in Palm Springs, and introduces to two different characters finding themselves in the same situation over and over again. It takes full advantage of the set-up by trying things we probably would never have guessed in a time warp comedy, and succeeds in being sweet and funny. And it also chooses to lead the two main characters on different paths-where they are when their time loops wake them up.

7.) “Tenet”

Now on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital Download

You’re probably agitated by how I added Christopher Nolan’s latest movie to this special list, because of how confusing the time travel rules were. You’re entitled to your own opinions, but despite the convolution, I still found it to be a nonstop thrill ride with terrific work from the cast (John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, etc.) and dazzling special effects (people and objects moving forwards or backwards).

6.) “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Now on Netflix

The Netflix film version of August Wilson’s play is a poetic and profoundly acted masterpiece that should provide its leads with Oscar consideration. Viola Davis ignites the screen as the Mother of the Blues, who refuses to take “no” for an answer, while the late Chadwick Boseman gives his farewell performance as an ambitious trumpet player, who wants to play his own songs. We have a great looking and emotionally complex film that has all the right notes.

5.) “The King of Staten Island”

Now on DVD, Blu-Ray, and Digital Download

Pete Davidson of SNL fame started the year off with a loser called “The Jesus Rolls,” but finished with a winner like Judd Apatow’s latest comedy masterpiece. He co-wrote this movie, inspired by how he lost his firefighter father to the 9/11 attacks, and it serves as a somewhat alternate version of what would have happened if he was a tattoo artist, instead of an actor. The results are hilarious and heartwarming.

4.) “The Trial of the Chicago 7”

Now on Netflix

Released on Netflix and written and directed by Aaron Sorkin, this masterpiece focuses on the anti-Vietnam War protestors during the 1968 National Democratic Convention in Chicago. You have an A-list cast, including Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Frank Langella, as well as some powerful dramatizations of what went down, and who took the heat. This captures the scope and tone of Sorkin’s previously written courtroom dramas like “The Social Network” and “A Few Good Men.”

3.) “Da 5 Bloods”

Now on Netflix

Spike Lee’s latest epic comes at a timely rate with all the current murders of African-American victims in our country, and becomes a Vietnam War masterpiece with a first-rate performance from the lead Delroy Lindo, a 1970s vibe, and a tribute to the Black Lives Matter organization. I’m glad this was released on Netflix, so more people can see it, and admire Lee’s unique and flexible filmmaking skills.

2.) “Nomadland”

This comes out in theaters February 19, so my praising of this masterpiece should warm you up.

Seeing this at the New York Film Festival online was such an emotional experience for me. Frances McDormand gives another nomination worthy performance as a woman who lost everything and decides to live the rest of her life as a modern day nomad. Writer/editor/director Chloe Zhou should be the first female Asian filmmaker to win the Best Director nomination at the Oscars for creating a beautiful, sentimental, and profound movie about people and their environments. It also captures a certain theme from “The Grapes of Wrath,” and stands alone as a remarkable film that distinguishes houseless people from homeless people. I’m so mad this will be released in February, because I want to see it again.

1.) “Soul”

Now on Disney+

Pixar’s latest animated masterpiece is yet another miracle. Pete Docter (the same genius behind “Monsters Inc,” “Up,” and “Inside Out”) brings some existential ideas to life, and introduces us to two fabulous characters who share their aspects of life on Earth. Jamie Foxx voices a jazz dreamer, and Tina Fey voices a cynical soul. Together, they connect and win us over. In addition, the animation is given attention to detail. The humans, the New York City setting, and the souls are all dazzling to look at. And guess who co-wrote the screenplay. Kemp Powers (the same genius behind “One Night in Miami”). What a year this has been for him. I loved every minute of this movie.

Honorable Mentions:

“Small Axe,” “Wolfwalkers,” “Birds of Prey,” “The Invisible Man,” “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” “Wonder Woman 1984,” “Hamilton,” “The Lodge,” “Bad Boys For Life,” “The Croods: A New Age,” “Sound of Metal,” “Mank,” “Let Him Go,” “Belushi,” “News of the World,” “Spontaneous,” “Time,” “The Boys in the Band,” “Mulan,” “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” “The Painted Bird,” “The Rental,” “Saint Frances,” “Crip Camp,” “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” “Bad Education,” “The Trip to Greece,” “The Assistant,” “Beastie Boys Story,” “The Way Back”

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