Drew Dietsch here with my list of the best movies of 2020. It is an understatement to say that this year is one for the record books as far as awfulness is concerned. We all have suffered in one way or another, and it has been difficult to find respite in entertainment. Thankfully, there have been some killer movies to come out this year that have offered something of a balm to the awfulness that is 2020.
As with any best movies list, if there is a particular 2020 movie that doesn’t show up on here, you can assume that I either didn’t like it as much as you did, it didn’t quite make the cut, or I haven’t seen it. Case in point: I have yet to see Soul (read editor Ross Bonaime’s 5-star review). So there are probably a number of movies that might retroactively make their way to this list, but these are the best movies I saw in 2020.
And that’s one more thing to point out before we get to the best movies of 2020. Enjoying art is all subjective. So while you might feel a movie like Mank is “objectively” better than something like Deep Blue Sea 3, I like killer sharks more than what David Fincher did (read my Mank review). That might make some of my choices seem controversial, but I like what I like. Hopefully, you like some of them too.
With that said, here are the best movies of 2020 according to me.
Superhero cinema has become the dominant form of pop culture over the last decade, and it has been interesting to see certain directors try and challenge the sub-genre. Writer/director Adam Egypt Mortimer does exactly that with Archenemy, a perfect balance between homage and deconstruction that offers up what might be the best performance of Joe Manganiello’s career.
A drunken homeless man (Manganiello) believes that he is a superhero from another dimension. A young reporter (Skylan Brooks) decides to chronicle this man’s story and begins to wonder exactly how much truth there might be to his ramblings. The film ends up being a fascinating commentary on the state of superhero and vigilante stories in the modern era.
It is always refreshing to see that there is still more to do with the sub-genre than what mainstream projects are offering, and Archenemy is a darker and more complicated riff on what has become so rote in superhero cinema.
9. Color Out of Space
The works of H.P. Lovecraft have been adapted into a number of films, but very few have been able to capture the true cosmic dread and doom of the author’s infamous mythos. Director Richard Stanley taps into that exact mood in Color Out of Space and it is a relentless and oppressive bit of horror.
A farm is hit by a bizarre meteorite that infects everything around it with a strange alien presence. The family there begins to mutate as does everything else in the area. It escalates into such apocalyptic proportions that the entire world becomes at stake. Still, the story focuses on this small family led by Nicolas Cage and Joely Richardson. The film focuses on their decay into absolute unbelievable madness. It includes some of the most bone-chilling body horror that you’ll see this year.
Color Out of Space is a difficult and draining watch, but it is one of the most impacting films of the year. Cage and Richardson put in serious work and the rest of the cast is equally game. This is unavoidably a downbeat movie, but the direction on display is unquestionable. A rough but mesmerizing experience.
It is exceptionally rare for studios to make big-budget original genre movies. Everything is either an adaptation or part of some greater franchise. Before Fox merged with Disney, they had Underwater in the can. Thank goodness for it though because it’s a welcome return to form in the sci-fi/horror genre.
A deep-sea station suffers a catastrophic seismic event and the crew attempts to escape. Unfortunately, it turns out that some strange creatures have come up from the ocean’s depths and are going to make things tough for our cast of characters. It’s a familiar tale but what matters here isn’t the story as much as it is how it’s told. Director William Eubank expertly crafts tension and sci-fi spookhouse fun with some awesome creature designs and a truly excellent payoff to it all.
2020 was a year where we could have used a lot more popcorn flicks but that was obviously undone due to the pandemic. Underwater delivers old school popcorn thrills with lots of excellent production design and solid performances. A lot more fun than it might appear to be.
7. You Cannot Kill David Arquette
If you only know David Arquette from his acting career, You Cannot Kill David Arquette offers a whole new outlook on the celebrity as it tracks his journey to become a respected professional wrestler. And though that might seem childish and unworthy of your time, it is one of the most emotional and uplifting films of the year.
David Arquette loves professional wrestling, but his involvement with World Championship Wrestling as a way to promote a comedy film ended up making him a pariah to fans. Ashamed that he brought such a black mark onto a form of entertainment that he loves, Arquette wants to get put through the wringer and prove himself to everyone. But most importantly, he wants to prove he has what it takes to himself.
It’s a niche idea for a documentary, but it rewards anyone willing to go along with Arquette and his journey. For anyone with even a passing interest in professional wrestling, this is a must-see. But even if you don’t enjoy professional wrestling, this is still one of the great underdog stories of the year.
6. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Who could have imagined that a sequel to Borat would end up not only being one of the best movies of the year but arguably outshined its predecessor? Sacha Baron Cohen returned to his most popular character with a very specific agenda, and his execution of that has been one of the biggest talking points in 2020.
One of the biggest successes of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm isn’t its titular character but rather his daughter, Tutar. Actress Maria Bakalova crafts an incredible performance that steals the show. And it all leads up to THAT scene that has dominated the conversation around the sequel.
Thankfully, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is filled with laughs and shock in equal measure. 2020 needed as many laughs as it could get, and Sacha Baron Cohen helped alleviate a lot of the awfulness that the year piled on top of us.
Brandon Cronenberg has followed in his father’s footsteps as one of the most unique voices in the realm of sci-fi/horror cinema. And with Possessor, he has cemented himself as a vital artist when it comes to making the audience deeply uncomfortable.
The story sounds simple enough as far as its sci-fi elements. A woman (Andrea Riseborough) takes over the consciousness of certain targets at the whims of a vague corporate entity. But while on a mission, her identity and that of her target begin to blend and meld in terrifying ways.
Possessor is the most outright arthouse entry on this list, and because of that, it is going to be hard for many viewers to penetrate through its particular mood. But for those who can, it offers up one of the most violent and chilling stories you can see on film in 2020.
4. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn
In a year without Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, it was DC’s time to shine. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn came out the gate swinging as a pop-punk ode to liberation and girl power. Margot Robbie was given the chance to really flesh out her interpretation of Harley Quinn and it has helped cement her take on the character as one that will define a generation.
Harley ends up involved in a chase for a special diamond that crime lord Black Mask (Ewan McGregor with a landmark supervillain performance) needs to secure his criminal empire. Along the way, she ends up finding herself tied to a bunch of other women who have come under the oppression of Black Mask.
Director Cathy Yan injects loads of personality and vigor into the film and it ends up showcasing some of the best fight cinematography of the year. Expertly paced, viciously funny, and loaded with something to say, this is a movie that offers up the kind of individuality we need to see more of in comic book cinema.
3. Wonder Woman 1984
2020 has been a nonstop tidal wave of negativity and awfulness. If any year needed a movie as hopeful as Wonder Woman 1984, it was this one. Though criticisms of the film continue to pile up and disagreements about the movie are also becoming more common, I still maintain this is one of the best superhero movies in recent years.
Yes, it doesn’t have nonstop action and it is not interested in presenting its characters as invincible badasses. Instead, Wonder Woman 1984 tackles concepts of empathy and compassion for humanity. There have been many comparisons of the film to Richard Donner’s approach to Superman, and I think that’s apt. It’s an aggressively classical kind of superhero movie that feels out of place in our current landscape of grounded realism.
But that’s a big reason why Wonder Woman 1984 works. It’s a charming, big-hearted return to the core of superhero stories. Hopefully, time will be kind to the movie and we can start to view it in the same way we do Donner’s Superman or Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.
2. The Vast of Night
No other indie film this year floored me the way The Vast of Night did. A low budget effort that uses all of its cinematic powers to make an exceptionally small story feel like one of the biggest movies of 2020. If you want to see how you can still tell intimate genre stories in this day and age, The Vast of Night needs to start playing on your television immediately.
Set in the late 1950s, late-night switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) comes across a strange signal. She gets her friend Everett (Jake Horowitz) to investigate it and play it over the radio. In doing so, they stumble upon something that challenges what they believe and set out to discover as much as they can about the mysterious noise.
I don’t want to spoil anything about The Vast of Night because it is a wonderfully eerie experience. It hearkens back to the days of radio dramas where sounds and voices were the main way you conveyed drama. One of the scariest scenes of the year is nothing more than a shot of a woman telling a story in this movie, but it sent shivers down my spine. This movie might come across as “slow” to a lot of viewers, but those who can tap into its wavelength will be greatly rewarded.
1. The Invisible Man
Whenever the conversation about great remakes comes up, many fans will default to two entries: John Carpenter’s The Thing and David Cronenberg’s The Fly. There are other excellent remakes out there, and I am going to make the case that Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man deserves to be included in that list as a remake that outshines the original.
Taking a totally original riff on the story while still staying true to the spirit of its source material, The Invisible Man is a masterclass of tension and terror in direction and performance. Whannell is able to craft the frame to where you are anxiously scanning every inch to see if you can spot where the villain is hiding. And there is no question that the restaurant scene is an incredible shock that made me gasp out loud.
The Invisible Man is the best movie of 2020 because it feels the most like one that will continue to pop up in discussion as time goes on. There is a very good chance it will be seen as its own horror classic over the next decade. It has the makings of a true standout in the genre. And that’s why it’s the best movie of 2020.