2020 has been strange. The coronavirus pandemic has pretty much altered every single aspect of our society in major ways, including the film industry. We’ve seen the release dates of several 2020 films shift around the calendar (still waiting on you to figure it out Tenet), we’ve seen next year’s Academy Awards be pushed back to late April, and we are currently in our fourth month of the movie theater industry being shut down (again, still waiting on you Tenet).
Interestingly enough though—while COVID-19 has completely overhauled some industries in unexpected ways—a case could be made that, when it comes to the filmgoing landscape, it just accelerated some changes that were already slowly taking place. Due to technological advancements in at-home entertainment, some movie lovers have been pushing for a few of the changes that the current pandemic has brought for quite a while now. Giving fans earlier access to new movies in their homes is a direction the film industry has been trending towards for a while now. The same theaters that are now closed and hurting badly due to the coronavirus, have actually been struggling for the past few years.
Now, I’ve stated many times on this site that I believe the truly best way to view a film is in the theater. To me, there is just something special about the theatergoing process that cannot be replicated at home. With that being said however, throughout the pandemic, I have grown more tolerant of the at-home PVOD/streaming viewing experience. The main reason for that is, I’m immensely appreciative of the fact that there is still a way for us to watch new movies during this very strange time. Regardless of the fact that I prefer the theatergoing experience, I am still extremely grateful that certain studios have made efforts to make new content available to us over the past few months.
And with all that out of the way, I think I can finally get to the point of this blog. Because truthfully, there still have been many new releases in 2020. And now, at the halfway point of the year, it’s time to decide what the five best have been.
Overall, I’d say this year has been fairly average in terms of film quality. There hasn’t been an abundance of great films, but I haven’t seen a lot of terrible things either. In fact, a lot of the new movies I have seen this year have fallen somewhere in the “decent to pretty good” range. I’m curious if the at-home viewing experience has something to do with that. Perhaps I would have enjoyed certain films more if I was able to view them in a theater. I have to imagine that has had some effect on my rankings, because the way in which you see a movie undoubtedly impacts your thoughts on said movie. I’m sure this will be something I explore in my end of the year rankings as well. But for now, let’s just get to the list.
Honorable Mentions: Olympic Dreams, The King of Staten Island, The Assistant
Bacurau is probably the most bizarre and unpredictable film on my list, which makes it one of the most flat-out entertaining movies I’ve seen this year. Jam packed with moments of extreme violence, exciting action, and unforeseen twists and turns—Bacurau is truly one of a kind. It also manages to pull of the difficult task of telling a wildly captivating story, while also relaying an important message to the audience. That message never feels forced because it fits naturally with the story being told. This is a film I really wish I could have seen in theaters, but alas, I would still recommend it to anyone looking for something exciting to watch in quarantine.
4. Blow the Man Down
Truthfully, I was extremely close to giving this spot to Kitty Green’s The Assistant. Ultimately, that film landed amongst the honorable mentions and I decided to keep Amazon’s Blow the Man Down in the top five. This is a film that didn’t necessarily blow me away when I first saw it, but managed to stick in my mind for several weeks after. This dark comedy may not be one of the most talked about films of the year so far, but I find it to be one of the most gripping movies I have seen over the past six months. It deserves to be seen by more people.
3. Da 5 Bloods
Since I already published an official review of this film around the time of its release, I’ll try to keep my thoughts on it brief here. At the end of the day, I consider Da 5 Bloods to be the most important film of the year. Due to its subject matter, and everything that has gone on in our country over the past few weeks, this film was a welcome addition to the zeitgeist for a lot of people when it was released. Not only did it help contribute to a lot of important conversations this country needs to be having right now, it gave us one of the best performances of the year from Delroy Lindo. Due to the popularity of Spike Lee and Netflix, this is probably the most seen film on my list. But, if somehow you haven’t seen this movie already, you should.
2. The Vast of Night
Speaking of films people need to see if they haven’t already, The Vast of Night is the number two movie on my list. This low budget sci-fi thriller is without a doubt the most innovative and inventive film of the year so far. And in technical terms, Andrew Patterson blew me away with this film more than any other director in 2020. Nowadays, labeling someone “the next (fill in the blank)” is overused and often times exaggerated. That being said, it’s hard to watch this film and not think of some of the early work of Steven Spielberg. With The Vast of Night, Patterson proved he is an incredibly skillful young director, and I for one cannot wait to see what he makes next.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
So, I actually posted a top five films of the year list—as part of a blog about Tenet’s ability to reopen theaters—back in May. Interestingly, every spot on that list is different from this list, except for one. Never Rarely Sometimes Always was my number one film of the year back then, and it still holds that title today. Like Da 5 Bloods, I already posted an official review of this film so I’ll keep this short. All I’ll say is, this is one of the most intimate, personal, and beautifully subtle films I have seen in a long time. It is the most emotionally affecting film of the year, and needs to be seen by anyone who enjoys powerful filmmaking.