Best Movies of 2020

10. MANK

David Fincher | 131 mins | Biography/Comedy/Drama
Gary Oldman | Amanda Seyfried | Lily Collins | Tom Pelphrey

“David Fincher’s glittering and immersive drama about the drunken, pensée-spewing, brilliant-but-washed-up screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman), and how he wrote the screenplay for “Citizen Kane,” is a movie I’ve seen twice and would gladly see again. That’s because there’s an intoxicating mystery at its heart. It’s about how creativity works — in particular, the way it worked in Old Hollywood, where the intricate allure of power was the hidden engine of the Dream Factory. Much of the time, we see Mankiewicz gallivanting through Hollywood in the ’30s, rubbing shoulders with Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg, stooping to do a bit of work between drinking and gambling jags, cultivating a relationship with the media tycoon William Randolph Hearst and his silver-screen inamorata Marion Davies — played by Amanda Seyfried in a performance of soft-bitten perfection. What we know, and Mank doesn’t, is that everything he’s doing is the research he would pour into “Citizen Kane,” the movie that broke the mold of Hollywood because it was powered by more reality than Hollywood could contain. I wish “Mank” didn’t swallow Pauline Kael’s line about “Kane’s” authorship (that Mank was the movie’s mind and Orson Welles its grand showman). Yet it’s a film that revels splendidly in the gamesmanship of the imagination, and Oldman creates the most layered (and charming) portrayal of a lush I’ve ever seen.” – Owen Gleiberman, Entertainment Weekly


Emerald Fennell | 113 mins | Crime/Drama/Thriller
Carey Mulligan | Bo Burnham | Alison Brie | Clancy Brown

“Don’t let that candy coating fool you: Underneath its ultra-feminine aesthetic and bubbly pop soundtrack, Promising Young Woman is pure, burning acid. It begins as a growl of barely suppressed rage, following a mysterious young woman, Cassie (Carey Mulligan), on a one-woman reign of terror against the would-be rapists of her town. As her actions become more extreme, however, and as the true motivations beneath them begin to reveal themselves, her story transforms into something altogether more troubling and tragic. In refusing the relief of catharsis or easy answers, writer-director Emerald Fennell serves up a portrait of rape culture as searing as it is — unfortunately — familiar. ” – Angie Han, Mashable


Charlie Kaufman | 134 mins | Drama/Thriller
Jessie Plemons | Jessie Buckley | Toni Collette | David Thewlis

“You know what you’re going to get from a Charlie Kaufman film. Existential dread. Themes of identity. Mind-bending plot twists and sad, lonely men. And even though his latest, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, trades in all those expected motifs, there’s something disturbingly fascinating about this movie – animated decaying pigs, perpetually wet dogs, and all. Most of that has to do with the performances. Jessie Buckley, who’s having a hell of a year, is mesmerizing as a young woman meeting her boyfriend’s parents for the first time. Jesse Plemons, who’s quickly becoming cinema’s go-to villain, is equally captivating as said beau – a depressed, unfulfilled man dreaming up an alternate reality that comes crashing down over the course of the film. And then there’s Toni Collette and David Thewlis who play his parents (and the most hellish dinner mates we’ve seen on screen in a long while). But Kaufman’s love of twisting the truth and making us question the very nature of his storytelling also elevates the viewing experience here. You never truly know what the hell is going on, and that’s half the fun.” – Jessica Toomer, UPROXX


Lee Isaac Chung | 115 mins | Drama
Steven Yeun | Yeri Han | Yuh-jung Youn | Alan S. Kim

“A sweet family drama that never cloys, Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical film brought a much-needed grace and kindness to this often unkind, graceless year. The film concerns the Yi family, Korean-Americans who move from California (mom and dad are natives of Korea) to way-rural Arkansas in the early 1980s. Jacob (Steven Yeun) grew up in the country, and hopes to impart to his American-born kids the value of working the earth, of growing and making things from the soil of their adopted home. His wife, Monica (Yeri Han), is more skeptical, but she is tentatively willing to support her husband on his quest for this most traditional of American dreams. Hardship ensues, as do moments of warmth, triumph, and connection. Chung crafts his film with a delicate ache; Minari passes by in a lilting hush, haloed faintly in the glow of memory. The film really belongs to adorable young Alan Kim as David (perhaps Chung’s stand-in) and the terrific Yuh-Jung Youn as Soon-ja, Monica’s mother. She moves to the family’s trailer all the way from Korea, bringing with her the attitudes of the old country, but also a refreshing levity, a good humor about this family’s struggle that gently reframes their perspective. This is not a sassy granny movie, though. Chung resists that kind of cinematic indulgence, keeping his picture modest but deeply felt. Though there is plenty of sadness and strife in Minari, it remains resolute in its optimism, not so much about what America as an idea can provide for immigrants, but what decency can provide for people who need it—what love can, too. From that goodness, a life can grow, even in a place as inhospitable as this. ” – Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair


Darius Marder | 120 mins | Drama
Riz Ahmed | Olivia Cooke | Paul Raci | Lauren Ridloff

“Riz Ahmed can play anything – from con man to heavy metal drummer. As we learned in Darius Marder’s drama, he could convey so much with his eyes and a rare smile. Fearing his career is over, Ahmed’s Ruben investigated what life would be without sound, then made decisions that could affect everything he does. To give audiences a sense of the isolation, Marder played with sound, muffling it to approximate what Ruben hears. The film worked on so many levels (and introduced us to a Paul Raci we never knew) it could stand as a metaphor for the year.” – Bruce R. Miller, Tulsa World


Spike Lee | 154 mins | Adventure/Drama/War
Delroy Lindo | Jonathan Majors | Clarke Peters | Norm Lewis

“Spike Lee did what Spike Lee does in Da 5 Bloods: He delivered a work of cinema that’s both timely and timeless, marked by stellar performances and a camera lens that tells a story even if you ignore the script. The plot follows four Black Vietnam vets as they return to the former war zone in search of their dead squad leader’s remains…and the millions in CIA gold they plundered and buried before their tour ended. Political differences between the men foster mistrust and complicate their journey, leading to a powerful finale that’s not-so-strangely resonant — this is Spike Lee — for our current moment in history.” – Adam Rosenberg, Mashable



Elza Hittman | 101 mins | Drama
Sidney Flanigan | Talia Ryder | Theodore Pellerin

“One of the year’s quietest but most devastating films looks at the decidedly unempowering experience of existing in a female teenage body, especially for a teenage girl living in rural Pennsylvania who needs an abortion. From director Eliza Hittman, “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” is a tremendous exercise in mood and a beautiful showcase for some up and coming talents.” – Lindsey Bahr, Associated Press


Steve McQueen | 70 mins | Drama
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn | Micheal Ward | Shaniqua Okkwok | Kedar Williams-Stirling

“… And here’s what was responsible for our single most joyous moviegoing moment in 2020. Steve McQueen’s ambitious, five-part whatsit Small Axe — is this an anthology series, a suite of feature-length films, a dessert topping, a floor wax? Discuss. No, please, by all means, endlessly discuss — takes a look back at black life and West Indian diaspora culture in Britain from the late Sixties to the early Eighties. Each of the chapters focuses on a different story, from the police harassment of a restaurant owner and his clientele (Mangrove) to a scathing indictment of the Thatcher-era public-school system (Education). But it’s the second of the five movies, which revolves around a “blues” house party, that stands head and dressed-to-the-nines shoulders above the rest. We see the DJs setting up their sound system and women cooking Jamaican food in a West London flat. We see Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) sneaking out her window so she can meet up with her girlfriend and get ready, a young man named Franklyn (Michael Ward) make flirtatious small talk with her once she gets to the soirée, and roughnecks and would-be Casanovas strut their stuff as the reggae music kicks into gear. And then, when Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” comes on, we see Martha and Franklyn — along with a dozen other couples — slow dance and sing along. (Cue the endorphin rush.) McQueen’s masterpiece of a joyous, moving memory piece is peerless when it comes to evoking a mood, channeling a bygone moment, and using sound and vision in a way that’s simply transcendental. He makes you feel like you are right there on that cramped dance floor, sweating alongside these folks, swaying and jumping, forgetting everything else around you and getting right into a communal groove.” – David Fear, Rolling Stone


Chloe Zhao | 108 mins | Drama
Frances McDormand | Gay DeForest | Patricia Grier | Linda May

“Tone poem, nouveau Western, elegy for the American dream: Nomadland can feel like all those things, and more. Much of the drama in Chloé Zhao’s starkly unadorned portrait of a widowed Nevadan named Fern (Frances McDormand) who learns to fit her entire world into a van happens in small, almost imperceptible moments. There are long days laboring in Amazon warehouses or potato fields; endless stretches of tarmac and rest stops; even a bittersweet hint of romance with a fellow vagabond (David Strathairn). That the movie manages to serve as both a grim reckoning of our nation’s frayed safety net and a celebration of a sort of middle-aged manifest destiny is certainly a testament to Zhao’s deceptively spare script. But it’s the dreamlike, richly textured soul of her story that stays; a new kind of cinematic classic, painfully made for these times.” – Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly


First Cow

Kelly Reichardt | 122 mins | Drama
John Magaro | Orion Lee | Rene Auberjonois

If American cinema had a poet laureate, Kelly Reichardt would hold the crown. In the 15 years since “Old Joy,” Reichardt has churned out a series of patient explorations of national identity that only get deeper with time. Reichardt’s movies work wonders out of ineffable desire, fixating with profound curiosity on ostracized loners on the margins of society eager to settle in. “First Cow” consolidates that skill into her most satisfying movie to date, a minimalist period drama about companionship, the birth of the American dream, and yes, the titular bovine. The joke of “First Cow” is that, well, who wants to watch a movie called “First Cow”? And the irony is that everyone should.

Released (barely, before shutdowns mandated that it migrate to VOD) in a year defined by the shock of a society forced to pull itself apart, “First Cow” magnifies that exact feeling. Set in the Oregon Territory circa 1820, Reichardt’s adaptation of John Raymond’s novel “The Half-Life” uses the peculiar bond of wandering chef Cookie (a tender John Magaro) and Chinese immigrant King-Lu (an overconfident Orion Lee) to explore the loneliness of an empty world and the excitement of finding some measure of companionship to chart a path forward. That’s what the pair do, by stealing milk from the only cow in the region to make cakes for settlers passing through.

It’s the subtlest heist movie in film history, but even as the men put their lives in danger for a fairly reckless plan, “First Cow” stays with the sincerity of their intentions to keep going, and the touching way that it defines their bond. The movie’s conclusive exchange lands on three encouraging words — “I’ve got you” — and they arrive like the climax of a ballad that only Reichardt could write. As with all of her work, the director communes with the notion that even reckless people simply want to find meaning in their small corners of existence. The whole world should hear her out.” – Eric Kohn, Indiewire

Full List:

1First Cow328543.9341%8%1372149%8%
3Lovers Rock257294.5932%4%1121340%5%
4Never Rarely Sometimes Always252195.1232%3%100936%4%
5Da 5 Bloods209185.1826%3%64623%2%
6Sound of Metal201164.8425%2%41215%1%
8I'm Thinking of Ending Things166145.2321%2%55420%2%
9Promising Young Woman155244.3520%4%51618%2%
11Palm Springs14375.6518%1%37313%1%
12The Assistant14256.0118%1%64423%2%
16The Trial of the Chicago 712675.0416%1%31311%1%
17The Invisible Man12535.8516%0%33112%0%
18Dick Johnson is Dead115135.6215%2%48517%2%
19David Byrne's American Utopia104135.0313%2%50818%3%
20Ma Rainey's Black Bottom10246.6113%1%35113%0%
24The Vast of Night8836.1411%0%27210%1%
25Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets87144.8711%2%38714%3%
26Vitalina Varela87194.2711%3%35813%3%
29Martin Eden85104.8011%2%36413%2%
30Another Round7756.0010%1%2529%1%
32Borat Subsequent Moviefilm7447.169%1%2228%1%
33The Nest7355.589%1%30211%1%
34One Night in Miami7035.909%0%2529%1%
35City Hall6665.348%1%36413%2%
39The Forty-Year-Old Version5536.317%0%1907%0%
41Birds of Prey4936.296%0%1104%0%
42Bad Education (2020)4905.696%0%1104%0%
43His House4826.426%0%1204%0%
44She Dies Tomorrow4645.896%1%1606%0%
46On the Rocks4516.766%0%1917%0%
47Red, White and Blue4164.295%1%1836%1%
48News of the World4115.155%0%1606%0%
49Boys State4105.835%0%1305%0%
50Sorry We Missed You3725.715%0%1616%0%

Lists Included 793 | Top Critics’ Lists Included 279

R Rank
L Total number of lists where the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year
AR Average position on ranked top 10 lists
#1 Total number of lists where the film was selected as the best film of the year
L% Percentage of total lists where the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year
#1% Percentage of mentions where the film was selected as the best film of the year
TCL Number of times that the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year on top critics’ lists
TCL1 Number of times that the film was selected as the best film of the year on top critics’ lists
TCL% Percentage of times that the film was selected as one of the top 10 films of the year on top critics’ lists
TCL1% Percentage of lists where the film was selected as the best film of the year on top critics’ lists


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