Spencer Henderson’s Top 10 Best Movies of 2020

by Spencer Henderson
Sound of Metal

2020 is the most concrete proof I can display that I am potentially already in hell. I’m not going to spend this opening paragraph attempting to recap the macro scale view of 2020 as anything other than a nightmare. The great news is that we aren’t even two weeks into 2021 and there has already been *checks notes* an armed insurrection on the nation’s capital encouraged by the President of the United States. This year had better have some great films if it continues to head the direction that it currently seems to be moving. But enough about that nightmare that was 2020 and its last gasp of breath bleeding over into 2021 before better days hopefully lie ahead, let’s talk about the films of 2020.

I often will note that every year is a great year for film because there are always artists making interesting and compelling things; you just need to look for them. 2020 saw a complete shift in terms of how we watched films, including gigantic tentpole films. A week ago I viewed Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO Max (this is the last time you will see me mention this film here) which was a surreal experience to say the very least. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to say that it is a time of great uncertainty for the film industry. It seems to be common knowledge, especially when profanity-laden audio clips of Tom Cruise, savior of the film industry, circulate online that resemble me every Sunday speaking to my film club when we speculate on the future of moviegoing. I don’t know how moviegoing will look a year from now. Hell, I don’t even know how moviegoing will look four months from now. All I know is that whatever shifts we see in the industry, I’ll still be watching films and writing about them here at MovieBabble (despite a tumultuous relationship with MovieBabble founder Nicholas “KB2” Kush).

Now that I have filled myself with existential dread about the uncertainty of the future, let’s talk about good movies! I saw over 140 films in 2020 because, what else was I going to do? Go to the bar with all of my friends? Go work out at the gym?  Go to a Broncos game? Go eat at a restaurant? Go breathe air literally anywhere inside with other people? Literally all I can do is watch movies and then talk to the nearest rock about what I just saw only accompanied by the sounds of my own voice as they echo off the walls of my apartment, later to realize I’m not talking and there’s no rock, I’ve been sobbing this entire time (as you can see I’m holding up extraordinarily well mentally).

Let’s talk about my honorable mentions:

 

Most Surprising Film — For this category, I’m going to talk about a film that I had little to know expectations for that blew me away, and that easily goes to Spontaneous. Not only is this film wildly original and entertaining, it has a lot of heart and something to say about the times we live in. Anchored by a great lead performance by Katherine Langford, this is a film I have been thinking about often in the months since I saw it.

 

You Just Didn’t Understand It, Man — This category easily goes to The Lodge, which I found to be a wildly uncomfortable and disturbing experience in all the right ways. I know the exact point in the film where other viewers turned on it, but for some sick reason, this film really worked for me and I look forward to whatever twisted monstrosity Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala concoct next.

 

Most Criminally Underseen — No question, To The Stars. I first saw this film at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and I walked out of the theater quiet and deeply moved. This is the film I have recommended to the highest number of people this year, simply because it’s beautiful. If you are reading this and haven’t watched it, then rent the Festival Version on Amazon. I can’t wait to see what Martha Stephens (who is a delightful person by the way) does next.

 

How Was This So Good?! — If you haven’t watched Freaky yet, then you need to course correct ASAP. This movie is an absolute blast that is consistently funny and surprising. I’m a massive fan of the horror genre, and I felt this had some really insightful and sharp things to say about it.

 

Film I’m Most Butthurt Didn’t Make The List — There were actually a lot of films for this one, some mentioned above. As much as I want to say Nomadland, Mangrove, or Another Round, the film I am so sad I couldn’t fit on the list is Brandon Cronenberg’s Possessor. I found this film to be wildly transgressive, excessively disturbing and gross, and it left me feeling like a shell of a human being having watched it, and I mean everything I just said as the highest possible compliment. While I can’t recommend this film to hardly anyone, it’s an experience I will not forget.

 

Most Cinematic Experience of 2020 — I’m about to do something unprecedented and name drop a video game. In a year when I couldn’t go watch films in theaters due to the pandemic, the experience that made me feel most like I got that was The Last of Us Part II. This was maybe the most emotionally draining piece of media I have ever experienced. I think I felt every possible emotion a human being can feel at some point in this story, but I also felt more exhilarated by every set piece, more connected and compelled to every character’s story, and more emotionally invested in the narrative (which challenged and hurt me at times), than I did by almost any film I saw this year. The Last of Us Part II is a game that any fan of film and cinema must experience.

 

Now onto the top 10:

#10: His House

Remi Weekes’ debut film is my very favorite type of genre film: one that has something to say under its surface. This film is without question the best debut horror film of 2020, but it also works as a metaphor about the difficulty of being a refugee in a country that doesn’t accept you. It does so through the guise of a haunted house film with extraordinary visuals, incredible direction, and two of the best lead performances of the year. Do not miss this film.

*To read the site’s review of His House, please click here.

#9: Driveways

A quiet, understated drama featuring a towering final performance by Brian Dennehy. Driveways feels like a plea for kindness towards the people around you in an era when kindness and acceptance seem to be on the decline. I was in tears by the end of this beautiful film and cared so deeply about the wonderful characters who occupied the screen. Its simple message is so gently told but the universality of that message has stuck with me since I saw it in the midst of summer. There is not a person who I wouldn’t recommend seek this film out.

*To read the site’s review of Driveways, please click here.

#8: Promising Young Woman

Another absolutely brilliant debut film from Emerald Fennell, and I will be in line for whatever she does next. This feels like a film forged in the fires of the #MeToo movement and has a palpable pain throughout the story. Despite the heavy subject matter, it is also wildly entertaining, stylistic as hell, and at times very funny. It’s impossible to talk about this film without mentioning the lead performance by Carey Mulligan, which is one of the best performances of the year and the best performance of her career, full stop. I think comparisons to Drive are inevitable, but make no mistake: Promising Young Woman is better than that film in virtually every way.

*To read the site’s review of Promising Young Woman, please click here.

#7: Palm Springs

This was the most fun I had watching a film this entire year, and a lot of that may have been aided to how relatable this film felt in the midst of my life quarantining with my girlfriend. It is far and away the funniest film I have seen this year and the two lead performances are so damn likeable that I would be concerned for anyone who did not find them charming and endearing. At the end of the day, the people surrounding us are all we have to cling to through difficult times. Palm Springs was a wonderful film that helped me accept the difficult times I have lived through this year.

*To read the site’s review of Palm Springs, please click here.

#6: First Cow

Kelly Reichardt’s beautiful ode to friendship burrowed its way into my mind where it has remained since I saw it. The tender companionship at the center of this film is so wholesome and achingly gorgeous that I didn’t want to leave the world this film beautifully had created. Reichardt obviously has a draw to this time period in American history, and I feel like with First Cow, she delivers her best film yet.

*To read the site’s review of First Cow, please click here.

#5: i’m thinking of ending things

The best film of 2020 that I likely will never watch again simply due to the fact that it is one of the most horribly depressing films I have ever watched. Despite this, I was deeply moved by this film. It allowed me to experience a perspective that I think it is important for people to consider. 2020 was a year where I lost a close family member to suicide. This film allowed me to reckon with and attempt to try to find understanding something that we may never truly be able to understand.

*To read the site’s review of i’m thinking of ending things, please click here.

#4: Sound of Metal

Roger Ebert famously described film as an “empathy machine” in which we can experience the lives of those who are different from us and who are facing different challenges. Sound of Metal is perhaps the best example of this that has come around this year. Featuring without question the best sound design of the year, this film allows the viewer to truly feel as if they are experiencing the world in the shoes of Ruben (played masterfully by Riz Ahmed), a heavy metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing. When this film ended, I just sat on my couch as tears streamed down my face. It is an astonishing achievement in filmmaking.

*To read the site’s review of Sound of Metal, please click here.

#3: Never Rarely Sometimes Always

I genuinely believe that this film could save a life by making someone faced with the most difficult decision of their life not feel completely and utterly alone. This quiet and understated drama is like many of the films that occupy this list, emotionally devastating. However, it is also deeply rewarding because it provides nuance to a topic of debate that often is surrounded by anything but nuance. In this case, that topic is abortion. I would recommend this film to anyone whether they are pro-choice or pro-life because I think it is important that we listen to other perspectives. Especially when a film is this muted in what it is trying to say.

*To read the site’s review of Never Rarely Sometimes Always, please click here.

#2: Boys State

A perfect microcosm for the current political climate in America. It is heartbreaking, discouraging, terrifying, beautiful, and hopeful; sometimes, all at once. It also features the most compelling central figure in a film this year in Steven Garza who should make anyone feel better about the future. I can understand anyone watching this film and feeling hopeless due to the lessons modern American youth are taking from the Trump administration and other truly harmful figures to our society such as Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, and Alex Jones. However, I felt a deep hope knowing that there are people who will always fight the good fight and more importantly that there are people who notice that, and who believe in that. The ending of this film made me cry, but it felt better that I was crying with many others.

*To read the site’s review of Boys State, please click here.

#1: Minari

I saw my favorite film of 2020 clear back in January in the snowy mountains of Park City, Utah at the Sundance Film Festival. I knew from the opening moments of this film that I was in for something truly special, and I knew immediately as the credits rolled that I would not see a better film this year. I cannot properly articulate how beautiful this film is, how powerful and universal it’s themes are, how deeply I cared for these characters, or how perfect in every way I found every single aspect of this film to be. Stories like Minari are why I love film so much because for two hours, I can reflect upon things that truly matter. I can reflect that hope, love, and family can truly heal us even when things feel irreparably broken. It reminds me that we are all in this together, and that is greater than any one of us.

*To read the site’s review of Minari please click here.


Follow MovieBabble on Twitter @MovieBabble_ and Spencer @SpennyHend

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3 comments

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Lori Randall January 12, 2021 - 8:15 pm

Your reviews always make me want to watch the movie and pray that I have the experience you describe. Keep up the good work @spennyhend. The world is a better place because of you!

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Nick Kush January 12, 2021 - 9:49 am

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