2020 was truly a game-changer. Among other public venues, movie theaters became almost invisible. Result? 2020 Academy Award nominees (which requires a theatrical release) are dominated by low-budget indies. Second, movie studios have permanently shifted their emphasis to a split release pattern, with some “big” movies still going to theaters, but others, like Mulan and Godzilla vs. Kong premiering at studio-owned websites like Disney+ and HBO (Warner Bros/AT&T). Third, some movie projects are being retooled as “limited series.” So here, including a few of the latter, are my favorites of 2020.
One Night in Miami –This dramedy about the historic meeting of three 1960s icons, Muhammad Ali, Malcom X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, captured me from start to finish. The fact that it was a virtually all-Black creation–with brilliant writing, directing, acting and cinematography–is just icing on the cultural cake. It would have been my favorite anyway.
The Invisible Man – The last film I saw at a theater before last year’s lockdown, this smart, perfectly-plotted thriller is a white-knuckler. If I had an “Action Movie” category, it would be #1. True character-driven sci-fi.
Queen’s Gambit – This book-turned-limited-(Netflix)-series explores the the fascinating and surprisingly moving journey of a troubled chess-playing genius in search of a family. Anya Taylor-Joy is heart-breakingly tough and vulnerable in the central role.
The Father – This twisty “what the heck is going on here?” drama shows us everything from the perspective of a proud, aging man (Anthony Hopkins), who may or may not have dementia. Engrossing and touching.
Hamilton –The Broadway musical smash-turned-streaming-event (Disney+) is shot from a stage, but employs multiple cameras and inventive lighting, and works perfectly on screen. Yes, it’s as much comedy as drama, but in the end it’s the tears you remember more than the laughs.
Healing River (Special Award) –Three of my own feature films were released in 2020 (two written and directed by me), so yes, I’m biased. That said, Healing River has received rapturous reviews at Amazon Prime, where it remains the highest-rated inspirational drama of 2020 and 2021!
WandaVision – A weak year for comedy, 2020 did bring us this Marvel-ous limited series that hilariously spoofs old television sitcoms from the 1950s through the present.
I Care a Lot – This dark comedy from Netflix wears its heart on it’s… Wait–does it have a heart? It’s heartless hero, played to chilly perfection by Rosamund Pike, ruins people’s lives for a living, and gets away with it. Or does she?
Soul – 2020 wasn’t a strong year for animation either. But Pixar came through with this truly entertaining, gorgeously animated story of a soul in limbo. Vague pop philosophy notwithstanding, Soul is a sweet little tale.
Onward – Pixar again. Onward may not be a classic, but it’s a fun and, again touching, action comedy well worth the ride.
Notzilla (Special Award) – Me again. My affectionate, award-winning send-up of old monster movies was also released on Amazon Prime in 2020. And now, expanded to Amazon and other outlets worldwide, it’s being hailed as a cult classic!
Honorable Mentions – also check out these other worthy 2020 releases:
Tenet – convoluted sci-fi thriller – pay close attention
News of the World – touching John Ford-esque western