Matt’s Favourite Films & Performers of 2020

2020 has been a hell of a year. With theatres ending up being an unsafe place to be during an ongoing worldwide pandemic you’d think it would be a harder year for film, but looking back it’s clear that this year has been an as vibrant and diverse year for film as any other.

Of course, the difference is that without theatres, there have been far fewer blockbusters and far more indie and middle-tier films. The impact on my film diary for the year has been an interesting one, with bigger budget films losing the endorphin high of the theatrical experience –and thus losing some of the immediate forgiveness they earn if they aren’t great. Additionally, film festivals moved to an online experience either in whole or in part this year, which has meant that I have “attended” more of them.

As a result, I have seen more than 120 of 2020’s films, a steep increase from years past. Narrowing the list down to a group of favourites is as difficult as ever! Also this year, for the second time, I am going to highlight some of the performers that blew me away.

A Year in Writing

2020 is the year that I came back to blogging in a bigger way. I redesigned the site, added google ads, and added both Patreon and Ko-Fi support options. I also established relationships with several studios –most notably Netflix, Disney, and Apple– which has been a great privilege.

I thought it might be fun to look back at some of the pieces I am proud of from the year.

  • All 93 Simpsons Treehouse of Horror Segments, Ranked. This was a fun project that took a long time and maybe the biggest revelation that came of it is that contrary to popular belief, The Simpsons has remained pretty steady in its quality. Read it here!
  • Franchise Rewatch: James Bond. Ultimately, I never finished my “watch every James Bond movie” project, but I am pretty happy with how the first two pieces turned out. Read part 1 Here! / Read part 2 here!
  • VIFF Interview with director Helen Shaver. I started interviewing people this year, and this was one of the standout experience for me, not only because her film Happy Place is so good but because I have been a fan for a long time. Read it here!
  • Fantasia Interview with director Quinn Armstrong. This one was noteworthy not only because Quinn was so fun to talk to but because it was the first interview I ever did! Read it here!
  • Don’t Go to The Movies Right Now. There is a Pandemic on, and while I love the movies, they weren’t a safe place to be when I wrote this. Please note, they aren’t a safe place to be right now either. Read it here!

Honourable Mentions

Every year there are movies that don’t quite make the best of list, here are a few of those for your consideration.

  • Bad Education is a story that lets you see the facade its characters put up chip, crack, and crumble until there is nothing left, and features a standout performance from Hugh Jackman. (I did not review this film)
  • Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) continues the DC studios run of good movies in which they let artists tell the stories the way they want to tell them. Bright and colourful and fun and I loved it. (Original Review)
  • Happy Place is an emotional story about women supporting women, based on a play based on real-life, an essential Canadian film this year. (Original Review / Interview with star Clark Backo / Interview with director Helen Shaver)
  • His House is the first film I can remember to weaponize the immigrant experience for horror, and now that I have seen it, I can’t believe it hadn’t been done before. (Original Review)
  • Inconvenient Indian highlights the indigenous experience in Canada through the stories that we tell as a nation. One of the most important pieces of Canadian media made this year. (Original Review)
  • Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom –based on the play of the same name– is a powerful story of the exploitation of black artists, one that is as timely now as it was when it was written in 1982, and features an electric performance from Chadwick Boseman –one that would become his last. (Original Review)
  • The Oak Room is a story about stories and features some great actors telling each other stories, each of which layers into one another. Adapted from a play it is immaculately produced, acted, and directed. (Original Review)
  • Souterrain tells the story of a mine and the men who work in it in the lead up to a disaster and tells it with both empathy and realism. (Original Review)
  • The Trip to Greece is the fourth entry in the series of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s culinary adventures in which they talk and joke and have mild existential crises. Reportedly the final outing for the pair, and maybe the most poignant. (I did not review this film)
  • You Cannot Kill David Arquette is a story about a man struggling to regain respect, both from the acting industry that seems to have left him behind, the wrestling industry that never seemed to believe in him to begin with, and for himself. A funny, silly, sweet, and entertaining portrait of David Arquette. (Original Review)

There are a lot of other films I saw that were great this year, too. International features like The Columnist, Patrick, and Free Country all of which were technically 2019 releases, and the Netflix limited series adaptation of Queens Gambit which as a series doesn’t qualify for a best films list.

Favourite Performers of 2020

Amanda Seyfried

Amanda Seyfried / Mank

I thought that Mank was a fine film, which puts me in the minority between the highly positive and highly negative reviews, but there’s one thing about it that can’t be denied: Amanda Seyfried is incredible in it as Marion Davies. Davies was famously the inspiration for Susan Alexander Kane in Citizen Kane. If you know anything about her, you’ll know her relationships with Herman Mankiewicz and William Randolph Hearst were too complicated, to put it mildly, and Seyfried navigates them both incredibly. A performance of body language and tone as much as dialogue, she is great in one of the best-looking films of the year.

Chadwick Boseman

Chadwick Boseman / Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

The loss of Chadwick Boseman was one of the biggest shocks of the year, especially when you consider what we now know to be his legacy. In the last four years of his life after a diagnosis with stage three colon cancer, he kept that diagnosis secret and persevered to play important figures in black history and to highlight black stories. It is incredible to think that he acted in films like Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, all while no one knew he was dying.

As if that weren’t inspiring enough, in his last two films –Da Five Bloods and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom– he gives powerful and electric performances, either of which is more than worthy of the posthumous nominations he is almost certainly to garner.

Delroy Lindo

Delroy Lindol / Da Five Bloods

Delroy Lindo is one of those character actors who always elevates the projects that he is in, whether he’s in a lead role or he’s showing for 10 minutes in an uncredited cameo.

In Da Five Bloods he gives a career-best performance as a PTSD suffering Vietnam war vet whose self-loathing is so internalized he’s become a Trump supporter. His character Paul is cruel and heroic and self-serving and intelligent but above all, angry. Angry at the world that left him behind and his own failures in life.

Lindo is the guy who shows up in a movie and absolutely owns it, and Da Five Bloods is no different, and hopefully the various awards bodies recognize that this year.

Mads Mikkelsen

Mads Mikkelsen / Another Round

Mads Mikkelsen is one of our most reliable and eclectic performers, and while he only had one performance in 2020 it was one of my favourites. More on the film later, but his turn as Martin in Another Round is excellent and nuanced as a man exploring his own self-confidence through the steady application of alcohol. In the films final scenes he gives a dance that is both heartbreaking and life-affirming and will leave you asking why haven’t we been watching this guy dance this whole time?

Sacha Baron Cohen

Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman / The Trial of the Chicago 7

As if it weren’t enough that Cohen produced a sequel to Borat –arguably his most influential and iconic role– this year that was more timely now than when the character was introduced, he also gives a thoughtful performance as activist Abbie Hoffman The Trial of the Chicago 7.

I feel like for a man who plays so many outlandish characters I feel like we often forget he is also a talented actor, and 2020 is the year that he reminded us of that.

Sheila McCarthy

Sheila McCarthy is a living legend of Canadian screen and this year she gave two incredible performances: first as one of a group of woman recovering from various personal traumas in Happy Place and another as a grandmother so shattered by the death of her grandson she is willing to kidnap a woman and perform a reverse exorcism to put his soul in that woman’s unborn child.

Each of these turns is great in its own right (as well as appearances in The Umbrella Academy and Baroness von Sketch Show), and reminds us that she is a force to be reckoned with.

My Favourite Films of 2020

And so, without any further ado, here are my favourite films of 2020. I saw a lot of movies this year, but just to get this out of the way: if you don’t see something you loved here that means that either I didn’t see it, or it’s not one of my favourites.

The films are presented in alphabetical order, except for my favourite film which is listed last.

Anything for Jackson

Sheila McCarthy & Julian Richings / Anything for Jackson

Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings are both living legend characters actors of Canadian screen. As a pair of desperate grandparents that unleash more than they bargained for when they start dabbling in satanic rituals, they are both incredible. The story is great, the performances are great, and the effects are exceptional, given the obvious budgetary limitations. What’s more, the people who made Anything For Jackson have a long history of making hallmark movies, and this is such an about-face that it boggles the mind.

Read my original review here.

Bill & Ted Face The Music

Keanu Reeves & Alex Winter / Bill & Ted Face the Music
Keanu Reeves & Alex Winter / Bill & Ted Face the Music

If you’d told me that Bill & Ted would come back with exactly the movie we needed at the time we needed it in 2020, I might have laughed. I would have been foolish in hindsight though because of course, these guys would do that. Bill and Ted Face The Music is the story of how William “Bill” S. Preston Esq. and Ted “Theodore” Logan finally bring the song that saves the world to the people and the reminder that their message of “be excellent to each other” is needed now more than ever.

Read my original review here.

Da Five Bloods

Isiah Whitlock Jr., Norm Lewis, Clarke Peters, Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors / Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee has often written about the black experience in America and Da Five Bloods is no different. Following a team of four aging war buddies returning the scene of the death of their leader and friend to recover both his remains and gold bars they had stashed, the story illuminates how America failed its black soldiers and highlights the importance of the Black Lives Matter movements all in one fell swoop. Featuring a cast of incredible character actors and a standout performance from Delroy Lindo, this is easily one of the most important pictures of the year.

(I did not review this film).

The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man
Elisabeth Moss / The Invisible Man

Updating a monster movie to contemporary times is a fine needle to thread, whether you update it straight or add a modern twist. Leigh Whannell takes the latter approach, adding a story about toxic men, gaslighting, and domestic abuse. Elisabeth Moss is on board to give her usual great performance, as is Aldis Hodge who I firmly believe will be a movie star one day. Combine that with Whannell’s trademark directing style and camera work, and you have a film that can tell you in a nearly silent opening sequence everything you need to know about the characters, as well as a film that finds a way to make a brutal fight between an invisible man and a group of guards surprising and fun.

Read my original review here.

The Old Guard

Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlize Theron, Luca Marinelli, Kiki Layne / The Old Guard

Charlize is the reigning queen of action, and The Old Guard puts her at the head of a team of ageless mercenaries that have fought their way through history. Think of an x-men story where all of the good guys are Wolverine, and you sort of get what we’re talking about.

It has some obvious sequel bait issues toward the end, but the acting, the story, and the highly choreographed action are all superb (plus there’s a great b-plot love story in there, too). If Charlize is the queen, this movie presents KiKi Layne as the up and coming princess, and I seriously hope we get those sequels that the film so desperately wants.

(I did not review this film).

Palm Springs

Cristin Milioti & Andy Samberg / Palm Springs

The time loop trope is now so well worn that to make it unique and special a twist needs to be added, and adding another person to the mix is a solution so simple I’m surprised it didn’t happen ages ago. Crossing the story of self actualization with a romantic comedy is only as good as the lead couple, and thankfully Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti have such an easy chemistry that I can’t wait to see them work together again.

Palm Springs is another one of those movies that feels more relevant in 2020 –don’t we all feel trapped where we are?– and maybe more powerful, too, but it’s one that you should definitely check out.

(I did not review this film).

Soul

Soul
Soul

It sounds wild that the studio that started with a movie about toys coming to life now makes masterpieces on the regular, but that is the story of Pixar. Soul continues this trend, with the main character literally dying in the first frames of the story to end up in the early stages of the afterlife and fighting to get back to Earth.

It’s hard to speak about without spoiling, but Pete Docter is a man who we should speak about more often when we speak about master storytellers.

Read my original review here.

Survival Skills

Vayu O’Donnell / Survival Skills

Indie film is often the place where big swings are taken, and this movie is definitely a big swing. In a world where we are constantly hearing that we shouldn’t let a few bad apples spoil the barrel when it comes to policing, Survival Skills lays bare that the problem isn’t the apples at all; it is the barrel itself.

Made all the more powerful by having come out during a period of nationwide police riots in America, and anchored by a pitch-perfect central performance by Vayu O’Donnell, Survival Skills is definitely one that you should seek out.

Read my original review here. Read my interview with director Quinn Armstrong here.

Wolfwalkers

Wolfwalkers
Wolfwalkers

Wolfwalkers represents animation at its best. Well acted, gorgeous to look at, and with a story about friendship and sticking to your principles. The visual style is such that it all but leaps off your screen at you as it shifts between a beautiful watercolour world and a dynamic line art world of animal senses.

I don’t want to tell you anything about this film that I haven’t said before, just that you should watch it and enjoy it.

Read my original review here.

You Will Remember Me

Rémy Girard & Karelle Tremblay / You Will Remember Me

Rémy Girard is one of our great actors, and You Will Remember Me is a showcase for him to remind us as such. Playing an opinionated academic suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s, this film requires him to turn on a dime from cogent to lost, from elation to heartbreak, and he is so on point with the performance that your heart will break multiple times watching it.

Read my original review here.

Another Round

Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang / Another Round

And so here we are with my favourite film of 2020. Another Round is the story of four friends who are all, for various reasons, have stopped living their lives and need something to give them a jump start. deciding as a group to test the theory that the human body is 0.05% blood alcohol deficient, they start drinking to see how it will impact their lives.

There are both boons and flaws to this plan, and each of them sees both improvements in their life and consequences. Not an entirely happy film, and not entirely sad, Another Round is a very human film that feels like it could be about so many of us. The film’s message comes down to finding what’s important in life and living that life to the fullest, and the big dance scene at the end is enough to bring me nearly to tears.

Funny, dark, affirming, well acted, well directed, and with a relatable emotional centre, Another Round is my favourite movie of the year.

Read my original review here.


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