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.
Note: Due to the high number of images in this post, it has been broken up into two pages. You can find navigation links at the bottom of each page.
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!
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
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.
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 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 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
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 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.