JM’s Top 10 Films of 2020 & Top 10 Documentaries of 2020

After taking off a few weeks, it’s great to be back writing again. Now normally I make a point to have my Top 10 Films of The Year ready (at the latest by December 31st), but recognizing what a bizarre year 2020 has been, it seemed suitable to take my time and accurately assess all the films from this past year. I kept a running list all year so it wasn’t too difficult, but just a matter of narrowing it down. My biggest struggle was evaluating the international cinema and documentaries who qualified. As a result, I’ve decided to do my Top 10 Movies of 2020 and Top 10 Documentaries of 2020.

Despite what most people want to believe, there were tons of solid films released this year. They just weren’t of the superhero and tentpole variety, which was extremely refreshing, but for those not in NY, LA or SF, it was probably frustrating not having access readily available. For the first time in 25 years I also found myself actually attending and enjoying several movies at Drive-Ins, including a couple of double features. To say this was a fun, fascinating film year is no exaggeration. Like always there was the tricky “what qualifies” as a 2020 release. Several high profile films were released at the tail end of the year that had theatrical windows before being readily available with Video On Demand (now or very soon). If a film had a theatrical or Video on Demand release in 2020, it qualified for my list.

1) “Nomadland”

Frances McDormand follows up her Academy Award winning performance in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” with another award worthy performance in Chloe Zhao’s “Nomadland.” In 2011, the city of Empire, Nevada, shut down forcing residents to flee the area and in the case of one woman, Fern (Frances McDormand), searching for work and meaning in her life. After taking a seasonal job at an Amazon fulfillment center and purchasing a van to live in, Fern travels the country searching for work in this compelling, cathartic character study of capturing the struggles of the downtrodden and depressed. “Nomadland” is a promising, profound picturesque movie firing on all cylinders. It’s a modern-day masterpiece and THE movie to beat this awards season.

2) “Promising Young Woman”

The one film I can’t stop talking about this year is “Promising Young Woman.”  Carey Mulligan stars in a reverse revenge thriller and truthfully, the less you know about it the better. The ending- DO NOT TELL ANYONE- is worth watching alone. Carey Mulligan magnificently dominates the screen in one of her finest film performances and is the ultimate badass. Mulligan is breathtakingly brilliant and the film will leave you speechless. Rush out to see it as soon as you can!3) ”Kajillionaire”

Quirky comedies are always difficult to describe, especially the films of Miranda July. Ironically enough, this is her most “mainstream movie” (third theatrical film overall) and has created an exceptionally, entertaining group of eccentric characters that you can’t stop thinking about. A family of con artists, Robert (Richard Jenkins), Theresa (Debra Winger) and Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), spend their days skimming through life with a series of petty thefts and scams hoping to become “Kajillionaires.” It’s ostensibly, offbeat, but brilliant if you enjoy quirkiness.

4) “The Trial of The Chicago 7”

For nearly 13 years, the project went through constant delays after being impacted by the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike. Luckily, Aaron Sorkin was able to direct his script for his sophomore effort. The Chicago Seven were seven defendants Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen), Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty) and Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), who were charged by the US government after protesting in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Along with great writing and directing, the movie contains an amazing All-Star cast led by Academy Award winners Eddie Redmayne & Mark Rylance, Academy Award nominees Sacha Baron Cohen, Michael Keaton & Frank Langella and Emmy Award winner Jeremy Strong. It’s an outstanding film from start to finish with wonderful writing spearheaded by towering, terrific performances by Sacha Baron and Jeremy Strong stealing the show. Maybe once it’s all said and done, we can finally award Sacha Baron Cohen his long overdue Oscar. However, don’t be surprised if the film comes away with the most nominations and wins this awards season.5) “Sound of Metal”

Attention all Academy Award members. It’s truly a travesty if this film is not nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay. “Sound of Metal” examines what happens when a metal musician Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) loses his hearing overnight and his struggles with accepting his new reality. After meeting Joe (Paul Raci), a recovering addict and Vietnam veteran, who runs a community for deaf recovering addicts, Ruben struggles with how to adapt and overcome his new impairment. Simply spellbinding and absolutely breathtaking, “Sound of Metal” is brilliant on so many levels. Paul Raci should absolutely win Best Supporting Actor and stands out above his competition with Riz Ahmed in serious contention as well. Two of the best performances of this year belong to Ahmed and Raci.6) “Let Him Go”

Kevin Costner wears many hats as a writer, director, producer, actor and musician. However, his best genre continues to be anything Cowboy and Americana-related. “Let Him Go” is a neo-western starring Kevin Costner and Diane Lane, who chase after their grandson and former daughter-in-law after mysteriously leaving town one night in this remarkable revenge thriller. It’s classic cowboy cinema in the vein of a John Ford, Anthony Mann and John Sturges movie with strong supporting performances all-around. The perfect adult adrama.7) “Palm Springs”

This is the millennial version of “Groundhog Day.” On November 9th in Palm Springs, Nyles (Andy Samberg) wakes up on the day of a wedding and later provides an incredible impromptu speech, which Sarah, the maid of honor/sister of the bride, is  blown away by. While Sarah is bonding in the desert with Nyles, he is shot by a mysterious man with an arrow and crawls off wounded into a mysterious light, only for Sarah unknowingly to jump into a time-loop chasing after him. It’s an extremely entertaining and engaging comedy. Andy Samberg is certainly hitting his stride and provides one of the more endearing roles of the year.8) “On The Rocks”

There are only a handful of filmmakers where you can say their name and I’m instantly sold. One of those is Sofia Coppola. “On The Rocks” is the story about a novelist named Laura (Rashida Jones), who is in a rut while her entrepreneurial husband Dean (Marlon Wayans) seems so successful without a care in the world. One night after Deans starts acting strangely and suspecting her husband of having an affair, Laura reaches out to her adulterous and ambitious father Felix (Bill Murray) to investigate the matter in a light-hearted, humorous undertaking. Like a great bottle of Scotch and Whiskey, Bill Murray is aging amazingly and delivers a spirited performance worthy of his second Academy Award nomination. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film remains a Best Supporting Actor and Best Screenplay contender throughout awards season. This is a prime example of a writer/director excellently executing their own work.9) “Extra Ordinary”

I’m a sucker for comedies. “Extra Ordinary” is an Irish horror comedy starring Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Claudia O’Doherty and Will Forte. The film is about a driving instructor Rose (Maeve Higgins) who has the ability to see wayward spirits, but unbeknownst to her a one-hit wonder musician Christian Walker (Will Forte) is trying to summon spirits and disrupt the local order. Imagine a quirky “Ghostbusters” and a surreal comedy sketch that will keep you laughing for 90 minutes. Besides “Borat 2,” I’ve seen “Extra Ordinary” the most this year and can’t stop talking about it. This is just pure comedy gold.10) “Beanpole”

Before Barack Obama praised the film I was championing the film back on January 30, 2020, when it was shortlisted for the Best International Film at the Academy Awards. Kantemir Balagov’s sophomore directorial effort is a timeless classic set in the Post-World War II Russia. As I stated in my review, “It’s one of the most profound films in the past decade” and after rewatching on Kanopy I can see this film having long legs for decades to come. Since it was “technically” awards eligible last year (although not readily available for most moviegoers) this film would be higher. Thanks to Kino Marquee and Kino, this fantastic film is readily available in Virtual Cinemas and Video on Demand, including Kanopy.

Top 10 Documentaries

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