2019 was one of the best years in cinema history. Samuel Sullivan actually crunched the numbers for us, and his calculations concluded that it was the best year for movies ever. Parasite, Uncut Gems, Portrait of a Lady on Fire — all 2019 masterpieces.
We were primed for more in 2020.
You know what happened next.
Release dates changed, movies got moved to streaming, you know the deal.
So instead of a standard “Best Of” list, here are some 2020 film superlatives.
Funniest: Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Sacha Baron-Cohen really caught lightning in a bottle in 2006 when he unleashed the fictional Kazakhstani television personality Borat onto the United States. Traveling the country tricking both bewildered and brazen folks into thinking he was there to learn more about American culture and politics, they all ended up spilling their guts and showing the worst this country has to offer.
He shocked us. We didn’t believe our friends and neighbors could be so crude.
And when we forgot about him, he came back.
Borat revealed what many were thinking. Looking back, if we had all watched Borat on November 8th, 2016, no one would have been so surprised.
So it was only fitting he would come back in an election year. And he doesn’t hold back when it comes to the Trump-Pence White House. Although not quite as charming or extraordinary as the unmatched original film, Borat got us through the tail end of election season.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t highlight another fantastic Sacha Baron-Cohen performance in Aaron Sorkin’s The Trail of the Chicago 7. I think people will study the work of Sacha Baron Cohen in a hundred years and ask — why didn’t this guy get the recognition he deserves? He’s a genius.
Runner-up: The King of Staten Island
Weirdest: Tiger King
As strange as it may sound, COVID-19 was the best thing to happen to Tiger King. Released roughly a week into lockdown (doesn’t it feel like that was 10 years ago?), it came out at the time we were all forced to do nothing but sit down and watch television.
No one saw this one coming and when it came, no one could believe it either. Murder, polygamy, cults, drugs, suicide, arson — all amidst the backdrop of roadside zoos that house big cats.
“There’s a guy in this documentary who’s apparently the inspiration for Tony Montana in SCARFACE. He is by far the most grounded, relatable, and sympathetic character in the whole damn show.” David Chen, Letterboxd
We will never forget Tiger King and all of its absurdity. Nor will we forget that Carole Baskin killed her husband and fed him to tigers.
Runner-up: Horse Girl
Scariest: Sound of Metal
You would expect the scariest film of the year to be a real fright-fest. Maybe some spooks, some gore, some slashes, some ghouls. However, in a year that shook us all, reality scared us more than anything.
That is why I found Sound of Metal, the story of a punk drummer who suddenly loses his hearing, so frightening. How would you respond in such a situation? More than losing your hearing, you lose your career and the life you know. We all would like to think we would react with grace, transitioning to the new lifestyle with elegance. Sound of Metal shows the truth. It’s hard, it’s painful, and it’s scary.
Runner-up: Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich
No one was shocked that Hamilton was good — we all knew it was. Those that didn’t memorize the Original Broadway Cast Recording at least know its cultural significance, snatching up Tonys, Grammys, and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama just a few years ago.
What surprised us was that we were all going to get to see it. Tickets for the Broadway production are notoriously hard to get and although we knew there was a filmed version with the original cast in the can, we thought we weren’t going to see it for another year. Disney scooped it up in a large bidding war and after watching BLM protests worldwide, thought it would be a good idea to release the story of BIPOC actors and artists reclaiming the story of our nation’s founding.
Runner-up: Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
I was so excited for Tenet. I wrote about my anticipation. I mean come on — it was supposed to bring movie theaters back from the dead!
It didn’t do that. And it wasn’t good.
Tenet was bound to be divisive. Nolan at his Nolaniest is sure to split the room, and I unfortunately fall to the side of miscalculation.
If you’ve seen it already and liked it, nothing I say will change your mind. If you didn’t like it, I’m preaching to the choir. If you haven’t seen it, at least you can watch it at home with the subtitles.
Underrated: Sonic the Hedgehog
Hear me out.
No one expected this to be a masterpiece. And it’s not.
But it is so much fun! It’s innocent and gives us our beloved Ben Schwartz as a beloved cartoon character and brings back a Jim Carrey we haven’t seen in almost 20 years. So what if Sonic does the Fortnite dance not once, but twice? It’s a movie for children and shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s a fun and easy 90 minutes — and it’s one of my favorite movies of the year.
I know I just defended Sonic the Hedgehog.
But like so many others, I went into Scoob! expecting a fun origin story. Did we need one? No. We already had A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, but I’m always down for a new Mystery Gang adventure.
But what no one expected was a Hanna-Barbera universe set-up movie.
“Barely even qualifies as a Scooby-Doo movie outside of the recreation of the original opening, because after that it doesn’t even feel like it’s ever invested in the actual mystery anymore” Jamie Rebanal, Letterboxd
The Mystery Gang are split up for most of the runtime and it’s somehow more of a superhero movie than a mystery. Few were upset it missed a theatrical run.
Apple does not release the subscription numbers for their streaming platform, Apple TV+, and I suspect that’s because they don’t have much to boast about. Despite some estimates that they are reaching Netflix levels, I don’t know a single person who actually has it. Therefore, its library is being neglected.
I got it so I could watch Dads, the documentary on fatherhood by Bryce Dallas Howard, the daughter of a famous father herself, Ron Howard. Bryce has transitioned to directing lately (see her excellent work on The Mandalorian) and I look forward to more of her behind-the-camera work in the future. She’s a fine actress and is creating an interesting directing career for herself in the footsteps of Ron, who brought us classics like Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind.
Her work here is strong as she brings us a movie that could have easily been hammy and surface level. It dives just far enough to be thoughtful and downright adorable while still being easily digestible.
Runner-up: The Wrong Missy
Let me know some awards you would hand out to the 2020 contenders. Best movie moment? Strongest performance? Most stock-piled streaming service?
Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s to another film year of laughs, tears, frights, and fun.