This year’s list is a little late in coming because we decided to honor the extended release schedule of the 2020 Oscars, and not follow a strict calendar year. Also, the Golden Globes are happening on Sunday. 2020 was an overall weird but good year in film, with standout work from stalwarts and newcomers, blockbuster names and up-and-comers, and it was an especially good year for women in film. As always, this list is alphabetical, not ranked. 


Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Barb and Star hits like a daffy grenade, an unexpected delight celebrating friendship, shrimp, and Jamie Dornan flicking his tiptoes to kick up the sand. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo bring the kind of chemistry that only true, longtime friends can to the screen, and as goofy as Barb and Star is on the surface, underneath it has a heartwarming message about the necessity of individualism within friendship. Barb and Star has lots of good jokes, but like all the best comedies, it will be remembered because of the tangible chemistry and genuine affection of its leads, and also Jamie Dornan climbing a palm tree like a cat up a palm tree who’s decided to go up a palm tree. Did I mention how quotable this movie is? It is VERY quotable.

Full review here.

Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s Vietnam war film turned out to be one of the most haunting films of the year. Its themes of cycles of violence and social unrest grew starker throughout 2020 and, of course, Chadwick Boseman’s performance as a doomed soldier took on an extra dimension after his untimely passing. But it’s Delroy Lindo’s performance as a bitter and burnt-out man railing against any and everything—and embracing the social nihilism of MAGA—that stands out most in my mind. This performance is a high-water mark in a storied career, and Lindo captures both the aching regret and furious trauma of the Vietnam generation. Spike Lee films are always doing the most, and Da 5 Bloods is no exception. It is doing the most, being a banger of an action flick, and also a poignant reminiscence on war, loss, and trauma.

Full review here.

Dick Johnson Is Dead

Kirsten Johnson’s offbeat documentary is a macabre and hilarious meditation on aging parents and mortality. She follows her father in the years after his dementia diagnosis and imagines the many ways in which he could die, from the abstractly accidental to the painfully real. What could be a major cryfest is instead a joyous celebration of life and family, but don’t worry, you’ll still cry at least a little as the film offers a catharsis for those who have lost someone to dementia. This is a film that is at once specific to one particular family and anyone who has lost a loved one to dementia/Alzheimer’s. 

Full review here.



Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is a deeply compassionate and unromantic film about family. One of the most thoroughly American films of the year features an immigrant family struggling to put down roots—figuratively and literally—and carve out their piece of the American dream. This is not only one of the best ensemble casts of the year, but also one of the most believable families put to screen in a while, particularly for that little scamp, David (Alan S. Kim). Despite the setbacks the Yi family faces, Minari is also one of the most hopeful films in an otherwise bleak cinematic year.

Full review here.


Chloe Zhao’s third feature film is another trip through the unseen corners and unknown lives of the modern American West. This time we follow Fern, a nomad living out of a van and following seasonal work after losing everything in an economic collapse. Amidst a life marked by a thousand small ignominies, Zhao finds a core of dignified independence in Fern’s story, and those of the other road warriors she encounters along the way (many of whom are not professional actors and are, in fact, “workampers”). This is a quiet, contemplative portrait of true economic anxiety, and the spirit of the people who simply get on with it when faced with devastating losses. It’s also yet another incredible performance from Frances McDormand.

Full review here.

One Night in Miami

A vivacious adaptation of Kemp Powers’ play, One Night in Miami sings with the energy and verve of its ensemble cast (and also Leslie Odom, Jr.’s literal singing). Regina King’s direction is especially notable for how she expands the world of the play without ever feeling like she’s trying to “make up” for a lack of locations, a common problem with stage-to-screen adaptations. Miami hits historical importance without ever touching melodrama or historical histrionics, and the ensemble cast is uniformly excellent. And Jim Brown’s confrontation with the polite face of racism, which puts a smiling face on oppression, is the most memorable and devastating opening scene of the year. 

Full review here.

Palm Springs

2020 is the year we stagnated, and no film captured that feeling quite like Palm Springs. Besides being a solid romantic comedy with great performances from Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs nailed the unrelenting sameness of 2020. It is, however, also a very funny movie that works as a wedding-based rom-com outside of the time loop. But the time loop is the reason it stands out in this year of all years, and while I am sure many films are to come about the pandemic, I doubt any film will so perfectly depict the experience of being endlessly stuck in one place as this one.

Full review here.


Promising Young Woman

A scathing, poisoned apple treat of a film, Promising Young Woman is a twisty thriller with vengeance in its heart and the most divisive ending of 2020. Emerald Fennell’s take on the rape revenge fantasy is both blazingly feminist and depressingly realistic, and while it denies the audience a traditionally cathartic ending, it does still offer a semblance of justice for the women failed by a society more interested in the fates of promising young men. Anchored by a career-best performance from Carey Mulligan, this is one of the most disturbing and unforgettable films of the year.

Full review here.

Small Axe

Steve McQueen’s five-film anthology is an unmatched achievement this year. Spanning decades, Small Axe details how systemic oppression is wielded against Black Caribbean immigrants in Britain, though the stories are depressingly timely and relevant everywhere. Lovers Rock, though, stands out as a beacon of joy, a vibrant, mostly unburdened moment amidst the darker aspects of daily life for the Windrush generation. While each film is good on its own, it is the way McQueen interlocks and overlaps themes between the films that makes Small Axe so special. No other film this year told its story so thoroughly or so well.

Full reviews here, here, here, here, and here.

The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Jim Cummings is a filmmaker still flying under the mainstream radar but jump on that train now because he won’t be for much longer (I wasn’t wrong about Taika Waititi and I won’t be wrong about Jim Cummings). The Wolf of Snow Hollow—written by, directed by, and starring Cummings—seamlessly blends genres and tones for one of the most outright fun and scary film of the year, but also one of the most grounded family dramas about generational trauma and legacy that might include a werewolf. This is also one of the late great Robert Forster’s final performances. Before winter is over, let this snowy, genre-busting gem suck you into the weird and wonderful world of Jim Cummings. Snow Hollow is sure to be an annual New Year’s tradition.



Another Round

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

The Invisible Man

The Nest

The Vast of Night

Catchiest Original Song of the Year

While Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar came in hot with “Edgar’s Prayer”, there really is no contest for best original song of the year. PLAY JA JA DING DONG:


Okay Movies Featuring Stellar Performances

Luca Marinelli – Martin Eden

Margot Robbie – Birds of Prey

Vanessa Kirby – Pieces of a Woman

Riz Ahmed & Paul Raci – Sound of Metal

Andra Day – The United States Vs. Billie Holiday

Are You F-cking Kidding Me?