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Arts & Life

A Look Back: The Top 10 Movies From 2020

Top 10 2020 movies
Image One: Small Axe - Parisa Taghizedeh/Amazon Studios; Image Two: Soul - Disney/Pixar; Image Three: I’m Thinking of Ending Things - Mary Cybulski/Netflix
Despite a relatively lackluster year for cinema, there were a number of great movies that made the dark days of 2020 a little brighter.

2020 served us daily reminders that nothing in life is certain. The events that unfolded last year will be remembered as turning points for the country and the world.

Between the coronavirus pandemic, political unrest and extreme weather events, we certainly have seen better days. And the same goes for the movies.

Many highly anticipated blockbusters were delayed due to theater closures, while production schedules were halted.

Still, despite a relatively lackluster year for cinema, there were a number of great movies that made the dark days of 2020 a little brighter.

Please enjoy the following ranking of my top 10 movies from 2020.

Note: As of publication, several 2020 award contenders had not received wide releases. They include: “Minari, “Nomadland,” “One Night in Miami” and “The Father.”

10. “Boys State”

Politics is a game, and no other documentary from 2020 better captured that truth than “Boys State.” The movie focuses on the titular Texas summer camp, where 1,000 high school students are tasked with building a representative government from the ground up. In an effort to seize power, many of the teenagers embrace the ruthless and deceitful nature of politics, while a few promising young men set out to change the status quo.

9. “First Cow”

Directed with a graceful simplicity by Kelly Reichardt, “First Cow” is a testament to the quiet power of friendship. Set on the Western frontier in the 1820s, Cookie (John Magaro) and King Lu (Orion Lee) share a dream of success in the hospitality business. When an opportunity presents itself in the form of a one-of-a-kind bovine, they find themselves grappling with the darker realities of achieving the American Dream.

8. “Mank”

This dizzying voyage into cinema’s Golden Age recounts the political and creative roadblocks that Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) faced while writing “Citizen Kane.” Beautifully shot in black and white and peppered with playful artistic touches, director David Fincher brings the lavish world of 1940s Hollywood back to life with a sly twist.

7. “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution”

Like many movements, the disability rights movement started with a small group of friends and grew into a national coalition. This documentary tells the inspiring true story of the activists who tirelessly fought for accessibility legislation in the 1970s and the summer camp that ignited their activism. It sheds light on a remarkable and sadly overshadowed chapter in American history, reminding viewers that progress is hard earned.

6. “Dick Johnson Is Dead”

Kirsten Johnson tackles the taboo of dying in her latest documentary, daring to wonder what life would be like after the death of her beloved father, Dick. Ornamented with absurdist scenarios and fantastical daydreams, “Dick Johnson Is Dead” is an experiment in preemptive grief, anticipating the heartbreak of coping with the inevitable.

5. “I’m Thinking of Ending Things”

Directed by acclaimed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is an uncanny and often terrifying plunge into the human mind. It is a demanding watch, filled with visual mutations and obscure literary references that could stump even the most perceptive viewer. It all adds up to a giant jigsaw puzzle of a movie, demanding to be solved, even when that final missing piece is just barely out of reach.

4. “Da 5 Bloods”

Teeming with director Spike Lee’s signature combustible style, “Da 5 Bloods” takes a chilling look at America’s destructive role in the Vietnam War and the mistreatment of African-American soldiers. Set in the present day, a group of Black veterans return to Vietnam to settle some unfinished business. Through a series of flashbacks, old trauma resurfaces, revealing secrets that leave a lasting impact. The cast, led by a towering Delroy Lindo, also features a strong performance by Chadwick Boseman in one of his final roles.

3. “Sound of Metal”

Focusing on the Deaf community, “Sound of Metal” paints an inspiring picture of loss, acceptance and new life. The movie centers on Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed), a heavy metal drummer whose life is turned upside down when he loses his hearing. Instead of coping with his new reality, Ruben fights it, only to rediscover life’s beauty in the moments of stillness he had previously ignored. Ahmed’s central performance is at once intense and intimate, and director Darius Marder supplements it with an immersive sound design that places us inside the character’s state of mind.

2. “Soul”

With breathtaking visuals and a highly original, thought-provoking story, Pixar’s “Soul” is the animation studio’s best movie in years. The film follows a middle school music teacher on an existential odyssey, taking him from the outer reaches of the afterlife to the innermost regions of his soul. These abstract landscapes are visualized through stunning animation, which is bolstered by a sublime musical score and two moving lead performances by Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey.

1. “Small Axe”

Sir Steve McQueen’s anthology of five films shines a spotlight on the West Indian immigrant community in London between the 1960s and 1980s. The seemingly ordinary neighborhood narratives turn into deeply moving and intensely personal stories, together forming a spectrum of experience across the five films’ collective runtime. Linked by themes of oppression, racism and revolution, McQueen triumphantly connects a previously overlooked chapter of British history to the same struggles fought today.