LIAM EASLEY, TRUMPET ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR
I watched 49 movies from 2020 alone, and I only scratched the surface of everything I wanted to cover. However, despite the fact that my eyes are still eternally red, this is the list of every 2020 film I watched from best to worst.
This past year was not great for the movie industry. The highest-grossing movie of 2020 was “Bad Boys for Life,” which made $204 million, which might seem like a lot but is nothing compared to the $858 million gained by “Avengers: Endgame” in 2019
, according to The Numbers. In fact, the top 10 grossing movies of 2019 all outperformed 2020’s top-grosser.
Despite the state of the film industry, Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime consistently churned out original content all year. This may come as a surprise due to the pandemic, but most movies start production a few years before their release. With this in mind, expect a possible lack of movies this year or the next.
Amazon Studios released 21 movies in 2020, while Netflix put out over 100 more movies than their competitor, not including documentaries. Not all of these movies are included in this list. This list does not include shows, musicals or documentaries from last year, but it does include some films that had been shown at festivals in 2019 but were not released to public/streaming services or in physical formats until 2020.
1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire – The visual painting (Hulu)
French filmmaker Céline Sciamma premiered her latest feature film at the 2019 Cannes festival, which would have won the Palme d’Or if not for Bong Joon-Ho’s “Parasite.” “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” was an artistic and atmospheric glance into the lesbian love affair between two women in the late 18th century. Sciamma made sure every scene was a painting of its own and submerged her audiences within the warm and harmless universe of the couple’s love.
2. The Painted Bird – On-screen poetry (Hulu)
From the Czech Republic came filmmaker Václav Marhoul’s “The Painted Bird,” a portrayal of a young Jewish boy’s journey through eastern Europe during World War II as he avoided the Nazi invaders and met a wide range of people. Through a series of vignettes, Marhoul created a visually poetic revival of Andrei Tarkovsky’s work of the 1960s and ’70s.
3. The Devil All the Time – High adventure in the south (Netflix)
This Netflix original by filmmaker Antonio Campos was a dark and epic tale of the intertwining lives of various people through corruption and crime. While daunting in length, it was rich with character detail and development, becoming a brilliant visual representation of the novel it was based upon.
4. Lovers Rock – One hour of vibing (Amazon Prime Video)
Steven McQueen’s “Small Axe” series was a huge achievement, and the second film in the series, “Lovers Rock” was a pinnacle in contemporary film. Focusing on the lives of Jamaican immigrants in London at a house party listening to lovers rock, the film rotated around the characters and the relationships they built or burned. It was a movie that focused less on the systematic oppression they faced and more on the celebration and continuation of their culture.
5. Sound of Metal – Finding peace among chaos (Amazon Prime Video)
Ruben and his girlfriend were the sole members of their metal duet, until Ruben started to lose his hearing. Darius Marder’s directorial debut captured Ruben as he adapted to a life without sound, without music. As a film that portrayed a deaf person adjusting to a world of silence, the movie was a reflection not just of the self, but also of the world around the main character and the inefficiencies of healthcare in the United States.
6. The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Fun yet serious (Netflix)
Courtroom dramas typically do not get as exciting as filmmaker Aaron Sorkin’s second feature film. A piece that incorporated comedy as well as tragedy, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” created an awareness, not just for the protests in 1968, but also the fact that history repeats itself constantly. Equipped with a great cast and outstanding writing, this made a piece of history accessible and easy to consume.
7. Mangrove – Broadcasting international racism (Amazon Prime Video)
The first film in McQueen’s “Small Axe” series, this was actually another courtroom drama. However, keeping in theme with the rest of the “Small Axe” films, it focused on the Jamaican immigrants in London during the 1960s-80s. Particularly, this focused on the Mangrove cafe, which was subjected to multiple unannounced police raids. McQueen gave the film an art-house spin at times while maintaining a more commercial and effective approach.
8. Bacurau – Adrenaline-filled gun culture commentary (Kanopy)
Brazilian filmmakers Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho unleashed “Bacurau,” a weird and highly energetic thriller about the systematic killing of the people of one Brazilian small town by hunters from the United States and Europe. This movie said a lot about gun culture in the United States, and while some might argue that it was not accurate, it should reflect on how our gun culture has been observed by foreign nations.
9. Uncle Frank – Heartfelt and real (Amazon Prime Video)
When the family patriarch died, Frank Bledsoe had to go visit his immediate family in South Carolina. The problem was that Frank was gay, and his family didn’t know. The second feature film from filmmaker Alan Ball focused on family and hardship in a creative and thought-provoking way. This film showed Ball as a proficient and effective storyteller.
10. Possessor – Creatively untethered (Hulu)
Carrying the torch of his father, the creator of sci-fi horror classics like “Videodrome” and “Scanners,” filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg ushered forth his own version of this particular brew, “Possessor.” This art-house experimentation was like watching a dream unfold, as the plot was vague while simultaneously implied. It followed a secret organization that infiltrated the lives of certain individuals to carry out high-profile assassinations.
11. Corpus Christi – Alluring and imaginative
When Daniel’s criminal record prevented him from achieving his dream of attending a seminary, that didn’t stop him from appointing himself the priest of a small town. While this might sound like the premise for a comedy, Polish director Jan Komasa’s “Corpus Christi” was a fairly serious film. As Daniel successfully maintained his role as the local father, the mysteries of the small town began to intrigue him, and he decided to dig deeper.
12. Palm Springs – “Curing” nihilism (Hulu)
The crushingly nihilistic directorial debut from Max Barbakow started out as a simple comedy, but quickly turned into something more. Nyles (or, “Nihils,” if you will) had been stuck in a time loop for longer than he could remember, but when a woman was pulled in with him one night, everything changed. This quirky, fun and overall bizarre film explored philosophy and the human condition in a comedic light and wrapped it all up with a Hollywood ribbon.
13. The 40-Year-Old Version – Impactful and fresh (Netflix)
The debut feature film from filmmaker Radha Blank, who also starred as the lead role, was a thought-provoking narrative of a playwright who had yet to make her big break before the age of 40. So, she turned to music. The movie had a much deeper meaning, one that simply said that Black stories should not require hardship and struggle in order to have merit. To go with the contemplative nature of the film, Blank utilized avant-garde cinematography.
14. Driveways – Melancholy, yet beautiful (Kanopy)
Every driveway in the neighborhood told a story in director Andrew Ahn’s latest feature film, and this was realized by Cody, who was only there to help his mom clean out her dead sister’s house. During their stay, Cody struggled to make friends among his peers, but found it easy to befriend an elderly man next door. Utilizing simplicity as a strength, this film did not step too far out of its comfort zone, but its art-house style made it all the more engaging.
15. Education – A modern-day dystopia (Amazon Prime Videos)
The final film in McQueen’s “Small Axe” series, “Education” concluded it with a strong message: in order to stop systematic oppression, we need to change the way children are taught and how they see the world. This film highlighted the way education was used to keep demographics deemed as undesirable at the bottom of society in an almost dystopian way. The scary part was that this wasn’t dystopian – it was real.
16. Red, White & Blue – The difficulties of inclusion (Amazon Prime Videos)
The third film in McQueen’s “Small Axe” series told the true story of Leroy Logan, the son of a Jamaican immigrant in London who sought to change the police treatment of the Black population from the inside. It only resulted in him being rejected by his community, and it didn’t help that the police force never welcomed him to begin with.
17. Run – Suspense at its finest (Hulu)
The second feature film from filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty was a suspense thriller at its top game. “Run” started out seeming like a predictable horror flick in the line of “Room” or maybe “The Visit,” but it wasn’t. In fact, this film never stopped accelerating, as new twists accumulated left and right. “Run” begs for a late-night horror screening with a group of friends.
18. Mank – Art-house and classy (Netflix)
David Fincher’s comedic art-house biopic centered around the life of Herman Mankiewicz, the writer of “Citizen Kane,” as he wrote the screenplay for the classic film. Shot in black and white, the movie was bleak with a hint of self-awareness as the heavy dialogue acted as a snapshot into the psyche of Mankiewicz. This was a slow film, being more than two hours of dialogue and heavy narrative, but it was well-executed in the end.
19. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – Dramatic and enthralling (Netflix)
Having one foot in theater and the other in cinema, director George C. Wolfe’s newest feature film was a very straight-forward adaptation of the original play. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” highlighted the demanding music industry of the 1920s as they attempted to budge the unmov
eable Ma Rainey, the mother of blues. It was hard not to get lost in the dialogue in this film, not because it was too much, but because it was all acted out so well.
20. The Life Ahead – Last year’s tearjerker (Netflix)
Swiss filmmaker Edoardo Ponti’s “The Life Ahead” was a modern retelling of “Madame Rosa,” a Holocaust survivor and former prostitute who spent her time caring for children. This charming film follows the bond between an orphan and Rosa as it grew, forming a heartwarming, sorrowful tale. Although it was slightly anachronistic in terms of having modern-day technology and a seemingly young Holocaust survivor, “The Life Ahead” was near essential viewing.
21. Babyteeth – Moral questionings (Hulu)
This deeply atmospheric film from Australian director Shannon Murphy was about a 16-year-old girl struggling with cancer and her blossoming love interest with a 24-year-old drug dealer. As her scandalous interest unfolded, her parents were the ones caught up in the middle of it all, questioning whether or not they should let their dying child pursue her desire. While at times “Babyteeth” excelled in visual storytelling, it still had its dull moments.
22. Vitalina Varela – Bleak and derelict
Vitalina Varela’s true story was full of mystery and poetry, and Portuguese filmmaker Pedro Costa captured this in his latest feature film. Minimalistically portrayed, the movie focused on describing emotion more through cinematography than dialogue, shrou
nding Varela in a landscape of bleak darkness as she uncovered the life of her separated husband.
23. Get Duked! – Drop-dead hilarious (Amazon Prime Video)
British filmmaker Ninian Doff tackled a “Most Dangerous Game” scenario with his latest feature, “Get Duked!” The Duke of Edinburgh Award trek was a prestigious one that was catered to young delinquents like the four boys portrayed in the film. However, they quickly realized the dire situation they’d landed themselves in. Thoughtfully crafted and learned in dark comedy, “Get Duked!” was a gritty, good time.
24. Beanpole – Fiercely ambitious (Kanopy)
While the German forces devastated Leningrad in 1945, two female nurses attempted to rebuild their lives and find meaning in them. This dark and melancholy tale from Russian filmmaker Kantemir Balagov told a story of lost innocence and gutted dreams while bellowing out in the same frustration felt by the two protagonists.
25. #Alive – Zombies and extreme suspense (Netflix)
The directorial debut for South Korean filmmaker Il Cho centered around a boy being trapped inside of his apartment while a zombie apocalypse flourished outside and how he used technology to his advantage. While the story seemed forced and clichéd at times, the rest of the film maintained a level of intensity that can be hard to have with a zombie film, meaning this film kept your eyes glued to the screen.
26. 7500 (Amazon Prime Video)
For action fans, the first feature-length movie from filmmaker Patrick Vollrath seems like another typical flick that features ambiguous terrorists hijacking an airplane, but it isn’t until you watch it when you realize, “Wow, I was right… but this film was actually done really well.” Yes, the terrorists in this movie are completely contrived and baseless, but there are very few films that create such an intense atmosphere and high levels of stress like “7500.”
27. Project Power (Netflix)
On its surface, “Project Power” is a typical superhero mystery film, but directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman made this to be something more. A new drug made an appearance in New Orleans, one that gave its users a random superpower, and one group of individuals sought to stop it. With a message against the exploitation of impoverished communities, “Project Power” became more than what meets the eye… but not much beyond that.
28. Troop Zero (Amazon Prime Video)
The latest feature from directorial team Bert & Bertie focused on Troop Zero, a wilderness troop that, well, was worthy of having the number ”zero.” It was a quirky movie about outcasts and adolescence with a mixture of comedy and emotion. “Troop Zero” was not a bad movie, but it wasn’t anything great. This was a nice feature to watch should the viewer desire something warm and uplifting.
29. Alex Wheatle (Amazon Prime Video)
The fourth installment of McQueen’s “Small Axe” series and possibly the poorest in narrative quality still stood out for the message it contained. Centered around the author of the same name, this film told a story of being included at a time where inclusion was difficult for Black immigrants in London.
30. Incitement (Kanopy)
Israeli filmmaker Yaron Zilberman’s latest biopic portrayed the story of Yigal Amir following his assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Being a way to see this historical event from one perspective, it can be considered educational. However, the film had minimal visual elements to make it interesting and was burdened by two hours of heavy dialogue, resulting in more of an audiobook than an actual film.
31. Enola Holmes (Netflix)
The lesser-known sister of Sherlock Holmes was finally given a film, not that I knew about Enola before the film came out. The first feature film from director Harry Bradbeer in a while was a highly adventuristic mystery about a missing mother, early suffragettes, cringy fourth-wall-breaking and poorly crafted love interests. In all, it was a useless film, since the same sense of adventure can be found elsewhere without all the negatives.
32. Black Box (Amazon Prime Videos)
The first feature-length film from Emmanuel Osei-Koffour was a highly ambitious story to tackle. “Black Box” was about a man who lost his memory in a car accident and how it affected the people around him. As a result, he began experimental treatment, and everything went wrong. As such an ambitious plot, Osei-Koffour actually failed to execute it effectively, but it still rounded out as a decent, fun and engaging movie.
33. The Endless Trench (Netflix)
Three directors – Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga – poured their talents into this Spanish drama. “The Endless Trench” told the story of a man wanted by the newly fascist Spanish government in 1936 and how his wife helped him hide inside their wall to wait it all out. Being two and a half hours of a man stuck inside of a wall, this film got boring pretty fast, and the art-house style did not help. Boredom aside, the narrative was still nicely composed.
34. Horse Girl (Netflix)
Aliens, supernatural phenomena, lucid states and crafts – these were just a few things covered in the new thriller by filmmaker Jeff Baena. Co-written by Alison Brie, who also starred as the lead role, the movie covered so much that it couldn’t even get off the ground. As a narrative – one that focused on a girl whose dreams became increasingly closer to reality… or vice versa – was not very good, but in a way, the lack of direction only added to the mystery and ambiguity of it all.
35. His House (Netflix)
The first feature-length film by filmmaker Remi Weekes portrayed a refugee couple fleeing South Sudan and emigrating to the United Kingdom. After they arrived, strange things started to happen in their assimilation home. Complete with a nice mix of great cinematography and terrible CGI, “His House” explored the horrors of cultural assimilation … and even embraced it.
36. Hillbilly Elegy (Netflix)
Renowned director Ron Howard was at the head of the film adaptation of “Hillbilly Elegy,” a story about J.D. Vance reflecting on his home
37. Rebecca (Netflix)
Director Ben Wheatley’s remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rebecca” only proved why the original should have never been revisited. This story revolved around one woman, her sudden introduction to high society and the large shoes she had to fill. Giving the original story a new aesthetic with modern cinematography, the remake offered nothing more. In fact, the revised plot had only a few tweaks, but they were needless, and the film came off as irrelevant.
38. The Wrong Missy (Netflix)
We have reached the point on the list where chick flicks dwell, so don’t expect to find any gems here. “The Wrong Missy” was about inviting the wrong woman named “Missy” to a company getaway, but guess what? He fell in love with her anyway
s. Cute, right? This was probably the best chick flick of the year, as there were some good laughs here and there.
39. Cadaver (Netflix)
This horror flick from Norwegi
igan filmmaker Jarand Herdal followed a family as they found themselves in an immersive theatrical play, but people started to disappear… shocker. This poorly written and predictable film really just hurt to watch and insulted one’s intelligence more than complimented it.
40. Spenser Confidential (Netflix)
Did we really need another buddy cop comedy? Director Peter Berg said “yes,” for some reason. But this time, it starred Post Malone, so it had to be good, right? When police officers started dying off, it took an ex-cop (obviously) to figure out what went wrong. So, strap in for a ride of minimal action and deadbeat one-liners because you won’t believe how un-funny this kind of movie can get until you watch “Spenser Confidential.”
41. Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)
Sometimes even Spike Lee puts out a bad movie, and last year it was “Da 5 Bloods,” an adventure movie about five Vietnam veterans returning to the source of all their trauma to find their long-dead squadron captain and a bunch of gold. What was executed as a message saying “there is no us versus them” turned into a firefight between random, unjustified Vietnamese guys and the veterans. Despite losing the Vietnam War, the U.S. troops came out on top this time.
42. Tremors: Shrieker Island (Netflix)
At this point, we have reached “Tremors 7,” meaning that anything below this is certified garbage. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, the “Tremors” movies were about genetically mutated worms (or graboids, as the films called them) that ate people. In other words, there are seven films all about the same thing: containing and/or killing man-eating, giant worms so that they don’t spread.
43. A Fall From Grace (Netflix)
Possibly the largest tragedy of 2020’s film industry was the fact that Cicely Tyson’s last feature film was this mess by filmmaker Tyler Perry. Grace was recently widowed before she found her new, young boyfriend, but as time went on, he only grew more and more abusive. Through a series of gaping plotholes and messy drama, this movie unfolded into nothing beyond a terrible thriller.
44. Hubie Halloween (Netflix)
Family movies are typically awful, and “Hubie Halloween” was no exception. Hubie was a grounded guy when mystery and mayhem came about one Halloween night. While the film had a few laughs, the recycling of old Adam Sandler quotes and harrowingly cringy themes overshadowed it all. If “Uncut Gems” never happened, then this film would have marked Sandler as a has-been.
45. Go Back to China (Kanopy)
Filmmaker Emily Ting’s new feature film was centered around a “spoiled” girl named Sasha who wanted to get into the fashion industry. After her father cut her off the family fortune and forced her to fly to China to work for him, everything started to seem hopeless. Long story short, everything ended up fine. This predictable film had a lot of potential, but it ended up being visually dull and had a terrible narrative.
46. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Netflix)
If you’re looking for an example of how to not make a movie, look no further than filmmaker Charlie Kaufman’s newest film. Being based on a highly poetic and slightly philosophical book, this would leave room for plenty of storytelling through the form of cinematography, right? No, what you really got was two hours of dialogue while the camera switched between four angles of the characters with little visual storytelling whatsoever. This was like watching paint dry.
47. Wonder Woman 1984
This was the superhero sequel where the hero lost their power and had to get it back because for some reason we like to sympathi
se with god beings. After succeeding the 2017 “Wonder Woman” film success and being released in a year absent of superhero flicks, this had a large void to fill, and it did not succeed. After the two and a half hours of almost no action and a resurrection of the “Cats” dilemma, this film came off as something created just to sell.
48. Holidate (Netflix)
Director John Whitesell was at it again with the chick-
dented to, as it was centered around the fact that these people were more worried about what their families felt than what they wanted. Maybe we need to reorganize our priorities here…
49. Mulan (Disney+)
Every time something is remade, it only moves further from the original, and I feel like too many people forget the fact that Hua Mulan was based on an actual folktale. Needless to say, the live-action adaptation does not adhere to the folktale whatsoever. The film was a convoluted mess of narration with characters that never even had any development within the two-hour runtime. In fact, the movie was so bad that I needed a second paragraph.
After hiring four white people to write a movie which portrayed how white people perceive Chinese culture, Disney unleashed this tragic, $200 million, post-feminist monstrosity under the guise of female empowerment. In the end, it only made it more clear how easy it is to dissect and reassemble foreign cultures in order to fit our desired narratives. This was a movie made to sell.