(This article is part of our Best of 2020 series.)
2020 was a wild ride for the movie industry. It shook up the releases of many films which made crafting a top five from a limited stock seem like a challenge. Fortunately, there were still plenty of great film debuts, whether in theaters or on streaming services. Here are my five favorites from what I saw in the historic year.
First Cow opens in a 4:3 aspect ratio and for a full 75 seconds the camera sits motionless as a large boat drifts into and out of screen, the only sounds present are ambient nature. This opening shot has little to do with the movie’s story of the two men who steal milk to produce baked goods in 1820s Oregon, but it sets an unmistakable pace and atmosphere. The following two hours are remarkably quiet and understated and bring a wonderful friendship to the screen. In a time where movies tend to be big and loud, First Cow is nearly a miracle.
News of the World
Tom Hanks in a western sells itself, but News of the World shines in its own right as a quieter epic western. The bond between Hanks’ Capt. Kidd and Johanna feels natural and carries the movie, thanks in large part to the performance of Helena Zengel. For such a young actress to play such a traumatized soul is an accomplishment. The cinematography is beautiful and the story stands out in a weaker year for film.
Building on the concepts of Inside Out and Coco, Soul is an absolute delight and is probably Pixar’s most mature film to date. The animation is stunning as always and some of the afterlife and the great before are extremely imaginative. The message once again hits dead on and tackles a very heady subject for a family film. It doesn’t quite reach the upper echelons of Pixar’s hits, but even a moderate success by Pixar’s standards can be expected to be a top film of the year.
The horror renaissance continued in 2020 even without the highly anticipated Quiet Place 2 with smaller hits including The Invisible Man and Freaky. The latter served as a spiritual successor to Happy Death Day and is just plain fun from start to finish. This movie may have literally come from a writing prompt: mix two movies together about Friday. And the smash-up between Freaky Friday and Friday the 13th is bonkers fun. Watching Vince Vaughn play a teen girl trapped in his body is a delight and the movie takes an excellent, if not entirely unpredictable, path.
Groundhog Day has inspired several movies and TV shows at this point, but unlike the premise itself, the creators find ways to keep it from getting repetitive. Palm Springs turns the concept on its head by having Andy Samberg’s Nyles be a pro at the beginning of the movie, already stuck within the loop for some undefined eternity. And then the return to having that shared experience with a new person in the loop allows for great chemistry and bonding for a ton of laughs and some unexpected heart along the way
What did you think of my top five? Which films have you seen?