It’s another end to another year and that means it’s time for my annual Top 10 Best Films Of The Year. While this 2020 year, as we all know has been hard on all of us and let’s face it, it’s been a really bad year. The bad year had also affected the movie business as most of the films from 2020, will now be premiering in this coming new year. Movie theaters were empty this year with the exception of the first four months, having wide releases. But even with big studio films missing, it has still been a great year for movies. That includes films released independently and any original production content from the many available streaming services. Overall it turned out to be a great year artistically for a lot of films that probably wouldn’t have gotten much attention, had the big studios not cancelled or delayed their films from release. I wasn’t about to about to let any pandemic stop me from watching or getting access to the great movies that were still able in getting a release this year. As we say goodbye to the year and hope for a better one this new year. I’m capping it all off with my top 10 best films of 2020.
10. “The Midnight Sky” (Netflix) – Directed By George Clooney
George Clooney produces, directs and stars in “The Midnight Sky”. A $100 million sci-fi space flick from original streaming service Netflix (premiering December 23). Working with his biggest directorial budget ever, Clooney mixes elements from his own space flick “Gravity” with the Oscar winning “The Revenant” to bring us a film adaptation of the novel “Good Morning, Midnight”. Clooney borrows from other space films and their fictional missions, but “The Midnight Sky” has it’s original moments and ideas that are sharply written. The first hour is a pot boiler of introductions and story development, before leading up to it’s second hour of well choreographed space action that leads to showing us, what the film is ultimately up to. Featuring an A-list supporting cast including: Oscar nominees, Felicity Jones and David Oyelowo, who are joined by Kyle Chandler and Demián Bichir. This is George Clooney at his most ambitious as a filmmaker, giving us proof that we need movie theaters and “The Midnight Sky” is one that should be experienced on the big screen. It’s an exceptional film.
9. “The Glorias” (Prime Video) – Directed By Julie Taymor
“The Glorias” a biopic of women’s rights icon Gloria Steinem couldn’t be more timely and relevant. I was never anything but enthralled by Julie Taymor’s long awaited directorial return. Taymor has always been a compelling visual storyteller, whose films are always both sensory and intellectual works. While this is her most accessible film to date, Taymor still keeps her trademark flourishes and her cinematic tapestry that are all still here in a couple of visually rendered sequences. Taymor uses the approach that Todd Haynes established with his 2007 Bob Dylan biopic “I’m Not There”. Having four different actresses including Oscar winners Alicia Vikander and Julianne Moore, portray Steinem at four different stages of her life. Julianne Moore serves up a master class in her performance in breathing life and magnetism into Steinem and making us understand the humanity and heroics that allowed her to become a leader. “The Glorias” is hefty at two hours and twenty minutes taking it’s run time to celebrate her accomplishments and leadership while feeling the pain of her upbringing. Taylor’s film is immensely respectful and thoughtful portrait of its subject, crafting a loving tribute of a woman who changed the world in the women’s movement that she championed. It’s a remarkable film, both informative and entertaining, serving as both straightforward biopic and visually compelling journey through the life stages of Gloria Steinem the human being and the activist. It’s an engaging, loving, vibrant film and a powerful reminder that the revolution is far from over.
8. “I’m Your Woman (Prime Video) – Directed By Julia Hart
Julia Hart is a name that needs to be remembered and shouldn’t go unnoticed. She is a talented filmmaker who’s not being talked about nearly enough and her newest film, “I’m Your Woman” deserves to finally be her calling card. Hart blew me away two years ago with her excellent, but criminally under seen sci-fi superhero drama “Fast Color”. Hart is back directing “I’m Your Woman” for Amazon’s Prime Video. A 1970’s set crime drama that is slick, thrilling, sharply written and well-acted by everyone. Streaming audiences will recognize it’s star who is Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan from another Prime Video production, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. Fans of the actress will discover new depths to her, as Brosnahan makes her character Jean, an effective audience heroine straight from a John Cassavetes film. Fans of the genre, will also recognize moments and homages that calls back to classics of the era such as the superb Robert Mitchum 1973 crime saga “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”. Hart refuses to follow the established path audiences would be expecting and knows how to strike a great balance between the many genres that she has exquisitely scripted. “I’m Your Woman” is an exciting ride, that is one of the most effective, one of my favorites and best movies of 2020. I loved this one!
7. “City So Real” (Hulu) – Directed By Steve James
Acclaimed documentarian Steve James, serves as the director, producer, writer, cinematographer and editor of his new documentary “City So Real”. The five and a half hour documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and received distribution rights through National Geographic, who presented the film on their cable channel commercial free and broken into five episodes for easy viewing (it is currently available on Hulu in it’s entirety). “City So Real” is a fascinating, stellar and complex achievement that paints a portrait of contemporary Chicago. Director Steve James delivers a deep, multifaceted look into the soul of an American city, set against the backdrop of its historical making 2019 mayoral election. Finding it’s conclusion with the tumultuous 2020 summer, that brought COVID-19 and social upheaval following the death of George Floyd. “City So Real” is filled with so many stories about class, race, geography and stories of desires, hope, fear, rivalries and love. Steve James really accomplishes the difficult feat in keeping “City So Real” compelling for all five and a half hours. Sure he has impressive achievements in his past filmography as a documentary filmmaker, but “City So Real” is his crowning masterpiece. He gives you a lot to think about and appreciate, including giving you a renewed appreciation for expert filmmaking. “City So Real” is an immersive and masterful examination of diverse people and cultures within one of the most beloved cities in America. This is one of the years finest films.
6. “Let Him Go” – Directed By Thomas Bezucha
It’s been four years since Kevin Costner and Diane Lane have headlined a movie as lead actors. Now the two respected veteran actors of the screen are front and center in the modern day western “Let Him Go”. Being sold as a stern revenge story, writer and director Thomas Bezucha isn’t making a straight Liam Neeson’s “Taken” action picture for the AARP card carrying folks. Bezucha is a more thoughtful and artistic filmmaker, interested in mixing the feelings and frustrations involved in the fight to getting a loved one back and spotlighting how relationships are tested. With the tone of an American, modern day western noir that echoes the Coen Brothers’ “No Country For Old Men” and the films of Sam Peckinpah. The abrupt tonal shifts throughout the film replicates that of a rollercoaster ride and may throw some viewers for a loop. When the films confrontations go from tense verbal exchanges to sudden bursts of violence, it feels authentic as it all leads to a rousing and violent finale that takes no prisoners. To watch Costner and Lane together is pure movie magic. They give it their all, that only showcases what seasoned pros and cinematic gifts they are. Lesley Manville is masterful and easy shoe-in for an Oscar nomination. Portraying the evil family matriarch with a snaring venom, who dresses like a mafia queen of pure Shakespearean evil. Movie goers will be rewarded with getting the chance to spend time with richly defined characters, sharp writing, outstanding performances, impeccable location photography, graceful editing and exquisite suspense. Out of all the movies released this year whether theatrically or on streaming. I highly advise you, to not miss out seeing what is one of the best movies of the year.
5. “News Of The World” – Directed By Paul Greengrass
Releasing in theaters on Christmas Day. Director Paul Greengrass (“Bourne SUPREMACY” and “Bourne Ultimatum”), ditches his famous shaky hand held guerilla style filmmaking for a steady cam! He reunites with Tom Hanks, seven years after directing “Captain Phillips”. Hanks plays yet another captain, this time as Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd who five years after the end of the Civil War brings and reads, the world news to those with little education or access to culture. He crosses paths with an 11 year old girl who was taken by the Kiowa people. Forced to return to her aunt and uncle, Kidd agrees to escort the child across the harsh and unforgiving plains of Texas. However, the long journey soon turns into a fight for survival as the traveling companions encounter danger at every turn. Tom Hanks is magnificent and matches the western genre to his superstar status, proving they are perfectly suited to each other. Greengrass keeps the two hour film at a deliberate pace, while adding some terrific action set pieces including an intensely filmed dust storm, a stage coach crash and an excellently choreographed gun fight. The film doesn’t feel like a Greengrass film, more that of a Ron Howard’s film “The Missing”. It recalls back to the work of director John Ford and gives us a gorgeous western adventure and an emotionally engaging character study. “News Of The World”, finds itself in a tight race, fighting for a spot in my top 3 best of the year. It is Paul Greengrass’ best work to date and it’s a real towering piece of moviemaking. I loved every minute of it.
4. “The Father” – Directed By Florian Zeller
Based on French novelist Florian Zeller’s stage play “The Father”. Zeller writes and directs his film adaptation starring Academy Award Winners Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman. “The Father” delves heavily into a confronting subject that hits close to home for many of us…dementia. Zeller’s film plays into the “I see ghosts” and living an alternate reality experience of dementia. Zeller directs “The Father” like his stage play, in keeping it to one location with no more than two actors on the screen at once and only six actors on his entire casting sheet. Zeller’s script is so complex that the plotline isn’t easy to follow at times and it’s not meant to be easy on us, just as the dementia isn’t easy on Hopkins and wants our minds to feel as confused as he is. “The Father” has many ingenious approaches as Zeller explores the loss of the mind through thoughtful direction, careful and complex storytelling and a masterclass in acting that I hope brings some Oscar attention to Anthony Hopkins. It’s an intimate portrait of a person attempting to adapt to his changing world and “The Father” officially puts Zeller on a list of directors to watch, while the film is one of the best this year.
3. “Jungleland” – Directed By Max Wrinkler
One of the best films I’ve seen this year and one that needs to be discovered is the indie released “Jungleland”. Produced by legendary director Ridley Scott and directed and co-written by Max Winkler (son of Henry “The Fonz” Wrinkler). “Jungleland” is a powerful film that mixes the sports genre with a gritty “Mean Streets” style crime thriller. When bare knuckle fighter Lion and his big talking brother Stan, lose in a big fight and owe a debt to a local crime boss. They are forced to transport a mysterious young woman to Nevada and risk it all in a bare knuckle boxing tournament called “Jungleland”. Wrinkler presents a competent and unshowy direction in a boxing crime drama that is just shy of running a tightly paced 86 minutes of screen time and Wrinkler doesn’t waste a second of it. The film has a lived-in feel that gives it an authentic feel and can match any great character drama of the 70’s. While Jack O’Connell gives an impressive performance as the young bare knuckle fighter. It’s Charlie Hunnam’s work that is a triumph and not only the best of his career, but one of the best of the year that is deserving of an Oscar nomination. It’s an under the radar gem that has every right to be on the 10 best list of the year.
2. “Pieces Of A Woman” (Netflix) – Directed By Kornel Mundruczo
I was given the privilege by the American Film Institute, Netflix and The Hawaii Film Critics Society to be one of the first to see “Pieces Of A Woman”. The new Netflix original film from executive producer Martin Scorsese and Hungarian filmmaker Kornél Mundruczó, in his first English language film that has already received best feature and best actress for Vanessa Kirby at the Venice Film Festival. It’s early praises and award wins is well earned as it’s a bold and somber film, that’s an often riveting family drama harkening back to the gut punch dramas of the 1970s. Vanessa Kirby establishes herself here as the next big A-list star. Her performance is so good that it highly seems unlikely that she won’t get some major attention during this year’s Oscar race. Sharing admirable screen time with Vanessa Kirby is Shia LaBeouf who brings tenderness and vulnerability to his role, revealing a mature side of himself we don’t get to see. At 87 years old the legendary Ellen Burstyn, is still a screen presence and is as good as she’s ever been. She turns in a late monologue into a showstopper that will be sure to earn her an Oscar nomination. Keep an eye out for this one when it comes to Netflix because “Pieces Of A Woman” is a superb film. A throwback to the mature masterclass acted dramas of the 1970’s in one of the best films to come out of an uneven year at the movies.
1. “Da 5 Bloods” (Netflix) – Directed By Spike Lee
Spike Lee’s newest joint, “Da 5 Bloods” is his first foray into directing a full length feature for Netflix. Spike Lee continues to be on the top of his game like never before, giving us one of the most impactful and thought provoking films of his career. Spike Lee has created 2020’s first true Oscar contender. “Da 5 Bloods” is a heist story, a Vietnam war story, a story of brotherhood, a story of protest and a story of African American soldiers fighting for a country that feared and hated them. Lee weaves a compelling war movie the likes of which few filmmakers would even dare to tell. It’s certainly his biggest “action sequenced” movie and his bloodiest since “Miracle At St. Anna”. The violence here is off the charts that plays out like “The Deer Hunter” meets “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” with Lee’s trademark social and political commentary. Even mixing in archival images of the 60’s and 70’s, mixing newsreel footage of American and black soldiers fighting in the jungles of Vietnam. Lee shoots the film through the use of three different aspect ratios and a soundtrack backed by Marvin Gaye. Not only is Spike Lee at the top of his game, so is the number of veteran black actors who are leading the film as “Da 5 Bloods”. While they are rarely given their moment to headline a movie, here they are knocking it out of the park. Delroy Lindo who leads the pack deserves the most attention and should be an instant contender for best actor. “Da 5 Bloods” is masterclass filmmaking by a master filmmaker. It is this years best film that is not to be missed. Comments comments