The Year in Review – 2020

by Ken Bakely

Every year, I begin this post by spending a few paragraphs trying to summarize the last twelve months in film – the major changes and developments that seemed to define how we watched and discussed movies over the year that’s ended. It’s a bit of a silly game to play most years, but after 2020, it almost seems too ridiculous to try. Major titles, too numerous to count, were pushed to 2021 and beyond. Theaters have spent a majority of the year closed for business. For many months, film productions were shut down entirely. And because the only way that a title could safely reach a large number of people was through streaming, the mere nature of what it means to “release a movie” this year became a term up for discussion: there have been more streaming-exclusive titles this year than could have ever been imagined even ten months ago, filmed stage productions, and anthologies, like Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series. Certainly, many early awards voters and critics issuing their top 10 lists have been inundated with people who seem to have inexplicably fiery opinions on what can or cannot be considered a movie – and those individuals will find little respite in my list.

To reiterate a point I made earlier this week, when discussing the year’s films on the Film Pulse podcast, what’s the point of this kind of gatekeeping? Why should we be so regimented when it comes to discussing the art that meant the most to us as individuals? And in this of all years, why should we consider this to be such a salient point? The COVID pandemic has upended every aspect of human life, and the much-anticipated “return to normal,” which may come sometime next year as vaccinations continue to roll out, will still be very different – in ways large and small – than the world of 2019. And of course, there are ways in which this could be a good thing. But perhaps these are considerations that deserve more serious discussion by more qualified people than I can offer in this annual post. I can only express my hope that we are but months away from a time when we can safely gather together again – and in the context of this particular writing, that we can go to movie theaters, and that movie theaters will still be healthy and viable.

Here are my top ten movies of 2020. You can head over to my post at Film Pulse for more on each of the movies I mention in this list, and why I chose them:

  1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
  2. Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)
  3. Small Axe: Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
  4. Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart)
  5. What the Constitution Means to Me (Marielle Heller)
  6. Blow the Man Down (Danielle Krudy and Bridget Savage Cole)
  7. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
  8. Driveways (Andrew Ahn)
  9. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)
  10. The Nest (Sean Durkin)

And five honorable mentions, listed alphabetically: 
Bad Education (Cory Finley)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)
The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson)

But with that, we at last close the book on 2020. Onwards, and hopefully – pleadingly, desperately, incontestably, imploringly – upwards, into 2021.