The Best and Worst Films of 2020

So… 2020! What year it has been, am I right?

When it comes to cinema, 2020 has been… interesting. Well, here’s the thing: I don’t want to tarnish all the films that have been released this year under the same brush, because there are some gems out there. Okay, this year’s had its fair share of stinkers as well. But it’s all too easy to simply say, “it was a bad year for movies” when the pandemic didn’t really impact on the quality of the industry, but rather the delivery.

In many ways, movie theaters offered a curated selection. The major studios would put forward their best films for nationwide release and prioritize them so only the strongest competed against each other in the months most frequented by audiences. These selected films weren’t necessarily the best in quality, but they were the “popular kids” of the film world—the ones that had the widest appeal in terms of demographics and would theoretically rake in enough money to fund the more niche projects.

So when theaters shut across the world due to the pandemic, suddenly audiences had to seek out their own entertainment without much guidance. Streaming sites naturally surged in popularity, yet they traditionally offered one of two things: films that weren’t good enough in terms of quality to risk a theatrical release, or movies that were too niche to be considered popular.

This year was certainly a topsy-turvy one for the industry. Like a weird social experiment, 2020 showed us a world where the little independent flick had a chance to shine whilst the big-budget blockbusters were forced to step aside. This meant some wins and losses on the audience’s behalf. If you’re a person that typically loved the gloss of Hollywood blockbusters, then you’ve certainly experienced better years. Some people found themselves with an abundance of free time on their hands and may have used it to explore new categories in cinema. Others may have found themselves with less free time during the pandemic, where the prospect of wading through the dreck on streaming sites in order to find something decent was overwhelming rather than adventurous.

Hopefully this list will point you in the right direction (and also inform you on what to avoid). Naturally at GUG we all have our individual preferences, so our choices will be different to each other, but in the end it is our hope that you’ll have a few films jotted down that you might consider worthy of a watch no matter how much free time this pandemic-riddled season has offered you. There are only a few rules for this list: it has to be a film (not a TV show), and since last year’s article couldn’t include films within the last week or so of December, movies with a US release date from December 21, 2019 onwards will be considered.

With that said, let’s first have a look at our top 5 new release films that should be avoided with all costs.

Lead the way, Robert Downey Jr!

THE TOP 5 WORST FILMS OF 2020

5

Tyler Hummel

Capone: It’s rare when one of the worst films of the year is also a favorite and one of the most emotionally impactful as well. Capone isn’t a good movie but it’s one that had a profound impact on me for its portrayal of mental deterioration. When it isn’t being shallow and grotesque, it’s a weirdly interesting flick!

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

The Willoughbys: Take a story in which the most interesting characters are the most unlikeable, and you’re saddled with the least interesting characters that you’re supposed to like. Doesn’t sound like much of a treat, does it? Well, at least you don’t have to go out for it, and the visual stylings have their own value to them. That’s gotta count for something.

Juliana Purnell

Deadcon: Caught this one on Netflix right at the beginning of January and I instantly had a feeling it’d still be on this list by the end of the year. There are two major plots going on here: one is set a few decades prior to the main events of the film about a creepy computer programmer with paedophilic vibes, and the other is a biting but slightly kitsch commentary on the shallow lives of social media influencers. Sounds interesting, except these two ideas never seem to bond cohesively together, creating a horror film that is both cheap and lame. Might be good for laughs, but the narrative tends to meander too much to be riot.

Joey Ruff

Bill & Ted Face the Music: I’ve included this movie here not because it was bad necessarily, but because it had so much wasted potential. I LOVED the first two movies in this series. They’re iconic parts of my youth, and the hype for this film was real, and then… I mean, don’t get me wrong, this could have been worse, and maybe in time it will grow on me, but it just wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

See our review here!

Not everyone loved the return of Bill and Ted.

4

Tyler Hummel

Hillbilly Elegy:  Ron Howard isn’t some great auteur but I had hoped that he would bring some effort into adapting a book that I consider to be one of the greatest memoirs of the last decade. I really love JD Vance’s personal story of overcoming his upbringing as a child of poverty and abuse in rural Ohio, and I was willing to give a film adaptation a chance. Sadly that chance wasn’t paid off. Ron Howard’s version of the story is merely an Oscar vehicle for its lead actors, one that offers very little in the way of introspection and empathy for people living in extreme poverty and cycles of abuse.

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Wonder Woman 1984: “Starts weak but ends somewhat strong” isn’t a criticism I can give often. Wonder Woman 1984 doesn’t exactly live up to the high grade of its trailblazing predecessor, but it ended with more strength and resolve than I expected. With that said, there’s a LOT of aimless and utter nonsensical drivel to wade through before getting to that point, one that leaves Diana herself as a much more passive player in her own story than I had hoped. When’s the Aquaman sequel happening again? Preferably with about 147% less Amber Heard, please.

 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Aaviri: If you’re looking for a recommendation for a film that’s “so bad it’s good”, then this is it! It took me about seventeen minutes to realise that I had no interest in taking this Netflix film seriously. It magnificently manages to contain just about every haunted house horror trope you can imagine, where every single instance is unintentionally done so over the top that it feels like a parody, but alas, they are indeed serious. Major plot points are underplayed whilst minor narrative details are given copious amounts of screen time, as if the screenwriter noticed the plot holes of their own script and therefore felt the need to inform the audience as to how they’re being fixed. Scares are done in fully lit sets even though it’s night, there are multiple close ups on a haunted beeping air conditioner, and then there’s my personal favourite—a five minute conversation as to whom bought the box of Snickers that’s in the fridge. Gosh, I love this film.

Joey Ruff

Dolittle: Robert Downey Jr leading a stellar voice cast and retelling a classic tale in his first post-Avengers movie. What could go wrong? I’m honestly not sure. The acting was good and the story was…fine. This movie just didn’t grab me. Maybe it lacked substance and heart?

It only just came out, and yet Wonder Woman 1984 already sank to the bottom of our lists.

3

Tyler Hummel

Infidel: The same production company that produced 2016: Obama’s America and Hillary’s America has gotten into the highly lucrative business of Christian movies! This one is a doozy! The film starts out making you think it’s going to be some kind of somber story about a Christian evangelist becoming a martyr before going off the rails and turning into a heist/action film with a massive action finale. It’s dumb, irrelevant and makes a mockery out of all the important ideas it’s pretending to be about.

Tyrone Barnes

Onward: I still find it hard to believe this is a Pixar film. This would be considered middling coming from DreamWorks on a bad day. Knowing this came from the same house that blessed us with Finding Nemo and The Incredibles is heartbreaking. 

 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson: This feels familiar… Oh wait, we were here last year with this director’s previous film, The Haunting of Sharon Tate. Well, the director, Daniel Farrands, has gotten better because he’s not in the number one spot this time around, though there’s certainly not much improvement. As the title suggests, this time he tackles Nicole Brown Simpson’s case. He offers two possibilities to the guilty party, though he mostly toys with the idea of Glen Edward Rogers’ involvement. Like last year’s film, it’s not necessarily a bad idea in itself yet he explores the premise in the most horrible way possible. True Crime Fiction should not be a genre. In order to make his theory fit, he grossly recontextualizes Sandra Gallagher’s death and invents a romance between Nicole and the serial killer. Whenever a highly publicized murder is adapted for screen there’s always a conversation surrounding the ethics of such a task, and Daniel Farrands is the epitome of the fears of every victim’s family. He exploits the deaths of several real life people to explore a perspective that doesn’t exist.

Joey Ruff

Christmas Chronicles 2: The first movie was inventive, good, daring to do something just a little bit different from other Christmas movies, and the end result was something on par with classics like Ernest Saves Christmas, Noelle, or Fred Claus… something I won’t watch every year, but maybe every other it deserves a turn in rotation. The second one abandoned the video tape gimmick that made the movie “Chronicles” and instead turned to some half-baked idea of “Chronicles” in book form: ancient tomes that sit in Santa’s workshop. The villain was cheesy, the plot was weak, and the target audience was too young for my household. No wonder I kept falling asleep…

Onward proved that just because it’s Pixar that doesn’t mean it’s any good.

2

Tyler Hummel

Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula: A sequel to Train to Busan seemed like a cool idea until I saw it. The concept of trying to do a massive heist film is cute but in execution the movie can’t help but feel bloated. It’s a CGI laden monster with unrealistic stakes and goofy action that lacks the emotional grounding and grit of the first film. It’s just a tedious watch.

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Scoob!: The threat of a “Hanna-Barbera Cinematic Universe” is about as hauntingly bad as the film that ostensibly initiated it. Scoob! is a haphazard mess of a film with too many merchandise pitches for any actual plotlines to come through, let alone develop. Try to do just one thing well rather than a lot of things poorly next time.

 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

365 Days: It’s basically porn with a feature length plot.

Okay, I’ll talk about it a bit more. Out of the thousands of films I’ve watched throughout my lifetime, 365 Days has the strongest simulated sex scenes I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing, to the point where the actors might have well just had full intercourse. So technically not porn but… well, it’s still porn. Shockingly, that is not the film’s most objectionable aspect. Sex and nudity can be beautifully portrayed; it’s the surrounding context that will dictate its permissibility, and boy, does 365 Days offer the worst context of them all. So this is a story about an obsessive, violent man that kidnaps a woman and gives himself a year for her to fall in love with him, and if not, he’ll set her free. Of course, he wants her to have some ounce of free will, so he’s agreed to not rape her (what a gentleman!). But there’s so much tension that sometimes he can’t help himself and the film eroticizes sexual assault. Yep. You read that right—this film is pro-sexual assault. The audience wildly teeters from laughing at the horrendous dialogue to feeling sick in the stomach that there are some out there that think this is romantic and sexy. It pretends to be marketing to women but it plays out like a man’s rape fantasy. This movie is a slap in the face to all the innocent women who have stood trial and been accused that they somehow asked to be sexually violated. This film is morally bankrupt where I cannot in good conscience recommend it to anyone.

Joey Ruff

Fantasy Island: The cast was good: that girl from Pretty Little Liars, Nikita, Yondu and the funny guy from Ant-Man. Taking a classic TV show about unexpected wishes and giving it a dark, horror twist sounds good. PG-13 rating…it could work? Yet somehow it didn’t. Blumhouse has had some solid hits lately, but this one just didn’t connect at the plate.

See our review here!

Peninsula was an awfully disappointing sequel to Train to Busan.

1

Tyler Hummel

Borat Subsequent Movie Film: I have no interest in litigating the political implications of the second Borat film beyond merely saying that the film couldn’t help but feel shallow, mean-spirited at times, and culturally irrelevant past the 2020 election. Beyond its kitschy humor and gross-out jokes, the film takes potshots at a wide variety of people that don’t deserve the full scrutiny of the racists and antisemites in the original Borat film. What’s the point in picking on a crisis pregnancy center by making the doctor squirm at the possibility that Borat impregnated his daughter? When you see more innocent victims of Sacha Baron Cohen’s antics alongside the more pernicious ones, you see the film in a more cynical light. These films think they’re a deep exposé when they’re frequently just pretentious renditions of one of the Jack-A** films.

Tyrone Barnes

Mulan: Oy vey, where to begin? The massive reserves of BOTD I had on hand for this movie was enough to fuel a private militia for a week. Somehow, even all that was depleted the more I reflected upon what I saw. I have no problem with taking a new approach to a timeless legend. I do have a problem with the approach being far too wide and not even close to being deep enough to warrant thirty extra dollars spent on Disney+. I haven’t abandoned my position as an apologist for this movement of live action Disney remakes, but Mulan weakened my resolve the most.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

In Paradox: So how is this Netflix film worse than 365 Days? Well, that at least had a plot. An awful immoral one, but it still had one. In Paradox was a film that had me questioning my own competence. I’ll let you in on a secret—while watching movies, I have a habit of exercising or otherwise walking on the spot in order to get my 10K steps for the day. Forty minutes into In Paradox (or roughly 5000 steps), I realized I still had no idea what I was watching. I was fully conscious that I was there, mindlessly marching away, staring at a screen. Was I too distracted? Well no, usually I can follow along whilst exercising. Was I too stupid? I dunno; I understood Tenet okay, so I guess I can’t be that dumb. As I stared blankly at the screen and its various moving images, I wondered if it was me that was incompetent, or if it was the fault of the movie. All I got from this film was that this guy needed to infiltrate a dangerous part of the city as some sort of fetch quest related to his father. Maybe I did completely miss something and I’m not doing this movie justice, but I’m never going to be bored enough to warrant giving this film another look—I’ll leave that to you.

Joey Ruff

The Farmer and the Belle: Saving Santaland: A friend of mine told me about this movie. He works in the music industry, and he was very proud of the fact that his label did the entire soundtrack. “The movie took four years to make, the story is compelling, and it’s better than any Hallmark movie.” His words, not mine. Sadly (and to my friend’s credit) the soundtrack is easily the best part of the movie. In fact, the soundtrack was very good. But the acting here is so bad… the writing is so “cringy”… the plot so unbelievably predictable (even by Hallmark standards)… We shut it off after twenty minutes.

So does In Paradox make any sense?

Those were our worst picks for 2020. Now onwards to some of the best!

THE TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 2020

10

Tyler Hummel

Bill & Ted Face the Music: There wasn’t a film this year more intoxicating than the third Bill and Ted film! I wouldn’t call this profound or polished, but it really does rise to the occasion and earn its wonderfully joyful finale wherein Bill and Ted cease their long-awaited destinies! Even as someone who didn’t grow up with the original films as a kid, I enjoyed this for its intoxicating optimism and silliness!

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Artemis Fowl: Ever since COVID happened, I lost a lot of my high expectations for film production. Such a concern doesn’t apply to Artemis Fowl, however, though I really shouldn’t have expected much regardless. It’s probably for the best that this went directly to the Disney+ streaming service, otherwise I would have considered it a wasted drive to the theater. For what it’s worth, a lot of solid promises for more rewarding efforts later down the road were made here. One can only hope that such promises are eventually fulfilled.

 

Juliana Purnell

Just Mercy: Generally speaking, humans tend to have an inbuilt desire to right wrongs, so stories about miscarriages of justice always seem to ignite our hearts and stir our minds. Based on a true story, Just Mercy is one such film. It’s a well-paced narrative with an intriguing storyline that exposes how decent laws can be horribly manipulated to destroy lives. It’s a great story told well packed with an emotional punch.

Joey Ruff

Bloodshot: Yeah, I know. It’s not on everyone’s list, but I thought this was the perfect movie to start off the in-home quarantine VOD offerings: big-budget sci-fi action thrills at every turn. Solid acting, story, effects, and a twist that mostly worked.

Bill and Ted are back on this list! Whoa! Where do you stand on this movie? Love it or hate it?

9

Tyler Hummel

The Gentlemen: I credit this for being the movie that helped me finally GET Guy Ritchie films. As much as I loathe his Hollywood output like Aladdin and King Arthur, this is the kind of film I can get behind. Done in the style of his older schlocky gangster films like Snatch, this flick is a spiralling story about the marijuana industry in the United Kingdom as the country is on the cusp of finally legalizing the drug. It’s a twisty narrative I didn’t totally follow the first time through but I couldn’t help but lay back and enjoy the ride!

Tyrone Barnes

Uncle Tom: Being a Black Conservative leaves one largely homeless, politically speaking. When I heard that Larry Elder was aiming to put together a documentary film largely giving a platform to blacks who don’t tow the line of what the linguist John McWhorter rightly calls the flawed religion of “Anti-Racism”, my interest was at least piqued. What was delivered proved to be much too slapdash to be satisfactory, but I appreciated the effort and the thoughts presented at least.

 

Juliana Purnell

Possessor: Horror films usually have wild concepts, though Possessor easily contains one of the more intriguing plots seen in the genre this year. It’s about a spy agency that will possess the mind of a person close to the target they’re aiming to assassinate. What starts off as an interesting albeit brutal thriller ends up being a deep analysis about self-identity, where our thoughts and ideas might end before another begins, and how it all shapes the person we think we are today. It’s a thought-provoking film if one can stomach its high level of violence, body horror and nudity.

Joey Ruff

The Invisible Man: Here’s a movie that Blumhouse did well. A tight, compelling, edge-of-your-seat thriller with enough emotional trauma to be somewhat relatable, jump-scares, and Elisabeth Moss delivering a crazy awesome performance. Sure, it’s a twisted and messed up movie, but it was a fun way to kill a few hours.

See our review here!

A photo of the Invisible Man.

8

Tyler Hummel

First Cow: One of the most celebrated films of 2020 was this rather minuscule and quiet neo-western about two men stealing milk to make biscuits in pre-American Washington state. I didn’t quite love it as much as most critics seemed to, given my ambivalence to anti-1% stories, but I can’t argue with the results. A film this stripped down shouldn’t be engaging yet I was never bored and I appreciated mulling over its themes regardless of my approval!

Tyrone Barnes

Over the Moon: Glen Keane is like a rockstar to me, so I was ecstatic to hear him still hard at work on feature animation, even if it has to come through a humble platform such as Netflix. Over the Moon embodies all the most noteworthy features of the second Disney Renaissance, of which Keane was one of the most respected veterans. It embodies both the good and the bad of that era, though, so take it as you will.
 

Juliana Purnell

Wolfwalkers: It’s a beautifully animated 2D fantasy adventure that features a solid story told in spectacular fashion. Also, I just have a soft spot for fairy tales and wolves. There’s a bit of villainization of Christianity happening here, which can make sense due to the film’s medieval setting, though it ultimately feels a bit too shallow to be justified. Regardless, it’s a gorgeous film that will no doubt earn the studio yet another Oscar nomination.

See our review here!

Joey Ruff

I Still Believe: I struggled with whether or not to include this movie here. I’ve seen it in the worst movie lists several other places, but I really dug it. For some reason, faith-based movies all try to have lessons and morals and end on an “Altar Call”… and maybe that works for some people, but as a Christian, I’d just like to be entertained. I’d love to see a Faith film that actually did that, from a Christian worldview, rather than being an evangelical tool. 90% of Faith films fall into this category for me. Moms’ Night Out was the first exception. I Can Only Imagine was the second, and while that film still had a message, it was a true story, so the message worked. It was believable as an inherent part of the tale and the character’s journey. Plus I may be a sucker for a good biopic.  I Still Believe, being the real-life story of another notable Christian singer (Jeremy Camp) followed in its predecessor’s footsteps and brought the message home in a believable and heart-felt way. And no, I wasn’t crying at the end…you were crying.

See our review here!

I Still Believe was a pleasant surprise and one of the better films in the Christian genre.

7

Tyler Hummel

Mr. Jones: Maybe the most culturally important film of 2020, Mr. Jones portrays one of the most forgotten manmade tragedies of the 20th century: the holodomor. The Soviet Union’s artificial famine in the Ukraine, which killed millions, is still a hotly debated topic in this day and age. Young Marxists contest its legitimacy all the time. History shows however that this story isn’t just a fluke but something that repeats. When I interviewed the film’s screenwriter this year, she noted how strange it was that the film’s themes seem to reflect on modern issues of political radicalism, indifference to tragedy, and media corruption. The more things change the more they say the same. The name of Gareth Jones should remind us of what can happen when we ignore the truth.

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn: If there were an accolade here for “Most surprisingly good movie”, this would get an honorable mention. While the plot is largely forgettable, the style, characters, and sense of uproarious fun is not. Honestly, I’d watch this again before returning to Deadpool.

 

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

The Hunt: I’m astounded a film like this could still be made. Operating a bit like a Trojan Horse, it weaselled its way through Liberal Hollywood on its release under the guise that it was anti-Conservative (and it does mock the right wing), when in reality it offers a scathing attack on Leftist ideology. This film is perfect for those that are able to take a step back and appreciate the absurdity of both sides of the socio-political divide, poking fun where it’s deserved. It also contains one of the best, most unexpected openings for a horror film I’ve seen in a while, while the acting and action sequences are also on point. This is black comedy horror at its finest. Pro tip: revisit George Orwell’s Animal Farm if you wish to take further delight in this film’s dark sense of humor.

Joey Ruff

Hubie Halloween: Adam Sandler returned (mostly) to form in his latest Netflix offering. It’s still not to the glory of his prime like The Wedding Singer, Big Daddy, and Mr. Deeds, but it sure beat out 95% of his modern offerings and felt like classic Sandler again.

See our review here!

Birds of Prey was an entertaining romp.

6

Tyler Hummel

The Devil All The Time: Netflix’s textured Southern gothic drama was one of the more interesting lesser films of 2020. It’s a bleak bit of Americana and nihilism that probably wasn’t the most comfortable film to be released in the midst of a pandemic. That said, I couldn’t help but respect it. It reminded me of some of the classic films of its genre like Night of the Hunter and Winter’s Bone that captured the melancholy nature of life in rural America. It’s a rough ride but it felt earnest in its desire to capture a specific kind of despair and pain.

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Trolls World Tour: I’m not sure what it is about these movies that does it for me so well. They’re the very kinds of disposable bargain bin throwaways that I wouldn’t be caught dead thinking about, and yet, here we are. The plots are thin, but engaging. The characters are one-dimensionally quirky, but entertaining. The music is oversold, but works where it counts. I’ll take another one if someone else is paying for it. Don’t know what that says about me, but neither do I care.
 

 

Juliana Purnell

If Anything Happens I Love You: It’s all too easy to overlook short films despite the fact it takes a lot of talent to convey an intricate and emotional story within the space of a few minutes. No words are spoken in this animated Netflix short, which is all the more impressive, as it uses simple drawings to take the audience on a deep dive into the grieving process. I won’t say much more, except that you should prepare to get your emotions utterly destroyed over the course of twelve short minutes.

Joey Ruff

Palm Springs: Winner of the 2020 romantic comedy award goes to… I’ve always liked Andy Samberg. Sure, the movie was a little raunchy in parts, but not as bad as most, and at the end of the day you have a compelling romance set to a Groundhog Day plot. It’s funny, has heart, and offers something just a little bit different. Any other year, this movie may have gotten lost behind the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, but in a year of small and quiet, I felt this movie fit perfectly.

Let’s give some love to the humble short film.

5

Tyler Hummel

The Vast of Night: Inaugural films are a chance for young directors to prove their worth, and this film for Amazon Prime caught a lot of eyes earlier this year! Andrew Patterson’s lean 1950s science fiction film manages to make the most out of a small cast and a small rural town to tell a massive story about possible alien contact in small-town America. It’s more of a stylistic exercise than anything else but what’s on display is gorgeous and immaculate! This is the kind of film that’s likely to earn Patterson a chance at directing a big tentpole film in the future!

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Tenet: I’ve only seen this once, and it’s pretty clear to me that director Christopher Nolan intended one’s experience of Tenet to be incomplete after only one sitting. What I did see certainly gave me a lot to chew on. I’m not sure how welcome a story as blatantly allegorical as this is would be to general audiences, but on its own merits, respect must be given where it’s due. This is arguably Nolan’s most ambitious title yet, making even Inception look like hollow popcorn fare. If only it had more space to breathe…

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

37 Seconds: This Netflix offering from Japan is a soft unassuming drama that illustrates some of the issues those with disabilities face, as also covered in Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution (which is a great 2020 documentary which sadly just lost out on a spot on my list). At first it doesn’t seem promising: a wheelchair-bound virgin wishes to apply for a job as an erotic manga artist, though she is told she first needs real world experience. Thankfully it doesn’t head in the direction as one might think, though it does challenge society’s unintentional habit of asexualizing this community, and uses this woman’s desire to explore her sexuality as part of an entirely larger journey to accept herself and the way that others see her. Don’t worry, the more controversial aspects of the narrative fall quickly by the wayside as it’s merely used as a catalyst to a bigger and better character arc, and tonally the movie is very sweet and rather humanizing. Give it a chance as it’s a rather profound film that gives a voice to those that are rarely heard.

Joey Ruff

Mulan: One of the best live-action Disney adaptations because it didn’t simply remake the classic animated film. This movie added characters and a subplot that offered something new to the story while still remaining faithful to the classic. Sure, they got rid of the musical numbers and Mushu the dragon sidekick, but the score was an incredible homage, the action scenes were killer, and the phoenix fit thematically better.

See our review here!

Tenet was a divisive film. Where do you stand?

4

Tyler Hummel

Soul: I was surprised by Pixar’s newest film. I’ve been very lukewarm on them for the better part of the last decade. The only time I really felt like they had achieved something emotionally resonant was in 2015 with Inside Out. Maybe it’s appropriate the film’s director, Pete Docter, would return to the director’s chair to make yet another animated film that reflects his deep grasp on human behavior and emotional honesty. I don’t know if he quite hit his marks as well as his previous efforts but Soul comes close to being one of Pixar’s best films in a long time!

Tyrone Barnes

Sonic the Hedgehog: If Birds of Prey is an honorable mention for “Most Surprisingly Good Movie”, Sonic the Hedgehog would be a gold medalist. This flick has no business being as sharp, smart, satisfying, or just downright fun as it is. That it was even watchable after that disastrous first impression made in its marketing is flabbergasting to say the least. That we got a movie that managed to bring back all the riotous shoot-for-the-moon hilarity that made Jim Carrey’s career in the 90s is nothing short of a miracle.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

A Perfectly Normal Family: If this weren’t part of the Sydney Film Festival’s ticketed viewing package, then I doubt I would’ve sought out this film. Thankfully I did get the opportunity to watch it, as it’s one of the most emotionally intelligent pieces of filmmaking I’ve ever seen. While it will no doubt attract disdain from the LGBT+ community for continuing the trope of following the reaction of a bystander as opposed to centering on the actual transgender’s journey, A Perfectly Normal Family is forgivable because it’s honest, heartfelt, and has no interest in pushing an agenda; rather it focuses on all the very real emotions that surround a person’s transition. It offers a fascinating look at a teenage girl struggling with the loss of her father whilst also coming to terms with the new female guardian figure that has now taken his place. They’re still the same person, but there’s still a grieving process that must be undertaken due to the shift in the nature of their relationship. The dialogue is sparse, although the teenager’s thoughts are always clear, with the audience’s heart breaking as they mournfully witness her descent into attention-seeking behaviour and revolt, before finally settling on a satisfying conclusion. It’s a gorgeous film with a much-needed honest depiction on the topic.

Joey Ruff

Love and Monsters: Dylan O’Brien has been a favorite of mine since Teen Wolf. And his turn in the Maze Runner movies helped solidify my love of him. I wish he had been Spider-Man over Holland, but I digress. He just has that wit and that “everyman” charm about him. Like the boy next door. And when you throw a character like that into a post-apocalyptic monster movie love story, how you can go wrong? Sure, it draws heavy comparisons to Zombieland, but why shouldn’t it? Both are a great amount of fun, contain heavy doses of humor, and do something unique with the genre: not taking it too seriously. Love and Monsters was a riot from start to finish. I just wish the dog would have had more scenes.

Who would’ve thought Sonic the Hedgehog would be one of the best films of 2020? Talk about punching above its weight!

3

Tyler Hummel

I’m Thinking of Ending Things: Charlie Kaufman films aren’t my sort of movies most of the time. I respect his amazing ability as a screenwriter, but his deep sense of fatalism and his fear of the ultimate inadequacy and failure of human effort permeates all of his projects. His newest film, however, worked for me for some reason. Maybe it’s just that the rabbit hole of tailing this film’s surrealistic underpinnings made it more engaging than some of his other movies, but I couldn’t help but be fascinated by this tour into the depths of fear as one man and his girlfriend journey into the depths of their realization of the smallness of their lives and their purpose in the world.

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

What Killed Michael Brown?: Where Uncle Tom operated as a somewhat poorly conceived and structured press conference for modern Black Conservatism, What Killed Michael Brown? is a much more laser-focused exposé on the controversial subject of black achievement, progress, and the complications surrounding police brutality. Director Shelby Steele is one of the brightest and most honest writers on the subject of race relations today, bringing with him a clarity born from decades of experience as a veteran of the 1960s Civil Rights movement and a teacher who’s operated in some of America’s most violent communities. With his son’s talents as a filmmaker at the ready, Steele dares to ask questions that challenge everyone’s views regardless of whether they are Left, Right, or otherwise. Highly recommended to all American survivors of 2020.

 

Juliana Purnell

Sound of Metal: I absolutely adore the double entendre of this film’s title, which isn’t fully realized until the film’s riveting conclusion. This movie provides audiences with a glimpse of what it’s like to lose one’s hearing. It follows the journey of a heavy metal drummer as he mourns the loss of an integral part of his identity, but then finds other ways to express himself. It’s an unassuming, highly relatable slice-of-life drama that peeks into a part of society that’s rarely seen. It’s bittersweet yet uplifting; a celebration of silence. Don’t be surprised if you see this nominated in the Sound categories in the Academy Awards. If possible, watch this with headphones.

Joey Ruff

Onward: A tale of brotherhood uniting in search of fatherhood. Classic and timeless themes that really resonate with men, and when amplified by the Pixar way of making movies, you have an instant hit. The humor, the fantasy, the characters… You’ve seen it, I don’t have to convince you that it’s great. Plus, let’s be honest: Chris Pratt is the greatest, so there’s no way this movie wasn’t going to be on this list.

See our review here!

I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a great watch for the right type of person.

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Tyler Hummel

Small Town Wisconsin: I wouldn’t have expected one of my favorite films this year to come from such a modest place. I saw this in a tiny theater at the El Dorado Film Festival in southern Arkansas on a whim this November (socially distanced mind you). This low budget indie drama honestly depicted the challenges of life in rural America better than the big-budget Ron Howard adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy. It’s quite a simple film. A man who is about to lose custody of his son because of his alcoholism, decides to take him on a trip to Milwaukee to see a Brewers’ game and enjoy one more trip with his father. Antics ensue as his alcoholism and chronic failures begin encroaching onto his efforts and undermining him. No film this year captured emotions rawer and more wrenching than this film did.

Tyrone Barnes

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising: This was the last movie I saw in theaters before the COVID lockdowns, and I was happy to end my pre-COVID life on a high note. While the previous feature film treatment for the wildly popular shonen title My Hero Academia (MHA) left a lot to be desired, whatever potential could have been found there was on full display in Heroes Rising. I’ve often half-jokingly referred to MHA as “X-Men Jr.”, but Heroes Rising borrows its primary inspiration from Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai, and does so with respectable aplomb. I left thoroughly satisfied, even though I knew nothing here was canon.

 

Juliana Purnell

Soul: While I feel Pixar bit off more than they could chew this time around, I must admire the audacity of these animations to even think they could answer one of the greatest questions of all: what is the meaning of life? They manage to illustrate some of the more intangible joys and failings of life, and while their secular coverage will always fall a little on the shallow side, they wonderfully succeed in tapping into some of the unspoken desires and misgivings of the human experience. They offer an interesting portrayal of depression and anxiety, which will no doubt help many to express their feelings. I personally prefer Inside Out, though that still doesn’t undermine this masterpiece of cinema.

Joey Ruff

Tenet: I know this movie was a bit polarizing, but hear me out. The effects were spectacular (every Nolan movie is a visual treat), the cast was good, but the story… It’s hard to do time travel well or even unique at this point. I feel like this movie did both. In the hands of a less capable director, it may not have worked nearly as well. Sure, there are still a few holes and unanswered questions, but the more I watch it, the more I pick up on it. It’s a well-layered and heavily structured story with incredible action scenes and over-the-top visuals. More people should have seen it on the big screen.

See our review here!

My Hero Academia: Heroes Rising was a delight for anime fans.

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Tyler Hummel

Blood Quantum: I thought long and hard about what ought to be considered as the best film of 2020. After much reflection, the answer seemed quite simple. Blood Quantum wasn’t just one of the best genre flicks of 2020, but it is one of the best films about the fear of the other you can find right now. The flick is entirely rooted in the deep-seated fear of infectious diseases and the problems of cultural interaction. Its story—surrounding the life of First Nations peoples in Canada living on a reservation during the zombie apocalypse—captures the essence of our very reactionary times. We all implicitly fear others. We all struggle to trust other people on the street. In a time of deep racial chaos as well, this film offers some very somber thoughts about the fear of cultural integration and the possible consequences of a failure to succeed. Even so, it does offer a meager hope at the end of the story. People will always survive and so will we!

See our review here!

Tyrone Barnes

Soul: Pete Docter refuses to let the disgraces of his colleagues at Pixar dampen his streak of creative ingenuity. His latest effort with Soul isn’t the fully gratifying existential experience that his last feature Inside Out was, but it is certainly far MORE existential. I can’t think of anyone on this side of the pond willing to directly tackle questions of meaning, purpose, inspiration, identity, and death all at once in a standard family feature film. But when the Docter delivers, he delivers as hard as he can. This was exactly what 2020 needed, and I, for one, am overjoyed for the treatment.

Juliana Purnell

The Platform: This is a horror film that haunted me for months, not because of its gruesome visuals, but rather for the apt allegory the film offers concerning modern Western civilization. While no metaphor is perfect, Netflix’s The Platform presents a seemingly simple puzzle on its surface, yet as the movie displays it’s never as easy in practice. It’s brutal, chilling, and its release freakishly coincided with the food hoarding fiasco that occurred during the first lockdown, which only added further resonance to the film’s message. I’m still wondering how exactly one can defecate upwards in this corrupt society—there are just so many great lines and scenarios littered throughout this film. The abrupt ending will leave many audiences feeling cheated, though I find if you lean more heavily on the narrative’s sense of symbolism, then it’s a more fitting conclusion.

See our review here!

Joey Ruff

Soul: I was so blown away by this movie. It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a very long time, and the story was so unique. I fancy myself an artist, and the way they touch on passion and inspiration, the spark of life, things like that struck a chord in me that’s still resonating days after the credits rolled. Setting it a backdrop of jazz not only gave it a great soundtrack, but added a nice layer of Soul. If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor.

We may have our disagreements, but we all enjoyed Soul!

Do you agree with our lists? Which films do you believe should have made the cut? Were there any films this year that you regretted watching? Let us know in the comments!

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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