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Popgap Diary: 2020 in Review

Popgap Diary: 2020 in Review

Written by dorrk
25 February 2021

130+ movies from 2020…Ranked from best to worst!

2020 was a terrible year for movies in the sense that cinemas everywhere shut down for months — and, in some places, for nearly the entire year — and studios withdrew many of their highest-profile titles from the release calendar. And, yet, most of us had more time to watch movies than ever before, thanks to the shelter-in-place recommendations and forced lockdowns of most other entertainment and recreation venues. For those of us who would prefer to stay home and watch movies most of the time, 2020s hardships were a blessing in grim disguise.

According to my stats at Letterboxd, where I keep a film diary, I watched 543 movies during 2020, over 40 more than I managed in 2019. Below you will find a showcase of My Favorite Movies of 2020, followed by a list of all 130+ movies which competed for that honor. As usual, my 2020 list includes some movies with release dates from one or two years earlier, as some movies spend a few years in foreign markets and playing festivals prior to receiving wide release or digital availability. Unusually, because 2020 was afflicted by so many tentative release dates, some movies which qualified for awards during 2020 actually have 2021 release dates, so there may be a handful of those in there, too.

But my movie watching during 2020 was not only about new releases. One of my goals during 2020 was to rewatch several movies which had begun to slip the grasp of my memory, and almost exactly half (50.3%) of my total watches were reruns. Some of my favorite and most surprising re-discoveries included:

  • Stephen Chow's wacky kung-fu comedy GOD OF COOKERY (1996), which jumped more 30% up my Flickchart to 81.75%
  • Infidelity thriller FATAL ATTRACTION (1987), which also shot-up my chart by nearly a third to 72.69%.
  • The superb sci-fi thriller THE HIDDEN (1987), directed by Jack Sholder, which improved by 25% to 82.88%
  • And moody drugs drama LESS THAN ZERO (1987), which charted at 82.33%. (It was a big year for 1987, apparently!)
  • The neat little Meg Tilly thriller IMPULSE (1984), which ranked at 74.58%
  • The cynical James Woods mystery COP (1988), now at 71.94%.

Also, now that my kids are all in or nearing their teen years, I was able to introduce them to some well-remembered favorites like:

  • THE GRADUATE (1967), #5 on my Flickchart
  • TOOTSIE (1982), #6 on my Flickchart
  • CITIZEN KANE (1941), #24 on my Flickchart
  • AFTER HOURS (1985), #53 on my Flickchart
  • FARGO (1996), #57 on my Flickchart
  •  (1963), #76 on my Flickchart

2020 also saw the inception of my Silver Screen Streak Movie Challenge, which introduced me to new favorites like RUSSIAN ARK (2002), THE HEIRESS (1949), THE FALLEN IDOL (1948), THE DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU (2005) and QUEEN MARGOT (1993). My Octoblur Horror Marathon brought me to newfound frights like A DARK SONG (2016) and THE LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET (1977). Meanwhile, purely recreationally, I discovered the pleasures of French gangster classic TOUCHEZ PAS AU GRISBI (1954) starring Jean Gabin (86.27% on my Flickchart) and epic sleaze-fest SAVAGE STREETS (1984) directed by Danny Steinmann (ranked at 77.83%).

So, sure, the world may have started burning in 2020, but things looked pretty good from my couch!

  • Note: I typically only highlight in these year-end specials what I call "Screenflowers," which are non-mainstream or largely overlooked but nevertheless great movies. In 2020, there were no real mainstream movies worth thinking about, so you're getting my actual Top 10 with nothing filtered out.
  • Note: Publishing of this post was delayed for two weeks due to power outages. I have since watched the much-hyped NOMADLAND and it doesn't figure meaningfully into my accounting of 2020's movies.
The best movies of 2020

THE TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2020

#01. THE TWENTIETH CENTURY (2019)

Dir.: Matthew Rankin

Flickcharted: #432 (91.43%)

When you watch a lot of movies, one of the most valued qualities any movie can offer is surprise. Matthew Rankin’s absurdist Canadian historical drama THE TWENTIETH CENTURY is not only a marvel of painstaking craft, but his combination of vision and perverse irreverence makes his debut feature an exciting string of unpredictables. Although it probably started as little more than a big Canadian in-joke — it's easy to imagine Rankin as a school kid, bored to tears while learning about early 20th century Canadian politics, beginning to concoct this bizarre alternate interpretation of the rise of Prime Minister William Lyon McKenzie King — what's come out of it is the kind of glorious personal, weird and exact filmmaking that I love. Some of the points of reference that came to mind while watching THE TWENTIETH CENTURY included David Lynch, German expressionism, The Kids in the Hall, THE LOVE WITCH, Guy Maddin, MEET THE FEEBLES and the 1983 animated cult classic TWICE UPON A TIME… and each one was quickly confounded by the strange hilarity that followed. THE TWENTIETH CENTURY is, foundationally, completely silly, but with bursts of horrifying intensity, and is played with incredible sincerity by its cast, with lead Dan Beirne delivering a master's course in playing straight man to an absurd world. Exquisite artistry all around; a fantastic debut feature from Rankin.

#02. MANGROVE (SMALL AXE #1) (2020)

Dir.: Steve McQueen

Flickcharted: #433 (91.31%)

I’ve never been a big fan of director Steve McQueen — although the final moment of his 2018 thriller WIDOWS opened me up just a little — and I can’t say his SMALL AXE series of five thematically linked movies for Amazon Prime had me excited, as it’s not hard to get burned out on earnest historical social issues dramas these days, especially when many of them are little more than grievance porn. But MANGROVE, the first film in the series, is a magnificent example of how this type of material should be approached, both in its technical execution and its focus on characters over lessons. Shaun Parkes delivers the performance of the year as Frank Crichlow, the proprietor of a popular cafe among West Indian immigrants in early 1970s London. Harassment and persecution of Crichlow by racist police lead to a resistance movement, arrests, and a landmark court case. It all sounds like dull homework, but it’s marvelous, gripping, and deeply empathetic for the principle of individual liberty. McQueen’s vibrant evocation of time and place is nearly tactile, and supporting players like Rochenda Sandall and Letitia Wright follow Parkes with indelible performances that linger powerfully.

#03. SPONTANEOUS (2020)

Dir.: Brian Duffield

Flickcharted: #480 (90.41%)

Every now and then I watch a teen-oriented movie that makes me think, “If I were that age right now, this would be my favorite movie.” With SPONTANEOUS, I have that familiar feeling, but I’m not so certain about it this time, as there’s as high a probability that it will traumatize today's teens as there is that it might thrill them. Writer/director Brian Duffield — who also wrote two other 2020 releases, UNDERWATER and LOVE & MONSTERS — seems to take the entirety of the contemporary teen experience — energizing social conscience, a smothering premature responsibility, defensive irreverence, bursts of joy and horror, and overwhelming anxiety — and rolls it all up into a bouncy blood-filled meat balloon for a perilous game of catch. Star Katherine Langford embodies, with her fresh, funny, and engaging charm, everything about an immature humanity clinging to sanity when it's least apt, and Duffield gives her surprisingly deep and genuinely felt material with which to work. SPONTANEOUS is witty and poignant and bold, and traumatic, and never skates past difficult moments or ducks a big idea. A resonant teen rom-com for its age.

#04. THE KID DETECTIVE (2020)

Dir.: Evan Morgan

Flickcharted: #538 (89.37%)

I’m not going to pretend that Evan Morgan’s THE KID DETECTIVE is some kind of masterpiece, but it’s maybe the most surprisingly and thoroughly enjoyable movie of 2020. Adam Brody (in the Adam Brodiest role imaginable) stars as Abe Applebaum, a former kid-genius — clearly inspired by the Encyclopedia Brown series of books that were on every juvenile bookshelf during the 1970s — whose glory days as a prepubescent sleuth ran into a brick wall when a major crime rocked his otherwise idyllic community. Now an adult has-been still lamely coasting on his boyhood reputation, Abe gets a new case and a chance to prove himself.  THE KID DETECTIVE is, essentially, a one-joke premise, but it’s a really good one-joke and Morgan stretches it out to feature-length with such care and confidence that the joke never grows old, but rather deepens and burrows, becoming richer and funnier. It helps that Morgan — who also wrote the edgy indie sleeper THE DIRTIES (2013) — has also crafted a worthy and stylish mystery that is not far outside the league of classics like THE LONG GOODBYE or CHINATOWN. And — it feels weird to admit this — but THE KID DETECTIVE is also shockingly moving, as Morgan isn’t shy about confronting the emotional damage that a legacy of shame can inflict on a person and a community. Maybe it is a masterpiece, after all. I demand a franchise!

#05. I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS (2020)

Dir.: Charlie Kaufman

Flickcharted: #558 (88.59%)

2020's unofficial remake of JOKER is achingly beautiful from beginning to end and full of writer/director Charlie Kaufman’s painful comedy and uncertain grasp on reality. I’m hesitant to recommend I'M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS to many people, as it is “difficult” — especially if Kaufman’s narrative gimmick either doesn’t become apparent or its resulting fractured storytelling simply chafes — but it is, by turns, hilarious and heartbreaking. And immaculate. Movies this perfectly original and visionary are precious, and might just be enough to convince me to give Kaufman’s difficult SYNECDOCHE, NEW YORK another try.

#06. THE CLIMB (2019)

Dir.: Michael Angelo Covino

Flickcharted: #741 (85.22%)

THE CLIMB is one of those special indie movies that is nearly undone by its poster. That’s not fair; it may be impossible to market a movie that is this fresh and unusual and brilliant despite looking like something so generic and trite. It’s a movie about friendship, and its poster, of two men bicycling in the French Alps, in combo with its title, THE CLIMB, suggests an inspirational friendship. Anything but: as a comedy, THE CLIMB could be described as “one of the worst, most dysfunctional friendships ever committed to film.” But even that undersells the magic of what writer/director/star Michael Angelo Covino does behind the camera, crafting a series of wondrous long takes that make its pitch-perfect and expertly timed cringe-comedy even more impressive. With revealing nods to Jim Cummings’ THUNDER ROAD and the quirky work of Swedish director Roy Andersson, and doing both influences proud.

#07. LOVERS ROCK (2020)

Dir.: Steve McQueen

Flickcharted: #764 (84.66%)

Steve McQueen’s perfect evocation of time and place continues with his second film in the SMALL AXE series, LOVERS ROCK. A vibe movie if there ever was one, this "one crazy night" entry has a simple premise: a house party, with all of its bumping, grinding, grooves, beefing, beats, sweat, and ecstasy. Again, McQueen’s period detail is perfect, and each gesture is captured with such tenderness, it's hard not to fall in love on this dance floor.

#08. THE HATER (2020)

Dir.: Jan Komasa

Flickcharted: #949 (81.26%)

Polish director Jan Komasa’s 2019 drama CORPUS CHRISTI garnered international acclaim, culminating in an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film, but his subsequent movie, THE HATER is even better, despite receiving only a fraction of the acclaim. Maciej Musialowski stars as Tomasz, a young man whose tenuous grasp of ethics may destroy him personally, but it, channeled through his obsessive neediness, is perfectly suited for work as a social media manipulator and professional troll. Dark and brooding, with a fascinating reserved performance from Musialowski, and no optimistic outcomes for our digital future.

#09. SAINT MAUD (2019)

Dir.: Rose Glass

Flickcharted: #976 (80.74%)

Slow-burn psychological horror with a religious touch, SAINT MAUD is yet another empathetic look at the dangerous sense of social dislocation permeating society, especially on the fringes. Morfydd Clark is perfect in the title role, and writer/director Rose Glass wrings maximum tension with her patient studying of Maud’s internal disintegration.

#10. THE BEACH HOUSE (2019)

Dir.: Jeffrey A. Brown

Flickcharted: #1162 (76.05%)

The best of the burgeoning new “brilliant young female marine biologist deals with alien infection” subgenre. Lots of well-captured unease and body horror. A very confident and compelling feature debut from director Jeffrey A. Brown.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF (2020)

Dir.: Benjamin Ree

Flickcharted: #1223 (75.84%)

Two uniquely human characters, and with one of the single most powerful moments in any 2020 movie. Also: evidence that even the criminals and prisons in Scandinavia are unerringly polite.

BEST ANIMATED MOVIE: THE WOLF HOUSE (2018)

Flickcharted: #1426 (69.15%)

Mesmerizing stop-motion fable that should appeal to anyone who loves the weird craft of Jan Svankmajer and other underground animators. The narrative is purposefully vague (likely a metaphor for childhood abuse) but the hauntingly quiet narration coupled with the stunning visuals is perfect nightmare fuel. I don’t typically seek out animation, but I was glued to this one, just for its stylistic invention.


ALL MOVIES WATCHED WITH 2020 RELEASE DATES, RANKED

 
Rank Movie Director Stars Flickchart
 
1 The Twentieth Century (2019) Matthew Rankin 8/10 91.43%
2 Mangrove (2020) Steve McQueen 8/10 91.31%
3 Spontaneous (2020) Brian Duffield 8/10 90.41%
4 The Kid Detective (2020) Evan Morgan 8/10 89.37%
5 I'm Thinking of Ending Things (2020) Charlie Kaufman 8/10 88.59%
6 The Climb (2019) Michael Angelo Covino 8/10 85.22%
7 Lovers Rock (2020) Steve McQueen 8/10 84.66%
8 The Hater (2020) Jan Komasa 8/10 81.26%
9 Saint Maud (2019) Rose Glass 8/10 80.74%
10 The Beach House (2019) Jeffrey A. Brown 8/10 76.05%
11 Minari (2020) Lee Isaac Chung 8/10 75.89%
12 Possessor (2020) Brandon Cronenberg 8/10 75.85%
13 The Painter and the Thief (2020) Benjamin Ree 8/10 75.84%
14 The King of Staten Island (2020) Judd Apatow 7/10 74.23%
15 Gretel & Hansel (2020) Oz Perkins 7/10 72.88%
16 Deerskin (2019) Quentin Dupieux 7/10 72.72%
17 Driveways (2019) Andrew Ahn 7/10 71.95%
18 The Invisible Man (2020) Leigh Whannell 7/10 71.95%
19 Alone (2020) John Hyams 7/10 71.93%
20 The Devil All the Time (2020) Antonio Campos 7/10 70.58%
21 The Decline (2020) Patrice Laliberté 7/10 70.53%
22 Love and Monsters (2020) Michael Matthews 7/10 70.48%
23 The Nest (2020) Sean Durkin 7/10 69.25%
24 The Wolf House (2018) Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León 7/10 69.15%
25 Relic (2020) Natalie Erika James 7/10 67.31%
26 Babyteeth (2019) Shannon Murphy 7/10 67.29%
27 Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (2020) Laurent Bouzereau 6/10 67.22%
28 Emma. (2020) Autumn de Wilde 6/10 67.05%
29 Assassins (2020) Ryan White 6/10 66.27%
30 The Dissident (2021) Bryan Fogel 6/10 66.26%
31 The Hole in the Ground (2019) Lee Cronin 6/10 65.76%
32 Big Time Adolescence (2019) Jason Orley 6/10 65.65%
33 Feels Good Man (2020) Arthur Jones 6/10 64.77%
34 Come to Daddy (2019) Ant Timpson 6/10 64.60%
35 Sound of Metal (2019) Darius Marder 6/10 63.66%
36 Class Action Park (2020) Seth Porges, Chris Charles Scott III 6/10 63.57%
37 Vivarium (2019) Lorcan Finnegan 6/10 63.47%
38 Zappa (2020) Alex Winter 6/10 63.02%
39 Alex Wheatle (2020) Steve McQueen 6/10 62.98%
40 Freaky (2020) Christopher Landon 6/10 62.98%
41 Disclosure (2020) Michael Bentham 6/10 62.65%
42 The Wolf of Snow Hollow (2020) Jim Cummings 6/10 62.59%
43 Porno (2020) Keola Racela 6/10 62.49%
44 Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (2020) George C. Wolfe 6/10 62.23%
45 Red, White and Blue (2020) Steve McQueen 6/10 61.84%
46 The Assistant (2019) Kitty Green 6/10 61.47%
47 Lucky Grandma (2019) Sasie Sealy 6/10 58.72%
48 Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2020) Eliza Hittman 6/10 58.63%
49 The Burnt Orange Heresy (2019) Giuseppe Capotondi 6/10 56.66%
50 Black Bear (2020) Lawrence Michael Levine 6/10 56.50%
51 Unhinged (2020) Derrick Borte 6/10 56.26%
52 The Empty Man (2020) David Prior 6/10 55.88%
53 Mank (2020) David Fincher 6/10 55.63%
54 Arkansas (2020) Clark Duke 6/10 55.58%
55 Hunter Hunter (2020) Shawn Linden 6/10 55.22%
56 One Night in Miami (2020) Regina King 6/10 55.14%
57 Disappearance at Clifton Hill (2019) Albert Shin 6/10 55.10%
58 News of the World (2020) Paul Greengrass 6/10 55.03%
59 Truth and Justice (2019) Tanel Toom 6/10 54.34%
60 Promising Young Woman (2020) Emerald Fennell 6/10 53.70%
61 Shithouse (2020) Cooper Raiff 6/10 53.38%
62 Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020) David Dobkin 6/10 53.24%
63 Palm Springs (2020) Max Barbakow 6/10 53.12%
64 Education (2020) Steve McQueen 6/10 52.90%
65 Corpus Christi (2019) Jan Komasa 6/10 52.71%
66 Fatman (2020) Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms 6/10 52.47%
67 1BR (2019) David Marmor 6/10 51.97%
68 Bad Education (2019) Cory Finley 6/10 51.67%
69 Tenet (2020) Christopher Nolan 6/10 51.67%
70 VFW (2019) Joe Begos 6/10 51.58%
71 Soul (2020) Pete Docter, Kemp Powers 6/10 50.54%
72 The Death of Dick Long (2019) Daniel Scheinert 6/10 50.39%
73 An American Pickle (2020) Brandon Trost 6/10 50.30%
74 I'm No Longer Here (2019) Fernando Frias 6/10 50.24%
75 Becky (2020) Jonathan Milott, Cary Murnion 6/10 50.15%
76 His House (2020) Remi Weekes 6/10 50.07%
77 I'm Your Woman (2020) Julia Hart 6/10 49.58%
78 Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2020) Jason Woliner 6/10 48.61%
79 Anything for Jackson (2020) Justin G. Dyck 5/10 48.41%
80 Young Ahmed (2019) Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne 5/10 47.44%
81 Incitement (2019) Yaron Zilberman 5/10 44.17%
82 The Rental (2020) Dave Franco 5/10 43.54%
83 Irresistible (2020) Jon Stewart 5/10 41.45%
84 Sea Fever (2019) Neasa Hardiman 5/10 40.88%
85 Sputnik (2020) Egor Abramenko 5/10 40.83%
86 The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020) Radha Blank 5/10 40.81%
87 Blow the Man Down (2019) Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy 5/10 39.32%
88 Fingers (2019) Juan Ortiz 5/10 38.70%
89 First Cow (2019) Kelly Reichardt 5/10 37.65%
90 The Vast of Night (2019) Andrew Patterson 5/10 37.54%
91 Underwater (2020) William Eubank 5/10 37.53%
92 The Orphanage (2019) Shahrbanoo Sadat 5/10 37.40%
93 Songbird (2020) Adam Mason 5/10 36.83%
94 Boys State (2020) Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss 5/10 36.12%
95 System Crasher (2019) Nora Fingscheidt 5/10 35.46%
96 Swallow (2019) Carlo Mirabella-Davis 4/10 34.58%
97 Perfect 10 (2019) Eva Riley 4/10 33.08%
98 We Summon the Darkness (2019) Marc Meyers 4/10 31.77%
99 She Dies Tomorrow (2020) Amy Seimetz 4/10 31.00%
100 Another Round (2020) Thomas Vinterberg 4/10 30.96%
101 Color Out of Space (2019) Richard Stanley 4/10 30.63%
102 Fantasy Island (2020) Jeff Wadlow 4/10 29.95%
103 Bait (2019) Mark Jenkin 4/10 29.70%
104 Words on Bathroom Walls (2020) Thor Freudenthal 4/10 29.44%
105 The Deeper You Dig (2019) John Adams, Toby Poser 4/10 29.07%
106 Run (2020) Aneesh Chaganty 4/10 28.62%
107 The Projectionist (2019) Abel Ferrara 4/10 28.01%
108 The Painted Bird (2019) Václav Marhoul 4/10 27.27%
109 Hillbilly Elegy (2020) Ron Howard 4/10 25.24%
110 Impetigore (2019) Joko Anwar 4/10 25.12%
111 Calm with Horses (2019) Nick Rowland 4/10 24.84%
112 Shirley (2020) Josephine Decker 4/10 24.52%
113 Coffee & Kareem (2020) Michael Dowse 4/10 23.75%
114 Random Acts of Violence (2019) Jay Baruchel 4/10 23.35%
115 Da 5 Bloods (2020) Spike Lee 4/10 21.89%
116 Scare Package (2019) Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn 4/10 19.96%
117 Wounds (2019) Babak Anvari 4/10 19.23%
118 A Good Woman Is Hard to Find (2019) Abner Pastoll 4/10 19.14%
119 The Quarry (2020) Scott Teems 3/10 19.03%
120 Amulet (2020) Romola Garai 3/10 18.88%
121 Summerland (2020) Jessica Swale 3/10 18.79%
122 The Wretched (2019) Brett Pierce, Drew T. Pierce 3/10 18.08%
123 Host (2020) Rob Savage 3/10 17.39%
124 Luz: The Flower of Evil (2019) Juan Diego Escobar Alzate 3/10 17.27%
125 Vitalina Varela (2019) Pedro Costa 3/10 16.56%
126 Bacurau (2019) Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho 3/10 16.13%
127 The Other Lamb (2019) Malgorzata Szumowska 3/10 16.11%
128 Valley Girl (2020) Rachel Lee Goldenberg 1 Star 15.88%
129 Come Play (2020) Jacob Chase 1 Star 15.84%
130 Brahms: The Boy II (2020) William Brent Bell 1 Star 15.45%
131 The New Mutants (2020) Josh Boone 1 Star 14.25%
132 The Lodge (2019) Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz 1 Star 11.31%
133 Shooting Heroin (2020) Spencer T. Folmar 1 Star 6.81%
134 The Hunt (2020) Craig Zobel 1 Star 3.49%