PICKS OF THE YEAR

diskurso art magazine's

30 Favorite Films from 2020

Published January 16, 2021

Here are our 30 top favorite films from the past year's releases, picked, mostly from streaming media choices, then ranked not so much according to these various works' demonstration of intricacy than to the overall emotional strength of their respective (resultant) concepts and the tenable politics, philosophy, or social theory behind that strength.

Note, however, that we have published a separate list for documentary films under the "diskurso favorite documentary films and series from 2020" heading.

(the poster photos below were grabbed from the libraries of either Wikipedia, Amazon.com, or Rollingstone.com)

1
Synchronic

(Streaming release: 21 November 2020 / Justin Benson, writer; Benson and Aaron Moorhead, directors / Love & Death Productions, XYZ Films, Patriot Pictures, Rustic Films, Pfaff & Pfaff Productions / Sci fi, Mystery & thriller)

 

A SCI fi film with a unique time-travel concept that visits the racist horrors of the United States' past and then congratulates the advances of the present. The advances of the present? Well, yes. It does it by actually exclusively harping on these, seemingly aware of the fact that that aforementioned past's having visited the present as the American Trump era (with the old-new American psyche in it) in some parts of the country needs no further coverage. [Read our full mini-review of the film in our November 2020 picks of the month list...]

2
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

(Asian 2020 releases: 6 February Hong Kong, 5 March limited Singapore, 28 August Japan, 30 August Netflix Philippines, 18 September China / Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster, writers of screenplay inspired by a Tom Junod magazine article; Marielle Heller, director / Big Beach, TriStar Pictures / Drama, Biographical)

 

AS a worthy accompaniment to that Morgan Neville documentary film on Fred Rogers released in 2018, titled Won't You Be My Neighbor?, this biographical film extends the Rogers thesis (which is to focus on preschoolers' social and emotional needs in contrast to Sesame Street's focus on cognitive needs). It does it from the point of view of Lloyd Vogel, a jaded investigative journalist with problems with his past affecting his present. In an era of new dictators promoting hate and prejudice, these two films provide an alternative take on ethics via the eyes of those with an interest in their children's social future. [Read our full mini-review of the film in our September 2020 picks of the month list...]

3
End of Sentence

(Streaming release: 27 May 2020 / Michael Armbruster, writer; Elfar Adalsteins, director / Samson Films, Berserk Films, MovieExtras, Palomar Pictures / Drama)

 

A FATHER'S failed parenthood struggles to make it up to his son. This son's endless hatred for his father (and the world) in turn vehemently struggles to be rid of this father who fetches him at the prison gates after his serving of a sentence. Their common thread: the wife/mother whose dying wish was that they both scatter her ashes in a lake in Ireland. What would it take to put a period to endless wounding paragraphs of voiced thought (that continue to tear the two apart) towards a common understanding of contexts? A criminal offense that victimizes them both? Hmm.

4
Buffaloed

(Streaming release: 14 February 2020 / Brian Sacca, writer; Tanya Wexler, director; Lost City Productions / Comedy-drama)

 

MAYBE it's best you watch that "Slumlord Millionaire" episode of the Netflix series Dirty Money first, or at least read that ProPublica article on "Kushnerville." For then you might get a more thorough appreciation of how triumphant the social message of Buffaloed's goring of comedy-drama clichés really has been at this juncture of a "socialism"-hating, freedom-loving America still struggling with its love for profiteers in late capitalism.

5
Emma.

(First streaming release: 20 March 2020 / Eleanor Catton, writer of screenplay based on Jane Austen's novel of the same name; Autumn de Wilde, director / Working Title Films, Blueprint Pictures / Drama, Romance, Comedy)

 

A YOUNG woman's undue influence manipulates the world around her until things are wrested out of her control. Is there going to be good news, where she might be able to get out of it and get on the right side of things on time and thus recoup her friendships and society's . . . however feudal . . . love?

6
Lost Girls

(Philippine streaming release: 14 March 2020, Netflix Philippines / Michael Werwie, writer of screenplay based on Robert Kolker's book Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery; Liz Garbus, director / Archer Gray, Langley Park Pictures / Drama)

 

ANOTHER portrait of working class Americans' struggles with their finances and the Police's regard of them contrasting with that of wealthy America's Jeffrey Epstein-like abuses (murders, even) able to get away with it because of the Police's regard of them. A fine accompanying watch to the 2020 Netflix documentary series with a somewhat similar thesis, The Pharmacist.

7
Bacurau

(Streaming release: 19 March 2020 / Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles, writers-directors / CinemaScópio Produções, SBS Productions, Globo Filmes, Símio Filmes, Arte France Cinema, Canal Brasil, Telecine / Weird western)

 

A BRAZILIAN Mad Max? Perhaps. But a weird-western sort of Mad Max focused on an imaginary village of the future called Bacurau and how that village's people seeks revenge for the water shortage their mayor and a foreign company caused.

8
The Assistant

(Streaming release: 1 May 2020 / Kitty Green, writer-director / Symbolic Exchange, 3311 Productions, Level Forward, Cinereach, Forensic Films, Bellmer Pictures, JJ Homeward Productions / Drama)

BECAUSE this is fiction and we are not told much about the leading character's background, the film therefore avoids carrying the problem that Bombshell carried in relation to its subject-victim (read what we're talking about here in our review of that latter film). In fact, The Assistant's narrative does not take an omniscient perspective on a victimization, much less on a clear case of rape, but merely rides with an uneasiness in a junior assistant working in a film production company. Just so. But that doesn't mean that the drama gets lessened. On the contrary. Nor does it mean that writer-director Green was handicapped in her efforts to show displays of toxic sexism from within those self-given parameters.

9
Misbehaviour

(Streaming release: 15 April 2020 UK, 25 September US / Gaby Chiappe and Rebecca Frayn, writers of screenplay based on a story by Frayn; Philippa Lowthorpe, director / Left Bank Pictures, Pathé, BBC Films, Ingenious Media, British Film Institute / Comedy-drama)

 

WIKIPEDIA: "Premise: The 1970 Miss World competition took place in London, hosted by the US comedian Bob Hope. At that time Miss World was the most-watched TV show in the world with over 100 million viewers. Arguing that beauty competitions objectify women, the newly-formed women's liberation movement achieved overnight fame by invading the stage and disrupting the live broadcast of the competition. When the show resumed, the result caused uproar: the winner was not the Swedish favourite but Miss Grenada, the first black woman to be crowned Miss World. In hours a global audience had seen the patriarchy driven from the stage and the Western ideal of beauty subverted."

10
Small Axe: Red, White and Blue

(Streaming release: 4 December, Amazon Prime / Steve McQueen and Courttia Newland, writers; Steve McQueen, director / BBC One, Amazon Prime Video / Historical drama)

ROGEREBERT.COM: "(This) is not a coddling film. It’s an angry one, a tricky meditation that forces you to put yourself in the shoes of someone you might actually consider a traitor or a fool. (John Boyega), who is fantastic, wears the burden of (Black Police Association founder Leroy Logan’s) loneliness very well, and you feel his desire for an ally, a friend or, most notably, a running buddy who looks like him."

11
Uncorked

(Worldwide Netflix release: 27 March 2020 / Prentice Penny, writer-director / Forge Media, Argent Pictures, Mandalay Pictures / Drama)

 

CIVIL rights in the United States is an American liberal cause. But while there are African-Americans willing to count themselves as part of the conservative right and its tax cuts for the wealthy and all (for instance, if Kanye West was a channel he'd be another Fox News), there is also another form of conservatism within the black liberal/progressive cause. Traditionalism is one kind of cultural conservatism. And in this film's case, the issue is a kind of filial traditionalism. What a fine film to accompany your viewing of the "Mashama Bailey" episode of Netflix's Chef's Table volume 6 and the "BBQ" and "Fried Chicken" episodes of Ugly Delicious season 1 to get your feel of African-American cuisine traditions, barbecue traditions, and so on, and both the "liberalisms" and "conservatisms" that have been applied to them.

12
Uncle Frank

(Worldwide streaming release: 27 November 2020 / Alan Ball, writer-director / Miramax, Your Face Goes Here Entertainment, Byblos Entertainment, Cota Films, Parts & Labor / Comedy-drama)

 

A COMEDY-DRAMA about a gay man who now has to confront his past. It's significant that this is a road movie.

13
The Painted Bird

(Streaming release: 17 July 2020 / Václav Marhoul, writer-director / PubRes, Silver Screen / War drama)

PROBABLY one of the darkest bildungsroman films to come out from the last ten years, a kind of Narcissus and Goldmund with a war backdrop.

14
Blow the Man Down

(Streaming release: 20 March 2020, Amazon / Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, writers-directors / Secret Engine, Tango Entertainment / Black comedy)

 

ON a table full of social conservatives, how do you push a discussion on rape? Cole and Krudy decide to daintily place their arguments on that via the brutal lexicon of black comedy.

15
The Kid Detective

(Streaming release: 16 October 2020 / Evan Morgan, writer-director / Wood Entertainment, JoBro Productions, Aqute Media / Mystery comedy-drama)

LINDA Marric of The Jewish Chronicle writes: "Evan Morgan must be commended for crafting one of the most compelling neo-noirs of recent times, especially in his ability to skirt around some heavy subjects without a hint of contrivance."

    Meanwhile, Kevin Maher of The Times writes: "The most idiosyncratic film noir since Rian Johnson's Brick, this is a meticulously constructed slow-burn thriller that's defined by some bold narrative twists and an alarming lurch towards the darkness."

16
Pinoy Sunday

(Streaming debut release: 8 June 2020, Netflix Philippines / Ho Wi Ding and Ajay Balakrishnan, writers; Ho Wi Ding, director / Changhe Films, NHK, Les Petites Lumieres, Spark Films / Comedy-drama)

 

[READ our review of this 2009 film in our June 2020 picks of the month list]

17
First Cow

(Streaming release: 10 July 2020 / Kelly Reichardt and Jonathan Raymond, writers of screenplay based on Raymond's novel The Half Life; Kelly Reichardt, director / FilmScience, IAC Films / Drama)

 

ALISON Gillmor of Winnipeg Free Press: "A minimalist, humanist story that touches on labour and capital, history and national myth, all the while remaining a lovely, low-key buddy picture."

    Radheyan Simonpillai of NOW Magazine: "As with Meek's Cutoff, First Cow is a Western that chips away at myth, and wrestles power and history away from the lone-white-cowboy archetype."

    Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune: "I've said this before about Reichardt's films, and for whatever reason I feel the need to say it again. 'First Cow' will strike some viewers as too little in terms of dramatic machinery. Whatever."

    Matthew Lucas of fromthefrontrow.net: "The premise almost seems laughable, but Reichardt uses it as a jumping-off point for a disarmingly tragic deconstruction of the American dream and the exploitation upon which it is built."

18
Sorry We Missed You

(Select 2020 releases: 6 March 2020 US, 19 March Hong Kong and Singapore [limited] / Paul Laverty, writer; Ken Loach, director / Sixteen Films, BBC Films, BE TV, BFI Film Fund, Canal+, Ciné+, France 2 Cinéma, France Télévisions, Les Films du Fleuve, VOO, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch / Drama)

TIME Out: "A gripping indictment of the modern gig economy."

19
Corpus Christi

(Streaming release: 16 March 2020 / Mateusz Pacewicz, writer; Jan Komasa, director / Aurum Film / Drama)

 

HARRIS Dang of theaureview.com: "Corpus Christi is a striking drama about the murky and hypocritical grounds of faith, redemption and morality. It is beautifully acted by Bartosz Bielenia and writer/director Jan Komasa admirably never goes for easy answers for his conflicts."

20
Tigertail

(Streaming release: 10 April 2020, Netflix / Alan Yang, writer-director / MACRO, Netflix / Drama)

 

TIGERTAILS prefer fast-flowing streams. But this film is not about those dragonflies. It's about the fact that events or opportunities, or lack thereof, would always come or not come, and then they impose changes on us or demand a move from us. From this reality we also soon realize fate's other unbendable axiom: you can't have everything that you desire. As our lives progress, though, we see how we are free to choose from what's available to us within our constantly evolving worlds, evolving thus quickly or slowly, and it is always up to us to catch or ignore what's already in front of us. Again, this is not about tigertails preferring to hover beside fast-flowing streams. Or is it?

21
House of Hummingbird

(Streaming release: 26 June 2020 / Kim Bora, writer-director / Epiphany Film, Mass Ornament Films / Drama)

 

MATTHEW St. Clair of cinemasentries.com: "A (coming-of-age) tale that mixes solemnity and spontaneity while possessing naturalistic performances from its central cast, House of Hummingbird is an assured debut from Kim Bora that truly soars."

22
Da 5 Bloods

(Streaming release: 13 June 2020 / Spike Lee, writer-director / 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks, Rahway Road Productions / Drama, War)

 

MAX Weiss of Baltimore: "Sometimes the best way to call attention to an historical injustice is through bold entertainment. That's certainly what the great American auteur Spike Lee has in mind with Da 5 Bloods."

23
Vitalina Varela

(Streaming release: 15 September 2020 / Pedro Costa and Vitalina Varela, writers; Pedro Costa, director / Optec / Drama)

 

PETER Bradshaw of The Guardian: "Almost all of the film takes place at night, except the very end, when there is daylight and even sunlight. The result is weirdly moving."

24
Soul

(Streaming release: 25 December 2020 / Pete Docter, Mike Jones and Kemp Powers, writers; Pete Docter, director / Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Pictures / Fantasy, Comedy-drama, Animation, Children's, Family, Adventure)

 

IN a year when children seemed to be more adult-like than their government's leaders, here was a family film that carried the heavy thesis about living life weighed against the myths of achieving heights in life. Made us wonder whether those who sang with their soul in the less wealthy neighborhoods had actually lived a more real life than those who pretended to be supreme in their derivative plastic constructs of godliness.

25
Tommaso

(Streaming release: 5 June 2020 / Abel Ferrara, writer-director / Flario House Productions, Washington Square Films, Simil(ar), Vivo Film, The Match Factory / Drama)

 

DANIEL de Partearroyo in Cinemania (in Spanish): "A sad, but above all beautiful movie."

26
All Together Now

(Streaming release: 29 August 2020, Netflix / Brett Haley, writer-director / Gotham Group, Thunderhead Pictures, Temple Hill Entertainment / Drama)

 

RUSS Simmons of KKFI-FM: "This heartfelt and optimistic drama walks the edge of treacle but never quite succumbs to excessive sweetness."

27
Greyhound

(Streaming release: 10 July 2020 / Tom Hanks, writer; Aaron Schneider, director / Creative Wealth Media Finance, Zhengfu Pictures, FilmNation Entertainment, Sycamore Pictures, Stage 6 Films, Playtone, Columbia Pictures, Bron Studios, Creative Artists Agency / War, Action, Historical fiction)

 

JAMES Berardinelli of ReelViews: "Hanks' script is an example of economical storytelling and the end result is a thrilling 75 minutes of the kinds of things one expects from well-made submarine movies."

28
The Devil All the Time

(Streaming release: 16 September 2020 / Antonio and Paulo Campos, writers; Antonio Campos, director / Nine Stories Productions / Crime, Mystery, Thriller, Drama)

 

LEO Brady of AMovieGuy.com: "The Devil All the Time is soaked in blood and dirt, holy water and tears, and there's not a lot of it that will wash away."

    Charles Koplinski of Reel Talk with Chuck and Pam: "A slow burn showcasing how the environment, education, and religion all churn together to produce a captivatingly in-depth story that haunts you long after the credits roll."

    [Read our own take on the film in our September 2020 picks of the month list...]

29
Black Is King

(Streaming release: 31 July 2020 / Beyoncé, director / Musical, Video album)

 

CATE Young of NPR: "Drawing on the themes of The Lion King - inheritance, self-identity and determination - Knowles repurposes the story as a clarion call to Black people."

30
Honey Boy

(Streaming release: 5 February 2020 / Shia LaBeouf, writer; Alma Har'el, director / Red Crown Productions, Automatik Entertainment, Kindred Spirit, Delirio Films, Harbor Picture Company / Drama)

 

WENLEI Ma of news.com.au: "Honey Boy, despite its heavy subject, is a deeply empathetic and generous drama that strikes at the heart of complex parent-child relationships and inherited trauma."

    Paul Byrnes of Sydney Morning Herald: "A movie that could easily have crashed and burned. That it does not has something to do with the shared intensity of character and performance. All three main actors share the stage as equals and the level of commitment is remarkable."

    Nicole Ackman of nextbestpicture.com: "Honey Boy may not be a masterpiece of a movie, but it feels like an achievement in healing through film."

    Dan Buffa of KSDK (St. Louis): "How do you produce the best work of your career? Telling your own chaotic story and playing the role of your father. That's what Shia LaBeouf did in bravura fashion."

    Andrew Gaudion of VultureHound: "LaBeouf's performance is nothing short of outstanding as he puts himself in his own father's headspace in a truly heartbreaking effort to better understand him, as well as grapple with the traits that they share."

    [Read our own take on the film in our March 2020 picks of the month list...]