If you’re interested, I’ve put together a little bonus post with my 2020 honorable mentions and other miscellaneous items. Think of it as a sort of “P.S.” to my favorites list.
While Lover’s Rock proved the standout for me, I appreciated all of the films in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology (available in the U.S. exclusively on Amazon Prime), particularly the first installment Mangrove. Also exclusively on Amazon Prime: Julia Hart’s I’m Your Woman, a crime drama starring Rachel Brosnahan that’s told from an interesting sideways perspective; and What the Constitution Means to Me, a filmed version of Heidi Schreck’s one-woman hit Broadway play, directed by the incomparable Marielle Heller.
If you watch The Old Guard and think to yourself, “Whoa, I need more Luca Marinelli in my life, stat!” try checking out Martin Eden (available to digitally rent through KinoNow). As the title character, the Italian actor owns this film, a nationally transposed adaptation of the Jack London novel. (I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the film as a whole upon first viewing, but I have a sneaking suspicion that if I had made time for a rewatch, Martin Eden would be on my main list instead of in the honorable mentions.) If you watch The Old Guard and need another fresh take on the superhero genre, try Harley Quinn spin-off Birds of Prey (currently available to stream on HBOMax), Cathy Yan’s satisfyingly feminist entry into the DCEU.
Although only one nonfiction film made my main list, I’d like to add a few more here in the honorable mentions. Bloody Nose Empty Pockets documents the closing day of a dive bar, blending fact and fiction to intriguing ends. With its similarly non-judgemental exploration of the bonds alcohol forges, Bloody Nose could make an interesting double-feature with Another Round. Collective, a propulsive film with the pace of a thriller (if not the satisfying resolution), follows a group of Romanian investigative journalists as they expose the extreme corruption in the Romanian hospital system.
Steven Soderbergh’s deceptively small-scale Let Them All Talk (available exclusively on HBOMax) has been growing on me since I first watched it. If you watch The Forty-Year-Old Version and find yourself looking for another film that treats women over 35 like real human beings, try this one.
Finally, I’d like to single out Johnny Flynn’s excellent turn as Mr. Knightley in Autumn de Wilde’s delightful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. (available to stream on HBO Max or for digital rental). The whole movie is a confection; the two leads have crackling chemistry, and Anya Taylor-Joy (having a banner year after the success of The Queen’s Gambit last fall) brings a wonderfully bratty energy to the title character. But it’s Flynn who plays one of my favorite scenes in any movie this year. That would be the short scene where Mr. Knightley, after a thwarted attempt to confess his newly realized sexual and romantic feelings for Emma, returns home, tears off his outerwear, and literally throws himself on the floor in frustration and anguish. It’s hot, relatable, hilarious, raw, and heartbreaking all at once. Flynn plays a man completely destroyed by unrequited love like no other working actor (see also: the cult favorite TV show Love Sick)—give him his flowers.
2019/2020 liminal release special mentions:
I did not see Portrait of a Lady on Fire (currently available for digital rental or to stream on Hulu) or Uncut Gems (currently available for digital rental or to stream on Netflix) until early 2020, when they went into wide release. Because both films are technically 2019 releases, I did not want to include them on my 2020 list and be redundant. But I loved them both.
TV special mention:
Michaela Coel’s HBO limited series I May Destroy You is absolutely one of the best things I watched this year; but it’s not a film, so I made this special category for it. [TW: sexual assault] Coel, who wrote and starred in the series, took inspiration from her own experience as a victim of sexual assault to create the show. When Arabella (Coel), an up-and-coming London writer, gets roofied and raped, she finds herself unable to go on with her life as normal as she processes the trauma. The show charts Arabella’s journey as she seeks justice for herself and tries to come to terms with what happened to her. Each episode also explores the boundaries of consent in different circumstances, following Arabella’s friends or showing flashbacks to Arabella’s past. The result is devastating, funny, sensitive, urgent, and a radically different approach to a subject that has long been misrepresented on screen.
Some notable 2020 films I haven’t caught up with yet because I’m only human:
I don’t have an Apple TV+ subscription, so I haven’t been able to see Cartoon Saloon’s newest film Wolfwalkers or Sofia Coppola’s On the Rocks. I have also been meaning to check out The Painter and the Thief, She Dies Tomorrow, Babyteeth, Time, Luxor, Beanpole, His House, and Swallow. Promising Young Woman and Nomadland, two films that some critics have included on their Best of 2020 lists, still aren’t widely available as of this writing; if I end up loving either of those films, find them on next year’s list! I am stubbornly waiting to watch Tenet, because I would like to experience it on the big screen and am hoping it gets a re-release when movie theaters open up again.