Best and Worst Movies I Saw in 2020


You could call this a pre-Oscar look at movies. There will be Academy Awards, but does anyone care? Most theaters shut down in March, so this year’s Oscars will be voted upon by the 14 people in New York and the 23 in Los Angeles who saw the films in an actual theater, and another hundred or so who watched them on their tablets and phones as if they were TikTok tripe.


My list of 2020 films is based on the 75 films I saw this year–mostly on DVDs. It includes older movies, but I pushed them further down the honor list to give first nod to the newer ones. I also included films that were made in 2019 because they hadn’t yet made it into wide circulation.  Here are Full Reviews of all of the films, except for those marked * which have not yet been reviewed.

Best Of:


1. 1917:  A World War I drama from director Sam Mendes shot through with surrealism, class bias, the futility of the conflict, and how lives were cavalierly wasted.


2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire: At last! A film about lesbianism that’s more than a 100-minute striptease. We only had to wait for an 18th century tale set on a French island.  


3. Little Woods: A 2018 film, but tremendously overlooked. Would you risk jail to walk into Canada to buy drugs to help a family member? Gritty and gripping.


4. They Shall Not Grow Old: Peter Jackson’s painstaking restoration of World War I soldiers (and their voices) brought to color as it would have been seen then.


5. Joker: A surprise. This backstory of Batman’s nemesis is akin to a dystopian update of Day of the Locust.


6. *Duck Soup: The Marx Brothers greatest film. It’s silly, but also one of the best antiwar movies ever made because the Marxes refused to take war seriously.


7. An Education: A 2009 film in which high schooler Carey Mulligan succumbs to the charm of an older man who is dodgy on several levels.


8. Parasite: Won Oscars last year, but made it here in ’20. A South Korean grifter film in which laughs yield to darker things.


9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: I never tire of this Ken Kesey story of lunacy inside the asylum. In 1975, Jack Nicholson was a real actor.


10. *White Heat: A 1949 James Cagney noir crime masterpiece directed by Raoul Walsh. Watch for a review later this month.


Almost Made It (Alphabetical order): A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, *A Day at the Races, The Dreamers, John Lewis: Good Trouble, *A Night at the Opera, Notorious, Pain and Glory, Secret Honor, Sorry We Missed You.



The Stinkeroonies. Watch at your own risk:



1. *Love Happy: Last Marx Brothers film; Harpo’s idea and he never again spoke of it!


2. Soup to Nuts: The Three Stooges when they played second fiddle to others. Even the Rube Goldberg machines are lame.


3. Wild Nights with Emily: Dickinson as a lesbian? Maybe, but this film lacked everything that was brilliant about Portrait of a Lady on Fire.


4. The Gorgeous Hussy: Proof from 1936 that Hollywood has a long track record of screwing up history. Intrigue as it did not go down in the Jackson administration.


5. One Upon a Time in Hollywood: Counterfactual and self-indulgent nonsense from Quentin Tarantino, America’s most self-indulgent director.


6. The Long Day Closes: That describes the experience of watching this stultifying 1992 film of a little boy in post-WWII England.


7. The Souvenir: A film student in Sunderland, UK so clueless that one wonders how she managed to make it out of primary school. Semi-autobiographical and totally dull.


8.  In a Lonely Place: Once considered a noir classic, but its psychology is so outdated that all we watch is how Bogart’s pants begin below his breastbone.


9. The Searchers: 1956 John Ford Western starring John Wayne. Once a classic, now a dinosaur of rejected values.


10. First Cow: Some have hailed it as 2020’s best film. Nope! This one telegraphs more than Western Union.    




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