As the title states, this is the second part of my best-of list. It comes as no surprise that 2020 has been somewhere between mediocre to awful for most people. With that being said, I felt as I really wanted to showcase some of the things that made this year better.
In my last article, I wrote about some of my favourite albums and my favourite podcasts. You can go and read those right now. But today, I’m here to talk about the movies and the TV shows I loved the most. And like most years, there’s no way in hell I would ever be able to narrow it down to just ten movies, so instead, I’m going to talk about my favourite
25 films of the year (and also a bunch of honourable mentions) and my five favourite shows I watched this year. There will be a bunch of surprises such as, not realizing that more than 25 films even came out this year – which is a statement that a writer or two pointed out to me. So yes, there were more than 25 and in fact, narrowing it down to 25 was hard as is.
Update: I saw a film very last minute, and instead of fixing my list, I’m making it 26 because I make the rules here.
This year has been extraordinary and sometimes not in a good way, but one of the strangest things is that for the first time I don’t have a definitive favourite film – I think I have five. So I’ll save those for last, but the remaining 21 films will be in alphabetical order.
Second update: I figured out my favourite film of the year, it will be in the number one spot.
Let’s start with some honourable mentions and basic ground rules. In order to have made the list, they must have had some sort of tangible release. Whether that is renting (VOD/PVOD) or a theatrical (whatever that might mean in 2020), it would count. That being said, 23 out of 25 films are available to stream or rent right now, but two are not. One isn’t available to watch in Canada but is available in the US. One is a festival film that won’t be released until 2021 – I know it breaks and bends the rules, but I love it too much. It’s going to be included for next year’s as well. This is my list, so it may be the rules I abide by to but others don’t have to.
So before I talk about what’s on the list – what didn’t make it? Quite a lot and some hurt me more than others to not include. Some films were festival releases (and most have their own reviews written) like I WeirDo, Detention, The Paper Tigers, Shiva Baby, The Oak Room, Clapboard Jungle and Hunted. Others were fascinating and inspiring documentaries like Feels Good, Man, Dick Johnson is Dead, or You Cannot Kill David Arquette. Other great films that everyone loved like Palm Springs or Happiest Season almost made the list, and so did Da 5 Bloods. Some other super fun films also made my honourable mention list like Bill and Ted Face the Music, and yes, even The New Mutants. The last film that I wanted to keep on but had to move off was Sonic The Hedgehog.
There’s also the other thing to mention where I definitely didn’t see everything released and there’s a lot I’ve missed or skipped. But now you know some things that didn’t make my list, here’s my list.
26. All The Bright Places / Dir. Brett Haley
I vividly remember the first time I watched All The Bright Places. It was maybe the weekend the film was released on Netflix. I was home by myself and watched it on the TV. I’m a fan of Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. Not to mention Brett Haley is the man who brought us the great Hearts Beat Loud – so of course, I wanted to check it out. It, like other YA films based on books, was cute and quirky. Everyone’s favourite descriptor for teenagers being odd and unique. But what it did differently (or at least very well in comparison) was how it tackled mental illnesses. Whether it’s Violet (Fanning) dealing with the loss of her sister or Finch (Smith) trying to overcome trauma from his father. What the film delivers is not an answer to these illnesses but a clear and unflinching depiction of them. It’s a film that even when I’ve revisited it, I am left in a puddle of my tears. I have felt like Finch, wanting to be both alone and with friends – but also the way that I disappear. Maybe not in the same literal sense, but mentally. Like a turtle, I burrow inside my head and hide from the rest of the world.
25. Another Round (Druk) / Dir. Thomas Vinterberg
To steal from some other critics I saw on Twitter, Another Round is absolutely intoxicating. A lot of the film sadly is because of Thomas Vinterberg’s daughter Ida who told her father about the drinking culture found within the Danish youth. Part of the original story is still there when it comes to how history would be much different without alcohol and how it influences artists around the world and at all points of history. Unfortunately, four days in production, Ida died in a car accident. The film was then reworked, Thomas wanted to make the film reaffirming and morphed it into “being awakened to life.” The film was dedicated to her and shot in her classroom with some of her classmates as well. And in the final act, you can see how alcohol can ruin someone’s life, and in this case, help someone feel more like themselves. Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) starts the film very shy, to himself and a stumbling, bumbling teacher. But once he begins this experiment with his friends and co-workers, he livens up and becomes the happiest he has become in years. This is partially due to the confidence he has lost and eventually regains. The film isn’t saying that humans need alcohol to be happy, but they’re saying it might be a gateway to feeling free again. To lose the things that hold us back, and to believe in ourselves again. For those of us who face depression, it’s the equivalent of faking it until you make it – but you will make it. Just as Martin does. To see him finally feel free enough to dance once again, it’s one of the best movie endings of the year. To Ida, skål.
24. Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn / Dir. Cathy Yan
While I know the competition is low, I only saw about 10 films in an actual theatre this year, but Birds of Prey was the most fun I had in a theatre all year. It was a movie that improved on a worse film (Suicide Squad) and expanded on whatever did work from the film (mainly just Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn). It gives a lot more background to her character and gives her a lot more to do. And more Margot Robbie is never a bad thing. Add to that to throw a truly intimidating Ewan McGregor and Chris Messina in the ring makes a wickedly (queer) fun time. Cause yes, they were absolutely hooking up. Although it’s never explicit, I’m sure other writers will agree with me that they were a thing, and queerbaited us. (Reached out to Alex and Arianne for comments, they yelled back with a very loud YES and Alex said “They were obviously fucking.”) Let’s simmer down on a third Wonder Woman film and give us Birds of Prey 2 immediately.
23. Black Bear / Dir. Lawrence Michael Levine
One of the films that I’m aware of would fly under the radar for most of my friends, so I’ve tried to tell as many as I can about it. The film stars Christopher Abbott, Sarah Gadon and the star of the film, Aubrey Plaza. As a fan of Aubrey, I think it goes without saying that Black Bear might hold her best performance to date (Ingrid Goes West might come at a very close second). It’s also unfortunately a movie that I think works best if you were to go in blind. That being said, the trailer doesn’t give everything away – just a bit more than I or Lawrence (the writer/director behind the flick) would prefer. Talking to Lawrence and realizing that the film was written to tackle one particular theme – but it’s hard not to think about some of the gross manipulation in the film after the credits roll.
22. Come True / Dir. Anthony Scott Burns
Come True is the film that officially comes out in 2021 (I believe in March) but I loved it so much that I needed to put it on my list – and then on top of that, likely might cheat and put the film on my list next year as well. Anthony Scott Burns directed the hell out of a great film a few years back called Our House that I felt was a drama with many horror elements – so when I saw he had a film premiering at Fantasia, I was very, very excited. In Come True, we follow Sarah (Julia Sarah Stone) as a runaway teenager who participates in a sleep study as a safe place to sleep, but soon begins to deal with some very terrifying nightmares. The first time I saw the film, I was home alone and what Burns does in the shadows and the dark terrorized me. I’ve always been afraid of the dark, but it’s the first film since It Comes at Night that reminded me how afraid of the dark I actually was. I honestly can’t wait until it has a wide release and more people to see this film. I’m also one of many people thinking that Anthony Scott Burns needs to remake A Nightmare On Elm Street. He would do an incredible job.
You can read my review here.
21. Ema / Dir. Pablo Larraín
Watching a Pablo Larrain film is always an incredible experience. That statement is even more true when you throw Ema in the mix. How I wish I saw Ema in a theatre instead of in the comfort of my living room. The theatre would have been the ideal place to watch this film. Between all the incredible colours, or the fantastic score – but mostly, to see Ema (Mariana Di Girólamo) and the rest of the cast dance on the big screen. Between Mariana and Gael Garcia Bernal (who plays Gastón), we are brought into a very toxic and vulgar relationship. Prior to the film, Ema & Gastón had adopted a child, but it goes very wrong. They spend the rest of the film fighting and fighting to get him back. Filled with manipulation, the film is vulgar – and I love it dearly.
20. His House / Dir. Remi Weekes
Without a doubt, His House is the scariest film I saw last year. Right from the beginning of the film it dug its claws in and didn’t let go. Between the layers of assimilation and forgetting where you came from, the things that hide in the shadows are enough to make you jump. There are quite a lot of great horror that was released in 2020, but His House was the only one that had me say “please make it stop” multiple times during the film.
19. Hunter Hunter / Dir. Shawn Linden
There are two people – those who saw the film and understand why it made my list, and those who haven’t. A borderline slow burn in retrospect but constantly delivering great performances from Devon Sawa, Summer H. Howell and Camille Sullivan. Camille steals the film away from Devon as the scared mother trying to put a brave face for her daughter. As Joseph (Devon) is out hunting for a wolf. The film has quite a bit hidden in their sleeves, and I won’t be here to explain most of it. But Hunter Hunter is a film that snuck up on me and I haven’t stopped thinking about it.
18. i’m thinking of ending things / Dir. Charlie Kaufman
Charlie Kaufman is a force to be reckoned with. Whether it’s something you like or something you can’t get into – one thing is for sure, his style is very much his own style. I’ve loved his style for as long as I’ve known his name. And while his abstract thinking is all over the film so is this pure innate sadness. By “painting” the full picture and showing all aspects, this film is sad. A great adaptation of a very suspenseful novel, Kaufman takes a bit of the core themes and makes it his own. Trading the terror and suspense for something retrospective and introspective, and just sad. I’m still not sure if Charlie is sad, or if he thinks Jake is. Or both.
You can read my review here.
17. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom / Dir. George C. Wolfe
There is so much to say about this film. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is one of the films of the year that reminds me how much of a writer I truly am. Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s script (adapted from the play by August Wilson) sounds like music to your ears. I wish that one of the other things to talk about isn’t that it’s Chadwick Boseman’s final on-screen performance (he has another performance still under lock until Marvel’s What If…? but that is animation) but sadly, it is. Boseman gives a performance that would make him a star – as if playing James Brown, Jackie Robinson and T’Challa hadn’t already made him one. But Boseman owns every frame he’s in, and he will make you smile while he’s in his element. When he gave his big monologue, I was left floored, unable to pick myself up for the rest of the film. And then when the film ends, it makes me so sad knowing that Boseman won’t be there when he gets up on the (virtual?) stage to get the Oscar he’s about to win.
16. Minari / Dir. Lee Isaac Chung
“Remember what we said when we got married? That we’d move to America and save each other?” These lines help tell you exactly the type of film Minari actually is. Minari is an excellent American film. I don’t even know where to begin in the drama about the film being included as a “foreign” film. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about, other people have talked about it better and more eloquently than I possibly could. Minari is about the immigrant experience and when it comes to the American experience, and the American dream, I don’t see a single false note in Minari. Between the beautiful performances captured by Lee Isaac Chung. Some films have a slow burn reaction, where I’m stuck reeling and thinking about it after a few days. It’s been two weeks, I’m still thinking about some moments from the film. I wish I saw the film in theatres, it might have wrecked me.
15. One Night in Miami… / Dir. Regina King
One of the few films I got to see at TIFF and I’ve been excited to rewatch it ever since. Sometimes, films that are adapted from plays feel like a play. But thankfully, Kemp Powers (who adapts his own play) writes such incredible dialogue that left me wanting to constantly rewind and relive every moment. Due to the limited number of locations, the film then needs to rely on the performers and the dialogue to make the film interesting and not fall flat. Going into the film, I was aware that it was based on a play, but once Regina King did her thing – I forgot. They use every inch of that motel room and it feels larger than life. Also, the title card is one of the best opening title cards of the year. All the performances are strong and in a weaker year, the cast would be nominated individually and be rightfully rewarded for it. I’d allow some Ensemble awards though.
14. Possessor / Dir. Brandon Cronenberg
To quote myself, “Holy actual shit. They did that.” Possessor is a film I was dying to see for the majority of the year. And usually, with high expectations, I was prepared to be disappointed. But the truth is, other than the fact that it took so long to see the film – and that I was only able to watch it at home instead of in a theatre, I was blown away. I wasn’t entirely sure what was waiting for me inside this movie as I haven’t gotten around to watching Brandon’s debut feature Antiviral, but everything that I’ve heard about the film was very positive. After watching the film, I understood why. Whether it’s the gender swapping politics that I’ve read some people discuss or the absolute brutality found within the film, Brandon is breaking some incredible ground and as if his name didn’t mean anything already, he’s made tons of waves with his second feature. I recently picked the film up on 4K blu-ray, and I’m waiting for the right night to pop it in and be shocked all over again.
Read my review here.
13. Promising Young Woman / Dir. Emerald Fennell
I waited too long to see this film. Unlike other films on this list that I wrote about, it wasn’t because of my choice. It was because of the major delays for the film. As I’ve written before, I used to watch dozens of trailers at work every day. Two of the trailers that would play and would look better and better after each watch was Judas and the Black Messiah and Promising Young Woman. I’ve been wanting to see the film since the first trailer was released on December 11th, 2019. It had its world premiere at Sundance 2020 and made waves for the rest of the year. As the movie began, I was in a trance. From the performances, the cinematography, the script but I think the colours shine through so beautifully. And then yes, Paris Hilton. Bo Burnham in a way, reminded me of that scene from Magic Mike XXL (obviously with Joe Manganiello). I’d be lying if I wasn’t left smiling throughout the entire sequence. Burnham and the rest of the “cameos” from “nice” male actors are all perfectly used, but even with so much star power, they look all so small next to Cassie. Carey Mulligan better win that Oscar.
You can read Arianne’s review here.
12. Soul / Dir. Pete Doctor & Kemp Powers
Soul was the last film I watched before finalizing my list. It secured it’s placement on my list before the opening title card even appeared (or so I would assume, not realizing that the title card doesn’t appear til the very end of the film). The visuals of the moving walkway to heaven are just breathtaking, but when Joe falls off and the opening credits begin, I knew we were in for something special. Joe falling into the abyss, but passing what looks like the string of string instruments and the notes that play as he bounces off them. Two films written by Kemp Powers, both films about specific Black experiences. In Soul, we watch someone who works his entire life to get to the opportunity to play professionally as part of a band, and then realizes that maybe life means a bit more than just these goals we’ve set for ourselves. Just like maybe there is no meaning or purpose to life, other than to just live. Soul finds itself in a strange gray area for its demographic. While Pixar films have typically been geared towards children, there are always layers and second levels that adults can enjoy them as well, or as someone who’s grown up alongside the company, for us to watch as we grow older. But it feels as if Soul is designed with such big themes that it might be too overwhelming for children, and not as life-changing for adults who may have encountered films that have tackled this before, or maybe just by facing life. But I’ve never seen a film tackle this theme like this. When 22 becomes a lost soul and we go inside their mind, I felt shattered at its incredible and heartbreaking interpretation of depression, doubt, being lost or whatever term you’d like to give it. Soul is beautiful, inside and out.
11. Spontaneous / Dir. Brian Duffield
As I tweeted out to Brian Duffield after watching the film, he somehow made the film that best represents 2020. Duffield wrote three films that were released in 2020, two of which made my best of list. And the third, was a film I didn’t get around to watching – so it’s possible that he might have had a perfect record for me as I’ve heard he’s had one for other critics. Spontaneous is a film I made many people watch without reading or watching anything about the film, which is ironic because that will not be the case for this blurb. The film follows Mara (Katherine Langford) and Dylan (Charlie Plummer) in high school as classmates start spontaneously combusting. Also, did I mention it’s an empowering sweet comedy genre flick? Breaking all genre walls and building some in its wake, Spontaneous is a film that I watched three times with the span of 36 hours – and on every watch, it just improved and got better. Between the electric script and the subtle, yet powerful performances from the cast, it gives us a film that can not be missed. One of the most important rules in genre writing is to make the audience believe in the world that has been created, and I believed in Spontaneous’ world. A strange little secret town could have had these side-effects from COVID that somehow only affected seniors in high school, I don’t make the rules. I just know that the film that best represents 2020 deserves its spot on my list.
10. Sylvie’s Love / Dir. Eugene Ashe
If I had to, Slyvie’s Love feels like a combination of La La Land and The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. But shot on gorgeous 16mm. We all love Tessa Thompson and in Slyvie’s Love we see some more reasons why. Sylvie (Thompson) works at a record store, and spends most of her day watching TV. One day Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) sees her as he passes by the store. Seeing a “Help Wanted” sign, he walks into the store to ask for a job – and to hit on her. Unknowingly, this marks the beginning of the journey for both Robert, Sylvie and their relationship. It’s a gorgeous film about Black romance where the only drama is defined by the relationships they have with others, but not because of the colour of their skin.
9. The High Note / Dir. Nisha Ganatra
The High Note is a great example of a modern musical. One that isn’t sung all the way through and as much as the technicolour and massive set pieces are gorgeous, they’re not needed. What is needed, is a good story and even better songs. The High Note is just that – following Maggie (Dakota Johnson) as a personal assistant to Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) who dreams of being working with her as a music producer. Along the way, she meets David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) and the two of them both work together and fall for each other. There are twists that I won’t spoil – but they’re not hard to solve as you watch. But they don’t make or break the film. The music is something I’ve revisited all year. Kelvin’s solo song “Track 8” made it to one of the songs I listened to the most this year. The entire soundtrack is filled with great songs. The chemistry and charisma that comes off Dakota, Tracee and Kelvin are incredible. Musicals can be seen as comfort viewing from time to time, I think The High Note should be in the textbook definition of comfort viewing. Excuse me as I listen to the soundtrack as I write the rest of this article.
Also, my interview with Kelvin Harrison Jr.
8. The Vast of Night / Dir. Andrew Patterson
It’s been over a year and I haven’t stopped thinking about this film. First, the film perfectly tells the audience exactly what type of film it’s going to be. By making the film act as an episode of a fictional show called Paradox Theatre (which clearly is a stand-in for The Twilight Zone), it winks to the audience informing us that it has something up their sleeves. But before even getting to that, the film sells it on its own merit. Between the pitch-perfect dialogue and performances and yes, that single take shot that spans the entirety of the town, the movie makes sure you’ll remember the name. The attention to detail and the work done by the cast to make sure it feels accurate to the period of the film is next level dedication. Speaking of which, The Vast of Night was directed, co-written and edited by the director Andrew Patterson (the latter two under pseudonyms). I’ve seen the film end up on a few other best-of lists, and I’m glad that it struck a chord with others the same way it has with me.
Read my original review from the TIFF screening here.
7. The Wolf of Snow Hallow / Dir. Jim Cummings
I put watching off this film for far too long. I remember reading about and eventually seeing the original Thunder Road short film by Jim Cummings. And then hearing all the crazy praise for the feature length adaptation in 2018, but didn’t get around to seeing the film in 2019. I knew after seeing him act, write, edit, direct, and compose music for the film, I had to pay attention to Jim Cummings. And then I found out that he was working on a werewolf film, I knew I had to see the film. On top of that, knowing that it was Robert Forster’s final performance made the film crucial viewing. I was very glad to report that while the film delivered on an incredibly fun experience. Between John Marshall (Cummings, who again plays a cop) determination that it’s not actually a werewolf that comes off super comedically, and the rest of the small town interactions – I was constantly laughing during the run time. At points I wished the film was a bit more about the scares, and while at times pretty gory, it was usually played for laughs. But as the film plays on, I realize it’s not what the film is about, but about growing up and the relationship between Marshall and his father Sheriff Hadley (Forster). And it goes without saying that Forster owns every single he’s on screen.
6. Underwater / Dir. William Eubank
You’re fucking right Underwater made my list. How could it not? Have you seen the trailer, the opening where the pipes begin to burst and shit hits the fan? Yeah, that’s the literal beginning of the film. The film starts with a bang, and it’s off to the races for the entire ninety minutes (yeah, it’s also the perfect length of a film). There’s no fat (outside of TJ Miller but whatever, he dies anyway). You all had the chance to see the film, but opted not to, so I’m not holding back on spoilers. And yes, I’ll get to that. Brian Duffield gives us an almost-but-not-quite Alien but you know, underwater. To briefly talk about the rest of the cast, you’ve got the always wonderful John Gallagher Jr, the excellent Mamoudou Athie, the nearly perfect Vincent Cassel. And our perfect heroine, Kristen Stewart. Our crew is picked off one by one by something. We get glances and glimpses, again, following the Xenomorph model that was built by the best Alien film (Alien, not Aliens, I don’t have time for the discussion that even Prometheus and Alien: Covenant is better than Aliens but I’m not holding back today). The film is terrifying while keeping the plot so thin but you never care because the scares and the terror of what hides in the water is far more important. If that’s not enough, just when you think you’re safe, Duffield gives us Cthulhu. I remember watching the film in theatres and during the reveal, pulling as far back as I can in my seat. I’ve always wanted Cthulhu on the big screen, but decided after Underwater that I’d rather not. To watch him dominate the frame and that auditorium, I was frozen. Underwater is the best and most fun thriller I’ve seen in a long time and you didn’t give it the time of day, shame on you.
And now, my top 5.
5. Freaky / Dir. Christopher Landon
Do you remember where you were when you watched Scream for the first time? For some, you may, but for others, it was just a mainstay in your memory. Always there to spook you and make you laugh. For me, it was watching with my cousins and brother. I was shocked at what the film was doing before I understood why it was so shocking. I haven’t felt this way until November 14th, when I watched Freaky. Freaky is both really funny and really mean. Not to one another, but in the deaths. It was brutal. There’s something super magical about this violent film. I’m glad to announce that Freaky is the first film we’re giving our Seal of Approval to. A film that not only stands on its own as either great or entertaining but a film that also pushes the envelope forward in representation. A film in which love is showcased, in ways that had us screaming when two characters found themselves in the backseat of a car. Christopher Landon, make as many films as you can, we’ll be there to watch them all.
4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always / Dir. Eliza Hittman
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a film that makes me wish I could be a better writer. Better writers than myself could write a thousand words on the close-ups alone. Never Rarely is a beautiful film about the power in female friendship. When Autumn (Sidney Glanigan) tells her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) that she’s pregnant, it never turns into judgement, but compassion. Skylar helps in more ways than she can originally provide. As someone who can sometimes be moved by the tiniest moments, this film worked wonders for me because it’s filled with them.
3. Scare Me / Dir. Josh Ruben
When I saw Scare Me for the first time, it hit me like a brick. For one, it made me miss people and friends. For Halloween, I like to throw a movie watching party with friends. I normally “program” about 3 or 4 films to watch. I wasn’t able to program one for myself, but I did for another friend and I had to start the night off with Scare Me. It’ll absolutely start my mini fest that I may or may not do with The UnderSCENE in 2021 (spoilers?). Scare Me is the perfect gateway to horror. While not scary, it’s spooky, and it gets under your skin all due to the power of just incredible storytelling. Between the charismatic Josh Ruben, the delightful and hilarious Aya Cash, and the man who steals the show Chris Redd, you are captivated for every second of the film. Brandon H. Banks as the cinematographer does incredible work making use of every inch of that cabin. Scare Me has been one of two films that I have spent the last few months trying to yell from rooftops to tell people about the movie. It’s a must-watch for film fans, horror fans, good storytelling, fans of the actors and more. I had a lot of films that became my favourite film of the year, and Scare Me was one of them and every time I turn it back on (I’m on 6 watches), it’s clear why. The sound effects, the comedy, the perfect timing of it all. I’m obsessed, it’s okay. I can admit it.
Read Kennisha’s review of Scare Me here.
You can also watch my hour long conversation with Josh Ruben here.
2. The Broken Hearts Gallery / Dir. Natalie Krinsky
Okay, the cat is out of the bag. I love and appreciate a good romcom. Especially when they know exactly what they’re supposed to be. And Broken Hearts Gallery is incredibly funny, super sweet and immensely rewatchable. Even though we had watched the film while we were at home when we saw it in the theatres, we were crying with laughter. It’s a poignant tribute to all the things that make us tick. Sometimes when relationships end, we hold onto the pain that we encounter. Broken Hearts Gallery helps us provide closure. To reminiscence without getting stuck and lost in our own sorrows.
Read Arianne’s review of The Broken Hearts Gallery here.
1. Sound of Metal / Dir. Darius Marder
I saw Sound of Metal late into the festival in 2019. I’m a big fan of both Riz Ahmed and Olivia Cooke, but the truth is I got my tickets because of the writer/director Darius Marder. He wrote one of my favourite films of the last decade, The Place Beyond The Pines so instantly it became on my “lookout” list. I saw the film in the theatre and knew I didn’t have any notion of what I was in store for. I walked out of the film thinking that it was unique, the structure was different and that Riz and Olivia were great. And then I went home and spent the next year wondering when I would be able to see it again. I couldn’t stop thinking about it even before the film was released by Amazon Studios. The opportunity to watch it and review it came up, so I jumped at it. When I watched it for the second time, it floored me. The intimacy, the delicacy in topics and execution of the film is exquisite. Riz’s journey is simply put, powerful. I don’t know what it’s like to lose my hearing or have gone through what Ruben (Ahmed) goes through and unless I do, I would never. But Darius gives us an idea of what it might be like. When I spoke to Darius, I brought up why I believe the film resonates with me strongly. Having anxiety and depression, I’ve always struggled with fighting my internal demons, that typically come from my brain yelling obscenities at me. Growing up, I’ve learned how to ignore, or lower the volume dial and tune it out, but sometimes, it’s a losing fight. I’m constantly listening to something to avoid the silence, but there have been a handful of times where I’ve been able to sit in silence – and I’ve felt content. To be happy in silence, in your own silence is a goal that I’m constantly chasing. It’s the closing moments of the film that I’m still left thinking about, it’s that moment of being comfortable in silence that has me getting teary eyed still. Writing this out made me realize the simple fact that Sound of Metal is my favourite film of 2020.
Read my review here.
Watch my interview with Darius Marder here.
And now for my five favourite shows of the year. again in alphabetical order. And I have one honourable mention because I know people are going to be surprised that it didn’t make my list, but it almost did. I just loved these shows more. The Queen’s Gambit is not on my list. I know, get angry. I am too. But, here are the shows that did make my list.
Devs / Developed by Alex Garland
For eight episodes and seven weeks, Alex Garland’s Devs ruled my world. I’ve spent every month trying to crack an article or a review for the show but never was able to (or at least not yet). I’ve loved nearly every project that Garland had his name attached to, this was even before I realized he had his hands in the process of these films. That all changed in 2015 with Ex Machina. When I was leaving high school, I knew I wanted to go into the film industry – to primarily become a screenwriter. But before I tried, I went to College for Computer Programming. It was a back-up plan that blew up in my face. Facing a very dark time of my life, I eventually dropped out of school because I knew it wasn’t what my end goal was. Even though I’ve turned my back on programming, I’m still absolutely fascinated by it. So I was insanely enamored with Ex Machina when it came out, and when I found out that Garland was returning to the programming world with Devs – the hype went through the roof. But there was nothing that could remotely prepare me for Devs. Lily Chen (Sonoyo Mizuno, also in Ex Machina and Annihilation) works as a software engineer at a quantum computing company Amaya. Lily’s boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman) works at the company as well, and one day, is invited to work at Devs, the secretive department of Amaya. After Sergei finishes his first day, he is found dead on campus. Lily spirals and is found in a conspiracy of what exactly is happening inside Devs, as well as who really was Sergei.
The plot – while absolutely fascinating and grabs you by the collar, is almost meaningless in comparison to what Garland is really interested in talking about. Somewhere in the show lies an incredible conversation about free will and questions about just how much is set in stone. It’s also a terrifying look at what might be possible in terms of programming. In a strange turn of events, some of the most magical things I saw on screen came from something that was based on a very potentially grounded reality. I’ve also been a fan of Nick Offerman as a man, and an actor but I’ve never seen him be so utterly vulnerable as much as he has in Devs. Garland has done the impossible, he’s turned being cold into overflowing emotion.
Lovecraft Country / Developed by Misha Green
Lovecraft Country is based on a book with the same name written by Matt Ruff. Ruff is a white author tackling themes of racism and segregation in the 1950’s, as Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) is on the search for his missing father. This plotline doesn’t last long – but soon, we face a lot of other monsters. Whether that’s actual creatures, or the show’s biggest villain: racist white folks. Having a white author write this story feels a bit cheap, but in the hands of Misha Green, she takes ownership of the trials and tribulations and makes the show some texture and tangible truth in it all. The show has an episodic style, each tackling something new and different – and some work, and some do not. In one episode that I remember clearly, we see the ghosts of those who have suffered in a house – and together, they recover and get better. It is palpable and powerful. I’m excited that Jonathan Majors is becoming a household name, after his breakout performance in The Last Black Man in San Francisco, I was afraid it would be a while before the world took notice. Also, the Jig-A-Bobo episode is legitimately one of the scariest things I saw all year.
Read my review here.
Ted Lasso / Developed by Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt
I’m going to say it once, and I’m going to try not to repeat myself too much over the span of this write-up. Some of these are films/tv shows I wish I knew how to write about, but I hold them in such high regard that I just didn’t know where to start. Ted Lasso was at the top of that list. A lot of what goes into this show is about things that you wish you saw more of in the world. Just like in Schitt’s Creek, Dan & Eugene Levy created a town that didn’t have any hate and was filled with love and acceptance. In Ted Lasso, that’s not necessarily the case, but all of our characters own up to what they’ve done. They are honest and always trying to do better – and our titular character Ted Lasso is at the forefront of this. Lasso comes from the states as a Football coach to become a Football coach in England. Knowing nothing about soccer, he dives all the way in to try to understand the sport and the team he slowly learns to love as they learn to be loved. It is sweet, wholesome and a great representation of what so many men should aspire to be. The relationships are pure and as I rewatch the show, I see these tiny moments between the characters that move me. The show is insanely rewatchable – I’ve rewatched this show fully 5 times through, and it still makes me laugh, and cry. A lot. In a year when everything feels like the world is crumbling down around us, Ted Lasso lifts up your spirits and teaches you how to get back up. The show has since been renewed for a second and third season, and it makes sense. With all the love for the show, the show and characters are ones I would love to watch continue to grow more and more. The final two episodes are hard to watch through all my tears. Between the pain, there’s still understanding, compassion and love. Between Jason Sudeikis’ goofy smile, and all the incredible character arcs. Bill Lawrence, Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt absolutely make one of the best things to come out this year.
Ted Lasso is my favourite show of 2020.
The Haunting of Bly Manor / Developed by Mike Flanagan
So, I’ve given a few spoilers in this article about what is up our sleeves in 2021. The next spoiler is a podcast that is starting soon, and the first set of episodes will be about Mike Flanagan and his filmography. Flanagan is a filmmaker who again and again delivers. Whether it’s his better than it should be Ouija: Origin of Evil, or the pitch-perfect Hush, he knows exactly what he’s doing. Then came his TV shows. The first being The Haunting of Hill House followed by this year’s The Haunting of Bly Manor. Hill House was a sensation throughout the world. Whether it’s by horror fans like myself, or non-horror fans like Arianne, there was the indisputable fact that Mike Flanagan is a genius storyteller. He understands horror because he knows how to attack and attract the audience. He’ll reel you in with dialogue and drama just to expertly deliver a jump scare, just to break your heart with another monologue (looking at you episode 8). When news broke about Bly Manor, there was anticipation and doubt on if he could deliver again. Not from me. Until I began watching the show and realized there was something different, this time around, it took longer to be reeled in. At first I thought it was due to my expectations being too high. As the show continued I realized, it’s a big picture show. It’s not meant to work right away, because once I saw the picture, I cried and I couldn’t stop.
Bly Manor gives us a family that has been tormented, struggling to face demons after demons, haunted by their own and ones that have no business with them – but they must be faced daily. Whether it’s the grief that sticks with Dani, or Henry unable to face the duality of who he is supposed to be, they are real, they are tangible. But even though they are suffering, their suffering comes from love. Love between friends, between family, between lovers – suffering and pain is a side effect of it. The pain and the hurt, it’s all confetti, remember? They’re the things that can easily be brushed away. The Haunting of Bly Manor isn’t a horror story, it’s a love story, a perfect rendition of a gothic romance where the walls bleed and cry for their loved ones. The way the manor remembers the pain of those who came before, and hold onto all of it – and then they rub off of anybody who walks in afterwards. These ghosts, the demons that latch onto us and never let go – the way we can’t even look at ourselves. Flanagan delivers authenticity that made us cry, and I mean, that alone was perfectly splendid.
Read Chris’ review here.
Read Arianne’s The Tragedy of Love piece.
We Are Who We Are / Developed by Luca Guadagnino
We Are Who We Are, Right Here, Right Now. And that’s good.
Those were the final words in my review of the first four episodes. Not knowing what was in store in the final four episodes of the season, not knowing that I would have the opportunity to speak with Luca Guadagnino, not knowing how the rest of 2020 would play out. To talk about authenticity and not bring it up with Luca’s show would be disrespectful. Every single performer in the show gives every scene their all, without a false note among them. At the top of that list, is Jack Dylan Glazer who proves that he’s going to grow up to be an excellent actor. If he’s this good already, who knows what he’s going to do next. Of course, Jordan Kristine Seamón is right up next to him weaving from every punch and reciprocating just on par.
Being told by Luca that my review of his film inspired him – or how the theories that I brought up to him were ones that he can agree with. He was genuinely curious about my interpretation of his work. I felt validated. I started writing and talking about film in 2015, and it took me until 2020 for me to proudly call myself a critic first. For that brief moment of time, Luca knew who I was and gave me a push to finish my year strong.
We Are Who We Are, Right Here, Right Now. And that’s incredible.
8000 words later, I am done.
If you made it this far, thank you, and I love you.
I hope you’re doing good and that you’re safe. There is a lot in store for 2021.