2020’s Best Films as Decided by the Collider Staff

In case you haven’t seen them already, we’ve now posted Top 10 lists from Matt Goldberg, Adam Chitwood, Haleigh Foutch, Vinnie Mancuso, Tom Reimann, and Perri Nemiroff. But if you were to combine these lists, and weight each selection with a #1 choice earning 10 points, a #2 choice earning 9 points, and so on, how would it turn out? We decided to find out to create Collider’s Top 10 Films of 2020. If you’re looking for 10 movies from 2020 you absolutely need to see in 2021, look no further. And be sure to check out all of our Best of 2020 content.

10.) Lovers Rock

Lovers Rock
Image via Amazon Studios

All five films in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology are terrific, but none of them transported me quite like Lovers Rock. The film doesn’t really have much of a plot or even characters to speak of. It’s incredibly experiential as it invites us into a reggae house party in 1980 in West London. What makes Small Axe such a miracle of filmmaking is how it doesn’t define itself simply by white oppressors’ impact on a Black community, but rather showing the pride, vivaciousness, and bonds that make this community so worthwhile. A film like Lovers Rock reminds us that all communities, especially those belonging to immigrants who have bonded together away from their homeland, have something special and beautiful to offer. Lovers Rock is wise enough to let the viewer simply soak in that experience. – Matt Goldberg

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

9.) The Invisible Man

Image via Universal Pictures

The Invisible Man was one of the first movies I saw in 2020, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. Writer/director Leigh Whannell reimagined the classic Universal movie monster as an obsessive scientist using his fantastical invisible technology to fake his death and gaslight the shit out of his ex-girlfriend Cecilia, played with absolute perfection by Elisabeth Moss. From the moment we see Cecilia escape Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in a tense opening sequence, Moss convincingly portrays an abuse survivor wrestling with her own uncertainty over whether Adrian’s invisible horseshit is all in her head and her desperate need for her sister (Harriet Dyer) and her best friend (Aldis Hodge) to believe what is happening to her. It’s simultaneously an indictment of how women’s claims of abuse tend to be downplayed or dismissed outright, and also just a really well-crafted horror movie. Whannell, who already established himself as a capable director with 2018’s surprise hit Upgrade, ups his game considerably with The Invisible Man, using simple framing techniques and slow pans to create a perpetual sense of unease – is the room truly empty, or is Adrian standing right there in front of us? The suffocating tension creates room for a handful of truly shocking moments, made even more effective by the fact that Whannell’s clever direction has left us (much like Cecilia) never certain of when we’re actually safe. – Tom Reimann

Available to own or rent.

8.) The Vast of Night

Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night
Image via Amazon

Possibly my favorite discovery of 2020 was The Vast of Night, an indie that was shot in 2016, played the festival circuit over the last few years, and finally dropped on Amazon Prime this summer to significant acclaim and kudos from the likes of Steven Soderbergh and Roger Deakins. The Vast of Night feels like a lost Twilight Zone episode that was just pulled out of a time capsule, as it takes place in 1950s New Mexico over the course of one night and follows two teenaged friends who investigate a mysterious (possibly alien?) noise coming over the airwaves. The fast-paced dialogue (by writers James Montague and Craig W. Sanger) is delightfully screwball, and director Andrew Patterson captures the whole thing with steady long takes and evocative cinematography. In an era when everything is marketed to death, finding and watching The Vast of Night took me back to a time when you’d find your new favorite movie while channel surfing late at night with the volume down, so as not to let your parents know you’re still awake. – Adam Chitwood

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

7.) Da 5 Bloods

The Cast of Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods
Image via Netflix

Delroy Lindo gives the performance of his career in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, a powerfully visceral drama about trauma, guilt, the bonds of brotherhood, and the true cost of war. A group of four Vietnam veterans (Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr.) return to the country in the present day to search for the remains of their fallen squad leader “Stormin” Norman (Chadwick Boseman). However, the other, less glorious purpose of their trip is to recover a crate of gold bars they stole from a downed CIA airplane and buried somewhere in the Vietnamese countryside. Lindo plays Paul, a man so simultaneously tortured and enraged by what happened during the war that he is at once the film’s biggest victim and its most monstrous villain. Jonathan Majors plays Paul’s son David, who tags along on the trip and is the most frequent target of Paul’s poisonous anger. And Boseman, who plays “Stormin” Norman primarily in flashbacks, has a ghostly presence throughout the film that feels especially poignant and bittersweet in the wake of the actor’s sudden passing earlier this year. Like much of Lee’s work, Da 5 Bloods is unflinching in its portrayal of the Vietnam War and its lasting effects, specifically on the Vietnamese people and on Black American soldiers. It begins with grisly newsreel footage that Lee does not dare to censor, which is both shocking and utterly necessary to set the stage for the gut-wrenching story he is about to tell. (Be warned – the footage is both real and disturbing, and I was not expecting it when I started the movie.) It’s part Treasure of the Sierra Madre and part Heart of Darkness, with Lee keeping a steady focus on the societal impact of the war and its policies. Da 5 Bloods is an intense film about some incredibly heavy things, but it never feels exploitative, and there is hope and redemption at the end for its embattled characters. – Tom Reimann

Available to stream on Netflix.

6) His House

Sope Dirisu in His House
Image via Netflix

This won’t be the last time you read this in my top ten – this right here is a phenomenal feature directorial debut. As much as I love a quick thrill, I’m in awe of the abundance of recent genre films that use horror to explore real world challenges. In some cases, it’s the closest I can come to empathizing with someone else’s plight, an intense emotional experience that not only sparks more awareness, but hopefully the urge to act as well. This is exactly what Remi Weekesachieves with His House. Have you ever watch a haunted house movie and wondered why the occupants don’t just leave? His House completely obliterates that option while exploring the experience of two refugees trying to build a new life in the UK, a place that should offer opportunity and support but instead, threatens to swallow up asylum seekers in a flawed system. It’s gut-wrenching enough to learn about the lengths one must go to in order to flee a war-torn country, but even after all of that, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are forced to adhere to impossible restrictions, one of which being that they cannot move from the home they’re given, a home they soon discover is haunted. It’s an extremely well-constructed tale that confronts this highly problematic system while beautifully weaving in the pressure to confirm and also the need to confront past traumas. In one of my favorite lines of the film, Bol proclaims, “Your ghosts follow you. They never leave. They live with you. It’s when I let them in, I could start to face myself.” It’s an incredibly moving conclusion to come to. If only Bol and Rial were given the support they needed while getting there. – Perri Nemiroff

Available to stream on Netflix.

5.) Possessor

Image via Neon

Let’s not mince words: Possessor fucked me up. Perverse, disturbing, and thought-provoking on every level, Brandon Cronenberg’s sci-fi body horror is the type of film that sticks in your head even in the moments you want it out. Which, coincidentally, is basically the plot: Andrea Riseborough as Tasya Vos, a high-level assassin with a strange set of skills. Tasya carries out her hits by possessing other people’s bodies, controlling their autonomy just long enough to finish the job, and then she commits “suicide,” thus popping back into her original brain. But she’s been doing the job too long, getting too comfortable in other people’s skin; in one of the most subtly disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen, Tasya has to rehearse simple human pleasantries—”oh yeah, long trip, I’m starving”—before returning home to her husband and son. It’s probably unfair to even mention the big body-horror shoes Cronenberg has to fill, but it’s impossible to miss how adept the filmmaker is at the type of visually revolting imagery his father made so iconic. As Tasya burrows too deep into the psyche of a man named Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott, spectacular), Cronenberg’s embodies her loss of self with the figure of a melting plastic mask, a visualization of a woman whose entire being is turning to primordial goop. But that only makes the viewer ask deeply uncomfortable questions about their own sense of self, their own autonomy, the permanence of this meat sack we call a body. If another set of hands suddenly started pulling the strings, would you notice? There hasn’t been a day gone by this year that I haven’t thought of Possessor‘s finale parable about a woman who one day awakes to find a worm inside her brain: “It’s gotta make you wonder, whether you’re really married to her…or married to the worm.”

Possessor will make you wonder, and then some. – Vinnie Mancuso

Available to rent on VOD.

Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal
Image via Amazon Studios

I saw this movie all the way back in September 2019, and when a film manages to still stick with you over a year later, you know it’s pretty special. Darius Marder’s movie follows Ruben (Riz Ahmed in an Oscar-worthy performance), a rock drummer who’s rapidly losing his hearing. With uncompromising insight, Sound of Metal shows what happens when we keep trying to chase the life we lost, and how we become addicted to the life we thought we would have. Through its ingenious sound design, Sound of Metal puts us right into Ruben’s world and shows that being deaf isn’t a state of being broken. Where we break is when we can’t accept the things over which we have no control. – Matt Goldberg

Available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.

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3.) Nomadland

Frances McDormand in Nomadland
Image via Searchlight Pictures

I don’t want to be grandiose and say that Nomadland will restore your faith in humanity, but it kind of restored my faith in humanity. Writer-director Chloé Zhao doesn’t try to excuse an America where the American Dream was finally finished off in the Great Recession, nor does she try to sugarcoat the hardships of working-class Americans. Instead, she manages to find the beauty in the space in between and in the things that can’t be taken from us. We see this world through the eyes of Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who has lost her husband, her job, and even her town. But nothing can take away the awe she feels when she looks at the natural beauty in our world or the rich, interesting lives of her fellow nomads. Nomadland strips away the last remnants of the American Dream, and awakened from that collective delusion, we can see America and ourselves for what they are. In a year where America was brought so low by the pandemic and our politics, Nomadland embraced that which endures, and that which we must hold onto if we’re to retain our humanity. – Matt Goldberg

In theaters on February 19th.

2). Palm Springs

Image via Hulu

When I first saw Palm Springs back at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival – in a theater packed with people, no less! – I knew it’d end up being one of my favorite films of the year. But I had no idea how relatable this time loop story would become when it hit theaters later this summer, in the middle of the pandemic. Watching Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti forced to live the same day over and over again hit a little close to home, ya know? But as refreshing and fun as the time loop mechanics in Palm Springs are (and it must be said this is a great spin on the well-trodden “time loop” narrative device), and as hilarious as this movie gets (Samberg and Milioti both kill it), it’s the relationship at the film’s center that really vaults it to #1 on my list.

Palm Springs is the anti-“lol nothing matters” movie, and I love it for that. As hard as things get, as frustrating as your friends and loved ones may be, and as hopeless as things may feel sometimes, life is much more fulfilling when you try, and so much better with a buddy. Nihilism is easy. It costs you nothing, yet gives you almost nothing in return. Progress and self-betterment are hard as hell — especially in a year like this — but few things in life worth having come easy. Choosing to at least try to be better, to do better, to think better can make all the difference.

That may seem like a trite or saccharine notion, but Palm Springs lays this out pretty beautifully, underlining the value in sharing in life’s trials and tribulations with a companion. Nyles (Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti) don’t “complete” one another. They each, refreshingly, have agency and independence, and they grow in different ways without co-dependency. But take, for example, the scene in which Nyles and Sarah are in the desert under a starlit sky when they see dinosaurs roaming in the background. It’s stunning and perplexing, and in that moment, they share in its beauty together. They make a unique connection at this one precise moment in time. In a year when connections – physical, emotional, and mental – were few and far between, that cuts deep. – Adam Chitwood

Available to stream on Hulu.

1.) Promising Young Woman

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman
Image via Focus Features

Honestly, just fuck me right up, Emerald Fennell. Just all the way up. There’s a moment early in Promising Young Woman when Carey Mulligan’s (giving the performance of her career so far) quietly crusading vigilante is having an average shift at her day job and she runs into an old friend from med school played by Bo Burnham (who is also outstanding). They joke, maybe flirt, he tells her she can spit in his coffee if she wants. And then she does, staring him straight in the eye. The look on Burnham’s face couldn’t be more clear – fuck, did I just fall in love? – and I would know the feeling because that was the exact same moment I fell head over heels for this film.

I don’t know what I expected from Promising Young Woman, but it certainly wasn’t this decadent, delicious killer confection. A candy-colored, pop princess rallying cry of carnal rage, Promising Young Woman has been branded a “#MeToo revenge thriller” and I guess it is that, but only in the most reductive, marketable, politicized sense – and one that’s likely to give people a set of false expectations around exactly what kind of emotional warfare they’re walking into. Because this is one absolute prickly bitch of a movie, and proud of it.

Fennell took over for Phoebe Waller-Bridge as showrunner on the second season of Killing Eveand she carries Villanelle’s glammed-out viciousness with her into her first feature film like a bedazzled scalpel, but PYW is an entirely different beast with an even sharper bite. Even if I wasn’t worried about spoilers, I still couldn’t really tell you why I love this movie so much because you have to really feel that bite first-hand and let Fennell’s sickly sweet venom pull you under. It’s going to piss a lot of people off, but the third act pivot might just be the most honest confrontation with misogyny I’ve ever seen. I’m still hashing out how I feel about the film’s final moments, but I will mince no words when I say that I think everything that comes in the first hour and fifty minutes is pretty much a masterpiece of tonal tightrope-walking; except the rope is actually razor wire, the safety net is on fire, and Prince Charming is definitely not coming to your rescue if you fall. I’m genuinely in awe of what Fennell accomplishes here. And I’m not just saying that because this movie finally gives us all the opportunity to admit that “Stars Are Blind” is a great pop song. – Haleigh Foutch

Currently in theaters.

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