Note: Since we qualified individual films in the anthology series “Small Axe” for our Best Films of 2020 feature, you won’t find it here, but we all agree it’s one of the most essential works of the year, whatever you call it. You can find it on Amazon Prime.
Runner-ups (another 20 for 2020): “Central Park” (Apple TV+), “Dead to Me” (Netflix), “The Flight Attendant” (HBO), “The Good Fight” (CBS All Acces), “Lance” (ESPN), “Love Fraud” (Showtime), “Lovecraft Country” (HBO), “The Mandalorian” (Disney+), “Mrs. America” (Hulu), “Never Have I Ever” (Netflix), “The Outsider” (HBO), “Ozark” (Netflix), “P-Valley” (Starz), “Ramy” (Hulu), “Schitt’s Creek” (Pop TV), “Shaun the Sheep: Adventures from Mossy Bottom” (Netflix), “A Teacher” (Hulu), “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+), “The Third Day” (HBO) and “Unorthodox” (Netflix).
20. “I Know This Much is True” (HBO)
Look: “I Know This Much is True” is horrendously depressing. I cannot lie about this! Steadily crushing misery and devastating heartbreak is very much Derek Cianfrance’s thing (“Blue Valentine,” “The Place Beyond the Pines,” “The Light Between Oceans”), and his adaptation of Wally Lamb’s novel is no different. Mark Ruffalo plays twin brothers Dominick and Thomas, the latter of whom suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, in a miniseries that relies on family secrets and sexual abuse to sustain its narrative. It’s not easy watching. But Cianfrance handles his characters with such tenderness, and Ruffalo gives such a captivating performance in dual roles, and the supporting cast is so integral (including Rosie O’Donnell, who really steals scenes as Thomas’ social worker), that “I Know This Much is True” slowly draws you into its exploration of generational trauma and what it takes to finally break the cycle of such pain, loss, and regret. It helps that “I Know This Much is True” looks beautiful (35mm is unparalleled!), but what matters more is the miniseries’ reminder of the compassion and empathy we owe each other, and ourselves. (Roxana Hadadi)
Now streaming on:
19. “Monsterland” (Hulu)
Some of the best fictional American horror stories from 2020 can be found in an anthology that has nothing to do with Ryan Murphy, but all to do with the psychological state of those who rarely get a close-up. Hulu’s “Monsterland” examines lives of despondent, complicated people who are haunted by forces greater than what bumps in the night, though ghouls and monsters often do appear. Throughout its eight episodes, these are character studies that look at loss, desperation, trauma, regret, envy and so much more within acute timeframes, as told by some of the best filmmakers working today: Babak Anvari, Desiree Akhavan, Anne Sewitsky, Nicolas Pesce, Craig William Macneill, Eagle Egilsson, Kevin Phillips, and Logan Kibens. The horror that these directors face with their always excellent cast (including Kaitlyn Dever, who pops up in different episodes to highlight just how translucent and anonymous some people can be) proves to be emotionally claustrophobic on a level different than usual horror fare. And yet the compassion that “Monsterland” has for its characters, in part because its structure does not mean it has to always throw them into haunted houses or even give them closure, is wildly breathtaking. (Nick Allen)