Top 10 Films of 2020 + 15 Honorable Mentions

Hello everyone!! My picks of favorite movies of the year is here! Per FlixChatter tradition, I usually wait until mid January to post the obligatory Top 10 Best list.

I always have to preface this kind of post that there are still plenty of 2020 movies I have not seen yet: Minari, Da 5 Bloods, The Assistant, Miss Juneteenth, The Forty-Year-Old Version, Sound of Metal, Promising Young Woman, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, etc. which might alter my current Top 10. All the films were released in 2020, though I might have watched a couple of them in 2021. I got more screeners this year than ever before, but somehow I still don’t do a good job of logging just how many films I’ve watched. So for sure my goal in 2021 would be to better log my movie-watching on Letterboxd.

It goes without saying of course, that everyone’s list is personal… my criteria is that a film makes a lasting impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking and indelible. Replay-ability is a factor I take into consideration as well, though I don’t necessarily want to rewatch every single film on my list. Well without further ado, here we go… 

Top 10 Films of 2020

(in random order – I don’t usually rank my top 10)

1. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

It took me a long time to finally watch this movie. Somehow I wasn’t wowed by the trailer and took me a while to overcome my silly prejudice about it. Of course, by the time I’m done watching it, I was like, ‘what took me so long?! That was awesome!!’ Margot Robbie is phenomenal as Harley Quinn, though to be honest I wasn’t too keen on her in Suicide Squad, but that movie was utterly rubbish. Props to Robbie, director Cathy Yan and writer Christina Hodson for creating Harley as a crazy, unhinged character but yet still vulnerable that you can’t help but empathize for. Per my friend Vitali’s review, she spent three years developing the project under her own production company and the result is one of the best DCEU movies to date. The ensemble cast is fantastic – Ewan McGregor is quite fun as the villain, but I’m really impressed by Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Ella Jay Basco.

2.Pixar’s Soul (full review)

This one is still fresh in my mind as I just reviewed it. I didn’t even realize that Onward was released the same year. Though I enjoyed that one, it was far more frivolous compared to this one. I love so many things about this movie… the delightful characters, the beautiful visuals, the music, but most of all, the way Pixar gives an imaginative insight into humanity in the most delightful way. Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey provide great voice work here, but I really love hearing Angela Bassett‘s smooth voice as the sassy Dorothea Williams, one of those great Pixar characters I’d love to see a spinoff on.

3. The Dissident

I’m glad I always waited to make my top 10 until mid January, as there’s always a film or two from the year prior that I didn’t get to see until recently. Well, this year, that film is this documentary about the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi when he entered the Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul. Well we have since know that he was brutally murdered, while his fiancée was waiting for him outside the embassy. Gripping, chilling, heartbreaking… it’s especially sad that no streaming giant made a bid for this film, most notably Amazon, given Jeff Bezos was actually featured in the film, shown as lending his support to Khashoggi’s fiancée Hatice Cengiz at his memorial. But obviously money talks as Netflix + Amazon are both doing business with the Saudis. Well, I hope you’d give this outstanding film by Bryan Fogel, who risked his life making this film, exposing a global cover-up perpetrated by the very country Khashoggi loved. The film played like a dark thriller, except more terrifying as it actually happened.

4. The Personal History of David Copperfield (full review)

Dev Patel has become one of my favorite actors. He’s truly come a long way since starring in the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire in 2008. I know people were all enamored with his mane in LION, which shows how Patel has grown to be a dishy hunk. But he’s also proven to be a versatile and talented actor. I’m glad he got a chance to play a titular literary character in this delightful adaptation. Director Armando Iannucci created a fresh take on a classic with a gleeful adventurous spirit, full of colorful adventure as well as heartbreaking poignancy. I really can’t wait to see Patel tackle another iconic literary character who’s typically played by a Caucasian actor, The Green Knight. Hope that one gets released soon!

5. Wolfwalkers

I’ve been a fan of Tom Moore‘s work for a while. The first Cartoon Saloon’s movie I saw was The Secret of Kells, then The Song of the Sea. This one is the third movie of Moore’s Irish Folklore Trilogy and it could very well be my favorite! It focuses on a young apprentice hunter Robyn (Honor Kneafsey) and her father (Sean Bean) journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last wolf pack. But everything is turned upside down when she befriends a free-spirited girl Mebh (Eva Whittaker) who can talk to wolves. Mebh is so adorable with her huge eyes and even bigger mane, you just can’t take your eyes off her! This movie is simply magical… there’s a mesmerizing quality in its stunning, ethereal animation style, where each frame is rendered in such impeccable details. But it’s not just hollow beauty, but it’s also a deep, touching story celebrating unity and friendship. I think this movie also feels timeless, one that both kids and adults can enjoy for years to come.

6. Nomadland

I’m waiting to post my full review of this until close to its release in mid February. If you get a chance to see this on the big screen, do so as the visuals is really quite stunning. A beautiful piece of Americana as a woman embark on a journey through the American West… seen through the eyes of an immigrant. Like Chloe Zhao‘s previous film The Rider, it’s a deeply immersive and mesmerizing film. Frances McDormand is wonderful in a quiet, reflective role and she’s really believable as a modern-day nomad. Zhao mixes award-winning actors (David Strathairn plays a supporting role) with non-actors in a pretty seamless way. In an era where there’s so much constant noise online, it’s so refreshing to watch a  quiet film that allows you to ruminate on the themes presented on screen.

8. Sylvie’s Love

Confession: After I saw this film, I honestly didn’t think it’d end up on my best-of-the-year list. Even though I find it beautiful and swoon-worthy, but there’s something wanting, which I’ll go into more details in my review (currently still in my draft folder). At the same time, as a fan of romance dramas, there’s a lot to like and even admire in this film… Tessa Thompson is simply luminous as a romantic lead and newcomer Nnamdi Asomugha is wonderful in the title role. I wish Hollywood makes more romance films like this one–not a rom-com or tragic romance, but an escapist love story that’s still grounded in the reality of its time.

8. News Of The World

There are few actors working today as reliable as Tom Hanks. I hadn’t heard of this film before I was provided with a screener. It turns out to be Hanks’ first Western, which is surprising to me as he seems to be a fan of the genre (I remember hearing him tell a story of Clint Eastwood treating his actors like horses on many talk shows, thanks to his experience doing a Western). This is another winning collaboration between him and Paul Greengrass since Captain Phillips, who’s also never done a Western before. I was also incredibly impressed by young German actress Helena Zengel who was able to match Hanks’ intensity here, which is quite a feat considering the film consist mostly just the two of them.

9. The Life Ahead

One of the most notable comeback in recent memory… though it’s actually only my second time watching a Sophia Loren‘s movie. This movie was directed by Loren’s own son, Edoardo Ponti, a remake of a French film Madame Rosa (1977). Loren plays an woman running a daycare service living in a seaside town of Bari in Southern Italy. She strikes an unlikely friendship with a Senegalese boy Momo (Ibrahima Gueye) who she reluctantly took in. I have my review in the draft folder, so I won’t say much more, but it’s easily one of my favorite films I saw in 2020.

10. Mr. Jones (full review)

It’s too bad so few people talked about this movie, as it’s one of the most memorable historical drama in recent memory. Superbly directed by Agnieszka Holland from a script by Andrea Chalupa, whose own grandfather suffered the Holodomor, the man-made famine-genocide in Ukraine ordered by Stalin in early 1930s that killed many Ukranians. I’ve loved James Norton‘s work in many British period dramas, so I was thrilled to see him in a lead role and he’s more than capable portraying real life Welsh journalist Gareth Jones. It’s eerie that Jones suffered similar fate as Jamal Khashoggi for bravely exposed the truth, which put him in direct opposition with a powerful government leader.


15 Honorable Mentions

There’s no ‘science’ in picking a top 10 list… mostly just gut instinct and personal preference. Some of the movies here I like very, very much and I have actually enjoyed more than the ones on my main top 10. Some I appreciate but I don’t really feel like watching it again.

(in alphabetical order)

  1. Bad Education
  2. The Banker
  3. Emma (full review)
  4. Enola Holmes (full review)
  5. The Gentlemen
  6. The High Note 
  7. Just Mercy (full review)
  8. The Nest (full review)
  9. The Old Guard (full review)
  10. Onward
  11. Radioactive (full review)
  12. The Social Dilemma (full review)
  13. TENET (full review)
  14. Uncle Frank (full review)
  15. Wander Darkly (full review)

Well, what do you think of my Top 10 list? Any of your favorites on the list?

Thursday Movie Picks: Films Directed by a Female Director

ThursdayMoviePicksHappy almost Friday everyone! I’m a bit late to the TMP party but I love this week’s topic that I still want to participate. The Thursday Movie Picks blogathon was spearheaded by Wandering Through the Shelves Blog.

The rules are simple simple: Each week there is a topic for you to create a list of three movies. Your picks can either be favourites/best, worst, hidden gems, or if you’re up to it one of each. This Thursday’s theme is… Films Directed by a Female Director.

I have to admit I hadn’t seen as many films by female directors as much as I should. There are still a few movies I’m hoping to see later this month that are directed by women: Promising Young Woman, Wonder Woman 1984, One Night in Miami, to name a few.

Well, for this week’s TMP, I thought I’d pick two movies I saw in 2020 and one underrated movie by a female director that I haven’t talked about on this blog but I really think people should check out.

In any case, here are my three picks:

On The Rocks (2020)

Directed by Sofia Coppola

A young mother reconnects with her larger-than-life playboy father on an adventure through New York.

I mentioned this on my November recap that I decided to watch this after listening to a review of it on NPR. The idea of seeing a movie set in NYC where the characters roamed around Manhattan and having drinks at a swanky speakeasy bar like the 21 Club just sounds so enchanting during lockdown. I was living vicariously through Bill Murray and Rashida Jones, who play father and daughter in this Sofia Coppola dramedy.

I mentioned that there’s a bit of a Woody Allen-ish vibe to this movie. Now what I mean by that is Coppola seems to only make movies about affluent people and their problems just seem so trivial, perhaps even more so during a pandemic where people are dealing with live and death situations. In any case, I think the movie has its charm, but not exactly the director’s best work.


Nomadland (2020)

Directed by Chloé Zhao

After losing everything in the Great Recession, a widow embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.

This was my pick of Movie of the Month in October. I was going to do a review of it this month but since its wide release is delayed until February 2021, I’ll delay my review until next year. I first saw Chloé Zhao‘s work in The Rider which was such a pleasant surprise. I love that she immerses herself in the subject matter and tackle her films with a curious mind that makes her films so thought-provoking. Mixing veteran actors (David Strathairn has a supporting role here) with non-actors, it’s an intriguing character study with a serene, quiet grace.

Confession: I still haven’t seen Frances McDormand‘s Oscar-winning turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but judging from its trailer, this is quite a different role for her. Her character Fern is taciturn and reflective, requiring McDormand to act with her eyes and mannerism alone. If you don’t mind a slow-paced film, and there is not much going on here, your patience will be rewarded. Plus, the visuals of Zhao’s films are always astounding.

 


Their Finest (2016)

Directed by Lone Scherfig

A former secretary, newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films, joins the cast and crew of a major production while the Blitz rages around them.

This movie has a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, yet it flew so much under the radar. It’s too bad as it’s such a terrific film set during the London Blitz of WWII, starring the lovely Gemma Arterton who I also think is an underrated actress.

I like films about filmmaking and this one centers on the making of propaganda films. Arterton’s character Catrin Cole ends up investigating the story of two young women who supposedly piloted a boat in the Dunkirk Evacuation. The always-watchable Bill Nighy is fun to watch here as an actor named Ambrose Hilliard who’s hired as the leading man. There’s a tentative romance between Catrin and screenwriter Tom Buckley (Sam Claflin) but I wouldn’t categorize this as a rom-com, more of a dramedy.

I highly recommend this one which is available on streaming and free on HBO Max. In fact, I just might have to watch this again soon!


What do you think of my picks? Have you seen any of them?

TWIN CITIES FILM FEST announces 2020 Awards Finalists

Nomadland, Sound of Metal, Take Out Girl lead this year’s class of nominees; first-ever hybrid event continues to screen and stream through Saturday


St. Louis Park, MN (October 29, 2020) – The Twin Cities Film Fest, presented by VumaTV, unveiled more than 25 finalists for its top awards Thursday morning, many of which can still be streamed during the event’s final weekend. Among the 2020 contenders for the top Best Feature Film Award are Darius Marder’s electrifying drummer drama Sound of Metal, Hisonni Johnson’s gritty urban thriller Take Out Girl and Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland, which follows the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, Nomadland features real nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West. Winner of the 2020 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion and Toronto International Film Festival 2020 People’s Choice Award.

Frances McDormand in NOMADLAND

Nomadland screens Saturday evening as the official closing night film of TCFF 2020.

Other notable finalists this year include Lanie Zipoy’s The Subject, which stars Jason Biggs in a captivating performance as a white documentary filmmaker dealing with the fallout of a film that captured the murder of a Black teen on tape; Loira Limbal’s Through the Night, a verité documentary that goes inside the world of single mothers working multiple jobs and the 24-hour daycare centers helping them make ends meet; and Sonia Lowman’s Black Boys, which illuminates the reality facing Black males today through intimate, intergenerational conversations addressing such key issues as education, sports and criminal justice.

Actor Bill Murray is again serving as a special guest judge for this year’s Comedy Shorts Award. Murray will be choosing his favorite comedic short from the three finalists listed below.


2020 TCFF FINALISTS

Best Feature Film Award: Gossamer Folds, directed by Lisa Donato; Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao; Sound of Metal, directed by Darius Marder; The Subject, directed by Lanie Zipoy; and Take Out Girl, directed by Hisonni Johnson.

The Robert Byrd Best Documentary Film Award: Black Boys, directed by Sonia Lowman; The Falconer, directed by Annie Kaempfer; Normie, directed by Kurt Neale; The Reunited States, directed by Ben Rekhi; and Through the Night, directed by Loira Limbal.

Best Short Film Award: Dame, directed by Foster Wilson; Long Ride Home, directed by Dame Pierre; and Vision — Seeing Is Believing, directed by Mark Anderson.

TCFF’s Indie Vision Award — Breakthrough Performance: Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal; Grace Kendall in Dame; Frances McDormand in Nomadland; Lili Taylor in Paper Spiders; and Hedy Wong in Take Out Girl.

Hedy Wong in ‘Take Out Girl’

TCFF’s Indie Vision Award — Breakthrough Achievement: Hisonni Johnson and Alberto Triana for their cinematography in Take Out Girl; Abraham and Darius Marder for their screenplay of Sound of Metal; Adam Mervis for his direction of The Last Days of Capitalism; Ahamefule J. Oluo for his music and score in Thin Skin; Malika Zouhali-Worrall for her editing in Through the Night

 Fun Is Good Bill Murray Comedy Shorts Award: Men Among Men, directed by Savannah Reich; Pappy Hour, directed by Nell Teare; and Sugar Blasters, directed by Sean A. Skinner.

The TCFF 2020 Changemaker Award: Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, for her work in advancing the cause of affordable living across the state


SPECIAL DEAL – 50% off – STREAMING PASS

Enjoy the final 3 day of TCFF for half price! 70+ Online Films Available Until October 31st.

Narratives, Documentaries, Short Films, Minnesota Connected Films
CODE: 2020TCFFpass50
To learn more about how to attend these screenings, please visit www.twincitiesfilmfest.org.


2020 TWIN CITIES FILM FEST SCHEDULE

In Theater Films:  ICON Theaters

(Only Available to Sponsors, Donors and Members – Reservation Required)

Friday Oct 30th
Herself,
Phyllida Lloyd – 6:30pm
Uncle Frank, Alan Ball – 8:30pm

Saturday Oct 31st
Nomadland
, Chloé Zhao – 6pm and 8:30pm

————————

Special Streaming Events on TCFF Website

Wednesday Oct 28th
Through The Night,
Loira Limbal – 7pm

Thursday Oct 29th
Women In Blue
, Deirdre Fishel – 7pm

Saturday Oct 31st
Black Boys
, Sonia Lowman – 5pm


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org


TWIN CITIES FILM FEST unveils 2020 lineup! 70+ Movies set to screen and stream online.

TCFF 2020

TORONTO STANDOUT NOMADLAND NAMED CLOSING NIGHT TITLE, CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED BLACK BOYS TO OPEN FEST OCT. 22

For first time ever, TCFF to showcase catalog of premieres, documentaries and Midwestern productions via hybrid model that includes physically-distanced screenings, live-stream exclusives as well as digital on-demand. 2020 program to include special series dedicated to technology, female filmmakers and BIPOC communities


Minneapolis, Minnesota (October 1, 2020) — The Twin Cities Film Fest, presented by VumaTV, announced its full 2020 film schedule Thursday, set to screen Oct. 22-31 via a ‘Hybrid’ format that will include online on-demand streaming through TwinCitiesFilmFest.org as well as select distanced screenings at the Kerasotes ShowPlace ICON Theatres at The Shops at West End. TCFF 2020 marks the organization’s 11th anniversary and arrives at a time where many visual arts organizations are struggling to stay open and continue providing their service of bringing communities together.

“There was never a doubt that TCFF was going to take place this year,” said Jatin Setia, TCFF’s Executive Director. “We know the positive impact that film arts, independent storytelling, and unique perspectives can have on the fabric of our culture and community.  We wanted to lean into the opportunities and hit ‘fast forward’ on what our organization could bring to the wider arts conversation during this most difficult year. I’m so proud of my team and our supporters in making sure that TCFF not only happens this unprecedented year, but it leaps forward and innovates new ways to bring a cinematic community together to share a vision — and a conversation.”

The festival opens Oct. 22 with the acclaimed documentary Black Boys, an intimate, inter-generational story that offers profound insight into black identity and opportunity at the nexus of sports, education and criminal justice. Director Sonia Lowman will appear in a pre-recorded conversation.

This year’s closing night selection is NomadlandChloe Zhao’s festival award-winning drama starring Frances McDormand as a displaced widow who chooses a nomadic lifestyle. The film won the coveted people’s choice award at the Toronto International Film Festival, instantly catapulting it into the Oscar conversation.


Editor (Ruth’s note): I’m beyond thrilled that NOMADLAND is one of TCFF’s lineup this year!! That’s the one film I’ve been hugely anticipating, as I absolutely loved Zhao’s sophomore feature The Rider.

Nomadland‘s synopsis: Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, NOMADLAND features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West. Here’s the teaser:


Other notable 2020 selections: Sound of MetalDarius Marder’s directorial debut, which features a powerful performance from actor, rapper, and activist Riz Ahmed;

Sylvie’s LoveEugene Ashe’s new Harlem romance starring Tessa Thompson;

and Uncle Franka comedy by Alan Ball, the writer of American Beauty, True Blood and Six Feet Under, featuring an all-star cast including Paul Bettany, Steve Zahn and Sophia Lillis.

The majority of this year’s festival selections will be available via the TCFF STREAMS platform at TwinCitiesFilmFest.org, a new TCFF initiative that launched earlier this year to give a platform to MN Connected filmmakers.  The online platform will feature premieres of award winning narratives, documentaries and shorts curated from all across the country.  Several notable film categories include TECH Series, HER Series, MN Connected films, and the newly launched EMPOWER Series focused on BIPOC stories and storytellers.

Every year, the Twin Cities Film Fest identifies a Social Justice Cause and programs a special series of films to call attention to a specific social issue. This year’s cause is “affordable living” and the film series includes stories spotlighting housing, healthcare, childcare and eldercare.  Through the generosity of local companies (Spire Credit Union, Dominium Apartments, City of St. Louis Park and AARP Minnesota), all films in the Changemaker Series will be presented free to all viewers. Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan is being presented with the 2020 TCFF Changemaker Award at the festivals’ Virtual Gala (Oct 2nd – 4th)  in recognition of her work towards affordability.


TCFF’s complete 2020 schedule is listed below.  Tickets are on-sale starting tomorrow, Oct 2nd. All of the In-Person theater screenings at the ICON Theaters will be reserved for TCFF Donors, Members and Sponsors on a first come first served limited capacity.  To learn more about how to attend these screenings, please visit www.twincitiesfilmfest.org.

For all of the ONLINE films, simply check out the lineup on the website and purchase the films.  All films will be available for purchase for $9/film with a few offered for free.

An ‘All Access STREAMING Pass’ is also available for $50 on the website providing access to ALL of the 70+ films online. Click on the banner above to purchase.

The passes are such an incredible deal!! Get it soon so you can order your tickets right away. Trust me, it’s SO worth it!!


2020 TWIN CITIES FILM FEST SCHEDULE

In Theater Films:  ICON Theaters

(Only Available to Sponsors, Donors and Members – Reservation Required)

Thursday Oct 22nd
Black Boys,
Sonia Lowman – 6pm and 8pm

Friday Oct 23rd
Sound of Metal,
Darius Marder – 6pm and 8:45pm

Saturday Oct 24th
Sylvie’s Love,
Eugene Ashe – 6pm and 8:45pm

Friday Oct 30th
Herself,
Phyllida Lloyd – 6:30pm
Uncle Frank, Alan Ball – 8:30pm

Saturday Oct 31st
Nomadland
, Chloé Zhao – 6pm and 8:30pm

————————

Special Streaming Events on TCFF Website

Sunday Oct 25th
Inside Lets Deal Live
, Steve Zahn/Rick Gomez – 5:30pm
The New Corporation: The Unfortunately Necessary Sequel, Jennifer Abbott/Joel Bakan – 7pm

Monday Oct 26th
Definition Please,
Sujata Day – 7pm

Tuesday Oct 27th
Hollywood Fringe,
Megan Huber, Wyatt McDill – 7pm

Wednesday Oct 28th
Through The Night,
Loira Limbal – 7pm

Thursday Oct 29th
Women In Blue
, Deirdre Fishel – 7pm

Saturday Oct 31st
Black Boys
, Sonia Lowman – 5pm


To learn more about TCFF, events, film submissions or to donate, visit twincitiesfilmfest.org


So yeah, TCFF 2020. BRING. IT ON!