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?

NOVEMBER 2020 Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

Wow!! It’s actually December!! Well folks, only a month left in 2020… the year that’ll definitely go down in history as one of the weirdest, most challenging year ever for many of us. I don’t know about you, but I never thought I’d experience a pandemic in my lifetime, but hey surely it isn’t the worst moment in this century. According to the CDC website, the flu pandemic of 1918 happened during WWI. Overcrowding and global troop movement helped spread the virus, causing at least 50 million deaths worldwide, including approximately 675,000 in the US. For comparison, so far Covid-19 has killed nearly 1.5 million people worldwide.

As of today, the lockdown in my state of MN still continues for another 3 weeks… and possibly could last through Christmas. Thank goodness for internet and streaming services … I honestly can’t imagine life without them.

In any case, here’s what I watched in November:

New-to-me Movies

The Nest


Read my full review

Life for an entrepreneur and his American family begins to take a twisted turn after moving into an English country manor.

On The Rocks

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

I was listening to NPR last Friday, and they were talking about this Sofia Coppola dramedy so I decided to watch it when I got home. I think it’s pretty enjoyable and worth a watch for Bill Murray being his fun, charming self, but overall it feels a bit Woody Allen-ish, and that’s not exactly a compliment.

The Life Ahead

In seaside Italy, a Holocaust survivor with a daycare business takes in a 12-year-old street kid who recently robbed her.

See my quick review below. Highly recommend this one!

Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb

After unearthing a tomb that had been untouched for 4,400 years, Egyptian archaeologists attempt to decipher the history of the astonishing find.

I’ve always been fond of archaeological documentaries and this one is especially fascinating. All the archaeologists are Egyptians or from that region, which I think made it feel even more personal and even emotional as they truly care about what the findings mean for their people.

The Banker

In the 1960s two African-American entrepreneurs hire a working-class white man to pretend to be the head of their business empire while they pose as a janitor and chauffeur.

Based on a true story, Anthony Mackie + Samuel L. Jackson made for quite a wonderful duo though the adaptation feels rather too safe which lessened its emotional impact. Given the immense talents involved, this film could’ve been far more powerful. Still well worth a watch though.

The Love Punch

A divorced couple scheme to recover the retirement money that was stolen from them.

I actually watched this one and The Tourist back to back… I have to say the scenery is what appeals to me as this one took place mostly in the South of France. Plus it’s got Emma Thompson in what promises to be a fun comedy caper. Alas, no amount of star power nor stunning scenery could make up for a dumb script. It’s so embarrassingly bad, I’m willing to bet the actors signed up for this so they get a free vacation on the French Riviera.

A Princess For Christmas

At the invitation of an estranged relative, a young woman travels with her niece and nephew to a castle in Europe for Christmas, where she unwittingly falls for a dashing Prince.

I can’t even count how many holiday movies there are on Netflix w/ the prince/princess in the title 😀  Somehow I kept seeing this banner amongst its seemingly-endless Christmas rom-coms that got me curious. Whaddayaknow, this one has Sir Roger Moore as a rather curmudgeon English duke… and that Scottish hunk from Outlander Sam Heughan. The lead actress Katie McGrath, who looks so distractingly similar to Keira Knightley (esp her toothy grin), is quite likable despite her touch-and-go American accent. Well, predictably, the movie is filled with typical cockamamie fairy-tale plot that’s utterly schmaltzy, but it’s actually not as bad as I had feared. The scenes of the family decorating the Christmas tree and the servants helping the girl out is quite sweet, it sort of made up for the lack of chemistry between the two romantic leads.


TV Series

The Expanse season 4 | The Queen’s Gambit | The Crown Season 4 | The Mandalorian Season 2

I binged on four excellent series this past month. The Queen’s Gambit proved to be a hit on Netflix and it’s indeed excellent (check out Vince’s review if you haven’t already).

The Expanse season 4 kept up the thrills from the previous 3 seasons, and I love that this time, most of the drama takes place off the ship, in an earth-like planet referred to as Ilus, or New Terra by the UN. It made me even more excited to see Season 5, esp. involving a man from Naomi’s past, Marco Inaros.

I’m not a huge royal family fan, but I can’t help but get caught up in the whole drama of Charles + Diana again after watching season 4. Emma Corrin was really convincing as Princess Di, that’s quite an acting coupe to get someone who doesn’t just look the part but could portray the essence of who we think Diana was. Gillian Anderson is an inspired casting as Margaret Thatcher but I think she did a good job, and I ended up watching a couple of documentaries on the real Iron Lady on youtube.

I’ve only seen 2 episodes of The Mandalorian season 2, but I love that first episode with Timothy Olyphant as The Marshall. My hubby commented right away how he looked so much like Pierce Brosnan with his salt/pepper hair, so true!


Rewatches

Pride & Prejudice (2005)

A dose of Jane Austen is always a good idea. I love, love the visuals of this Joe Wright version and the music by Dario Marianelli.

Vanity Fair (Miniseries)

I wanted to see Tom Bateman in something, anything… and Death on the Nile has been delayed indefinitely 😦 Anyhoo, I quite like this miniseries, which captured the essence of the sly Becky Sharp, played brilliantly by Olivia Cooke. Mr. Bateman looks fetching in that cavalry uniform, even as he falls hopelessly in love with the shrewd miss Sharp.

The Little Mermaid (1989)

This is one of my childhood faves and I still absolutely adore the visuals and the songs by Alan Menken. I gotta admit though, the premise of a girl giving up her entire identity in search for a man’s love doesn’t have the same appeal anymore.

The Tourist (2010)

Can’t believe this movie is 10 years old! This was Jolie pre-Brangelina and Depp hadn’t even met Amber Heard yet… boy that seemed like three lifetimes ago. Well, this movie is so gorgeous to look at–and makes me yearn to one day visit Venice again–but the plot is still as daft as ever. I did find it funnier than the first time I saw it however, but I also find myself shaking my head how a movie credited with three award-winning writers, including Christopher McQuarrie and Julian Fellowes, could’ve written such a turd!!


MOVIE OF THE MONTH

THE LIFE AHEAD

Though Sophia Loren is one of the most famous actresses of Hollywood golden age, I’ve actually only seen one of her films, Arabesque (because I was hugely into Gregory Peck almost a decade ago). This is a comeback of sort for the 86-year-old actress, as her last feature was in 2010, and The Life Ahead was directed by her own son, Edoardo Ponti. I’ll do a full review of it at some point, but I highly recommend this beautiful and heart-wrenching drama, which you can now watch on Netflix.


Well, what have you been watching in November? What’s YOUR fave movie you saw last month?