Even with movie theaters being closed for much of the year, 2020 delivered some fantastic movies
When we look back at 2020, we may perceive it as a year in which the film industry underwent the biggest changes since the invention of “talkies.” Forced to contend with a global pandemic, movie studios began to bypass theaters en masse and turn instead to streaming services, delivering many of the best movies of the year directly to people’s homes.
And, while you’re at it, don’t forget to check out our other year-end coverage:
Andy Samberg was once known for rapping about his private parts and mugging for the camera, but he’s slowly become one of the most entertaining and underrated actors in Hollywood. Nowhere is that more apparent than 2020’s Palm Springs, a movie we’re afraid to even describe lest we spoil the twist that sets the events of the movie in motion. Samberg takes an inherently silly concept and, with help from co-star Cristin Milioti, turns it into a smart, funny, and touching metaphysical love story. It manages to balance the humor the cast delivers so well with the melancholy brought on by the situation the characters end up in. The plot feels especially appropriate for a year where every day seems to blend and repeat, and manages to give the emotional treadmill we’re all on some heart and levity. Also, a goat explodes. – Eric Frederiksen
Bill & Ted Face the Music
It was a long road to get a third Bill and Ted movie made. Over more than a decade, the writers and stars of the first two movies worked to make it a reality, then in 2020 it finally happened–albeit with a largely digital release, due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, more than 30 years after the first film hit theaters, was there still magic in the story of Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted “Theodore” Logan (Keanu Reeves)? The answer was a resounding yes, as the film found a now-adult Bill and Ted still unable to write the song that would save the world. Facing their own failed potential, they try one last time to unite all of reality in a movie filled with hope, joy, laughs, and a look to the future–their own children. What makes Bill & Ted Face the Music so special is that it’s a generational story, as the Wyld Stallyns realize–and embrace– the reality that their time in the spotlight has passed. Now it’s up to their daughters. What a fitting end to their journey, as they look to the next generation of Bill and Ted to keep the music going. – Chris E. Hayner
The Vast of Night
Set in 1950s New Mexico, The Vast of Night is a love letter to vintage sci-fi like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Its barebones budget was poured entirely into making it as stylish and artfully minimalistic as possible while maintaining a perfect, eerie ambience suited to a sci-fi mystery. Teenage switchboard operator Fay accidentally uncovers a radio signal that could be alien in origin with the help of disillusioned disc jockey Everett, sending the two of them on a whirlwind quest to find the truth in their small town. While The Vast of Night premiered at festivals in 2019, it didn’t get a wide release on Prime Video until May of this year, making it woefully easy to miss–but thankfully, just as easy to find and watch right away. – Mason Downey
Despite the disruption to the entertainment industry in 2020, the fact remains that one of the year’s best horror movies would not have existed had everything panned out differently. Shudder’s found footage chiller Host was not only filmed in lockdown, it mirrored the exact experience so many of us were having–a group of friends getting together on Zoom while isolating at home. Of course, this being a horror film, they are gathering for a séance which goes wrong, allowing director Rob Savage to throw in every scary trick he can think of. Host has an immediacy that would be impossible to replicate at any other time, especially if you are watching the movie on the same screen that you use for real-life Zoom calls. The naturalistic performances are excellent throughout and the 55-minute running time ensures that the movie is intense and focused. Host quickly became one the summer’s most discussed releases, and led to Blumhouse signing Savage for his next film, which is already in production. – Dan Auty
Bad Boys 4 Life
Bad Boys 4 Life
It may have taken 17 years to get a sequel to bad Boys II, but Will Smith and Martin Lawrence still haven’t lost a bit of their on-screen chemistry as a couple of Miami cops blowing things up and hurling insults at each other. Bad Boys for Life, in many ways, is the best film of the franchise. It has all of the over-the-top action you’d expect from the Michael Bay-led series, but also manages to have the most compelling story of the series yet, and a number of touching moments that were entirely absent from the previous films. This has to be due, in large part, to the directors. Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah helmed the project together and the self-proclaimed Michael Bay fans clearly learned a thing or two about car chases and shootouts. However, the storytelling, to them, is just as important.
In Bad Boys for Life, Mike (Smith) and Marcus (Lawrence) are much closer to the end of their careers than the beginning when Mike’s past comes calling, leaving him near dead and struggling with both his own mortality and figuring out who wants him gone. It’s heartbreaking watching this man who thought he was invincible realizing he’s not. In many ways, the Bad Boys franchise is action movie comfort food. For the most part, you know exactly what you’re getting and it’s what you want. Bad Boys for Life follows that same recipe, while sprinkling in some new ingredients that rejuvenate the franchise and have us dying for more. – Chris E. Hayner
Onward follows the story of two young adults (voiced by Chris Pratt and Tom Holland) who reconnect with their dead father in magical ways. The film mixes a Dungeons & Dragons-like atmosphere filled with elves, magic, and grand adventures with a very grounded story of a son who has one last chance to see the father he never got to know. All Pixar movies are emotional journeys, and Onward isn’t the exception to the rule. However, where this movie really pulls at the heartstrings is how the wants and needs of these characters become your own on their journey. And while the ending isn’t the most satisfying thing in the world, it’s the right ending for the film. Onward is near perfection for Pixar. – Mat Elfring
Sonic the Hedgehog
This year may have been one giant bummer, but it did provide some pleasant surprises on the big screen (back in the early months when those were still a thing). Case in point: Sonic the Hedgehog, which was way, way better than it had any right to be. In the title role, Ben Schwartz brought the energy and attitude Sonic needs. But it wasn’t all just speed gags and meta jokes; the movie’s heart came from a solidly funny story about friendship and family. Add in reluctant accomplice Officer James Marsden and a literally mustache-twirling Dr. Robotnik featuring Jim Carrey at his most Jim Carrey, and you have one of the best family movies of the year–not to mention one of the most enjoyable game adaptations ever. – Mike Rougeau
Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee scored one of his biggest hits in years with 2018’s BlacKkKlansman, so anticipation was high for his next movie. Thankfully, the Netflix original Da 5 Bloods didn’t disappoint. It’s a sprawling drama in which five Vietnam vets reunite four decades later and return to ‘Nam to find a stash of gold they buried there. Lee throws a lot of genres into the blender–it’s a war movie, heist thriller, social drama, and a moving meditation on grief and aging–and while the film is a bit uneven at times, at its best it’s an ambitious and powerful experience. There’s some fantastic performances too, in particular Delroy Lindo and the late Chaswick Boseman. – Dan Auty
Wonder Woman 1984
Wonder Woman 1984 is the sequel we needed. It cements Wonder Woman as DC’s strongest live-action franchise, and proves that you don’t need a functioning connected universe for superhero movies to work. The DCEU has grown fragmented and troubled, but Wonder Woman breaks through the noise. 1984 sees the return of existing characters we love, the addition of new characters who we also now love, fantastic use of the period setting, a much-needed message about individual responsibility toward the common good, and more fist-pump superhero moments than the rest of the entire year combined. – Mike Rougeau
And our number 1 movie of 2020 is…
We loved these nine movies this year, but we had one unequivocal favorite, which we’re honoring in its own post. Click here to find out what it was.