Simply because more new movies hit streaming this year than theaters doesn’t mean 2020 wasn’t a good year for movies. On the contrary, 2020 was a great year for movies. But without big trailers or seeing titles on your local theater marquee, you may have missed some films that deserve to be seen. With the holidays coming up, it’s the perfect time to make plans to catch up on a few great flicks over your break. So grab a cup of hot chocolate, throw a log on the fire, and dig into our list of some (but not nearly all!) of our favorite movies from this year.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Watch if you’re in the mood for: Biopic
George C. Wolfe’s film adaptation of the Pulitzer-winning August Wilson play of the same name unfolds during a day in the life of Ma Rainey, the famed “Mother of the Blues” in 1927 Chicago. As Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) struggles to seize control of her music from white executives, her band, including trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman), have tensions of their own brewing. The entire cast does strong work here, but Davis is exceptional and the late Boseman does arguably the best work of his life in the last film he shot before his untimely passing in August. If nothing else, he’s well worth the watch alone. You can catch Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in theaters or on Netflix right now.
The Vast Of Night
Watch if you’re in the mood for: Sci-fi and/or directorial debut
Every so often, a feature debut comes along from a filmmaker that shows so much promise, you’re torn between wanting to see what they do next and wanting them to never make another movie to preserve the perfect view you have of them. That such filmmaker is Andrew Patterson, and that such feature debut is The Vast of Night. Patterson’s debut is a throwback to ’50s B-movie pulp with a strong Twilight Zone framing in a movie where the story unfolds in bits and pieces, through conversations and snippets of radio callers. Jake Horowitz excels as mid-century, small-town radio DJ Everett Sloan, as does Sierra McCormick as the town’s plucky switchboard operator, Fay Crocker, as they come together over the course of a single night to unravel an eerie mystery plaguing their town. Vast also features some of the most interesting camerawork and framing devices in ages. If you’re in the mood for some retro – yet innovative – sci-fi, you can dive in on Amazon Prime Video.
The Invisible Man
Watch if you’re in the mood for: Horror/thriller
After years of reinvigorating and finding success in the horror genre, writer-actor Leigh Whannell has moved into directing in the last few years. The Invisible Man proves that in his deft hands, even well-known and classic tales can become something entirely new and relevant for our time. Elisabeth Moss is compelling in a film that’s less horror, more psychological thriller. She stars as the fractured but not wholly broken Cecilia, a timid but determined woman trying to repair her life in the wake of her abusive marriage to brilliant scientist Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) in the wake of his death. However, he may not be dead, and Cecilia’s attempts to get the people around her to believe her is a tense and gripping exploration of gaslighting, believing women, and the way the trauma of abuse lingers. You can find it on various platforms.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Watch if you’re in the mood for: Intimate character study
Eliza Hittman’s trademark as a filmmaker is small, intimate films cast with unknowns, but Never Rarely Sometimes Always may be the perfected culmination of all that’s come before. Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) is a teenager working a dead-end job in a small, crumbling industrial town in Pennsylvania. When she discovers she’s pregnant but can’t get an abortion without parental consent, she and her cousin, Skylar (Talia Ryder), steal some cash out of the petty funds and hop a bus to New York City. What transpires is an arduous journey that shows just how hard it is to exist as a girl in the world and all it – and the world’s men – take from girls. Flanigan and Ryder shine as the cousins who only have each other, their heartfelt bond so strong they often communicate in looks and gestures rather than words. Kudos to Focus Features for giving this one the green light. You can find it on multiple platforms.
Watch if you’re in the mood for: Quirky rom-com
Even being a blatant riff off Groundhog Day can’t stop Max Barbakow’s Palm Springs from being a quirky delight. Cristin Milioti is Sarah, the black sheep of her family and, to put it charitably, a f*ck-up. At her sister’s destination wedding in Palm Springs, she runs into the nihilistic, carefree Nyles (Andy Samberg). The fact it’s definitely not a love connection at first doesn’t matter as they’re soon bound together in a surreal situation. Soon, they’re growing closer as they wreak havoc on the wedding and other guests. It’s hard to do a time loop setup without seeming derivative of what came before, but Milioti and Samberg’s chemistry makes the movie just so damn charming in a rom-com that will make you laugh aloud at least once.