2020 has pretty much been a horrific nightmare but there were at least still some good movies to watch while quarantined at home. Netflix and other streaming services stepped up as theaters were closed and we also saw the rise of Premium Video on Demand as movies that were supposed to hit theaters came home at inflated prices. It’s unclear what the future of theatrical releases is and how big an impact the Warner Bros 2021 plan will have but here are my picks for my 10 favorite movies of 2020.
- Extraction: In the power vacuum left by no summer blockbusters in theaters, Netflix stepped up with the best action movie of 2020 and my favorite movie of the last year. Another movie where someone comes up from the world of stunts to direct, Sam Hargrave went behind the camera for a brutal and viscerally thrilling action movie with Chris Hemsworth starring as mercenary Tyler Rake on a mission to rescue the son of a crime lord who had been kidnapped by a rival. The action was fantastic throughout, especially the highlight 12-minute long one-take action sequence that blew away everything else. Randeep Hooda was also a fantastic antagonist as enemy enforcer Saju and easily held his own against the once and future God of Thunder.
- Class Action Park: There were a ton of great documentaries this year but HBO Max had my favorite with Class Action Park. Telling the unbelievably insane story of Action Park, the infamous New Jersey water and motorsports park that had basically no rules and multiple injuries and deaths. There’s tons of great archival footage and the perfect narrator in John Hodgman and most of the interviewees are former managers and employees, so you get an insider’s perspective on the insanity that most people have never heard before. It’s over the top and crazy and if you’re a fan of theme parks and attractions, it was a must-watch.
- Bill and Ted Face the Music: Just shy of 30 years since the last time we saw them, Bill and Ted returned in a hilarious new adventure where Keanu Reeves and Alex D. Winter easily stepped back into their roles as everyone’s favorite slacker rock saviors. The movie sent the duo on a funny journey into their own future as they meet increasingly pathetic versions of themselves while their daughters, played by the excellent Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine who perfectly match the goofy charm of their movie dads. There’s a great supporting cast of old and new additions to the series and it was a funny and warm return that was worth the wait.
- Bad Boys for Life: Speaking of returns of old characters, Bad Boys for Life was a shockingly good return for Will Smith and Martin Lawrence’s Mike Lowery and Marcus Burnett. 17 years after we last saw them, the Bad Boys are facing off against a new threat, but also…the passage of time and the consequences of their actions? The last thing you would expect from a franchise spawned from Michael Bay is actual character development and emotional stakes, but Bad Boys for Life has both alongside some fantastic action that maybe doesn’t quite reach the heights of the Bayhem in Bad Boys II but also doesn’t have the nastiness of Bay’s humor and bizarre choices (what was the deal with all the corpses in Bad Boys II?).
- Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: 2020 seemed to have been the year of welcome returns and Borat returned after 14 years with a hilarious follow-up to the breakout 2006 mockumentary. Sent back to the US for a mission to deliver a gift to the Trump White House to raise Kazakhstan’s profile on the world stage, Borat is horrified to find that his daughter has snuck along on the mission and he decides to give her as a bride to someone higher up instead of his original gift. The movie is definitely more targeted than the first movie and some of the set pieces may not be as memorable or shocking as the first movie but it makes up for it with more of a plot and a shocking emotional arc you would never expect out of Borat that is actually incredibly sweet. Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter Tutar was also a revelation and matches Sasha Baron Cohen handily in the franchise’s fearless brand of prank humor.
- The Invisible Man: A few years removed from the disaster that was The Mummy and the Dark Universe, Blumhouse stepped up for an actually great update of a classic Universal Monster with The Invisible Man. Leigh Whannell proves himself a master of tension and the horror of negative space as Elisabeth Moss carries the movie on her shoulders with an excellent performance as a woman who is trying to convince the world she is being stalked by her abusive, tech genius ex-boyfriend who the world believes is dead. There’s a great building of tension until things start to pop off and the tech behind the Invisible Man is a great update for the modern-day along with deftly incorporating social issues like gaslighting and #MeToo without it being over the top or forced.
- Tread: Another great 2020 documentary like Class Action Park above, Tread took a fascinating look into the infamous “Killdozer” incident that turned a sleepy Colorado town into a warzone and internet sensation back in 2004. What really made Tread interesting and different from a lot of recent true crime (which I guess is the genre this falls into?) documentaries is the fact that the Killdozer’s creator, Marvin Heemeyer, recorded hours of audio that details what he felt was his side of the story and you really get unprecedented insight into the sort of paranoid mindset that would make someone snap and make a giant bulldozer tank. That is contrasted with the accounts of the other people in town, so you really get a wide picture from both sides of the event, even though the one side was clearly unhinged. The movie also does a great job with its reenactments of the event that are well done and add to the storytelling and don’t feel cheesy like a lot of reenactments in this kind of documentary can feel at times.
- Onward: The first major casualty of the theatrical experience, Onward was out for only a week or two before theaters closed throughout the US. It headed to Disney+ for free and it was worth watching however you got to see it. Pixar came up with a fantastically fun world that is a love letter to fantasy and RPGs while telling another of their emotional and touching stories about the family in a world that transplants creatures like elves, ogres, centaurs, and more into a modern world that has forgotten magic. It’s basically what Bright was trying to do but clever and fun instead of grim and stupid. Tom Holland and Chris Pratt are great as elf brothers Ian and Barley and Julie Louis Dreyfuss and Octavia Spencer are fantastic as well.
- The Old Guard: Another Netflix summer blockbuster fill-in, The Old Guard wasn’t as great as Extraction but it still had some great action and a cool gimmick that comes from the Greg Rucka comic of the same name. Charlize Theron continued to prove why she’s one of the alpha female action stars working as Andy, the leader of a group of immortal mercenaries who can be killed and come back. The group’s powers and affinity for ancient weaponry delivered some unique twists to the current John Wick style of highly choreographed action but the plot was pretty predictable and the villain was fairly bland. Neither of those nitpicks makes the movie not worth checking out.
- Tenet: Tenet didn’t deliver on its promise to bring droves of people back to theaters but it did deliver on being the most Christopher Nolan ass Christopher Nolan movie ever. Taking his penchant for time manipulation to the extreme, the movie featured a threat that would destroy time itself and the idea of “inversion” where it’s possible to invert the flow of time on objects and people. That idea led to some interesting action set pieces and brain breaking plotting that probably requires multiple watches to fully grasp and maybe doesn’t fully come together if you really dig into it but I like the ambition and the non-dumbing down of the concepts and John David Washington is great as always, even though he doesn’t get a whole lot to work with, not even an actual character name. The movie also looks incredible, as does every Christopher Nolan movie.
- Project Power
- Sonic the Hedgehog
- Love & Monsters