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promisingyoungwoman-2020.jpg

The 10 Best Films Of 2020

By Kristy Puchko | Film | December 31, 2020 |

By Kristy Puchko | Film | December 31, 2020 |


promisingyoungwoman-2020.jpg

We’ve toasted some of the best art-house movies that 2020 had to offer. We’ve proclaimed our favorite comfort movies of the year, and we wallowed in the absolute worst flicks of this trash-fire of time. Now, finally! Here is Pajiba’s Top Ten Films of 2020, decided by our crew of critics.

10. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
“So much of the power of Hittman’s script is how much is left unspoken. There’s no tearful scene where Autumn reveals her pregnancy to Skylar. There are no melodramatic promises of secrecy and sisterhood, and no chattering sequence where they discuss their plan to run away to New York for the weekend to secure healthcare Autumn can’t get at home. There’s very little tears or discussion at all because the film respects the boundaries of its hurting heroine. So, she cradles a toilet bowl and through a tense jaw says simply she’s “sick,” and Skylar understands. Without a word, she will pack their bags, steal some cash, and board a bus to be Autumn’s support. She will endure Autumn’s sulking silences and her fragile “fuck off” with the patience rarely afforded teen girls in film. They won’t catfight or scream at each other, because these girls don’t see the point when the world is mean enough to them as it is.” —Kristy Puchko

9. Bacurau
“Once Bacurau hits its stride, it’s truly something special—pointed, uncompromising social commentary with a delightfully devilish sense of humor. In subject matter, it’s a fascinating blend of personal and political, local and global, universal and highly specific. The film has a clear vision, a distinct voice, and important things to say. So rarely do all these stars align, and the film’s strength in this regard is more than enough to compensate for its considerably rough edges.” — Ciara Wardlow

8. Small Axe
Education, the fifth and final installment of Small Axe, proves a fitting farewell to filmmaker Steve McQueen’s groundbreaking project, embodying the strengths of the other four films (Mangrove, Lovers Rock, Red White and Blue, and Alex Wheatle) that came before it while still bringing something new to the table. Like the other entries, it centers and celebrates Black British—and specifically British West Indian—identity without ignoring or minimizing the incredible burden of systemic oppression or the uphill, still ongoing battle to change things. What Mangrove is to the legal system and Red, White and Blue is to law enforcement, Education is, as the title suggests, to the educational system, and the ways in which a force that is supposed to serve people works actively against the Black community in ways large and small.” —Ciara Wardlow

7. Nomadland
“As a portrait of the modern American west and the closest thing 21st-century reality has to that mythological figure of the cowboy, with his freedom and self-sufficiency, Fern and her fellow drifters represent at once a modern reality that feels descended from one particularly American fantasy and evidence of the destruction of another tenet of the nation’s mythology. While the “American dream” of being able to adequately provide for one’s family through honest hard work, regardless of one’s origins, has always been just a fantasy for many, it is a dream that has gone from being accessible only to some to fleeting for all, as outsourcing and automation have reshaped the US workforce and hit blue-collar professions especially hard.” —Ciara Wardlow

6. One Night in Miami…
“[Regina King’s] adaptation of Kemp Powers’s same-named, extremely heralded 2013 play is assured and adventurous, transporting us to February 25, 1964, and a meeting that occurred between four Black men whose names have reverberated throughout the ensuing decades: civil rights leader Malcolm X; young boxer Cassius Clay, before he converted to Islam and renamed himself as Muhammad Ali; singer Sam Cooke; and professional football player Jim Brown. What was discussed during that meeting was lost to history, but Powers’s play—and his screenplay here, as he adapts his own work for King’s film—imagine conversations about religion and individuality, purpose and community, racism and activism. Each of these men has suffered as a result of an unjust America, and each of them is at a turning point in his life, and each of them is trying to navigate what lays ahead. Is there a certain level of talky-ness here that belies the theatrical roots of this project, as in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom? Sure. But also like that film, it’s the cast of One Night in Miami… that pulls you in, ensnares your attention, and doesn’t let you go.” — Roxana Hadadi

5. Saint Frances
“About midway through Saint Frances, I realized I was crying. Not just an appropriate-for-public single tear running down my face, but full-on covered in tears. I turned to my friend who was watching with me, and we squeezed each other’s hands, and we both nodded at each other like, ‘Did you know this movie was going to be so good? It is so fucking good!’” —Roxana Hadadi

4. Wolfwalkers
“The magic of Wolfwalkers extends beyond its proudly queer romance and its genuinely thrilling action. Wonders likewise lie in Moore’s unique aesthetic, which is an artful condemnation of the conformity of CG-animation. Rather than uninspired photorealism or soft style intended to sell pastel playsets, Moore breaks from the corporate molds. His characters come in all shapes and sizes, men drawn like walls, women made of big, round circles, and wolves drawn like furry grey waters, flowing through the forest.” —Kristy Puchko

3. Sound of Metal
“Ahmed’s work is centered in a film that is devoted to placing us in Ruben’s shoes, and to providing the deaf experience and community with the nuance they deserve. Ahmed wore specially designed earpieces during filming that blocked out his hearing with omnipresent white noise, and that lived experience comes through in his performance. The film’s sound mix took more than five months, and the result is an auditory atmosphere that never once lets us settle into complacency: the sound goes out, it becomes varyingly distorted, conversations seem like they’re occurring underwater. When the film spends time in the deaf community led by Joe, we become aware of a thriving culture that is built specifically for and by them; when Ruben acts in betrayal of that idea, we understand the depth of his disrespect. Everything in Sound of Metal is meticulously intentional (shot on 35-mm film; be still, my heart!), and everything operates together in service of a film unlike anything you’ve seen before.” —Roxana Hadadi

2. First Cow
“The heart of the story takes a while to reveal itself, but it’s a pleasant meander of a stroll. First Cow is the sort of film that commits to showing instead of telling and understands that sometimes that means taking a while to get to a point—to develop a friendship, build a world, reveal a character trait. “You can’t just grow a tree, it takes time,” a character advises at one point, and you can’t help but feel that these words are Reichardt directly addressing her audience.” —Ciara Wardlow

1. Promising Young Woman
“Reviewing Promising Young Woman feels like the writerly equivalent of running on a hamster wheel. It’s a film that invites so many opinions, only to have each of them tied up in knots through the sheer force of its uncertainty. Fennell has lofty goals, but she’s also aware that her ambitions with a story like this cannot be given neat conclusions, wrapped up in a bow with clear instructions for the audience on how they should feel about it all. For all of the issues I had with the movie, it was one that I could not stop thinking about. It wormed its way under my skin and I cannot shake it, which is probably the greatest recommendation it can truly receive.” —Kayleigh Donaldson

Some of these movies are now streaming! Check our guides to the best movies now on Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Apple TV+, HBO Max, Showtime, and Disney+.

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Kristy Puchko is the managing editor of Pajiba. You can follow her on Twitter.



Header Image Source: Focus Features