Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! 2020 is over and I think we all agree that when it comes to 2020, the best part of the year is when it ended. Why? Because you can probably come up with any moment this year, perhaps in the middle of it, and it could arguably be one of the worst moments of your life. And as for the beginning of the year, remember when we were all going THIS IS GONNA BE OUR YEAR! IT’S GONNA KILL! Look where that all went! Thank you, 2020! FOR NOTHING! With that rage fit out of the way, let’s stay positive, because we have, thankfully, reached the end of the year, or more specifically the start of 2021, and we’re celebrating like we usually do, by counting down my top 10 BEST movies of the past year, this case it’s 2020. Couple rules before we go any further… First off, to have a movie qualify for the list it needs to have either played in theaters at least once OR, given the unusual circumstances of 2020, be made for a theatrical format, even if the movie ended up going somewhere else like DVD or Prime Video or HBO Max. This means movies like “An American Pickle,” which was made for theaters but ended up going to streaming instead, DO QUALIFY, but if your movie was specifically made for a format that is not theatrical, that means you’re off the list. Movies like “Bad Education” and “Troop Zero” are unfortunately off the list. Obviously, I must have seen the movies we’re talking about, otherwise I’d be talking nonsense. Also, reminder, like I say every year, this is a subjective list. It’s completely my opinion, and as a result, it may be different than your list purely based on personal thoughts. This list does completely not dive into what the DEFINITIVE BEST MOVIES are, these are just my faves! These are all the rules, hopefully I’m not complicating things too much. And with that being said, let’s start off like we usually do and point out some honorable mentions. Although, I should point out, 2020 was a rough year, so I want to spread some positivity going into 2021 by giving TEN honorable mentions, so this is going to be more like a top 20 list if anything. The main 10 movies will get the most recognition, but we will be going over 20.
Honorable mention: Ava (available on Netflix)
Kicking off our honorable mentions is “Ava,” starring Jessica Chastain as a badass assassin who must deal with her job and family issues on the side. Am I a little biased since I am a Bostonian? Maybe, but this was a damn fine action flick with some solid editing here and there.
Honorable mention: Unhinged (available on VOD)
“Unhinged” is one of the most disturbing films of the year, and that says something considering how it is not even a horror film. Not only is it adrenaline-filled, but it feels relatable. Watch it.
Honorable mention: Run (available on Hulu)
“Run” is a great addition to the Hulu library and the service’s best exclusive film of the year. If you want an unpredictable, twisty thriller, this film is for you.
Honorable mention: Impractical Jokers: The Movie (available on HBO Max)
I’ll admit, “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” is a bit a biased pick for me, I’m a big fan of the show. But as a fan of the show, I must say that they did a really good job of taking what is great about the show and translating it to film. And as I mentioned in my review, I find “Impractical Jokers: The Movie” to be funnier than a lot of comedies. A couple of the big punishment scenes had me DYING. Joe, Q, Sal, and Murr for life!
Honorable mention: Sonic the Hedgehog (available on Epix, Philo)
“Sonic the Hedgehog” got a couple watches from me this year. Not only is it arguably the finest movie adaptation of a video game we’ve seen to date, but out of the movies on this list, it is one of the few that I’d probably pay millions of dollars just to see a sequel! Also, massive props to the everyone who worked on the visual effects! You used the hate of the Internet to make yourselves stronger and you came out on top! Well done!
Honorable mention: Radioactive (available on Prime Video)
“Radioactive” is one of the most beautiful-looking films of the year in terms of aesthetics and set design. Rosamund Pike also delivers one of the most compelling performances of the year as revered scientist Marie Curie.
Honorable mention: Wolfwalkers (available on Apple TV+)
“Wolfwalkers” is Apple TV+’s first exclusive animated feature, and when it comes to the animation genre, it is also one of 2020’s best. It features a distinct, rustic-looking design and admirable chemistry all around.
Honorable mention: Freaky (available on VOD, in theaters)
“Freaky” supplies a terrific mashup of “Freaky Friday” and “Friday the 13th.” Vince Vaughn is great as always and this movie supports that Kathryn Newton is easily becoming one of my favorite performers.
Honorable Mention: Bill & Ted Face the Music (available on VOD)
While we dudes cannot party on all the time in 2020, I can assure you that “Bill & Ted Face the Music” is one of this year’s most excellent films. Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves return as their respective roles in a sequel that feels very similar, but much more mature compared to “Excellent Adventure” and “Bogus Journey.” I’m not dissing on the film, but I think that is a solid evolution point in the franchise if anything.
Honorable mention: Greenland (available on VOD)
And finally, we have “Greenland.” This is a fun, explosive disaster movie that had me on the edge of my seat with some likable characters in the center of it all. It also goes to show that humans will literally do anything for their own survival, even if it is costly for someone else.
With that out of the way, it is time to talk about the best films of the worst year! These are my top 10 BEST movies of 2020!
#10: The Way Back (available on HBO, HBO Max)
Starting off this list is one of the last films I saw before everything started shutting down due to COVID-19, and that is “The Way Back.” One of the best things about “The Way Back” is how personal it feels. The film stars Ben Affleck as a newly established basketball coach of a team he aided to victory back in high school. Only thing is, they suck now, and Affleck has to help them in getting a good footing towards the gold. But there is more to the story than just a basketball team that needs a bit of work. I say so because the film’s character, Jack Cunnigham, suffers from alcoholism, which Ben Affleck has been through in his life. You can truly tell based on the performance that Affleck cares about how this particular character is presented. I have not seen all of Affleck’s films, but “The Way Back” contains one of the best performances I have seen from him. While “The Way Back” may not be the big winner for cinematography this year, the film contains one of my top 10, maybe top 20 favorite final shots I have seen in cinematic history. It is a glorious representation of a subject matter the film partially focuses on while displaying a beautiful environment. I liked “The Way Back” when I saw it in the theater, but I began to appreciate it a little more during my rewatch at home. Dribble your way to the couch and check out “The Way Back!”
#9: News of the World (in theaters)
Coming in at #9 is the most recent film I reviewed on Scene Before, “News of the World.” This film stars Tom Hanks as a man who goes around reading newspapers for people willing to listen. While that is clearly an obsolete occupation, that is a cool job! The movie displays a story with said job to highlight how we consume media in modern times and how we manage to accept media through what we “want” to hear as opposed to what we “need” to hear. Although that is not all the film has to offer, because the center of the story is Tom Hanks’s character, Captain Kidd, alongside a young girl he has named Johanna (Helena Zengel). Their chemistry is charming and is a fine example of how some unlikely bonds lead to the best on-screen relationships. Also, this film just goes to show that Tom Hanks is not only a great actor, but he often feels like a dude you just want to hang out with for a day. Much of the movie is Tom Hanks and the young girl moving along in a carriage trying to get where they need to go. I felt like I was on a road trip with Hanks himself for some of the time, and if there were any celebrity I would want to take a road trip with, it might be him. There’s also a great shootout scene somewhere before the halfway point of the film. It was intense, somewhat slow, but steady. All of the pieces fell into place! Paul Greengrass directs one of the most exquisite looking films of the year, and it may be worth a rewatch at some point!
#8: The Vast of Night (available on Prime Video)
Coming in at #8 is the movie that made me excited to review movies again, “The Vast of Night.” For a while in 2020, I had seen a number of movies, but it took some time to actually get that one movie that made me feel something. It took months to get that one movie that sort of hit me where I live. Thanks to all who revived the spark for me! While I will admit, this movie sort of gets clunky towards the climax, this is a BRILLIANTLY made debut. Andrew Patterson is a director I may be looking forward to in the near future if he comes out with another project. “The Vast of Night” feels personal, innovative, while also having traces of nostalgia. Partially because this takes place during the 1950s, but I must also acknowledge that this has a very similar vibe to “The Twilight Zone.” Everything feels mysterious, occasionally spooky, and it was hard for me to dart my eyes anywhere that did not happen to be my television screen. I will also point out, if you are a fan of great cinematography and camerawork, this movie may be a fantastic watch for you. “The Vast of Night” is free on Prime Video, check it out!
#7: Promising Young Woman (in theaters)
#7 is “Promising Young Woman.” This film came out at the tail end of the year, and usually that is when all the good stuff comes out. Past years have proven this on Scene Before with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in 2016, “The Disaster Artist” in 2017, “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” in 2018, “Marriage Story” in 2019, and now, “Promising Young Woman” in 2020. This is a revenge thriller this not afraid to get dark. Not afraid to get serious. And it seriously packs a punch! Carey Mulligan may be a frontrunner for Best Actress, Bo Burnham deserves a shoutout for his performance and chemistry with Mulligan as well, and it is very well directed by Emerald Fennell. “Promising Young Woman” is her feature-length directorial debut and she kills it! The cinematography and sets are both beautiful to look at and make for some of the finest images I have seen on a screen this year.
#6: The Last Shift (available on VOD)
You ever work in fast-food? Yeah, this movie is proof that I don’t want to get myself involved in that. “The Last Shift” is another level of excellence. This movie, despite having fast food take up much of the screentime, feels like a nice meal at a high-end restaurant. The two leads played by Richard Jenkins and Shane Paul McGhie are two vastly different people, but for some reason, they feel like best friends. I mentioned in my review that “The Last Shift” is basically “Green Book” but better. The plot is not exactly the same and there’s no road trip, but like that film, “The Last Shift” takes an unlikely bond and plays it out brilliantly. This movie dives into a lot of things at once. Having a low-paying job. Wanting more. Wishing you could do something with your life. At times it deals with death and old age. It handles all these issues very well. Also, I know there are times where this movie sort of hammers what’s wrong with the fast-food industry, but thinking about it kind of makes me want a cheeseburger. Yeah, that sounds good.
#5: Sound of Metal (available on Prime Video)
Get ready for the boldest statement of the countdown. “Sound of Metal” does for audio what “Birdman” and “1917” do for camerawork. Now, what they do is not exactly the same, but “Sound of Metal” revolves around a drummer who is rapidly losing his hearing, and one of the things I love about this movie is how it occasionally puts you in the eyes of its main character, almost as if you yourself were deaf. You know how movies like “Saving Private Ryan” and “Dunkirk” are often claimed to be so experiential that they can put you in a war zone? Well, sort of in the same way, “Sound of Metal” occasionally felt rather unsettling that it put me in the mind of someone who was deaf. Before watching “Sound of Metal,” I liked Riz Ahmed. Now I think he is a powerhouse who may have great days ahead of him. I seriously hope he is nominated for an Oscar, and whatever his next movie is, I hope to see it.
#4: Yellow Rose (available on VOD)
#4 is “Yellow Rose!” There is so much to like about “Yellow Rose,” I almost don’t even know where to start. “Yellow Rose” is a film that centers around a couple illegal immigrants living in the United States. It goes over their struggles, and just like those living in the U.S. legally, the film manages to emphasize the reason why these people stick around. It’s for a dream. It’s for a positive path. It’s for the hope that life will be good. Our main character is an aspiring country singer who based on the way this movie goes, presents themselves as quite the talented individual, and her journey makes for one of the most fascinating screenplays of the year. It also goes into the dark times of dealing with I.C.E. and what they can take away from you. Also, I must point out that “Square Peg” is a really good song, and our lead actress, Eva Noblezada, performs it beautifully. I cannot wait to see what else she does as an actress. As a music-based film, this is great. As a drama, it’s stellar. As a piece of art, it is defiant of our time.
#3: Tenet (available on VOD, in theaters)
Before this film finally came out, there was a point or two where I thought this movie could have been my #1 pick on this countdown. Turns out, it’s not, but it’s still pretty amazing. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you “Tenet.” In regards to exhibition and movie theaters, “Tenet” is arguably one of the most important movies put out in years. This was a movie that was originally supposed to be an event film, according to director Christopher Nolan, only thing is, turns out the big event was not the movie itself, it’s that all events imaginable happened to be canceled or postponed. But this movie was ultimately put out as a reminder of why movie theaters are built. Why they are a part of society, art, and culture. This is easily one of the best experiences that I’ve had in a cinema in the past couple of years. “Tenet” also contains my favorite score of the year, composed by Ludwig Göransson, also known for his work on “Black Panther,” another film with a tremendous score. I also saw this film three times in the theater, and I will say that each time was as exciting as the next. I was stoked for “Tenet” ever since I saw the prologue in IMAX. Each time a new trailer came out, that excitement meter trickled up even more. I cannot say I was all that disappointed. The only tremendous thing I will say that is wrong with the movie is the sound mix, and part of why this is not #1 is because of that. Audio is one of the most important parts of a film, and when I can’t make out important dialogue, that’s kind of a problem. Although during my third screening, I went to a theater that provided subtitles, which certainly helped a lot. At times the movie is so obnoxious that it shakes the auditorium, which provides for an experience that is beyond incredible. But overall, the sound was just a little too loud at times. I will say though, despite “Tenet” not being #1 on this list, “Tenet” did one thing for me that no other movie managed to do. I had more excitement going into “Tenet,” balanced by alike excitement during and upon leaving the movie compared to any other film that came out this year. Kudos, seriously! Everyone involved in the marketing for this film and making it, they should be proud. It’s rare that I go see a movie in a theater three times!
#2: Summerland (available on VOD)
I said earlier in the year that “The Vast of Night” made me legitimately excited to review movies once again. But if anything, this is the movie that made me have faith that I will have something to remember by the time we hit 2021. Up next on this list is “Summerland!” For a couple of months, I assumed that this would be the #1 movie of the year for me, which would have brought a first to Scene Before history, a movie with a 9/10 score taking the top spot on the countdown. This film was a surprise for me, partially because all I knew about the movie was the poster, a description the theater provided, and that’s it. Gemma Arterton and Lucas Bond are incredible together. Kind of like “The Last Shift,” this takes a rather unlikely pair and meshes them together with precision. Out of the many experiences I’ve had watching new movies this year, this was by far one of the most unique, especially considering the end result. If you asked me where I thought I would put this film in my rankings for the year after watching the first ten minutes, I would have said it belongs somewhere on the worst list, because when I was first introduced to Gemma Arterton’s character, I was extremely turned off. She was closed-minded, and she did not have the greatest attitude. Thankfully, that does improve quite a bit as the movie continues. If 2020 has proven one thing, even though “Tenet” sort of lived up to the hype, a lot of the best movies to have come out are those that really come out of nowhere. “The Vast of Night” played at a selection of festivals, but I have not heard much about it until it dropped onto Prime Video around the midpoint of the year. Other movies like “The Last Shift” or “Yellow Rose” are really just titles I’ve heard almost nothing about, but they turned out to be some of the best movies of the year! If anything, this movie is also just so sweet! 2020 has been such a cruel year from start to finish that it is ridiculously hard to get through it all. The best way to kill 2020? Honestly, don’t kill it with fire! Kill it with kindness! One way to do that, watch “Summerland!” Give it a rental! Buy the DVD! Buy the Blu-ray! Do what you can to support it because it is a movie that is truly worth your time! Because as the movie suggests, stories have to come from somewhere!
#1: Over the Moon (available on Netflix)
Oh my gosh! We’re finally here! Something positive in 2020! This is #1! This next movie not only redeemed 2020 for me, as if I thought other movies did that already, it achieved a level of greatness I never thought I’d get to see again. I thought 2019 would be the end of great movies. Nope! I never thought I’d say this.
THANK YOU NETFLIX!
This movie took me far beyond the moon and back! My #1 movie of 2020 is… “Over the Moon!” Where do I even start? Remember the live-action “Mulan” remake that was supposed to come out in March but somehow ended up on Disney+ with a $30 price tag on top of everyone’s subscription? Yeah, not only was “Over the Moon” a better movie, but it ended up in theaters, on Netflix for free as long as you’re a subscriber, and I would argue this does more for Chinese heritage than that movie did! I am not of Chinese descent, nor am I of any nearby Asian descent, so I cannot say much, but it does not change the fact that “Over the Moon” managed to accomplish every goal it set out to do! Tell a relatable story that hinges around an entire demographic, create catchy and iconic original songs, unveil a protagonist whose pain you can feel throughout, and most of all, have some fun with everything that’s going on, all the while making you cry! Seriously! I walked out this movie needing to ask myself whether what I just saw actually happened! Well guess what? It’s 2020! If this year has gone on to show anything, it’s that even the unimaginable can happen! Hang on, let my pinch myself! *YOW!* Yep! Still here! I’m not dreaming! Just so you know, I am a straight white male born in Massachusetts. Even if you were born on Neptune, you will relate to this movie. The movie has an all-Asian cast which includes notable names such as Ken Jeong, Sandra Oh, and John Cho. Each one of these people play their characters well and I love them for being part of what I am proud to call a new animated classic. But the heart of this film is Phillipa Soo as Chang’e and Hollywood newcomer Cathy Ang as Fei Fei, who I learned is in her twenties right now, but I’ll say this. I can only predict Ang will have an ultra-luminary future. There is a song in this movie that Ang sang which I eventually learned was only done in one take. Bravo, girl! Her chops as a voiceover artist and a singer are enormous. This movie is like a Disney throwback. Epic songs, beautiful animation, and they even have the dead parent cliché, which in the case of “Over the Moon” was handled BRILLIANTLY. Both of my parents are alive, but this movie used the dead parent storyline, and somehow managed to interweave it into a defining portion of my life. I say this because the movie partially handles a situation that I lived through, and it sort of took me back. That may be part of why I cried at the end. This movie was more emotional than “Toy Story 3!” And that says something! And it really goes to show how unpredictable this year truly is! We got two movies from arguably the most talented and revered animation studio, Pixar. I honestly thought neither was up to the standards the studio usually provides. I have avoided the Netflix brand for years simply because as someone who goes to the theater, and as someone who buys physical media, Netflix is a company that does not often affiliate with what I invest in. But this movie made me consider getting a Netflix subscription, probably just to watch it again. And as much as I liked “Roma,” it never got me to think that.
This film, like quite a few other Netflix movies, barely had a presence in theaters, but I’m noticing a lot of theaters now are doing private screenings, so if I have enough money to give to a theater to rent an auditorium for a couple hours, where I could pick whatever movie I want, I would go just to watch “Over the Moon” in a theatrical environment again. I have not watched this film since the theater, I should note I rarely watch Netflix in general. But I can guarantee that when it comes to animated films, this was an utter trip and was worth the $12 I paid to see it. I think if Netflix can work out an agreement with the IMAX brand, I think they could possibly get a very limited engagement of “Over the Moon” in IMAX, that sort of thing would win me over!
Seriously! How cool were the songs? Ultraluminary! Rocket to the Moon! Hey Boy! Even the Mooncakes song, which from a storytelling perspective, not just as a jam, is probably one of the most effective numbers I’ve heard in a film. Not only are the songs great, but they made for some stunning sequences! The colors in this film are transcendently glossy and beautiful! I could go on forever talking about this movie, but I have to stop at some point, although I must add that I hope more people give it a chance. IT’S ON NETFLIX! WATCH IT! “Over the Moon” is a gift. It’s one of the biggest surprises, perhaps THE biggest surprise I’ve had this year in terms of movies. It is an epic adventure, a fun thrill ride, a technical beast, it’s got a killer soundtrack and score, and it is one of the few movies that made this man cry. Netflix, thank you. Glen Keane, John Kahrs. Thank you! Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong! The rest of the cast! Thank you! And I shall not forget, an individual we lost too soon. Audrey Wells. Without your ideas, we would have never seen this new animated classic. Rest not only in peace, but in perfection. Rest in perfection, Audrey Wells. Your masterpiece is here, and it is my #1 film of 2020.
Thanks for reading this countdown! First off, I want to give a huge thank you to the entertainers, producers, and filmmakers who all gave us an escape in 2020. I think this year, more than any other, we needed an escape. An escape from reality. An escape from COVID-19. An escape from everything. There is no doubt that 2020 was one of the most stressful years that people today have gone through. Before COVID-19 shut down movie theaters for the most part, movies happened to be something I cared about. And I still care about them today, and as a mortal, 2020 sort of taught me to be thankful for what I have, and I for one am quite thankful for movies. I cannot thank everyone enough for simply working on a film production, not to mention releasing it. Even if I didn’t like the film, guess what? It just shows what’s great about humanity. What we can do. What we can accomplish. Bravo! Speaking of films that I don’t like, tomorrow I will be releasing the virus-infused list! Oh dear, here we go. Tomorrow I’ll be sharing my top 10 WORST movies of 2020. Trust me, we had plenty of bad ones this year. Be sure to follow Scene Before either with an email or WordPress account, and please like the Facebook page so you can stay tuned for more great content! I want to know, what are your favorite movies of 2020? I know the selection may be tighter for some people this year, but I still want to know, what are some of the movies you liked this year? Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!