The past year was a difficult one for the entertainment industry, with the coronavirus pandemic delaying both film productions and movie releases, disrupting business as usual. Many movies scheduled for release in the fall were either delayed or made available through streaming. It was a strange year. And still, many films found their way to viewers’ and critics’ hearts, managing to captivate, entertain and distract us, whether from the comfort of our couches or (socially distant) theaters and drive-ins. Here are some critics’ top picks for best films of 2020.

Streaming Exclusives
Wonder Woman 1984’s HBO Max debut probably drove the most subscriptions for a streaming service in 2020, but for streaming-exclusives, critics were sold on Pixar’s Soul, which debuted on Disney+, and was the first Pixar film featuring an African-American protagonist. The film follows a jazz musician/teacher to the afterlife, the “before-life,” and back, creating a lyrical and colorful metaphoric panorama of pre-Covid New York, and “revolutionary ways to think about big ideas,” according to Variety’s Peter DeBruge.

Other streaming-only standouts included Sasha Baron Cohen’s bawdy and indecent Borat: Subsequent Movie Film, an Amazon Prime-released sequel to Cohen’s 2006 breakout farce, Borat; Hulu’s Palm Springs, a Groundhog Day-style romantic comedy that inadvertently captured the sameness and repetition of our collective year in Covid quarantine; and A Sun, Netflix’s Taiwanese family drama that topped many lists.

Streaming Exclusives
Many household names will top the 2021 Oscar predictions, like two-time winner Frances McDormand in Nomadland, the story of a vagrant traveling the West after the Great Recession, directed by The Rider’s Chloe Zhao. Tom Hanks headlined Paul Greengrass’s “finely calibrated genre film,” the western News of the World, and critical darling David Fincher once again found critical acclaim in with Gary Oldman in Mank, about the eponymous Herman J. Mankwiewicz, the screenwriter of Citizen Kane.

Christopher Nolan promised 2020’s major summer tentpole, Tenet, a mind-bending, time-travelling action thriller that was delayed three times before landing in a mixture of theaters and Video-on-Demand, but gathered love from many critics.

Politically Thrilled
In today’s polarized, politically charged environment, fictional films provide a much-needed escape, but 2020 also had a slate of top historical films that found enthusiastic viewers. Critics raved about Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago Seven, that traced the unjust prosecution of antiwar activists in the late ‘60s, and Variety’s Owen Gleiberman placed Steve McQueen’s Mangrove atop his 2020 list. The film highlights Caribbean activism in London in the same, late-60’s time of upheaval, and is part of McQueen’s five-part anthology series Small Axe, that tells the stories of West Indian immigrants to Great Britain between 1960 and 1980. Additionally, the success of Get Out, Green Room, and other recent horror and thrillers built around political metaphor has inspired more timely scary movies: His House and Antebellum showed up on more than a few best-of lists, and The Invisible Man was almost universally praised as a sharp, modern #MeToo era upgrade of a classic horror trope.

Chadwick Boseman’s Final Films
The premature and surprising death of rising talent (and Marvel Cinematic Universe star) Chadwick Boseman, left a deep scar on Hollywood. The actor had kept his cancer battles private, and at the time of his death many assumed his star was still rising. After his death, stories surfaced about the actor’s moral courage as a Black role model. Boseman also had a role in Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed Da 5 Bloods, about four African-American vets returning from Vietnam, that received high praise from A.O. Scott in The New York Times. In December, Netflix’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom marked Boseman’s final performance. He leaves behind a remarkable legacy from his too-short career.

In a difficult year, film offered a respite and many bright spots as streaming services helped the industry expand its reach into homes and provide stories that reflected the best of us — resilient, creative, and enduring. 2021 promises the arrival of many delayed blockbusters along with high hopes of watching them in a theater.

Gilbert Galvan
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