Best Movies of 2020

Movies suffered this year, with the continual push back of tentpole releases leading to the effective shrug-releases onto VOD where Hollywood’s biggest and best blockbusters could now first be experienced on your iPhone. Because of this, I decided to leave this as a running list, finalizing it the week of our delayed Oscars in April. Here are the films I feel comfortable citing as the best of 2020 as of this moment (as well as a list of what I still need to watch).

Still need to watch: Promising Young Woman; Martin Eden; Another Round; The Nest; A Sun; The Forty-Year Old Version; One Night in Miami; News of the World; Shirley; Kajillionaire

10. Emma.

Another in the trend of painting the Victorian-era and its most famous novels as wryly funny farces that showcase the selfish, awkward, and petty actions of its elegantly-clad characters. Autumn de Wild’s take on Jane Austen’s Emma. is sharp-witted, charming, and gorgeous to look at (even on my not so large television at home). Each color is vibrant and each insult pierces as Emma et al deal with the complicated romances of the era.

9. Bacurau

A weird film set “a few years from now” in a small Brazilian town, so inconsequential you may not notice if it disappeared off the map. This movie has the low-budget strangeness that exists in the first Mad Max movie, with characters acting in ways you don’t understand but merely accept as the way their world is. The second half brings the metaphor a little too into view, but what results is a walloping strike at colonialism, the divide between the haves and have nots, and the agency of the people who exist in forgotten worlds.

8. Wolfwalkers

This might be the best-looking animated film I’ve ever seen, designed with a feel similar to a pop-up book, with shades of green abounding. The story is similar to those we’ve heard before, colonialists overtake an area, but one of them befriends their enemy, leading to increased understanding of the other and the position of their loved ones. The story works, each beat hits all the right emotions, but where it truly thrives is in it dazzling visuals.

7. Nomadland

Ebert has an oft-quoted phrase that movies are an empathy creating machine and I think Nomadland really gets at the heart of this, telling the stories of those who choose to exist outside societal norms. Nomadland is about the drifters of the world. Groups of people who live by themselves in vans, working seasonal jobs before traveling on. Chloe Zao films this lifestyle in its difficulties and its poeticism. Sometimes it feels like the world has no place for these nomads, but at other times they have no place for the world.

6. Minari

Director Lee Isaac Chung’s personal story of a family who moves across the country to start a farm is both thoughtful and funny in its depiction of what it means to be a family, all the sacrifices, the selfish desires, and the quirks we deal with it. It’s also uniquely American, capturing the Korean immigrant experience with all its promised dreams and absurdities.

5. The Sound of Metal

I almost dreaded watching this movie, thinking it would be the person goes through a hard time Oscar-bait we get every year that lead to impressive performances, but altogether mediocre movies. This has an impressive performance at its heart, Riz Ahmed will hopefully become the first person of Muslim faith to get an acting nomination, but the rest of the film is just as good, offering such a deeply sympathetic portrait of each of its characters.

4. Lover’s Rock (A Small Axe film)

One of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series of films about London’s West Indian community across the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Lover’s Rock is pure joy. A cathartic experience that takes place at a house party, filled with reggae music, dancing, and food. The air is thick with romance, with sensuality. In a year in which intimacy and collective joy have been naught, when Black Americans faced continued injustice at the hands of the state, Lovers Rock was an antidote, a completely joyous occasion.

3. Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s latest feature film was released at the height of an intense summer, focused on four Black Vietnam veterans returning to the country to search for something they left behind. It’s a messy film, Lee throws a lot at the viewer, but Da 5 Bloods hits heavy on both action and emotion. Centered around a tour de force performance from Delroy Lindo, the film showcases America’s long history of colonialist and discriminatory behavior, offering a transcendent experience.

2. Dick Johnson is Dead

Documentary filmmaker Katherine Johnson wanted to spend time processing her father’s increasing dementia, acknowledging the fact that he will likely die soon. To do so she works with him on a project where they simulate how his death could ultimately happen, having him play himself in these scenarios. Dick Johnson is Dead is about the impossible task of accepting a loved one’s death, but it succeeds most as a celebration of life.

1 First Cow

Kelly Reichardt’s latest is about two men trying to make their way through the wild western frontier, a land filled with hard men trying to find their way in a new world. When the richest man in town decides to bring in a cow, a luxury no one else can afford, Cookie and King-Lu hatch a scheme to steal milk to make oily cakes which they can then sell to others. It’s a beautiful, poetic, and tender vision of what humanity can be even in the midst of our most brutal tendencies.

Honorable mentions: Time; I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Boys State; Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Top 10 Albums of 2020

Check out other best of the year content here.

10. Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

A gorgeous, passionate, and solemn record that has really launched Bridgers to wide renown. I imagine it will be that way for a long time.

  1. Tame Impala “The Slow Rush”

Released to far fewer critical accolades than Tame Impala is used to, “The Slow Rush” took a while to grow on me, but Kevin Parker’s psychedelic pop creeped its way into being one of my favorites this year. 

  1. Fiona Apple “Fetch the Bolt Cutters” 

It took a late in the year revisit of this album to truly catch me. This has been heralded as the album of the year by many, Apple has created another astonishing work. From the chirping piano of the opening where she lays bare her desires for love to calling out abusive power mongers in “Newspaper”, Apple creates unique and powerful arrangements. 

7. Lil Uzi Vert “Eternal Atake” 

Lil Uzi Vert’s second full length is a jolt of energy, at times feeling messy, but he charms his way into your consciousness by maintaining a chaotic and almost puppy dog-like pace for over an hour. It’s a lot of fun. 

6. Porridge Radio “Every Bad”

A raw and passionate rock record that is filled with singer Dana Margolin’s repeated witticisms. It’s the kind of album that lends itself to shouting along with a crowd, a particularly unfortunate attribute this year, as the album was released the week of lockdowns. “Every Bad” contains Margolin’s deepest convictions and longings, the most harrowing of which comes in “Lilac” where she struggles through her failings before concluding “I don’t want to get bitter / I want us to get better / I want us to be kinder / To ourselves and to each other”, unleashing it at a near scream for the track’s final two minutes. 

  1. Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats “Unlocked”

Denzel Curry and Kenny Beats’ collaboration only ranks this low because it may not actually be a full length album. Clocking in at 18 minutes across 8 tracks, some may consider this an EP, but I see it more along the lines of a punk album, both because of this length and the pure tenacity both artists produce here. It’s a perfect high octane rap record. 

4. Charlie XCX “How I’m Feeling Now”

The first notable quarantine recording, Charli XCX’s “how i’m feeling now” is filled with the sort of bottled energy you would expect from being forced to stay inside. It’s restless, with beats amped up to blow-out-your-speaker levels. 

3. The Chicks “Gaslighter”

I hadn’t really ever listened to the band formerly known as the Dixie Chicks prior to this year, and the album’s first single “Gaslighter”, didn’t really win me over. But after listening to the album all the way through, I was hooked and don’t think I listened to any other album more this year. It’s an album filled with heartbreak, of moving on, and confronting those who have weighed you down in the past. It was a true comfort to me all year. 

2. Soccer Mommy “color theory”

Sophie Allison expands on her bedroom rock songs to provide luscious and quietly soaring explorations of self doubt. Soccer Mommy is my favorite artist working in indie rock right now. “color theory” shows Allison, who is only 23, has further progressed from her stunning debut and is set to create great music for a long time.

  1. Run the Jewels “RTJ4”

Released early to provide soundtrack to nationwide protest, the fourth LP from Killer Mike and El-
P continues the rip roaring, face smashing, and degutting hip hop the group is known for. El-P’s beats
almost invoking the feelings of the most punishing rock songs, driving forward rather than finding
grooves in which to settle. Killer Mike relentlessly offers his trademark rhymes and alliteration, in a riotous album that’s as relevant as ever.

Top 10 TV Shows of 2020

I wrote about the top 10 songs of the year here.

10. Earth to Ned (Disney+)

This is ostensibly a children’s show, though it’s format (a talk show parody), writing staff (veterans of the
alt-comedy scene), and guests (again, lots of alt-comedy people), make it hard to call it that. It’s a weird
show, about two aliens (who appear as puppets) trying to figure out what makes Earth tick, so they host
a late night talk show, bringing in various guests to interview about a certain topic. I love that something
like this exists in 2020, a time where media seems to be created according to whatever algorithm tells
them they will find the most success. The show breaks so many of those barriers and while not perfect is
a strange delight.

9. Never Have I Ever (Netflix)

A high school comedy about Devi (played by Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) trying to figure out her place in the
world. It’s a charming show that grows as you watch, detailing difficulties both small (like Devi trying to
get a boyfriend) and large (Devi’s father has recently died before the show starts).

8. Pen15 (Hulu)


I didn’t know where to place this as technically it’s only the first part of season 2, filming was interrupted
because of, well, you know. I turned to this expecting to find the ridiculous laughs that creators/stars
Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle brought playing versions of their teenage selves (they are in their 30s
now). While season 1 tackled some deep issues, season 2 almost turns dark in its depictions of slut
shaming and the tenuousness of friendships. I did not expect to need a pick me up after watching this
show, but I suppose it was just that kind of year.

7. Normal People (Hulu)


Based on Sally Rooney’s novel (which I have not read), Normal People is about the romance/friendship
of two Irish teenagers, following their lives years into the future as they go through the ups and downs
of the modern world. It’s sweet, loving, and frustrating, featuring two standout performances from Paul
Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. If you’re looking for a winter watch, the gray landscapes of Ireland just
might fit your mood.

6. The Mandalorian (Disney+)


I fell way behind season 1 and ended up catching up with it out of obligation—I did not really like that
season. With season 2, I again turned it on out of obligation, but from the moment the sand people are
introduced as characters with agency and a big battle occurs with a sand monster I was hooked. For me
the show works better as an excuse to highlight the weird and (frankly) cool parts of Star Wars.
Creatures and costumes and set design are probably what make Star Wars great, not necessarily the
mythology. That’s what this season does, highlighting the Baby Yoda puppet work and offering glimpses
of coolness that you once experienced as a kid.

5. Mrs. America (Hulu)


I had never heard of Phyllis Shlafly before watching this show, so for me a lot of the fun of this was
learning about recent history (however dramatically skewed it may be). There’s been a lot made about
whether this show is sympathetic toward Shlafly (and whether it should be if it is). I found it to be fairly
neutral, showing her to be a character who is fine with accepting her role as secondary to her husband’s
even if she never really was that. More importantly, I found it to be a fascinating look into movements
and the tensions and compromises that occur to find success in what you believe to be right. At what
points do our disagreements necessitate a split? Should you compromise if it results in small success?

4. Ted Lasso (AppleTV)


If Friday Night Lights were a half-hour comedy, this is probably what we’d get. Ted Lasso is a sincere
show about an American college football coach who gets hired by an English soccer club as part of a
nefarious plan. Ted Lasso’s approach is all inspirational quotes and sweet viral videos. The kind of
sincerity that reality cuts into pieces. Yet, this show pulls it off. It wonders if in pure kindness we can find
the success and the fulfillment we long for and it proceeds to win you over despite your doubts.

3. How to With John Wilson (HBO Max)


Produced by Nathan Fielder, How to with John Wilson is ostensibly a documentary series where John
Wilson tries to teach the answer to some mundane question. What follows is a series of rabbit holes and
interviews with quirky characters across the country. Wilson personally captures it all with his camera (he’s rarelyseen in the show) and helps tell the story using years of footage he’s captured that represent his
awkward, stuttering voice over. The key to the show’s success is Wilson never leans too hard into
mocking his subjects (who include hardcore proponents of the Mandela Effect and anti-circumcision
activists, among others), instead he follows them, hoping to find insight about life’s peculiarities. It’s a
weird show, one that is best compared to Nathan For You, especially when that show took detours to
explore its subjects’ interiorities. All in all, I think it’s a love letter to New York City and the vastness of
humanity that is represented within.

2. I May Destroy You (HBO)


I May Destroy You follows Arabella, played by series creator Michaela Cole, who experiences a sexual
assault while out at a night club. Created from Cole’s own experiences, I May Destroy You is a dark, but
ultimately illuminating story of what comes after. It’s an uncomfortable watch almost all of the time,
because of the nature of its subject, portraying consent and the traumas of lines being crossed. It
achieves this through a comedic setting, Cole is a comedian after all, but there’s nary a light moment
that isn’t followed by immense dread. Sexual assault is overwhelming for those who experience it and
Cole makes us as an audience grasp with all these questions, not letting us stand by in silence.

  1. The Good Lord Bird (Showtime)

Based on a novel by James McBride, The Good Lord Bird follows Reverend John Brown on his mission to
end slavery in the 1800s. Brown (played by Ethan Hawke in a tour-de-force performance) is beyond
passionate in his desire to end slavery, killing in the name of the Lord and justifying it as righteous
violence. The show takes this violence seriously while also undermining it with a comedic edge,
displaying Brown as the zealous abolitionist he was, but noting that he’s a little out of his mind. This is all
seen from the perspective of Onion, a teenage boy who is mistaken for a girl and remains dressed as
such because you shouldn’t disagree with a white man. It’s about the ways in which even the most well-
intentioned white people can barrel through the world causing unintended damage, doing good for
others while neglecting that truly helping others means giving them a choice. Yet, the show doesn’t
deny that John Brown did in fact help to end slavery through his violent crusade, lighting the spark
necessary to start the Civil War. History is complicated as are each of our desires and motivations.
People can be bad and do good things and can also do bad in trying to do good. Good Lord Bird revels in
these complications in a violent, entertaining, and often comical way.

Top 10 Songs of 2020

What a year. Obviously this has been memed to death as the year faded and we arbitrarily look to “2021” for brighter times. I had meant to do a top 25 list of my favorite songs, but I’ll chalk it up to 2020 and the difficulties of making anything happen. The songs below are my favorites from the year. This year more than ever I tried to pick songs that truly encapsulated what it felt like to live in 2020. I hope to release lists for best TV shows, albums, and movies soon, so keep checking this space. Here’s to 2021!

10. “exile” by Taylor Swift (feat. Bon Iver)


Perhaps the most indie-head poser choice from the excellent surprise album that Swift dropped mid-
quarantine, but this duet with Bon Iver is gorgeous with its layered vocals, which overlap to express the
feelings of a tumultuous relationship. There’s just nothing better for us sad sacks, thank you Taylor.

9. “Is There Something in the Movies?” by Samia


A pretty straightforward end of the album ballad that finds its place here because of 35 seconds where
Samia shifts from hushed longings into an emotional and impassioned cry. Sometimes all it takes is
moments like this that stick with you and you wish to hear over and over. This is one of those for me.

8.“Garden Song” by Phoebe Bridgers

The official album opener and first single from Bridgers’ sophomore album is another somber and
quietly beautiful track, if you’re listening to these one by one I’m sure you’re sensing a theme.

7. “circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy

Sophie Allison’s ode to self doubt and depression is representative of a lot of how I felt and I’m sure
most of us felt at one time or another this year. She sings “hey I’ve been falling apart these days /
Watching my heart go ‘round and around / Circle the drain I’m going down / Tryna seem strong for my
love / For my family and friends / But I’m so tired of faking”. I don’t think there’s a much better way of
putting it.

6. “Martin & Gina” by Polo G

There’s a couple of outliers on this list and this is one of them, a joyous song about trying to get the girl
that ironically comes from an artist known for writing sad songs. Polo G’s vocal inflections are infectious
resulting in a song I couldn’t get out of my head for most of the year.

5. “Dressing America” by TORRES

TORRES sings this ode to her love with a restraint that falls somewhere in between joy and frustration.
Her amour keeps coming up with excuses to doubt their relationship, but TORRES assures her “Come on,
woman / I tend to sleep with my boots on / Should I need to gallop over dark water / To you on short
notice”. It’s a beautiful song of devotion, with bits of lingering doubt that prevent it from becoming a full
on love song.

4. “My Best Friend’s Wedding” by The Chicks

I went back and forth on many songs from this album to include in this top 10, but I ended up choosing
this. The chorus goes: “I see a wildfire comin’ / Burnin’ the world that I’ve known”. While this is not explicitly about an actual wildfire, when they sing those words the emotion is palpable, taking the sorrows felt from the end of Natalie Maines’ relationship and transporting each feeling into 2020 where California wildfires destroyed so much and prevented one of the only comforts we had at the time in the ability to hang out outdoors.

3. “Take_it_Back_v2” by Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats

This is a straight up riot; a punch to the face both in the verses and beats. Curry uses multiple voices to
the point that I had to look up whether there were guests on the song. Kenny Beats samples a song from
“Shake Hands with Danger”, a video from the construction company Caterpillar raising awareness about
safety on construction sites. It feels like something from an old cowboy movie. You may need to wear a
hard hat just to listen to it.

2. “walking in the snow” by Run the Jewels (feat. Gangsta Boo)

RTJ released their fourth album early, saying that the album felt timely in the aftermath of the killing of
George Floyd at the hands of the police and the protests that followed. Their music has always felt like
protest music and “walking in the snow” features a song where Killer Mike imagines the cops choking
him repeating Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe”. It’s haunting and infuriating. Our world has
tragedy on repeat and our country consistently treats Black Americans as subhuman. “walking in the
snow” wraps all of the sorrow and the fury into one.

1. “The Ascension” by Sufjan Stevens

“The Ascension” brings everything I’ve felt for the last four years together in one 6-minute magnum
opus. Everything I once thought about the world seemed to sink before my eyes, opening up a hell on
earth that I suppose I knew existed, but not in the ways that were revealed. When it comes time to
stand up for goodness where were those who taught me to be good and to stand for what’s right? Sufjan sings:
And now it frightens me, the thought against my chest
To think I was asking for a reason explaining why everything’s a total mess
And now it frightens me, the dreams that I possess
To think I was acting like a believer when I was just angry and depressed
And to everything there is no meaning, a season of pain and hopelessness
I shouldn’t have looked for revelation, I should have resigned myself to this
I thought I could change the world around me
I thought I could change the world for best
I thought I was called in convocation
I thought I was sanctified and blessed
But now it strengthens me to know the truth at last
That everything comes from consummation, and everything comes with consequence
And I did it all with exultation while you did it all with hopelessness
Yes, I did it all with adoration while you killed it off with all of your holy mess
What now?

The song ends with Sufjan singing “what now?” Some have seen the end music as a hopeful ascension of
good, while others see this unanswered question as him embracing the unknown. Maybe it’s both
hopeful and dark. But what better question is there as we head into this new year, leaving behind one
that was universally awful: What now?