Now that the end of this fucked up year has actually arrived, a list of the best movies of the last 12 months allows us to momentarily forget the horrors of 2020 and celebrate the good things that emerged from the chaos. Most lists of this type are somewhat meaningless because they are generally published before the end of the year has even arrived and simply represent the personal preferences, political/social ideologies, industry influences and over-inflated ego of the author. None of that applies here though because the only factor considered in the compiling of this list is the quality of the product that has been presented on screen and how it compares to other cinematic releases.

As always, this list is drawn from the movies that I have seen in cinemas over the last 12 months (regardless of when they were initially released) and, needless to say, the number of films to choose from has been diminished somewhat as a result of cinema closures imposed to manage the spread of COVID. On the plus side, the lack of output from Hollywood has resulted in less bloated schlock and more opportunities for independent and local content to secure cinema screenings. From new releases to festival screenings, re-releases, previews or retrospectives; if I saw it in a cinema in 2020, it is eligible for inclusion in this list. Films viewed on DVD, television or via streaming or online platforms are most definitely not considered.

This list is compiled using the reviews and ratings that I posted on Letterboxd in the days following each screening. Given that there will be many movies with the same or similar ratings, I also take into account the way in which a film has continued to resonate with me long after I saw it, which always suggests that there is something prescient or powerful about a particular production and, the reality is, there are some movies that are just so good that they simply cannot be overlooked or ignored.

The films are not ranked in any particular order as all of the films listed in this group of ten are excellent and attempting to narrow the order into some kind of sequential evaluation of merit seems a little pointless; they all deserve to be celebrated and admired. No doubt there are those who will disagree with my choices and that is fine because those people absolutely have the right to be wrong.

Only films viewed in a cinema by me in 2020 have been considered. This is simply a compilation of the best movies I saw in a cinema between January 1 and December 31, 2020. It also, obviously, precludes any films released in 2020 that I am yet to see. If, like so many others, I compiled my list before the end of the year, two of the very best films of 2020 couldn’t have been included, so it seems both obvious and logical to me that a ‘best of year’ compilation cannot be completed with any level of authenticity until the year has actually finished.  

So, my Top Ten movies of 2020 (in no particular order) are:

Sorry We Missed You

Queen and Slim

The Assistant

A Son

Waves

Les Miserables

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Kajillionaire

Nomadland

Promising Young Woman

Of course, there were other great films released on cinema screens in 2020 for which justification for inclusion could easily be mounted. The compilation of such a list necessitates the absence of some very good films to arrive at a final ten.  Therefore, here are 10 others worthy of mention that could quite easily have been included as one my final selections:

Miss Juneteenth

Possessor

On the Rocks

A White, White Day

Peanut Butter Falcon

Mank

Seberg

Little Women

Babyteeth

JoJo Rabbit

So, what was the worst film of the year? Fortunately, I didn’t get to witness too many truly awful cinematic offerings, but Harley Quinn was very ordinary indeed. It was more a case this year of films being disappointing (failing to live up to expectation or perhaps failing to best execute the potential of an idea) rather than being completely heinous and, as such, Midnight Sky, The Burnt Orange Heresy and The Translators fit into this category.