When we created last year’s preview of 2020 movies we were pretty sure we were going to have some great movies this year, but we were surprised by what ended up being the best, mainly because what were to be the big box office hits were delayed to 2021 because of the covid pandemic. All year we wondered what we’d get to see and what we wouldn’t–and thanks to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Vudu, and similar streaming services, an impressive array of movies kept us entertained, especially by way of genre content. Ultimately we think the Best Movies of 2020 will stand up against any other year.
Genredom. As always, we’re after the best genre content of the year–with our top categories from the Best in Movies. There are thousands of other places that cover plain vanilla dramas and the rest of the film world, but here we’re looking for movies we want to watch. What do all of this year’s selections have in common? In addition to those elements that define each part of genredom, each has a good story. Special effects without a good story is not good entertainment, and we saw plenty of films this year that missed that crucial element.
Come back tomorrow for our best on television and later this week for our print media picks and our annual borg Hall of Fame inductees. And if you missed it, check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2020 here. Wait no further, here are the Best Movies of 2020:
Best Film, Best Sci-Fi Film, Best Drama, Best Director, Best Cinematographer, Best Writing, Best Suspense/Thriller, Best Retro Fix – The Vast of Night (Amazon Prime). The man of many hats, writer-director-producer-editor Andrew Patterson dazzled us this year with the sleeper sci-fi film The Vast of Night, from Amazon Prime. Amazon hadn’t before stunned us with a feature film, but this one sure blew us away. We knew this was the #1 science fiction offering of the year at first viewing, but when we went back and watched films again, it also stood out as the clear winner for top prize. Part American Graffiti, part The Twilight Zone and The X-Files, and filmed as faithfully to the era as a Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece (with Orson Welles flair), this story sneaks up on the audience thanks in part to its two talented young lead actors. The script is impeccable and rich, dotted with great jargon that dances artfully like music from the characters’ lips. Expert Chilean cinematographer Miguel Menz adds just the right lighting and camera angles for a film we hope can get recognized by the Oscars, if only so we can see more of these filmmakers and actors in the future. Honorable mention for Best Sci-Fi Film: Altered Carbon: Resleeved (Netflix).
Best Borg Movie, Best Superhero Movie, Best Borg – Bloodshot (Sony Pictures). The story of slain soldier Ray Garrison provided the year’s best look at life as a borg. What do you do with cybernetic enhancements, how do you use them, and what toll does take from your humanity? Jeff Wadlow’s story really kicked in once the audience slides into the plot twist. The Six Million Dollar Man didn’t get to decide to get his bionics, and neither does Ray. Once you give up control of yourself to someone else, more and more of you vanishes. Especially if the person in control is using you as a tool of evil. The best superhero films tend to be about the B-level superheroes, and Bloodshot proved that true again this year. Honorable mention for Best Superhero Movie: The New Mutants (20th Century Studios).
Best Fantasy Film, Best Adventure Movie, Best Re-Imagining on Film, Best Costumes, Best Makeup – Mulan (Disney). Disney finally delivered an epic adventure on par with the best dramatic cinema classics, a family saga based on a historical national legend, complete with great field of battle sequences. Bina Daigeler’s costumes were bold and vibrant, with a production that offered nods to Chinese culture in every corner. Led by a talented young actress with martial arts skills, a slate of familiar Asian actors brought the gravitas to the project. Although it was a tale from China’s past, the script infused enough fantastical elements to bring in fans of the supernatural, including a powerful witch commander and a Phoenix that served as an animal spirit guide to the story’s heroine. A big, gorgeous film.
Best Animated Movie, Best Comedy Movie, Best Movie Musical Score – Farmageddon (Aardman/Amazon). Impeccable stop-motion animation viewers expect from Aardman is here, as well as the cast of endearing anthropomorphic farm animals, but the heartfelt story, unthinkably successful chemistry between clay characters, exquisite visual effects, lighting, and cinematography, and an emotional score make for a triumph of sci-fi and family storytelling. And don’t underestimate the ability for an animated film to have outstanding music. This film was complete with a magical score that has all the beats of a John Williams-esque adventure, thanks to composer Tom Howe. Honorable mention for Best Animated Movie: Altered Carbon: Resleeved (Netflix), Over the Moon (Netflix). Honorable mention for Best Movie Musical Score: Evgueni and Sacha Galperine (Radioactive), Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross (Mank).
Best Action Movie, Best Horror – Underwater (Netflix). Our own recent tour of isolation seem pretty tame compared to these ocean-bound deep-sea engineers in an earthquake that breaks up the facility and severely minimizes any opportunity to reach the surface. If that weren’t enough, the earthquake releases some kaiju-inspired beasties, all in a race to survive, a bit in the style of Aliens. A great set and a real feel for claustrophobia, the action doesn’t end until the film does, thanks to some solid underwater filming and surprises before we see the total nature of the creature. Honorable mention for Best Action Movie: Extraction (Netflix).
Best Special Effects, Best Action Scenes – Altered Carbon: Resleeved (Netflix). Live-action action sequences are rarely as thrilling as those choreographed in this film. As with the live-action Altered Carbon, the inspiration from Syd Mead’s trademark futurism is all over this film, and that world looks just as stunning in anime form. The storyboarding and layouts, the surprise screen angles, wipes, and character movements are like nothing you’ve seen before, and the details are at times life-like and three dimensional.
Best Actress – Sierra McCormick (The Vast of Night). You need great actors to interpret great dialogue. The non-stop chat between Sierra McCormick’s Fay as she tags alongside cocky older teenager Everett provides some of the best movie moments of the year. It seems impossible she was 21 when she filmed the role of the teen who has never used a tape recorder before and won’t let anyone else carry her baritone. But believable is what she sold and the result was a fantastic film. Honorable mention: Rosamund Pike (Radioactive), Lily James (Rebecca), Mckenna Grace (Troop Zero).
Best Supporting Actress (tie) – Tuppence Middleton (Mank) and Lily Collins (Mank). The supporting performers were the high point of the film, with Collins and Middleton carving out solid performances among an iffy script and production. It’s too hard to say whether Middleton’s put-upon wife had it worse or better than Mank’s put-upon secretary, but both fell into place as believable 1940s characters, even if you could barely see their faces because of poor lighting. Honorable mention: Anya Taylor-Joy (Radioactive).
Best Actor – Jake Horowitz (The Vast of Night). Jake Horowitz’s Everett conjured every great 1950s smart and cocky Big Man on Campus, from James Dean to Ron Howard to Matt Dillon, to deliver his superb, fast-talking voice of the radio. His dialogue made audiences feel like they were watching an actual 1950s show, but his reactions and expressions are what made us believe something strange was actually going on overhead. Honorable mention: Michael Shannon (The Current War), Armie Hammer (Rebecca).
Best Supporting Actor – Donnie Yen (Mulan). The casting of the supporting characters in this film were just perfect. Donnie Yen added yet another memorable performance to his portfolio putting his own engaging twist on the classic field officer as Commander Tung. Honorable mention: Henry Cavill (Enola Holmes), Nicholas Hoult (The Current War), Arliss Howard (Mank).
Best Movie Villain – Jason Scott Lee as Böri Khan in Mulan. Jason Scott Lee seems to have never given a bad performance, and this villain could have gotten lost among so many great characters if not performed by Lee. He was ruthless and the right person to play this kind of hand-to-hand combat role, utilizing his athleticism and unique brand of charisma.
Best Sidekick – Lockheed (The New Mutants). A hand puppet that is a confidante to superheroine/mutant Illyana, who can then rely on it to support her in the otherworld and back again as a real0life fire-breathing dragon? Try beating that in another movie this year.
Best Retro Fix – (tie) Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and The Princess Bride redux streaming at home. With theaters not an option this year, Hollywood stepped forward and provided thousands of hours of good entertainment, most without charging money. Two of our favorites were of these classic films, one a reunion of Matthew Broderick and team Bueller, and the other an assemblage of actors far and wide re-interpreting a beloved fairy tale flick for fans at home. Both were big wins.
Best Home Release – Mulan (Disney). The best special features on a 2020 movie were the behind the scenes featurettes on this home edition of the film. Also full of music features, the deleted scenes provided some important backstory to the motivations of key characters.
Keep coming back as we reveal more of the borg Best of 2020! And don’t forget to check out our Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2020 here.
C.J. Bunce / Editor / borg