Published on January 12th, 2021 | by Craig Silliphant0
The Feedback Society’s Best and Worst Movies of 2020
It’s that time of year again — the best and worst movies of 2020. Some of our favourite film critics and movie lovers weigh in!
Every January we grab some of the film writers and cinephiles in our orbit to look at the best and worst movies of the year we just finished. It’s always a very interesting list, because tastes can be so diverse. It’s also fascinating to see which movies show up on a lot of lists. Most of all, it’s a great way to get recommendations for films you haven’t seen or may not have heard of. Though it was a weird and difficult year that saw theatres all over the world shut down, it was also a surprisingly decent year for film.
We welcome a few new contributors to the fold this year, including Kezia Sonntag and our pals from The Terror Table podcast, Mitch, Kyle, and Buzi (find it where you find great podcasts).
We asked everyone for their favourite movie of the year, any honourable mentions (so they could barf out a bunch of titles they loved), and the worst movie they saw. It’s also important to mention that it sometimes takes time for better films to make their way to the writers that don’t live in major cities, so there may be great films we haven’t seen yet that aren’t mentioned. Enjoy!
NOAH DIMITRIE – The Feedback Society, Masters Program – Cinema Studies, University of Toronto
For a year where nobody got out to the cinema much, there was a surprising volume of really high quality films. I applaud the courage of any production company out there that took a leap of faith and released their movie, big or small, into the strange vortex of 2020.
Best: Possessor. Brandon Cronenberg, the son of Canada’s favorite sick fuck crafted a haunting and existentially outrageous horror film about a group of assassins who pin people for murders by essentially hacking into their brains.
Honourable Mentions: Some runners up this year include the fantastic Aussie dramedy Babyteeth, Miranda July’s peculiar Kajillionaire, Ladj Ly’s police brutality drama Les Miserables, Kitty Green’s The Assistant, and Chris Nolan’s awkwardly maligned Tenet, a movie that, while impressive in the theatre, plays much more profoundly at home with subtitles. Plus, everyone should watch Alex Garland’s Devs (it’s not a film technically, I know).
HANK CRUISE – Fisher & Cruise Pop Culture Reviews (@fishercruise), Punch Radio (CFCR), Punch TV (Shaw Spotlight)
Best: A Secret Love. In this Netflix documentary film directed by Chris Bolan, Pat Henschel and Saskatchewan-born Terry Donahue walk us through their 72-year, mostly hidden, relationship. We are allowed to experience their lives from when they met to their recent wedding. This is a documentary that does not focus on the prejudice and hate directed toward same-sex couples in our society but the will to keep love alive despite so many factors trying to tear it apart. This film is inspiring, beautiful, emotional, and the only film in years that has forced a tear or two to sneak out of my eye-holes. As a viewer, being let into their lives is a gift. The best gift we could give them in return is acknowledgement of their seven decades of love and accomplishments.
Honourable Mentions: Ammonite, The Assistant, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Da 5 Bloods, Dick Johnson is Dead, Enola Holmes, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Palm Springs, Trial of the Chicago 7.
Worst: Scoob! Until I spoke with Craig the other day, I had selected You Should Have Left as the worst film that I sat through in 2020, but he reminded me about something that I had painfully buried deep within my mind…something so horrible…so offensively brutal…Scoob! A blasphemy to the franchise. A miscast flat attempt to revive the Hanna-Barbera B-team that was an insult to all Scooby-Doo fans around the globe. #shame
JORGE IGNATIO CASTILLO – Planet S Magazine, Prairie Dog Magazine, Starburst, The Canadian Crew, Darpan Magazine, Filmmaker
Best: Wolfwalkers. This film is an achievement in every respect: gorgeous 2D animation, compelling plot, delightful leads, and filled to the brim in meaning. It demonstrates the versatility of hand-drawn filmmaking. By using limited perspective, the movie looks compact, like a medieval tapestry or painting. Every single message in Wolfwalkers rings true. It’s pro-environment, anti-populist and advocates for independent thinking. As children’s movies go, this one is way ahead of the curve.
Honourable Mentions: Nomadland lives up to the hype. There’s not much of a plot here (a fifty-something woman drives across the mid-west following temporary work), but doesn’t matter because Frances McDormand is magnetic. She fully inhabits her character and it’s fascinating to see her interacts with others in the same boat (mostly non-actors, except for David Strathairn). America’s open spaces have rarely been shot so lovingly.
Worst: She Dies Tomorrow. A “horror movie” so pointless, random, and absurd it only succeeds at irritating the audience. Writer/director Amy Seimetz is so self-involved, she doesn’t think there’s any need to tell the viewer what’s going on. The only reason this movie got good reviews is out of a misplaced sense of wokeness. The longest 86-minutes of my life and second worst movie I’ve ever seen (only beat by Alex Ross Perry’s La Ultima Película. I dare you to watch that).
DAVE SCADDAN – The Feedback Society, Punch TV (Shaw Spotlight)
Best: Kajillionaire. I’m a big fan and supporter of all things Miranda July, so it was a boon to get a new feature film from her – her third – in a year where so many films were put on hold. Miranda July is now established enough that even when her films don’t make logical sense, they still make “sense” on her terms. This story about a dysfunctional family and their low-level cons is funny if you let it be, disturbing if you let it be, and a delight for the eyes right from the first frames. July’s movies haven’t always been as visually striking as this – Kajillionaire shows her developing knack for mise en scene, naturally with her penchant for the bizarre always present. And July’s pairing with Evan Rachel Wood is like the Phil Jackson/Michael Jordan duo of arty cinema. July has Wood in costumes that don’t fit her, using a voice that doesn’t suit her, her face covered with hair and her movement choreographed like an elementary school dance recital, yet the performance is still money. As odd and unlikely as the character of Old Dolio might be, I steadfastly believe that she exists.
Honourable Mention: I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
Worst: The Gentlemen. The best Guy Ritchie movies feature hungry, young actors delivering quick, punchy scenes that swirl into exciting romps. The Gentlemen is the opposite of those Guy Ritchie movies; it features old faces giving weary performances with long, talky expository speeches, overbaked accents and jokes that don’t land.
KEZIA SONNTAG – The Feedback Society
Best: I’m Thinking of Ending Things. This film isn’t for all audiences and it is not a comfortable watch. On its face, the plot is a quiet story: Girl meets Boy’s parents. However, the viewer quickly learns that something is, “profoundly, unutterably, unfixably wrong,” in the words of our female lead. If you’re a fan of Charlie Kaufman, you’ll already be prepared for a non-traditional method of storytelling. I love movies that are ripe with breadcrumbs (in this case, drawing on pop culture and literary references) to let me discern for myself the blurred line between fantasy and reality. I find Jesse Plemons so interesting to watch, and it may be because he is reminiscent of Philip Seymour Hoffman in this role. I only regret watching all by my lonesome during a pandemic when I’d rather sit down with my buds and hash out our interpretations.
Honourable Mentions: Swallow (delicate and disturbing), His House (frightening on many levels), Freaky (new life to an old trope), Never Rarely Sometimes Always (so many emotions, so little dialogue), Da 5 Bloods (I demand an Oscar for Delroy Lindo!), Disclosure (a total perception changer), and Spontaneous (lots of warm and fuzzy feelings, lots with gore).
Worst: Valley Girl. When reboot rumours start to swirl about my favourites, I try to be cautiously optimistic while maintaining rock-bottom expectations. This attitude usually pays off (for example, 2020’s sequel to The Craft), and I can sit back and enjoy the ride. But Valley Girl, a jukebox musical version of the 1983 Nicolas Cage teen classic, had me seeing red. This flick would have been tired as a stand-alone with a fresh title, but it fails even harder next to the memory of the original. Sanitized beyond recognition. I never expected identical music, but did they seriously replace one of the best new wave soundtracks with the most overused songs of the decade? Does the world need yet another dance sequence to ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?!’ I will give credit to casting; Jessica Rothe is adorable at the worst of times and Logan Paul is a punchable villain even before he gets on screen. Sigh. At least I got an Elizabeth Daily cameo and an unremarkable Modern English cover.
CRAIG SILLIPHANT – CTV, Rawlco Radio, Global Television, CBC, Punch Radio (CFCR), Punch TV (Shaw Spotlight), The Feedback Society
Best: Palm Springs. There wasn’t exactly a Florida Project or something that I really sunk my teeth into this year, but it was a reasonably solid year for movies. Palm Springs could have been seen as just another Groundhog’s Day clone, but it’s much more. In fact, what I like about it is that it’s accessible to a wide number of people; it’s a funny and winning rom com with two likeable leads, but it’s also a deeper, darker science fiction movie with arthouse leanings and meditations on the nature of reality and our own existence. Almost everyone I’ve recommended it to has found something to enjoy in it. It’s also worth noting that the time loop genre has been quite successful lately, between Palm Springs, the better-than-it-has-any-right-to-be Happy Death Day series, and Netflix’s Russian Doll with Natasha Lyonne.
Honourable mentions: Kajillionare, Another Round, The Invisible Man, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The Hunt, Mank (not for everyone), Black Bear, Tenet (super-flawed but ambitious), On the Rock (Sofia-lite), Les Miserables, The Sound of Metal, The Assistant, Shirley, Soul, Greyhound, Save Yourselves!, The Beastie Boys Story, Love and Monsters, The Vast of Night, Promising Young Woman (flawed, but fun and clever), Possessor.
Worst: The two worst movies I saw this year were movies I watched with my kids; Trolls: World Tour and Scoob! (Man, how do you mess up Scooby-Doo?). However, while those two were worse, I need to talk about Wonder Woman 1984. Sometimes the bigger disappointment is the worst movie, even when something else is actually worse. WW84 was a bloated, 2 ½ hour slog, that was often insulting to the intelligence of an audience and feminism in general. It also barely featured Wonder Woman. When it did, it made her subservient to her feelings for a man. It was a cinematic loss, but it also mistreated a feminist icon when it could have elevated her.
MIKE FISHER – SaskExpo, Fisher & Cruise Pop Culture Reviews (@fishercruise)
Best: The Way Back. While not the best film of the year, objectively, the one that had the most impact on me was Gavin O’Connor’s The Way Back. Starring Ben Affleck, it’s the story of a man drowning in his alcohol addiction, struck by tragedy, whose family has fallen apart. Given a chance at redemption, he’s offered the opportunity to coach the basketball team at the high school he attended.
From the trailers, it looked like every clichéd sports movie I normally try to avoid, but I gave it a shot both because I’d enjoyed O’Connor’s work in the past (Warrior, The Accountant), and because I still have a soft spot for Mr. Affleck – and I was very happy I did. It avoided most of those clichés, and instead was a touching, disarming look at how tragedy changes us, and how hard it can be to find your way back. This one hit home.
Honourable mention: Rounding out my favourites of the year are I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The Hunt, Capone, The Vast of Night, Pixar’s Soul, and His House. While I enjoyed them all, 2020 was a tough year for movies, and I miss the theatre experience terribly. Here’s to a better 2021 on the big screen.
Worst: The biggest disappointment for me was Wonder Woman 1984. I enjoyed some of the performances, but there wasn’t much to redeem this one otherwise. Terrible writing, confused messaging, a bad case of sequel bloat, and cringeworthy CGI all added up to a total waste of three hours and $17.99. I need to include an honorary mention to Tenet as well, another one I had high hopes for, which left me disappointed.
DAN NICHOLLS – Filmmaker, The Feedback Society (Vancouver), CFOX 99.3FM Radio Vancouver
Best: Da 5 Bloods. The year’s best movie arrived midway through the disaster that was 2020 and rooted itself in my soul, where it’s stuck with me ever since. Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods manages to be a heist thriller, buddy comedy, searing drama, and evocative damnation of American politics all in one focused, emotional package. Delroy Lindo – always a strong supporting actor – carries the film with one of the most unforgettable performances of the past year. It may have come from Netflix, but Da 5 Bloods is pure cinema.
Honorable Mention: There is no scene more memorable in 2020 as the finale to Another Round. The best directed and most technically accomplished feature was Mank from David Fincher. No documentary punched me in the gut quite as forcefully as the Romanian exposé Collective; The most devastatingly human film was the unforgettable Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Also of note: The Invisible Man, News of the World, The Way Back, Sound of Metal, Bad Education, Promising Young Woman.
Worst: The Turning. In a year as trying as this it might seem a little unnecessary to pile on a movie as the “worst” but yet The Turning deserves that title and then some. Released before the pandemic hit, this incomplete cut posing as a final film stank up theaters so badly you can still smell it a year later. It ends as if there’s a reel missing and leaves you steaming with anger over how bad it is.
CALLEN DIEDERICHS – Filmmaker, The Roxy Theatre
Best: Corpus Christi and First Cow. I couldn’t decide on a clear cut favourite this year, and then it struck me that these two films share a central conceit: the main characters running a con (the former a recently released criminal posing as a parish priest in contemporary Poland, the latter two fortune seekers building a baking business on stolen milk in 19th century Oregon) that we know will end in ruination but inspire us to root for them anyway (a good time to throw a shout out to Uncut Gems as well!). They diverge in characterization: the would-be priest is a violent thug while the two bakers are the most amiable of companions. Corpus Christi is also a parable of how grace can bring healing and transformation from our worst intentions, while First Cow shows the beauty and necessity of friendship in the face of early American capitalism, that already saw the rich pitting the working class against itself for scraps from the table.
Honourable mention: Les Miserables, Black Bear, Sound of Metal, Hotel by the River. Small films with large resonances. Painted Bird and The Nightingale.Two films of considerable artistic, social, and historic merit that are all so unrelentingly grim and intermittently brutal that I can’t in good conscience recommend them without a major caveat. Notable films and appropriate for the current zeitgeist but not for the faint of heart.
Worst: Wonder Woman 1984 and The New Mutants. Universally panned, I actually enjoyed both of these more than a lot of the more acclaimed superhero films. Sure, they were sloppy and at times ridiculous, but their hero/villain dynamics were more complicated than the usual fare and they took risks that were admirable even when they failed. And hey, who knew you could solve conflicts with reason and compassion instead of blowing things up and beating the crap out of people?
ANTHONY “BUZI” BUZIAK – The Terror Table (Podcast)
Best: Underwater, The Dark and the Wicked, Lost Girl.
Underwater – cast off into the abyss that is January, Underwater was never given a fair chance to shine and definitely deserves a second look. William Eubank helms a claustrophobic thriller about a drilling crew stranded at the bottom of the ocean stalked by an unknown threat.
The Dark and the Wicked – Writer/Director Bryan Bertino (The Strangers) returns for another soul crushing experience. Two siblings return to their secluded family home to take care of their ailing parents only to end up dealing with sinister forces.
Lost girl – dropped on Netflix at the tail end of January, this tightly-knit crime thriller directed by Liz Garbus deserves praise. Amy Ryan (The Office) plays a mother determined to find answers about her daughter’s disappearance and the ongoing LISK (Long Island Serial Killer) case.
Worst: Hubie Halloween. It was a huge piece of shit and I don’t know how anyone found it the slightest bit entertaining, let alone funny.
MITCH OLIVER – The Terror Table (podcast), The Feedback Society
Best: Possessor. Brandon Cronenberg crafted a wickedly dark, original and complex horror film that would pair well with some of his father’s legendary films like Videodrome and Scanners. The depiction of violence is elevated by truly gut-wrenching special effects that are some of the best I’ve seen in years.
Honourable Mention: Sound of Metal. Writer/Director Darius Marder successfully created an emotionally devastating depiction of a heavy metal drummer as he loses his hearing and adapts to a foreign way of life. Riz Ahmed’s knock out performance manages to crawl into your soul and pull on each of your heartstrings one by one. It also features the best use of sound design I have seen all year.
Worst: The Grudge. I admittedly have never been a big fan of the Grudge films in general, but I was excited to see another horror film from Nicolas Pesce (The Eyes of My Mother, Piercing). Unfortunately, the combination of Pesce’s art house leanings and major studio interference resulted in a forgettable, by-the-numbers and most offensively, boring film.
KYLE ZUREVINSKI – The Terror Table (podcast), Dynamic Video Imaging
Best: Lovers Rock (Small Axe). The singular film that has stuck out for me amongst a truly great amount of releases is oddly enough from an anthology of five individual films, released on Amazon Prime, and titled under the series umbrella, Small Axe, from Academy Award-winning director Steve McQueen. This somewhat messy release nomenclature to me is an excellent reflection on this convoluted year in film, and while I think all five films from this anthology (notably Red, White and Blue, and Mangrove) are fantastic works that tackle issues of injustice and strife for West Indian immigrants in London during the 1960s and 1970s, without a doubt Lovers Rock has been a reminder of why I love films and why they are important, even during the most difficult of times. McQueen packs so much into the confined, visceral, and psychical spaces of Lovers Rock. Its atmosphere is dripping with human connection and community, all while simultaneously making me desperately reminisce and nostalgically long for a house party that I’ve never even attended. The hypnotic musical sequences and depictions of raw human emotion are something that only the direction of someone as intimately focused as McQueen can successfully pull off. It’s these joined elements of communal passion that left me floored and really brought understanding to the Bob Marley quote where the series title originates: “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe”.
Honourable Mentions: Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari is a devastating and remarkably personal achievement that rightfully deserves any and all recognition. Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow showcases so much humanity and pureness in a way that only Reichardt can. Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland brings incredible direction and performances that blur the lines of realism, narrative, and the American experience. Lastly, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round was a strikingly honest portrayal of its subject matter that made me never want to have a drink before 6 PM ever again.
Worst: Brahms: The Boy II. I think the words “Brahms: The Boy II” really say it all. For the record, I also watched William Brent Bell’s 2006 video game masterpiece Stay Alive not once, but twice this year. So that should give some insight into how weird these past twelve months have been.