It is safe to say that this has been a weird year in film. Due to the global pandemic, for the time being, our trips to the movie theaters with family, friends, and by ourselves have been put on hold. While some movie theaters have started to open up, it is far from mass openings beginning to happen. Although those theaters and experiences have been put on hold for now, it does not mean there haven’t been a plethora of quality films that you can view from the comfort of your living room. For this list, I have only included films you can rent or stream from home, so, unfortunately, I have to leave off titles like Nomadland and Tenet, which I adore, but unfortunately are not available for everyone at the moment.
5. Birds of Prey
There is a solid chance that you might have seen this film in theaters before most movie theaters shut down. It came out in February of this year, and since then has been moved to streaming. Birds of Prey is one of the bright spots in the DCEU. While I haven’t seen everything in the DCEU yet, what I have seen has been underwhelming, to say the least. Bird of Prey has a powerful cast. It stars Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, who is fantastic as usual. The main antagonist, Roman Sionis, played by the masterful Ewan McGregor. The rest of the star-studded cast includes Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Jurnee Smollett.
Birds of Prey is a film that is heavy on women empowerment, and it rocks from start to finish. It has the fun moments that comic book movies should have while simultaneously feeling like a serious and more mature drama. It includes a tremendous sophomore performance by director Cathy Yan who, after Birds of Prey, should be able to tell any story that she wants. It is a film that feels grounded enough that so much of it is relatable but carefully balances the fantasy elements that make so many comic book movies great. You can currently watch it on HBO Max or buy it digitally.
4. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
It is hard to fully digest what I’m Thinking About Ending Things is about. It’s equal parts bizarre and beautiful. I have never been the biggest Charlie Kaufman fan (I’ve only seen this and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, so it’s more I’m new to his work, not that I dislike him); it seems that a lot of his films warrant repeat viewings.
The performances were some of my favorites of 2020. Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons are great on screen together and acted their roles perfectly. The writing was tight and didn’t leave a lot of room for improvisation or any wiggle room. This film is beautifully shot, and some of the cinematography and camera movements were outstanding and created an intimate environment within the film.
It appears that so many have different interpretations of what this film could be about, and I love that aspect of it. I think stories are at their best when everyone takes something different away from it. It is rather dull when everyone has the exact same takeaways from every film. Sometimes we need films that everyone views it differently and interprets it as an art form in a different way. It’s one of the films that has stuck with me ever since watching it when it first came out. I think about once a year, if we are lucky, we get at least one philosophical film that everyone will gain something different from. You can watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things on Netflix.
3. The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man is another film that I was fortunate enough to see in theaters before they all closed down, and oh boy, am I glad I did. This film is everything that I love about the horror/thriller genre. It is a sci-fi horror that deals with the themes of surviving trauma and trying to deal with the PTSD of an abusive relationship, and it hits every note that it tries to sing. It grips you from those opening moments and never loosens its grip. It is tough not to be engaged in this film, especially during your initial watch.
It is technically sound, and Elisabeth Moss is an absolute hit throughout her performance. There were many times throughout The Invisible Man where I found myself trying to catch the actual invisible man in the background, thinking they might try and slip him in without the audience knowing. I recently watched The Invisible Man again at home to see well it holds up outside of the theater, and it still absolutely rocks. It is still just as engaging and thrilling as it was when you view it in the theater. It’s easily one of the best films of 2020 and one of the better horror/thrillers in the last couple of years. It has some fantastic direction and writing from Leigh Whannell, which helps put in the category of this year’s best. You can check out The Invisible Man on HBO Max, or you can rent it digitally.
2. Da Five Bloods
I spent a lot of my quarantine and much of the summer visiting some of Spike Lee’s films. I had only ever seen BlackKklansman and had always wanted to see more. While doing that, I came to a conclusion (that everyone else has come to) that it is inarguable how important a filmmaker Spike Lee is. He continues to create films that help articulate what the experience is like for black people in America. He did it with Do the Right Thing, he did it again in BlacKkKlansman, and he delivers it again with Da 5 Bloods.
In short – Da 5 Bloods is about the African American experience, and more importantly, what that experience is like during wartime. It takes a look at the PTSD of these soldiers of color and how in America, oftentimes when they come back from war, they are not as protected and cared for as some other veterans. It examines the real horrors of what it is like to be involved in an unjust war and the personal aftermath of that service. A quote that illustrates this idea perfectly in the film is, “The war is never over. Whether it goes on in our minds, or in reality.”
Underneath all of that, it also has the message that sometimes it is important to learn to cope with your mistakes and forgive yourself for things that have happened in your past. Most of the time, we are always looking for forgiveness from other people, but we rarely learn to forgive ourselves first, which is equally important.
Da 5 Bloods has one of my favorite performances of the year through actor Delroy Lindo who plays Paul. His performance is easily one of my favorites this year. It is memorizing and powerful. He is a cornerstone of this film and its internal themes; without him in it, there is simply no heart and emotion to Da 5 Bloods. So much of the story’s motivations run through him, and he could not have played that part better. It is a masterful job, and his forest monologue and last scene with the late and great Chadwick Boseman are easily two of my favorite scenes in any film this year. You can check out his performance and Da 5 Bloods on Netflix.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
This film is just simply remarkable. It has such an effective and emotional storytelling style. Each piece of it feels real and deeply personal, even if it’s something you haven’t been through or is something you can’t relate to. Every big emotional moment is earned and feels like you are the protagonist, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan).
This was the debut for Flanigan as a lead actress, and I cannot praise her enough. She had the confidence and composure that you tend to expect from veteran actors. I was blown away when I found out that this was her DEBUT. She had me breathless with her performance and continuously shattered my heart over and over again; she was just brilliant.
This film has a lot to say and is often quite angry about the things it wants to say but portrays its message in such a quiet yet effective way. It points out the harsh reality of unplanned teen pregnancy and deals with what women have to live through on a day to day basis. It shows you how women are often mistreated in their family relationship growing up and then points out the epidemic of how they are often mistreated and feel pressured in their romantic and sexual relationships, often starting at such a young age.
As mentioned before, many scenes crushed me. One of the scenes, in particular, that got to me, happens in a doctor’s office, and it relentlessly punches you in the heart. It was like writer/director Eliza Hittman stared straight into your soul and purposefully made it hurt. It is that method of storytelling and the intimate nature between the audience and what is happening on screen, making this film one of the best of 2020. It’s effective and emotional, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I watched it.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is quiet yet powerful. It has something to say, but it’s not yelling it at you, it’s simply just telling you. It shows you the social problems at hand, and it leads you through this valley of good filmmaking. You can watch it on HBO Max or rent it digitally.