Let’s be honest with ourselves here…
The year that was 2020…just fucking sucked. With the global turmoil due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, everything changed, many of us lost loved ones and quite frankly the way things were very probably won’t be the way that things are. Not just on a global, political or health scale, but in that thing that so many of us love…the experience of going to the cinema and getting lost in a fantastic piece of storytelling.
While I won’t prognosticate on what will happen in this business going forward, there is one thing that is undeniable. The movies in all of it’s forms, have been democratized. Theatrical, PVOD, UVOD, VOD, EST, Streaming, Subscription, DVD, Blu-Ray, On Demand etc etc etc…it’s all the same now.
Anything that came out, in any way during the calendar year (or in early 2021) for general consumption is up for grabs…and here’s the thing, some damn good movies came out (or will be coming imminently) and if you think you’ve run out of things to watch, then I (and our hard working team here at In The Seats) are here to tell you that you haven’t by a long shot.
If you missed out, this is what you need to catch up on ASAP.
25. Tenet: If there’s one movie that’s going to be tied to the “theatrical” cinematic experience in 2020…it’s this one.
Armed with only one word; ‘Tenet’ and fighting for the survival of the entire world, the Protagonist (John David Washington) journeys through a twilight world of international espionage on a mission that will unfold in something beyond real time.
While it’s a movie that needs multiple viewings, its classic Christopher Nolan as he paints a rich narrative with so many layers embedded in it that we are just as fascinated as we get lost in the rich mosaic of big screen visual storytelling.
Tenet is available On Demand, Digital, DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K from all major retailers now.
24. The News of The World/Greyhound (tie): It seems only fitting that Tom Hanks, the man who inadvertently became the celebrity poster child for COVID-19 gets a spot of honor on this list.
Be it five years after the Civil War as a non-fiction storyteller or as an experienced Navy Commander leading supply lines across the Atlantic Ocean, Tom Hanks is simply history incarnate on the big screen.
Both films are filled with action but are also some intense character pieces about men who are either in extraordinary circumstances or ones struggling to escape a violent past and find some peace in his existence. While it certainly wasn’t planned, both films have a real through line and create some great entertainment led by two of the more interesting men we’ve seen on screen this year.
The News of the World is in theatres where available.
Greyhound is streaming exclusively on the Apple TV + platform.
23. Mank: Speaking of interesting men, Mank is the kind of film that grows on you long after it’s finished up and out of your Netflix cue.
Mank takes us to 1930s Hollywood is re-evaluated through the eyes of scathing social critic and alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he races to finish the screenplay of Citizen Kane for Orson Welles.
As much as Citizen Kane is the epitome of classic Hollywood, Mank serves as a reminder that even tinsel town was built on an independent and creative backbone that still has life today. Director David Fincher working from a script by his late father has easily crafted one of the more stunning films of the year and while Gary Oldman shines as Herman J Mankiewicz it’s really Amanda Seyfried as Marion Davies who might be bringing home some awards season gold in the coming year for her performance here.
Mank is available in select theatres and on the Netflix screening service.
22. Blow The Man Down: This really feels like the year that ladies are taking over with some really interesting cinema
Welcome to Easter Cove, a salty fishing village on the far reaches of Maine’s rocky coast. Grieving the loss of their mother and facing an uncertain future, Mary Beth & Priscilla Connolly cover up a gruesome run-in with a dangerous man. To conceal their crime, the sisters must go deeper into Easter Cove’s underbelly and uncover the town matriarchs’ darkest secrets.
From first time writer/directors Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy; Blow The Man Down is a savage little piece of cinema akin to the Coen Brothers that takes us into the seedy underbelly that exists in small town American life as two sisters who find themselves alone for the first time get a crash course in how their little town actually works. It’s a hell of a ride that makes us want more from two up and coming storytellers.
Blow The Man Down is available exclusively on Amazon Prime
21. The Kid Detective: It’s a beautiful thing that the movies still hold some genuine surprises…
A once-celebrated kid detective (Adam Brody), now 31, continues to solve the same trivial mysteries between hangovers and bouts of self-pity. Until a naive client brings him his first ‘adult’ case, to find out who brutally murdered her boyfriend.
There is some genuine joy and honesty in this story of redemption wrapped up in a procedural that is easy to get behind. Writer/Director Evan Morgan makes something that plays so effortlessly that you can’t help but get wrapped up in it all and the unexpected duo of Adam Brody and Sophie Nelisse make for a 21st Century “Odd Couple” that I for one wouldn’t mind seeing more of.
The Kid Detective is available on most VOD and EST Platforms now.
20. The Invisible Man: One of the biggest box office hits of the year is also the scariest…
Trapped in a violent, controlling relationship with a wealthy and brilliant scientist, Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) escapes in the dead of night and disappears into hiding, aided by her sister (Harriet Dyer), their childhood friend (Aldis Hodge) and his teenage daughter (Storm Reid). But when Cecilia’s abusive ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) commits suicide and leaves her a generous portion of his vast fortune, Cecilia suspects his death was a hoax. As a series of eerie coincidences turns lethal, threatening the lives of those she loves, Cecilia’s sanity begins to unravel as she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone nobody can see.
Director Leigh Whannel and star Elizabeth Moss give this update on a classic horror tale a genuine fresh edge. Whannel keeps the action on a razor’s edge and Moss gives us a powerhouse portrayal of a woman struggling to take back her sanity while fighting against the unknown forces looking to bring her down. It’s classic horror with a fresh edge.
The Invisible Man is now available on Crave, all VOD/EST Platforms as well as on DVD, Blu-Ray and 4K.
19. Dating Amber: Finding yourself is a complicated process…
Set-in Ireland during the mid-90’s, Eddie and Amber decide to stage a relationship in order to stop everyone speculating about their sexuality. Eddie is keen to follow his Dad into the military, while Amber dreams of moving to the liberal hub of London. However, their ‘ideal’ arrangement begins to fall apart, forcing Eddie deeper into denial as Amber realizes that a perilous future awaits her best friend unless she intervenes.
Writer/Director David Freyne takes us on a very personal but incredibly honest and often hilarious journey as young gay men and women struggle with their sexuality in small town, predominately Catholic towns. It accurately depicts the pressure on young men to “prove their manhood” by having sex with a woman and the intense peer and social pressures there in. Featuring two leading performances from Fionn O’Shea and Lola Pettigrew that will charm your socks off, Dating Amber is easily the indie coming of age comedy of the year.
Dating Amber is now available on all VOD/EST Platforms.
18. The Vast Of Night: Indie cinema has new homes on the streamers…
In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever. In a night with dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape forgotten in a library, switchboards, crossed patch lines and an anonymous phone call lead Fay and Everett on a scavenger hunt toward the unknown.
Proof positive that genre on a budget is alive and well, The Vast of Night is a stylish glimpse into those stories that sent chills down our collective spines using only well placed words inside creepy stories. Co-writer and Director Andrew Patterson has crafted a tale that would make Rod Serling proud as it creeps into your subconscious with every stylish turn that it takes from start to finish.
The Vast Of Night is available exclusively on the Amazon Prime streaming service.
17. Promising Young Woman: The sisters are doing it for themselves…
Everyone said Cassie (Carey Mulligan) was a promising young woman… until a mysterious event abruptly derailed her future. But nothing in Cassie’s life is what it appears to be: she’s wickedly smart, tantalizingly cunning, and she’s living a secret double life by night. Now, an unexpected encounter is about to give Cassie a chance to right the wrongs of the past.
From writer/director Emerald Fennell; Promising Young Woman is a DARK yet ultimately refreshing spin on the revenge tale that will keep audiences of all genders glued to their respective screens. Thanks to a killer performance from Carey Mulligan that just won’t get the awards kudos it deserves we have a film that will make you squirm while watching it and leave you wanting more. It’s a bent yet sadly accurate look at the male/female dynamic that god willing will spark a few conversations long after the credits have rolled on this one.
Promising Young Woman is playing theatrically where available.
16. Beanpole: War continues long after the last shots are fired…
1945, Leningrad. World War II has devastated the city, demolishing its buildings and leaving its citizens in tatters, physically and mentally. Although the siege – one of the worst in history – is finally over, life and death continue their battle in the wreckage that remains. Two young women, Iya and Masha, search for meaning and hope in the struggle to rebuild their lives amongst the ruins.
Writer/Director Kantemir Balagov takes us into the horrors of war that exist and simmer in the aftermath of conflict giving us a palpable sense of the violence that people can bring on each other in the struggle to survive. It’s a bleak yet salient reminder that no one wins during the horrors of war, and people on the front lines or behind them simple do what they can to survive in the aftermath of these traumatic experiences.
Beanpole is available on most VOD/EST platforms as well as on DVD and Blu-Ray.
15. The Assistant: Pulled from the front pages of day to day life…
The Assistant follows one day in the life of Jane (Julia Garner), a recent college graduate and aspiring film producer, who has recently landed her dream job as a junior assistant to a powerful entertainment mogul. Her day is much like any other assistant’s – making coffee, changing the paper in the copy machine, ordering lunch, arranging travel, taking phone messages, on boarding a new hire. But as Jane follows her daily routine, she, and we, grow increasingly aware of the abuse that insidiously colors every aspect of her work day, an accumulation of degradations against which Jane decides to take a stand, only to discover the true depth of the system into which she has entered.
What writer/director Kitty Green has done with this stunner of a film is put us in the experience of an abusive system that can’t be escaped from straight in our faces. This kind of abuse, hateful attitudes and behaviour happen far too often, but Green makes us feel it and accept that the way to fix it is from within, even if we have to walk through a mile of bullshit and quiet emotional anguish. Julia Garner captures all this as the put upon and tired young woman who wants a chance to make some change, but has to look the other way with all that she witnesses in hopes of getting to the position of power that she wants. Power corrupts across so many sociological lines, and The Assistant with its minimalist approach is what we really needed in order to feel it rather than be clubbed over the head with any sort of political and social movement of the day. We need to be better to each other in so many ways.
The Assistant is available on most VOD/EST Platforms as well as DVD from major retailers.
14. Saint Frances: We’re not all blessed knowing our collective purposes in life, straight out of the gate.
Flailing thirty-four-year-old Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan) finally catches a break when she meets a nice guy and lands a much-needed job nannying six-year-old Frances (played by a scene-stealing Ramona Edith-Williams). But an unwanted pregnancy introduces an unexpected complication. To make matters worse, she clashes with the obstinate Frances and struggles to navigate a growing tension between Frances’ moms. Amidst her tempestuous personal relationships, a reluctant friendship with Frances emerges, and Bridget contends with the inevitable joys and shit-shows of becoming a part of someone else’s family.
Saint Frances is one of those movies that will very quietly sneak up on you. Director Alex Thompson and Writer/Star Kelly O’Sullivan get frank with what it means to be a woman in modern society and they go there in ways that you wouldn’t expect that are occasionally harsh, often funny, and always honest. It gets down to earth and allows so many of the issues not only around women and pregnancy but the issues that we all grapple with in trying to find a place in the universe that isn’t always that excepting of who we are as individuals. In a crazy and often intolerant world, Saint Frances takes a minute to hammer home to audiences that sometimes we all need to take a minute and see what’s going on someone else’s shoes, rather than focus on how something happening to them, might negatively be affecting us. It’s the most subtle and beautiful call for patience between us all that I’ve seen in quite some time.
13. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom: That desire to have your voice heard can be all consuming…
Tensions and temperatures rise over the course of an afternoon recording session in 1920s Chicago as a band of musicians await trailblazing performer, the legendary “Mother of the Blues,” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis). Late to the session, the fearless, fiery Ma engages in a battle of wills with her white manager and producer over control of her music. As the band waits in the studio’s claustrophobic rehearsal room, ambitious trumpeter Levee (Chadwick Boseman) — who has an eye for Ma’s girlfriend and is determined to stake his own claim on the music industry — spurs his fellow musicians into an eruption of stories revealing truths that will forever change the course of their lives.
Based on the play of the same name by playwright August Wilson; Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a pot boiler of tension that erupts in some of the most rich character work that we’ve seen on screen all year.
Director George C Wolfe keeps it all in a similar structure to the stage play allowing the tension that all these characters have to live with at any given time. It’s a fascinating era that sees some very strong willed subjects of colour struggle against the times they are living in.
It’s all a duel of wills that sees some epic performances across the board including Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman which just might earn him a posthumous Oscar nomination as the ambitious but volatile Levee.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is playing exclusively on Netflix.
12. Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always: It’s a reminder that life in a man’s world can be pretty terrible for a girl…
Faced with an unintended pregnancy and a lack of local support, Autumn (Sidney Flannigan) and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) embark across state lines to New York City on a fraught journey of friendship, bravery and compassion.
This isn’t anything that is even remotely trying to push any kind of political agenda, but rather what writer/director Eliza Hittman gives us with this film is a portrait of a world where young women have no other choice then to show incredible bravery in the face of social and societal hypocrisy. Hittman doesn’t hammer home an issue about struggling with getting an abortion but shows us the absurdity that can go into actually getting one and allows us an audience to feel gutted by the journey but encouraged by the raw human empathy on display that allowed Autumn to do what she needed to do.
In her very first feature, Sidney Flannigan is a revelation as she delivers a performance that is filled with honesty and truth to the point that it might have been difficult to get out of an actor that has more polish to them, but it’s exactly what this film needed.
It’s a wake up to the abuses that young women have to endure in life and a testament to the unappreciated power it takes to put up with it all. Hittman isn’t condemning men in this film, but rather is condemning a system that is ingrained in the halls of power at so many levels that allow the weak to take advantage of others…simply because they can.
Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always is now available on Crave, most EST/VOD platforms and DVD.
11. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets: Even your favourite hole in the wall dive bar…has a life unto itself.
On the eve of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election and on its final night before closing, a Las Vegas dive bar becomes a stage where its employees and barflies gather to commiserate one last time.
From filmmaking brothers Bill and Turner Ross, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets pushes the boundaries of the documentary form to allow us feel an appreciation for what was in this given location and how all things must eventually run their course.
While its style will drive some viewers nuts, it’s a film that thrives in the humanity of its quieter moments while revealing in the some of the unique bar room philosophy that has come upon us all when we realize that it’s last call. And sure we know it’s all staged, but those moments of clarity that come in the bar room haze are worth hanging on to and this film allows us that. In a year where the cold light of day has been battering us all in the face, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets allows the reality of the moment while bellied up the bar for that moment of escapism and occasionally bent philosophical enlightment that comes from the human experience that is lovingly know as “the dive bar” and you can only truly appreciate it if you’ve had one of your own.
Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is now available on most EST/VOD platforms as well as being on DVD and Blu-Ray.
10. The Nest: Blind ambition is as toxic as humanly imaginable…
Rory (Jude Law), an ambitious entrepreneur and former commodities broker, persuades his American wife, Allison (Carrie Coon), and their children to leave the comforts of suburban America and return to his native England during the 1980s. Sensing opportunity, Rory rejoins his former firm and leases a centuries-old country manor, with grounds for Allison’s horses and plans to build a stable. Soon the promise of a lucrative new beginning starts to unravel; the couple have to face the unwelcome truths lying beneath the surface of their marriage.
This one is all in the performance of Carrie Coon who commands the screen as the long suffering trophy wife of an ambitious man caught up in the go-go 80’s search for excess which almost tears his entire family apart. It’s a glorious character study in the toxic nature of wanting “more”.
The Nest is available on most VOD/EST platforms and on DVD from major retailers.
9. Soul: Pixar embraces its grownup side…
Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is a middle-school band teacher who gets the chance of a lifetime to play at the best jazz club in town. But one small misstep takes him from the streets of New York City to The Great Before – a fantastical place where new souls get their personalities, quirks and interests before they go to Earth. Determined to return to his life, Joe teams up with a precocious soul, 22 (Tina Fey), who has never understood the appeal of the human experience. As Joe desperately tries to show 22 what’s great about living, he may just discover the answers to some of life’s most important questions.
Directors Pete Doctor and Kemp Powers take us into some uniquely grownup territory with Soul as they examine what it means to be alive and embrace the human experience. This is a movie that isn’t afraid to get philosophical and gives us the unique experiences of some characters that can be experienced across gender and colour lines in what is hands down the most beautiful film of the year in more ways than one.
Soul is available exclusively on the Disney + streaming service.
8. The Outpost: It’s always been about the guy next to you…
Based on Jake Tapper’s non-fiction book, The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, this film follows a tiny unit of U.S. soldiers, alone at the remote Combat Outpost Keating, located deep in the valley of three mountains in Afghanistan, as they battle to defend against an overwhelming force of Taliban fighters in a coordinated attack. The Battle of Kamdesh, as it was known, was the bloodiest American engagement of the Afghan War in 2009 and Bravo Troop 3-61 CAV became one of the most decorated units of the 19-year conflict.
What director Rod Lurie does here is something that we haven’t seen since Black Hawk Down and gives us a film that reminds us that war isn’t about the conflict, but rather about the men and women and their willingness to walk into some almost impossible situations that they might not walk out of. These conflicts are never about “winning” or “losing” yet it’s about getting the job done and the camaraderie that comes out of getting out in one piece because making sure everyone gets home safe is the one aspect of war that people can ALWAYS agree upon.
The Outpost is available on DVD, Blu-Ray, Netflix and most VOD/EST providers.
7. Bacurau: A few years from now… Bacurau, a small village in the Brazilian sertão, mourns the loss of its matriarch, Carmelita, who lived to be 94. Days later, its inhabitants notice that their village has literally vanished from most maps and a UFO-shaped drone starts flying overhead. There are forces that want to expel them from their homes.
Truly a film that embraces the moment of societal chaos that we live in; Brazilian filmmakers Kleber Mendonca Filho and Julianoe Dornelles give us a film that wraps a narrative about social class structures into heist thriller with science-fiction overtones. Never has something so gloriously weird been this vital…plus Sonia Braga!!!
Bacurau is available on DVD, Blu-Ray and all major EST/VOD providers.
6. Dick Johnson Is Dead: We all deal with loss differently…
A lifetime of making documentaries has convinced the award-winning filmmaker Kirsten Johnson of the power of the real. But now she’s ready to use every escapist movie-making trick in the book – staging inventive and fantastical ways for her 86-year-old psychiatrist father to die while hoping that cinema might help her bend time, laugh at pain, and keep her father alive forever.
Kirsten Johnson keeps pushing the boundaries of the documentary form and it keeps going here with this that is a call to appreciate those you love in the moments that you have with them. It allows us to understand that mortality itself needs to be met with humility, humor and most importantly acceptance. It’s a pure act of love from a father to a daughter, and it’s entertaining as all hell to boot.
Dick Johnson Is Dead is available exclusively on Netflix.
5. Minari: The American dream is a global ideal…
A tender and sweeping story about what roots us; Minari follows a Korean-American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother. Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.
In a year where we’ve been encouraged to stay home as much as humanly possible, it feels only fitting that we have a movie that shows the true meaning of the world. From Writer/Director Lee Isaac Chung we get to experience the quiet grace and struggle that is required on so many fronts in order to achieve one’s dreams. It’s all kinds of beautiful with a leading man turn from Steven Yeun which catapults him to an award winning caliber leading man.
Minari will open across multiple platforms in 2021.
4. Sound of Metal: Life is about the notes that don’t get played…
During a series of adrenaline-fueled one-night gigs, itinerant punk-metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) begins to experience intermittent hearing loss. When a specialist tells him his condition will rapidly worsen, he thinks his music career — and with it his life — is over. His band mate and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) checks the recovering heroin addict into a secluded sober house for the deaf in hopes it will prevent a relapse and help him learn to adapt to his new situation. But after being welcomed into a community that accepts him just as he is, Ruben has to choose between his equilibrium and the drive to reclaim the life he once knew.
This is quite simply an immaculately designed film from writer/director Darius Marder that actually puts in the effort to be representative of the experience of being deaf. Marder disorientates his audiences, not for spectacle but for emotional resonance as star Riz Ahmed delivers what just might be the best performance of his entire career.
Sound of Metal is available on most VOD/EST platforms and Amazon Prime for US customers only.
3. Pieces of a Woman: You can’t always walk a mile in someone else’s shoes…
Martha (Vanessa Kirby) and Sean (Shia LaBeouf) are a Boston couple on the verge of parenthood whose lives change irrevocably when a home birth ends in unimaginable tragedy. Thus begins a yearlong odyssey for Martha, who must navigate her grief while working through fractious relationships with her husband and her domineering mother (Ellen Burstyn), along with the publicly vilified midwife (Molly Parker), whom she must face in court.
The single best performance of the year as Vanessa Kirby gives us the heartbreak that we could rarely understand from the outside looking in. Director Kornél Mundruczó brings a measured sensibility to this kind of drama that is a kin to the films of Ingmar Bergman as it soaks us in the deliberate and clear pain of the moment. It’s hard watch but it’s quite possible the most emotionally satisfying one of the year as you’ll feel like you’ve earned everything you feel at the end of it.
Pieces of a Woman comes to Netflix on January 7th.
2. David Byrne’s American Utopia: When you push expected form of something, you make a real statement…
David Byrne’s American Utopia brings the critically acclaimed Broadway show to HBO in a one-of-a-kind film directed by Spike Lee. Recorded during its run at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre in New York City, David Byrne is joined by an ensemble of 11 musicians, singers, and dancers from around the globe, inviting audiences into a joyous dream world where human connection, self-evolution, and social justice are paramount.
In a year where a director like Spike Lee comes out with two amazing films, American Utopia is such a powerful convention pusher that gets us to the heart and the necessity for human connection in a year where we didn’t have enough of that. The work is in the documenting of it all as this performance transcends any and all kinds of mediums. Lee makes it all that much more intimate as Byrne’s message of getting humanity a little more involved in what’s going on the world all that more relevant. This is the movie that we needed in the calendar year of 2020.
David Byrne’s American Utopia is playing exclusively on Crave in Canada, and HBO Max in the US.
1. Nomadland/One Night In Miami (tie): Two very different films, but both lead with a clarity of purpose.
Nomadland is a slice of Americana in the wake of the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad.
While One Night In Miami takes us to one incredible night in 1964, four icons of sports, music, and activism gathered to celebrate one of the biggest upsets in boxing history. When underdog Cassius Clay, soon to be called Muhammad Ali, (Eli Goree), defeats heavy weight champion Sonny Liston at the Miami Convention Hall, Clay memorialized the event with three of his friends: Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) and Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge).
Both female led films as director Chloe Zhao and star Frances McDormand allow Nomadland to be mediation on the modern existence in an increasingly disconnected world and how those who choose to live in an unorthodox manner have less value then those who do.
While One Night In Miami gives us a fictionalized but terribly fascinating scenario of four icons of black society coming together as they grasp their roles in the world at a pivotal moment in black history in America in the 1960’s. Regina King settles into her first feature directing job here with aplomb as she knows damn well to let her actors shine and take the stage giving us a “what if” moment for the ages that you can’t look away from.
Nomadland will be coming to various platforms in early 2021.
One Night In Miami debuts on Amazon Prime on January 15th.
Bring on 2021…