2020, among many other things, had an altogether strange and, at times, an unbearably keen ability to capture itself—its movements and stagnations, its faults and successes, its miseries and joys—on screens both big and small.
More so than in years past, cinema seemed to be perfectly positioned to capture a specific moment in time that, for so many of us, led us on an overwhelming tour of the entire spectrum of human emotion. From the anxieties of quarantine—that fear of an endless imprisonment in mundanity—(I'm Thinking of Ending Things and Palm Springs), to the prospect of endless possibility and the freedom of the human spirit (Nomadland and First Cow), and finally, at long last, a firmly held microscope over the failures of America's popular and political cultures (Promising Young Woman and Da 5 Bloods), the medium was used to its highest potential; to tell stories that were relevant, necessary, and, (thankfully), brilliantly told. Cinema was bolder, brighter, and more human than it's been in a long time, thanks in no small part to the women and persons of color whose stories were given a long-overdue sense of urgency and well-deserved attention.
I predicted last year, as Endgame and Skywalker came and went, that the wave of blockbusters and big-budget productions that dominated the entirety of the new millenium would fall in favor of the intimacy of independent cinema with the coming of the new decade. The so-called Marvel Fatigue, combined with the unpredictable nature of the year and its unknown consequences for the future, all but cemented that prediction as an unavoidable truth. Hollywood, if we are to boil cinema down to one name—a blip on a map where some movies come from, yet all are attributed to—will never be the same.
2020, however, was not the death of cinema. It was a rebirth.
Below are some of my favorites that I saw this year. I’ve included links to original reviews, as well as year-end thoughts, viewable in Notes View.
#01-16: Movies released theatrically in 2020
#17-35: Movies I saw for the first time in 2020, but were released earlier
#36-40: Some favorites I rewatched
📽️ 298 feature films watched
🌐 64 films from outside North America and the UK, produced across nearly forty different countries
🎞️ 46 new films within the Criterion Collection
Full Letterboxd 2020 Stats
✅ All major contenders (and 2/3 total nominees) from the 92nd Academy Awards
✅ Chaplin: His Life and Art, 75 shorts and features through the Silent Era
✅ 158 feature films watched while away from work due to COVID-19
✅ 30 films as part of TCM's presentation of Women Make Film, as well as the 14-hour documentary mini-series
✅ 29 films as part of TCM's Summer Under the Stars
✅ 25 films in June, focusing exclusively on Queer and Black stories & filmmakers
✅ Selections from the TCM Classic Films Festival, the 58th New York Film Festival, the AFI Film Festival, and the Middleburg Film Festival, all presented remotely
✅ Selections from the short films presented at South by Southwest
✅ 6 with Burt Lancaster; 5 with Judy Garland
✅ The complete filmography of Alfonso Cuarón
✅ 9 by Spike Lee; 5 by Alfred Hitchcock; 4 by Park chan-wook, Christopher Nolan, & Céline Sciamma; 3 by Gregg Araki, Peter Bogdanovich, Charlie Kaufman, & Douglas Sirk
Top 250 I Watched for the First Time
Come and See, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, The Passion of Joan of Arc, The Handmaiden, Do the Right Thing, Close-Up, Oldboy, Minari, Nomadland, A Separation, Children of Men, A Special Day, Raging Bull, Metropolis, Amadeus, Sweet Smell of Success, Paper Moon, Inception, A Face in the Crowd, North By Northwest
Warren Beatty, Jessie Buckley, Gary Cooper, Greta Garbo, Burt Lancaster, Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Leslie Odom Jr., Ryan O’Neil, River Phoenix, Elaine Stritch
And as part of TCM’s Summer Under the Stars: Goldie Hawn, Charlton Heston, Sammy Davis Jr., Ann Miller, Norma Shearer
Gregg Araki, Kathryn Bigelow, Peter Bogdonovich, Park Chan-wook, Brandon Cronenberg, Cheryl Dunye, Lucio Fulci, Werner Herzog, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Charlie Kaufman, Elem Klimov, Regina King, Barbara Kopple, Francis Lee, Robert Z. Leonard, Herschell Gordon Lewis, Vincente Minelli, Laurence Olivier, Cooper Raiff, Alex Ross Perry, Céline Sciamma, Chloé Zhao
And as part of TCM’s Women Make Film: Andrea Arnold, Jane Campion, Věra Chytilová, Julie Dash, Maya Deren, Alice Guy-Blaché, Nicole Holofcener, Lonne Reiniger, Larisa Shepitko, Penelope Spheeris, Lois Weber, Lina Wertmuller
2020 Films I Missed:
Ammonite, Another Round, The Assistant, Babyteeth, Bacurau, Beanpole, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets, The Boys in the Band, City Hall, Deerskin, The Father, Feels Good Man, The Forty Year Old Version, Freaky, The Half of It, Hamilton, Happiest Season, Hillbilly Elegy, Kajillionaire, Martin Eden, Miss Juneteenth, MLK/FBI, On the Rocks, The Rental, She Dies Tomorrow, Small Axe, A Sun, Tigertail, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Vast of Night, Welcome to Chechnya, What the Constitution Means to Me, 12 Hour Shift
⬜ Complete Chaplin: His Life and Art
⬜ Biographies and Filmographies of Orson Welles and Ingrid Bergman
⬜ The Filmography of Paul Thomas Anderson, ahead of his upcoming film Soggy Bottom
⬜ Complete the Criterion sets for Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa, begun in 2019
⬜ Criterion's World of Wong Kar-Wai
⬜ Selections of films featured in Criterion's 100 Years of Olympic Films
⬜ Selections of films nominated for the Queer Palm
⬜ Criterion Challenge 2021