The Movie Guy picks the best movies and documentaries of 2020

EDMONTON — In any given year, I’ll usually see around 75-100 movies in a movie theatre (depending on how many film festivals I’ve attended!), but this year…many of the ‘most highly-anticipated’ studio films were pushed from the release schedule, into 2021 (and beyond?). On the bright side, it means 2020 was a year where I was able to see a whole bunch of smaller/VOD releases that I may not otherwise have seen in a “normal” year. With that in mind, here are my personal Top 10 Films and Top 10 Docs of 2020 list.

The Movie Guy’s Top 10 Non-Documentary films of 2020

ANOTHER ROUND – VOD

Mads Mikkelson is fantastic (as usual) as a bored high school teacher who, along with three colleagues, decides to try an experiment of intoxication, much to the delight of their unsuspecting students, spouses and themselves.

BLOW THE MAN DOWN – Amazon Prime

There’s Coen Brothers DNA all over this wickedly clever murder mystery that starts out simply enough, but quickly turns into a wildly unpredictable ride. The most purely enjoyable thriller of 2020.

BORAT: SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM – Amazon Prime

Sacha Baron Cohen returns to (arguably) his most famous character, just in time for the nightmare known as 2020. Only this time, his daughter (the marvelous newcomer Maria Batalova) is along for the ride. 

THE DARK AND THE WICKED – VOD

Bryan Bertino, director of 2004’s home invasion classic, THE STRANGERS, is back to haunt your dreams, with this utterly terrifying tale, also set in a secluded home out in the middle of nowhere. Turn out the lights, and let this slow burn of a shocker dig its way under your skin… 

GET DUKED! – Amazon Prime

Here’s the perfect example of a smaller film that would have remained under the radar in another, more ‘normal’ year. This hilarious Scottish cult thriller/action/hip hop comedy mashup plays like a demented version of Stand By Me by way of The Wicker Man. 

KING OF STATEN ISLAND – Crave

Judd Apatow’s terrific Pete Davidson vehicle was one of the big Covid casualties, anticipating big buzz from a SXSW Opening Night slot into summer box-office gold. Alas, SXSW was cancelled, movie theatres were shuttered, and this went straight to premium on demand. Davidson is excellent here, but he’s ably supported by the tremendous work of Marisa Tomei and Bill Burr.

PALM SPRINGS – Amazon Prime

A great rom-com is only as good as the couple at the centre of the action, and in the case of Palm Springs, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti have irresistible, undeniable chemistry. Luckily, they’re backed by a profoundly weird – and very funny – screenplay. When you put it all together, this groundhog day-themed rom-com was a shining beacon of hope, in a year that really needed it.

SOUND OF METAL – VOD

Riz Ahmed’s jaw-dropping, heartbreaking performance is reason enough to see this stunning drama about a drummer coming to grips with the loss of his hearing. 

SPONTANEOUS – Amazon Prime

This delirious deconstruction (literally) of the “teen coming of age” genre is one of the most original films of the year. On the surface, it’s a fun & silly horror/comedy hybrid; dig deeper, and you’ll find a pretty thought-provoking parable about how most people feel when they know high school life is coming to an end. 

TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7 – Netflix

Aaron Sorkin’s thrilling recreation of the 1968 Chicago riots features a top-flight cast, a compelling true story, and of course, Sorkin’s typically-stellar dialogue. In a banner year for Sacha Baron Cohen, he really proves his mettle here with his mesmerizing turn as Abbie Hoffman.

The Movie Guy’s Top 10 Documentaries of 2020

ALL IN: THE FIGHT FOR DEMOCRACY – Amazon Prime

Anyone who was caught off guard by the impact Stacey Abrams had on November’s US Presidential election, particularly in her mission to “get out the vote” in Georgia, clearly hadn’t seen this film! A powerhouse, rising star of the Democratic Party, this rousing film about the fight to stop voter suppression should be required viewing for younger (and older!) citizens everywhere.

ATHLETE A – Netflix

In a year where the #MeToo movement sparked a number of powerful films, this exposé of the US Women’s Gymnastics team scandal still managed to shock and confound. How insidious team doctor, Larry Nassar, could continue to assault so many young women, unchecked, for so many years, is a scathing indictment of the deeply flawed system that allowed him to be there in the first place.

BEE GEES: HOW CAN YOU MEND A BROKEN HEART – Crave

Frank Marshall’s lovingly-rendered history of this oft-maligned and misunderstood band gives their incredible legacy the treatment it so richly deserves. Unavoidably tinged with moments of sadness, this tremendously entertaining film is a great history lesson for those who may only have known the Bee Gees as “that disco band”. 

CRIP CAMP – Netflix

My favourite film of 2020 starts out as a cute bit of nostalgia about a long-forgotten camp for children with disabilities, but it evolves into a stirring history lesson about the activists at the forefront of the civil rights movement that resulted in the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. In a year filled with so much daily anger and hopelessness, this film acts as a great reminder of the power of the people to effect change. 

DISCLOSURE – Netflix

This phenomenal, decades-spanning look at trans representation on film is no dry history lesson. Rather, it’s a provocative, educational, inspiring, and highly entertaining history of transgender representation on screen; at once, a living document of how far things have come…but also of how much work still needs to be done. 

THE GO-GO’S – Crave

Alison Ellwood’s raucous chronicle of the legendary, boundary-busting band that exploded onto the LA punk scene in the late 70’s, then went on to become the most successful all-female band of all time, is pure, adrenalin-fueled entertainment, warts and all. 

LEAP OF FAITH: William Friedkin on THE EXORCIST – Shudder

Alexendre O. Phillipe (Memory: The Origins of Alien, 78/52) turns his finely tuned pop culture lens onto the director of the most notorious major studio horror movie of all time. The end result is an in-depth and incredibly compelling interview with the iconoclastic Friedkin, delving into subjects far deeper than just another “making of” puff piece. 

ON THE RECORD – Crave

In a year filled with extraordinarily powerful films, Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering’s incendiary takedown of hip hop mogul Russell Simmons rises to the top, delivering a devastating account of just how difficult it remains for women – especially women of colour – to speak out against their abusers, particularly when their abusers are men of incredible power and wealth. 

THE SOCIAL DILEMMA – Netflix

If you were starting to think that Facebook and Twitter are leading us down the road to hell, well, spoiler alert: you were right! This chilling document of the power social media now has on all our lives will have you thinking twice the next time you hit “like”. 

WELCOME TO CHECHNYA – Crave

The most powerful, shocking, and disturbing film of the year is award-winning filmmaker David France’s nail-biting thriller of a documentary, about the Chechen campaign to eradicate the “scourge” of homosexuality from the country. Filmed in complete secrecy, with the identities of interview subjects disguised through an innovative new CGI technique, this is the must-see film of 2020. 

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