My 2020 Movie Diary

Still from “The Assistant” Directed by Kitty Green

For five years now I’ve been recording every movie I watch in my film diary at Letterboxd. Each month, I post a recap of what I watched the previous month, and at the start of each year I run down the full list of what I saw the previous twelve months. This is that full list, including a ranking of my favorite movies of 2020 (that I’ve been able to watch as of this writing). But first, here is a mildly interesting graph that I created from all of that activity.

Total Movies Watched by Year

Chart of Yearly Movie Consumption, 2020

That’s a quick overview of how many movies I saw each year since I began actively logging my movie consumption in January of 2016. For those who are counting, that’s actually a total of 1,011 over five years, with “year over year growth,” as they say, for every year…except 2020. I’m not quite sure why.

In theory I had more time for movies than ever during the pandemic—and they were easier to watch, too. I was able to see all but two of my top ten favorites (“First Cow” and “Emma.”) from home in their first run. As a result I probably saw a greater number of genuinely good movies in 2020 than in previous years, when I would have to make the time to trek out to theaters. In fact, compared to previous years when only the top five or so on my lists were movies that I was genuinely enthusiastic about, this year almost the full list of ten fall into that category.

On the other hand, one thing that became clear to me though is that the streaming media platforms still struggle to deliver genuinely good, original productions. Eight of my top ten movies were originally intended for theatrical release but were ultimately diverted to streaming. And only one of the remaining two, Steve McQueen’s highly variegated “Small Axe” series, truly originated with a streaming service. “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” was a thrill, and a triumph for Netflix—for my money among the best things that the service has ever done—but it’s an adaptation of a well regarded stage play by August Wilson. The streaming services have yet to prove that they can turn out quality beyond a very few of their most earnest prestige projects like these and 2018’s “Roma.”

Complaints aside, it’s worth remembering how lucky we are to have this virtually unlimited, on demand library of new and back catalog films to get us through this terrible pandemic. For my family and me, the luxury of retreating into movies while the world seemed to fall apart outside was essential to coping with last year’s lockdowns and the loss of social intimacy. We were even luckier in that before the pandemic hit, we had set up a projector in our basement that allowed us to simulate a small movie theater in the comfort of our own home. And when the weather turned warm, I brought that projector out to the backyard, hung an inexpensive screen on the fence, and we were able to watch movies after sundown in the warm summer air. All in all, I was more grateful for movies in 2020 than ever.

Back Yard Movies

Top Ten

Okay, here’s my list. You can see my full ranking of movies made in 2020 here.

  1. The Assistant” An ordinary but harrowing day in the life of an idealistic young office worker employed by a horrible person. Extremely subtle and even non-specific while still managing to incredibly explicit.
  2. First Cow” A lovely, heartbreaking tale of a friendship between two otherwise overlooked bit players in the gold rush of the late nineteenth century.
  3. Sound of Metal” A drummer in a rock band loses his hearing and the audience joins him in his journey in a way that’s startlingly novel and real.
  4. Bacurau” A genre picture so weird and unusual that it seems to invent itself as it goes along. Thrilling.
  5. Tenet” A massively ambitious art film disguised as a summer blockbuster.
  6. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” An impressively cinematic translation of a stage play, bolstered by amazing performances.
  7. The Vast of Night” The amazing technical chops that this indie sci-fi thriller pulls off with its tiny budget is impressive, but what’s even better is the wonderfully vivid characters and dialog that sweep you up into the period setting.
  8. Emma.” They’ll be making new renditions of this endlessly entertaining story forever, but this one is directed with brilliant, lively panache.
  9. Small Axe: Lovers Rock” By far the highlight of this five-part series because it evokes a deep, joyous mood that we rarely get to see. There’s also an early morning bicycle ride that took my breath away.
  10. Mank” A potent re-creation of a lost era of artistic industry.

And below you’ll find the rundown for all of 2020. You can also see Letterboxd’s automatically generated overview of my year here. Or You can turn back time and see what I watched in 2019, in 2018, in 2017, and in 2016. Finally, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.

January 2020

  1. Beirut” (2018) ★★
    The bones of a complex script smothered in Hollywood clichés.
  2. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies” (2018) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Best DC movie since Nolan.
  3. Blaze” (2018) ★★★½
    Fully committed and exquisitely made, but it’s a lot.
  4. Before Midnight” (2013) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. So many truths.
  5. 1917” (2019) ★★★★
    At first I thought it was a bit of a gimmick, but it swept me up.
  6. Little Women” (2019) ★★★½
    Its credentials are better than its execution, in part due to some pretty egregious miscasting.
  7. Smiles of a Summer Night” (1955) ★★★
    Social deviants hiding in polite society.
  8. Wild Strawberries” (1957) ★★★★
    Everything you could want in a Bergman film.
  9. Toy Story 3” (2010) ★★★★
    Incisive farewell to childhood.
  10. The Assassin Next Door” (2009) ★★
    Schlock city, but I’ll watch Olga Kurylenko in anything.
  11. Before Sunset” (2004) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Exquisite articulation of growing into yourself.
  12. Crisis” (1946) ★★
    Maudlin excuse to objectify youth.
  13. The Natural” (1984) ★★
    Reagan-era hokum on the baseball diamond.
  14. Yesterday” (2019) ★★★½
    Empty-headed but irresistible.
  15. Paris, Je T’Aime” (2006) ★★½
    As expected for an anthology film, a mixed bag.
  16. A Ship to India” (1947) ★★★½
    Brutal youth.

February 2020

  1. Paddington 2” (2017) ★★★½
    Rewatched. This is a very entertaining movie.
  2. The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years” (2016) ★★★
    Rewatched. Aside from some previously unseen footage, there’s not much new here.
  3. The Secret Life of Pets 2” (2019) ★
  4. To Joy” (1950) ★★★½
    Bergman rips your heart out in the first scene and then shreds it bit by bit for the rest of this tale of romantic decay.
  5. Quantum of Solace” (2008) ★★★
    Rewatched. Not perfect, but one of my favorite Bond films.
  6. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)” (2020) ★★★½
    Probably thirty minutes too long, but continually inventive in how it allows its characters to carry themselves.
  7. The Philadelphia Story” (1940) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Marred by a few low moments, but otherwise magical.
  8. Monsters, Inc.” (2001) ★★★½
    Rewatched. The huge doors set piece in the last act is still pretty wonderful.
  9. Summer with Monika” (1953) ★★★★
    Captures perfectly the flawed notion of youthful romance.
  10. The Pilgrim” (1923) ★★★½
    Just a regular day inventing cinema for Charlie Chaplin.
  11. Emma.” (2020) ★★★★
    Delightfully buttoned up.
  12. Force Majeure” (2014) ★★★½
    Like dissecting a frog for no other purpose than to cut it open.
  13. Seven Psychopaths” (2012) ★
    Writer-director Martin McDonagh thinks himself very clever, which is the sole reason this movie ever got made.
  14. True Grit” (2010) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Sentimentality suits the Coens surprisingly well in this minor masterpiece.
  15. The Farewell” (2019) ★★
    Lovingly made but little more than a string of tasteful clichés.
  16. Casino Royale” (2006) ★★★
    Rewatched. Demonstrates how casting can triumph over a half-baked script.
  17. Bad Times at the El Royale” (2018) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Satisfyingly punchy B-movie.
  18. Blackhat” (2015) ★½
    Rewatched. I hope Michael Mann doesn’t end his theatrical film career with this clunker.
  19. The Bourne Ultimatum” (2007) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Sequels define franchises.
  20. Skyfall” (2012) ★★★
    Rewatched. The cinematography is an achievement but the script and direction are not.
  21. Coco” (2017) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Wonderful.
  22. Furie” (2019) ★★
    Incomprehensible but fascinating action thriller from Vietnam.
  23. Destroyer” (2018) ★
    A pointlessly long prestige film predicated on a pointlessly showy performance.
  24. Wreck-It Ralph” (2012) ★★★
    Rewatched. I enjoyed this more than I did the first time.

March 2020

  1. Early Man” (2018) ★★½
    Charming but weightless, and disappointingly short on ambition for an Aardman film.
  2. Zazie dans le Métro” (1960) ★★★½
    Bananas dream logic from the dawn of the French New Wave.
  3. Hidden Figures” (2016) ★★
    Does everything by the book, which means it contains almost zero surprises.
  4. Contagion” (2011) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Its prescience is frightening and illuminating but it’s also maybe the best medical thriller ever made.
  5. Onward” (2020) ★★★★
    Doesn’t broadcast its artistry as loudly as Pixar’s more prominent features, but still deeply felt and satisfying.
  6. Clockwatchers” (1997) ★★★½
    Mostly excellent meditation on the mundanity of office life a quarter century ago(!?). Worth it just to see Parker Posey at the height of her powers.
  7. Dora and the Lost City of Gold” (2019) ★
    Who was this intended for? Not even the filmmakers had a clue.
  8. Shoulder Arms” (1918) ★★★★
    Chaplin at the battlefront. Filmed a century before Sam Mendes’s “1917” and every bit as technically accomplished, plus funnier.
  9. Jojo Rabbit” (2019) ★★½
    Seems to have been made on a dare because there can be no other reason for this movie to exist.
  10. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” (2019) ★★★★
    What could have been mawkish turns out to be exquisitely genuine.
  11. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018) ★★★★
    A wonderful balm in a time of crisis.
  12. The Invisible Man” (2020) ★★½
    This movie seems to have a very important message of some kind. It was hard to tell amidst all the screamingly obvious clichés.
  13. Spies in Disguise” (2019) ★★
    A feast of CG texture mapping, and that’s about it.
  14. Birdman of Alcatraz” (1962) ★★★★
    Rewatched. An issues movie about penology that veers on the didactic, but Burt Lancaster carries the whole thing with his uniquely fragile hyper-masculinity.

April 2020

  1. Emma” (1996) ★★★
    I could watch another dozen remakes of this story.
  2. Tangled” (2010) ★★½
    Disney seems to think it can outsmart stereotypes by playing into them.
  3. The Lighthouse” (2019) ★★★½
    Sumptuously crafted but a disappointingly predictable rendering of lunacy.
  4. Based on a True Story” (2017) ★★
    Roman Polanski brings together two intensely watchable actresses, concocts a tantalizing conflict for them, and forgets to do anything with it all.
  5. Sons of the Desert” (1933) ★★★½
    The sheer delight of Laurel and Hardy’s slapstick genius, stretched to its narrative limits.
  6. Vendetta of a Samurai” (1952) ★★★★
    An unsparing indictment of the falsity of combat glory, wrapped inside a samurai flick.
  7. Knives Out” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Had a ball again.
  8. Dogtooth” (2009) ★★★½
    Yorgos Lanthimos anticipates quarantine living.
  9. Parade” (1974) ★★★½
    Jacques Tati as ringmaster of a circus and the director of a movie about that circus…difficult to describe but delightful.
  10. Holes” (2003) ★★
    Watching this adaptation, I really felt like I was cheating myself by not reading the book.
  11. Ready or Not” (2019) ★★★
    A dumb slasher thriller but also a perfectly fine example of what movies are meant for.
  12. Mon Oncle” (1958) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Satirizing the tipping point of the 20th Century.
  13. The Whistlers” (2019) ★★½
    So conceptual it forgot to be original.

May 2020

  1. Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020) ★
    Mercilessly pointless.
  2. The Assistant” (2019) ★★★★
  3. Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985) ★★★
    Rewatched. Better than I remembered.
  4. The Lion King” (1994) ★★★
    First time seeing this.
  5. The Avengers” (2012) ★★★
    The only Marvel movie with a real script.
  6. Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours To Kill” (2020) ★★★½
    Sharp as ever.
  7. The Incredibles” (2004) ★★★★
    Rewatched for the umpteenth time and at first reluctantly, but by the end I remembered why this is so great.
  8. Moonraker” (1979) ★½
    Rewatched. Punishingly plodding.
  9. Ash Is Purest White” (2018) ★★★
    Quietly epic travelogue of change in modern China
  10. Bringing Up Baby” (1938) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. My kids did not really appreciate this, but I did.
  11. Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. More and more, this seems like the best film of the last decade.
  12. Incredibles 2” (2018) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Doesn’t live up to its predecessor, but very good nevertheless.
  13. Tigertail” (2020) ★★
    A short film stretched to feature length and without good reason.
  14. Charlie’s Angels” (2019) ★½
    A disservice to women.
  15. Groundhog Day” (1993) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Perfect.
  16. Onward” (2020) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Don’t sleep on this one. It’s great.
  17. Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” (2011) ★★★½
    Worthwhile if not entirely successful remake of the original 1962 masterpiece.
  18. The Gold Rush” (1925) ★★★★
    Charlie Chaplin goes prospecting in Alaska, digs up remarkable pathos.
  19. Kuffs” (1992) ★
    An embarrassment to the 1990s.
  20. Kubo and the Two Strings” (2016) ★★½
    Compellingly mythic until its Hollywood ending.
  21. Apollo 13” (1995) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Irresistible confidence porn.
  22. Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” (2019) ★★½
    Documentary about audio production for film is revealing but rarely inspiring.

June 2020

  1. Kiki’s Delivery Service” (1989) ★★★
    Cute as a button.
  2. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Expertly balanced between adventure and humor throughout.
  3. Arctic” (2018) ★★★★
    Sturdy man versus nature drama.
  4. Bad Education” (2019) ★★★
    Superb direction can’t quite save this script from itself.
  5. Ali” (2001) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A bit meandering but nevertheless mesmerizing, especially the first ten minutes.
  6. Fast Color” (2018) ★★★
    Promising cast and premise, flat production.
  7. Spirited Away” (2001) ★★
    Yes it’s amazing! No it didn’t work for me.
  8. Ip Man 4: The Finale” (2019) ★
    Cheap, sentimental conclusion to a franchise that deserved better.
  9. Kedi” (2016) ★★★
    Irresistible documentary somehow manages to render street cats in Istanbul as more vivid characters than most movies starring people.
  10. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) ★★★★
    Rewatched. What the grown up world was supposed to be like.
  11. Batman & Robin” (1997) ½
    Entirely deserves every last bit of scorn ever tossed its way.
  12. Batman Returns” (1992) ★
    Rewatched. Tiresomely fetishistic, and largely forgettable.
  13. Batman Forever” (1995) ★½
    Rewatched. Not a good movie, but the costumes were ace.

July 2020

  1. The Adventures of Tintin” (2011) ★★★
    Rewatched. Better and less distractingly uncanny valley-esque than I remembered.
  2. Missing Link” (2019) ★★
    Amusing but insubstantial, and quixotically stop-motion-animated by Laika Studio.
  3. Blood on the Moon” (1948) ★★★★
    A very manly Robert Mitchum-led western, gorgeously shot and begging for a proper film restoration.
  4. Greyhound” (2020) ★★★½
    Totally acceptable, sturdy, dad-optimized battleship thriller.
  5. Station West” (1948) ★★
    Noir-ish western with a completely implausible badass for a protagonist.
  6. The Old Guard” (2020) ★½
    Charlize Theron gives us so much, yet this overly serious movie serves her so poorly.
  7. Emma.” (2020) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Tried to figure out what annoyed some people about this movie, but I had too good of a time to bother.
  8. Captain Blood” (1935) ★★★★
    Bracingly entertaining, old fashioned pirate highjinks that my kids hated.
  9. Mad Max 2” (1981) ★★★★
    Rewatched. It would’ve been depressing if it wasn’t so excellent.
  10. Akeelah and the Bee” (2006) ★★★
    By the numbers but made with feeling.
  11. One Hundred and One Dalmatians” (1961) ★★★★
    Aesthetically gorgeous; I’m not sure CG animation has equaled it.
  12. Mission: Impossible – Fallout” (2018) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Possibly the high water mark for action sequels.
  13. Da 5 Bloods” (2020) ★★
    So much talent and so much effort, and yet so many shortcuts taken.
  14. Duplicity” (2009) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Crackerjack little corporate adventure film from a time when they used to make movies for grown ups.
  15. 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” (2007) ★★★★½
    Harrowingly authentic story of a young woman helping her friend seek an illegal abortion.
  16. The Secret World of Arrietty” (2010) ★★★
    Less ambitious—and highfalutin—than other Ghibli productions, for the better.
  17. Destroy All Monsters” (1968) ★★½
    A true cheese-fest featuring Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and more kaiju in what amounts to an episode of “Star Trek.”

August 2020

  1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Like a TV season finale so transcendent there’s no need to watch all the episodes that preceded it.
  2. The Little Prince” (1974) ★★½
    Not without its charms, but sunk by the irritating titular performer.
  3. Big Hero 6” (2014) ★★
    Rewatched. Its reverence for tech is not holding up well.
  4. Batman” (1989) ★★
    Rewatched. Tiresome.
  5. My Brother’s Wedding” (1983) ★★★★
    Imperfect but transfixing tragedy set in South Central LA.
  6. Never Goin’ Back” (2018) ★★★★
    A morally reprehensible but briskly made triumph.
  7. Extra Ordinary” (2019) ★★★½
    Yet another Irish indie in which an unattached driving instructor speaks to the dead and battles a one-hit wonder rockstar, to largely amiable effect.
  8. The Report” (2019) ★★★★
    Setting aside the vanity of a screenwriter directing a movie about a guy writing something so important that middle-managers and executives want to water it down, this meticulous reckoning with Bush-era torture is terrific.
  9. Speed” (1994) ★★★½
    Rewatched. A good example of how a dumb movie can achieve greatness.
  10. Top Gun” (1986) ★½
    This thinly plotted recruitment film remains aesthetically undimmed, but it’s also still just as empty-headed as ever.
  11. Uncle Buck” (1989) ★½
    Disappointingly few laughs; I added a half-star out of fondness for John Candy.
  12. Revanche” (2008) ★★★★
    A taut, expertly directed subversion of the revenge thriller form.
  13. Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) ★★★
    Rewatched. A pointed declaration of ideals about comedy vs. realism that’s not particularly funny or realistic.
  14. Bacurau” (2019) ★★★★
    Bonkers B-movie set in Brazil that continually reinvents itself, thrillingly.
  15. The Truman Show” (1998) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Charming but maybe most commendable for neutralizing Jim Carrey’s insufferability.
  16. Escape from New York” (1981) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A good time was had by all.
  17. Greed” (2019) ★★
    Steve Coogan as anti-hero is so entertaining that this message movie mostly forgets to deliver its message until the end when it skirts by with lip service.
  18. Castle in the Sky” (1986) ★★½
    Rewatched. Fantastic and inert.
  19. Variety” (1983) ★★★
    Fascinating document of post-noir cinema and pre-Giuliani New York.

September 2020

  1. Captain America: The First Avenger” (2011) ★★
    Rewatched. Supposedly benign but takes a lot of offensive liberties with race and history.
  2. Millions” (2004) ★★★
    Smartly directed fable of a kid’s experience dealing with the death of a loved one? I’ll take it. Corny sermonizing on the power of faith? Not so much.
  3. Monsters University” (2013) ★★★½
    I know these back catalog Pixar sequels are not supposed to be well regarded but I really liked this one.
  4. Motherless Brooklyn” (2019) ★★
    Edward Norton did his homework and he wants you to know it.
  5. I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (2020) ★★½
    Diverting for a while until it turns into a game of semantic Clue.
  6. The Shop Around the Corner” (1940) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Warmly imagined romantic comedy about pre-War Hungary.
  7. Sleuth” (1972) ★★★★
    A delicious acting feast rolled up in a parlor room whodunit.
  8. Star Wars” (1977) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Enjoying this movie today requires not just suspension of disbelief but also summoning up a willful ignorance of all the crap sequels that have followed.
  9. The Birth of a Nation” (1915)
    Talk about complicated. A disturbingly well-made paean to hatred and bigotry.
  10. An American Pickle” (2020) ★★
    Starts off with crackle, then limps along to a whimpering finish.
  11. The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) ★★★½
    Rewatched. The best made installment of the entire series, but perhaps not essential at all.
  12. The Traitor” (2019) ★★½
    Goes deep inside the Italian mafia, reveals surprisingly little.
  13. How to Build a Girl” (2019) ★½
    Shamefully squanders a terrific premise: excavating the way British music weeklies used to build up and tear down bands.
  14. Dazed and Confused” (1993) ★★★
    A great hangout movie, sure, but in retrospect, quite toxic.
  15. The Violent Men” (1955) ★★★★
    An old western with a terrifying view of how power is amassed.

October 2020

  1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire” (2019) ★★★★½
    So astoundingly well made it’s almost distracting.
  2. Lost in America” (1985) ★★½
    Albert Brooks was ahead of his time, but not by much.
  3. Con Air” (1997) ★★
    Rewatched. Holds its audience in starkly low regard.
  4. Stop Making Sense” (1984) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Piercingly clear document of a band at a point where they finally figured out how to align their bizarre impulses with widespread accessibility.
  5. Only Angels Have Wings” (1939) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. An intoxicatingly grubby little story of people lost at the edge of the world.
  6. The Good Dinosaur” (2015) ★★½
    Technology in search of a problem.
  7. Enola Holmes” (2020) ★½
    I was totally signed up for this thriller about Sherlock Holmes’s super smart little sister, but it turned out to be not very smart at all.
  8. The Trial of the Chicago 7” (2020) ★★½
    Sorkin’s gotta Sorkin.
  9. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” (2020) ★★★
    Not a great movie, but a pretty great time.
  10. Death on the Nile” (1978) ★★★
    Pure formula, but satisfying.
  11. A Few Good Men” (1992) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Not a masterpiece but for a movie where not a lot really happens on screen aside from some shouting, it’s remarkably entertaining.
  12. Black and Blue” (2019) ★★★
    Pretty creaky policier, but there are still some vital ideas at work here.
  13. Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014) ★★½
    Rewatched. For every smart narrative decision it makes, it follows up with a really dumb one.
  14. Phantom Lady” (1944) ★
    Paper-thin noir peddling psychobabble as verisimilitude.
  15. Rebecca” (2020) ★★
    Not terrible except for the fact that it invites direct comparison with Hitchcock’s classic.
  16. Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice” (1972) ★★
    Toxic masculinity in samurai-era Japan.
  17. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982) ★★★
    Rewatched. Cynical in its sentimentality.

November 2020

  1. Jasper Mall” (2020) ★★★½
    Unpretentious, unassuming, unforgettable documentary about one year in the slow death of a shopping mall.
  2. On the Rocks” (2020) ★★
    I got this Sophia Coppola movie free for buying any Apple device!
  3. Return of the Jedi” (1983) ★
    Rewatched. Jeez did this franchise run out of ideas quick, and boy are so few people willing to acknowledge it.
  4. Lady and the Tramp” (1955) ★★★½
    The painted backgrounds are still astounding, and the story, such as it is, isn’t so bad either.
  5. Casablanca” (1942) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Wondefully complex and elegantly simple at the same time.
  6. Spider-Man: Homecoming” (2017) ★★★
    Rewatched. I’ve seen way more of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark than I really need to.
  7. From Russia with Love” (1963) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. The most low key Bond. The best Bond.
  8. Empire of Dreams: The Story of the Star Wars Trilogy” (2004) ★★
    My kids are really into Star Wars! Sigh.
  9. Deathtrap” (1982) ★★★★
    A twisty murder thriller that’s maybe not so incredibly twisty, but it’s so tautly executed by the underrated Sidney Lumet that it’s a pleasure just to go along for the ride.
  10. Small Axe: Mangrove” (2020) ★★½
    It’s shocking to watch a movie by Steve McQueen, one of the masters of nuance and subtlety, that’s clumsy and obvious.
  11. The Phantom Tollbooth” (1970) ★★
    A swing and a miss at making a prestige picture from animation legend Chuck Jones.
  12. The Widow Couderc” (1971) ★★★★
    A mysterious stranger who happens to look exactly like Alain Delon comes to a small French village and meets a widower who happens to look like Simone Signoret. Nothing too surprising happens, but the emotional authenticity that emerges is palpable.
  13. Avengers: Age of Ultron” (2015) ★★
    Rewatched. My kids are also into Marvel! Serves me right.
  14. Tampopo” (1985) ★★★½
    A variety pack of Japanese love letters to good food. Defies description but delicious.
  15. Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944) ★★½
    Rewatched. I remembered this being airtight and laugh out loud funny, but on rewatch it’s wildly uneven and little more than amusing.
  16. John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection” (2018) ★★★½
    I’ve seen nothing else quite like it all year.

December 2020

  1. Small Axe: Lovers Rock” (2020) ★★★★
    Not everything quite lines up in this mood-first callback to West Indian nightlife in London ca. 1980, but it’s nevertheless a rapturous, irresistible romantic fairy tale on the order of “Before Sunrise.”
  2. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (2016) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Unpopular opinion: this is the best thing Disney has done with this franchise.
  3. Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999) ½★
    Rewatched. Shabby and uncaring in a way that still feels like a personal affront.
  4. I’m No Angel” (1933) ★★★
    Like a pop song that’s little more than an irresistible groove, this thinly plotted comedy rides Mae West’s charm and attitude until you can’t say no.
  5. Let Them All Talk” (2020) ★★½
    Steven Soderbergh asks: what if “Da 5 Bloods,” but by Woody Allen?
  6. Time Bandits” (1981) ★½
    Not sure if this was made for kids or Terry Gilliam’s id, but it’s really noisy and uneven.
  7. Mank” (2020) ★★★½
    Affecting re-creation of a lost Hollywood from David Fincher, our most underperforming auteur.
  8. First Cow” (2019) ★★★★
    A lovely, minor footnote of a story about the 19th century frontier. Beautifully soft spoken and then, in the third act, remarkably effective at building tension.
  9. My Favorite Wife” (1940) ★
    Cary Grant and Irene Dunne in a desperate attempt at recapturing the magic of “The Awful Truth.”
  10. Small Axe: Red, White and Blue” (2020) ★★
    Competent but largely unremarkable.
  11. The Grinch” (2018) ★★½
    This movie has no business being as halfway decent as it is.
  12. I’m Your Woman” (2020) ★★
    Tasteful but misguided attempt at telling a gangster story from the female perspective.
  13. The Peanuts Movie” (2015) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Really great.
  14. Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) ★★½
    Belief as a threat.
  15. The Muppet Christmas Carol” (1992) ★
    When Gonzo is the straight man, things are not particularly Muppet-y, and not particularly fun.
  16. Back to the Future” (1985) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A marvel of set-it-up and pay-it-off Hollywood storytelling.
  17. Other Music” (2019) ★★★
    A sweet requiem for the lost hipster paradise of the world’s coolest record store.
  18. To Catch a Thief” (1955) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Staggeringly gorgeous. One of the rare times when the form itself is so refined it matters more than the content.
  19. Soul” (2020) ★★★★
    A hodgepodge of different movies. The least interesting of them is Pixar’s standard “secret, anthropomorphized world of things you usually don’t pay attention to” redemption tale. But when it lets its human characters actually be human, it soars.
  20. Mulan” (1998) ★★
    Not particularly memorable, though not particularly terrible.
  21. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020) ★★★★
    A thrilling cinematic adaptation of a powerful stage script.
  22. Sound of Metal” (2019) ★★★★
    At times this largely humorless drama about hearing loss threatens to be standard humorless indie fare, but it surpasses all of that by expertly putting the audience in its protagonist’s shoes. Also, absolutely killer opening scene.
  23. Small Axe: Alex Wheatle” (2020) ★★★
    Another example of a story that would have been much better served as its own full-length feature than as an installment in an overly ambitious mini-series.
  24. It’s a Wonderful Life” (1946) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. I’ll never be able to not cry when I watch this, I guess.
  25. Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones” (2002) ½★
    Rewatched. Nothing here works, because nothing was conceived with any sense. Or taste.
  26. Small Axe: Education” (2020) ★★★½
    Strikes the best balance of the series between issues and emotion.
  27. Treasure Island” (1950) ★★★
    I just read the book with my kid. This is not quite the book.
  28. Wonder Woman 1984” (2020) ★
    A huge, boring, shambolic disappointment.
  29. Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone” (1990) ★★★
    As much as I wanted this new cut to reveal a hidden masterpiece, there are inherent flaws here that could not be fixed in the editing room.