When we were doing the Qt3 Movie Podcast, we would normally see about fifty movies a year in the theater, because we had a podcast once a week for new releases. This year was different because we’re not doing the podcast any longer and because theaters were closed. This year was also different because, well, it was 2020. It should be no surprise that horror movies make up a disproportionate number of our picks.
Following are our top ten movies, our biggest surprise, our biggest disappointment, and our “favorite miscellaneous thingie”, a phrase coined by our friend Christien Murawski, who we miss something fierce and without whom these lists are only 2/3rds what they should be.
Tom Chick’s Top Ten Movies of 2020
10) The Rhythm Section
This latest contribution to the bad-ass lady assassin genre presents someone who’s a terrible assassin, not much of a bad-ass, and far from a lady. Director Reed Morano manages some solid action sequences, including one of the best car chases I’ve seen in years. But more importantly, she leans confidently into Blake Lively’s considerable screen presence and Jude Law’s swaggering confidence as the mentor who has to take on someone who’s a terrible assassin, not much of a bad-ass, and far from a lady.
9) I’m Your Woman
Julia Hart’s fascinating look at what was happening to the sidelined women and minorities in all those 70s crime thrillers. Read the review here.
8) The Invisible Man
Leigh Whannell takes up the nasty implications of Paul Veerhoven’s gross Hollow Man to unspool a smartly Hitchcockian story about high-tech gaslighting and a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship. It’s wonderfully creepy, nerve-wracking, and inventive. Whannell knows how to take his time, hold a shot, and let Elisabeth Moss fill the space he gives her.
7) The Wolf of Snow Hollow
Jim Cummings imports his high-strung alcoholic cop from Thunder Road, his debut movie from 2018. Seething with insecurity, reeling at his inability to maintain a relationship of any kind, and oblivious to his own shortcomings, he’s an odd choice for the hero who has to save the town from a werewolf. But it totally works as a darkly hilarious story about rage and impotence. And it’s a lovely send-off for Robert Forster.
6) I’m Thinking of Ending Things
What a singularly unpleasant experience. And absolutely unforgettable. Charlie Kaufman’s miserable nihilism and unabashed pretentiousness does it again.
5) Sound of Metal
Until you’ve seen Sound of Metal, you might think it’s comparable to a TV movie-of-the-week about any given affliction. Deafness, in this case. But there’s something universal in this story of a man whose life undergoes a sudden and shocking shift. Whether it’s age, infirmity, or disease, our lives move us through different stages, and the transitions can be marked by loss, pain, grief, confusion, rage. Sound of Metal is a keenly observed piece of filmmaking about one of these transitions, and it wouldn’t work without Riz Ahmed’s heartbreaking vulnerability as an actor. It also deserves recognition for refusing to lionize an insular deaf community, avoiding the usual movie tropes about addiction, and eschewing a pat “loves conquers all” message.
4) The Vast of Night
Electric dialogue jumpstarts this movie and doesn’t let up. A lot of the actual running time is characters just listening to something, but you might not notice thanks to the virtuoso direction from first-time filmmaker Andrew Patterson. It’s the riveting air traffic controller scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but as an entire movie. Vast of Night is mostly a love letter to America from the period between Sputnik and the moon landing, when the future was a mind-blowing realm of science-possibility. The horrors of the unknown were unthinkable because these exuberant young characters live in a world of promise and potential and amazing new technology from Westinghouse and Magnavox. Not only do they pre-date The X-Files, but they’ve never even seen The Twilight Zone because — it turns out — they’re living inside it. Who has time for terror when you’re overwhelmed by awe?
3) The Nest
Writer/director Sean Durkin is in top form, finding the ominous in the mundane as he did in Martha Marcy May Marlene. The Nest has the audacity of an adaptation of an unfilmable book, the gut punch brutality of The Ice Storm, the sleek oily gloss of a 70s magazine photoshoot, and the thrum of a horror movie. I love that it has so many parallels with Color Out of Space, this year’s other movie about a family undone by insidious forces.
Brandon Cronenberg lives up to — and indeed surpasses — his father’s legacy with this sensual grisly uncompromising cyberpunk horror thriller about identity, guilt, sex, assassinations, and practical effects. Unlike Freaky and Wonder Woman, this is the body switch movie that 2020 deserves. Despite having relatively little screen time, Andrea Riseborough indisputably drives Possessor. It’s fueled by her cold determination and desperation. And this is the third in the Christopher Abbott Is One Hell Of A Fascinating Enigma trilogy with Sweet Virginia and It Comes At Night.
1) Color Out of Space
This is the only movie from my top ten list that I saw in a theater. I got to see it three times, each with an enthusiastic crowd. I also decided to get high and watch it when it was available online. I don’t get high, but a friend visiting from out of state had left some weed in my refrigerator, and I figured a little cosmic horror would be fun while stoned. I was wrong. It was the opposite of fun. I had to immediately watch Blood Machines as a palate cleanser, which is cosmic horror minus the horror part. Pure cosmic. Perfect when you’re stoned.
Color Out of Space is the finest adaptation of Lovecraft I’ve seen. Certainly not the most faithful (I can’t imagine anyone coming closer than Andrew Leman’s 2005 Call of Cthulhu), but absolutely the most Lovecraftian. Here’s my full review, but I don’t recommend reading it until after you’ve seen the movie. Basically, my takeaway from Color Out of Space is that it’s about the horrible things that will happen to you and the people you love when you invoke dark powers without appreciating them. I can think of no more appropriate story for 2020 and especially 2016.
Runners up for top ten movies of 2020: Amulet, The Assistant, Blood Machines, Little Joe, Relic, and Vivarium
The Christien Murawski Award for Favorite Miscellaneous Thingie: my heart melted every time Betty Gilpin said “you done fucked up” in her exaggerated podunk twang in The Hunt
Most Surprising: Underwater
Most Disappointing: Mank
Didn’t get to see: Minari, Nomadland, On The Rocks
Kelly Wand’s Top Ten Movies of 2020
10. The Phenomenon. (LOL!!!)
9. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (I’m making this list high)
8. The Hunt (haha)
7. Devil All the Time
6. Host (haha)
5. The Nest
3. Queen’s Gambit (haha)
1. Color Out of Space
Most Surprising: The Invisible Man (esp. after The Mummy, huh)
Most Disappointing: Wonder Woman 1984 (Runner-up: The Grudge)
The Christien Murawski Award for Favorite Miscellaneous Thingie: Dingus being a hardcore foodie, I’m going to go for Best Meal: the mini screwdriver Haley Bennett eats in Swallow