This post is an aggregate of WhatToWatch's Top 10 films of the year. If you're looking for our individual critic Top 10s, they can be found here. The overall Top 10 was tabulated between lists from: Amelia Emberwing, Leigh Monson, Matt Donato, Marisa Mirabal, Kayleigh Donaldson, Lindsay Traves, BJ Colangelo, and Todd Gilchrist.
Welcome to 2021! While nothing has changed but the date on the calendar, the new year always brings on the feeling - or illusion - of a fresh start. 2020 was a rough one for most industries, and cinema was most certainly included in that. All the same, a huge number of exceptional films released if you just know where to look. If you're playing catchup like all of us (the folks giving their recommendations below very much included), here's a list of our very favorite films from last year. Seems as good a place to start as any!
10. Black Bear
Written and directed by Lawrence Michael Levine.
"Black Bear takes your expectations of what a movie should look like and tells you to sit down and shut up about it." - Lindsay
"Just let this movie wash over you and then spend the next month thinking about it. You won’t regret doing so." - Leigh
"Plaza delivers her best, most fierce performance to date and Levine provides an intriguing glimpse into the behind-the-scenes methods, connections, and techniques of filmmaking in a brilliantly kaleidoscopic manner." - Marisa
9. His House
Written by Remi Weekes, Felicity Evans and Toby Venables. Directed by Remi Weekes.
"Remi Weekes’ feature debut deserves to be revered with the same emphasis we heaped (rightfully) upon Jordan Peele’s Get Out." - Matt
8. Sound of Metal
Written by Darius Marder, Abraham Marder, and Derek Cianfrance. Directed by Darius Marder.
"Meaningfully specific and yet startlingly relevant, Sound of Metal examines how to appreciate the profound silence at the center of Ruben’s deafness, and the beautiful solitude of an isolation that like us has been thrust upon him." - Todd
"Director Darius Marder successfully captures an intimate portrait of a tortured artist, making Sound of Metal one of the most heartbreaking yet hopeful films of the year." - Marisa
"Sound of Metal is a film that one versed in the history of Oscar bait should rightly be wary of, as its premise of a man learning to cope with his new deafness just begs to be folded into the tradition of people shooting for a gold statue by portraying a physical difference." - Leigh
7. Birds of Prey
Written by Christina Hodson, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. Directed by Cathy Yan.
"Birds of Prey brought the noise not just with it’s flawless banger-filled soundtrack, but with some of the best action sequences of the year completed in some of the flyest outfits on screen." - Lindsay
"Birds of Prey came out swinging with a stunning color palette, a bangin’ soundtrack, and a mixture of misfits that will whip your ass if you try to play games." - Amelia
"One of the last films available to be safely seen in theatres, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn is easily one of the best “super” movies ever made." - BJ
6. One Night in Miami...
Written by Kemp Powers and directed by Regina King.
"Regina King captures a moment in time and successfully adapts Kemp Powers’ acclaimed stage play." - Matt
"[Aldis] Hodge’s 'we're not anyone's weapons, man' knocked me all the way on my ass." - Amelia
"One Night in Miami is vibrant and earthy without feeling trite or forced. It’s a rare highwire piece of storytelling that looks far easier than it is. I can’t wait to see what King does next." - Kayleigh
5. Da 5 Bloods
Written by Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmont, Spike Lee and Matthew Billingsly. Directed by Spike Lee.
"Delroy Lindo and the late great Chadwick Boseman give two of the year's best performances as well as undisputed highlights of their own storied careers." - Kayleigh
"Lee successfully serves up another impactful sociopolitical commentary about what it means to be a Black American both historically and in present day. Consider his latest to be a must-watch." - Marisa
"Say what you will about Spike Lee, but the man will throw everything into his films as if it’s the last film he’ll ever make." - Leigh
Written and directed by Brian Duffield.
"An applause-worthy surprise in an otherwise unpredictable-for-the-wrong-reasons year." - Matt
"Dropped on VOD with little fanfare, Spontaneous has been surviving mostly by word of mouth...which includes my screaming about it on Twitter every chance I get." - BJ
"It’s the kind of catharsis a lot of us need right now, and it will remain one of the most impactful viewing experiences I remember from this year." - Leigh
"It’s one of those films that you feel couldn’t possibly live up to the hype after months of online praise, and yet still does with flying colors. Or, in this case, with flying body parts." - Amelia
Written by Jericca Cleland, Will Collins, Tomm Moore, and Ross Stewart. Directed by Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart.
"Cartoon Saloon has produced one of the most gorgeously animated films in recent memory, and they crafted a story that melds a typical coming-of-age tale with the complexities of culture clash, the historical reality of religious imperialism in Europe, the terrors of realizing the faults in one’s society, and the jubilation of meeting someone who shows you the path to your truest self." - Leigh
"Stylistically born from a combination of classical woodcut prints, the work of animator legend Richard Williams, and Celtic lore, Wolfwalkers is a visual feast and a much-needed boost of freshness amid a sea of CGI lookalikes." - Kayleigh
"If someone could point me to my local chapter of “cute fat women who are secretly wolves,” so I can join, it would be greatly appreciated." - BJ
2. Saint Frances
Written by Kelly O'Sullivan and directed by Alex Thompson.
"So many beautiful things spark from an accidental pregnancy-turned-very-intentional-abortion in this breathtaking story about womanhood." - Amelia
"In a year full of explicitly feminist filmmaking, Saint Frances stands out for being just as full of joy as it is serious issues in need of discussion and normalization." - Leigh
"Saint Frances is a story of womanhood, of our bodies and the way we treat them, discuss them and know them, and the power of women being there for each other." - Lindsay
1. Promising Young Woman
- Matt's review of Promising Young Woman
- Kayleigh exploring the history of rape revenge in film
- How the casting elevated Promising Young Woman
Written and directed by Emerald Fennell.
"I didn’t expect my favorites of the year to be unseated, but then Cassie (Carey Mulligan) trotted in wearing pastel shades and rocked my world." - Lindsay
"There was no film in 2020 that I spent more time trying to figure out my feelings on than Emerald Fennell’s fascinating take on the rape-revenge fantasy, Promising Young Woman." - Kayleigh
"The infuriating subject matter is juxtaposed against a cotton candy color palette used in shot after beautiful shot. If that’s not enough to pull you in, the soundtrack ain’t half bad either!" - Amelia
"I would lay down my life for Carey Mulligan’s Cassie Thomas." - BJ
"Technically tremendous, narratively tenacious, and unmistakably intentioned whether you're ready or not." - Matt
Amelia is an entertainment Streaming Editor at IGN, which means she spends a lot of time analyzing and editing stories on things like Loki, Peacemaker, and The Witcher. In addition to her features and editorial work, she’s also a member of both the Television Critics Association and Critics Choice. A deep love of film and television has kept her happily in the entertainment industry for 7 years.
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