Another year for film is in-the-books, but 2020 was a film year unlike any other. Like much else in 2020, it will end up being defined by the COVID-19 global pandemic. For the film industry that means that film releases were delayed or postponed sometimes several times thus leaving the 2020 film year in an odd place with much fewer major releases than expected. Tenet feels like one of the only major blockbuster films that were actually released in 2020, and its woeful performance at the box office made studios even more intrigued by the idea of releasing films on PVOD. This leaves the movie theater industry in a tricky place. However, in Denmark, the movie theater industry was salvaged by a resurgence of truly great Danish films from some of our greatest directors and starring our most popular actors.
The positive story of 2020, in my mind, is just how infatuated all of Denmark became by the year’s two best Danish films. Both Another Round and Riders of Justice are going to end up as Danish classics for different reasons. Another Round ended up with an absolutely wild amount of success around the world that it totally deserves, while Riders of Justice is already being regarded as one of the best Danish comedies of the 21st Century thus far.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — perhaps due to the relative drought created by so many postponed major releases — decided to change their eligibility window, which made it so that films released in early 2021 would also be in consideration for the 93rd Academy Awards, which was only meant to honor the best films of 2020. It’s strange, really, and it throws a bit of a wrench into film critics’ best of the year-lists. Now, why is that? Well, at the 93rd Academy Awards, which is, again, meant to honor the best films of 2020, films such as Nomadland, Minari, The Father, Judas and the Black Messiah, and Promising Young Woman were all triumphant, even though I definitely think of them as 2021 releases. So, if you’re desperately looking for those films, then you’re going to have to wait until the next end of the year-list for them to be considered by me.
But, without further ado, let’s look at what I think are the best films released in 2020 beginning, like always, with my one and only honorable mention!
H.M. – I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Directed by Charlie Kaufman
“Many people will struggle to decipher this dense and labyrinthine film, and I actually saw the film with someone who appeared to think that the film was impenetrable. But I have to say that the latest addition to Charlie Kaufman’s oeuvre — I’m Thinking of Ending Things — really connected with me as a bleak, cerebral, and disconcerting psychological horror film about the passing of time, your relationship with culture, and the big regrets in life.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of I’m Thinking of Ending Things.
#10 – Lovers Rock – Directed by Steve McQueen
“As an evocative mood piece that is scarce on narrative, Lovers Rock is a harder sell for audiences expecting something more traditional, but I think it is a much more memorable film than the rest of the films in the anthology film series. I also think that the moments of tension in the film really do manage to make the light narrative less of a problem. But, make no mistake, the film is at its best when you feel the desire and the joy of the people breathing, dancing, and living. In that regard, McQueen’s film captures the beauty in a moment of communal celebration, which is undeniably infectious.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Lovers Rock.
#9 – Dick Johnson Is Dead (Documentary) – Directed by Kirsten Johnson
“Due to the gravity of the documentary’s premise, it is difficult to recommend Kirsten Johnson’s Dick Johnson Is Dead to everyone, but if you have the strength to watch this kind of film, then I think you’ll agree that Dick Johnson Is Dead is not just a fantastic documentary but also a moving, albeit deeply personal, celebration of a parent. Ultimately, Kirsten Johnson may be unable to control what happens to her father, but, as a filmmaker, she has chosen to immortalize him in her life’s work, and I think that is a beautiful thought.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Dick Johnson Is Dead.
#8 – Boys State (Documentary) – Directed by Jesse Moss & Amanda McBaine
“This is the best documentary film that I have seen thus far in 2020. It is a real shame that a documentary as gripping as Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine’s Boys State is currently on Apple TV+ since it is a streaming service in its infancy that has struggled to capture the interest of audiences around the world. Hopefully, once Apple TV+ gains a sizable audience, Boys State will be properly appreciated. Infuriating but not without hope, Boys State is a fantastic documentary that reveals an eerily accurate microcosm of the state of American politics.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Boys State.
#7 – Palm Springs – Directed by Max Barbakow
“This is a fantastic romantic-comedy time loop film about shared experiences, partnerships, and about choosing the right person to spend eternity with. I think this is the best new time loop film at least since 2014 but possibly longer. I really loved Palm Springs. Sure, its premise is built off of an existing classic film and it isn’t a laugh-a-minute comedy, but those are really my only issues with it. It still feels fresh, it absolutely is charming, and it is surprisingly timely, all of which made this film genuinely special for me.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Palm Springs.
#6 – The Invisible Man – Directed by Leigh Whannell
“[…] this is a suspenseful and almost nerve-racking psychological thriller, as well as a fresh and modern version of the H. G. Wells story thanks, in large part, to its focus on the effects of toxic relationships, stalking, and gaslighting. Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man is a truly outstanding psychological thriller, but also the first great film of 2020.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of The Invisible Man.
#5 – Soul – Directed by Pete Docter
“Though I don’t think this film will be quite as memorable to younger audiences down the road, I do think that Pete Docter has hit another home run with his fourth film, Soul. To me, Pete Docter’s latest film is really a celebration of life on Earth. It is a mature, ambitious, and profound mid-life crisis film about figuring out what your purpose is. I absolutely loved it.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Soul.
#4 – Collective (Documentary) – Directed by Alexander Nanau
“Collective is a devastating and infuriating observational documentary that I have thought a lot about ever since I first saw it a couple of days ago. Although it is, at times, difficult to watch, Alexander Nanau’s latest documentary is a thought-provoking film that tells an important story about the importance of a free and independent press in the face of an alarmingly corrupt government and health system. I also think that it is arguably the best documentary of 2020.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Collective.
#3 – Sound of Metal – Directed by Darius Marder
“All in all, I think that Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, his first narrative feature film as a director, completely lives up to its reputation. I think there is a universality in the theme of ‘appreciating stillness,’ and I think that anyone can understand the main character’s reasoning for fighting desperately to preserve the life that he knows he cannot regain. This is a powerful film that made me think a lot about how people around the world ought to appreciate not just stillness but the tiny details of everyday life. I think that the sound design really makes an impression on you, and when you pair that kind of attention to detail with the strong performances delivered by especially Raci and Ahmed, then you have a pretty special film.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Sound of Metal.
#2 – Retfærdighedens Ryttere (Int. Title: Riders of Justice) – Directed by Anders Thomas Jensen
“This is Anders Thomas Jensen’s fifth feature-length film as a director, and, although it almost feels blasphemous to write this due to the extraordinary popularity of his previous films, Retfærdighedens Ryttere may be the very best film in his oeuvre. The Danish writer-director deserves a lot of praise for being able to balance his trademark brand of black comedy with this genuinely affecting story this well. It is easy to connect with, exceptionally amusing and entertaining, very quotable, and, like most of his films, it is sure to become a modern classic in Denmark before you know it.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Retfærdighedens Ryttere.
#1 – Druk (Int. Title: Another Round) – Directed by Thomas Vinterberg
“2020 has been a very odd year for films. Great films that you plan to watch again and again are few and far between this tumultuous year. However, it pleases me greatly to report that Thomas Vinterberg’s Druk isn’t just a great crowd-pleaser but also one of the best Danish films in a very long time. This is a special film about rediscovering the fountain of youth by loosening your inhibitions thanks to liquid courage. This is a powerful celebration of youth, life, and love that includes a truly intoxicating, electrifying, and rip-roaring ending that’ll stick with you.”Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen, from my review of Druk.
And there you have it! For the first time since I’ve been making these rankings of films a time has come in which two films from my home country take the two top spots. That feels really special, and there is no denying that Mads Mikkelsen really had an awesome cultural moment in Denmark (and around the world) in 2020 (and early 2021).
Now, I am very much looking forward to my list for 2021, which, I imagine, may also include some films that AMPAS has already recognized at the previous Oscars ceremony as a result of their altered eligibility period. But, alas, only time will tell.
But what was your favorite film of 2020? Please feel free to write a comment below with your own top ten.
– Article Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.