30. The Invisible Man
For many of us, The Invisible Man was one of the last movies watched in an actual theater — an experience less than a year old that feels like it was from another lifetime ago. At the very least, Leigh Whannell’s take on the sci-fi classic was one hell of a way for cinemas to go out in 2020. One of the thrills of any good horror movie is the communal experience it provides. The gasps and screams of a rapt audience during a good jumpscare, or the tension hanging in the air during an especially suspenseful sequence — this is what movie theaters can provide, and it’s what The Invisible Man delivered tenfold.
The best moments of this film are too good to spoil, so let’s just say if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m talking about when I say one scene, in particular, conjured a response from the audience that I haven’t heard in a long time. It’s a credit to Whannell’s deft filmmaking and star Elisabeth Moss’s unwavering commitment to her craft that even working with a concept we’ve seen before, the film delivers shocking moments that took even seasoned horror veterans by surprise. This, in tandem with the timely and thoughtful re-worked narrative, heralded The Invisible Man as one of the best horror movies in recent years and, of course, one of the best movies of 2020. (Anna Swanson)
29. Black Bear
What is Black Bear about, you ask? First of all, that’s for you to decide. On the surface, it is about three of the most attractive people alive – played by Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbott, and Sarah Gadon – hanging out at a lakehouse nestled in an eerie wood that’s only eerie because writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine shoots it with an overarching feeling of unease, of looming disaster, or, perhaps, threatening brilliance. And by hanging out, I mean bickering, fighting, lusting, cheating, screaming, making a film, drinking, and drinking some more.
The reason I can’t give you answers is that answers are hard to come by, just as a clear, linear narrative is hard to come by. Black Bear is a meta-experience that takes us on the long, torturous, gut-busting, and mind-bending journey of writing and directing a film in a mere hour and forty-four minutes. It captures the way in which people are relative to their realities with stinging honesty. Even more so, it captures the malleability, dexterity, and nebulous nature of art. It’s a sexy cerebral thriller that will linger in your thoughts. (Luke Hicks)
Never have I seen a more terrifying representation of the afterlife. Joe (Jamie Foxx) steps into a manhole on Earth and wakes up on a star-bridge pointing directly into a bright ball of fiery white. The elderly blue blobs around him happily ascend, blinking out of one reality and into another like electrified mosquitos. Joe hears their sizzle and puts his back to heaven, and runs. Fast. And screaming.
Pixar knows exactly how an ending for someone like Joe should look. Our “heroic” middle school music teacher personifies regret. He never realized his dreams in life, and no way will he accept a cushy cloud for eternity. In his fight to reclaim his earthly domain, he confronts his purpose and the spark that sent him on his journey in the first place. Like the best Pixar films, Soul confronts a very ordinary existential crisis. What do we do with the life we have? These bodies are time bombs. They’re gonna go off. Make the seconds count. (Brad Gullickson)
27. His House
There’s no arguing that horror is inherently political, and Remi Weekes’ His House is a perfect example as it navigates the trauma of two refugees, Rol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku), who, in an effort to leave the violence of South Sudan, go to England. It is not a simple journey, however, as they take a crowded raft with dozens of other refugees in hopes of entering the country. But when a storm hits and capsizes the vessel, their daughter drowns and their rescue leads to horrific living conditions.
Weekes marries the struggles and outright cruelty faced by immigrants with the battling of grief and trauma, both in losing their daughter and leaving their families behind. Rol wants to westernize while Rial wants to hold onto their Sudanese identity; it is a comfort to her. As tensions grow and guilt builds up, they begin seeing a ghostly figure in their walls. These ghosts are manifestations of grief, yes, but they are also horrifying and push the film from drama straight into the world of horror. In a genre that is so dominated by white stories, His House is a breath of fresh air and exemplifies the diversity of stories that are still waiting to be told. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
26. The 40-Year-Old Version
One of the most revelatory films of the year comes by way of Radha Blank, who wrote, directed, and stars in her candid feature debut The 40-Year-Old Version. Based in part on herself, Blank’s character (also called Radha) is a playwright whose career has been flat-lining since she won a 30-under-30 award years ago. Her love life is faring no better, and so, galvanized by mid-life anxiety — her fortieth birthday is approaching — she sets out to make sure her next decade doesn’t end up being a repeat of the last.
Shot in rich black-and-white, The Forty-Year-Old Version is a similarly sumptuous gaze that takes in everything from grief, romance, ambition, and the age-old artistic struggle between integrity and compromise (the latter being, at least in the New York theater world she satirizes, synonymous with “getting paid,” too). What’s so remarkable about The Forty-Year-Old Version is that the film itself never surrenders in that fight; it doesn’t even cower. Blank’s performance and the movie she has crafted around it feel entirely free of the kind of dulling ad distorting influence that the white-splaining theater patrons in the film try to enact over Radha’s play, and which film studios can also be guilty of. In every respect, Blank’s work here announces the overdue “arrival” of a refreshingly sharp and funny multi-hyphenate talent. (Farah Cheded)