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The 20 Best Shots of 2020

Our favorite shots of 2020 stem from every genre and speak to the incredible rich creativity expressed in a year that was definitely not canceled.
Best Shots
By  · Published on December 22nd, 2020

5. His House

His House Best Shots

Having fled South Sudan, losing their daughter in the crossing, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) are dumped into a flophouse by the British government. It’s a rotting husk of a shack, but it’s their rotting husk of a shack. Safety does not reside within their walls once a night witch starts to haunt their corridors. Bol dismisses his wife’s superstition, telling her, “This is our home.”

The camera pulls away from their kitchen as Bol digs into his dinner. Cinematographer Jo Willems drags the picture even further back, revealing Bol alone at his table, and the table and kitchen floating in a sea of red-nightmare. The sight is a bone-chilling warning. Bol cannot ignore the terror any longer.

4. First Cow

First Cow Best Shots

Kelly Reichardt calls First Cow her heist film, and it’s about as good a descriptor as any. Cookie (John Magaro) and
King-Lu (Orion Lee) secure a mini-fortune stealing Evie the Cow’s milk to make and sell biscuits. The old girl lost her calf in the journey across the west and into Oregon. Her only moments of affection come when Cookie appears in the night to milk her. A friendship forms, and it’s dangerous.

Evie belongs to the Chief Factor (Toby Jones), the big man who tastes “Home” every time he gnashes on Cookie and King-Lu’s biscuits. When he invites the two over to his property for a looksy, Evie offers a knowing snuggle against Cookie’s hand. Cookie wants to reach out, but he dare not, for his head is on the line. The movement is brief, sweet, and deadly.

3. Vast of Night

Vast Of Night Best Shots Of

This frame kicks off an astonishing, “how the hell did they do that?” four-minute and fifteen-second long-take. When phone operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) transmits a mysterious signal to her radio DJ friend, the camera passes through her doorway as she lights up a smoke and goes racing across the small-town streets. The long-take is a mixture of cameras on go-karts and gimbles, plus a modest amount of digital stitchwork. No drones. Mostly, a lot of sweat and planning.

2. Lovecraft Country – “Holy Ghost”

Lovecraft Country Holy Ghost

“Get the fuck out of my house!” This year, no performer knocked me on my ass as hard as Jurnee Smollett did in the “Holy Ghost” episode of Lovecraft Country. Terrorized by white faces on the outside of her North Side Chicago home as well as within, Smollett’s Leti stands rock solid in defiance. She screams her rage at the malevolent ghost plaguing her property, and the damn thing has no choice but to listen.

With the house clean, Robert McLachlan eases the camera back slowly. Smollett controls her force. She’s exhausted but not annihilated. She’s victorious. A total badass.

1. Da 5 Bloods

Da Bloods Best Shots

The shot begins with Delroy Lindo’s Paul speaking directly to camera. His monologue is part confession, part tirade, part explanation. His last line to the audience is punctuated with a wink, and that’s when he sees something out of the corner of his eye. As he’s startled, the camera arches upward and falls on Chadwick Boseman’s Stormin’ Norman.

Until this second, Boseman’s character has been confined to flashbacks, differentiated by the traditional box aspect ratio of 4:3. Erected in widescreen and spotlighted by a sunbeam, Normin’ almost appears alien…or angelic. He shoulders his machine gun and begins the process of Paul’s healing.

Da 5 Bloods is another Spike Lee confrontation with the present via its history. Throughout the film, he injects fictional segments with reality — news footage, archival photographs. Everything comes crashing down in this one shot. Past and future don’t live apart from each other. They’re one and the same.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)