My Top Ten Movies of 2020

David Dylan Thomas
6 min readOct 24, 2021

So…this took a while. But 2020 was just, what, a couple of months ago?

10. Palm Springs

There was no film that better captured the mood of 2020 than Palm Springs, the latest in a long line of films in the “repeating the same day over an over” genre with a special focus on existential, but kind of hilarious, dread. 2020 was, among other things, kind of funny sometimes in a watching-the-world-burn kind of way. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti perfectly capture the disaffected (yet really, really affected) sentiment of the time.

9. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

For the first time since 2018 (so at least 32 years ago) film really seemed to grapple with race in a year that, you know. One of the most powerful instances of this focused Black oppression, erasure, and resistance in the1920’s music scene of Chicago and the very real life struggles and triumphs of Ma Rainey (a resplendent Viola Davis). But the real showcase here is the backing band and, in particular, a career-defining (and sadly posthumous) turn by Chadwick Boseman, whose rage, pain, and bravado are keenly felt in the community today.

8. Da 5 Bloods

One of the most underseen and undercelebrated films of 2020 sees Spike Lee doing his version of one of my favorite films, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, with Delroy Lindo in the Humphrey Bogart role and, like Bogart’s turn in that film, this is one of Lindo’s best. Using the premise as an opportunity to explore the underrepresented role of Black men in Vietnam (and much of their position in the world today) and dig into PTSD (woefully underexplored territory for Black men in cinema) Lee delivers one of his most powerful films (and not a bad action flick to boot).

7. One Night in Miami

As a Black man, it’s refreshing to see a movie with four Black male leads who are all different from each other. So different that their interactions, disagreements, and celebrations can support a feature length film. Regina King’s big screen directorial debut is a triumph of insular (most of it takes place in one hotel room) intensity and complexity that truly hits many notes of Black experience from joy to misery to introspection supported by many wonderful performances though I have to call out Aldis Hodge’s magnificent turn as Jim Brown in particular. At the heart of the film is a question I have to ask myself every day, “How am I gonna move as a Black man in this world that don’t want me?”

6. Promising Young Woman

With the caveat that, as a man, I’m the last person you want commenting on the controversial choices the film makes, I can say that as a movie tackling the double standards and culture that enable men to get away with violence against women, Promising Young Woman feels unflinching in its critique and Carey Mulligan’s Oscar-nominated turn as the protagonist is truly unforgettable.

5. Collective

One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen focuses on what looks to be a straightforward investigation of a nightclub fire that could have been avoided but grows far bigger when the victims of the fire die in the hospital at inordinate rates revealing a far more troubling pattern of corruption and disinterest at the highest levels of the Romanian government.

What makes this documentary particularly compelling is how it not only follows the relentless investigative journalism of the Gazeta Sporturilor but also the efforts of newly minted health minister Vlad Voiculescu who discovers that battling corruption, even from a seat at the table, isn’t as easy as it looks. Concluding with harrowing parallels to the ills that plague us in the States, the film serves as a sobering warning about the dangers of corruption and apathy.

4. The Trial of the Chicago 7

In Aaron Sorkin’s best directorial work yet (okay, he’s only done two, but Molly’s Game was pretty damn good) and one of his strongest screenplays to date, we see struggles that are all too real today with fantastic performances from Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II in particular (not to mention an embarrassingly strong supporting cast — Michael Keaton shows up for, like, five seconds and it’s amazing) we see how little has changed and how the struggle for freedom will always need people who are willing to fight smartly but completely against the odds.

3. Hamilton

I mean, come on, it’s fucking Hamilton.

2. Minari

There’s something magical (yes, magical) about the simple, straightforward, gorgeous storytelling Isaac Chung employs in Minari, the story of a Korean-American family trying to make their way in 1980’s Arkansas. The interactions are achingly real and tender because they are not overstated but very realistic to the point of being almost banal. It avoids melodrama by leaning into the very real stresses any family would face under these circumstances, but being very specific about how they play out for this family. It’s the kind of movie that I tend avoid because I’m all about the action so for me to say you need to see this is saying something.

1. Judas and the Black Messiah

Okay, I’m not sure if this technically came out in 2020 but it got nominated for lots of 2020 awards so I’m just gonna say it counts. Shaka King’s remarkable dramatization of the story of an FBI informant’s (an always compelling Lakeith Stanfield) infiltration of the Black Panthers and befriending of legendary Panthers Chairman Fred Hampton (a career-best Daniel Kaluuya) is heartbreaking and riveting if for no other reason than watching Kaluuya’s inspiring depiction of the leader. It gave me chills in the way I got chills watching Denzel play Malcom, and I hope it gives you the same.

Honorable Mentions: The Invisible Man, Bacurau, Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Nomadland, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

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David Dylan Thomas

Big fan of treating people like people. Author, Design for Cognitive Bias. Founder, CEO, David Dylan Thomas, LLC. Speaker, Lots of Places.