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A Year Like No Other: The Best Movies of 2020

December 31, 2020Ben MK

Without a doubt, 2020 will go down as the year the world forever changed. But while COVID-19 may have altered the way we live our lives, the way we work, and even the way movies get released, there's one thing that arguably remains constant — if not more important than ever: our collective appreciation of the art of cinema. And although the pandemic has led to a drastic reduction in the number of films released this year, that doesn't mean that there aren't a fair few movies worthy of special mention as we head into 2021.

Suffice to say, this may not be your typical year-end list. Yet, in a year unlike the industry has ever seen before, these are the films that made an impact — whether it be by connecting with audiences on a deeply emotional level or by just helping viewers escape reality, if only for an hour or two.

Indeed, there are a wealth of ideas to unpack and a plethora of details to absorb with writer-director Christopher Nolan's latest. But, of course, to say too much about Tenet's puzzle of a plot would be to sell short some of its best surprises. Suffice to say, this may well be Nolan's most ambitious work yet, combining the mind-bending complexity of Inception with the temporal thrills of Memento and the visceral action of Dunkirk to create something wholly unique — a film that is as much about saving the past as it is about fighting for the future.

What happens when we die? And is there such a thing as a soul? These are some of the questions at the heart of the aptly titled Soul. A film that follows mild-mannered music teacher and jazz enthusiast Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) as he finds himself on the cusp of a life-changing moment, director Pete Docter's fourth feature is yet another Pixar effort that will tug at viewers' heartstrings. But it's the message of the movie — to live life to its fullest — that feels so much more poignant given what everyone in the world has been living through.

Exhilarating and liberating, much like the emancipation sought by all the women in the movie, director Cathy Yan's action-packed entry into the DC Extended Universe is not only the story of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), but of a group of badass women unencumbered by the need to impress anyone — especially men. But while the storyline may not be wholly original, the result is still something worth celebrating. This is the introduction to Harley Quinn that Suicide Squad never was — a tale about a sisterhood brought together through catharsis and healing.

Emotional turmoil and the bottle typically go hand in hand in cinema, but in Another Round we see the relationship unfold like never before. That's because while we often see characters desperate to go sober after having their lives ruined by alcohol abuse, the men here are trying to accomplish the exact opposite. It's subject matter that could easily be interpreted too humorously or too seriously; but under Thomas Vinterberg's skillful direction, the result deftly balances both the comic and the dramatic elements of these mid-life crises.

Although long extinct in Ireland, wolves were once one of the country's most treasured animals. And in the animated feature Wolfwalkers, directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart bring the legend of the Celtic wolf to vibrant life. Following in the footsteps of Song of the Sea and The Secret of Kells, the result is more than just a charming flight of fancy. As timeless as it is timely, this is a beautifully animated masterpiece steeped in Irish culture, with a message of empowerment and acceptance that will appeal to both adults and kids alike.

Challenging the things that bring us comfort and happiness is difficult to do. But for Ruben (Riz Ahmed) — a noise metal drummer who must cope with the sudden loss of his hearing — it's made even more complicated by his past struggles with addiction. Directed by Darius Marder, Sound of Metal approaches its subject matter with nuance and sensitivity, avoiding many clich├ęs that would be easy pickings for many other filmmakers. Told entirely from a subjective point of view, the result asks viewers to reconsider how we prioritie wanting to find peace in life.

What if magic were real? In the bustling city of New Mushroomton — where minotaurs and cyclops serve as law enforcement and where unicorns are akin to raccoons — it's not hard to imagine. Onward may be something of a departure for Pixar, but director Dan Scanlon's sophomore feature ultimately proves just as touching as the best of Pixar's back catalog. At times, the result feels like one big, visually resplendent exercise in immaturity, but if there's one thing the studio knows, it's how to surpass viewers' expectations while also tugging at their heartstrings.

The superhero genre has come a long way in the past few decades. So when a film like Wonder Woman 1984 comes along, it's impossible not to feel some degree of mixed emotions towards it. That said, director Patty Jenkins' highly anticipated sequel is far from a disappointment. The way it throws back to '80s superhero movies like the Christopher Reeve Superman sequels is a refreshing juxtaposition to the current state of the genre, and the film's poignant and always timely message for audiences means there's still much to gaze at in wonderment here.

We've all likely had the feeling that we're being watched. And while it can be quite unsettling, rarely is it something that drives us mad. The same can't be said, however, of Elisabeth Moss' character in The Invisible Man. Writer-director Leigh Whannell's adaptation of H.G. Wells' novel expertly blends the sci-fi and thriller genres to deliver a movie that is equal parts intense and unnerving. And with impressive performances from the entire cast, the result will have you doing a double take the next time you walk into a room that appears to be empty.

When we last saw the time-traveling duo Bill S. Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted "Theodore" Logan (Keanu Reeves), they had cheated death and lived to tell the tale. Now, with Bill & Ted Face the Music, so too does the franchise find itself back from the dead, with it falling on these two middle-aged dudes to save reality as we know it. Suffice to say, nostalgia is a powerful thing. And even though reunions with old friends can sometimes be a bit awkward, it's always fun to get together again to relive old memories and to make a few new ones as well.

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