The box office all but flat-lined this year with COVID-19 clogging the arteries of the entertainment industry. Productions were shut down and theaters closed for the bulk of popcorn season. 2020 is not the year of the blockbuster. Big-budget movies have repeatedly been delayed while everything else went to streaming, exacerbating the digital era (blessing/curse). Sure, some films flirted with the idea of a theatrical release. However, most of us have been watching the latest flicks from the comfort of our own home. Against all odds, some truly compelling films graced those screens. Here is the Mandatory Top 10 of 2020: Drama Movies of the Year .
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top 10 dramas 2020
10. 'The Vast of Night'
Andrew Patterson’s The Vast of Night takes place in a small town in New Mexico during the 1950s, following two children searching for the source of a mysterious frequency. The film takes obvious (given the geography) UFO turns but excels due to the central relationship and focus on Cold War-era nostalgia. Although it takes a minute (or so) to lock you in, The Vast of Night is an intimate and captivating reminiscent of The Twilight Zone ’s best.
9. 'Bad Education'
Cory Finely’s Bad Education revolves around Long Island school superintendent, Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman) and his assistant, Pam Gluckin (Allison Janey). On the surface, the pair are the epitome of positivity, bringing prestige to their district. The story is told through the perspective of high school reporter, Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan), who uncovers an embezzlement scheme involving the two. As the movie plays out, more and more is revealed about Jackman’s character as he attempts to cover-up his misdeeds. This docudrama (with an investigative twist) is as fun to watch as crime dramadies The Wolf of Wall Street .
Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is as Nolan as a film can get—if you’re not paying attention, you might as well turn it off. Like Inception , Tenet boasts originality. Unlike Inception , its concept that sometimes feels underutilized as it branches into spy/heist territory. Still, it’s chock-full of thrilling set pieces and ambitious ideas, making it a welcome reminder that blockbusters don’t all have to be sequels and spin-offs. Had its release not been overshadowed by the controversial decision to see the big screen, Tenet would no doubt be seen for the achievement that it is.
7. 'Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom'
Based on August Wilson’s play of the same name, Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom follows a tumultuous 1927 recording session. Featuring incredible performances by Viola Davis (as force-of-nature Ma Rainey aka the Mother of Blues) and Chadwick Boseman in his final role, this film about legends by legends is a symbolic and staggering much-watch.
David Fincher’s ( Fight Club , The Social Network , The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo ) latest film follows alcoholic writer, Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he tries to finish Citizen Kane in 1930s Hollywood. Fincher hasn’t made a bad film since Alien 3 (1992)—which was his directorial debut and wasn’t his fault. His direction nor the performances in this addictive true story film falter.
5. 'News of the World'
News of the World (based on the 2016 novel of the same name) reunites Tom Hanks with Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass. Hanks plays Civil War veteran/captain/storyteller Jeffersons Kyle Kidd who crosses paths with 10-year-old Johanna Leonberger (Helena Zengel), who was taken by the Kiowa people when she was only an infant. Hell-bent on returning Johanna to whatever family she has left in this beautiful western, Hanks proves he’s still the best (And most empathetic) hero in the biz.
Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari premiered at the Sundance Film Festival way back in January; the film began on limited release this month before releasing worldwide on Feb. 12, 2021. Even though that’s next year, Minari will be on the tip of everyone’s tongue come awards season. That said, anyone familiar with AMC’s The Walking Dead will be jazzed to be Steven Yeun. He and Ye-ri Han lend powerhouse performances to Minari (Oscar-worthy), a film that follows a Korean American family looking assimilating to life in 1980s Arkansas.
3. 'Another Round'
2020 has been a pretty drunk year; that said, Thomas Vinterberg's Danish drama, Another Round (Druk) , a timely film. It follows four high-school teachers (led by Mads Mikkelsen) who put psychiatrist Finn Skårderud's theory—that human beings were born with a blood alcohol content deficiency of 0.05—to the test, seeing how it affects their social and professional lives. At first, they're more creative and relaxed. However, once they decide to up their intake, things spiral out of control. Another Round is sobering, heartful, and the most realistic look at drinking culture this side of Flight (2012).
Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is based on the 2017 nonfiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century . It takes a sobering and realistic (in a good way) approach to the aftermath of the Great Recession, following Frances McDormand’s Fran as she travels the American West. Its narrative (which feels like a restrictive term) unfolds around Fran as she interacts/observes an array of Nomad characters played by non-actors who live the life they describe. That said, Nomadland is neither a documentary nor a conventional drama. It’s more a state of being—free of judgment and as ambiguous as existence itself.
1. 'Trial of the Chicago 7'
Writer/director Aaron Sorkin is at the top of his game in The Trial of the Chicago 7 . Its endearing characters, the titular Chicago 7, is 2020’s dream team cast. Its script, witty and timely (if not entirely concerned with historical accuracy), somehow manages to weave an impressive amount of narrative threads into a cohesive experience. On top of pulling the curtain back on some real-world distortion of due process, The Trial of the Chicago 7 excels at courtroom drama rivaling Sorkin’s own, A Few Good Men . It reasserts Sorkin as one of the best writers in Hollywood while also making an argument for budding his directorial prowess.