We awarded Best Movie, Best Animated Feature, Best Drama Movie, Best Action Movie, Best Horror Movie, Best Comedy Movie, and Best Sci-Fi Movie:
Best Movie: Boys State
Where to watch: Apple TV+
Admittedly, we did come to this conclusion prior to the worldwide release of Soul, which I wholeheartedly believe was the best feature-length film to come out in 2020. But the greatness of Soul in no way takes away from the movie that had the longest-lasting impact on me—Boys State. If you aren’t familiar with Boys State, then allow me to introduce you to one of the best documentaries I’ve ever had the privilege of watching under the influence of a kush gummy (which only heightened my anxiety about political discourse and the state of our country).
To put it simply, Boys State and Girls State are two politicized, shortened, enhanced versions of summer camp. These camps—for lack of a better term—are experiences that allow their campers to see what they’re made of in a situation where they don’t know everybody surrounding them, unlike the modern high school experience. These camps take place all across the nation and have been the lobby floor for many political and non-political celebrities’ building blocks, including Bill Clinton, Roger Ebert, Mark Wahlberg, Bruce Springsteen, John F. Kennedy, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Jordan.
Boys State, or at least the one that directors Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine present to us, takes place in the heart of Republican America: Texas. The documentary crew chooses four young men to follow for the heart of the film’s sake, all of whom share different guiding beliefs and are an example of how diversity can be beautiful in the political realm. Ben Feinstein is an amputee who is a disciple of Ben Shapiro and Ronald Reagan. Rene Otero is a political activist who has conducted studies for Harvard and is a disciple of Barack Obama. Robert MacDougall is a jock-turned-politician who embodies the stereotypical Texas teenager. And last but not least, Steven Garza is a first-generation Mexican-American who adheres to Bernie Sanders and was inspired by his campaign, which is what got him into becoming a politician. To avoid any spoilers, I’ll leave it at that. This movie is full of surprises that are both assuring and demoralizing to the state of our country’s democracy. But above all else—unlike many major media news networks—it’s the highest quality entertainment that 2020 had to offer. -Ralph James
Best Animated Feature: Soul
Where to watch: Disney+
To simply consider Soul the best animated feature of the year would be doing it a disservice; it’s one of the best films of 2020. It only sits behind Boys State for me. As stated by my longtime co-host and secret lover Ralph James, Pixar has the ability to “somehow make the most damning existentialist issues so easily digestible and reassuring.”
Soul is centered on Joe Gardner (Jaime Foxx), a part-time middle school band teacher with an undying passion for jazz. After securing the gig of his dreams, Joe falls to his (seeming) death through an open New York City sewer gate. His soul is separated from his body and transported to the You Seminar, a place in which souls are developed before connecting to a newborn baby. Desperate to reclaim his earthly body, Joe works alongside 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who refuses to latch on to a human.
The film is an absolute delight, and although my edibles hit right as the concept of life after death was introduced, I found myself calmed by the astounding animation and joyous performances from Foxx and Fey. The landscapes of the You Seminar and New York City are interwoven perfectly, and the attention to detail from Pixar further cements them as the most talented animated creators of all-time. -Jack Martian
Best Drama Movie: Da 5 Bloods
Where to watch: Netflix
Returning to the big screen with just the right amount of Black rage and calculated direction was none other than legendary film director Spike Lee. The highly anticipated Da 5 Bloods followed four Vietnam veterans on their conquest to avenge their fallen infantry leader and buried treasure near his remains. The story tackles issues surrounding PTSD, racism, greed, and more—all well-packaged and digestible for those over the age of 17. Make no mistake, Lee seldom holds back from the gory and surreal affairs that inevitably unfold when retelling a war story. With each eye-closing graphic scene is an equally heartfelt lecture on the calamity that was America’s role in the war. But that is what Spike Lee does best. Coming from the mindset of an individual born after the war, Da 5 Bloods provided a perspective frequently glossed over in textbooks. Placing Black actors like Chadwick Boseman, Delroy Lindo, Norm Lewis, and Clarke Peters at the forefront of the plot created an impactful sense of urgency in understanding how Black men were treated during the war, and the consequences thereafter. Once again, Spike Lee managed to turn an otherwise grim open discussion about the injustices of America’s militia, into a brilliant fast-paced adventure through the lives of four captivating heroes. - Deja Williams
Best Action Movie: Tenet
Where to watch: Vudu
Across the globe, TENET was the single theater experience for millions during a year in which upcoming films were either delayed or released directly to streaming. Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi action blockbuster provided the most explosive moments to grace screens in 2020.
TENET follows the Protagonist (John David Washington), a CIA spy recruited to prevent an attack from the future that would all but ensure World War III. Alongside Neil (Robert Pattinson), the time-traveling race begins to bring down Sator (Kenneth Branagh) and save the world.
Christopher Nolan fought to keep his film from being released to streaming, and while some viewed it as tone-deaf in the middle of a global pandemic, it ultimately made sense. TENET is a Nolan movie from start to finish, with incomprehensible utilization of philosophy and science, dialogue drowned out by a blaring score, and an appearance by Michael Caine. The time-bending action sequences go beyond imagination, as characters fight backward through multiple dimensions. There are car chases, exploding airplanes, and high-stakes espionage. It’s like James Bond after a 1,000mg edible.
This is a film that wants you to think. To thoroughly enjoy it, it’s best to turn your brain off and let it ride out. Robert Pattinson has stated multiple times that he was confused during filming, and a line in the film basically tells you to not even bother trying to figure out what TENET means. TENET works best as a prototypical Nolan feature that impresses with its high-budget set-pieces and ability to entertain in the midst of confusion. -Jack Martian
Best Comedy Movie: Palm Springs
Where to watch: Hulu
How do you take a trope that’s bordering on cliche and use it to make one of the most creative, hilarious movies of the year? Ask Andy Sandberg and Cristin Milioti, the stars of Palm Springs.
The storyline uses the Groundhog Day/Edge of Tomorrow/Before I Fall scenario you’ve known for decades. It’s the classic, “Oh my god, I keep waking up on the same day!” situation, and Palm Springs pushes it to the extremes. In addition to Andy Sandberg bringing his usual comic excellence, and Cristin Milioti bringing her A-game as a chemistry filled co-star, the film is full of great plot choices and surprising twists and turns. Instead of taking the Bill Murray route of using an endlessly repeating day to do lame stuff like learn piano and better themselves, they fill their time with fun activities, like drinking, taking shrooms, and occasionally being murdered by J.K. Simmons.
But why is it the best comedy of the year? In the end, the answer is because it’s fresh. Despite being based around a common plot idea, the movie feels unique. The jokes are new, the characters are cleverly written, and most importantly, the underlying love story between the characters keeps you engaged if and when the comedy falls short. Palm Springs is the best comedy movie because the jokes will make you crack up, but more importantly, because the story will make you want to watch it again. -Evan Northrup
Best Horror Movie: I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Where to watch: Netflix
In a year where typical horror thrills cuddled next to a loved one in theaters were absent, I’m Thinking of Ending Things thrived as a psychological thriller that challenged its viewers from their quarantined homes.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a dialogue-driven, delusional rollercoaster of moods and tempos. It’s about a young woman named Lucy (Jessie Buckley) who departs with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), who she’s been seeing for six weeks to meet his parents at their family farmhouse (Toni Collette and David Thewlis).
Lucy is skeptical about the trip because she’s thinking about ending her relationship with Jake. The dinner at the farm that ensues is as creepy as it is chaotic, and as awkward as it is entertaining. The time-baffling evening is the stepping stone towards a surreal climax featuring Lucy, Jake and a high school janitor. -Ralph James
Best Sci-Fi Movie: The Vast of Night
Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video
So many sci-fi movies are about going big. Big CGI effects, big stories, and big twists. The Vast of Night succeeds by separating itself from the average sci-fi movie, refusing to fall into the trap of overdoing. Where the average sci-movie overstates, The Vast of Night understates. And in doing so, the best sci-fi movie of 2020 was created.
In The Vast of Night, the directorial debut of Andrew Patterson, two young adults in 1950s small-town New Mexico are followed by a single tracking shot as their night goes from normal to unnatural in the space of a couple of hours. Patterson uses this longshot along with a focus on 50s technology (radio and a switchboard), 50s costumes, and a small-town setting to envelop the viewer into the night along with the two protagonists. This movie was a blast to watch because of its tense monologue scenes and the thrilling, unfurling mystery, but also because it made me feel like I was outside on a summer night—walking the streets of a small town right alongside the characters.
I watched The Vast of Night on a summer night with all my windows open, and even though I didn’t grow up in the ’50s, it flooded me with nostalgia and reminded me of my own sweltering nights as a kid. There’s a great sci-fi plot to carry the movie, but ultimately, The Vast of Night is one of the greatest movies of the year because it creates an immersive aura of summer and youth. -Evan Northrup