It goes without saying that 2020 was a year like none other in recent history. Significantly, by virtue of living through such times, it’s also a year that retuned minds to see history being made in the present. There are certainly more critical sociocultural institutions whose shape have been permanently altered, but in a year where entertainment was sought (and was, arguably, psychologically essential) more than ever, the film industry’s struggles played out on a grand stage. Streaming services boomed — the less said about Quibi, the better, but TV mainstays like Hulu and HBO Max became major players in the feature film game, the latter especially, with its massive late-year Warner Brothers deal — while theaters remain on life support, and drive-ins boasted an unexpected return to relevance. But the actual slate of films released didn’t bear out the same direness: in the absence of tentpoles and endless money-grubbing sequels (mostly; remember when that new Bill & Ted flick snuck out?), plenty of wonderful art was made available to grace our TV and laptop screens. Not reliant on a huge box office, a number of international auteurs found their latest titles given official 2020 releases in virtual cinemas, if they hadn’t already snuck into theaters in the year’s first couple months, and many reflected the directors’ best work in years (Pedro Costa, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and even a long-held Hong Sang-soo film). Micro-budget cinema thrived (Fourteen, The Vast of Night), Netflix remained a welcoming platform for visionaries (Spike Lee, Charlie Kaufman), and major film experiments saw the light of day (Small Axe, half of DAU). It’s impossible to know what exactly the film industry will look like in a post-COVID world, but if this is to be the end, it could’ve been worse — we were at least gifted some good flicks on our way out.
Below are 14 films that cleared our Honorable Mention bar but ultimately fell short of Top 25 status, and which we’ve already written about this year. Coming next week are our Top 25 films of 2020 (delivered in two parts: 25-11 and a Top 10). In the meantime, watch a flick and read some of our words. Luke Gorham