Taylor T. Carlson's Best and Worst Films of 2020!

What a long and strange year 2020 has been.

The world of cinema is forever changed as we know it due to recent world events. As a critic, I’ve been attending many screenings over the past several years, but that’s all screeched to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving many movies to go direct to streaming services and the like. I’ve missed screenings, as many of my fellow critics have. But it doesn’t change the fact that we still managed to get some quality cinema this year. And of course, some not-so-great stuff.

Due to all going on in the world, I haven’t had nearly as many films to choose from this year for my top and bottom yearly lists, so I’m making it a “Top 5” and “Bottom 5” list, instead of having 10 entries on each list. I still think I’ve assembled enough entries to make something memorable. Naturally, your opinions may vary from mine. But let’s get started!

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Bottom 5:

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5) The Gentlemen


I wanted to love this movie. It has a great director and a great cast, but the narrative structure is a mess, the characters are interchangeable, and the film quickly devolves into a game of “how many times can we say the C-word in a single movie?” A shame, because I had high hopes for this one!

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4) Secret Society of Second-Born Royals


It’s a cliche-ridden teenybopper version of the X-Men. Despite some good performances from the young cast members who do the best they can with what they’re given, there’s nothing original here. It’s predictable and bland. And since you can watch the X-Men movies on Disney+ anyway, why watch this?

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3) Underwater


If the murky visuals in this one won’t give you a headache, the overused cliches and plot points certainly will. It’s hard to look at this one, and harder to get engrossed in it when it doesn’t do a single thing original. If you want B-grade so-bad-it’s-good science fiction, there are better choices.

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2) The Photograph


Many films have imitated The Godfather Part II’s dual-time story style. And all of them do it horribly. This movie is no exception, giving us a cast of no likable characters and a plot that’s as bland as its overused storytelling style. I’m all for trying to tell a story in a slightly different way, but it adds nothing to this one.

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And, the worst film of 2020:

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Wendy

Take the story of Peter Pan and set it in modern times. Then take out everything fanciful and fun about the original tale. Then get rid of the narrative structure. Then just have a bunch of kids do whatever they want and call it a movie. That’s what Wendy is. Bland, uninteresting, and terrible in every conceivable way aside from a few child actors who show potential (and this movie’s failure certainly isn’t their fault). During the screening of this one, a fellow critic looked at his phone and whispered over to me, “it’s got another hour.” I cringed upon hearing that. And it never got better. Adults will be bored, and kids may be shocked and traumatized by a few scenes that are horribly inappropriate for little eyes. Do yourself a favor. Don’t watch this film.

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Top 5:

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5) Sonic the Hedgehog


It seems Hollywood got the memo, and they’re actually making GOOD video game-based movies now! Sonic’s not perfect, but it’s still a massive improvement over the game-based schlock we’ve been getting over the past three decades. Not to mention it restores Jim Carrey (who plays villain Dr. Robotnik) to his former levels of manic energy not seen since his 90s heyday; that’s worth the price of admission alone.

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4) The Vast of Night

I’m a sucker for stories set in America’s past, retro-style science fiction, and for classic anthology TV series. This movie gave me all of those things and more. Even though the narrative does drag a bit in places, seeing this late 50s/early 60s-style attitude towards strange happenings presented in the style of a mock anthology TV series episode won me over. There are great performances from young and old alike. It sucks you in and doesn’t let go. This one’s not to be overlooked!

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3) Selah and the Spades


A movie about someone dealing drugs and illegal substances in a school sounds about as cliched and overdone as anything else. But this movie defies all expectations with a diverse and talented cast. Lovie Simone is amazing as the title character, beautiful but not someone you’d ever want to cross. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, and it does so without CGI and explosions. In today’s movie world, that’s no easy task.

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2) The Call of the Wild


It seems like family movies these days are low-grade cartoons filled with toilet humor and unmemorable one-dimensional characters. But this film, starring Harrison Ford, is a return to old-fashioned adventure-style storytelling Hollywood these days is largely devoid of. It’s one of the years many pleasant surprises, and it’s a movie you won’t want to overlook. Great for young and old alike!

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And, the best film of 2020:

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Sound of Metal

Many of the people I know are musicians who suffer from hearing loss. I never thought this formula would’ve made for a film, let alone the one I’m naming the best movie of 2020. Riz Ahmed steals the show as an ex-addict who’s conflicted between his health, his music career, and the woman he loves. Fortunately, it never descends into after-school special territory, remaining a gritty film and serving as a phenomenal character study. Ahmed deserves a Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal here, and the movie as a whole shouldn’t be overlooked as a Best Picture candidate. A great film!

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What was your favorite movie of 2020? Your least favorite? Let me know in the comment section down below, just keep it civil. Hopefully the movie theater situation will gradually get back to normal in 2021, only time will tell for sure!

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