Best of 2020 (Pandemic Edition): The Film Lists

From 2005 through 2012 I pretty consistently wrote my Sunday Morning Tuneage blog. It continued inconsistently through 2013 before being abandoned. Each year was punctuated with a series of “Best Of…” lists. While the blog still remains retired, I’ve revived it for a Best of List 2017-2019. I debated how I would come up with a series of lists that were even comparable to previous years in a year that was totally driven into a ditch only a couple months in. But the show must go on and I still watched things, read things, and learned even more. So without further ado, here’s how the year played out.


No other blogger is brave enough to pick their favorites before they see them. Here’s what I boldly thought I’d be writing about in December 2020 (when it was still an innocent December 2019)


1. NO TIME TO DIE (Apr) I have been missing my Bond films.
2. BIRDS OF PREY (Feb) I am still waiting for a portrait of Harley that I feel is authentic.
3. BLACK WIDOW (May) A well overdue Marvel character to get a solo film.
4. ONWARD (Mar) Pixar needs to get back to non-sequel features like this.
5. WONDER WOMAN 1984 (Jun)
6. A QUIET PLACE II (Mar) I really enjoyed the Universe of the original.
7. DEATH ON THE NILE (Oct) The slow recovery of the murder movie genre continues.
8. THE LODGE (Feb) Good quality horror films seem to find a place early on in the year.

BEST MOVIES OF 2020 (Seen in theaters / or streaming if released there)

My goal each year is to view at least 25 movies in the theaters. For obvious reasons, this year fell way, way, way short of that goal. This limited group of films is going to omit Documentaries because those will play a role in later lists.

1. 1917. It was a holdover from 2019 but it pressed all the right buttons for me. It was historically accurate, set during my favorite war to learn about, and a pleasure to see on the big screen. If I was only going to see a handful of films at the theater this year, I’m glad I got this one under my belt.
2. STAR WARS: RISE OF SKYWALKER. Another late 2019 that was a 2020 film for me. My streak of seeing all of the theatrical Star Wars films in the theater stays alive. I don’t get the detractors of this film. I thought it was consistent with the content and quality that I’ve come to expect from this series in the past decade. J.J. Abrams isn’t at his usual storytelling but I went for straight-up entertainment and that’s what I got.
3. WONDER WOMAN 1984. It wasn’t great after the first thirty minutes. That’s how few new non-documentary films I watched this year.
4. HAMILTON. Does this count? It’s not really a “movie” but it was as close as I got to anything else new this year. It was very entertaining but really made me want to see it on the stage.


If this list follows the pattern of previous years — I’ll watch 2-3 of these in the next couple weeks and then the rest of them will float to the top of my viewing list sometime in 2028. For comparison, I have watched two of last year’s “Best I Didn’t See” and still haven’t watched The Joker or Once Upon a Time…In Hollywood.

1. TENET. Not seeing it in theaters took lots of my interest out of watching it for now. I’m sure it’s probably a really interesting film but the opportunity has been missed.
2. SOUL. No excuses but I haven’t watched this Pixar effort yet.
3. NOMADLAND. Because Frances McDormand.
4. THE NEST. Appears to have the best soundtrack of the year.
5. SHAUN THE SHEEP: FARMAGEDDON. How did I miss this?
8. MANK. Mixed reviews for this David Fincher piece but looks good.
10. WOLFWALKERS. Because animation is always on my list.


This year I decided to start a project to delve into the Documentary genre. It has always been a favorite genre of mine but I realized that I had approached it very haphazardly. This project that will continue into 2021 is meant to keep up with the most current releases and explore some of the classics of the genre. I am only 180 films in and I have only barely scratched the surface. This list is the best of this current year that I watched.

1. THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF. There are four to five distinct types of documentaries these days including True Crime, Biography, Historical, Slice of Life, and Nature/Environment. This story fills many of the categories. To say it’s the story of an artist who befriends the man who stole her paintings only draws the frame. Like all the best stories I saw this year, it’s enlightening and it’s relatable on a very human level.
2. DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD. Confronting death as a concept is not a new subject. Confronting one’s own death over and over with humor is refreshing.
3. CRIP CAMP. A story that covers the human spirit and then becomes this historically important event that I never saw coming.
4. MCMILLIONS. The HBO series on the McDonald’s Monopoloy scandal is one of those that just kept getting more surreal as each episode played out. Worth your time.
5. JASPER MALL. The slice of life of a dying mall in Alabama is fascinating.
6. BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS. The dive bar closing is a great companion piece to #5.
7. TOTALLY OUT OF CONTROL. Want to be more depressed about the early days of the Pandemic? Here you go.
8. WELCOME TO CHECHNYA. This LGBTQ film is not just a great story but cutting edge use of masking technology.
10. ATHLETE A. That list still omits great biographies of the Bee Gees, Belushi, the Tiger King, Joseph McCarthy, Natalie Woods, and the Go-Go’s. It leaves off Be Water and The Last Dance. There’s even no I’ll Be Gone in the Dark or Atlanta’s Missing and Murdered.


Here’s a quick list of the best older documentaries that came to me this year. I’m still missing some significant pieces.

1. THE 7-UP SERIES. I’m waiting for 63-UP to make it over here. This sociological masterpiece up to 56-UP is an amazing look into the lives of everyday people and the importance of our youngest years.
2. GREY GARDENS (1976). The original slice-of-life documentary is still incredible.
3. THIN BLUE LINE (1988). This has to be a hinge for all current True Crime docs.
4. HOOP DREAMS (1994). Before they ever thought up 30 FOR 30, this was and still is near the top of all Sports Docmentaries.
5. THE INVENTOR: OUT FOR BLOOD IN SILICON VALLEY (2019). The rise and fall of Theranos is fascinating and serves as a cautionary tale for how we view companies in the 2020’s.
6. WHEN WE WERE KINGS (1996). The greatness of Ali from a sports and a political point of view.
7. ROBIN WILLIAMS: COME INSIDE MY MIND (2018). A genius pure and simple.
8. AMY (2015). The musical biography that I judge all of the ones since then by.
9. KING OF KONG: A FISTFUL OF QUARTERS (2007). A story of getting a high score in Donkey Kong serves to tell us about how we view accomplishments in life.


The past two years I took deep dives into 1988 and 1989. We turn back the calendar this year and look at 1970 from all angles. My knowledge of the early ’70s is lacking until 1972-1974 at best. I tried to consume the year from mulitple sides including news stories, books, music (lots of music), tv shows, and movies. This year I only managed to watch 36 films from 1970. The year is an interesting mix of fallout from the 1960s and Woodstock mixed with an independent spirit that shows the start of genres that will dominate later in the decade. Here’s the best of the lot.

1. M*A*S*H. This Altman film will influence one of the most important TV shows of the decade and it will help change the way that movies tell stories. This character study doesn’t try to tell a singular story as much as use the characters to capture a larger anti-war statement.
2. FIVE EASY PIECES. This movie also lays the groundwork for what we will call Independent Cinema in the 1990s.
3. BIRD WITH CRYSTAL PLUMAGE. Groundbreaking for the horror genre.
4. LITTLE BIG MAN. I was surpised after not seeing this for decades how anti-establishment this movie really is at its heart. This deserves more credit as an important work.
5. BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES. Solely because of how much I admired it as a child.
6. PATTON. As we struggled as a country with how to view the Vietnam War, the stories of WWII and the Korean War helped bring our attitudes into focus without being a direct statement to the current conflict.
8. TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARA. Clint Eastwood and the Western are still strong.
9. BREWSTER MCCLOUD. Altman with two entries this year says something about where cinema is headed.
10. OUT-OF-TOWNERS. Neil Simon captures the lives of average couples in the 1970s better than most writers. His ear for dialogue is superb. This movie feels more 1970 than anything else. There were plenty of 1970 movies that I just didn’t get to because I was so focused on Documentaries. The best of the bunch I didn’t watch includes AIRPORT, CATCH-22, RIO LOBO, and EL TOPO.


Because I didn’t go to the theaters this year, I didn’t really see many trailers this year. And what would they preview since they aren’t planning on releasing movies.

1. DUNE. Kinda taken by surprise by this trailer. So much so that I might even finally get around to reading the book.

2. A QUIET PLACE 2. I was looking forward to this as a good in-theater experince in 2020. Here’s holding out hope for 2021.

3. BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIE. This appears to be the case of the trailer being better than the actual film.

4. THE BATMAN. I didn’t think I was ready for another Batman film, especially this one. But after this trailer, I might be convinced that the past two bad Batman experiences can be overcome.

5. THE FRENCH DISPATCH. Every year there’s a Wes Anderson trailer it’s going to make this list.

BONUS: GET BACK. While technically not a trailer but a “sneak preview”, this looks completely mind blowing and I’m so excited to see and hear the Beatles on the big screen next Fall.

This is my most uninformed list of the year. I don’t read many magazines or watch TV shows about upcoming films anymore. I tend to find out through osmosis and YouTube telling me I might like a trailer. I lean on the comfort of favorite directors, favorite actors, franchises, and sequels. Here’s what is on my radar for next year.


1. NO TIME TO DIE (Apr). Let’s try this again.
2. BLACK WIDOW (May). Will we be in theaters for this???
3. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (Apr). Dir. Edgar Wright.
4. THE FRENCH DISPATCH (Jan). Dir. Wes Anderson.
5. GET BACK (Aug). Peter Jackson reveals the Beatles.
6. A QUIET PLACE II (Apr). I really enjoyed the Universe of the original.
7. THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (Jun). I like this franchise.
8. GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (Apr). Jason Reitman directs a sequel but not to the all-female version.
9. THE ETERNALS (Feb). Jack Kirby characters!
10. THE LAST DUEL (Jan). Dir. Ridley Scott

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Shawn Bourdo

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