You don't need me to tell you that 2020 has been a beast of a year. The COVID-19 pandemic turned us all into virtual shut-ins, but the virus couldn't kill movies. It just changed the way we watched them.
With most theaters closed, our comfiest chair at home became the safest place to view the best of what's out there. Release dates for potential blockbusters such as "Dune," "West Side Story," and the new James Bond film were pushed back to 2021, but in no way did that leave us with nothing.
The good stuff just came in smaller packages, dished out by streaming services that gave us a lifeline to cinema. Want proof? Here's my list of the 10 best movies of 2020.
1. "Da 5 Bloods"
For me, no 2020 movie spoke with more urgency to our current racial divide than Spike Lee's game-changer about four Black veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who return to Vietnam in the present. Their mission is to recover the body of their fallen brother, the fifth Blood. Delroy Lindo, as the most emotionally damaged vet, burned up the screen with the late Chadwick Boseman, who is basically playing a ghost. You can feel Lee's fury about how the heroism of Black soldiers has been written out of history -- not just in Vietnam, but from the American Revolution to the Donald Trump era, too. Astonishingly, "Da 5 Bloods" is the first major film that views Vietnam entirely through the eyes of Black soldiers. And the cry for racial justice, then and now, reverberates in every frame.
If "Da 5 Bloods" is always in your face, "Nomadland" sneaks up and floors you. The film tracks the wanderlust of women and men traveling the country in vans, all gone to look for their own version of America. Chloe Zhao, the Chinese-born director of this indisputable work of art (Oscar, please), joins with a never-better Frances McDormand and a cast of real-life nomads to capture what fires up the human urge to roam. It's quite simply a new American classic.
3. "Lovers Rock"
Director Steve McQueen ("12 Years a Slave") gives us the dance party we need in this lockdown year. The film takes place at a 1980 London house party where Black partygoers, denied access to white clubs, cut loose to reggae beats you won't be able to resist. "Lovers Rock" is part of "Small Axe," a McQueen anthology of five original films that all tell personal stories from London's West Indian community where McQueen grew up. The result is unmissable and unforgettable.
4. "The Trial of the Chicago 7"
You can't beat writer-director Aaron Sorkin for stirring things up -- remember "The Social Network"? With "The Trial of the Chicago 7" he recreates a notorious 1969 trial in which seven radicals were accused of conspiring to cause riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. No one burns with moral outrage like Sorkin. And the actors are all rock stars, especially Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Bobby Seale and Frank Langella as a demented judge from hell.
5. "First Cow"
Having just won the best film prize from the tough-to-please New York Film Critics Circle, "First Cow" should attract audiences to this new career peak from director Kelly Reichardt. Set in Oregon during the 1820s Gold Rush, the film concerns the growing bond between a cook (John Magaro) and a runaway Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee). By stealing milk from a neighbor's cow, they make a killing in primitive donuts as Reichardt takes on the toxic roots of capitalism and the healing effects of friendship.
Movie addicts will swoon over David Fincher's mesmerizer (his late father Jack wrote the script) about the making of 1941's acclaimed "Citizen Kane." Did the credit belong to young director Orson Welles or boozehound screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz? With a virtuoso Gary Oldman as Mank and Amanda Seyfried near a lock for a supporting Oscar as starlet Marion Davies, the movie is a love letter to Old Hollywood and a delicious takedown of studio politics.
7. "Never Rarely Sometimes Always"
There were bigger, showier movies this year, but none took a more direct path to the heart than Eliza Hittman's quiet stunner about a Pennsylvania teen (a brilliant Sidney Flanigan) and her trip to Manhattan for an abortion. With only her cousin (Talia Ryder) to lean on, she faces harrowing obstacles. But it's less an issue film than an intimate profile in courage.
You won't find a better movie anywhere about what it means to be a family. Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung used his own childhood to create a film -- the big winner at Sundance 2020 -- about his Korean parents and their struggle to create a better life in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. Steven Yuen, of "The Walking Dead," leads a top cast in a small gem that just might be the little engine that could at this year's Oscars.
9. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
August Wilson's great play about Black musicians fighting racism in 1927 reveals its stage origins on screen. But Viola Davis as the defiant mother of the blues, and Boseman as her mutinous cornet man give electrifying performances that pin you to your seat. If I could dedicate this year to just one creative artist it would be Boseman. Gone too soon from cancer at 43, the "Black Panther" star shockingly never won an Oscar. Wake up Academy voters, the time is now.
Christopher's Nolan's visual knockout, starring John David Washington, was I saw in a theater on a jumbo screen in the COVID-19-cursed year of 2020. Even when I didn't know whether the plot was coming or going (it's both), "Tenet" provided the thrilling adrenaline rush you can only get in a theater. So here's to 2021 when, vaccines permitting, we can all have that again. I'll bring the popcorn.