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Top 10 movies of 2020

Ed Symkus
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David Thewlis and Jessie Buckley in "I'm Thinking of Ending Things"

During a “normal” year, I tend to see between 150 and 170 new movies, most of them at cinemas. During the peculiar year of 2020, I just missed the 100 mark. Eleven of them were in cinemas, the rest were either DVDs or links I watched on my TV or my desktop computer. I sure do miss the majesty of movie theaters and their big screens.

Yet even with limited viewing and size restrictions, it wasn’t difficult to come across some terrific films. Here are my favorites of the year. No countdown to No. 1. They are the collective top 10, alphabetically, followed by a handful of close runners-up.

TOP 10

“Emma.” – A pre-“The Queen’s Gambit” Anya Taylor-Joy stars as the young, wealthy, and well-meaning but manipulative Emma Woodhouse in this delightful and lavish version of the Jane Austen novel.

“Gunda” – No people, no words, no story, just lots of animals, with a focus on a big sow and her piglets, photographed in B&W on farms in Norway, Spain, and England, showing the ups and downs of their daily lives.

“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” – Charlie Kaufman’s imaginative adaptation of the imaginative novel about imagination running amok dips in and out of the minds of four troubled characters. But are they really all there?

“Mank” – David Fincher directs his late-father’s script that suggests what real-life events might have led up to ideas that booze-swilling Herman Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) incorporated into his script for “Citizen Kane.”

“News of the World” – Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd (Tom Hanks) rides through post-Civil War Texas reading newspapers to information-starved townsfolk, and becomes a guardian, of sorts, to a young orphaned girl he finds along the way.

“The Painted Bird” – The Jerzy Kosinski novel, about a young boy roaming devastated Eastern Europe near the end of WWII, transfers to the screen with its brooding atmosphere and deeds of psychological horror, and a bit of hope, intact.

“The Personal History of David Copperfield” – This wonderfully entertaining, perfectly acted, gorgeously designed rendering of the Dickens classic freely ranges, like the novel, from being overly dramatic to extremely funny.

“Soul” – The newest Disney-Pixar film tells of a man who achieves his dream of being a musician, almost immediately “dies” (he’s stuck in a “holding pattern”), then tries to get back to life, and his dream, while also helping an “unborn soul” find her own inspiration to live.

“The Truffle Hunters” – It’s a charming and offbeat documentary about the ins and outs of the rare-mushroom trade in Italy, focusing on the senior citizens who find them, then have to deal with middle-men who have to deal with restaurants. (Opens in March)

“The Vast of Night” – Quiet yet talky, with many incidents but little action, and no “proper” storyline, this engaging and atmospheric little gem seems to be about ETs landing somewhere in New Mexico in the 1950s. I’m still not sure.

RUNNERS-UP

“Da 5 Bloods” – Decades after the war, four American pals return to Vietnam to bring back the remains of a fifth friend ... along with oodles of buried gold.

“Mulan” – The best Disney animation-to-live-action adaptation so far.

“Nomadland” – A woman who’s tired of the cards she’s been dealt hits the road, joining others who have also chosen the roving life.

“The Outpost” – An intimate but tense and action-packed true story of 53 American soldiers trying to fend off 300-400 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan.

“Sound of Metal” – A problematic rock drummer loses his hearing, and the woman he loves, then sets out on a journey of spiritual recovery.

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in "Emma."