Best Movies 2020

The Best Movies of 2020: Uma’s Top 3

Dept. of Retrospectives and Reminisces


I miss going to the movies. For someone who visits the cinema at least four times a week, this year has been something of an anomaly. It is a shift that hasn’t just changed how I watch movies, but also how I review them.

There is something about that communal moviegoing experience that impacts your point of view as both an audience member and as a critic. That gauge of public reaction, or lack thereof, is an important benchmark in how we perceive a movie. It helps frame your perspective. It gives you an insight that isn’t just your own. And it helps you build a more complete narrative around whether or not a film has succeeded, as a work of art, and as an act of communication.

I felt that absence. In my life. And in my work. I craved being in a room with other people, all of us experiencing something great for the first time, each one affected in a different way, each one collectively and simultaneously impacted by art. It is something that only film can offer in the scale that it does.


2020 may have been a year without cinema, but we were still spoilt for choice with regards to great content. There were a lot of fantastic movies this year and the three on this list are the ones that moved me the most.

1. Mank

Best Movies 2020

Mank made me forget where and when I was. Fincher (re)created a bygone world with such grandeur and flourish, one that was so complete and lived in, that I found myself physically and emotionally transported.

This love letter to Hollywood, ostensibly telling the story of how Citizen Kane came to be, was also an incredible piece of subjunctive history that utilised emotion, judgment, opinion, and wishful thinking, masterfully edited, in and out of sequence, to give us a truly unique movie experience, and one that speaks as much to today as it does to its own time.

It is everything that great cinema should strive for.

This movie is the very definition of a hagiography. But I think that’s the point. Fincher, working off his father’s decades old screenplay, wants to show us the world through Mank’s eyes. It’s a rather brilliant conceit that is employed in every moment of this movie. Every character, every conversation, every conflict, is reflected through one man’s perspective. We see all of it in reaction to Mank. From the way Welles gradually grows more and more in focus as the movie progresses, to Mank’s constant questioning of his wife as to why she loves him. Like him, we too are left trying to grasp the role that each and every person plays in his life.

The Goggler review of Mank

2. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Best Movies 2020

The Trial of the Chicago 7 is most relevant movie that you’ll watch this year, or any year, in America, or anywhere else. It is an artistic sucker punch that speaks truth to power in a way that is passionate and propulsive. That is well-meaning and well-argued. That is romantic.

We live in a time when our sense of idealism is constantly being beaten down, and this movie is a reminder that the hope we have for a more perfect future, no matter how unattainable, is always worth fighting for. This movie will make you feel like you too can, and should, change the world.

There is an aggressive urgency to this movie. Landing on our screens just three weeks before the most important presidential election in recent history, it is a weighty and accomplished work that forces its audience to question the very nature of American democracy. At a time when protest seems to be the only way to catalyse change, this is a potent reminder of both its power and purpose.

The Goggler review of The Trial of the Chicago 7

3. Soul

Best Movies 2020

My movie of the year, however, is Soul. This is Pixar at their best. Smart. Funny. Visually inventive. They use all of the narrative tools at their disposal to craft a story that is very much rooted in the specificity of Joe Gardner’s individual experience, but nevertheless universal in its ability to connect with each and every one of us.

This story of one Black man’s search for purpose and meaning could not have come at a better time. This year has forced all of us to face not just our own mortality, but our very reason for being. Why are we alive? Why should we survive? What is the point of this life?

2020 has taken us on a journey of self-reflection that has been as painful as it has been insightful. And while we may not have figured everything out, I promise you that Soul will come closer than any individual piece of art this year to giving you the answers that you need.

This movie about dying is the most life affirming things you will watch this year.

Honourable Mentions

Tenet (Cinema)

I loved Tenet. I loved Tenet so much that I watched it five times at the cinema. Which, admittedly, is a little compulsive, but hear me out. Besides being the first big Hollywood blockbuster to be released in theatres in 2020 (God knows I love me a good big budget spectacle), it was also a movie that was intentionally crafted for that big screen experience. Not just because of the scope and scale of its action, but also because of the audacity of its narrative.

Tenet is a movie that demands discipline and focus. You can’t afford to be distracted by a text message or a tweet. You shouldn’t pause it to make a cup of tea or take a phone call. It requires all of your attention. It is the kind of movie that cinemas were made for. It is the kind of movie that made me fall in love with movies. It had me confused and confounded. It had me wondering how they did what they did. It had me questioning reality. It lingered long after I left the cinema.

Note: The only reason that Tenet is here, under “Honourable Mentions,” and not in my top three is because it was more of an intellectual exercise than an emotional one. This year was deadening in so many ways that I decided that my best-of picks needed to be those movies that hit my heart more than they did my brain.

Kickflip (MUBI)

Are you, like me, constantly disappointed by the endless barrage of uninspired dreck that we pass off as movies here in Malaysia? Have you given up on finding anything local that’s worth watching? Kickflip might be the thing that changes your mind. The intimate, semi-autobiographical story of one man’s journey to find that delicate balance between growing up and growing old is handled by director Khairil M. Bahar with a maturity that is all but absent in Malaysian cinema. My favourite Malaysian movie of 2020, Kickflip hit home in more ways than one.

If you’re going to turn your life story into art, you have to subject yourself to a certain amount of painful self-examination. It has to be more than just an avenue for self-expression. With Kickflip, Khairil M. Bahar has confronted and exhumed the grim ghosts of his past and laid it out for us as entertainment. He has tapped into the deeply personal to craft something incredibly powerful and meaningful. And I am both impressed and grateful.

The Goggler Kickflip review

The Old Guard (Netflix)

The Old Guard was some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies this year. It also remains one of the best examples on how to adapt a comic book and set up a franchise. It tells a self-contained story, but one that leaves room for both plot development and character growth. It creates a compelling new world with plenty of sequel potential. It services the fans without leaving newcomers lost.

There is a throughline from John Wick, to Extraction, to The Old Guard. Any filmmaker looking to make an actioner today needs to look at these three movies as benchmarks, where every action set piece is driven by character as opposed to cinematic technique. 

The Goggler review of The Old Guard

The Call (Netflix)

How do you take a well worn time travel trope and make it fresh? How do you remake a movie and infuse it with new life? For answers you need to look no further than director Lee Chung-hyun’s Korean thriller The Call. From subverting my expectations with every plot twist, to some intensely emotional set pieces, this movie was one of the most unexpected standouts of the year. Do yourself a favour and check it out.

For a remake of a remake, The Call doesn’t at all feel derivative. With it’s tight storytelling and fantastic performances, this movie doesn’t just stand on its own two feet, it manages to also stand apart from everything that has come before.

The Goggler review of The Call

Extraction (Netflix)

An old-fashioned action movie, Extraction had the kind of physicality that left me utterly exhausted by the time it was all over. It also had one of the finest action sequences ever put on film. It was the perfect summer blockbuster for a summer without any blockbusters.

It is a car chase through the crowded streets of Dhaka, which then makes way to a foot pursuit inside a claustrophobic block of flats, to a brutal one-on-one knife fight out on the street, before ending with a flipped truck and a massive explosion. It is one glorious take. It is poetry in motion. The camera constantly moving, in and out, over and under, sideways and down. It is so cleverly paced that it knows exactly when to take a minute, to let you catch your breath, before throwing you off a building.

The Goggler Extraction review

Movies I Still Want To See…

… but just haven’t been able to given the lack of access.

In recent years, local cinemas have been doing a much better job at bringing in a more varied slate of movies. From indie talkies, to documentaries, to K-horror, to anime, we Malaysians have never had so much choice when it comes to big screen entertainment.

Which makes this year all the more tragic. Shutdowns aside, the lack of the Hollywood blockbuster meant that local cinemas didn’t have the usual sources of revenue to subsidise their more arty endeavours. It is, after all, the audience for Avengers: Endgame that allows for an extended run of Little Women.

With America still broken, and Warner Bros. making all of next year’s blockbusters a pirate’s dream, I have no doubt that the impact on Malaysian cinemas will be devastating.

I have no idea if we’ll ever see any of these movies on our local screens, but I hear that they’re excellent, and I will watch them as soon as it’s legally possible.

  • Minari
  • The Donut King
  • The Personal History of David Copperfield
  • Nomadland
  • Ammonite
  • Black Bear
  • Emma.

Dishonourable Mentions

We watched plenty of truly terrible movies this year. Disney disappointed us with Artemis Fowl and Mulan. We had no idea what the hell kind of accent Robert Downey Jr. was doing in Dolittle. And The Last Days of American Crime was a step-by-step guide on how not to make a movie.

That said, the worst thing I had to watch in 2020 was, hands down, Pasal Kau. The first ever Malaysian Netflix Original was so bad that it gave me a migraine. It was so bad that I wanted to set my television on fire. It was so bad that it made me want to watch Badang again.

Here’s hoping that 2021 is the year that we hoped 2020 would be. Happy new year and all the very best from all of us here at Goggler, to you and yours.

Uma has been reviewing things for most of his life: movies, television shows, books, video games, his mum's cooking, Bahir's fashion sense. He is a firm believer that the answer to most questions can be found within the cinematic canon. In fact, most of what he knows about life he learned from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. He still hasn't forgiven Christopher Nolan for the travesties that are Interstellar and The Dark Knight Rises.

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