My Top 10 films of 2020(ish)

by Ben Godar, Director of Des Moines Film


The best thing about looking back at the year 2020 in film is that it means the year is over. The fact that The Oscars are happening in late April feels somehow appropriate for this long, long year. Here’s my Top 10 films that were released or at least made their way to me in this strange 2020+.


10. Bacurau
How you see a film can be just as important as the film itself. Bacurau is a gonzo mashup of genre tropes all linked by the lingering terrors of colonialism. But it’s at least as memorable for me because it was the first film we screened in our Virtual Cinema. It was a declaration that even in the most closed-down days of the pandemic, we would find a way to shine a light on new films.


9. Palm Springs
Would a film about living the same day over and over have hit quite the same way if that was not what we were all doing ourselves? Perhaps not. But I love a solid comedy with a skewed point-of-view and I think this would stand out in any setting.


8. Lovers Rock
In a year that I was more aware than ever of the constant threat that black lives are under, it was transcendent to experience the vibe of this one night house party in a London. Not at all documentary but nearly non-narrative, it feels like an immersion in this very specific world.


7. His House
Also set in an immigrant community in London, this excellent piece of “elevated horror” felt like it disappeared into the Netflix vortex. But it’s worth seeking out – the story of African refugees who are relocated into a London house that comes to embody their past traumas.


6. Nomadland
So close to documentary, it almost feels like a found object… something that was carved out of the marble of reality, but still rooted in that reality. This film puts a name and a face on on a part of America and for that reason I think it will have a very long life in our collective consciousness.


5. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets
An apt pair with Nomadland, this film plays even more fast and loose with the conventions of “documentary.” But even for the manipulations of the scenario, what happens feels (and in fact, was) incredibly spontaneous and real. Michael Martin, the one proper “actor” in the film, should have won every award.


4. Sound of Metal
Along with Vast of Night, the other film this year that expanded my idea of how sound could be used in a film. Not a sprawling epic but a perfectly told story of some very specific characters.


3. Vast of Night
The virtuoso tracking shot and the amazing use of sound and silence could be minimized as simply technical achievements, but they are so deeply cinematic and in support of an extremely unified little film that knows exactly what it is.


2. First Cow
Here in Des Moines, First Cow felt like the first film that never came – advertised, anticipated, but then never in theaters. Kelly Reichardt has the unique gift to create films that are so simple on the surface, but contain such depths of humanity.


1  Dick Johnson is Dead

This was the last film I saw with an audience – in a packed Missouri Theater on the closing night of the True/False Film Festival. It spans such a spectrum of emotions, I literally laughed and cried – and I did so in an auditorium of hundreds who were having the same experience. It was an amazing experience with an amazing film, and it’s one I hope we can all share again very soon.


…those are the 10 that I’ll pull out and call my Top 10 of the year, but here’s several others that on a different day could have made their way onto the list as well:

The Father
Boys State
Promising Young Woman
Judas and the Black Messiah
Borat: Subsequent Moviefilm
Crip Camp
Another Round
Wolf Walkers
One Night in Miami