Andrew Buckner’s 100 Favorite Feature Films of 2020

By Andrew Buckner

*This list is dedicated to the many theaters that were closed or permanently shutdown this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without your ever-comforting presence a pivotal part of the one-of-a-kind artistry, understanding, and universal joy inherent in the cinematic experience will be forever erased.

*Please note that the inclusion of the films in this list are based on an initial 2020 U.S. release date.

100. Cadaver
Director: Jarand Herdal.

99. Nobody Sleeps in the Woods Tonight
Director: Bartosz M. Kowalski.

98. Vampires vs. the Bronx
Director: Osmany Rodriguez.

97. Unhinged
Director: Derrick Borte.

96. Nocturne
Director: Zu Quirke.

95. Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics
Director: Donick Cary.

94. His House
Director: Remi Weekes.

93. The Phenomenon
Director: James Fox.

92. Notzilla
Director: Mitch Teemley.

91. May the Devil Take You Too
Director: Timo Tjahjanto.

90. Impetigore
Director: Joko Anwar.

89. Relic
Director: Natalie Erika James.

88. The Rental
Director: Dave Franco.

87. Dead Life: Wormwood’s End
Director: William Victor Schotten.

86. Antebellum
Directors: Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz.

85. Host
Director: Rob Savage.

84. The Mortuary Collection
Director: Ryan Spindell.

83. The Honeymoon Phase
Director: Phillip G. Carroll Jr.

82. Skyman
Director: Daniel Myrick.

81. Bill & Ted Face the Music
Director: Dean Parisot.

80. Tesla
Director: Michael Almereyda.

79. Porno
Director: Keola Racela.

78. Save Yourselves!
Directors: Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson.

77. Cut Throat City
Director: RZA.

76. Alone
Director: John Hyams.

75. Elephant
Directors: Mark Linfield, Vanessa Berlowitz, Alastair Fothergill.

74. Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind: Contact Has Begun
Director: Michael Mazzola.

73. Why Don’t You Just Die!
Director: Kirill Sokolov.

72. An English Haunting
Director: Charlie Steeds.

71. The Gentlemen
Director: Guy Ritchie.

70. VFW
Director: Joe Begos.

69. First Love
Director: Takashi Miike.

68. Extra Ordinary
Directors: Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman.

67. Bit
Director: Brad Michael Elmore.

66. Gretel & Hansel
Director: Oz Perkins.

65. #Alive
Director: II Cho.

64. The Invisible Man
Director: Leigh Whannell.

63. Come to Daddy
Director: Ant Timpson.

62. Snatchers
Directors: Stephen Cedars, Benji Kleiman.

61. We Summon the Darkness
Director: Marc Meyers.

60. 1BR
Director: David Marmor.

59. The Lodge
Directors: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz.

58. Time Warp: The Greatest Cult Films of All-Time Volume 1 Midnight Madness
Director: Danny Wolf.

57. Comic Book Junkies
Directors: Lenny Schwartz, Nathan Suher.

56. Sputnik
Director: Egor Abramenko.

55. Tigertail
Director: Alan Yang

54. A Secret Love
Director: Chris Boln.

53. Far from Perfect: Life Inside a Global Pandemic
Directors: Lenny Schwartz, Nathan Suher.

52. Blow the Man Down
Directors: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy.

51. Uncle Peckerhead
Director: Matthew John Lawrence.

50. Rent-A-Pal
Director: Jon Stevenson.

49. The Platform
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia.

48. Scare Package
Directors: Courtney Andujar, Hillary Andujar, Anthony Cousins, Emily Hagins, Aaron B. Koontz, Chris McInroy, Noah Segan, Baron Vaughn.

47. Bacurau
Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonca Filho.

46. Scare Me
Director: Josh Ruben.

45. The Hunt
Director: Craig Zobel.

44. Da 5 Bloods
Director: Spike Lee.

43. Possessor Uncut
Director: Brandon Cronenberg.

42. Time
Director: Garrett Bradley.

41. The Vast of Night
Director: Andrew Patterson.

40. Frank & Zed
Director: Jesse Blanchard.

39. The Swerve
Director: Dean Kapsalis.

38. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Director: Aaron Sorkin.

37. First Cow
Director: Kelly Reichardt.

36. The Social Dilemma
Director: Jeff Orlowski.

35. The Assistant
Director: Kitty Green

34. Vivarium
Director: Lorcan Finnegan.

33. Emma.
Director: Autumn de Wilde.

32. Strapped for Danger II: Undercover Vice
Director: Richard Griffin.

31. Family Romance, LLC.
Director: Werner Herzog.

30. The Assassination of Western Civilization
Director: Nathan Suher.

29. Seeds
Director: Skip Shea.

28. Before the Night is Over
Director: Richard Griffin.

27. Rewind
Director: Sasha Joseph Neulinger.

26. The Other Lamb
Director: Malgorzata Szumowska.

25. Color Out of Space
Director: Richard Stanley.

24. Planet of the Humans
Director: Jeff Gibbs.

23. Totally Under Control
Directors: Alex Gibney, Ophelia Harutyunyan, Suzanne Hillinger.

22. Shirley
Director: Josephine Decker.

21. Vote Motherf***er
Director: Lenny Schwartz.

20. Swallow
Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis.

19. Beastie Boys Story
Director: Spike Jonze.

18. Fulci For Fake
Director: Simone Scafidi.

17. Gremlins: A Puppet Story
Director: Chris Walas.

16. Circus of Books
Director: Rachel Mason.

15. Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story
Directors: Ron Cicero, Kimo Easterwood.

14. Cleaning up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters
Director: Anthony Bueno.

13. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Director: Jason Woliner.

12. Hamilton
Director: Thomas Kail.

11. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
Directors: James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham.

10. Spaceship Earth
Director: Matt Wolf.

9. Luz: The Flower of Evil
Director: Juan Diego Escobar Alzate.

8. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Director: Charlie Kaufman.

7. Tommaso
Director: Abel Ferrara.

6. Slay the Dragon
Directors: Chris Durrance, Barak Goodman.

5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Director: Eliza Hittman.

4. Beanpole
Director: Kantemir Balagov.

3. Sister Tempest
Director: Joe Badon.

2. The Painted Bird
Director: Vaclav Marhoul.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Director: Celine Sciamma.

“Goodnight Mommy”- (Movie Review)

By Andrew Buckner

Rating: ****1/2 out of *****.

The Austrian chiller Goodnight Mommy (originally titled Ich seh, Ich she) gets its unsettling power from being such a voyeuristic, distant and cold experience.

Furthermore, it garners its stalwart nature from being almost alarmingly quiet throughout the bulk of its runtime. Because of this there are long stretches where only brief bits of dialogue or natural sounds crackle through the soundtrack.

This assists in creating a maturely fashioned, psychological portrait. It grips us more for the way it teases us with where the story could be headed, especially in its first seventy minutes, than filling us with outright trepidation.

Such is most evident in the final act. This portion could’ve easily become overblown. Instead it respects the foundation it delicately constructs in prior sequences. The result is a theatrical homerun.

Most endeavors meant to produce dread would use this delightfully realized sense of isolation to give us low-brow jump scares. This would be especially likely as we stare into the shadows, as this work often does, convincing ourselves something will pop out.

Olga Neuwirth’s score is used sparingly and precisely at the right instant. The music she creates is striking, atmospheric and memorable.

But, Goodnight Mommy gets under our skin because it forces us to think. It makes us contemplate what is beneath this darkness. This is opposed to using this circumstance, as is often the case, as surface dressing for novelty shocks.

This is far more satisfying, in relation to the on-screen personalities and the general chronicle, and discomforting than any cheap effect the filmmakers can throw at us.

Such is done with unproblematic confidence throughout. The movie is worthy of recommendation based on this factor alone.

What makes this aforementioned statement even more verified is that the composition is brilliantly written and directed. This is done with impeccable restraint, construction and command of form by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz throughout its one hundred minutes.

In turn, the proceedings are the definition of a slow burn thriller. It delights in the way it toys with audience expectations.

In one of the wisest moves this highly-literate nail-biter elucidates is that it successfully makes all three of the main personages appear villainous at various intervals.

It has a sharp sense of individual perspective. These transitions in viewpoint appear natural and seamless.

For instance, we see the heavily bandaged mother (Susanne Wuest in a compulsively watchable performance that captures her dreadful and vulnerable turns terrifically) through the eyes of her twin children, Lukas and Elias (both portrayed with creepy precision by real life brothers Lukas and Elias Schwarz), as a monster.

So when the boys begin to believe that there is someone else behind the bandages covering their mother’s face we believe them. In the end, this is one of the most disturbing acts this bit of gritty cinema commits.

Another great move is that this entry in fear is wisely vague with backstory. It hardly gives us any details from the main characters’ past.

This makes it easier to look past the red herrings, seen in hindsight, and its more transparent bits. Such is so because of the intelligent way it hides otherwise important elements such as this for sheer impact.

In so doing a wall is built up against our ability to find an antagonist. This evokes further restlessness and captivation as we are at war with ourselves for over 2/3 of the exertion. Even when the question is resolved we admire how well the truth was concealed.

Many will be off put by the gradual pace. Admittedly, I left the piece feeling that I appreciated how terrifically well-made it all was as opposed to being instantly captivated or enthralled. It was only when I found myself mulling it over that I realized the effectiveness at hand.

Those of us willing to tap into its distinct rhythm will be largely fascinated. But, immediate amusement is not the focus here.

Goodnight Mommy is a terror production, made all the more cinematic from being shot on 35 millimeter film, from the old-school. It wants to turn your blood to ice by making us wonder.

The intention here is to haunt us, not by excessive gore or endless violence (though this work does have its moments), but by forcing us to turn its chain of events over repeatedly in our head long after it has finished.

It accomplishes this spectacularly. This is true even if it has a sadly predictable, after a certain late third act plot-point comes into play, conclusion.

Besides perfectly honed performances by its convincingly painted leads the composition benefits from gloriously bleak cinematography by Martin Gschlacht. An early scene with Lukas and Elias in a cornfield showcases this, as well as the earthy realism the picture constantly elicits, beautifully.

Furthermore, Michael Palm’s editing is proficient and wonderfully done. The costume design by Tanja Hausner helps give our leads an everyday air.

Such contributing details makes what we are seeing all the more believable and realistic. Given that this is an attribute Fiala and Franz are obviously striving for these technical triumphs are all the more vital.

This is most evident in the plain-spoken dialogue. It doesn’t feel the need to force feed its audience answers through exposition as many modern offerings are apt to do. Because of this the effort strikes a continuously heightened sense of unease and credibility.

Goodnight Mommy is being heralded as one of the best features of its kind for the year. Though it doesn’t have the invention of David Robert Mictchell’s 80’s style take on the genre and only visible competition, It Follows, this claim is certainly valid.

It has various similarities to Jennifer Kent’s 2014’s masterpiece The Babadook. This is especially apparent in style, theme and general story arc. Still, this affair isn’t quite as remarkable overall.

Moreover, the presentation has a theme of spontaneously having a loved one replaced that is highly reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Yet, what makes it work so well is that it stays true to the tradition of the most accomplished horror films. It does this by being a drama, a character study at heart.

These all assist in the quality of this endeavor. Still, it leaves a lingering impression after all the pieces fall into place that we have seen it all assembled far more successfully beforehand. Alfred Hitchcock’s controversial 1960 ground-breaker, Psycho, comes immediately to mind.

If you are a member of the group who likes rugged fright, the type that makes you feel as if you are a helpless witness to the proceedings, you will love this exertion. If you like motion pictures where everything is explained at every turn you may want to look elsewhere.

Fiala and Franz’s feature is harrowing but certainly not for everyone.