2020 was unlike any year for cinema. The COVID-19 pandemic brought the film industry to its knees, and through every trial and error, movies still found a way to shine a light in what was otherwise a very bleak year. Theaters were closed for a majority of the time sure, but that didn’t stop the art form from prospering. Despite what many might say, 2020 if anything was still a good year for film. Masterful work was able to be safely seen on a big screen (whether it was before or in the middle of a pandemic) and in many cases, such top work was directly delivered to people’s homes. As we collectively try our best to set a better course for 2021, why not take a look back and relish in the good times? In particular, those singular cinematic moments that left a deep print on our conscious.
Our team got together to list DiscussingFilm’s 50 favorite shots of 2020. With streamers putting out more content than ever and theatrical releases still finding a way, there were plenty of films to choose from believe it or not. To make things more leveled with the reader, the frames chosen only come from films that received any kind of wide release. Hence, certain award contenders that have yet to be seen by the masses like Nomadland and Minari are absent. Plenty of people have seen them but it wouldn’t be fair to everyone if we spoil their signature shots without them being easily accessible to begin with. On the other hand, certain films on our list first debuted at film festivals or within smaller releases in 2019 but were not widely spread until 2020. We chose shots that were obviously gorgeous, but their emotional punch was just as heavily considered. The list is in no particular order and features exclusive excerpts from our coverage of said films when applicable. As you marvel at the unique frames below, we hope you can take the time to appreciate the art that was produced in a year as chaotic as 2020.
1. Da 5 Bloods
Director: Spike Lee
Cinematographer: Newton Thomas Sigel
“We spent a lot of time together and got to know one another. We took a lot of that into the film. It seemed like the personalities didn’t change. We just let it roll into the film and found how we could make it work with our characters.” – More with star Isiah Whitlock Jr. in our exclusive interview!
Da 5 Bloods is available on Netflix.
Director: Autumn de Wilde
Cinematographer: Christopher Blauvelt
Emma is available on HBO Max.
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Cinematographer: Guillermo Navarro
“For a brief moment, the film manages to sweep the audience up in the magic that the best children’s movies always seem to possess” – More in our review!
Dolittle is available on HBO Max.
Director: William Eubank
Cinematographer: Bojan Bazelli
“We arguably have a better understanding of space than the deepest parts of the ocean thus making the fear of the deep common and entirely rational.” – More in our review!
Underwater is available on HBO Max.
5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Director: Eliza Hittman
Cinematographer: Hélène Louvart
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is available on HBO Max.
6. Gretel & Hansel
Director: Oz Perkins
Cinematographer: Galo Olivares
“Cinematographer Galo Olivares makes the woods appear enormous, never-ending, and sufficiently creepy… fittingly, the forest has never been presented in quite as menacing of a way since Robert Eggers’ The Witch.” – More in our review!
Gretel & Hansel is available on Prime Video and Hulu.
7. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Director: David Dobkin
Cinematographer: Danny Cohen
“What is striking about the fantasy elements of Song Contest is that it calls back to a time when Will Ferrell movies were not only defined by his man-child antics… but by how f*cking weird they could get. That sort of unhinged, anything can happen feeling is what makes Will Ferrell, at his best, so exciting to watch.” – More in our review!
Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga is available on Netflix.
8. The Call of the Wild
Director: Chris Sanders
Cinematographer: Janusz Kaminski
“Director Chris Sanders (Lilo & Stitch, How to Train Your Dragon) is a master at crafting accessible stories to younger audiences without ever babying them.” – More in our review!
The Call of the Wild is available on HBO Max.
9. I Will Make You Mine
Director: Lynn Chen
Cinematographers: Carl Nenzén Lovén and Bill Otto
“I was really, really adamant about making this an Asian American movie that had really nothing to do with us being Asian American.” – More with writer and director Lynn Chen in our exclusive interview!
I Will Make You Mine is available on Prime Video.
Director: Dan Scanlon
Cinematographers: Sharon Calahan and Adam Habib
“As always, Pixar is able to work our emotions without really trying, bringing out tears of both sorrow and catharsis.” – More in our review!
Onward is available on Disney+.
11. Bad Education
Director: Cory Finley
Cinematographer: Lyle Vincent
Bad Education is available on HBO Max.
12. Sonic the Hedgehog
Director: Jeff Fowler
Cinematographer: Stephen F. Windon
“We felt very happy that fans seemed to feel that we did get it right because of the fact that it’s not exactly super faithful. We can easily imagine that they are just pissed off that we didn’t do exactly what’s in the comics or later games.” – More from writers Josh Miller and Patrick Casey in our exclusive interview!
Director: Benedict Andrews
Cinematographer: Rachel Morrison
“Kristen Stewart is utterly perfect for the role, it’s her defining film of the decade. What Stewart is able to convey through action is rather mesmerizing, performed with a sheer sense of the heart-felt, love, and heart-wrench. It’s all in her eyes and movement, it says so much more than the spoken.” – More in our review!
Seberg is available on Prime Video.
14. The Hunt
Director: Craig Zobel
Cinematographer: Darren Tiernan
“Not nearly as controversial as it may seem, the film is still nevertheless playing an intricate role in the modern discussion between the cultural effects of cinema and the use of satire.” – More in our review!
15. The King of Staten Island
Director: Judd Apatow
Cinematographer: Robert Elswit
“Robert Elswit is an amazing director of photography… talk about using a bazooka to hammer a nail. The guy who did some of the greatest action scenes ever and getting to see him just focus on this was really pretty cool.” – More with writer Dave Sirus in our exclusive interview!
The King of Staten Island is available on HBO Max.
16. The Half of It
Director: Alice Wu
Cinematographer: Greta Zozula
The Half of It is available on Netflix.
Director: Josh Trank
Cinematographer: Peter Deming
“It has that same balance of levity, absurdity, tragedy, and drama and… this beating heart in the center of it. So my dream was Tom Hardy because he’s the only actor I know of who has that range.” – More with writer and director Josh Trank in our exclusive interview!
Capone is available on Prime Video.
18. The Invisible Man
Director: Leigh Whannell
Cinematographer: Stefan Duscio
“Cinematographer Stefan Duscio’s collaboration with Whannell creates a duality between high kinetic energy and anxiety-inducing imagery. The framing is constructed to make viewers continuously feel the presence of the Invisible Man without there actually being anything there, even in times of levity. The results will greatly benefit from repeated viewings.” – More in our review!
The Invisible Man is available on HBO Max.
19. Birds of Prey
Director: Cathy Yan
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
“Every moment in this film is intoxicatingly fun and amusing. It is so evident that the cast and crew had an amazing time crafting this film into the entertaining extravaganza that it is.” – More in our review!
Birds of Prey is available on HBO Max.
20. Bad Boys For Life
Directors: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah
Cinematographer: Robrecht Heyvaert
“We didn’t want to disappoint the people that love the franchise and Michael Bay. At the same time, we had to find a way to keep our stamp on it. Finding that balance between giving respect and homage to the Bad Boys movies while keeping it fresh and give our twist to it.” – More with directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah in our exclusive interview!
21. Color Out of Space
Director: Richard Stanley
Cinematographer: Steve Annis
“We realized that we couldn’t show the audience something that’s completely outside the human spectrum. So the answer was to take people right to the edge, or to the outer limits, of that spectrum.” – More with writer and director Richard Stanley in our exclusive interview!
Color Out of Space is available on Shudder.
Director: Pablo Larraín
Cinematographer: Sergio Armstrong
Ema is still planned for U.S distribution but is available on Mubi in the U.K, India, and Ireland.
Director: Alan Yang
Cinematographer: Nigel Bluck
Tigertail is available on Netflix.
24. Palm Springs
Director: Max Barbakow
Cinematographer: Quyen Tran
“Perhaps most surprising about Palm Springs is its sheer audaciousness, committing fully to its sci-fi concept with mind-bending visuals, unorthodox editing, and all-around energy that seems more fit for a thriller or action film than a hangout comedy. First-time director Max Barbakow makes a hell of a debut here.” – More in our review!
Palm Springs is available on Hulu.
25. She Dies Tomorrow
Director: Amy Seimetz
Cinematographer: Jay Keitel
“Seimetz makes the rare film that both denies the audience their usual cinematic comforts, but never feels deliberately opaque or pretentious. It’s just the assured hand of a filmmaker in the zone, telling the exact story they want and need to tell.” – More in our review!
She Dies Tomorrow is available on Hulu.
26. The Personal History of David Copperfield
Director: Armando Iannucci
Cinematographer: Zac Nicholson
The Personal History of David Copperfield is available to rent or purchase.
27. An American Pickle
Director: Brandon Trost
Cinematographer: John Guleserian
“I wanted that square, taller frame specifically for the storybook aspect. Even when we go into modern times, when the aspects changes, it changes into 1:85, which is like the more taller widescreen format of today. I didn’t go super wide because I wanted to maintain that sort of fairy tale sensibility about it.” – More with director Brandon Trost in our exclusive interview!
An American Pickle is available on HBO Max.
28. La Llorona
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Cinematographer: Nicolás Wong
“Beautifully shot by Nicolás Wong, the film is a grim spectacle with no cheap scares. It’s a tale of a murderer who knows its time to pay the price. We often ask the question ‘How do you sleep at night?’ to exploitative and violent leaders and those who support them. La Llorona is a chilling dose of schadenfreude, where bad people don’t get to sleep peacefully and are forced to face the consequences of the harm they’ve caused.” – More in our review!
La Llorona is available on Shudder.
Director: Natalie Erika James
Cinematographer: Charlie Sarroff
“A lot of Asian horror is something that I loved as a teen growing up. I definitely drew on the atmospheres that those types of films capture so well. Tonally, I think something like The Orphanage by J.A. Bayona we always had in mind because it amazingly balances that emotional through line with a horror framework. That was really, horrifying. Something like Antichrist too, there’s a really insidious, uncanny, and sinister kind of force at play.” – More with writer and director Natalie Erika James in our exclusive interview!
Relic is available to rent or purchase.
30. Feels Good Man
Director: Arthur Jones
Animation by Arthur Jones, Jenna Caravello, Khylin Woodrow, and Nicole Stafford
“This film in a lot of ways, it’s really about media literacy and getting people who maybe aren’t involved in meme culture to understand how powerful memes are for good and bad. The way that they’re embedded with so much meaning that seems so illegible and legible at the same time.” – More with the filmmakers behind Feels Good Man in our exclusive interview!
Feels Good Man is available to rent or purchase.
31. Bill & Ted Face the Music
Director: Dean Parisot
Cinematographer: Shelly Johnson
“The main thing we didn’t want to do is rehash the same old characters and just pretend that they’re older versions but are the same exact people. We really wanted them to grow into what we believed they would have actually become.” – More with writer Ed Solomon in our exclusive interview!
Director: Michael Almereyda
Cinematographer: Sean Price Williams
‘Every emotion is elevated by the work of Good Time cinematographer Sean Price Williams. His keen eye for lighting and color combined with Almereyda’s take give Tesla almost trance-like qualities. One will just get so lost within the inventiveness (no pun intended) on screen. Undoubtedly one of the strongest qualities of the film, the viewer is steered into feeling as if they are seeing the world as Tesla saw it himself.” – More in our review!
Tesla is available on Hulu.
33. Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula
Director: Yeon Sang-ho
Cinematographer: Lee Hyung-deok
“Yeon Sang-ho re-teams with ace cinematographer Lee Hyung-deok, delivering engrossing, captivating, and colorful images of carnage-filled action.” – More in our review!
Peninsula is available to rent online or purchase.
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cinematographer: Hoyte Van Hoytema
“Beautifully filmed on glorious IMAX 15/70mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema captures the most wondrous colors with his cinematography. It’s a marvel of filmmaking trickery with craftsmanship on all fronts.” – More in our review!
35. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Director: Charlie Kaufman
Cinematographer: Lukasz Zal
“In the world of Charlie Kaufman, the human body is merely a means of performance, hiding as much truth as we express from it. We smile when we’re sad, laugh when we’re angry, and say things we don’t mean because it’s more comfortable than sharing our own personal pocket of the universe that only we’ll ever be able to understand. You can fake words and you can fake feelings. But you can’t fake a thought.” – More in our review!
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is available on Netflix
36. Enola Holmes
Director: Harry Bradbeer
Cinematographer: Giles Nuttgens
“Stylistically, this is also a breath of fresh air for the Holmes mythos. We’ve seen versions in modern day and darker versions in the classic Victorian setting, but this iteration is very charming with a whimsical aesthetic comparable to the Harry Potter Franchise. It’s visually graceful and takes full advantage of the natural beauty found within English countrysides and historical buildings that compliment the narrative so well.” – More in our review!
Enola Homes is available on Netflix.
37. The Devil All The Time
Director: Antonio Campos
Cinematographer: Lol Crawley
“It proudly embraces its American Gothic aesthetic and atmosphere, veering far into the opposite direction of nostalgia. This is an ugly, bleak place, and the vast majority of its residents appear to be equally as foul.” – More in our review!
The Devil All The Time is available on Netflix.
38. The Mortuary Collection
Director: Ryan Spindell
Cinematographer: Caleb Heymann and Elie Smolkin
“I didn’t have the same experience a lot of kids had, like being really young and watching slasher movies because I avoided them like the plague. It wasn’t until I saw Sam Raimi’s movies and Peter Jackson’s early movies – these auteur filmmakers who are having more fun with the genre – that I found my way in.” – More with writer and director Ryan Spindell in our exclusive interview!
The Mortuary Collection is available on Shudder.
39. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
Director: Jason Woliner
Cinematographer: Luke Geissbuhler
‘There are several moments in Borat 2 that showcase the unflinching patience and kindness of some of its oblivious subjects, an important reminder that there are still genuinely good people out there.” – More in our review!
Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is available on Prime Video.
40. Over the Moon
Directors: Glen Keane and John Kahrs
Production Design by Celine Desrumaux
“I drew more for this movie than any movie I’ve ever worked on. Every shot of this film has my drawings in it, to the designs of the characters. It’s the way that I communicate. Working with Guo Pei, the Costume Designer in China, she could not speak English and I couldn’t speak Chinese, but we could speak through drawing and we would.” – More with director Glen Keane in our exclusive interview!
Over the Moon is available on Netflix.
41. His House
Director: Remi Weekes
Cinematographer: Jo Willems
“A sickly orange glow illuminates the pale green wallpaper at night, surreal, dreamlike sequences blur the line between nightmares and memories, and classic horror tropes coalesce with Sudanese folklore (namely, Azande witchcraft) to create a wholly unique – and genuinely frightening – cinematic experience.” – More in our review!
His House is available on Netflix
Directors: Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart
Art Direction by Tomm Moore, Maria Pareja, and Ross Stewart
“There is a stunning quality of roughness to Wolfwalkers’ animation, while other studios strive for realism and consistency, Moore and Stewart very intentionally draw attention to their processes. The effect is an almost contradictory sense of reality, suggesting not that this story is unfolding in front of us but that it must have come from somewhere, as if we are witnessing the continued preservation of a folktale.” – More in our review!
Wolfwalkers is available on Apple TV+.
Director: David Fincher
Cinematographer: Erik Messerschmidt
“Spectating Mank, it feels like you’re sucked into a whirlwind, or perhaps, a trance of cinematic luxuries. Magical in every way, the mastery of creating a pitch-perfect kind of flashback to a time long gone by is almost miracle work.” More in our review!
Mank is available on Netflix.
44. Another Round
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Cinematographer: Sturla Brandth Grøvlen
“One of the principal rules was that the camera must be always handheld, and Vinterberg follows suit – it’s always moving in Another Round. Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s cinematography is energetic and blissful in an unprecedented way.” – More in our review!
Another Round is available to rent online or purchase.
45. Promising Young Woman
Director: Emerald Fennell
Cinematographer: Benjamin Kracun
“In so many stories with female leads about sexual assault and the patriarchy, the lead is often diluted into an archetype or interacts with the topics presented as if they are one-dimensional. Promising Young Woman does not fall into this trap.” – More in our review!
Promising Young Woman is available rent on demand.
46. Sylvie’s Love
Director: Eugene Ashe
Cinematographer: Declan Quinn
“Look, everybody likes to play dress up, you know? So everyone, the men and the women loved putting on those clothes, and their whole posture changed when they put them on. They started to act that way. It was really beautiful to see. Honestly, at some points when I had all the cars on the street and an entire street on lockdown and everybody had those clothes on, it just felt like I was actually in the 60s making a movie.” – More with writer and director Eugune Ashe in our exclusive interview!
Sylvie’s Love is available on Prime Video.
Director: Christopher Landon
Cinematographer: Laurie Rose
“Much like what Wes Craven did with Scream, Christopher Landon provides stylish direction of a smart script that regularly challenges slasher tropes, and additionally critiques the misogynistic traits that have been deep rooted in the genre since the 80s.” – More in our review!
Freaky is available to rent on demand.
48. We Can Be Heroes
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cinematographer: Robert Rodriguez
“I had to operate the camera still, be the DP, be the editor, be visual effects because you have to be very fluid and you have to move very fast and know exactly what you were getting. It was very challenging in that way, but fun because I had fantastic kids.” – More with writer and director Robert Rodriguez in our exclusive interview!
We Can Be Heroes is available on Netflix.
49. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Director: George C. Wolfe
Cinematographer: Tobias A. Schliessler
“What is particularly remarkable about this is the film’s incredible simultaneous grasp on cinematic and theater language. A single frame bursts with energy and the various cast all add their own distinct touch to the story being told, all while the camera dynamically moves throughout them and pans in and out as it sees fit.” – More in our review!
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is available on Netflix.
Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers
Cinematographers: Matt Aspbury and Ian Megibben
“Soul does something new in the fact that it portrays a unique story that feels real and properly influenced from life. Kemp Powers co-directed and wrote Soul, his impact is felt. One cannot ignore its importance representation-wise, especially in terms of animation.” – More in our review!
Soul is available on Disney+.