Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee has still got game. One thing you can say about him is that in nearly 40 years of filmmaking, he’s never repeated himself, always doing new things in new ways. And Da 5 Bloods is no exception. While it covers thematic terrain that’s very familiar for him and us, he does it in a way that feels fresh and insightful. Benefitting from a strong story held together by a solid ensemble, Da 5 Bloods works as a caper, it works as a drama, and it works as a searing commentary on our current cultural moment.
For more, check out our full Da 5 Bloods review!
Steve McQueen, Small Axe
Director Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology focuses on London’s West Indian community from the ’60s through the ’80s; four of its five films are based on true stories of racial injustice, while the other, Lovers Rock, is an entrancing party piece with similar themes but a more poetic tone. All five are visually dynamic and distinct, shot through with a heady blend of specificity and universality (not to mention spectacular soundtracks). With Lovers Rock, McQueen turns a simple story into a spiritual experience, capturing frolics, entrancement, and interpersonal tensions through a nuanced cultural lens. Another fiery entry — Red, White and Blue — features career-best work from John Boyega, as a real-life London cop in the 1980s struggling to reform the police force that brutalized his immigrant father. The predatory relationship between policing and West Indian immigrants is writ large in Mangrove, another riveting and harrowing film about a real-life ’60s court case. The final film, Education, is a poignant and affecting interrogation of the systemic racism in the London school system of the time, as seen through the eyes of Kingsley (in a stunning breakout performance from Kenyah Sandy), a bright and ambitious kid who has never learned to read, thanks to the neglect and mockery of his teachers. The historical struggles in Small Axe are far from over, but the skill with which McQueen captures the bruises, the heartache, and even the communal joys of revolution bring these struggles deftly into the present, cementing McQueen as one of the most empathetic and skilled directors of his generation.
Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
It says something about Aaron Sorkin’s screenwriting prowess that so many talented players happily line up for a chance to mouth his words, even if only for a moment. But above and beyond the ensemble and the script of The Trial of the Chicago 7, what Sorkin demonstrates with this film is a mastery over the form itself, using the entire cinematic apparatus to spin a tale of injustice in search of an answer. It’s just his second directorial effort, but the filmmaker has produced a thoughtful meditation on a truly nightmarish event, a Kafkaesque distortion of due process that played out in front of an entire country. Given both its subject matter and the craft with which it is delivered, this is a movie that arrived at precisely the time when it would be most impactful.
For more, check out our full The Trial of the Chicago 7 review!
Leigh Whannell, The Invisible Man
With Upgrade, Leigh Whannell demanded attention as an inventive writer/director with some serious action chops and an eye for the unusual and unexamined. But in Universal’s latest take on the iconic Invisible Man, Whannell turns that eye to the terror of domestic abuse, making an impressive and delightfully dark return to the horror genre in which he made his name as a co-creator of the Saw franchise. There is an effective coldness and chill to The Invisible Man which is tangible, from the grey skies of San Francisco to the concrete walls of the title character’s looming home. There’s a gritty grimness to it all that can’t quite be escaped, and that’s entirely the point. Nothing about The Invisible Man is meant to be comfortable; Whannell and cinematographer Stefan Duscio fill every moment with dread and anxiety that is entirely fitting for a horror film that takes one of the darkest aspects of human nature and wrings every ounce of terror out of it that it can.
For more, check out our full The Invisible Man review!
Cathy Yan, Birds of Prey
The plot of Birds of Prey swerves, skids, and doubles back on itself as Harley Quinn recounts the unlikely tale of her emancipation and the women who inadvertently become tangled up in it. It all gets rather complicated, but thankfully Cathy Yan’s stylish direction and keen sense of comedic timing keep things lively even when the story starts to strain under the weight of so many competing storylines. The film’s combination of zany energy, visceral fight sequences, and its focus on one of DC’s most fascinating characters continues DC’s streak of big, bombastic comic book adaptations that are unafraid to embrace their inherent ridiculousness.
For more, check out our full Birds of Prey review!
Those are our picks for the best movie director of 2020 – let us know in the comments what’s on your list that didn’t make ours, and be sure to cast your vote for our Movie of the Year 2020 People’s Choice Award here!
There are plenty of other awards! Check out all our movies, TV, and comics nominees below!
Best Movies of 2020
Best TV of 2020
Best Comics of 2020
Be sure to check out all of our other movies, TV and comics of the Year award nominees as well as our picks for the best games of 2020!