Actually, we traveled pretty well last year thanks to these movies.
With awards season in full swing, we’ve decided to take a look back at 2020 and provide you with some movie opinions. Specifically, we’re looking at features that were most effective at putting us somewhere other than our couches, the spot from where most of us were likely watching them. From the furthest depths of the ocean to the digital hangout space that is Zoom, hopefully, one (or more) of the below works of art has a setting that will inspire your next movie night or even your first post-pandemic vacation.
Top Picks for You
Christopher Nolan’s recent “time-travel-but-not-really” head-scratcher of a thriller left this writer feeling like he just took the SAT (and would likely need to re-take it because he didn’t have enough time to finish the last two sections). Besides being difficult to decipher (which may be a plus, if you’re into that kinda thing), the movie has a fair share a globetrotting on display as John David Washington goes from the Amalfi Coast to the Oslo Opera House to the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel in Mumbai on a spy-like mission that brings a new meaning to “real-time.” Paired with a tense score, the energy in these locales, as shot by Academy-Award-nominee Hoyte Van Hoytema, will draw you into the rabbit hole just far enough so that you won’t be constantly checking your watch for the entirety of Tenet’s runtime.
Where to Watch: VOD
Everyone’s positively buzzing about this Chloé Zhao-helmed Academy Award-nominated indie that has already swept up coveted awards at the Toronto International Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and the Golden Globe for best drama. The story follows a Nevada woman who grabs her van and hits the road following the Great Recession to become, well, a nomad. Her journey opens viewers’ eyes to the 21st-century nomadic society in the American West, from Arizona to California, and the movie’s ability to establish its surroundings makes it among the strongest on this list.
Where to Watch: Hulu
This Academy Award-nominated coming-of-age immigrant story explores the life of a Korean family that moves from California to Arkansas in the ’80s. The patriarch of the family (played by The Walking Dead’s Steven Yuen) has plans to turn the piece of land he’s recently snatched up into a vegetable farm where he can, in part, harvest and sell the titular “minari” (or water celery). Before even touching on the performances, soundtrack, and script, the sheer sense of place—remote, rural America—in which the film envelops you, courtesy of some striking cinematography, makes it one of the best of the year.
Where to Watch: VOD
"Da 5 Bloods"
Already being heralded as one of Spike Lee’s best, Da 5 Bloods is a treasure hunt of sorts. We watch a group of Vietnam veterans return to Asia to find the remains of a buried bounty that will make them very wealthy men. But don’t be fooled by such a simple setup. Lee’s commentary on how comparable heist films champion white protagonists time and time again and how much the Vietnam War affected the lives of Black Americans are interwoven into the narrative, which sees our heroes traversing the hot jungles of Chiang Mai, Thailand (it’s still very hard to film in Vietnam). No part of the movie was filmed in America and you feel every moment of the crew’s trek.
Where to Watch: Netflix
This film from Irish studio Cartoon Saloon is pure magic, courtesy of the locales that the hand-drawn animations strikingly bring to life. It’s one of my favorite features from 2020—I’m a sucker for deep forests, magical beasts, and unexpected, subtle political commentary, and Wolfwalkers has all of these and more. If you don’t have an Apple+ subscription, it’s absolutely worth getting one (at least for a trial run) so you, too, can be transported away by Wolfwalkers.
Where to Watch: Apple+
Can you guess where this one takes place? Look, Underwater is so fun I almost don’t even care that it might not have the pedigree of a lot of the other flicks on this list. The sci-fi action/horror film sees a group of workers dodging otherworldly monsters in and out of a drilling facility at the base of the Mariana Trench. Turn off the lights, turn up the sound, and dive in.
Where to Watch: VOD, HBO Max
A middle-aged gay man, Frank, comes to terms with his difficult family (most of whom are not aware of his sexuality) and their unwelcoming,1970s South Carolina town when he returns for his father’s funeral. There’s a lot to unpack, and the movie does so pretty effectively, as Frank, his niece, and his partner go from New York City to the fictional Creekville (road trip!), facing metaphoric demons along the way. In Uncle Frank, it’s all about the journey and the destination, which are depicted in warm, sun-kissed tones.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime
Palm Springs is a lovely getaway destination! Turns out, it also makes an excellent setting for a time-loop comedy—you get to experience the desert getaway town over and over and over again. Seriously, watching Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg float around in pools and get rowdy at local bars in an effort to brainstorm how they’re going to get back to their realities is a getaway in-and-of-itself.
Where to Watch: Hulu
Not one movie on this list put me so quickly in another place this year…and that place was inside my computer. I truly feel like I can’t say too much without spoiling anything, but Host involves a Zoom call gone awry, and it’s immersive in a way that’s actually pretty stressful (a.k.a. it’s a horror movie-lover’s heaven).
Where to Watch: Shudder
The slasher genre (one could argue that the aforementioned Host is one) has certainly had its share of misses over the decades. But a slasher with a travel angle? This list would be remiss without it. Especially considering its brisk pace, atmosphere, killer performances, and a very nice Airbnb that you’ll, after watching this movie, never want to stay at literally ever.
Where to Watch: VOD