To quote the always dependable Cake, “I want a girl with a short skirt and a long jacket.” Or in Nate’s case, a simple column concept with a long title. Our Roger Ebert meets Zach Lowe columnist ranks 2016-2020 based on each year’s top 5 films (with consideration for the bench).

So now we’ve come…to the ennnnnnnnd of [2020]…
-Boyz II Men, “The End of [2020]”

“Top 5 Film Starting Fives of the Past Five Years” is a simple concept with a much more complicated title than it needs: I’m going to be taking the top five movies from the years 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020, and ranking those collections of movies against each other. In the spirit of hoops-style roster analysis, added points go towards rotation depth in that six-through-eleven range, but the focus is primarily on the films at the top.

You may be wondering: Nate, why are you doing this?

I really love making lists. 2020 was a dumpster fire. This felt like a way that I could make a list about the year 2020 that wasn’t only about the year 2020.

You may also be wondering: Nate, how will you be determining what movies qualify, and what years they qualify for?

Primarily going off of wide and/or major US release dates here; and making some relatively arbitrary distinctions about what qualifies as film vs. TV [for example, the episodes of Small Axe will count as the former while OJ: Made in America and The Last Dance fall into the latter—though both very good].

You may also be wondering: Nate, is there any way you could, in addition to the rankings here, provide us with access to additional opinion-based content that we could judge and or ridicule you for?

Of course! I’ll link to my ranked longlists for each year in the headers, and you can find the compiled ranking of all top-5 movies included in this piece here.

Ok, let’s dive in:

5. 2016

Starting 5: Moonlight / Arrival / Captain America: Civil War / Star Wars: Rogue One / Manchester By The Sea

Bench Mob (6-11 Rotation): 13th / Patterson / Deadpool / Hell or High Water / Hail Caesar

The closest corollary to the 2012-era Heat, 2016’s greatness is largely a product of its dynastically great Big Three: Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival as our group’s Dwayne Wade and easily the best sci-fi film of our five-year collection (Ex Machina would have something to say about that if Ex Machina came a year later); a top-two (and maybe higher) MCU movie in the Russo Bro’s second Captain America outing playing the group’s Bosh; and most importantly, our LeBron of the year (and spoiler, of all five), Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight: a film so dominant that it won an Academy Award over a movie about Hollywood where a white guy explains jazz to John Legend. Absolute king shit.

The final two of the round, while both very good films, don’t quite reach the same heights: Rogue One is 3/4 of a perfect Star Wars movie and 1/4 rewrite hell (still lands high on my Galaxy Far Far Away rankings, but that’s a different column); and Manchester By The Sea is a very well written, very well acted trauma fest, who’s near-documentarian unwillingness to let any light in through the story’s despair (coupled with the horrific allegations about Casey Affleck’s sexual abuses) makes it difficult to revisit. A good-not-great bench rounds out a round that ultimately lives and dies by the talent at the top.

Scouting Report: Wins a chip, falls apart when the top of the roster takes its talents to 2018.

*Ones I Missed That Could’ve Made The List: Certain Women, Songs My Brother Taught Me, Silence, 20th Century Women

4) 2020

Starting 5: First Cow / Nomadland / Time / Mangrove (Small Axe) / Mank

Bench Mob: The Vast of Night / Palm Springs / Never Rarely Sometimes Always / The Sound of Metal / I’m Thinking of Ending Things / Boys State

Perspective in the midst of any EOY ranking is tricky, even more so in a year this emotionally all over the map (and as a result, somewhat erratic in terms of viewing experiences). 2020 could just as easily be the sort of lineup that ages into greatness over time as we catch up to its innovations or one that fades into obscurity due to its lack of superstar talent. Given the small, quiet heart at the center of the year’s best (most especially Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow and Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland) and the layered nuances elevating their most stirring performances (most especially Shaun Parks in Mangrove, Seyfried, and Oldman in Mank, and Orion Lee in First Cow), I tend to lean towards expecting the former; but for now, it’s a collection that, while deep with very good movies, is missing the all-time great that could vault it up the list.

Scouting Report: Perennial overachiever, quietly in the mix for a ring across multiple seasons, pulls one out in an injury heavy year.

*Ones I Missed That Could’ve Made The List: The Assistant, Kajillionaire, Ammonite, Vitalina Varela, Collective

3) 2017

Starting 5: Coco / Get Out / Phantom Thread / Lady Bird / Dunkirk

Bench Mob: Logan / The Florida Project / Good Time / Spider-Man: Homecoming / John Wick 2 / Star Wars: The Last Jedi

A ceiling vs. floor argument here: the 2017 roster has a Spursian commitment to no-bad-movies, but contrasted with the surrounding years feels a little thin on all-time classics. Coco is the clearest exception (current Pixar GOAT, a top-five all-time animated film, and the safest bet of any movie to make me break down weeping like a child during every single viewing); and given how much I loved Get Out in spite of my decidedly-not-a-horror-fan-ness, fair to say that could likely top a less anxious movie-watcher’s list. Phantom Thread, Dunkirk, and Lady Bird (along with 6th and 7th men Logan and The Florida Project) all fall into that upper-middle-ground of fantastic, but not quite memorable enough to crack the all-time list. And while that may be too high a standard to hold them to, the next few years clearing the hurdle is what stops 2017 from jumping higher up the rankings.

Verdict: Couple chips in a couple years, perennial contender.

*Ones I Missed That Could’ve Made The List: Call Me By Your Name, Okja, I Am Not Your Negro, A Ghost Story, Lost City of Z

2) 2018

Starting 5: Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse / Minding The Gap / Burning / Roma / Shoplifters

Bench Mob: Avengers: Infinity War / If Beale Street Could Talk / Mission Impossible: Fallout / Happy as Lazzaro / First Reformed / Black Panther

Hard to know where to start with this year: you get two of the most visually stunning films of the decade in Burning and Roma, (with Beale Street making a strong case for itself off the bench); you get the greatest comic book movie of all-time in Spiderverse (and it’s not particularly close, though Infinity War would probably like a word); you get an ensemble of devastatingly charismatic performances in the midst of a remarkably inventive yet still grounded narrative in Shoplifters; and you get one of the most graceful, most human, most uniquely personal yet universally relevant modern documentary films in Minding the Gap; and that only scratches the surface of one of the most powerhouse second units in the game, near-interchangeably solid well past the top eleven (shouts to You Were Never Really Here and The Rider and Widows and Cold War and A Star Is Born absolutely demolishing the G-League). 2018 leaves it all on the floor and falls to second by no fault of its own.

*Ones I Missed That Could’ve Made The List: Won’t You Be My Neighbor, Leave No Trace, Crazy Rich Asians, Wildlife, The Hate U Give, Mid 90s.

1) 2019

Starting 5: Portrait of a Lady on Fire / Parasite / Little Women / Knives Out / Waves

Bench Mob: Marriage Story / The Irishman / Uncut Gems / The Last Black Man in San Francisco / Us / Avengers: Endgame

Maybe it’s the recency, maybe the quarantine has gone to my head, but even in the face of such a strong collection of movie years, 2019 has a real 90’s Bulls shine to it. As with 2018, it’s hard to find a weakness in this year’s lineup, but the ceiling is just that much higher: leading the charge are Portrait and Parasite, two genius-level films by genius-level filmmakers only just beginning to get their long-deserved-Hollywood-dues. Little Women gave us one of the better directorial follow-ups in recent memory. Waves delivered one of the most stylistically and emotionally breathtaking films in years (as well as the year’s best soundtrack by many, many miles), and Knives Out gave us easily the best sweater of the decade. 2019 is also the prohibitive favorite for strongest bench mob of the bunch, with multiple top-five-worthy films ready on the bench to demolish any secondary rotation you throw at them (full disclosure, there are drafts of this piece with Marriage Story, Uncut Gems, The Irishman, and Last Black Man In San Francisco all getting top 5 looks. I assume by the time you read this I’ll have switched it up again). An all-time year full of all-time films, and the undisputed champion of the first-ever Music Movies & Hoops’ “Top 5 Film Starting Fives Of The Past Five Years”.

Scouting Report: Multiple Three-Peats. GOAF (Greatest of All Five)

*Ones I Missed That Could’ve Made The List: Atlantics, The Farewell, The Lighthouse, Pain and Glory, The Souvenir, not Cats.

BONUS: Five Great Fives Outside The Past Five (in no particular order)

2004: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind / Kill Bill Vol. 2 / Mean Girls / The Incredibles / Before Sunset

1989: Do The Right Thing / Field of Dreams / When Harry Met Sally / Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade / Back to the Future II

2007: Zodiac / No Country for Old Men / There Will Be Blood / Michael Clayton / Once

1995:Toy Story / Before Sunrise / Heat / Clueless / Clockers (but love to no.1 in my heart, A Goofy Movie)

2010: The Social Network / A Prophet / Scott Pilgrim vs. The World / Mother / Black Swan