My Top 10 Films Of 2020
2020 has been a tough year for everybody and the film industry has been heavily impacted due to the Coronavirus pandemic. For over half of the year, cinemas have been closed all over the world, prompting the decision for film studios to delay essentially all of their slated releases. With this, fans have missed out on seeing the likes of 'No Time To Die', 'Black Widow' and 'Dune' until next year at the earliest. It's been an unusual year for cinemagoers as a large part of our lives has been changed, leading to us having to adapt to this new normal.
But despite a large number of films being shelved, I actually think this was quite a great year for film. In 2020, I gave more 5 and 4.5 stars than I did in 2019, despite watching a lot fewer new releases which show the quality has been there without the excessive quantity. This list is based on 2020 releases here in the U.K., which definitely helps beef the list up due to films released earlier elsewhere that were on the award circuit. This also means that there will be certain films missing as they haven't come out here yet, with 'Wonder Woman 1984' joining that list as nowhere near me has been open to allow me to see it. With all this in mind, let's get straight into the list with number 10.
10. Happiest Season (dir. Clea DuVall)
Sometimes you just need something that boosts your spirits and with how 2020 has been, it has been needed desperately. By the time December and the festive season came around, I was in need of something delightful to boost spirits and get into the holiday spirit. Happiest Season came around at just the right time with a great mix of family drama and comedy to create a great viewing and new Christmas favourite. Sure, the film doesn't reinvent the wheel but it is a fantastic rom-com with a heap of great characters and twists and turns that are very effective. One of the few new releases I've revisited in quick succession and definitely one of the highlights of the year for me.
9. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (dir. Aaron Sorkin)
There aren't many better in the business at writing dialogue than Aaron Sorkin. The writer-director has built up a great reputation over the years for his fast-paced, witty monologues and taking what could be mundane information and turning it into something memorable. With such a great script, it opens the door for the cast to showcase their talents and nobody does so more than Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen steals almost every scene with his charisma as light is shed on a shocking series of events that a lot of people in the U.K. may be unaware of. This is such an easy watch as I could watch films with this sort of tempo all day as this second feature from Aaron Sorkin delivers.
8. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (dir. Eliza Hittman)
A film about a sensitive subject, Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a great piece about the hard process of abortion. The film is never preachy, it is just honest and upfront with its depiction of the procedures whilst showcasing the struggles that young woman go through regarding sex, even taking a darker turn. A sequence that leads to the title making sense is an exquisite piece of drama that highlights the trauma of the main character with a star-making turn from lead actress Sidney Flanigan. A gripping film that doesn't shirk from the complexity of this young woman's decision in tremendous realism is one that should be shown to all to enlighten.
7. Da 5 Bloods (dir. Spike Lee)
This film impacts a lot more now due to the tragic passing of the massively talented Chadwick Boseman. The role he plays in this film makes this film even more touching as Boseman shines in a role that reflects his own life, a great, charismatic man who we have tragically lost far too soon. On top of that, this is a brilliant new joint from Spike Lee as it follows a group of veterans dealing with personal battles and the fallout of the Vietnam War. The performance from Delroy Lindo is arguably the best of the year, with his cutting long monologue a sublime piece of acting and the veteran actor bringing an intensity that keeps a high level of tension throughout the whole film. The final act gets a little erratic but this is a great, impactful piece from Lee who sheds light on a situation I wasn't overly familiar with. There's an abundance of character and energy in this film that packs a lot 2 and a half hours + runtime.
6. 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes)
What a brilliant filmmaking achievement 1917 is. Designed to look like one continuous take, this war film is fantastic as you follow a pair of soldiers on a day during World War 1. The way they pulled this film off is massively impressive with its long mesmerising shots being some of the best-depicted war scenes we have ever seen. The only gripe with this film is perhaps its lack of character but in terms of production quality and cinematography, you won't find many better features than this. It is a genuine technical masterpiece and was one of the few cinematic experiences this year that I got to properly enjoy in the right setting.
5. Small Axe: Mangrove (dir. Steve McQueen)
Some may say this is technically cheating due to how it was released but the advertisements display the 5 features Steve McQueen released under the banner Small Axe as 'Films' so I am definitely including Mangrove in my list. Mangrove is a fantastic and enlightening piece of work that dives into race issues within the U.K. that have been neglected for far too long. A struggle for equality brings a tough watch as we see the retelling of a true story before heading to the courtroom for an emotional and impactful legal drama. This is a very powerful piece that documents real-life events that many probably wouldn't have heard of, showing its importance straightaway. Available on BBC iPlayer here in the U.K. for free, there is no excuse to miss out on this moving drama.
4. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)
I am a huge fan of Robert Eggers first feature film The Witch so was extremely excited to see what the New England director would conjure up next. And thank goodness Eggers was able to deliver again as The Lighthouse is another brilliantly twisted horror from one of today's best working directors. Framed in 1. 19:1 aspect ratio, you really feel the claustrophobia as you see these two men - performed fantastically by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson - slowly creep into madness when stranded on a small remote island. This is a deeply layered film with underlying tones of homoeroticism and mythology weaved within the developing chaos that is presented with top-notch cinematography. Perhaps a film that will be too 'odd' for general audiences but The Lighthouse is one that I thoroughly enjoyed.
3. Saint Maud (dir. Rose Glass)
A unique, slow-burn horror that dives into the fragilities of faith and the desire to be something more with tones of a possession thriller is one that I loved from start to finish. This is a film that will definitely not be for everyone due to the way its horror is handled, with a much more calculated and psychological focus used rather than one to provide scares - bar one fantastic jump scare near the end. It is a brilliant character study that challenges religion and grandeurs of delusion, Saint Maud is a wicked effort from first-time feature director Rose Glass who has put herself on the map in a big way. A film that keeps you guessing with a nerve-wracking atmosphere, this film would take the crown of having the year's best ending had it not been for this next film...
2. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (dir. Celine Sciamma)
Quite simply the most beautiful film I have seen this year. A lesbian love story that pulls at the heartstrings with deep passion, themes of choice and a brilliant depiction of a blossoming relationship is a truly stunning piece of work from Celine Sciamma. This romance is a slow burn to begin with but as it progresses, only becomes more enamouring before a true powerhouse of third act leaves you completely floored. This film has the best ending of the year and combined with an abundance of fantastic cinematography and incredible performances and is one that will stick with you for a long time. This is a brilliantly crafted film all round with many intricate details that make this is a very special piece of art.
1. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Sometimes the Oscar's actually do get their choices right and it couldn't have been more spot-on when Parasite scooped up four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. With rave reviews from all around the world and huge award buzz, it could have been very easy for Bong Joon-Ho's 7th directorial feature to not live up to the high expectations but it certainly did and then some. A film that is on point with its depiction of the troubled class system that uses witty dark comedy alongside an abundance of tension to create a truly unforgettable cinematic experience. The story is so intricately crafted with not a single frame wasted, with tremendous performances from the whole cast allowing this film to truly succeed. This is a film that everyone should see as genuinely, it doesn't get much better than this and thoroughly deserves the number 1 spot on my list.