Well, here we are again, another year, another summary. This year’s post is obviously going to be slightly different, but there has still been a fantastic selection of great films to watch, albeit from my sofa rather than a multiplex.
Most of my film-watching year was actually spent watching old classics. I’ve got a book – the 1001 movies to see before you die – which I’ve been working my way through. I’m only on 210 or so, but when you consider I was only on 147 in September, I don’t think that’s bad going! The highlights of this has been discovering ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952), ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959), ‘Sherlock Jr.’ (1924) and ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979), all of which I hugely enjoyed and thoroughly regret having not seen them until now.
Of course, ‘the worst’ of 2020 in film is very easy to summarise. Nothing came out. By that, I’m obviously using hyperbole. Plenty came out, via streaming or tiny independent releases. But in the grand scheme of things, nearly every tent-pole release (or major blockbuster) has been scrapped, forcing the future of cinema into jeopardy. I can only hope that when we are able to safely return, we will do with the same vigour as ever before. To lose the big screen experience in exchange for a television would be a travesty.
It also shouldn’t be overlooked either that ‘The Rhythm Section’ came out this year, a totally bland thriller devoid of thrills. The fact that this made release when so many others didn’t is perhaps the worst crime of all…
A few films that I’ve not yet had time to see include Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’, Spike Lee’s ‘Da 5 Bloods’, Céline Sciamma’s ‘Portrait Of A Lady On Fire’ and Rose Glass’s acclaimed British horror ‘Saint Maude’. Equally, some honourable mentions of great films that didn’t make the top 10 include Christopher Nolan’s ambitious but flawed ‘Tenet’, Guy Ritchie’s return to form with ‘The Gentlemen’, the surprisingly fantastic remake of ‘The Invisible Man’, and Armando Iannucci’s heartwarmingly quirky retelling of ‘David Copperfield’.
The Top 10 Best Films of 2020
With my honourable mentions out of the way, let’s get on with the countdown!
10. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (dir. Marielle Heller)
Starring Matthew Rhys and Tom Hanks, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ is a semi-biopic telling the story of cynical Esquire journalist who is sent to meet the legendary American star Fred Rogers. With a delicate tone, charming performances and a heart-warming message, it’s a fitting film for today’s climate.
Portraying America’s favourite children’s host is America’s favourite actor, Tom Hanks. As always, he puts in a beautiful performance with nuance and softness. As with most Tom Hanks performances, he also very easily made me cry with his delicate use of emotion and beautiful delivery.
The visual style of the film is also ingenious, mixing widescreen ratio with a 4:3 televisual shooting style. More perfect, most of the exteriors for the film are shot with play town miniatures, and this gives the film a unique, slightly bizarre, but ultimately cute appeal. The overall result is a brilliant metaphorical journey into Fred Rogers’ world, as the journalist is engulfed by a man commonly referred to as the nicest man on the planet.
9. Queen and Slim (dir. Melina Matsoukas)
Telling a fictional but all too recognisable story, ‘Queen and Slim’ is a politically fuelled road-trip romance thriller. Self-referenced as the black Bonnie and Clyde, it’s a film rich in topical messages and emotional drama.
Though its political intentions are never too far away, the key part of this film is the romantic road trip element. The script is wonderfully written to allow the two leads to slowly open up more to each other. As an extension of their Tinder date, the film is very believable in its depiction of the two slowly transitioning from total strangers, to co-criminals, to lovers. It’s also important to note that the film still deals with the fact that, accidental or not, the two did accidentally kill someone. That moment is not glorified, and some characters openly condemn the act. It’s an impressive stance for the film to take where the protagonists aren’t all good, or all bad; they’re just human.
The score and cinematography are beautiful and wouldn’t look out of place as a companion piece to last year’s equally important ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’, and the final act of the film gave a brilliant emotional punch that has resonated with me ever since.
8. i’m thinking of ending things (dir. Charlie Kaufman)
From the writer of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and ‘Being John Malkovich’ comes another fabulously surreal experiences. Acting as writer and director, Charlie Kaufman adapts Iain Reid’s novel into an experiential horror that’s as intriguing as it is unsettling.
Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons star as a couple who have only been dating for a few months. Buckley’s character is thinking of ending things, but they’re currently on a long drive to visit Plemons’ parents (played by David Thewlis and Toni Collette). Of course, as with most of Kaufman’s work, that’s not what the film is actually about, but it’s certainly enough to get you started.
The design of the film as well as the tense tone created by Kaufman and his performers are a fabulous feast for the senses. With strange imagery, disorientating edits and surreal experiences, it’s a film that won’t be to everyone’s liking, but if you can decipher the story then you’ll see why it’s one of this year’s best.
7. Mank (dir. David Fincher)
From a screenplay by his late father, David Fincher’s long-awaited return to movie making comes in the shape of ‘Mank’, a visceral biopic about the writing of ‘Citizen Kane’.
Gary Oldman stars as Herman J. Mankiewicz, an alcoholic writer with a sparkling wit and brilliant brain. After being asked to collaborate with Orson Wells, he sets out to write ‘Kane’, and we follow him and his journey through a series of flashbacks as he slowly finds inspiration from his past for this new script.
With fabulous performances, stunning design and a screenplay as perfectly crafted as the way it is directed, ‘Mank’ is an absolute triumph that evokes 1940’s Hollywood as perfectly as ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ does for the 1920’s.
6. Uncut Gems (dir. Josh and Benny Safdie)
From the actor behind ‘Billy Maddison’, ‘Grown Ups 2’ and ‘Jack and Jill’ comes an unbelievable 180 degree-turn. Directed by The Safdie Brothers, ‘Uncut Gems’ is the breakout serious role Adam Sandler needed to put him back in the hearts of audiences and critics alike. Presented as a two-hour anxiety attack, the film is a masterful blend of thrills, drama and tension.
The cinematography, by ‘In Bruges’ shooter Darius Khondji, helps add to the intense tone. Shot on 35mm film, it adds literal grain and grit to a gritty story. Aided by tight close ups, beautiful lighting and an incredibly bizarre yet phenomenal opening shot, the picture helps add to the attack on the senses that the film presents. The score by Daniel Lopatin is a brilliantly unexpected 80’s score. The sounds that appear in it are so out of place for the environment that it actually becomes fitting. Beautiful synth melodies and electronic strings juxtapose the harsh New York setting, much like the beauty of the Opal against the tragedy of the narrative it’s involved in.
Overall, ‘Uncut Gems’ is a stunning film that blends incredible performances with a tense and relentless story. Adam Sandler’s choice to take this role has not only redeemed him for his previous movie crimes, it’s also proven that he’s spent far too long making daft and unfunny comedies, and that he should have instead been enjoying the critical acclaim of serious drama.
5. Soul (dir. Pete Docter)
From the makers of ‘Inside Out’ and ‘Up’ comes another emotional rollercoaster disguised as a kids film. This time tackling their most existential topic yet, ‘Soul’ tells the story of a jazz musician who dies on the best day of his life. Feeling cheated, his soul begins a journey to get back to earth, with unsurprisingly emotional repercussions.
The voice cast, led by Jamie Fox, add a fun tone to the film, with other stars including Tina Fey, Rachel House and, of all people, Graham Norton! The tone is also aided hugely by one of this years best scores, curtesy of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (composers of ‘The Social Network’ among many others). However, their score is ‘jazzed up’ with additional compositions by Jon Batiste which adds the final piece to a grand musical puzzle.
Like ‘Inside Out’, ‘Soul’ is another incredible example of tackling huge issues with high concept entertainment. The vibrancy of the design as well as the fun of the script mean we almost forget the whole film is about life, death and purpose. However, when required, the film is able to pull out the classic Pixar trick of a slow piano piece over a montage, and the waterworks begin to flow. It’s another total triumph from a studio that have mastered their craft of high-concept personal stories.
4. 1917 (dir. Sam Mendes)
After practicing with the opening sequence of ‘Spectre’, director Sam Mendes brings us a relentless WWI film that appears to all take place in one shot. A breathtakingly visceral film, it proves what an accomplished voice in cinema Sam Mendes is.
The film, with his royal highness Roger Deakins on cinematography, was filmed in long takes, cleverly stitched together to appear as though it’s one single shot. Behind the scenes footage proves just how phenomenally difficult this technique was to pull off, but it 100% works, and the end result is breathtaking. Importantly however, this one-shot approach is far more than just a cool camera trick. Mendes uses this technique to completely immerse the audience in the story of the film, and surround them with the same realism and tension the characters are suffering from.
1917 is rich in emotion, pathos and sorrow. It’s an important film from a story perspective as well as a technical one, and is a triumphant example of how creative filmmaking works best when it services the story at hand.
3. The Lighthouse (dir. Robert Eggers)
From Robert Eggers, director of the acclaimed 2015 horror ‘The Witch’, comes a new terrifying horror: ‘The Lighthouse’. A classic tale of isolation and madness, it’s a Herman Melville inspired version of ‘The Shining’, with equally haunting results.
The film stars Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, and the two have never been better. The brave intensity, the dark horror and the extreme anger that the two manage to portray is staggering, and it means the runtime of the film flies by.
‘The Lighthouse’ is truly a work of art. Exquisite cinematography, career-best performances and a tone that is completely unique, it’s a haunting psychological horror for the ages. Be warned that the final scene of the film, with a terrifying combination of sound and image, will stain your memory for a long time.
2. Jojo Rabbit (dir. Taika Waititi)
Joining the likes of ‘The Producers’ and ‘The Great Dictator’, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is that rarefied comedy that decides to tackle Hitler and the Nazi’s. Despite it being a dangerously easy topic to make a wrong step with, director Taika Waititi has created another film that perfectly walks the line between comedy and emotion without ever causing offence in the wrong way.
‘Jojo Rabbit’ is an absolutely triumphant satire that is dripping with tragic cultural relevance. With an amazing cast and a heart-warming message at the root of the story, it’s a comedy that (like most great comedies) doesn’t always try for a cheap gag and isn’t afraid to be serious when it’s required. Much like Taika’s other work (‘Boy’, ‘Hunt For The Wilderpeople’) it’s a beautiful film that will make you laugh as much as it will make you cry.
1. Parasite (dir. Bong Joon-ho)
Winner of four Oscars including Best Picture, the Palme d’Or at Canne Film Festival and the best foreign language film awards at the BAFTA’s and Golden Globes, ‘Parasite’ is a film I’ve been greatly anticipating. Even with all the recognition, I wasn’t expecting to love the film quite as much as I did. As funny as it is thrilling, politically fuelled and sharp as a knife-edge, it truly is a historic film that will live on for a while.
The film is rich in political significance, particularly in its depiction of capitalism and the social inequality in South Korea. The sets, the sound design and the cinematography all help tell the story of a clean, bright and perfect wealthy household in contrast to the cramped, dirty streets of the poverty-stricken downtown.
Not much more can really be said about ‘Parasite’ without resorting to hyperbole. It’s a remarkable film worthy of every piece of praise thrown its way. After a couple of disappointing years at the Oscars, it finally seems as though they did something right.
Looking into next year, only one thing is certain. Uncertainty. Most of the films I was most anticipating have been pushed back to 2021, so I’m still hopeful we will get to see them in the near future. These include Edgar Wright’s horror ‘Last Night in Soho’, Tom Cruise’s ‘Top Gun: Maverick’, Daniel Craig’s final outing as Bond in ‘No Time To Die’, Spielberg’s take on ‘West Side Story’ and Wes Anderson’s ‘The French Dispatch’. I’m equally excited for new film ‘Nomadland’ from Chloé Zhao, and November 2021 should HOPEFULLY see the release of ‘Mission: Impossible 7’, so I’m holding my breath about that one as well.
Stay safe everyone, and always remember the power cinema can bring. It’s now more than ever we need to respect it, love it and cherish it.
See you next year