There are no top 10s or top 15s from me this year, it has been that kind of year hasn’t it? For films at least it has been actually quite the banner year, yes a lot of films have been pushed to online viewing so we have missed the joy of watching a film in a cinema. But there have been some terrific films released this year. Instead of being a tad snarky, there will be no disappointing or worst of lists this year. We don’t need it at the minute. So let’s revel in what I think are some of the best films released in 2020.
Also note that there are some cracking films that I have not seen yet (Minari, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman for example). So they won’t be on my list this time out. They will appear on my 2021 list, I have no doubt. So without further Ado, let’s have a gander at what I choose as my top films of the year of the rona.
This is one that totally took me by surprise during the London Film Festival, I had expected a very middle class humdrum showing. Instead it became a gentle, restrained and heart wrenching tragedy. Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci blew me away with their performances. The desperation and angst in Firth’s performance is perfectly contrasted by Tucci’s delicate and assuredness in his portrayal of Tusker. A beautiful film.
Coming out in February, Possessor Uncut is a film that you should go into with knowing as little information as possible. From the bold and startling opening, Brandon Cronenberg takes the audience on a journey of whether a person can mentally cope with the tasks given to our lead. Excellently cast, Possessor Uncut is a fine example of a film with a shockingly bold idea and jumping in with both feet with it. A film that will leave you stunned.
Proving that hand drawn animation still has a wonderful place in cinema Wolfwalkers continues the wonderful work from animation studio Cartoon Saloon. This beautiful animation, this is a film that is as lyrical as it is visual. Wolfwalkers has important messages to share with its audience and it isn’t afraid to go for the slightly older children demo at times with its tones. While keeping a simple animation style we are warmly embraced by a film that has a lot of emotional pull. A standout animation.
All of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series is excellent, but the true standout has to be the first instalment in the powerful and equally relevant to today, Mangrove. While the cast all provide great performances, it is the camera work from Shabier Kirchner that shines brightest here. Be it filming the reflection of Altheia (Letitia Wright’s) speech from the wet bonnet of a car, to staying on Frank (Shaun Parkes) as the ruling of each of the Mangrove Nine is read out. It is a startlingly empowering film that demands to be seen.
Rose: A Love Story
Director Jennifer Sheridan’s atmospheric debut marks her immediately out for a director to watch out for. With Rose: A Love Story, she has accomplished an awful lot with her minimal budget and made it work. With expert central performances from Sophie Rundle and Matt Rundle we have a couple trying to deal with their new situation as best as they can. This is a strained relationship due to their circumstances and plays itself off into multiple genres. A bold move for a first time feature director. Assisted by a tight script and a production design worthy of a large production this is the under the radar gem you will have been looking for.
A film that was released at the right time, The Assistant presents its audience with a scenario that has been seen far too often in our work and even home lives A world where aggression and especially micro-aggressions are king. The focus on one employees experience and the decision to never show the executive is a reminder of who the victims are and how easy it is to be seen as someone of a lower standing. Julie Garner is outstanding as we see her character Jane get dragged down the rabbit hole of the worst cases of working for a boos and a company from hell, even if that hell is all too common.
If Anything Happens I Love You
A short animation that just quietly popped up on Netflix one night almost broke me. This minimalist dialogue free piece of art takes you on a journey of grief that doesn’t really hit you until long after the film has ended. This is not a film solely about loss due to gun violence, but transcends that by detailing the hurt and guilt anyone has when they lose someone that they love. A sensational 12 minutes from Will McCormack and Michael Covier If Anything Happens I Love You haunts you with its heart breaking beauty.
Force of Habit
This Finnish film has not been spoken about nearly enough. Effectively a number of separate shorts edited together we are thrown into a world of uncomfortable pain as we see the aggressions against a large number of women. From being sexually assaulted at a party, to having the fear of a sexual assault hang over you while on a bus to school we see the depiction of the lack of power women have in everyday scenarios. This is as mentioned an uncomfortable watch, but it is also an important one. We do not just see assaults or the threat of it. But the reaction of others about an assault or incident. By the films end we are scouring over every inch of the screen waiting, expecting something even worse to happen to these innocent characters. Which is the entire point, women are possibly expecting something to happen to them at every turn, preparing themselves for it. A frightening glimpse.
I Am Not A Hero
In truth, I have not yet watched many documentaries about the Coronavirus, yet this Belgian made documentary detailing the first wave of the epidemic in a hospital is essential viewing to truly show how those in hospitals coped with the horrible events. We see the difficulties, the exhaustion and the frustrations as patients keep coming in, mounting the pressure on these doctors, nurses and hospital staff. This is a humanist tale that shows how much those in the medical fields have done for us, where ever you live in the world.
David Byrne’s American Utopia
This is a brilliant piece of magic that provides audiences with a strong emotional connection that allows those who perhaps do not know Byrne from his time in The Talking Heads to enjoy this show. The entire production is greatly enhanced by Spike Lee’s direction that is careful and intimate enough not to overbear the audience. A joy of a watch even when we get to the more political of Byrnes sermons.
All of the praise will go to Mads Mikkelsen for his performance in Another Round, but this is the epitome of a wonderful ensemble. A comedy with tragic undertones, Thomas Vinteberg has made a film that will be high on a lot of lists. In other hands this could be a story without a moral compass. But Vinteberg isn’t interested in giving us the happy ever after. This is a film of exploration and trying to remove yourself from a rut, even if there are dire consequences if you do not have a firm grasp of it. Another Round is as much a crowd pleaser of a film as it is a cautionary tale.
One Night in Miami
Regina King’s engrossing feature directorial debut takes you up and sweeps you away as we for almost the entirety of the film watch four friends have discussions in a motel room. There is nothing flashy or grand about One Night in Miami, it is an adaption of a stage play that keeps true to the heart of the original intent. Smart cinematography and compelling acting is what drives One Night in Miami to be a film worth remembering.
While Riz Ahmed will get a lot of plaudits for The Sound of Metal (yet to catch so it isn’t on the list this time) an awful lot of love and appreciation needs to be given for his performance in Mogul Mowgli. Ahmed is a powerhouse here as Zed’s body begins to betray him, and all of the hopes and dreams that he had. Backed up by a very strong supporting cast Ahmed is a powerhouse here. Right from the start to the enthralling chanting end, Mogul Mowgli is a film from production design to direction is outstanding.
Never Rarely Sometimes Maybe
As immersive an experience as you will have gotten from a film in 2020. Never Rarely Sometimes Maybe is a film that does not shy away from anything that the troubled characters face on their journey. This is enhanced by the decision to have the camera thrown at their faces in close ups that Carl Theodor Dreyer would be proud of. This is a film about the finer details and central to the film’s success is our two leads. In a year filled with important female-centric films, this is one of the best.
Pedro Costa has conjured an unbelievably haunting film in Vitalina Varela. He has again shown us that the power of cinema and how heart breakingly beautiful it can be. Detailing the journey of a woman who after many years has been able to afford to move to Portugal from Cape Verde, only to find the husband who has been working there has just passed away. We watch Vitalina go through her past husbands live and to try and figure out if there is a life her for her now. This is a piece that could have almost any frame removed from it to be used as a painting. It is one of the most gorgeous looking films I have seen in quite some time and the fact that it is going to be overlooked for awards is devastating. A tour de force of a film and one that shouldn’t leave you.
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