Its been a wild year for all of us. From the obvious changes and sacrifices we’ve all had to make in the wake of this pandemic, the film and entertainment industry has been on the ropes for large stretches of 2020.
With theatres struggling to make ends meet and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet the last major blockbuster to hit the big screens, many studios have either delayed their blockbuster projects for 2021 or (in the case of Disney and Warner Bros.) bit the bullet and turned straight to streaming instead.
Suffice to say, 2021 is going to be a make or break year for the film industry, with a packed schedule full of movies ready to fight for dominance.
This year has delivered some real cinematic crackers – and we count down our top 10 favourites from 2020.
10 – The Devil All The Time
The lessons we teach our children are pivotal to how they turn out when they’re older. In his book, Robert Kiyosaki discusses how wealth and riches start with your mentality; a poor mentality means a poor life while a rich mentality means a richer life.
These life lessons form the back-bone of Netflix’s thought provoking crime thriller, The Devil All The Time. Thriller may be a bit of a stretch, given the slow-burn 130 minute run-time, but the movie certainly packs in some tense and dramatic peaks along the way.
In essence, this tale revolves around a small backwoods town, and in particular how a group of people tackle the harsh realities life throws at us.
Wrapped up in a heady cocktail of religion and violence, the main protagonist is a young Arvin Russell, who plays a key role in the story during the second-half of this tale.
The first part takes us back through time to follow Arvin’s Father, Willard Russell. He’s a man haunted by the ghosts of his past after a particularly arduous time during the war. With his faith tested, Willard finds a new lease of life through waitress Charlotte whom he ends up living with.
What follows are two separate story threads that come together and build up a climax that capitulates everything together into one bloody, violent and thought provoking ending.
9 – The Invisible Man
A good horror film feels like a rare thing these days. While not particularly scary, The Invisible Man is a claustrophobic, tense and thrilling film nonetheless, one that manages to breathe life into this genre whilst delivering one of the best mainstream pictures to hit theatres before they closed up.
With a good dose of “show don’t tell”, the opening 10 minutes introduce us to Cecilia Kass, a woman stuck in a toxic, abusive relationship to a man named Adrian. Controlling everything in her life, right down to the clothes she wears and the words she speaks, Cecilia makes a bold decision to leave his secluded house in the middle of the night.
After this segment we skip forward 2 weeks to find a petrified Cecilia living in fear and struggling to regain her independence and confidence. When she learns Adrian has killed himself in her absence, what should be the start of a new dream life quickly descends into a nightmare as Cecilia realizes Adrian is now invisible and watching her every move.
Between the creative camera work, a smartly written script that layers on thin slices of exposition in a very organic way, and a genuinely tense atmosphere, The Invisible Man is one of the biggest surprises of the year.
8 – Borat 2
The fact that Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan isn’t the strangest thing to come from 2020, speaks volumes about the current state of the world.
On the surface, Borat 2 looks like an unnecessary follow-up. After all, this year has been satirical enough as it is. And yet Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is not just timely, it’s actually a really solid and well written sequel. Borat 2 cleverly stitches together a whole host of well written sketches with a simple but effective Father/daughter story.
For those unaware of Borat or any of his satirical big-screen cousins, this movie plays out as a real-life sketch show with numerous figureheads and different bystanders interviewed and goaded into releasing their darkest secrets.
While this doesn’t quite hit the masterful strides the original achieved so effortlessly, this is a damn fine sequel in its own right and well worth a watch.
7 – Me and Me
Me and Me starts out weird and just gets weirder and weirder. Yet, it’s somehow also wonderful at the same time. The set up features a couple – Soo-Hyeok and Yi-Young – who move from Seoul to a rural village. The husband is a school teacher; his wife stays at home. They appear to be perfectly happy together.
But at night the wife appears to channel spirits. The couple bumps along, hiding and managing it together until someone finds out.
Halfway through, the film shifts from one odd circumstance to another. Police detective Hyeong-Goo tries to figure out what’s happening and in a way, audiences are likely to embody this detective through the challenging and absolutely enthralling story. Keen eyes will notice clues that connect but don’t necessarily interconnect, leading to one of the more polarizing films of the year.
Though superbly shot and filled with detail, if you’re bothered by ambiguity this movie may not be your friend! However, this remains one of the better Asian pictures to come out of 2020.
6 – Driveways
Driveways is a wonderful Indie film. It’s one of those pictures that doesn’t do that much different to other slice of life dramas but what it does, it does incredibly well.
With some deeply moving ideas, a trio of well-cast characters and a third act that hits hard like a hammer blow, Driveways is easily one of the best films of the year.
The story centers around Kathy and her son Cody. When Kathy’s sister dies, the pair head up to her house to clean things out but quickly realize she’s a hoarder. With a big job ahead of them, Cody forms an unlikely bond with the elderly man next door, Del.
Driveways is a very simple but very effective slice of life drama. It’s a film that speaks volumes about our journey in life and how age has no boundaries. It’s as much a commentary on how to deal with grief as it is about finding purpose and one’s voice in this noisy world that surrounds us.
5 – 1917
1917 is one of those films that manages to feel both overly familiar yet refreshingly new and exciting at the same time. War films have been a staple of mainstream cinema for years now and 1917’s biggest hook – it’s one camera single-take across its 2 hour run-time – is both the best and worst part of the film.
If you can take to the style, it’s easy to become invested in the spectacle of it all and really revel in the tense atmosphere choking every part of this picture.
The story sees two British soldiers, Corporal Blake and Corporal Schofield, tasked with trekking across enemy territory to deliver a message to front-line troops. Their plight is made all the more desperate given their upcoming attack will almost certainly result in them walking into a German trap.
Tense, exciting and unlike other war movies, 1917 is definitely one of the most exhilarating movies released this year.
4 -Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Never Rarely Sometimes Always is one of those films that quietly captures your attention and refuses to relinquish its grip once you’re hooked. Taking an unflinching look at the world of teenage pregnancy, this Indie flick is never dull, rarely tedious, sometimes excellent and always honest.
The story centers on 17 year old Autumn who learns she’s pregnant and heads to a local clinic to try and work out what to do next. Determined to follow through with an abortion, she travels to New York from Pennsylvania with her cousin Skylar in the hope of seeking medical help.
The tone and feel of this plays on a very methodical, slow-paced track and takes its time to get to the good stuff. If you can persevere through the slow opening, there’s a great film here that speaks volumes about the American healthcare system and the woes of teenage girls caught in this difficult situation.
3 – A Sun
A Sun is a simple tale (albeit a rather long one) about a fractured family attempting to heal past wounds through a tragedy that brings everyone together. When you dive a little deeper however, this Asian film has multiple layers hidden within its aesthetic, themes and underlying message that make it a profound and wonderful cinematic gem.
Trouble-maker Chieng Jang-Ho (or A-Ho as he’s more commonly known as) starts us off as he’s thrown into a Juvenile Centre after chopping a boy’s hand off. It’s the last straw for his Father A-Wen who refuses to acknowledge his son’s existence and pours all of his efforts into his “perfect” brother A-Hao instead.
When tragedy suddenly strikes, the fractured family attempts to heal and move past their painful differences.
To give much more away would be a disservice to the story but it’s worth persevering with this one as the slow pacing and long-cuts make this a tough sell, especially during the first 45 minutes or so.
If you can stick it out though, A Sun opens up in the best possible way, bringing with it some really powerful messages around healing, forgiveness and inner-peace that ripples through much of the picture.
2 – Portrait Of A Lady On Fire
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a beautiful film. It’s a cleverly written, gorgeously shot picture that takes a very simple concept, shines a spotlight on three leading ladies and weaves this around a premise that ingeniously changes the way you look at things by the end of its 2 hour run-time.
The story takes place during the 18th Century on an isolated island. Painter Marianne arrives and is given a very simple task – paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse before her upcoming wedding. The catch? Héloïse can’t know about it and she needs to do all of this by memory.
It’s a simple enough premise and one that immediately engages you to see this infamous lady’s facial features, paying particular attention to things you normally wouldn’t with a passing glance.
Without spoiling too much, Portrait takes an unusual turn during the second act and what begins as a simple drama quickly spins into a much more beautiful and touching story about femininity, sisterhood and love.
1 – The Trial Of The Chicago 7
In its simplest form, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a courtroom drama depicting a real-life court case that gripped America back in the 1960’s.
Much like 12 Angry Men and When They See Us, partly the reason Chicago 7 works as well as it does is thanks to its relevance today. The peaceful protests turning violent echo what we’re seeing at the moment in our world; the crooked courtroom scenes feel eerily similar to these big companies getting away scot-free.
All of this is typified through the most relevant line in the entire film “The Whole World Is Watching.” And the whole world should be watching this movie. Not only is it politically stirring, it’s also incredibly well acted and packed full of crackling dialogue.
There’s a masterful tonal balance here between genres, regularly bouncing between comedy, drama, suspense, tension and even action that make The Trial of the Chicago 7 one of Aaron Sorkin’s finest Directorial performances to date. This is quite simply a stunning film and certainly our top movie of the year.
So there we have it, our Top 10 Movies Of 2020! It’s been a tumultuous year of highs and lows, with 2021 shaping up, as mentioned earlier, to be a make or break year for the film industry.
As our world changes and big studios scramble to find a way to make money outside the cinema chains, 2021 may just be one of the most important years in cinematic history.
In the meantime though, 2020 bows out with some memorable films well worth checking out if you haven’t already. What did you think of our picks? Do you agree? Are there any notable omissions? Let us know what your favourites were from this year in the comments below!