After what is one of the longest awards seasons in living memory, it is finally time for Hollywood to pay tribute to the best cinematic offerings of 2020/21. It was certainly a strange year that forced cinemas to stay shut for many months, hence the slight delay to the main event this weekend. But that didn’t prevent a number of outstanding films from being released. With a total of eight films up for the big prize this year: including the behind the scenes of how one of the most iconic films of all time came to be, a couple of heart-warming tales about life in America (from two very different perspectives), a gripping and timely courtroom drama, a heart-breaking character study of a man suffering from a terrible disease, an urgent film about an overlooked figure of history, and a dark and thrilling tale of revenge.
There’s lots of quality cinema in this year’s crop, but only one scoop that Best Picture crown. So, without further ado, let us rank these from worst to best (as always per the opinion of yours truly), starting with….
It seems like every year there’s always one film, no matter who you are, that you just don’t get the fuss about, and this year Mank is that film. I never thought a film by David Fincher would be the bottom of this list, yet here we are. When you have get a maestro like Fincher directing a film, that covers how the script of one of the most influential films of all time Citizen Kane came to be, expectations are going to be set high. Having watched (and loved) Citizen Kane for the first time just before watching Mank, it raised my expectations even higher. Furthermore, with a cast that is packed with talent like Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance, surely that’s a sure-fire hit for cinematic gold. Yet, sadly for me, this film just didn’t match those lofty expectations.
To give credit where credit is due, Fincher directs the film beautifully. The production design, costumes and cinematography are all absolutely stunning, and the performances across the board are all very good, with Amanda Seyfried being a particular highlight. What let the film down for me is the script, it had its moments, but I just wasn’t as intrigued by the film as I wanted/expected to be, and that is really disappointing.
Full review here
For generations and generations of people looking to migrate to the United States, the notion of the American Dream to achieve economic success has been the source of their desire to move to the country. Yet, that desire to achieve that dream is not always so straightforward, and in this semi-autobiographical film from Lee Isaac Chung, Minari captures one family’s trials and tribulations as they bid to achieve that dream by opening and running their own farm in 1980s Arkansas.
The cast is filled with impeccable performances, from Steven Yeun’s loving but stern portrayal as the family’s patriarch, to Youn Yuh-jung’s likely Oscar winning turn as the family’s Grandmother. The interaction between her and little David (Alan Kim) is extremely heart-warming, but also extremely amusing. While the film focuses on the lives of this one family, the themes about finding identity in what can be at times (especially right now), a very unforgiving world, is something that we can all relate to.
6. The Father
Full review coming soon
Sir Anthony Hopkins is an an actor whose career started all the way back in 1960. Over the years, he’s given us plenty of extraordinary performances. Yet, as his career reaches its seventh decade, it is quite the accomplishment to say that a film released in 2020/21, could arguably be the greatest performance that he has given across his glittering career. In this heart-breaking film from Florian Zeller, it might just have got the best ever performance out of this veteran actor, or at least his best performance since his memorable Oscar winning turn in Silence of the Lambs.
The way in which Zeller directs this film is extremely innovative, and it pays off as it is clearly to try and establish to the audience just how much of an effect a disease like dementia can have on the human brain. As well as Hopkins’s absolutely devastating performance, special mention must go to Olivia Colman’s tender performance as the daughter of Hopkin’s character. It cannot be easy to watch someone you love go through this terrible condition, and who is put in the most uncomfortable position of watching her father’s condition slowly deteriorate. The way the film is told from his perspective enables the audience to go into his mind as his grip on reality slowly begins to unravel, and it’s truly harrowing to watch, especially if someone you love has been affected by this terrible disease.
Full review coming soon
The Economic Crash of 2008 was undoubtedly an extremely tough time for lots of people. Countless jobs lost, lives and economic livelihoods shattered. For one woman, having lost everything that tied her to a town where she spent many happy years of her life, it leads her to selling most of her belongings and starting a new life as a modern day nomad, living in a caravan in the American West.
Written, directed, edited and produced by Chloe Zhao, Nomadland’s beauty lies in the depiction of the nomad lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that undoubtedly comes with its challenges, but due to the inspired casting of some real life nomads, it brings their lifestyle to life in a manner that is poignant and emotional. The beauty of the film shines through, in part thanks to the gorgeous cinematography, which makes it feel like a world away from the constant noise of the capitalist world that seemingly (at least pre the COVID-19 pandemic) never stops turning. At the centre of all of it, is a subdued, but wonderful performance from Frances McDormand. While it is not my favourite film of this year’s crop, it would be a very worthy winner if, as expected, it takes home the top prize on Oscar night.
4. Sound of Metal
Full review here
Imagine if you’re a musician, music is your passion and you live for the thrill of playing music to live crowds. But what if one day, you begin to realise that you are rapidly losing your hearing and your entire future career as a musician is in jeopardy? It’s a position that no one would want to be in, yet it is a position that Ruben (an extraordinary Riz Ahmed) finds himself in. Faced with an impossibly difficult decision, he must decide how to handle the devastating loss of one of his senses, and he seeks assistance from a centre for the deaf, led by a very compassionate recovering war veteran.
Directed beautifully by Darius Marder in a passionate directorial debut, the film shines a light on the deaf community in an extremely touching manner. Bolstered by some absolutely extraordinary sound work, the film’s heart comes from the time that Ruben spends with the deaf community. And most importantly of all, the film is a lesson about coming to term’s with one’s circumstances, whilst reminding the world that deafness is not a disability.
3. Trial of the Chicago 7
Full review here
There are certain names that automatically just capture attention whenever they’re brought up in discussions, and Aaron Sorkin is certainly one of those names. Having written a plethora of memorable screenplays over the years, he made a seamless transition to directing. for his second film, he writes and directs once again, to tremendous effect to tell the story of the Chicago 7, who were essentially put on trial in front of the whole world in the build up to the 1968 Democratic Convention.
The film draws a strong correlation between the protests that occurred in the 1960s over the Vietnam War to the protests that erupted across America in response to systemic racism, in a year that felt extremely politically charged due to the 2020 US Presidential Election, and the previous four years under an administration that sought to swiftly quash any dissent and protest. Filled to the brim with top performances, there’s so many that could have got nominations, but in the end it was Sacha Baron Cohen’s excellent turn as Abbie Hoffman that took the deserved plaudits. Once seen as perhaps the frontrunner, it might have lost a bit of steam since its release last October, but it still remains a powerful piece of filmmaking from Aaron Sorkin.
2. Promising Young Woman
Full review here
Rape and sexual assault are never comfortable subjects to talk about, but in the years since the Me Too Movement spoke out, it has forced the world to have an urgent conversation about these subjects, and how women are too often subjected to this kind of horrific abuse. In her bold and daring directorial debut, Emerald Fennell tackles these themes head on, and in so doing has created a film that holds a mirror to society in an extremely arresting manner.
At the centre of this thrilling tale of revenge is Carey Mulligan’s Cassie. A woman who once had a bright and promising future, but due to this traumatic incident, her once bright future has faded. Instead, she is focused purely on her revenge mission. Mulligan’s tour-de-force performances keeps you hooked from the get go as you watch her go about her mission to extract revenge against those who caused her that trauma all those years ago. The film keeps you guessing right until its ending, which has, and will undoubtedly continue to generate much discussion in the coming years.
1. Judas and the Black Messiah
Full review here
When you look back at how the Civil Rights movement is taught, there are certain powerful historical figures that are universally recognised all over the world. Names such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X to name but a few. Yet the name of Fred Hampton is not one that is nearly well known, probably because it is barely taught at all, and that is staggering. As when you watch this extraordinary film, it is incomprehensible to work out why this man’s name is not mentioned in the same breath as those other names.
What makes this film so relevant and so extremely powerful is the unmistakeable parallels between the time that Fred Hampton campaigned against injustice, and in the 21st century. To put it bluntly, not a lot has happened in all those years as the systemic racism that Hampton rallied against is still very much present in our society, as demonstrated by the worldwide protests that took place in 2020, with people taking a stand. While LaKeith Stanfield does incredible work, it’s the absolutely scintillating performance from Daniel Kaluuya that drives the film forward as he imbues Fred Hampton with powerful leadership qualities. Every time Hampton is on screen talking, you’re listening to what he has to say. “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.” Over fifty years later, and Hampton’s words are truer now than perhaps they’ve ever been.
Could/should have been nominated…
Every time I come to write this list, I always ask myself why the Academy doesn’t fill take the opportunity to nominate the maximum number of 10 films for the top honour? While these eight do all (just about in the case of one film) deserve their spot for the biggest prize of the night, I always like to have a look at what could have joined their ranks to compete for the top honour. So, what could have joined their company? Well if I had my way, Mank drops out, and then I choose the following three films to make it a perfect ten:
One Night in Miami (review): Four influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement, one fictionalised evening, directed by Academy Award winner Regina King, I mean what more needs to be said? Adapted from the Kemp Power’s stage play of the same name, the film isn’t held back by its stage play roots, as the four performances of the men playing these historical figures are all extraordinary. Furthermore, the screenplay that goes deep in exploring powerful historical themes that very much related to today’s society.
Another Round (review): There’s an undeniable joy that comes when no matter what the occasion, we sit down and have a tipple or two to celebrate. Yet you’d think that no one would have a drink whilst working on their day job Yet that is exactly what a group of four schoolteachers do to try and bring a bit of excitement back in their lives. Thomas Vinterberg’s film expertly walks the line between comedy and tragedy, whilst getting one of the best performances out of Mads Mikkelsen in a long time.
Wolfwalkers (review): Seldom do animated films make the leap from the animated category to competing for the top prize. Yet in the case of Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, this is a film that absolutely deserves to make that list. In an era where most animation studios are going for fully CGI animation, there’s something to be admired about a studio that creates hand drawn animation, and Wolfwalkers is a magically enchanting tale that continues to enhance Cartoon Saloon’s growing reputation as a powerhouse animation studio.