2020, a year that for reasons that do not need to be elaborated upon, was a rather tough and challenging year, to put it mildly. While it started off like any other year, with new releases aplenty. The COVID-19 pandemic soon brought the industry to a halt, and cinemas the world over were forced to shut their doors for long stretches of the year due to the ongoing pandemic. Though while the big screens went dark, new releases did come through via streaming services. These were certainly helpful to combat the many months of lockdown, alongside all the Zoom quizzes. While the big screen buzz was certainly lacking, there were numerous new releases to watch. So, let’s get down to business and have a look see at the best films of 2020, per my opinion.
As always, when compiling this list I aim to include films that are listed as 2020 releases on IMDB on this list. However, the staggered nature of UK release dates (at least pre-COVID) that we get here in the UK can make things complicated when it comes to ranking films. Hence, there are one or two films on here that for the majority of the rest of the world, came out in 2019, but not so for us UK dwellers, hence why they will be included on here. Also, due to the pandemic, some of the films listed here haven’t yet made their way into UK cinemas, but since I was fortunate to be able to catch some of these films at the digital edition of London Film Festival this year, they are eligible for inclusion.
Secondly, as always, the placings of these films are not determined by the grade I gave them. Getting the perfect grade is not always going to guarantee that that particular film will be high on the list. As with every year, these lists represent a chance for everyone to be completely and unashamedly biased about the films that we enjoyed the most, and these are the films that I will remember from 2020. Before I get into the main list, some honourable mentions need to have their time to shine. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list. These are:
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The first film on this list to be adapted from an award winning stage play. It is a little constrained by its stage play roots, but it packs a lot of heart and soul into its 94 minute run time. With a brilliant leading performance from Viola Davis, and a devastatingly emotional final screen performance from Chadwick Boseman, serving a heart-breaking reminder of what Boseman had to offer the world of film and a bitter blow that he is no longer with us.
Soul [review] Pixar films have so often made efforts to answer some deep existential questions across a variety of beings, from toys, to monsters, to even emotions themselves. With their latest film, from Pete Docter, the studio has produced one of their most contemplative works to date, that is while never quite hitting those emotional beats of their previous films, is bold and original.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always. Pregnancy is a wonderful procedure that after nine painstaking months, gives birth to new life. Yet through a plethora of circumstances, a pregnancy may be unplanned or unwanted. This simple, yet powerful tale of one woman (a brilliant Sydney Flanigan) and her cousin travel to New York to obtain an abortion. The way Eliza Hittman directs this film makes it feel very personal, because there’s every chance that for many young women out there, the situation that is depicted on screen is one that will hit very close to home.
One Night in Miami [review] The Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, a movement that certainly had its fair share of charismatic leaders, determined to bring about meaningful and significant change in US society. Regina King makes her directorial debut in stunning style, as we get a glimpse of an extraordinary night where four leaders of this movement gathered. The performances of each actor playing these figures from history are stunning, and as with the very next film, the parallels between this time period, and the one we’re living in right now, make this an essential piece of filmmaking
Queen & Slim [review] The release of this film came just a few months before the world had an urgent and much needed conversation on race and police brutality in America, and the increasing necessity for movements like Black Lives Matter to have their voices heard, and protest for meaningful and significant change to a fundamentally flawed society. Focusing on a young couple who are forced on the run following a fatal clash with the police, with devastating performances from Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith, given the reckoning the world has had, this is an essential film that needs to be seen.
Pieces of a Woman [review] The most recent film that I watched on this list, and qualifies for this list as I’ve caught it in the first few weeks of the new year. The film is unquestionably a tough watch, but it shines a light on a subject matter that is rarely touched upon in film, that also has an absurd amount of taboo behind it, based on the experiences of some women in the media. Through Vanessa Kirby’s exceptional leading performance, the film presents an honest and unflinching look at the raw and unimaginable grief and heartache that anyone in that situation would experience.
Honourable mentions honoured, now let’s dive into the top 10…
When someone receives a devastating, life-changing diagnosis, it is extremely tough to take for them, and their loved ones. This is the reality facing a middle-aged couple as they travel around England visiting friends and family, whilst slowly coming to terms with the fact that this trip may well be the last meaningful time that they spend together as a couple. As the couple at the centre of this heart-breaking diagnosis, Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci share wonderful chemistry together, and their performances are incredible.
9. Another Round
Lots of us certainly like to have a drink during the weekend, or whilst celebrating a special occasion. Yet it takes a lot of bravery to have a drink whilst working on your day job. Yet, this is precisely what four teachers, stuck in their dead-end jobs, do as they seeking to maintain a consistent level of alcohol in their blood. Simultaneously funny and heart-breaking, with an superb leading performance from Mads Mikkelsen, it pulls no punches into how devastating the consequences can be, if one becomes too dependent on a drug like alcohol.
When it comes to directors who can sell a film based on just their name, Christopher Nolan is certainly right up there in terms of the most prominent. While his films usually have a mind-bending and complex narrative to them, Nolan consistently manages to make his films fascinating, and riveting to watch. After multiple delayed release dates, there was much uncertainty as to whether the film would even be released. It thankfully did make its way onto the big screen in 2020, and all the better for it.
There’s no getting away from the fact that the film is very hard to follow in terms of plot, even with multiple rewatches, it may well leave your brain completely and utterly fried. The sound mixing was a tad overpowering at times, yet in a year that was for the most part starved of those exhilarating and thrilling popcorn blockbusters, this was a thrilling film to experience on the big screen.
7. Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s passionate energy against a certain stupidly haired, ridiculous world leader has helped him to create some powerful pieces of filmmaking. After bagging a much deserved Oscar for BlacKkKlansman, he follows that up with a searing and impactful war drama that focuses on 5 Vietnam War vets on two very personal missions: to recover some gold that they were protecting on their mission during the War, and to find the remains of their fallen squad leader. Brilliantly acted by its ensemble cast, it is the heart-breaking performances of Delroy Lindo and the late Chadwick Boseman that should be bestowed with award nominations. For Boseman in particular, the part he plays as the fallen squad leader to these war veterans is made all the more impactful given his tragic death, a few months after this film was released.
One of the last films that just about made it into cinemas, before the world shut down. As one comes to expect whenever Pixar put their name on a film, it was a deeply emotional tale. Focusing on two brothers who set off on a magical quest to meet the father that they barely got to know before he passed away. The fantasy/adventure is extremely fun and exciting, but the heart of the film lies in the relationship dynamic between the brothers (wonderfully voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) that really pulls on the heartstrings. Even in the face of such devastating personal tragedy, like the loss of a parent at a young age, the love and support that one can find from a brother can be an emotional and unbreakable bond, especially for an older sibling that they looked up to and relied on during those hard times.
5. Trial of the Chicago 7
The first of two courtroom dramas to make this list. Having mastered his talents as a prolific screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin’s second stint behind the camera is further proof that he’s as talented a director as he is a writer. Like the other courtroom drama on this list, to deliver an urgent film that spoke volumes to the increasingly bitterly divided nature of politics, especially in 2020.
Packed to the brim with outstanding performances with Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II the standouts. The film is an urgent message about the power of using your voice to protest, and to stand up for what you believe in, especially in the face of a Government that wanted to punish the Chicago 7, simply for using their right to protest. This is something that that also felt very topical and relevant given the protests and demonstrations that took place one of the most turbulent years in American history.
4. The Invisible Man
After their Dark Universe died an ignominious death, Universal Studios were left to wonder where to go in terms of bringing their series of classic monsters back to the big screen. Instead of the grandiose cinematic universe, they’ve gone back to basics with a reboot of the classic HG Wells novel. focusing on a woman that is being obsessively stalked by an invisible presence, that she is convinced is her abusive ex-boyfriend, in spite of the fact that he supposedly committed suicide.
In a world that has been forever changed by the Me Too Movement, writer/director Leigh Whannell grounds the film in the all too real horror and abuse that many women will have likely experienced at the hands of abusive partners. Tense from the off, and in Elisabeth Moss’s leading performance, she brilliantly captures the emotional trauma of the situation that she finds herself in. Performances in horror films are so often ignored when it comes to awards season, but Moss deserves to be in the conversation for awards for her stunning performance.
Alongside Queen & Slim and Da 5 Bloods, the work of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series demonstrates that much like the US, the UK has its own problematic past with institutionalised racism and police brutality. Focusing on appalling racism that the Metropolitan police inflict on the Mangrove restaurant and the owner of this establishment, the Mangrove community take a stand against the disgusting treatment they experience at the hands of the police, which leads to a very highly public trial.
While the first half sets up the Mangrove as a vibrant place for the local community that comes under constant attack, the second half is a powerful courtroom drama. Undeniably difficult to watch at times, but it is nonetheless essential viewing. It will leave you fuming at the conduct that you’re witnessing on screen by those who are in a position of power that they should be using to protect, and equally at a justice system that is fundamentally flawed. Filled to the brim with absolutely incredible performances, the shining lights of which are Shaun Parkes and Letitia Wright, the latter of whom gives the performance of her career.
For all the praise that audiences bestow upon animation powerhouses like Disney, Studio Ghibli, or Pixar when it comes to their animated films. There are a handful of studios who do equally great work that perhaps doesn’t get the same amount of recognition. This very much applies to Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon. With their latest, it’s another excellent addition to their filmography. Telling the story of a young girl living in 17th century Ireland who encounters a mysterious group of people rumoured to have magical abilities.
Expertly combining 17th century history with a wonderful sense of magical and mythical intrigue, packed with beautiful animation, stunning voicework, and a wonderful soundtrack that will have Aurora’s beautiful song “Running with the Wolves” in your head for days. This is a superb achievement, and will provide stern competition in the race for the Best Animated Feature in next year’s Awards season.
And so my favourite film of 2020 is
It legitimately doesn’t feel like that it was this year that history was made and Bong Joon ho’s masterpiece took home the big prize at the Academy Awards in February. Having caught this film at a press screening at the end of 2019, I almost included it on my best of 2019 list, but opted to defer it for my 2020 list, where I knew it would feature.
While the majority of the rest of the world got to see the film in 2019, it took until literally two days before the film made history for it to open on UK shores, and it was certainly worth the wait. Packed to the brim with stark and biting social commentary about the capitalist society that many of us live in, with a superb script that constantly leaves its audience second-guessing where it’s going to go next. A film that is funny, intense and horrifying all rolled into one, a feat that is incredibly hard to pull off, but Parasite nails it. The pandemic might have caused many of this year’s big blockbuster films to be delayed, but even if all of those films that we were anticipating this year had been released, I’m confident that nothing would have come along to dethrone Parasite as my favourite film of 2020.
And that brings the curtain down on my list of the best that film had to offer in 2020. Thank you for reading, especially if you read all the way through! Let’s hope that it won’t be long before the cinemas reopen and we can witness more films on the big screen. What were your favourite films of 2020? Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d.
For my picks for my most anticipated films of 2021, please click here (coming soon).