Posted in 2020-2029, Ranking

Best Films of 2020

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…

 

10. Supernova

review

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

review

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.

8. Tenet

review

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

review

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.

 

6. Onward

review

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

review

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

review

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.

 

3. Mangrove

review

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.

2. Wolfwalkers

review

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

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1. Parasite

review

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.

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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: TwitterFacebook or Letterbox’d.

For my picks for my most anticipated films of 2021, please click here (coming soon).

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Soul (2020)

Image is property of Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios

Soul – Film Review

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Tina Fey, Questlove, Phylicia Rashad, Daveed Diggs, Angela Bassett, Graham Norton

Directors: Pete Docter and Kemp Powers

Synopsis: When his soul is separated from his body after an accident, a passionate about jazz musician finds himself in a mysterious realm called the Great Before, a place where new souls get their personality traits before heading to Earth.

Review: As each and everyone one of us goes through life, we will have undoubtedly asked those many existential questions. Questions that we can spend a considerable portion of our lives striving to find the answers to. For instance, what is the meaning of life? Or what is the the thing that we feel like we were put on this Earth to do? The films from animation giants Pixar, especially those from Pete Docter, have attempted to pose some answers to those existential questions. These questions have been posed to a whole range of beings, from monsters, to humans, and even to emotions themselves. Yet with his fourth film with the animation powerhouse, this could well be the most profound look at life, and existence that studio has produced to date.

Joe Gardner (Foxx) is a passionate jazz musician, who earns his living as a middle school band teacher. However, he dreams of being a full time jazz musician, but the opportunities to make that possible are becoming increasingly rare. However, when the chance to play for a prestigious jazz band fronted by Dorothea Williams (Bassett) opens up, Joe is given a shot and is determined to land the permanent gig. But before he has the chance to perform, and to do what he loves the most, an accident separates Joe’s soul from his body. His soul lands onto the path to the Great Beyond, a destination for souls to go once they have lived their lives on Earth. Believing he still has more to give, Joe escapes and instead finds himself in The Great Before, a place where new souls go before heading to Earth.

It’s here in The Great Before that he gets paired up with Soul #22 (Fey), a fledgling soul who is completely disinterested about leaving the Great Before to have a life on Earth. Joe must do all he can to help #22 realise that a life on Earth is worth living, whilst trying to return to his own body before it is too late. The screenplay, by co-directors Docter, Powers and Mike Jones is perhaps the most contemplative screenplay that the studio has brought to fruition. While they’ve never been afraid to attempt to answer those burning questions that many of us have about our existence, they take it a step further with some deep probing about the lives we lead, what our passions are, and is this thing that we call life really worth pursuing in the first place?

Marking the first time that a Black character has been the lead in a Pixar film, Foxx’s voice work is excellent. He gives Joe Gardner a distinct personality and a desire to achieve his dream that anyone watching, no matter what their hopes and aspirations are, can easily connect with. Alongside him, Tina Fey lends her brilliant comedic talents to tremendous effect as the soul that couldn’t be less interested in what it means to have a life on this world. They are complete polar opposites, which gives the dynamic that they share ample opportunities for some excellent comedic moments. However, for all the strength of the voice work, and the significant step forward for representation on screen, the majority of the supporting characters don’t have a great deal of screen time. Furthermore, there’s one aspect of the film that could be seen as problematic and a hindrance to the film’s attempts to make positive, forward strides in terms of representation.

With Pixar, it is practically a sure bet that the animation is going to be outstanding. While this is once again the case, the work done for this film is something truly exceptional, and some of the best work that the studio has produced. Not only is the vibrancy of New York City and the atmosphere (at least pre-pandemic) brought to life in such rich and incredible detail. Furthermore, the imagination and the vivid colours of the places like The Great Before are also absolutely stunning, and they are perfectly complemented by ethereal score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. While taking on such fundamental aspects of life, there’s only so much that can be tackled over the course of one feature length film. Yet, as they have proved through their previous films, Pixar have delivered another bold and profound piece of storytelling.

It might lack the emotional punch of some of the studio’s previous work, but with gorgeous animation and a bold and contemplative look at the lives we lead, Soul is another splendid addition to Pixar’s filmography.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature

Top 10 Most Anticipated Films of 2020

Happy new year cinephiles! It is 2020, a brand new decade is upon us, and that means there’s a lot of exciting films to come our way over the next 12 months.  So without further ado, I present to you my picks for my top 10 most anticipated films that are set to hit UK cinemas in 2020.

Just a quick note to say that certain films that have marketed 2020 releases such as The Lighthouse, Waves, Just Mercy etc will not be counted here, partly because I have seen some of these at London Film Festival, and a few were included in my best of the year ranking, even though they are set to arrive into UK cinemas this year. Before we get into the main body of the list, I have a few honourable mentions, that I am looking forward to, but they just didn’t quite make the list. These are:

Venom 2, So if you saw my review of the first film, you’ll know that I hated it and it was one of the worst things I saw in 2018. However, Andy Serkis attached as director for this sequel has me intrigued. Given Serkis’s expertise with motion capture work, I hope that he can use that expertise to make something more compelling than that awful first film, and less of the horrendous cheesy dialogue would be great as well.

Godzilla VS Kong, The MonsterVerse hasn’t exactly had the easiest of starts to its existence as a cinematic universe. Both 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island were both beset by similar problems, namely too little screen-time for their eponymous titans, in favour of mostly very bland humans. Last year’s King of the Monsters certainly packed more action, but was bogged down by a problematic script. We go to these films to see giant monsters throw down, so if they can focus more on that and less on the humans, this titanic clash certainly could be an enthralling spectacle.

The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s films are almost always eccentric, but that eccentricity doesn’t prevent his films from being wonderfully crafted pieces of art. After making the wonderful Isle of Dogs in 2018, the quirky director makes his return to live action. With another stacked cast including Anderson regulars like Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman, Frances McDormand, Owen Wilson and Adrian Brody.

The EternalsThe Infinity Saga might have wrapped up 23 films worth of MCU build up, but even after all that, the folks at Marvel are not showing any signs of slowing down. The studio has proved that it can take lesser known properties in their roster of heroes, and make extremely entertaining movies out of them. With an exciting cast, the studio will be hoping they have another Guardians of the Galaxy on their hands.

Soul,The first of two Pixar films scheduled to come out in 2020, is from the mind of Pete Docter, the visionary genius behind two of the studio’s most emotional films in Up and Inside Out, which means the odds of this being another emotional tear-jerker from Pixar are extremely high.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, let’s see what cracked my top 10:

10. Birds of Prey

Release date: 7th February

By far and away, one of the best aspects of 2016’s Suicide Squad, was Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. So after said film seemingly left the DCEU in limbo, Margot Robbie is once again, suiting up once again as Harley Quinn. This time, however, she has ditched Jared Leto’s Joker, in favour of some more female company. Together, Harley and this group of women find themselves up against Ewan McGregor’s villain: Black Mask.

Of all the comic book movies slated to come out in 2020, four out of them will be directed by women, and all five of them feature women in significant, leading roles. This can only be a good thing not just for the comic book movie genre, for the film industry as a whole. Let’s hope that under Cathy Yan’s direction, that Harley and her band of vigilantes can start 2020’s superhero offerings with a bang.

 

9. Last Night in Soho

Release date: 18th September

The mere mention of certain directors can be enough to generate anticipation, and Edgar Wright is certainly one of those names. After directing the fast paced, and extremely entertaining Baby Driver, his next project as a director is being teased as a psychological horror film set in 1960s London with a cast that includes includes Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith and Dame Diana Rigg.

 

8. A Quiet Place: Part II

Release date: 20th March

For years, John Krasinski was most likely known from his role in the US version of The Office, but then he transitioned into a film director. As far as first films go, A Quiet Place was a masterfully well made horror film, that placed a real emphasis on sound. Having also written and starred in the first film, for reasons you will realise if you have seen the first film, Krasinski is just behind the camera this time.

The plot once again features real life wife Emily Blunt leading the Abbot family and her children, who have discovered some useful information that could defeat the terrifying sound monsters that have ravaged the planet. If this film can rebuild that tension that the first part was able to capture so masterfully, another horror gem could be on our hands. But, best be quiet about it.

7. Mulan

Release date: 27th March

Despite their three live action releases in 2019 enduring decidedly mixed reactions from audiences and critics, the Box Office returns for said films were more than prosperous for Disney, leaving them to continue on with their mission to remake all their live action classics. Next on their list is the 1996 classic Mulan.

From the trailers, this looks as though it has potential to be considerably more faithful to the Chinese legend, as there will be no Mushu to be found here. With an all Chinese cast, and this being only the second Disney film with a female director (Niki Caro) and a budget above $100 million, following A Wrinkle in Time, Disney will be hoping that this is the film that brings the honour back to their live action remakes.

 

6. Onward

Release date: 6th March

Pixar so often find that magic touch in their films that can make grown adults bawl their eyes out at the beauty and the emotion of the events on screen, and when the studio is focused on crafting original stories (e.g Coco and Inside Out), they usually craft something pretty special.

This tale of two brothers off on a magical quest has all the recipe of being another Pixar classic. With Chris Pratt and Tom Holland voicing the brothers and Julia-Louis Drefyus and Octavia Spencer also lending their voices, it has all the makings of potentially another Pixar classic that will get the audience sobbing uncontrollably.

5. No Time to Die

Release date: 2nd April

After what feels like an absolute eternity, and amid constant speculation as to whether Daniel Craig would hand back his license to kill, the actor’s final outing as 007 is finally making its way to cinemas. With a production that seemed to be cursed from the outset, most notably being original director Danny Boyle being forced to drop out and an injury to Craig on set, new director Cary Joji Fukunaga has an almighty mission to deliver the goods.

Mixed in with the usual faces are an intriguing crop of new cast members including Lashana Lynch as a new 00 agent, Ana De Armas as a CIA operative, and Rami Malek as a rather sinister looking villain. After two great films, and two so-so films under his belt, Daniel Craig will be aiming to bow out on a high note.

 

4. Wonder Woman 1984

Release date: 5th June

Back in 2017, the DCEU was in limbo somewhat having had its previous two entries the preceding year, take something of a critical mauling, Hence, a lot was riding on the first Wonder Woman film to succeed, which it did in emphatic style. Now with another blast back to the past, 1984 strangely enough, we see Diana Prince battle a new foe in the form of Pedro Pascal’s Maxwell Lord as well as possibly Kristen Wiig as the Cheetah.

Goodness knows what Diana has been doing with her time in the years between WW1 and 1984, but with Patty Jenkins back in the director’s chair for this sequel, along with Birds of Prey, there’s every chance that this sequel can replicate the success of the first WW film, and should it achieve that it will be a further boost for the DCEU as it bids to continue along the trajectory that’s been set by the first WW and last year’s Shazam!

3. Black Widow

Release date: 1st May

SPOILER ALERT if you’re one of the very few people who didn’t see Avengers: Endgame, but said film sadly marked the heroic demise of Natasha Romanoff as she sacrificed herself to help the Avengers gather the Infinity Stones to save the universe. For a long time now, fans have clamoured to see her get her own film, especially given the success of Captain Marvel. While it is a little strange that this film has come now, given her Endgame fate,  it is great to see it finally happening.

Rumoured to be set between the events of Civil War and Infinity War, it teases more of her back story that has been so often the subject of fleeting mentions in previous MCU films, so to see Scarlett Johansson back in this role is undeniably exciting. Add in a top drawer cast that includes Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz, and David Harbour, everything is in place to ensure that this off Phase Four of the MCU with a bang.

 

 

2. Tenet

Release date: 17th July

Christopher Nolan, a director who can generate anticipation by a mere mention of his name. There are many who believe that the director hasn’t made a bad film yet, and his latest promises to be the usual mind-bending wizardry that we have come to expect from Nolan. With a stellar cast that includes John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, and of course a customary appearance from Sir Michael Caine, expect more mind-bending awesomeness when this one debuts in cinemas….

 

And, my #1 most anticipated film of 2020 is……………………………………………………

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1. Dune

Release date: 18th December

In a similar vein to Christopher Nolan, Denis Villeneuve is another director who’s name just captures the attention. Having hit a hot streak with Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, Villeneuve has proved himself to be one of the best directors working today, and now a fresh adaptation of the 1965 by Frank Herbert is in his sights.

In the wake of the film by David Lynch, which the director promptly disowned upon release, the potential for something truly special, especially with arguably the most stacked cast of the entire year that includes Timothee Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Rampling, Zendaya, Josh Brolin, Javier Bardem and Jason Momoa. Fans of the novel can have hope that this masterful director can do the novel justice, which given that this is reportedly the first of two films, offers much promise.

Thus concludes my picks for the most anticipated films of 2020, What are your most anticipated films for this year? Let me know on any of the following platforms: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d

Thanks for reading and here’s to another great year of cinema!