Although cinema is still in a state of paralysis with the coronavirus pandemic, that’s not to say that 2020 didn’t offer its fair share of film experiences. The year got off to a conventional start with UK cinemas having to close in line with the first lockdown at the end of March. Cinemas then reopened briefly from August before closing again and are still yet to reopen.
2020 has represented a marked change and acceleration in the move to streaming content at home. Netflix and Amazon have continued to grow and have triumphed with their business model in that audiences don’t need to travel to a cinema to view their content and can consume it in the comfort of their own home. Other streaming services have been introduced this year such as Disney+ and Apple TV.
Having had the chance to catch up on some 2020 releases, I can now share my Top 20 Films of the year. I know that I am very late in the game but there were quite a few films I didn’t get to watch in time and felt that it would be a disservice to generate a list that wasn’t truly reflective of the year. Despite many releases being cancelled or moved to future dates when cinemas are planning to reopen, 2020 still delivered a wealth of strong work.
Here I rank numbers 20 to 11. The Top Ten will be detailed in a separate post.
I am following the UK release date calendar from January 1st to December 31st hence why a lot of the Awards films do not feature here and why there are some from what may seem like last year.
20) Escape From Pretoria
Daniel Radcliffe continues to pick fascinating projects post-Harry Potter and Escape From Pretoria is no exception. Based on the true story of Tim Jenkin and his fellow escapees, the film follows their ingenious method of escaping one of South Africa’s most notorious prisons. Although the ending of the film is known from the film’s start, it doesn’t make the film any less intense and there are some uncomfortably high-ante sequences in this story that tell a fascinating story.
19) The New Mutants
The New Mutants is a far better film than it has any right to be or as the delays would suggest. The notion of director Josh Boone melding a comic-book film with the horror genre is an interesting decision and whilst the film isn’t particularly scary, there are some unsettling images of some of the team’s greatest fears. The smaller scale works wonders for the film, with Boone successfully establishing and developing its close-knit characters. By the time the film reaches the third act, all of the characters make compelling cases to really care for them. Unfortunately, The New Mutants commits the classic comic-film sin with its last 15 mins as it descends into a bit of a CGI-fest but it’s relatively short-lived. It does undo the sense of intrigue somewhat but it needs to integrate into the genre somehow, I suppose. However, for the most part, this is a really solid piece of work and it’s a shame that it is unlikely to be explored further in future installments. (Full review here)
Unhinged is surprisingly far better than this type of film ought to be and it goes surprisingly far in terms of its violence and subject matter. Directed by Derrick Borte, it tells the story of Rachel, a young, recently divorced mother who is terrorised by Tom Cooper, a mentally deranged stranger, after a road rage incident between the two. Rachel is sent to hell and back with Tom’s torment and he is unrelenting in dishing out his revenge, satisfying his moral righteousness and ethic high ground. Both Russell Crowe and the underrated Caren Pistorius are excellent in the lead roles, Crowe suitably revelling in the role. It is great to see Caren Pistorius in a lead role, after she impressed in Slow West back in 2014 and has only really taken smaller supporting roles since then. She is more than up for the challenge and the film develops her character very well at the start so that when the inciting incident of her meeting Crowe’s character occurs, as an audience we can more than empathise with her life situation. (Full review here)
Christopher Nolan’s latest represents the director’s strengths in his jaw-dropping visual effects and high-stakes sequences. Nolan has crafted a high-concept storyline that packs plenty of twists and the film requires multiple viewings to truly unpack. Although it’s good to see Nolan’s film feature in this list, this isn’t his strongest piece of work. The third act falters in some of its logic and it is overly expository. The characters also aren’t particularly well-developed, but the film makes up for these flaws in its spectacle and ambition.
16) Color Out Of Space
After a convincing career redemption with Mandy, Nicolas Cage builds on that film’s strengths with this similarly psychedelic sci-fi as an ostrich farmer. Yes, you read that correctly. Color Out Of Space is Richard Stanley’s first film in 25 years and he fully embraces the weirdness of H.P. Lovecraft’s invention. When a meteor crashes in Cage’s family garden, all manner of hell is let loose and reality is distorted as the horrors that are unleashed begin to hunt the family and their neighbours. This is a bold visual spectacle that delivers on its ludicrous intention perfectly in how it balances the gravity of the situation with the absurdity.
15) Uncut Gems
Adam Sandler gives the performance of his career in Uncut Gems, directed by the Safdie Brothers after their brilliant film Good Time. Sandler plays a jewellery salesman that is also a gambling addict and he gets himself into a gut-wrenching situation. The first half is mesmerising in how the Safdies elevate the tension after Sandler digs himself deeper and deeper into a hole. Although the second half doesn’t quite sustain its momentum, this is an admirable and original effort from all involved.
14) Queen And Slim
Queen And Slim is a gut-punch of a biopic that is timely in its portrayal of a couple whose romantic date takes a turn for the worse when a racially prejudiced police officer pulls them over for their driving. Both Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are outstanding as the titular duo as they try to continually escape the law and as they are so well developed, it is easy to root for them. This is a biopic with a bite in its messages of race and portrayal of the police force that builds to an emotional climax.
Mank is a different type of film for Fincher but one that retains a lot of his artistic qualities. It will be divisive amongst audiences but if the subject matter appeals and you appreciate Citizen Kane, this is a very fine companion piece to what is considered one of the most iconic and memorable films ever made. Mank is certainly not for everyone but given my personal fascination of the subject matter, I found a lot to admire here. Gary Oldman is superb as the titular character and this is a much more fitting and natural performance for him to win any Awards compared to his Oscar-winning turn in Darkest Hour a couple of years ago. Mankiewicz is a fascinating character and Fincher manages to perfectly encapsulate his genius, juxtaposed with his messy, incoherent descents into alcoholism. (Full review here)
12) A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood
A totally different film for director Marielle Heller compared to Can You Ever Forgive Me last year, which also featured in my Best of the Year list. This is an affecting and sweet drama that follows a struggling journalist who is asked to write a feature on Fred Rogers. This is one of Tom Hanks’ best performance as the children’s television performer, who strikes a fine line between overly sweet and slightly creepy. The film has a wonderful message at its core and will leave you with a giddy smile by the film’s close.
11) Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee’s latest is a gripping and politically relevant drama of four aging Vietnam veterans who travel back there to discover some treasure they had borrowed and rescue the body of their fallen leader. Delroy Lindo is extraordinary in the lead role of Paul, a bitter Trump supporter, and was robbed of an Oscar at the latest Academy Awards. The entire cast are also more than game for Lee’s biting material. Although the film is a little unwieldy in its 160 minute run time, when the film gets going, it is particularly affecting.
So there we go, numbers 20 down to 11. Stay tuned for the Top Ten in a separate post…
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister