Following on from our reviews of the worst films of the year, we move on to Part 2 of our year end review of 2020. It’s been a challenging year in many respects for cinema and this is the first year since UpLateAtNightAgain started that we didn’t see at least 100 new releases (we topped out at around 85). That being said, there were plenty of good films this year to enjoy (mostly from home!) and as always, we’ve compiled our list of the year’s best films, starting with our favourites from 20-11 – we’d also recommend checking out the films in the ‘narrowly missed out’ section at the bottom of this post, but ultimately these are what we’d regard as the best 20!
If you’d like to read our full reviews of any of these films, clicking on the titles will take you to them,
In any other year, ‘Unhinged‘ is a relatively forgettable action thriller, but in 2020 it’s resonated a lot stronger and stuck with me for longer than I expected it too. That’s largely down to it being the first film I saw back at cinemas when they (briefly) reopened in Scotland in August, and it is a reminder of the sheer enjoyment you can get from seeing a film on the big screen. This is loud, brash and has a gonzo Russell Crowe performance as the ‘unhinged’ villain at the centre of it, and for a pulpy B-movie this is highly entertaining.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/unhinged-2020
I skipped ‘The Invisible Man‘ when it was released in cinemas back in early March as I (naively) assumed it would be a mediocre remake/reimagining of a story that had been told many times before, but one of the early benefits of lockdown and the free time it provided was that I did get round to watching this and swiftly realised my mistake. The story is simple – a woman leaves her abusive husband and is hunted down by an invisible presence. What makes this version so effective is it balances a chilling setting with intense direction, a terrific Elisabeth Moss performance, and some genuine thrills that had me hooked throughout.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-invisible-man-2020-0
‘Waves‘ is an original teen drama about a seemingly perfect family who are rocked by a couple of major events that put a significant strain on their relationships. What is most impressive is how well the filmmakers tackle dark and difficult themes with nuance and care, and it deftly handles the many tonal shifts in the material. A coming of age film, but not as you know it.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/waves-2019
‘Da 5 Bloods‘ is classic Spike Lee – messy, political, scattershot, but ultimately wildly entertaining. This story of four black veterans returning to Vietnam to retrieve a hidden stash of treasure covers themes of racism, imperialism, legacy and regrets, all wrapped up in a classic caper movie – it is a bit indulgent and won’t be for everyone but I got a lot out of it.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/da-5-bloods
Judd Apatow has made a career of providing a variety of performers with loosely biographical movies and in this case, Saturday Night Live alum Pete Davidson is given the showcase. Your liking (or not) for Davidson will help or hinder your enjoyment of this, but I found ‘The King of Staten Island‘ to be a sweet and funny story about a young man who has never got over the death of his father.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-king-of-staten-island
An early favourite from this year was Sam Mendes mostly one shot first world war drama ‘1917‘, a visceral intense experience that follows two soldiers as they attempt to cross enemy lines to deliver an important message to a fellow soldier. So far, so ‘Saving Private Ryan‘. I didn’t love this as much as some, but that doesn’t take away from the fact it is an excellent movie and one of the best cinema experiences of the year.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/1917
Is it TV or is it cinema? Does it matter? Steve McQueen’s ‘Small Axe‘ series was an intriguing concept and ‘Lovers Rock‘ was the finest episode – this is a 70 minute drama, taking place almost entirely at a party, with many scenes purely of the partygoers dancing and enjoying the music. It’s an intoxicating experience, enhanced by the ‘Before Sunrise‘ esque story that gradually comes into view centering on two characters who meet on the night.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/tv-series/small-axe
One of the best concert movies in year comes from David Byrne, which is no surprise for anyone who has had the pleasure of watching Talking Heads 80s documentary ‘Stop Making Sense‘. ‘American Utopia‘, the performance version of his latest solo album, is a captivating mix of music, choreographed dance and performative art, with the odd sprinkling of political statements mixed in (through song, not preached through words). Now in his 70s, Byrne has absolutely still got it and this is a memorable, joyful piece of entertainment (directed by Spike Lee).
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/david-byrnes-american-utopia
‘Dark Waters’ is a story of corporate corruption on a large scale and it’s not the first time we’ve seen this story, particularly after the financial crisis in 2008, however there’s something that feels worse about this, given the perpetrators of these actions knew their behaviour would lead to people’s deaths. This powerful film sheds a light on the actions of the DuPont chemical corporation, who knowingly poisoned the water supply of a small town, and essentially got away with it. Like any good political film it makes you angry, and this is a very good political film.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/dark-waters-2019
‘Nothing good happens when two men are left alone in a giant phallus’ was a comedic quote from director Robert Eggers about his latest film ‘The Lighthouse’, and so it proves in this demented, visceral and gripping movie about two wickies who find themselves stranded on a small island amidst a storm and gradually descend into madness. It’s stylishly made with black and white cinematography, has great performances (from Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson), and it is incredibly funny at times – an immersive, engrossing watch.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-lighthouse-2019