2020 End of Year Review – Part 3: The Top 20 Films of the Year (10-1)

We conclude our series of year end reviews of 2020 in cinema with our 10 favourite films of the year – let us know if you agree in the comments!

To see what we ranked between 20 and 11, and for all of our other year end reviews, you can find them HERE – click on the title links for the individual film reviews.

Thanks for reading and we’ll be back with more reviews in 2021!

20. Unhinged
19. The Invisible Man
18. Waves
17. Da 5 Bloods
16. The King of Staten Island
15. 1917
14. Small Axe: Lovers Rock
13. David Byrne’s American Utopia
12. Dark Waters
11. The Lighthouse

10. Tenet

Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s latest film ‘Tenet‘ is like James Bond on steroids, an espionage thriller that moves at such speed with so much going on, that it is tough to keep up with (and I certainly didn’t follow it all!). The plot involves a nefarious plot to destroy the world, time travel and features characters moving backwards and forwards in time often simulatenously – sound confusing? It is. What it also is is an absolute thrill ride, exhilariting and incredibly entertaining and I was on the edge of my seat throughout. Nolan pushed hard for a cinema release and I can see why – I suspect this won’t play as well at home unless you’ve got a very good setup!

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/tenet

9. Soul

Soul

My final film of the year and an easy entrant into this list as Pixar once again produce a masterful piece of animation that succeeds on just about every level. ‘Soul’, much like ‘Coco’ and ‘Inside Out’, is Pixar at their deepest, delving literally into the soul to tell the story of a man who regrets much of how his life panned out. It’s the story of an aspiring jazz musician who suffers an accident, leaving his soul untethered from his body and heading towards the afterlife – this strands him somewhere in between, contemplating the life he led and how he isn’t ready for it to conclude yet. Moving, heartfelt and incredibly clever, Pixar have done it again.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/soul

8. System Crasher (Systemsprenger)

System Crasher

The term ‘System Crasher’ is used in Germany to describe a child in care who has seen all avenues exhausted, leaving social services with limited routes to move forward. That is the phrase used to describe Benni, a troubled nine-year-old girl caught up in the German social care system, and ‘System Crasher‘ is about how this situation plays out. It features an astounding performance from Helena Zengel (soon to be seen alongside Tom Hanks in ‘News of the World‘) and it is an eye opening piece of cinema, heartbreaking and incredibly compelling in equal measure.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/system-crasher

7. On the Rocks

On The Rocks

Sofia Coppola reuniting with ‘Lost in Translation‘ star Bill Murray was always going to pique my interest and as shown by its placement in my top 10 of the year, I really liked ‘On the Rocks‘ – a perfect Friday night movie. Bill Murray plays Felix, an ageing playboy whose daughter Laura (Rashida Jones) suspects her husband is cheating on her. This leads them to team up to try to catch him out, with their surveillance activities doubling as bonding as both attempt to rekindle the father-daughter relationship that has been lost somewhere over the years. I thought this was a charming and relatable look at modern relationships with good humour and good performances and I very much enjoyed it.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/on-the-rocks-2020

6. Mank

Mank

Mank’ covers ten years in the life of Herman J. Mankiewicz, a maverick Hollywood screenwriter on the books of MGM under Louis B. Mayer’s charge, following the events that led up to him writing ‘Citizen Kane’. It’s directed by David Fincher and it’s film which I expect will be adored by cinephiles and will perhaps struggle to appeal to the masses, given its relatively unknown central character, black and white cinematography and niche subject matter. For those who do give it a chance, you’ll find a loving homage to old Hollywood, a brilliantly directed and edited movie and a genuinely great Gary Oldman performance, and I thought it was excellent and one of the year’s best.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/mank

5. The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7

Aaron Sorkin’s second film in the director’s chair is a barnstorming courtroom drama, full of his trademark tics and flourishes, about the trial of a group of protesters who were accused of crossing state lines to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7‘ is brilliant entertainment, a good old fashioned star studded drama that explores interesting themes with intelligence and nuance, and I’ve yet to speak to anyone who didn’t like it.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-trial-of-the-chicago-7

4. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ is the kind of film that will be studied in film classes for years to come, a gorgeously constructed tale of a forbidden romance that crackles with passion and intensity. Set on an island off the coast of Brittany, France, the film tells the story of a love affair that forms between a painter and the woman she has been hired to paint, at a time when female romances were forbidden. The film is atmospherically made, full of subtext, subtle looks and hidden glances that emphasise the character’s emotions and I found it to be absolutely captivating.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/portrait-of-a-lady-on-fire

3. Les Misérables (2020)

Les Misérables 2019

No, not that one! This French film takes its title from Victor Hugo’s famous novel, as well as borrowing the setting of Montfermeil (where ‘Les Misérables‘ was partially written and set), but this is more like Mathieu Kassovitz’s classic of banlieue cinema ‘La Haine‘. Taking place over a day and a half in a suburb on the outskirts of Paris, ‘Les Misérables’ follows three cops as they interact with a variety of individuals, with each interaction outlining the tensions bubbling under the surface between different racial and religious groups.

The film expertly depicts a place where a fragile peace is kept together by a combination of community leaders, police and local criminals, all of whom may share no love for one another, but who at least recognize that things can get worse. This attitude is less prevalent in the youngsters we see throughout the film and the way they are treated by the aforementioned groups builds towards the thrilling conclusion, a conclusion that is even more dramatic because of the sense of inevitability around it. ‘Les Misérables‘ is an outstanding powderkeg drama from Ladj Ly, exploring themes that have resonance far beyond France and outline the problems facing many societies particularly in Europe.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/les-miserables-2019

2. Parasite (Gisaengchung)

Parasite_(2019_film)

Parasite‘ made history in February this year, becoming the first ever foreign language film to win ‘Best Picture’ at the Academy Awards, and what a well deserved win it was. ‘Parasite‘ comes from director Bong Joon-ho and tells the story of a poor family in Seoul who gradually start to infiltrate the life and home of an affluent family. It’s a dark satire on the class divide and it is masterfully put together, unfolding in unexpected and genuinely thrilling ways.

It is an insanely entertaining and incredibly clever piece of filmmaking that left me absolutely floored, working both as blockbuster entertainment and thought provoking arthouse cinema and hopefully it acts as a ‘gateway’ movie to discovering many of the other wonders of Korean cinema, starting perhaps with Bong Joon-ho’s earlier, excellent film ‘Memories of Murder‘.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/parasite

1. Uncut Gems

Uncut Gems

If you’d told me at the start of the year that my favourite film of the year would be an Adam Sandler movie I’d have probably laughed in your face, yet here we are and it couldn’t be more deserved. It feels a long, long time ago back in January when I was lucky enough to see ‘Uncut Gems‘ at the cinema (it was a Netflix film with a limited cinema release – thanks Filmhouse Edinburgh!) and it left me absolutely floored.

Sandler stars as Howard Ratner, an erratic jeweller in New York City whose life is falling apart without him quite realising it. He’s a gambling addict up to his eyeballs in debts to loan sharks and his fancy home masks a loveless marriage to a wife who now hates him, with good reason it must be said. ‘Uncut Gems‘ follows him over the course of a weekend as he tries to spin all these plates, moving from one crisis to the other and building to an outstanding conclusion that’s as intense as anything I’ve seen since ‘Whiplash’.

This is a rollercoaster ride of a movie, a claustrophobic thriller that is utterly relentless from start to finish with Adam Sandler at his career best (and robbed off an Oscar nomination, possibly even an award), and for me, this is a genuine masterpiece.

Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/uncut-gems

We’ll be back in 2021 with more reviews of the latest releases (hopefully from a cinema screen!), more podcasts and maybe some more classic reviews.

Thanks for reading as always!

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