2020 Top 10: Movies

As we close out 2020, it’s time to put together a couple of Top 10 lists based on my key entertainment passions – film & TV.

Next up – movies. This year, I actually beat out my record for films watched, coming in at around the 360 mark. That’s a yearly record and averages out almost one a day. Is this something to be proud of? I’ll leave you to judge! Most of them were, of course, older releases given 2020, thanks to Covid-19, gutted the cinema industry, but I still averaged around 40 releases from 2020 so have pinned down a list of 10.

Would this have been my perfect 10 in a normal film year? Perhaps not but I nonetheless recommend these films heartily…

Honourable Mention: THE SOCIAL DILEMMA

A terrifying documentary in many ways, examining quite how we’re being manipulated, subversively, by Big Tech social media platforms. A more user friendly way of conveying the key points in The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, even if the irony of it being on Netflix perhaps escapes them.

It should, at the very least, make you reconsider quite how much you offer up to the online world.

Here’s a more detailed look at the film here in written and here in podcast form.


10. HOST

Found footage is a hugely well worn genre but Rob Savage’s sprightly lockdown-filmed chiller is among one of the best in recent years, and it’s really taken off since it dropped on Shudder during the summer.

There’s a strong level of craft in what is a basic idea of friends over Zoom being haunted by a demonic presence, all seen by us through the Zoom call, and it could spark a new found footage sub-genre (and a litany of sequels) of its own.

Here’s a more detailed look at the film in written form.


9. DA 5 BLOODS

This wasn’t quite on a par with BlackkKlansmen but not much is, and Spike Lee here delivers a rambunctious blend of his stylistic black cinema and Vietnam War picture with clear homages to films such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Given extra pathos following the death of Chadwick Boseman, this contains a superb central turn from Delroy Lindo, holds some thrilling action, contains a genuinely moving and timely story, and even when it drags and loses focus, its skilled filmmaking.

8. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7

We haven’t been given a slice of Aaron Sorkin’s best for a while but this stands up as among his more impressive recent content. Directing as well as writing, Sorkin commands a terrific ensemble cast and brings the protest movement of the countercultural 1960s to life with this depiction of a real life show trial of anti-Vietnam War protestors.

There are some electric courtroom scenes and even if it can’t always maintain momentum, it may well leave you punching the air in righteousness by the moving climax.

7. ONE NIGHT IN MIAMI…

I was lucky enough to catch this back in October as part of the London Film Festival and it was by far the best thing I saw from the films I managed to catch.

Regina King’s debut is a slick character piece with four excellent central performances, depicting four iconic black figures not just from the 1960s but the 20th century – Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown. It ebbs and flows between relaxed conversation and tense conflict but always, despite a fairly contained and condensed stage-structure to the script, remains entertaining and meaningful.

Here’s a more detailed look at the film in written form.


6. BORAT: SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM

This was never going to strike quite the chord that Sacha Baron Cohen’s first big screen outing as Kazakhstan’s best known journalist did, but it comes close. Filmed largely in secret and taking aim at key members of the Trump circle on the eve of his (thankfully unsuccessful) election, Borat once again challenges social norms, conventions and decency, pulling back again the dark, disturbing visage of America for comic effect.

Even without the hit rate of laughs or the streamlined narrative of the first film, this is frequently outrageously funny.

5. I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS

As ever with Charlie Kaufman’s output, I’d be lying if I said I truly knew what this film was about, and what it all means by the end, but I was struck by how arresting and bizarre Kaufman’s Netflix outing was.

Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons do fine work as a couple on the verge of a breakup and while the running time stretches a touch too far, this contains a number of vivid sequences that stoke the imagination, and a chilling, and indeed chilly, final image with stays in the minds eye.

4. MANK

After six years between films, David Fincher’s return with Mank was one of the few major film events of the starved 2020 and, by and large, it was a success.

It might be a touch hard to penetrate for anyone not soaked in old Hollywood lore, or the myth behind Citizen Kane, but there is a level of romanticism and adoration for the subject matter that never falls foul of sentimentality. It looks great and while not Fincher’s best, it’s well worth a look.

3. SOUL

Another life affirming slice of Pixar goodness. They have this down to a fine art now, though the invention & skill here edges it past Onward, more recently. This is simpler and more moving as a result.

This reminded me of Inside Out from a visual standpoint, but it considers a more ephemeral if not spiritual construct. Soul is no religious tract or polemic – its ‘pre-life’ is a colourful world of personal enlightenment and self discovery, and when you combine this lyricism with the ‘60s-style New York aesthetic of free form jazz, you end up with a call to, indeed, the soul. The message is clear, beautiful and personally uplifting.

It is, quite simply, the movie we needed at the end of 2020.

2. THE INVISIBLE MAN

This was just great pulp nastiness, with Leigh Whannell building on the promise of Upgrade and taking one of the seminal Universal monsters into genuinely new territory. Claude Rains may have been a malevolent SOB back in the ’30s but the unseen force who terrorises Elizabeth Moss here is one of the most terrifying monsters in years. There is a sequence in a restaurant which made me gasp in shock horror to a degree I haven’t experienced in years.

Dark, disturbing and thrilling work that hopefully will set the Universal monster template & tone for a while.

1. TENET

Call me a big old consumerist, capitalist traditionalist if you like, but there is nothing like a Christopher Nolan film and Tenet, coming out amidst Covid panic, feels overlooked and under-appreciated to me. Filled with fascinating science-bending concepts, it has an exciting and clever elliptical narrative, some fine performances, and a vivid action style which remained thrilling from beginning to end as a spiritual companion to Inception and a unique entrant into the espionage genre.

Give it another try because, and I really believe this, it could be one of Nolan’s best yet.

Here’s a more detailed look at the film in written form.

What would make your top 10?

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