2021 may have just pulled out its curtains and rolled out its grand carpets but that does not mean we can’t take a peek back at its predecessor. Yea, we know. We know. 2020 sucked. Ugh. Some of us can’t wait to move on (or already have…)
Admittedly, 2020 was scarce on blockbusters due to the pandemic. Many potential crowd-pleasers such as “Fast 9” and “Black Widow” were pushed back to this year. Nevertheless, the lack of blockbusters did not mean a decline in cinematic quality. Indeed, many great films did spawn all year round.
So, as we reflect upon what came in the yesteryear, we’ve looked through the good that came before and picked some of the best cherries of 2020. These are the films we thought truly mesmerised, wowed, and brought us to our knees. Let’s take a look!
One Pixar film that is being heavily slept on right now is 2020’s “Onward”, released sometime before we went into full lockdown. Admittedly, it’s not as aesthetically pleasing as “Soul” but in terms of story and heart, “Onward” most definitely outshines the aforementioned film. The premise of the film follows two elven brothers, voiced by Tom Holland and Chris Pratt, as they embark on a quest to reunite with their dead father. Amidst its fantasy premise and the brothers’ zany adventures, there is poignant sobriety to the film.
Ultimately, the film is a story about loss and paternal love. One that neglects the cliche platitudes of the typical “he’s in your heart” message for a higher truth. If there’s one thing Pixar films excel at it is their ability to depict trauma in a way that feels emotionally resonant and accessible. It certainly helps that Holland and Pratt’s naturally bubbly personalities do a lot to inject some real energy into their characters’ performances. If you haven’t seen “Onward”, we strongly recommend you give it a watch with a box of tissues prepared at the side.
9. BAD EDUCATION
Telling the story of the largest public school embezzlement in American history is one thing. Giving it a whole lot more weight and dramatic gravitas to its movement is an achievement on its own. The tale of the Roslyn School scandal is handled by director Cory Finley with masterful storytelling and a terrific ensemble cast.
Hugh Jackman’s Frank Tassone is a deviant calculative persona with an unnatural soothing calm. The layers of reeking foul may be piling but they are hidden within the purifying essence of his words. The beauty of “Bad Education” is that the narrative is twirled in a manner so that the audience is inclined to root for the bad guy. It subverts on the perception of educators being the prime positive influences in our lives, instead, painting this supposedly noble figure as a despicable man. Unquestionably, Jackman is at his best in “Bad Education”, lending his depth to a solid script right up to its dreamlike conclusion. What a performance!
When it comes to indie animated studios, Ireland’s Cartoon Saloon deserves to stand tall amongst its contemporaries. The plucky studio has been responsible for such dazzling classics as the likes of “Song of the Sea” and “The Secret of the Kells”. There’s a strong melancholic tone that runs through its thread of films acknowledging Irish mythology. All of its films are always backed up by superb writing and art direction that puts any modern-day Disney affair to shame. Saloon once again exhibits its Irish pride and top-tier animation work with this year’s “Wolfwalkers”.
While seemingly familiar on the surface to perhaps Pixar’s “Brave”, “Wolfwalkers” is far more nuanced and charming in its presentation. While 3D models and CGI effects have dominated the industry, Cartoon Saloon stubbornly refuses to fall in line. The studio has instead chosen to further refine its 2D aesthetics to create something deeply surreal and oddly natural. The story is a heartwarming yarn of a girl unlearning her hatred of the beasts long thought to be evil. “Wolfwalkers” is an absolute visual feast for the eyes and medicine to the soul. God bless good auld Cartoon Saloon, ye don’ Ireland proud!
7. I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
“I’m Thinking of Ending Things” is weird. Definitely. There’s no doubt that it relies on drawn-out scenes and odd happenings to drive its narrative forward. Academy Award-winning screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the man behind scripts like “Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind” leaps into the director’s seat once again to craft a surrealist escapade. Cold sleeting snow pours upon the narrative as its premise becomes more and more bizarre with every passing scene. Jessie Buckley and Jessie Plemons both seep into their roles with a certain uncertainty, playing with a variety of emotions as the movie progresses on.
It might not be an easy flick to process the first time around, but trust us, the ending throws a curveball, redefining the entire movie in the process and demanding a re-watch from a conclusive renewed perspective. This is easily one of the most thoughtful movies of 2020, one that pops up in our heads every now and then to present us with questions.
6. COLOUR OUT OF SPACE
While there have been influences from the author, H.P. Lovecraft, over the years, it’s safe to say that we’ve yet to see anything that truly honours the author’s legacy in cinema. A piece of celluloid that utterly invalidates the worth of human existence in the face of cosmic evil. So much of horror cinema is reliant on some amount of human agency. On either the consequence of our hubris or power to overcome fear. Lovecraftian horror, however, mocks this notion. Its power lies in the ability to make us feel small in the face of such inhuman forces. At long last, the spell of human exceptionalism is broken in Richard Stanley’s “Colour Out of Space”.
Every minute of it was one anxiety attack after another as we see the Gardners led by Nicholas Cage’s Nathan helplessly try to stave off the extraterrestrial infection that threatens their land. Slowly, but surely, the land morphs into a realm of pure alien imagination. The colour-grading work is top-notch and the body horror on display is a love letter to Cronenberg. “Colour Out of Space” is a truly unique experience that challenges the natural presuppositions of our inherent worth. It is equal parts humbling, terrifying and awe-inspiring.
5. SOUND OF METAL
What would you do if you woke up one day and you realised that you had lost your hearing? How would you feel? How would you react? Could you stand the silence? These are all questions Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal” aims to answer as we journey through the struggles of Riz Ahmed’s character, Ruben, having to deal with the increasingly deafening silence.
The film’s emphasis on sound is just brilliant. From its roaring opener where we are blasted with mosh and metallic vigour to the eventual silence, the audience is treated to a visceral experience. The unfolding events are both heart-gutting and uplifting as we sense exactly what Ruben hears, be it the decaying fades of a drum kit as he slowly loses his hearing or the faint thumps on a metal slide. Ahmed plays the pained figure beautifully, a reluctant entity, despaired and lost, but finding glimmers of hope from the people surrounding him. Indeed, absolute silence is what the “Sound of Metal” so spectacularly achieves and we can’t stay quiet about it.
Christopher Nolan was bound to end up on our list. The visionary auteur returns once again with his staple in mind-boggle and mind-blowing visuals as he delivers the concept of inverted entropy in the most bombastic manner possible. From films like “Inception” and “Interstellar” to “Dunkirk” and “Memento”, the goal of Nolan’s craft is to tell a story but wring it in such a way that it surprises the audience. And boy, does he go at it!
“Tenet’s” narrative is a skull-cruncher for sure, attempting to wreck your brain at every corner. From its reverse car chases, inverted gunslinging, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson tactical speeches, the palindrome effect is made known, easily making for some interesting storytelling through its agents played by John David Washington and Robert Pattinson. “Tenet” may be the Nolaniest film you will ever see, but it’s also a prime example of why we love the man and his trade.
3. THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7
Next to perhaps folks like Quentin Tarantino or Martin McDonagh, Aaron Sorkin proves to be one of the greatest cinematic writers of a generation. 2020’s “The Trial of the Chicago 7” is the proof in the pudding. It’s easy to get lost in the details of historical dramas and bio-pieces. Sorkin wonderfully avoids every single one of these pitfalls with masterful pacing and a tight, focused narrative. The film is very much tied within the courtroom and makes the titular Chicago 7 the centre of it all. In lieu of lengthy exposition, it uses the testimonies of each of its key cast to provide ever-richer context to a tumultuous time in American history.
All of it is of course powered by amazing performances all-around. The real star of “Chicago 7”, though, has got to be actor Sacha Baron Cohen. Seeing the comedian deftly merge his comedic timing and character’s inherent sense of smug self-righteousness to create one electrifying Abbie Hoffman was pure pleasure. He steals every scene he’s in, except for one that wholly belongs to actor Eddie Redmayne. Impeccable writing, powerful performances and a story that feels eerily relevant to the state of 2020’s political world, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” easily earns a spot on our list.
The director of “Se7en” and “Gone Girl” may have wowed audiences with his thrilling mysteries in the past decades. Nevertheless, even when David Fincher is not teasing us with the box, he crafts tales with a certain cinematic flair to them. Needless to say, “Mank” is a part of the latter format, but it also paves the road as a whole new vehicle on its own, harking back to the golden age of Tinseltown.
The film’s monochrome outlook depicts a boozy Gary Oldman as a struggling screenwriter as he slowly lugs forward to complete his masterpiece, the stuff of legends, “Citizen Kane”. The spirit of the classics is imbued in the spotlight with a masterful command of filmmaking and tremendous attention to period detail. Much of the film allows Oldman to thoroughly strut his stuff as Mank, providing his ultimate efforts even in the sleaziest moments for the character. In all honesty, we’re not surprised “Mank” will be the reason that he eventually bags the Academy Award for best actor next year. No doubt, Mr Fincher and co. have conjured another winner, people!
1. BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM
We’ll cut right to the chase, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm” is the funniest film of 2020. There, we said it! So often we see the creative spark of originals dim or falter as the sequels pile on. Either, there’s no real reason that they should exist or they’re far too derivative of their predecessors. “Subsequent Moviefilm” is that rare exception to the rule. It is every bit as hilariously shocking and culturally relevant as its insane 2005 older brother. Arguably, the film takes its real-life shenanigans to whole new heights as it launches barrage after barrage upon the Trump administration and the hypocrisy of the American right.
Actor Sacha Baron Cohen is in peak form but it is his new co-star that deserves our kudos. Maria Bakalova as Borat’s daughter or “female son” Tutar was a riot from start to finish. The young actress has excellent chemistry with Cohen as they wonderfully astound everyone around them with their vulgar antics. There were moments in which we had to pause the film just to properly cackle at the sheer absurdity of it all. Seriously, that Christian pregnancy crisis centre scene was comedic gold. Only possibly topped by one other scene which we won’t spoil. In a year so filled with despair, unquestionably, we needed this!
Wa wa wee wa! There we have it, the best of 2020! Do you agree with our picks? Leave your own top ten in the comments!