The 10 best films of 2020 (and five of the worst)
Rich selection: Adam Sandler, says Robbie Collin, was the revelation of the year in Uncut Gems - A24
Even in a historically difficult year of cinema, a bewildering number of new films found their way to screens near us. And when parts of the industry turned to streaming in the fight against Covid-19, many of those screens were actually very close.
For the first time, many of the best-known releases could be seen instantly in our living rooms, from Disney's $ 200 million live-action remake of Mulan to the Trolls World Tour and old-school hammerbanger The Trial of the Chicago 7, the was sold to Netflix by a nervous Paramount three months after the pandemic. But even as parts of Hollywood pushed open the stable door, it was not clear when or if it would ever be locked again.
Meanwhile, the cinemas themselves were silent for months, either legally closed or unable to open without immediate delivery of the blockbuster product that had become their staple for the past two decades.
That made it a good year to think about what cinema actually is - and where to find it. Two of the best new features I've seen, Lovers Rock and Mangrove, were staged by Steve McQueen as part of his Small Ax cycle for BBC One, and appeared in our roundup of the best TV shows of 2020 last week, I won't be here List them again, mainly because there is still so much to rave about - not least from Great Britain, which had a moment of filmmaking in the turmoil.
10. Saint Maud
Even in a year when there was no shortage of impressive British directorial debuts, this creepy horror from Rose Glass popped out with a manic glimmer in its eyes. The extremely creepy and sensually charged story of a haunted young palliative care nurse on some kind of sacred mission instantly made Morfydd Clark of Wales a star and caused a Roman Polanski-like chill to whistle down the Scarborough coast.
Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington in Tenet, the film that tried to save cinemas - Warner Bros.
Christopher Nolan's amazing 11th film was a spy thriller in which half of the espionage was done backwards. Even with previous Nolan projects like Memento and Inception, the time-reversing mechanic was electrifyingly ambitious: sometimes I felt like my brain was on a bike going downhill, trying desperately to keep up with the pedals. His audacity and style defied recent blockbuster trends, while his hugely welcome theatrical release in August defied the studios' collective nervous failure.
8. Make up
Claire Oakley's shape-shifting psychological drama was another outstanding British debut - a type of film that will instantly leave you hungry to see what its creator will come up with in the years to come. At a remote holiday park on the stormy Cornish coast, it follows a young woman (brilliantly played by Molly Windsor) who is haunted by a strange female presence and makes some unsettling discoveries between the caravans and the dunes.
Molly Windsor was great in Claire Oakley's Cornish Creeper Make Up
Springing out of the streets of East London was this irrepressible coming-of-age story directed by Sarah Gavron with a cast almost ridiculously filled with brand new untrained talent. Unshakably honest, but also full of humor and hope for the future, Rocks immediately stood out as one of the greatest films about British teenage life.
With all that has happened in the meantime, you could be forgiven for happening years ago. But it wasn't until February that Bong Joon-ho's incomparable comic book mystery became the first film in a language other than English to be recognized as best film at the Oscars. Wonderfully played and ingeniously built, this somber simile of two scheming families from both sides of the Korean class gap struck an international chord while eerily anticipating the impending home lockdowns.
Parasite's famous Oscar win must feel like a lifetime ago for Jo Yeo-jeong and Co.
5. The lighthouse
When we speak of eerie harbingers, should we crown Robert Egger's latest feature film, the definitive 2020 film? It's a splendid chamber piece about two lighthouse keepers who go crazy together after being unexpectedly and indefinitely trapped at work. One can rightly say that it ends up very differently today than it did eleven months ago in the cinemas. But it remains an absolute hoot, with outrageous maritime imagery and repartees burned into your mind, and Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe on the spitting shape of their careers.
Pixar's 23rd feature, opening on Disney + on Christmas Day, is the boldest animation house yet. Based on two metaphysical post-war classics, "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Question of Life and Death", this is an aspiring jazz pianist who is re-evaluating his entire existence after a stay on the other side of the great cosmic curtain. The music is sublime; The message was still uplifting and urgently needed. The CG visuals themselves are now among the richest and most graceful in the history of the medium.
Soul, Pixar's boldest film in years, has not yet arrived - Pixar
3. Portrait of a burning lady
Celine Sciamma's exquisite romance was a milestone in the portrayal of female desire on screen. Their premise could hardly have been better suited to the task. It is set in 18th century France and played Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant as young nobles. The artist was commissioned to paint her wedding portrait, but her attachment to her subject goes far beyond the strokes and caresses of brushes on canvas. In a medium in which sensuality is often accompanied by a voyeuristic gaze, the desired gaze is always struck by its object - and fearlessly returned.
David Fincher's intriguing moral story from Hollywood's Golden Age has often inexplicably been described as a "love letter to the movies". In fact, it was more of a whiskey-breath blackmail notice. With the great Gary Oldman as the talented but jaded screenwriter Herman J Mankiewicz, the (true) story of Citizen Kane writing turned into a personal tragedy and a noir-tinged investigation of the deeply murky, deeply American pact between show business and politics.
Gary Oldman (l) brought Mank to a colorful life (in every way but one) - Netflix
1. Uncut gemstones
I remember stumbling myself out of an Uncut Gems screening the first week of January and wondering if the rest of 2020 might have something to offer to go with it. In the end, it wasn't like that - although I'm not sure I could have cope with it. Josh and Benny Safdie's chaotic New York masterpiece was less of a thriller than an exploding neutron bomb of nervous energy, with Adam Sandler in the eye of the blast. The Grown Ups star rarely meets with widespread recognition, but he did what he did as Howard Ratner, a risk-addicted diamond dealer whose life becomes a hair-raising chain of life-or-death predicaments. Although discontinued in 2012, his mood of ratcheting panic was right for the moment.
And the five worst?
5. Artemis Fowl
A mutilated fantasy blockbuster with Judi Dench as the warrior goblin.
4. The roads not taken
A good old-fashioned all-star art house turkey.
3. The iron mask
An incoherent Chinese action epic with Arnie as Beefeater.
2. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Laugh-free sponsored content disguised as a Will Ferrell comedy.
1. Jojo Rabbit
Writhing Holocaust kitsch.
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