The 25 Best Films of 2020

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The year started with a bang and promised an almost never-ending chain of excellent films to follow, but then COVID-19 happened. Cinemas shut, films were delayed, sometimes three times - we’re looking at you MGM and James Bond - and overall what was panning out to be another great year for film turned into a nightmare.

Nevertheless, filmmakers still prevailed, and with the usual box-office films placed on hiatus until 2021, the world was able to focus more on indie and lower budget productions which may have previously arrived under the radar. With our usually top 50 reduced to 25 we breakdown the best films this extraordinary - not in the good sense - year had to offer.

Honourable Mention, Birds of Prey

Although it couldn’t quite make the reduced top 25 of this years list, I did want to take a moment to mention Bird of Prey, the film has picked up a lot of flack online since its release, particularly by the perfectly named DC Dude Bro’s. And although the film may have it’s flaws, this is still the strongest and most unique film within the much-maligned DC Extended Universe to date. With a short but snappy plot, escaping the often over-bloated nature of superhero films, and great performances by both Margot Robbie and Ewan McGregor, this feels like something very different to the normal generic superhero films DC has presented us with previously.

25) Da 5 Bloods

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Spike Lee’s new picture and the latest in a long line of Vietnam based or inspired films is a welcome edition to the genre, as it offers a new and previously little-explored aspect of the war, the story of African-American soldiers fighting in an unwarranted war for a nation that didn’t and in some respects still doesn't respect them. Although the film at times can be disjointed, with tonal shifts that will occasionally give the viewer whiplash, the end result is a film that not only carries a powerful message, not only includes some truly shocking and exciting moments of violence but also includes a lot of heart in the form of the father-son relationship between Veteran Paul and his son David.

24) A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood

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With almost every single childhood entertainer now dishonoured in some way or another due to their heinous past, the idea of a film dedicated to one of the good guys is a more than welcome proposition. So is the true story of journalist Lloyd Vogel’s meeting and subsequent follow-up meetings each more personal as the story progresses with Fred Rogers, played expertly by Tom Hanks. Vogel’s scepticism towards Mr Rodgers true identity is one that echoes straight from the truth that many celebrities aren’t true to their on-screen depictions of themselves. But upon his meetings with Mr Rogers it’s shown that the world does still have people who don’t work towards their own interests but instead do try to make the world a better place, and that’s a message we can all get behind.

23) Tenet

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WARNING SUBTITLES ARE NEEDED!!! The film that may have killed of cinemas forever, Tenet, the latest film by the ridiculously talented Christopher Nolan may not be his best film - in fact, it’s a long way off - but it’s certainly one of his most ambitious. Coined by some as James Bond on acid, it’s not hard to see why, as this espionage thriller throws out the book on cohesive narratives and writes it’s own script. The visuals are of course stunning, as well as brilliant score, but the action sequences are what really make this film. As you sit there trying your best to understand what exactly is happening in a narrative sense, the extremely unique action will keep you engaged throughout.

22) The Gentlemen

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Is…Is that Hugh Grant? Surely this must have been everyone’s reaction to Paddington 2 star and romance film fiend Hugh Grant showing up as raunchy newspaper columnist Fletcher at the start of Guy Ritchie’s comeback hit The Gentleman? A story of bribery, backstabbing, drug dealing and well pretty much all of that good stuff criminal gangs get up to, this feels very much like a return to form for Ritchie after his forgettable Aladdin remake and shockingly dull King Arthur. The jokes hit, the action is incredibly gripping and the acting from a ridiculously talented cast that included the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Michelle Dockery, Jeremy Strong and Colin Farrell to name a few is top-notch. If you're looking for a lighthearted action-comedy, The Gentlemen is the film for you.

21) Babyteeth

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An incredibly moving and equally maddening film, Babyteeth, directed by Shannon Murphy follows Milla, a young terminally ill girl who falls in love with drug dealer and taker, Moses. The film at times is almost surreal, so is the intruding nature of Moses, on not only Milla’s life but also her parents. Nevertheless, it’s also deeply honest, as it depicts the parent’s struggle of coming to terms with the idea that their daughter, who means so much to them, won’t be alive for much longer. A romance masquerading as a comedy, Babyteeth may be a hard watch, particularly towards its final act, but a watch that should be made all the same.

20) The Lighthouse

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Robert Eggers follow up to this polarising first feature The Witch, is another film that is sure to divide audiences. A physiological horror about two lighthouses keepers slowly losing their sanity on a desolate island, this is a film all about the atmosphere. Every frame is perfectly tuned to help create this atmosphere, all the way down to its Black and White colouring to the deliberately confining aspect ratio. Undoubtedly it’s a horror, but it could also be a dark-comedy, so are the enigmatic performances of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, who leave everything on the screen, with the lengths they will go to weave the deep thing sense of dread further into the fabric of the film.

19) Queen & Slim

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The story of a black couples first date being derailed after they are pulled over by the police, has only become more important since the George Floyd murder and subsequent riots across America unfolded. First being released in the United States in 2019 and the U.K. this year. Lena Waithe’s story, directed by Melina Matsoukas is an extraordinary feat. The fact that only technological advancements differentiate the time period that this film is set in from that of Jim-Crow 1950’s America might be the most damming indictment raised by the film. But what’s most impressive is the way Waithe writers the films leads, they aren’t written to be martyrs, they’re just people, they have the same flaws and troubles as everyone else, which shows just how random and senseless police brutality in the United States can be.

18) Mank

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David Fincher has spent the best part of two decades trying to bring Mank to the big screen, and finally, the film, written by his late Father Jack, telling the story behind the creation of cinematic royalty Citizen Kane has found its home at Netflix. Shot in black and white and even using the same sound mix as classics films, Many feels very much like a throwback to a part of Hollywood that has almost been forgotten. Gary Oldman is fantastic in the lead role, as is the entire cast who were put through their paces by Fincher and his renowned precision. With some scenes, as explained by star Amanda Seyfriend taking well over 100 takes. And although the film might not have reached the heights of Citizen Kane - an almost impossible task in today’s world - it is very much its own gem.

17) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

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Set in 1920’s Chicago, Netflix’s Oscar favourite, recounts a recording session of Ma Rainey’s latest album, in a stage play style, as tensions within the group start to rise. Featuring the final and tremendous performance of the late Chadwick Boseman as ambitious horn player Levee and a powerhouse performance from Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, the film perfectly balances the lively music sequences with the razor-sharp script. Boseman’s performance will, of course, be the defining part of the film after his untimely passing at the hands of cancer, and so it should be, after all this exhilarating performance must have left him shattered after every shoot, but that’s never noticeable. This is just more evidence - if we needed any - of Boseman’s unquestioning commitment to his craft. This should win the Oscar for best actor.

16) Soul

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The first animated feature on this list, and certainly not the last, Pixar’s soul which was sadly robbed of a proper cinema release here in the U.K. and instead thrown onto Disney+ the same day, is another groundbreaking achievement for a studio that has already brought us so much. Following the story of musician Joe, who upon receiving his big break meets an untimely demise. Joe must navigate the staggering world of the afterlife alongside a young soul in order to return to his body in the real world. Unlike some of Pixar’s other animated films Soul has a very unique identity, the animation style - particularly when in the afterlife - is very unique for Pixar. This visual aspect woven into the fabric of a moving story of finding your purpose in the world makes for a brilliant film.

15) Bad Education

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No, not the awful Jack Whitehall film, Cory Finley - the man behind the brilliant thoroughbreds - Bad Education tells the story of the largest school embezzlement scandal in American History. With an all-star cast including Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney as the staff under the microscope, as the investigation into the schools wheeling and dealing develops, Bad Education is one of the funniest films of the year. But what the film does best, is the way it portrays its criminals. We may not agree with their actions, of course, but Finley does alienate them to us, he allows us to explore the reasons behind their deceit and reach our own conclusion. After all the human urge to not settle for what you have and always reach for more is an urge that is shared by many.

14) Onward

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After the unneeded Toy Story 4 and disappointing Incredibles 2, Pixar returned to form with its two brilliant original films this year, and although a lot of people would have placed Soul as their favourite, Onward is the film that really stuck out for me. Not only did the film feel fresh but it had all the emotional weight you come to expect from a Pixar film. The major narrative point of two children losing their father may be well-trodden ground, but almost every other aspect feels wholly original, from the loveable siblings who do actually for once get along, to the step-father figure who instead of being a typical villain is his own loveable character and the enjoyable side characters who all bring their own identity to the feel, unlike the side characters in the aforementioned Incredibles 2.

13) Mangrove

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There’s much debate over whether acclaimed director Steve Mcqueen’s film trilogy Small Axe should be classed as a selection of films or a television series. After much consideration, even though they weren't released in cinemas, instead being released weekly on the BBC, film seems to be the more fitting choice. And with that at number 13 we have picked the strongest film from the collection Mangrove. Telling the true story of the Mangrove Nine, who after clashing - very one-sidedly - with the British police during the 1970s are put on trial under the president of bogus charges. What follows is a compelling and equally shocking courtroom drama, as the racial hatred behind the polices accusations started to become evident to not only the jury but the world. Arriving at the perfect time, the film represents a necessary reminder of the chequered past that haunts our country.

12) Jojo Rabbit

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Take Waititi’s bonkers story of a young boy being indoctrinated into the Hitler Youth, while his mother harbours a young Jewish girl in hiding during the final moments of World War Two, expertly balances comedy with the stark realities of the time period. And although it does, of course, have its laugh out loud moments, particularly when it comes to Waititi’s depiction of young Jojo’s imaginary Hitler, the film is never disrespectful and always treats it’s difficult subject matter with care. It also doesn’t shy away from showing the shocking nature of Nazi Germany, in a way that a lesser film, more focused on laughs might.

11) Wolfwalkers

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In a year that has seen Pixar rejuvenated, the finest animated film of 2020 is in fact from a completely different studio. That studio being the lesser-known, Cartoon Saloon. The story is, of course, important when it comes to animated films as it is in live-action films, however, in animation the films visuals are just as important. After all, without the limitations of live-action, the creates can quite literally create their own worlds. And this is why Wolfwalkers is the best animated film of the year. Because beyond it’s heart-warming tale of a young girl being welcomed into a previously feared world, the visuals are stunning, unique and unlike any other animated project released this year, including television. Every frame is vibrant, with an enchanting colour pallet that isn’t scared to express itself. The sheer craft behind this hand-drawn animation is enough reason on its own to justify signing up for Apple TV+.

10) Clemency

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Only becoming more timely since it’s release early this year, due to the recent wave of state executions across America, Chinonye Chukwu’s magnificent Clemency explores the inhumanity of the American justice system as warden Bernadine Williams prepares to execute another inmate. The films message and the way it is explored makes the film an essential viewing experience. However, it’s Alfre Woodard’s poignant and devastating performance as Warden Williams that is the real standout. There’s so much humanity in her performance against this cold inhuman world that it keeps the film grounded and allows the writers to tell this important story.

9) The Invisible Man

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2020 if nothing else, has been a strong year for horror films. With one of the standouts from this genre being the latest screen adaptation of H.G Wells The Invisible Man. With an abundance of well-crafted scares - including a terrifying attic sequence - and moments that will truly see your jaw hit the floor - that diner scene. Leigh Whannell’s film provides everything any horror fan is looking for in a film and then some. Elisabeth Moss is, of course, once again on top form as the tormented Cecilia, haunted by both the monster and her past. From the very start, as we are treated to a heart-stopping escape sequence, The Invisible Man delivers exhilarating tension in droves.

8) Never Rarely Sometimes Always

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A perfect example of what Indie cinema should be, Eliza Hittman’s directorial follow up to the well-received Beach Rats, is a beautiful story of friendship and an arduous tale of Americas splintered attitude towards reproductive rights. Following teenage friends Autumn and Skylar as they are forced to travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York after an unwanted pregnancy, the film takes it’s time to tell its story, never feeling rushed, as it examines the extensive lengths some women have to go to, in order to get an abortion in certain parts of America. With limited dialogue, the performances of Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder as the two friends shine, with a lot of the story emotional weight being carried by the slights change in their facial expressions and body language.

7) The Assistant

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Kitty Green’s first scripted feature film follows newly appointed intern Jane through a routine day of her job as the assistant to a powerful production executive. This insightful and timely examination of the world that for so long allowed Harvey Weinstein and his ilk to prosper, is so precise and focused on not only depicting this unseen monster at the top of the food chain, but also the complicity throughout the company that allows this behaviour to continue. By not separating these two elements, and treating them with an equal level of scrutiny, Green has created a very special and important film. Not only is the message of the film important, but it’s also shot in a cinematically interesting way, with a great selection of shots for a picture that was shot in an enclosed environment in just 18 days.

6) Portrait of a Lady on Fire

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Our first foreign language film to make the list this year, acclaimed direct Celien Sciamma’s exquisite eighteenth-century love story of a hidden romance, was one of the most heart-warming pictures of a year that has been so difficult. The story follows painter Marianne, who is shipped of to an isolated but lavish Island with the task of painting a wedding portrait for the elusive, less than pleased bride to be Heloise. What follows is an elegant slow-burn romance between the two women, which at times in itself reflects a painting, so is the precise direction of Sciamma’s. Although the narrative may be thin at times, the film more than makes up for it, in its ever-present beauty.

5) Waves

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Trey Edward Shults unforgiving coming of age tale will rip your heart out and stomp on it until your eyes are bone dry. However, this is just the first course, in a film that feels very much like a two-hander, as we follow a suburban family living in the south of Florida navigating the aftermath of a devastating event. The second half of the film does provide us with a sense of hope, with the underlining themes of forgiveness, purpose and belonging all explored in an emotional, but authentic way. With the beautiful backdrop enhanced by brilliant cinematography, and world-beating performances by Hollywood Godfather Sterling K. Brown and newcomer Kelvin Harrison Jr. Waves is a thrilling cinematic experience.

4) Uncut Gems

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Anxiety the movie, Adam Sandler’s - that’s right the man behind classics like Jack and Jill and Grown Ups - Uncut Gems was by far the years most relentless and difficult watch. With a viewing sensation similar to that of having your head continuously slammed into a wall at an ever-growing rate, many viewers would have switched off fairly early on into the Safdie Brothers follow up to the criminally underrated Good Time. However, its this every growing tension, like a heart beating out of control that makes the film what it is, a fabulous crime drama. With Sandler finally showing us that he, despite his best efforts, can be a more than competent actor, in one of the years strongest performances, Uncut Gems will prove to be a marmite picture. Some will love it dearly, and others will hate it though gritted teeth.

3) 1917

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If you know me, you likely also know that I’m a bit of a sucker for any film or show that attempts something unique in an artistic sense. So when it was announced that 1917 would be filmed in two excruciatingly long single takes - or at least in a way to make it appear like two single takes - I was chomping at the bit to get into the cinema and watch this film. My anticipation wasn’t misjudged. For this is a spectacular piece of cinematic genius, as well as a compelling story of two young soldiers, tasked with crossing the perilous, wastelands of tench infested France. The story despite being limited by the time constraints of the filming techniques, is never dull, with not a moment wasted, in fact, some of the films most heartfelt moments can be found in the conversations between the two soldiers during their treacherous journey. It would be unjust not to mention Roger Deakins mesmeric cinematography or the films equally beautiful realised score.

2) Parasite

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It’s strange to think that in the build-up to the 2020 Oscars, Bong Joon Ho’s Korean tale of greed, class and discrimination was thought of as an outlier by a large contingent of the established critical base - in fact, this might be a prime example of the class divide that the director has touched upon in many of his films. Nevertheless, Parasite ran away with the awards picking up four Oscars on the night, including the coveted Best Motion Picture. And this is no surprise, for this is comfortably Bong Joon Ho’s best film and sure to be one of the best films of the decade to come. With a sensational and darkly comedic montage during the films second act being one of the highpoint’s, the screenplay of the film - which also picked up an Oscar for its troubles - is mesmerising, as is almost every aspect of this beautifully realised film.

1) Saint Maud

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Rose Glass’s stunning debut picture was without a doubt the film of the year. Following the story of a conflicted young nurse, who becomes not only obsessed with saving the soul of her dying patient, but also with her god. A classic in the making, Saint Maud for me was the most visceral cinematic experience of my life so far. From the electrifying score which courses through your body throughout to the breathtaking cinematography, which is made even more impressive with the films limited budget, all topped of with two of the years strongest performances by Morfydd Clark as nurse Maud and Jennifer Ehle as her resilient patient. It’s very rare these days for horror films to people to separate themselves from the genres overused conventions, but in the case of this directional masterpiece, Rose Glass has been able to create a film that not only places right at the top of the horror genres blood-soaked pyramid but transcends the genre to become its own concept entirely. The harrowing final scene will stay with me forever.