End of Year Review Part 3: The 25 Best Films of 2020 (20-11)

This year I watched more documentaries and that shows in this latest section of my list as I cover numbers 20-11 so without delay, lets get into it.

20. The Whistlers

Vlad Ivanov and Catrinel Marlon in The Whistlers

Romanian crime thriller The Whistlers is a story of gangsters and corrupt cops and the various people stuck in the middle. Following two people bonded by the control others have upon them, director Corneliu Porumboiu’s latest isn’t interested in telling a conventional gangster story and while most of the film builds towards a classic heist, nothing ever happens as it appears to. Constantly jumping from the luxury of the Greek Isles to the muted greys of Romanian streets, Porumboiu’s command of colour and the shots he chooses heightens the sense of intrigue was constantly alluding to a bigger story, never once giving away the more intimate one he is telling. Unexpected, sexy and perplexing, one of 2020’s most baffling experiences is also one of its best.

Read my mini review here.

19. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Telling the story of two teenagers that go to New York so that one of them can get an abortion, Never Rarely Sometimes Always paints an authentic picture of the struggles of young women as director Eliza Hittman turns New York into a city of constant threat, turning it into an analogy for present day America. Either not provided the education or constantly put upon by men who either don’t understand or just want something for themselves, the city and the America depicted here for women is a terrifying one and Sidney Flanigan’s performance exudes the quiet strength of a girl just trying to keep it together. In her first feature role, Flanigan gives life to a film with minimal dialogue where a look says more and silence can be mortifying. Worth watching solely for one scene alone, Hittman’s film is vital viewing.

Read my mini review here.

18. Waves

Kelvin Harrison Jr in Waves

Trey Edward Shults’ Waves is a film constantly looking at the duality of people, be it the good and bad sides of a young man who does something horrible, or the loving and hardass father that blames himself for it. Telling the story of a family torn apart by a tragedy, Waves is told in two distinct chapters, the before and the after and while both are vastly different, each its own beast, it all comes together in a film about everything from rage to forgiveness. Kelvin Harrison Jr and Taylor Russell prove perfect leads as both characters struggle with who they want to be and what’s expected of them, with Harrison Jr somehow making a character who does reprehensible and selfish things seem somehow sympathetic and guarded. Filmed up close, constantly in your face and unexpected, Shults once again proves himself to be a fresh but important voice to pay attention to in the future.

Read my full review here.

17. I’m Your Woman

Rachel Brosnahan in I’m Your Woman

This 70s set gangster film uses its genre and its setting to tell a quieter story than the one you were expecting while giving a star role to Rachel Brosnahan in the process. I’m Your Woman is both thriller and mystery at the same time but Hart might hook you with questions in the early moments as Jean (Brosnahan) is forced to go into hiding when her husband goes missing, questions regarding who her husband really is, what he has done, what’s happened to him, its the mystery of who Jean is and what really matters that really sinks its teeth into you, all as she struggles to care for a new baby while hiding away from the truth. Frenetic in its pacing, with long moments spent languishing broken up by blistering terror and excitement, Hart consistently surprises with a captivating noir picture with a killer soundtrack.

16. Spelling The Dream

Spelling the Dream

In the year when anything life-affirming was in short supply, Spelling the Dream proved to be the kind of optimistic and inspiring story for this trying time. Chronicling the influx of Indian american kids competing in Spelling Bees across America. What could easily have felt like a look at helicopter parents and kids being pushed into something the Indian community now sees as a sport, filmmaker Sam Rega instead shows it is the kids competing who are the driving force here. The passion for competing, something instilled by a community invigorated by something they have come to treat as their own, a way of embracing American ideals while still doing something as a close knit community. The kids here are driven, but what comes through most in Rega’s film is that competing for these kids is most of all fun and so, by extension, is Spelling The Dream.

Read my full review here.

15. The Invisible Man

Elizabeth Moss in The Invisible Man

In any other year The Invisible Man would be one of the more memorable releases. In 2020, released at the tail end of February and afforded just a few weeks on wide release before cinemas shut, Leigh Whannell’s follow up to Upgrade wasn’t the horror many expected despite the unrelenting dread it inflicted on its audience. Part thriller, part drama about the mental trauma that comes from abuse, everything here is directed with clean, cold precision. Be it the various shots of large empty spaces containing untold dangers or the silence of a moment where anyone would beg for noise, a sign that someone else is around, not just your paranoia. It’s a sick, twisted take on an old story, a welcome update considering the last interpretation was Hollowman, but its also a fresh take on an unexpected villain, your own mind. A deeply unhinged performance from Moss holds it all together to make it one of 2020s best horror features.

Read my full review here.

14. A Secret Love

Terry Donaghue and Pat Henschel in A Secret Love

This Ryan Murphy produced documentary about two women who have been together for over seven decades is a testament to love but equally a look at the changing landscape of the country they were hiding from since the 1950s. Directed by their grand nephew Chris Bolan, A Secret Love speaks to a more accepting America but also the definition of family as ill health and age begin to show the difference between what Terry and Pat want and what they need as well as the family they must now lean on, one who up until recently just saw them as roommates. Sharply edited, peppering very real family conflict around a discussion of how changing mentalities have brought them to this point, Terry and Pat’s love story is one worth learning about but hidden within the story of these two strong women is one of trust and community and the family you choose and the hidden lives that shape a new consciousness.

Read my full review here.

13. The Assistant

Julia Garner in The Assistant

This fictionalised take on a day in the life of an assistant to a famed movie producer is a riff on the Harvey Weinstein saga and how this kind of sexual misconduct could have possibly taken place, even under the observant eye of a constantly watching office full of people. Featuring a career high by Julia Garner as the titular assistant who begins to question the goings on inside her workplace, director Kitty Green’s film attempts to answer the question of where intimidation ends and complicity begins and in doing so blurs the line between right and wrong and self preservation. Constantly under watch in an office filled with glass, open doors and prying eyes, Green’s film is one that wants to strip away the veil of movie magic, show the monsters fueling the machine and the women stuck without the power to do anything about it. Nauseating and captivating with some of the finest set design of the year, The Assistant is a snapshot of a system full of parasites, one that leeches from all involved and makes the people here and you as a spectator feel utterly powerless.

Read my full review here.

12. Athlete A

Athlete A

Hailed as one of the year’s best true crime documentaries, Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk’s Athlete A is a look behind the curtain of the USA gymnastics scandal and the work done by journalists to uncover the abuse by team doctor Larry Nassar. Truly shocking in how a system both allowed this to happen and sought to silence young women in search of prestige, Athlete A is one of the years most hard hitting pictures because it never shies away from the truth of how winning and greed overcame human decency. Seeking to give these survivors back their voice and identity outside of what happened to them, this is more than a film for the #metoo era, its a film crying out for truth in a country ravaged by lies and mistruths, one that gives these women their narrative back and one that highlights that there is truth and honour in journalism and an importance to seeking it out, no matter what people say.

Read my full review here.

11. The Trial of the Chicago 7

The Trial of the Chicago 7

It’s been 17 years since Aaron Sorkin left The West Wing and while there have been a few standout moments since then, his scripts for The Social Network and Charlie Wilson’s War being a couple of them, he hasn’t really been firing on all cylinders until now. The Trial of the Chicago 7, his second time in the directors chair after the tepid Molly’s Game is a mess of different clashing ideologies and voices and themes all brought together into one courtroom drama. The fact that it all weaves together so seamlessly with standout performances from Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Frank Langella speaks to the strong screenplay at its core. While it feels idealistic, this story of a Chicago protest that got out of hand thanks to overzealous police is about idealists and Sorkin gamely injects plenty of humour into his version of a trial that not only shaped modern political protest but became a joke the more it went on. Sorkin rightly treats this story with the reverence and mockery it deserves while pointing out that despite the almost 60 years since, the need for protest and change will not stop.

Read my full review here.

In the next part, I’ll go over the best films of the year, from a grueling high in British cinema to a documentary too shocking to be truly believed.


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