End of Year Review Part 4: The 25 Best Films of 2020 (10-1)

The cream of the crop this year varies from a stark drama about the foster care system to a horror comedy but each set themselves apart in many different ways and unlike last year where I could point to one film and the year before when two films were equally great and deserving of the top spot. This year it was harder and given time I could make arguements for each film in the top 5 belonging at the top spot but unfortuately I could only pick one even though each is completely different, utterly unique and vital viewing. Here are the top 10 films of 2020.

10. Soul

Soul

Pixar started out the year with the disappointing Onward, a rehash of Pixar prior that was perfectly acceptable but completely unmemorable. Considering their track record they are unfairly held to a higher standard so even good films seem less so. It does mean however that when they do hit the sweet spot, its that much more noteworthy. Soul is such a film. Exquisitely animated and full of joy, Soul is more than a story about Jazz and the desire to find your passion in life. It’s about enjoying life and not letting your drive get in the way of that. With a earnest voice performance by Jamie Foxx and a story in the same vein as Director Pete Docter’s prior film Inside Out, Soul works because it has exactly what it sets out to convey. In short, its got soul.

Read my mini review here.

9. Lynn + Lucy

Roxanne Scrimshaw and Nichola Burley in Lynn + Lucy

Debilitating British drama Lynn + Lucy is one of the hardest watches of the year. Set on an Essex housing estate, college best friends Lynn & Lucy’s friendship is tested when tragedy strikes and the local rumour mill runs rampant. A daring look at the way that schoolyard bullying evolves and becomes more cruel and affecting with age and how people, no matter how old they are, still want to know where they fit in and who their friends are. Anchored by two biting performances by Nichola Burley and newcomer Roxanne Scrimshaw, this is quintessentially British filmmaking at its best and most tumultuous, something that sticks with you long after the credits roll, a sickening, endlessly thought provoking feature which gives you a haunted feeling that proves hard to shake.

Read my mini review here.

8. 1917

George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman in 1917

Narrowly missing out on Best Picture at the 2020 Oscars, director Sam Mendes’ 1917 is a technical marvel in how it manages to tell a coherent and emotionally vibrant war story while giving the impression of being filmed in a single take. Guided through the trenches of World War 1 and the ransacked French towns that became commonplace by a camera always moving, driving you onwards while still managing to draw impressive imagery out of the destruction. Veteran cinematographer Roger Deakin’s work here makes a film constantly transitioning from light to dark seamless and George MacKay gives a bold physical performance that culminates in a finale full of unexpected spirit. 1917 may have lost out but it proved itself more than deserving of the praise it recieved.

Read my full review here.

7. The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Robert Forster, Riki Lindhome and Jim Cummings in The Wolf of Snow Hollow

Jim Cummings second feature is more than the horror comedy it sets out to be. Telling the story of a police officer (Cummings) in a small town who must contend with a series of grisly murders and the failing health of his Sheriff father (the late Robert Forster). The Wolf of Snow Hollow has all the trappings of a B movie horror film but ultimately its a very real depiction of a man spiraling out of control thanks to stress, family issues and his own repressed rage. Cummings is fantastic in front and behind the camera filling his film with plenty of sarcastic wit, disconcerting and impressive shots and a menacing soundtrack to accompany it all. While too often it is a cringe inducing experience watching a man who can’t get out of his own way make the wrong choices, here its both funny and cutting right up to the final shot.

Read my mini review here.

6. Selah & The Spades

Lovie Simone and Celeste O’Connor in Selah and the Spades

Set in a high school but not a high school movie, Selah and the Spades is a modern day Shakespearean drama consumed by the notion of power, greed and love all told through two impressive performances by Lovie Simone and Celeste O’Connor. A mix between Macbeth and King Lear, director Tayarisha Poe’s feature debut is a stylised look at the power of knowing your place and fitting in. Selah is both a lost schoolgirl looking at a future decided for her and a power mad woman holding onto something she owns and in Simone’s hands it all seems painfully normal, a relatable and impressive rebellion full of smooth, powerful soliloquies. Its an impressive first film from Poe with a distinct and delightful style that reimagines the high school experience as part crime film, part tragedy and it all comes together to make a fresh take on growing up.

Read my full review here.

5. Parasite

Song Kang-ho in Parasite

Winning the awards for Best Picture and Best Foreign Language Film at the 2020 Oscars, Parasite is a singular experience, a look at how the other side lives, a tale of the 1% and everyone else just grafting to get by. It tells this story however through a crime story that is both darkly funny and constantly measured, always maintaining its tone even when the plot moves in directions you wouldn’t expect. Director Bong Joon-ho’s use of space and the architecture of Seoul adds to a story constantly looking at the blindness that comes from excess as the story moves from the basement flats reserved for the poor to the mansions high above the downtrodden, both literally and figuratively. Parasite is scathing in its commentary but equally entertaining in its narrative. Some might argue it didn’t deserve both awards, I am not one of them.

Read my full review here.

4. Saint Frances

Ramona Edith Williams and Kelly O’Sullivan in Saint Frances

For those that follow my site you might have noticed I haven’t published a review yet for the Alex Thompson directed, Kelly O’Sullivan written Saint Frances even though I watched it a couple of weeks ago. While I want to give the film its due, a simple review seemed like it would be perfunctory for a film that says so much in between the lines of one of the best screenplays this year. Be it about pride, moving past your youth, the judgements we make about others and that others make about us, or at least we assume they do. Saint Frances is a film full of unspoken truths and even the ones given voice are handled with such delicacy it takes a rewatch just to see they are happening. O’Sullivan proves herself a talent to watch out for not just for her writing but in leading a pitch perfect cast to produce one of the years most heartfelt and resonate indie pictures.

3. System Crasher

Helena Zengel in System Crasher

Before the trailer for the upcoming film News of the World proclaimed to introduce 12 year old german actress Helena Zengel to our screens, there was System Crasher. A film that followed Benni (Zengel) a child bounced around the German foster system because of her unbridled rage, the titular System Crasher that stops the social workers from carrying out their responsibilities. Remarkable for Zengel’s performance, one full of fiery rebellion, self doubt and shame, but at the same time naive optimism, it is one of the finest child performances I can think of, if not the definitive one. Director Nora Fingscheidt smartly uses her camera to follow Benni, never invading a performance that needs to run wild as the camera often chases after her, unable to contain all that is Benni. In this relaxed style, Fingscheidt draws out a promise of better for Benni while turning the film into a quasi thriller as you are always waiting for the other shoe to drop, for something to go so drastically wrong you are returned to square one. Its a film that is quiet and loud, oftentimes simultaneously and impressive in both its look at a intrinsically undervalued and understaffed social system and the kids stuck in the middle of it for whatever reason.

Read my full review here.

2. Collective

Mirela Neag and Catalin Tolontan in Collective

One of the last films I saw in 2020, Alexander Nanau’s documentary Collective is both a look at the cyclical nature of corruption and the lives ruined by it but it also looks at the journalists and politicians actively trying to change things for the better. Following the political and social turmoil after a fire in a night club called Collectiv in Romania, Nanau uses this deadly event as a starting point to dig through the slime and abuse along with journalists working for the Gazeta Sporturilor (The Sports Gazette) to shine a light on how the events that transpired afterwards should never have happened. Collective is brutally honest and factually blunt, a film that never seeks to make this an argument of right and wrong, hero and villain but Nanau’s material makes it impossible not to make judgements and invest you in a story too unbelievable to imagine. Much like Athlete A, Collective is a true crime story, one about speaking truth to power and living up to what our children expect of us but most of all, this is a journalism story about a sports newspaper that couldn’t stand by and allow this atrocity to become just another story. Its a fitting film for our time, a bleak and dangerous indictment of people in power in any country and a vow against complacency all in one, with an ending that will linger in my mind for years to come.

1.Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in Portrait of a Lady on Fire

When I was trying to decide the order of these last few features on the list I found it hard to differentiate quality between them as almost all are near perfect films worthy of plaudits. Parasite is subversive, Collective is eye-opening and each is the best film of their kind this year, maybe this decade, although that might be too early to tell. The same goes for System Crasher, Saint Frances and finally Céline Sciamma’s 18th century love story, Portait of a Lady on Fire. It ultimately came down to which film spoke to me most because poking holes in these masterpieces for the sake of rankings does a disservice to each and every one of them.

The one factor I kept coming back to as to why this is at the top is that Sciamma’s film has a unique feeling of authorship to it, an authenticity that is sorely lacking in other period pieces, let alone romances in general. Every shot here has a purpose, invoking feeling throughout. Despite being a film about two women, it proves easy to get lost in the wealth of emotion here because it feels as though told through a singular voice, be it in Sicamma’s direction or the fact the film is bookended to feel like the tragic and joyful reminiscing of a love gone but not forgotten. This is auteur filmmaking but it goes beyond that here. 2020s most authentic, sharply human and real feature, Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a discussion of female conformity, freedom and entrapment, sexuality and sensuality and most of all love. The minimal script, distinct lack of music or background noise brings you inside this isolated story, reminding you that for the short time you spend with these women, nothing but their interactions, their fleeting glances or outbursts of passion, means more. Transfixing each time you watch it, Portrait of A Lady on Fire is the best film of 2020.

Read my full review here.

Feel free to let me know what you thought of my list below if there is a film you think I missed that I should watch. Coming up in the next few days will be a couple of features I’ve been planning for a while but until then a few mini-reviews for the last four films I saw in 2020. Hope you’re looking forward to another year of movies the way I am.

TSR

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