2020 was the year the world turned upside down as the pandemic took hold, and sadly it looks to be far from over yet.
It has therefore been a difficult year for many as COVID-19 changed everything, also having an effect on the film industry too as cinemas closed their doors and the release schedule was thrown out of the window.
However, despite all of the surrounding chaos cinema has in fact continued to thrive, with the films that did get released being deeply moving, awe-inspiring, thought-provoking and incredibly thrilling as they are in any other year.
For many of us, movies have been an escape from the tumultuous world, a beacon of hope and a comfort blanket, helping us get through 2020 and reminding us that this too shall pass.
Before we get into our final list which features some outstanding masterpieces (see 2020 hasn’t been a total disaster), let’s clarify the rules.
Each film included has a UK general release date from 1st January 2020 onwards, and the filmed version of the stage musical Hamilton, which was released on Disney+, hasn’t been featured as well, you don’t need us to remind you that it is one of the most defining and masterful pop culture phenomenons of the past decade.
Honourable mentions for films that didn’t quite make the top ten go to Leigh Whannell’s thrilling horror The Invisible Man, Sarah Gavron’s loving ode to friendship Rocks, Rob Savage’s ingenious lockdown Zoom horror Host and Steve McQueen’s incredible series of films Small Axe – affecting love letters to black resilience and triumph in London’s West Indian community (our favourites from this series were Mangrove and Lovers Rock).
So, with all of that said, here’s our top ten films of 2020.
Director Natalie Erika James’ terrific debut feature Relic is an exciting and inventive spin on the haunted house genre that will leave you hiding behind the sofa in fear.
Whilst it definitely delivers that all important scare factor, the best part of Relic is its melancholic look at the impact of dementia on a family through a horror lens, playing on our fears of both aging and loss of memory.
Trio Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote are fantastic as the family at the heart of this story, with James also marking herself out as one to watch out for in the future.
When Sam Mendes’ World War I drama was released, much noise was made about the impressive technical feat as the film was presented as one long extended take.
Whilst yes, the way the movie was seamlessly stitched together was indeed spectacular, 1917 is in no way just a gimmick being an emotional, thrilling and well, epic war movie on a whole other scale.
Mendes surrounds us with the brutal horrors of war, as two British soldiers go a perilous mission and race against time which will leave you on the very edge of your seat.
The visual spectacle doesn’t just end with the clever editing either, as Roger Deakins gives us some of the best and most visceral cinematography 2020 has seen.
After triumphing with the likes of Song Of The Sea and The Breadwinner, Irish animation studio Cartoon Saloon delivered yet another exquisitely beautiful and charming tale with Wolfwalkers this year.
Set during an age of superstition and magic, both the story and visuals of this gorgeous film are simply bewitching, following a young girl as she discovers a mysterious tribe that are rumoured to turn into wolves at night.
Its heart beats strongly throughout celebrating the friendship between the two young women at the centre of the film, and emphasising the need to be kind to strangers.
Underneath the magic are layers of subtext too, as the movie also looks at the themes of colonialism, power, our relationship with nature and much more.
Cue us playing the film’s main song Running With The Wolves for the millionth time…
The latest film from the creative minds at Pixar is one of their best recent works, and as the name suggests, it really is good for the soul (and much needed in 2020).
In typical Pixar fashion Soul is charmingly funny, unpredictably bizarre and remarkably poignant, with its message that life is for living being rather comforting, especially after a hellish year.
Soul finds joy in the normal, the seemingly mundane and the little things which often get lost amidst the chaos of life, all of which is wrapped up in a gorgeously animated feature that also features one of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ best and weirdest scores yet.
The film equivalent of a big warm hug, it’s a soothing reminder that life is full of possibility and hope.
6. Saint Maud
The tagline for Saint Maud promised big things reading ‘your saviour is coming’, but this chilling debut film from director Rose Glass really did deliver on this pledge… and then some!
Undoubtedly the best horror film of the year, this unsettling tale of a nurse who becomes dangerously obsessed with saving the soul of her patient is incredibly striking, and will stay with you long after the credits have rolled.
The evocative closing shot in particular will burn itself into your mind, coming to haunt you both night and day. In fact for that scene alone, the film is arguably worthy of a spot on this list.
Director Christopher Nolan has always pushed the boundaries of cinema with original storytelling, groundbreaking action and that all important blend of blockbuster, brawn and brains. And with Tenet, he has done it again.
Arguably Nolan’s most complex and layered story yet (yes it will take two viewings to fully understand everything going on), Tenet is daring, spectacular and ultimately a rip-roaring ride of a rollercoaster.
A sensory and stimulating experience unlike any other that fully absorbs you, it’s important to remember what a character says in the film: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it”.
4. American Utopia
During the closing moments of this difficult year, director Spike Lee and all-round genius David Byrne delivered a soothing balm in the shape of American Utopia.
A filmed version of the hit Broadway show which features music from Talking Heads, Byrne’s solo career, covers and spoken word, it is electrifying from start to end, and will have you boogieing in your living room.
As well as being a celebration of life, love and human connection, quieter moments in the movie reflect on how we are all a work in progress and that there are many challenges the world still faces, making the whole experience rather moving.
If you will excuse the pun, it really is a once in a lifetime film.
3. Uncut Gems
Yes, we too didn’t think we would ever see the day an Adam Sandler movie would end up in a best of the year list, however 2020 has certainly been a strange one and Uncut Gems is quite frankly incredible.
Turning his attention to indie cinema with the result being a career best performance, Sandler is on fire in the Safdie Brothers’ exhilarating film which feels like a two hour and 15 minute continual panic attack.
Not exactly a film for the faint of heart being one of the most stress inducing movies cinema has ever seen, Uncut Gems is a pulse-pounding triumph which will leave you yelling at the screen, being driven forward by a blistering energy and manic performance by Sandler.
As lead character Howard Ratner himself says: “this is how I win”.
2. Jojo Rabbit
Writer/director Taika Waititi really did do the impossible, making a tender and joyous movie about a young member of the Hitler Youth and his imaginary best friend Adolf Hitler.
Whilst it is an anti-hate satire, the heart of Jojo Rabbit really is a story about a lost boy who is trying to find his way in life, discovering on this journey love, hope and friendship, but not in the way the young wannabe Nazi expected.
Waititi daringly and unflinchingly walks a tightrope here, but he does it with perfect preciseness also pouring all of his heart into the film, and the result is astonishing.
Just make sure you have those tissues handy, as it is an emotional and moving experience.
What is there to say about Bong Joon-ho’s masterpiece that hasn’t been said already? The hype is to be believed though as Parasite isn’t just the best film of 2020, but one of the greatest movies of the past decade.
Expertly crafted and deliciously intoxicating, there is something quite beautiful about the heady fusion of genres which leaves you continually wondering where the thrilling story is going to go next (and oh boy, is it full of surprises).
It really does have everything, from Hitchcockian suspense, to playful humour, to thought-provoking social commentary, to twisted moments of horror… and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Very few films will leave you this astounded, entertained and quite simply in awe, with every minute of Parasite being something to be relished.
Joon-ho, take a bow!