Somehow we made it through 2020 and still managed to see enough films to fill a top 10 list. Understandably, with all of the films pushed into 2021, this is going to be a much different list than usual – with a few films on here that certainly wouldn’t have made it had movie releases gone to plan. But one should note that while we did miss out on seeing a tonne of hotly anticipated films, this allowed others to shine where they otherwise may not have. Strap in for some potential surprises!
The film I’m most sad about not making the list is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. As a fan of the real-world contest, and all of its glorious absurdity, this movie was everything I hoped for. Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams are comedic powerhouses and the songs within are an absolute joy! Happiest Season came late in the year to bring some much needed festive joy, harbouring an engaging story and top performance from the likes of Aubrey Plaza. The Old Guard, one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, managed to set up a universe with a rich history that I cannot wait to explore more of in the future. Birds of Prey is the only superhero film to make it on this list and it’s done so by bringing plenty of fun and ass-kicking action to the table. Lastly, The Babysitter: Killer Queen is just about as cheesy and ridiculous as it gets. It’s pretty nuts and has plenty of bloody scenes that would turn some people away, but if a crazy horror/comedy is your thing, you’ll also be blessed by the awesome presence of Jenna Ortega.
#10 – Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
In the midst of a disastrous period of history, where there is also a global pandemic on the side, Sacha Baron Cohen revived his Borat character for another timely comedic triumph. It sticks with the gloriously offensive humour that the first film was known for and incorporates a good amount of scripted and unscripted content. The spontaneous unscripted moments are hilariously well executed and show Sacha’s ability to twist his interview subjects, getting them to say some things you wouldn’t imagine a human would say. The biggest surprise comes in the form of the scripted narrative that strings together all the unscripted moments. There’s actually some emotional weight to it and is elevated by Maria Bakalova’s breakthrough performance.
#9 – The Invisible Man
Hitting way back in the beginning of the year, The Invisible Man bought the edge-of-seat thrills and a variety of scares to the big screen – resulting in a narrative that is engaging the whole way through. Leigh Whannell brings a clever modern spin to the story, keeping up the mystery and heightening the tension with each passing scene. There’s twists, turns and clever pieces of foreshadowing spread throughout, making for a thoroughly enjoyable film that is backed by a top notch performance from Elisabeth Moss. As the best horror/thriller that dropped in 2020, it’s a great one to check out.
#8 – Extraction
One of the more surprising entries to this list, Netflix’s Extraction delivered everything you’d want from a straight action thriller. With Sam Hargrave in the director’s chair, Joe Russo penning the script and Chris Hemsworth kicking ass on screen, it makes sense that this film hits all the right notes. Full of brutal, heart-pounding action sequences, this movie is non-stop. The story is very straightforward and constantly moving, wasting no time between the action scenes. It’s almost as if it rolls from one action set piece right into the next, making it a thrilling ride. The action choreography and stunt work is near flawless, with one 12 minute-long sequence that is absolutely mesmerising. For action fans, there’s no question that this is for you.
#7 – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Beautiful-looking, spectacularly-written and acted to perfection, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a deeply engaging and endlessly captivating work of art. Set in a single afternoon, the whole thing is orchestrated like a live play and the dialogue across the board is impeccable. As the tension rises, it feels like the whole situation is on the verge of exploding into chaos – putting you on edge. If there’s one reason to watch this film, it’s for the Oscar-worthy performance from the late Chadwick Boseman who is perfect across every single second.
#6 – The Devil All the Time
The fact that The Devil All the Time is able to balance the focus on all of its characters and their respective narratives in a way that is cohesive, gripping and easy to follow is a testament to the creative expertise behind it. The way all of the weaving storylines intersect and cross with each other makes the journey of sticking through this film well worth it. What makes it even more enjoyable is that all of the character arcs are engaging in their own right – the characters are well written and having them cross paths is like an added bonus. The performances behind the roles are all spectacular! Everyone from Tom Holland and Robert Pattinson to Haley Bennett and Mia Wasikowska, among others, are brilliant in their respective roles. It’s quite a dark film with some heavy subject matter, but it’s also consistent in its tone and pacing, which is great to see.
#5 – Palm Springs
Proving you can still turn a Groundhog Day-esque story into something fresh, Palm Springs is a fun romantic comedy with great performances, a heartwarming story and plenty of refreshing ideas that make every second well worth it. It’s a very tight, self-contained story that wastes absolutely no time setting characters up and pushing the narrative forward. Despite hitting some familiar beats, it feels very original, as if you’re on this ride along with these two loveable characters. What makes these characters so loveable in every moment is the chemistry between Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. The two of them together give off such a vibrant energy that it’s impossible not to love watching them play off each other. It’s undoubtedly one of the most pleasant watches of the year, elevated by the comedic minds involved.
#4 – The Half of It
From writer/director Alice Wu, The Half of It is a charming, emotional and elegantly-paced coming-of-age film that forges a bold story with well-written characters and great relationships within. The story will send you through a rollercoaster of emotions as it delves into the lives of these characters and the complicated relationships that are developing. It’s clear through the detail put into the story and the depth of the characters that this is a very personal story for Alice, really enhancing the quality and meaning of the narrative. Leah Lewis and Alexxis Lemire both bring this likability to their respective characters that has you invested and locked in to their journeys throughout the film. As far as coming-of-age stories are concerned, this should be up there as one of the more celebrated.
#3 – Black is King
If you told me last year that a visual album from Beyoncé would crack the top 3 on my best films list for 2020 – I’d say you’re nuts! But that’s exactly what has happened here. Black is King is a literal work of art, a visual masterpiece that features stellar cinematography on top of the great music. The way each musical set-piece paints a different beautiful picture of black beauty is utterly fantastic – and it all plays into the message the film is trying to set. Every single shot across the entire film is flawless, both in terms of the cinematography and the costuming, all tying together impressively. The music may be the defining element, but there is also a narrative guiding you through this album of songs. The narrative, messages and themes are interpreted from The Lion King, and the story is told largely visually, with some accompanying dialogue from Beyoncé.
#2 – Da 5 Bloods
Finishing just shy of the top spot, Da 5 Bloods is a truly mesmerising film and a certified home run from Spike Lee. This is a war story like nothing ever seen before – it’s tense, driven by emotion and touches heavily on America’s racial injustice in some creative ways. Spike Lee manages to get you emotionally invested in the lives of every character involved in the first 20 minutes. Beyond that, its focus is on developing each character as they embark on this intense journey to honour their fallen friend. As time goes on and the tension rises, it takes turns that you don’t see coming. It’s original in its concept and even more original in its execution, really highlighting a brilliantly-written narrative the whole way through. Delroy Lindo puts in the performance of a lifetime. He’s mesmerising through every single scene and puts on and acting masterclass like no other. The rest of the ensemble cast is also brilliant, making for a fantastic well-rounded film that is not to be missed.
#1 – Tenet
Well, here we are at the top spot, and it’s one of the only blockbusters to release in 2020 that has secured the top spot. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is nothing short of phenomenal – a mind-bending thriller that is guaranteed to blow your long socks off. Everything about this film just works. The story is gripping from the opening scene right to the final moments, the cinematography is stunning, the performances are strong across the board and Ludwig Göransson’s score is the perfect icing on the cake. Right from the get-go, everything is in motion – the mission is on and the pacing is flawless, never missing a beat. Everything has, understandably so, been meticulously planned out by Nolan to work exactly as he intended. Nothing is revealed too early and everything you need to piece the mystery together is right there for you to spot. It more than deserves the top spot for its breathtaking narrative and the way Nolan, as the master director he is, gets every single element to work in complete unison. A true masterstroke!
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