Top 10 Films of 2020: A Geeky Retrospective
Cinema and the film industry has been a strange place since the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic. Delays on major releases, cinemas closing down and an influx of online viewing have all changed the way we watch films and what we have had access to. Yet, even with how tough this year has been, great films have somehow still come out and kept us entertained and enthralled during a year that will go down in history. Let’s celebrate the great films that came out in this trying and testing year.
Unfortunately there haven’t been that many films I’ve been able to see due to their availability in the UK so this isn’t a comprehensive list and a lot of my ‘this is definitely going to be on the list’ films are not available over here. However, what I have managed to catch has been amazing, so here’s some of my top picks from a very strange year.
How to Build a Girl
Where: Amazon Prime
Who: Director: Coky Giedroyc Cast: Beanie Feldstein, Alfie Allen, Paddy Considine, Sarah Solemani & Laurie Kynaston
Why: After 2019’s incredible Coming-Of-Age film Booksmart Beanie Feldstein lands herself on my top films list once again, this time as the lead. It’s another Coming-Of-Age but this time focussed on Johanna Moran, soon to be known as Dolly Wilde, a young woman living on a council estate in Wolverhampton and yearning for a better life through her skills as a writer. It seems her dream has come true when she lands a job at a music magazine and is dropped into a world of male privilege. Everything about Beanie’s performance is perfect and earnest, except for the odd accent slip, and her co-stars shine even with minimal screen time. With surreal bursts of fantasy this is a feel good movie that follows the usual redemptive and formative arc of a teenage character trying to discover, or in this case build, themselves.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
Who: Director: Charlie Kaufman Cast: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette & David Thewlis
Why: Charlie Kaufman, and his eclectic and unique style, are back in the director’s chair for this surrealist road trip movie that becomes an internal journey of a young woman’s mind. Of course the man who wrote Being John Malkovich and Adaptation, and also directed Synecdoche, New York is a prime candidate to adapt this surreal Iain Reid novel. This mind bending insular film is held together with stunning performances from Buckley and Plemons as they carry a large amount of the screen time in intimate conversations, and the ever amazing Collette and Thewlis who play multiple stages of the same characters with perfectly tense energy. There are no answers at the end of this film, probably there are even more questions by the end, but it is all about the intense journey more than the destination.
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge
Who: Director: Ethan Spaulding Cast: Patrick Seitz, Jennifer Carpenter, Joel McHale & Jordan Rodrigues
Why: Video game adaptations often get a bad reputation, I mean the amount that fail is much higher than the amount that succeed, yet this gory animated interpretation of Mortal Kombat is definitely tipping the scales. Hanzo Hasashi, a man who has lost everything, is given the chance to compete in an inter-dimensional tournament to seek his revenge and save those he loves. One thing is for sure, this animated film is not for children. There’s bone crunching, disembowelment and enough blood to happily drown in, exactly what most fans want from this franchise. The voice performances are spot on and there’s clear passion from everyone involved in this violent and action-splattered venture. With a new live action R-Rated Mortal Kombat scheduled for 2021 this was the exact right appetiser I needed to have me excited for a more violent and adult imagining of this icon game franchise.
Queen & Slim
Where: Amazon Prime
Who: Director: Melina Matsoukas Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Jodie Turner-Smith, Bokeem Woodbine & Flea
Why: In her feature film debut Melina Matsoukas tells the story of a couple who’s first date descends into chaos after being pulled over by a racist police officer. Her sensibilities as a music video director are clear in the beautiful visual style of the film with atmospheric cinematography and set piece scenes. There’s a timely message in this ‘innocent Bonnie & Clyde’ road movie that explores police brutality, the Black Lives Matter movement and the racial injustices of modern America. The titular Queen and Slim are portrayed by Jodie Turner-Smith and Daniel Kaluuya who both bring incredible intensity and vulnerability to the role. They are set up as opposites at the beginning of the film and their development and relationship growth throughout feels true to each of them. With a gut-punching finale, that finally leads to us hearing the names of our protagonists, it’s a hard-hitting and poignant film.
Who: Director: Cathay Yan Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett & Ewan McGregor
Why: After Suicide Squad opinions were severely split on this new iteration of Gotham and its rogues gallery, but the one thing most agreed with was that Robbie’s Harley Quinn was a perfect bad ass and deserved her own breakout role. Sprinkle in some of DC’s most iconic women and this film became a no-hold-barred, female fronted comic book movie with great characters and filled with explosive fight scenes and stunning neon landscapes. When Harley and The Joker split her free reign of Gotham is revoked and a price is put on her head. She must now team with Huntress, Black Canary and Renee Montoya to take down the villainous Roman. Birds of Prey had a pretty rocky start, including numerous name changes, mixed marketing campaigns and lack of confidence from the studios, yet it is an immensely enjoyable, ass kicking and strong entry in the DCEU.
Who: Directors: Pete Docter & Kemp Powers Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Angela Bassett & Graham Norton
Why: Life is for living. That’s the ultimate message of this heartbreaking and yet beautifully reassuring Pixar film. In the insular whirlwind year that was 2020 it was easy to look at others and feel we had not done enough, not learned enough, not tried enough. Then, just in time, Soul came along and reminded us to stop and savor the living we are doing right now. Following a jazz pianist who has a near-death experience and comes to experience the world in a new way with the help of a stubborn and cynical old soul, 22. The score, the voice acting and the animation are stunning, allowing the message of the film to wash over you whilst still bringing humour to the surface. It’s definitely a more adult Pixar film and it’s got some really affirming message that might be just what we need right now.
Dick Johnson is Dead
Who: Director: Kirsten Johnson Cast: C. Richard Johnson & Kirsten Johnson
Why: Part documentary, part fictional recreation, all emotion. Dick Johnson is Dead had me crying through its entire runtime, which luckily was only 90 minutes or I would have been severely dehydrated. Some of tears were grief filled, some were from happiness and others were just unstoppable. Losing a loved one is a painful and complicated thing, especially when they begin to lose themselves as well. Documentary filmmaker, Kirsten Johnson, turns the camera on her personal life and documents her fathers inevitable passing from dementia by staging numerous violent and outlandish death scenes for the ailing psychiatrist. It is in these absurd, and yet beautiful, tableaus that Kristen immortalises her father and gives him his fondest wishes, removing his disability and reuniting him with his deceased wife, whilst also repeatedly killing him with cars, air conditioner units and falls. It is a fantastical film about inevitability and the lack of control we face when it comes to death presented with care and love that brings comfort and catharsis to a chaotic element of life.
You Cannot Kill David Arquette
Who: Directors: David Darg & Price James Cast: David Arquette, Patricia Arquette & Rosanna Arquette
Why: As a lover of Wrestling and Horror Movies David Arquette has been on my radar since watching him play Dewey in the Scream franchise and also witnessing him raise the WCW belt. He’s an interesting man with a lot of passion and that is completely clear in this intimate feel-good documentary about a man who “wants love”. We follow David Arquette as he ventures back into the ring to gain the respect of the wrestling community and reclaim his self-respect. As he trains, fails, rises and redeems it becomes almost impossible not to root for the man and everything he is doing to make himself happy and put his passion out into the world. There are harrowing moments that feel like the end of the line for a man who has had both physical and mental trauma to overcome but it is a satisfying and joyous event to watch him turn this around. It’s an underdog story that inspires and proves it’s never too late to chase your passion.
Who: Director: Spike Lee Cast: Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Jonathan Majors & Chadwick Boseman
Why: Spike Lee brings his powerful voice and stunning idiosyncratic style to the screen once again with this exploration of the Black experience during, and after, the Vietnam War. When four African-American veterans head back to Vietnam, seeking their fallen friends’ remains and the treasure they hid there, they must battle more than the elements to find what they lost. With an incredible ensemble cast who are enthralling throughout, especially an emotive performance from Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman as they deal with the ghosts of their past. As always with Lee there is a strong message on the treatment of Black people, both in the past and through the current racial tension and turmoil. Filled with intertextual nods, action packed sequences and a mesmerising score and soundtrack this is an incredible film that has a lot of staying power.