The Top Ten Films of 2020

With the Bond franchise stepping away from launching the usually busy summer season, due to fears of the Corona virus from MGM, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet was nominated as the film to save cinemas. However, it proved to be too confounding to be fully comprehended by most viewers, and even though it was easily one of the most inventive and creative films of the year, its ambition started to count against the film, as for all its ingenuity, it felt too contrived for the viewer to fully emotionally engage.

The only way Nolan’s brain-buster was going to save cinemas was if people who didn’t fully grasp everything that happened on first viewing – myself included – went back for a second viewing experience, which I did. It was a divisive film, that although launched a thousand debates about time travel, didn’t fully satisfy even after two watches. It will be controversial to some that it isn’t on this list, and controversial to others if it had made the top 10, or even 26 as, even though it was the best espionage drama to be released this year, there were far better films in 2020. But Tenet gets a mention here, for being a big talking point in a year tragically lacking in big water-cooler discussion films. 

The biggest release of the year is not in my top 10, but there are plenty of other outstanding pieces of cinema here. In a year in which the industry was brought to its knees, after many devastating blows, 2020 still provided a lot of quality films. Cinemas are hanging by a life-line and are in danger of going the way of blockbuster video, but despite all the doom and gloom, great films continued to emerge from one place or another consistently through this most difficult year. Here are my top 10 films of 2020.

Monos (2019) - Photo Gallery - IMDb

10. Monos 

It is impossible to do a story about a group of people mentally unraveling in the jungle without evoking Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Lord of the Files, or Apocalypse Now. The spectre of those three ‘madness in nature’ stories lurked in the background of this edgy, nervy and quite formidable drama, but Monos managed to do something new with this well-trodden territory. There is just something about a group of people left in the harsh realities of nature, discovering the more base of the primal instincts of man that is an evergreen story; it may be something to do with the fact that nature reveals something of the human condition when civilization fades to memory and people can see what their level of survival is and what extremes they are prepared to go to.

With that in mind, following this group of feral child and teenage soldiers somewhere on the edge of the Columbian jungle as they are drilled into units for war, made for a gripping, raw and earthy experience. The first thing you notice is the breath-taking organic cinematography of the jungle; the film takes place at a high altitude on a mountain deep in an Andes jungle; sweeping shots of the clouds gently swirling in the valleys below created such a calm atmosphere and a beauty that contrasted the stark depiction of the rigorous regimes the soldiers were put through. You could almost experience the thinness of the air at the high altitude for real; and the unusual high altitude setting clearly stirred something in the minds of the characters.

On some level, it is reminiscent of another recent film about the dehumanizing effect of being a child soldier: Netflix’s somewhat overlooked early feature: Beasts of No Nation. Another recent film Monos has cross over with is Embrace of the Serpent, which is a geographically and thematically apt reference point, since both films are set in South American jungles. Some of the action was as raw and unflinching as Apocalpyto too, there were lots of influences then, but Monos with its own sense of dreamy terror, was very much its own beast. Mica Levi is one of the most notable composers around now, and here she provides a score that subtly shifted the mood to darker, more ethereal places as the characters went further into the jungle and deeper into the heart of darkness.

The Personal History of David Copperfield - Wikipedia

9. A Personal History of David Copperfield

One of the many joys of this bold, inventive and outrageously amusing take on Charles Dickens classic story, was trying to detect which lines were courtesy of the sharp wit of top political satirist Armano Ianauci, and which were lifted straight off Dickens pages. Both writers have an offbeat, colorful charm to their dialogue style – even though on the surface they are worlds apart – certainly in terms of eras anyway. The two styles fused brilliantly well, which allowed this to capture the spirit and time of the Victorian era, but at the same time feel quirky, fun and modern, but not so much as to unsettle or displace the drama. 

The first striking thing about it was the inspired casting choice of Dev Patel in the role of David Copperfield. He has an honest face and likable persona, that you can’t help will to success; he always has an every man quality, playing regular figures who are just trying against odds to do the right thing and make good choices; just see Slumdog Millionaire or the deeply affecting Lion for evidence of this. That as it turns out was the perfect quality to have in a figure who is trying to exert some control over his own narrative with varying degrees of success. Obviously, Patel is of Indian background, which alone allows this old Victorian set story to stride into the 21st Century as a starting point. 

Whenever societies become ever more polorized economically as they are now in the 21st Century, the work of Dickens, with its focus on two tier societies – the have and the have nots – becomes worryingly relevant. In Dickens’ stories, David Copperfield particularly, what drives the drama is that those with social aspirations to climb the slippery pole of success, are never far away from sliding down into the worst pit of poverty conceivable. That was as true in Dickens’ times as it is in the modern world; Iannuci playfully and humorously steers the story into different sections of society, from the rich to the poor. His intention, as it so often is inspired, satirical sideswipe at absurdity in society, so it lightheartedly pokes fun at potential pathways into poverty, but at the same time keeping a sense of the tragedy and senselessness of it all. Iannucci is great at facing dark subjects head on, not shying away from the grimness and finding black comedy gold among the dirt. He did it with Soviet atrocity in The Death of Stalin and he does it again in the harsh times of a Dickensian world. 

The ensemble of kooky characters all played with a wild charm livens up proceedings to no end. Ianuncci regular Peter Capaldi is particularly excellent as the hapless, but charming Mr Micawber, a clear inspiration for Dickens’ own debt-burdened father. The ever excellent Tilda Swinton provides laughs a plenty and Hugh Laurie was on top comedic form. 

A Personal History of David Copperfield was a delightful hoot from start to finish. Armando Ianucci is one of the sharpest comic writers around, but it is no small achievement to take an Old Dickens novel and make it this funny, relevant and amusingly told.

I Lost My Body (2019) - Taglines - IMDb

8. I Lost My Body

Imagine a film with as deranged a premise as a disembodied hand trying desperately to get back to its former body. Such a seemingly bizarre idea would suggest a tone of wacky comedy. The stroke of genius of this beautifully soulful, elegantly melancholic Netflix-produced French animation is that it takes this novel idea and makes it into a drama with considerable emotional power and gravitas. It’s an oddly serious film, as you realize that the central boy who has lost his irreplaceable appendage, was living a life of sorrow and disconnection before the loss of his hand, so now he is in an even more distressed state of mind. If one were unlucky enough to lose a hand, it would be an agonizing prospect, and the film tenderly allows you to ponder this. As the film creates a tone of sad realism, audiences are seduced by this mournful mood into believing the fantasy element of the story: that being, the journey of the hand in pursuit of the body.

Fantasy is often far more persuasive than live-action in bringing magic to the absurd and that is certainly the case in this release. The great thing about animation is that it is the gateway to secret worlds and here, that secret world is that of a hand trying to navigate the tough back streets of Paris. This is where the film finds a considerable amount of enthralling action adventure. The hand encounters all manor of perils as you would as a lively small thing navigating a pathway – it recalls to mind the poor little rabbits trying to make their way back to the burrow in Watership Down. The great thing about hands is they are so silently expressive, and full of gesture. The animators use that to bring a great deal of personality to the hand, at many points in the film, you would believe a hand can think. Ultimately the premise proves the ultimate metaphor for disconnection and alienation that increasingly defines modern, technologically driven urban life – the film has lots of imagery that captures the displacement that a lot of lonely people are feeling in the modern world in such a soulful, contemplative and artistic way. If you were on your own in lockdown, this would have been the perfect film to stumble across on Netflix.

The Invisible Man - Movie Review

7. The Invisible Man

The eponymous character was re-invented as a ‘Me Too’ movement menace in a surprisingly deeply unsettling reinterpretation of H.G. Wells’ classic story. After The Mummy performed so badly in cinemas that it sank Universal’s much talked about Dark Universe series, The Invisible Man crawled free of the wreckage and found its way to hit and miss modern horror factory Blumhouse. The decision to make the central monster a domestic abuser was genuinely an inspired move that allowed this to be the first film that successfully plants one of the old monsters in a new context.

If you think about it, there could be nothing more frightening than being attacked by someone who you can’t actually see. The film really makes you home in and reflect on the terror of this. In previous versions of The Invisible Man, he is a ranting megalomaniac – in this version, he says nothing. As we all know, it is the quiet types who are the most dangerous – and that was certainly the case here.

It’s a well known rule of horror, that what you can’t see is more frightening than what you can; a silent Invisible Man has such an advantage in regards to the element of surprise too, so his sudden ‘appearances’ were like a gut-punch to the belly after the film managed to fully capitalize on long periods of ratcheting up the tension. The character was able to terrorize Elisabeth Moss as a tortured and long-suffering ex-spouse within an inch of her sanity. The impressive special effects sequences – that see the central victim have full on ferocious fights with someone who isn’t actually rendered on screen – would have counted for very little, if it wasn’t for Moss’ extraordinarily convincing performance as an abused woman. It’s the fear and anxiety etched into her face, that act as the only sign-post for the Invisible Man’s unannounced vicious attacks. Her face managed to tell the audience immediately that this is a woman who has been both mentally and physically abused, but who is going to believe her if there is no physical imagery of her abuser?

She is far from a damsel in distress though, with a face that veers from under pain and exhaustion to someone who can fearlessly wrestle back control. It is one of the finest female performances of the year and the most anyone has convinced an audience that a character who you can’t see is actually there since James Stewart made people believe in six foot invisible white rabbits in Harvey. This came from literally nowhere to be the year’s best horror film. It renders you at such an uncomfortable psychological state of mind, that once it actually goes for the jugular, in easily the year’s scariest sequence, you will be convinced that you have been attacked. It provided the most visceral shock of the year – from absolutely nowhere.

Australian director Leigh Whannel stripped the Invisible Man of its black comedy heart and made him a silent but violent misogynist that makes you reflect on all the women out there locked in a domestically abusive relationship. A thought-provoking reinterpretation then that totally finds the dormant horror lurking within the concept of invisibility. Even the title itself typified the film’s clever way of finding new levels: is the title a reference to the female character’s lack of power in her relationship? Or is it even a reference to all those men out there whose attitudes to woman change when the front door is slammed behind them? Either way, just how good this remake of the Invisible Man was, was impossible to see coming.

Film Review: "The Farewell" | Rants and Raves

6. The Farewell

 Saying a final goodbye to a beloved family member is one of the hardest things one can do in life. But if you happen to be an ex-pat estranged from this family member, then the emotional strain is far worse. American-Asian actress Aquafina – you’ll remember her as the sassy comic character in Crazy Rich Asians – won herself plaudits and an Oscar nomination to boot early in 2020 for her sincere and anguished turn in this tonally perfect drama that was both poignant and brilliantly observed. It was a rare opportunity for an Asian female writer and director – Lulu Wang – to make a film about Asian families but in the English language. She clearly used her own experience of being in an Asian-American family to draw on inspiration for this deeply moving tale. 

Terminal illness is not an easy thing for a family to discuss in any culture, so the method the family came up with in this based on truth drama – that is to tell a little white lie to the patient that everything is going to be alright – is an interesting way of dealing with a tough reality. The film prompts debates about whether doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, to protect or maybe even help someone whose health is fading is a collective option and honourable thing to do. 

It understands the Asian mindset of being stoic, hiding emotion and saving ‘face’ brilliantly well. The film is an extraordinarily perceptive window into the collective psyche of an Asian family. The central concept creates a strain between the lie and the truth behind this reality, and it makes for some beautifully subtle, delicate performances as a weariness and tension between the characters becomes increasingly gripping. The actress who portrays the grandma Zhao Shuzen is absolutely adorable, a positive, radiant, little ray of sunshine – it becomes understandable why the family do not want to risk damaging her mood. She’s got such vulnerability and innocence without knowing the power of these virtues. 

You can’t help but feel deeply sorry for the Aquafina character; she has been brought up in the far more emotionally open American culture and struggled to adjust to the Asian mindset of locking emotions up tightly within. She clearly loves her grandma more than anything, so the strain of having to perform when around her, created a natural emotional tension that was genuinely affecting. 

The peculiar way the family choose to deal with grief creates a drama of real weight and substance, but at the same time there was humour and a lightness of touch that keep the film surprisingly funny for a film about the end. If you are an Asian person who has grown up in a Western culture, but has family connections in the East, and you watched this is 2020, then it must have been exceptionally poignant as The Farewell totally understood the melancholy and anguish of being detached from your culture and uncertain of your identity. 

Latest Movie Reviews: Uncut Gems - Sada El balad

5. Uncut Gems

The Safdie brothers have a track record of making gritty, somewhat nihilistic dramas, with a distinct edge such as A Good Time and Heaven Knows What. With that in mind, it seemed a bemusing choice to build a film around Adam Sandler. That said, Sandler can go from meek to menacing in the blink of an eye – there is far more tumultuous emotion lurking under the surface with him than his constant appearances in knock-about comedy suggest. If the underlying psychosis of the Sandler persona was good enough for Paul Thomas Anderson to explore in Punch Drunk Love, then it is good enough for the Safdie brothers to again mine in what was a nerve-destroying, unbearably tense drama. 

Sandler’s performance in this was a revelation – what makes the film is his ability to switch from passive to aggressive at the drop of a coin. He has a charisma that holds the screen, making you believe that he would be a success in his profession as jewelry salesman; yet at the same time, you see that he is a man, who has a pathological desire to pursue that next big gold rush no matter the consequences if the deal doesn’t go down in the way it should. 

The film itself is perhaps hard to get into since it is shot in a deliberately chaotic way to capture the milieu and energy of the New York subculture of fast and loose high goods trading and a character rapidly careening out of control.

Characters talk over each other and move in and out of scenes – everyone is talking with cross purposes, in pursuit of their own selfish agenda. Sandler’s central character is reckless to the point of unlikable; although you might not be rooting for him or sympathizing with his increasingly rash decision making, you can’t help but be gripped, probably with your hands clasped to your head through tension, as you witness his character digging himself a deeper and deeper hole.

The considerable energy of the plot revolves around the exchange of a gem stone; the main drama kicks in when the preciousness of the stone is recognized by Kevin Garnett, proving anything is possible by playing a version of himself that is easily the best performance by a basketball player in cinema history – although that is of course a low bar to pass. Anything is possible could well be the life philosophy of Sandler’s character, who was never one to let a bit of cold, hard sobering reality get in the way of the chase of a good deal.

Uncut Gems has a feel of early Martin Scorsese, with the back-street vibe of Safdie’s New York hustling rings bringing back the spirit of Mean Streets. There is more than a passing resemblance between Sandler’s character and De Niro’s Johnny Boy – both films revolve around a free-wheeling borderline maniac of a character – you wouldn’t want to know the type but probably do, they are the ones whose impulsive decision making creates tension-laden drama at every wrong turn. You wouldn’t want this guy in your life, but boy, do his car crash decisions make for an exhilarating viewing experience. Uncut Gems was a complete character study of the destructive nature of obsession.

Is 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' on Netflix UK? Where to Watch the Movie  - New On Netflix UK

4. I’m Thinking of Ending Things 

Charlie Kaufman wrote three films about fractured identity and characters with tortured mindsets, coming up with a unique style in three truly original films, Being John Malkovich; Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His output since then, and his move from scribe to director – Synecdoche New York, Anomalsia – has seen him deepen the sense of angst and melancholy, and although it hasn’t worked for everyone, the films were both inventive. His first film in five years, and second as a director, provided everything you wanted in a Kaufman release: it is mentally challenging, it meanders away from reality in inventively confounding ways, it is weird and offbeat and has enough layers to stimulate hours of post-film discussion as to what it all means.

The film is loosely based on a novel written by Iain Reid about a relationship that isn’t quite functioning as both parties would like; here is where the similarities to the novel end as Kaufman takes the idea and totally refashions it, into a film that reflects on the fear of ageing, the fear of disconnection and the fear of floating through life engulfed in a cloud of alienation. 

Kaufman is like Lynch in that he has a license to play fast and loose with narrative logic and instead take the viewer into a world of dreamlike fantasy, mystery and illusion. Fans of his by now should be prepared and even crave those sudden turns into surrealism. What Lynch is to the dreamworld, Kaufman is to the subconscious mind; lots of scenes have a visual style that hints of the neurosis that one of the central characters is beginning to experience. 

For two characters who are supposedly not connecting, the vibe between the always interesting Jessie Buckley and Matt Damon lookalike Jessie Blemons, is surprisingly mesmerizing, with the two of them exchanging philosophical musings not seen on a screen since the Before Sunrise series. 

Contrasting the themes of internal struggle, and the ruminative mood of the film is a near quirky comedy of awkwardness, most clinically seen in the sometimes poignantly tragic sometimes chuckle-some performances of Toni Collette and David Thewlis.  

One man’s artistic, allegorical ingenuity is another man’s pretentiousness, I’m Thinking of Ending Things was not for everyone, but for those who connected with it, you were rewarded with a bittersweet, charming, lyrically surrealist, totally original film that reflected on ageing and alienation with a disorientating strangeness that was Kaufman-esque and then some. 

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE POSTER" Postcard by mikceys | Redbubble

3. A Portrait of a Lady on Fire 

There has been a lot of talk about this consummately crafted French film being a rare example of the female gaze. Whether you know the difference between the male and female gaze soon becomes irrelevant as even though you might not be able to verbally articulate the difference, it soon becomes apparent. The force of intensity that these two beautifully developed female characters use to look at each other is immediately striking. They are evidently mesmerized with one another and this in turn is mesmerizing to behold for the viewer. This is a French art-house film set in the 18th century off Brittany.

Naturally, at this time there were very few options available for women other than to marry into a wealthy family. One of the women in the film, Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is bound for such a fate; the other woman, Marianne (Noémie Merlant) has been hired as a professional artist to make a portrait for the other’s wedding. Portrait painting in this exquisite and sumptuous film is expressed as a window into the soul. Tellingly, the husband to be is never seen. This is purely a story about love between two women. Her artistry unlocks a depth of emotion that simmers under the surface of both Héloïse’s portrait and her actual demeanor.

It is not giving much away to say that these women embark on a passionate, complex and soul-stirring romance. When romance is done well in cinema, and a director and actors are willing to display all the beauty and all the pain that might come with an elicit, spirit-awakening affair, the result is something quite thrilling to witness.

This is absolutely the case, A Portrait of a Lady on Fire is the French version of Brief Encounter. The setting and time period suggest that the conventions of the age would make this is an illegal relationship. Yet through this delicately told story, we see that they are two souls that are deeply intertwined. There is nothing like a connection to bring light and life into an otherwise lonely and dreary existence. A Portrait of A Lady On Fire expresses this emotionally and spiritually truly to life. Easily, this is the year’s most beautifully moving, intoxicating, melancholic, poetically told romantic drama.

Clemency – brilliant, devastating death-row drama | Drama films | The  Guardian

2. Clemency  

If this extra-ordinarily hard-hitting drama about the soul-gnawing torment of all those connected to the long, drawn out process of death row came out in any other year, it would be soul-stirringly important cinema; the fact that this came out in a year in which the Black Lives Matter movement raised greater awareness that the American judicial system is built around systemic racism, makes this film even more passion-stirring and deeply poignant. 

Interestingly enough though, despite it being about a black man on a mentally harrowing slow walk to the death chair, it is not directly about race. And it not being about race directly gives the film even greater credence as very important in the debate around the American death penalty and how that relates to both the African-American and Hispanic communities, whose young male populations are obviously being fed into the private American prison system. The film is not making any grandstanding claim on these issues, but instead showing the slow-burn emotional torment that the entire process is privately inflicted.

Bernadine, the central character (Alfre Wooddard), is a tough, uncompromising prison warden, who has the final say on whether clemency can be granted to the condemned men. You soon realize through the tremendous subtly of her performance that the face of strength and ruthless composure she presents to the world is masking a woman whose soul is being torn apart by the emotional agony of having to carry the burden of ending the lives of those who have been sentenced. In a year of incredibly strong female performances, this was the most powerful and the fact the film got entirely overlooked at the Oscars, was criminal.

From an outside perspective, the fact the she is black probably makes the procedure from the outside look a lot less racially motivated than if a white female or white male was in charge of the operation; whether these issues are causing an even greater burden on her soul though, will have to be deduced from the viewer reading her face as this is a woman whose desire to not verbally convey everything she is feeling inside is beautifully captured by the actress and female director Chinonye Chukwu. Her camera and the empathetic acting captures a woman’s sensitivty for observing how the agony of emotional pain can be the pathway to destruction of the spirit.   

The death row inmate and Bernadine are literally on two sides of the system, and as a result are seen to not be able to communicate directly, both emotionally and spiritually. The genius of the drama is that it captures that they have a tremendous amount in common, that they will never really know, as their mental plights mirror each other, and are both lost in a prison of the impossibly cruel situation they are both trapped within. The richness of the character development was unmatched anywhere in film this year.

Whether the central male character is guilty of the crimes he is serving a sentence for is left open to interpretation. Your verdict on him may even reveal something about yourself the film wants you to reflect upon privately within your soul. The point is to show how the process brings about a lingering pain that is actually worse than the sobering reality that is to come.

The performance of Anthony Woods as the condemned man Aldis Hodge is astonishingly sympathetic – as though he is reaching out mentally to all those men who have walked in these shoes for real and are no longer here to tell their story. He has a chance to tell their nightmarish emotional story and he does so with absolute conviction of that which is difficult to convey in words, the physicality of his performance, is the best body language acting you will see all year. Again, another person who was shamelessly overlooked at the Academy Awards.

Usually prison warden types are portrayed in side-lined loose characterisation as often compassion-free white assholes who fully believe in the retribution being dealt. Seldom has the psychological price of this profession been studied with such acute emotional observation as in Clemency. The racial element in the subtext adds even more weight to the considerable heft of the drama. The film is written with the emotional, and political understanding of James Baldwin and is as good at capturing the real world plight of those in a state of agony as Baldwin was with If Beale Street Could Talk.  

The plight of both the warden and the condemed man are seen as two sides of the same coin, a dehumanizing process, that strips you of everything you need to function in a normal psychological state. The characters are both portrayed as being so emotionally hollowed out by reflections of the final decisions to come that they are broken down and feeling removed from any sort of hope. Whether she believes with the absolute conviction necessary that he deserves his punishment is one of the many questions the film creates an emotional knife-edge around. It all leads to a powerful ending that will leave you experiencing every inch of what the characters are feeling.  

Cinema is the best medium we have for reflecting on things that are hard to verbally articulate, like people feeling extreme disconnection to those in their lives. Clemency is a wonderful example of a film capturing the isolating effects of emotional distance as a result of distressing internal trauma. 

The powers to be in the American judicial system want to hold the modern day lethal injection up as the least barbaric option for a penalty that a lot of people believe in, but often the difficult questions around state-sanctioned retribution are ignored. Clemency answers them, and it answers them with haunting emotional reactions with some of the most sincere performances you will see all year. How it was overlooked for awards consideration is a crime in itself. It is one of the most damning films about the death penalty ever made and really, you can’t even have a serious debate with anyone who believes that the death penalty is a righteous course of action in the current evidently skewed American prison system until they see this meaningfully agonizing film.  

Ultimately, reflecting on your own powerlessness to prevent your own death, or reflecting on a death sentence that you are meticulously planning to carry out, may be a lingering mental torment worse than death itself. HandTao 1917 Movie Poster (2019) Fabric Cloth Wall Poster Photo  Print 32x24 Inch: Posters & Prints
  1. Film of 2020: 1917

Sam Mendes’ tribute to his great-grandfather, started like a conventional World War I film: we join two unnervingly fresh-faced young men, who seem naive and unaware of what horrors await across no man’s land. But then they are asked to cross into this territory alone, on a remarkable covert mission. Mendes immediately built the tension around this gut-wrenching request. Nobody ever crosses No Man’s Land – that is why it is named so bluntly. But here we were, resting uncomfortably in our chairs as we walked with these soldiers as they embarked on what has forever been portrayed in war films as a pathway to certain death.

This was literally unknown territory – Mendes did an extraordinary job of putting you in the mud-caked boots of these boys as they face the terrifying unknown. Cinema has been clambering to offer the viewers of the next generation, fully-dimensional experience with novelty 3-D and 4-D versions of films that often, ironically, do more to take you out of the illusion. Nothing has come close to 1917 for immersing you in a tough reality and making you experience for real how relentlessly harrowing it would be to walk through a war zone. 

Of course, having state of the art, easy to maneuver lightweight cameras and the industry’s now Oscar-bestowed best cinematographer Roger Deakins helped Mendes a great deal in realizing his phenomenally involving experience. Strangely enough, as did taking clear inspiration from first person video games. We never leave the side of main character ( played with an indomitable spirit by the versatile George McKay) – and the effect on the audience is to feel a spiritual, emotional, even painful connection with this man and his friend as they valiantly attempt to inform another general that the mission has been aborted. The shrewd simplicity paired with an extraordinary visual trick that the film appears to be one uninterrupted continuous take, made the film resonate in a rare way. 

We are used to seeing such amazing visual effects that they sort of just wash over you, but in 1917, the sheer intensity of the action and the sense that what you are seeing is genuinely coming at you, created an interactive experience for the viewer that was sensationally real. One of the sequences, reached a Lumiere brothers-type moment, in which you felt like leaping back over the chair to get away from what is threateningly unfolding – it was both stomach-churning and thrilling.

The lack of narrative complexity allowed for a purity of experience that felt totally unique. You feel like you are walking through this war zone and feeling every inch of the threats posed; and the unrivaled immersive effect almost turns the film into the most interactive horror film of all time. You feel at one with this character – this is your experience as much as his. It hits home hard about the mindset you would need to be in to survive a war film and gives you at the end a very vivid impression of what PTSD must feel like.

This was a completely realistic war movie released at the start of year in which the world would be gripped by a fight against an invisible enemy. The central character is subjected to a relentless barrage of threats and attacks – in a way the film now seems, abstractly and indirectly at least, a metaphor for the grueling realities people, particularly health workers, must have faced this year at the front line of the war the world has been facing. The threats posed by a virus of course contrast from those of an enemy army, but it seems like a strange omen, and oddly fitting that in a year in which so many people faced an endless barrage of threats and problems, the year’s best film is designed to put you in a mindset to understand the mental exhaustion of what it is to experience a reality in which you cannot for a second rest, or be complacent. It adds another level to what is the year’s best cinematic experience. In a year in which the big blockbusters could not be released, Mendes provided one of the most realistically felt action-driven war films of all time.

Thank you for accompanying me on this journey through cinema in 2020. What were your favourite films of 2020?

Written By Darren Lee Moverley

Edited by Kate Vesper

3 thoughts on “The Top Ten Films of 2020

    1. Darren Moverley Post author

      Thanks Flatliners Books for stopping by, It’s always good to make films fans aware of films they might not have heard of or seen. That way, I feel like I’m giving back to films that I have really enjoyed.

  1. Mark Hobin

    I remember seeing Monos on critics lists back in 2019. I still haven’t seen it yet. Thak for you reminding me of that. Other than that one omission, I’ve seen everything on your list. I love your #1 pick. I saw 1917 in 2019 and so it made my list the previous year. Also #1 so we completely agree. It would be my #1 pick this year if I were ranking it again.

    P.S. Thank you for commenting on my Top 10. Feel free to check back. I post about films at least once a week.


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