From the explosive Oscar-winning Parasite to the heartrending love story of Portrait of a Lady on Fire, we round-up this year’s best cinematic masterpieces.
Can you believe 2020 is almost over? From pandemics to protests, we’ve really been though it, but we couldn’t have done it without some screen time in the form of Netflix binges and indie treats. But with cinema shutters down and production sets left catching dust this year, the pandemic turned the industry upside down for months, leading to the push back on Jordan Peele’s Candyman, the highly-anticipated solo Black Widow and Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch.
But despite the lack of communal viewing experiences and productions, we were blessed with a slew of incredible films over the past 12 months. The pandemic led to a very different end of year round-up, but nevertheless, we were spoiled with the likes of Bong Joon-Ho’s Parasite and Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. So sit back and reminisce with us on this year’s best cinematic masterpieces.
Check out the list below…
This year has been a mind-boggling one, but Tenet simply blew 2020 out the water with its incredible mind inversion storyline. Boasting deep complex concepts and exhilarating fight scenes, Christopher Nolan’s latest box office success took us through the story of the Protagonist (John David Washington) as he must travel through time and bend the laws of nature to prevent the onslaught of World War III. Having been starved for escapism this year, Nolan’s sci-fi thriller showcased his grand vision for action and strong performances from the cast.
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Setting us on an eerie path filled with misgivings and shifting perspectives, was Charlie Kaufman’s adaptation of Iain Reid’s novel I’m Thinking Of Ending Things. Starring Jesse Plemons (Jake) and Jessie Buckley (Lucy), the psychological drama starts with Lucy who is thinking of ending things with her boyfriend Jake. But as the film goes on, her central role begins to warp and re-from, ultimately crumbling under the unsettling horrors to come. But it’s the authenticity of Buckley’s performance that grabbed our attention and tipped the whole thing into nightmare territory. If you haven’t already seen it, buckle up tight because it’s unlike anything you’d ever expect.
Mangrove (Small Axe)
If we could fit all of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology films into this list we really would. With five different stories set between the late 60s and mid-80s, Small Axe dives into Black British history, and flags west-Indian experiences. Beginning with the landmark story of the Mangrove Nine’s Old Bailey trial, we’re given a never-before-seen dramatisation of how the west London Caribbean community was subject to police harassment, and how they were raided 12 times on “reasonable grounds”. In response, the community organised peaceful protests which resulted in arrests of nine people for “inciting a riot”.
Letitia Wright embodying a real-life Black Panther hero was one of the highlights of the short film, telling the compelling story of a struggle within the struggle. McQueen shoulders the burden of representation in the film industry, championing portraits of Caribbean heroes for this series, reminding us that there is much more to our culture and history than we are taught in schools and in the media. The celebration and recreation of British Caribbean culture really gets going throughout the series, and in the first year without Notting Hill carnival this series brings the culture to light.
In a year where representation is key, calls for better portrays of Black teens in today society were answered by director Sarah Gavron with her heart-warming drama ROCKS. Starring an ensemble of newcomers such as Bukky Bakray, Kosar Ali and Ruby Stokes, the gritty, tearjerking and genuinely hilarious gem of 2020 is an insight into the modern-day identities of teenage girls, and points to a more positive future while stuck in the perils of the present day. The film follows 15-year-old east London force-of-nature Shola who returns home one day to discover her depression-racked mother has abandoned her and her younger brother Emmanual.
Determined to avoid the care system and lose her younger brother, the schoolgirl attempts to fend for herself while painting the outward appearance of a normal life. But as the days go on, the facade begins to crumble and the pressures on Shola build to a breaking point. The magical film shines a light on the teenager’s battles for survival, resulting in a combination of honesty with a deeply empathetic edge, which is exactly what the film industry needs right now.
It’s hard to believe that it was earlier this year when Parasite made history as the first foreign language winner of best picture at the Oscars – but it was rightly deserved. Bong Joon-Ho’s tragicomedy tells the story of two families from opposing ends of the socioeconomic spectrum. With the ambiguity of the title deliberately done, the film follows the ingenious Kim family who might live in squalor but match the wealthy Park family – who hold the high ground in their luxurious home – move for move in resourcefulness. But what makes Parasite one of the best productions of the year isn’t just its shocking moments or its flawless ensemble cast, but Bong’s perfectly crafted tonal shifts between the light-hearted slapstick to horror in a split second, accompanied by Korean composer Jung Jae-il’s sombre and symphony-esque music. The cinematic masterpiece shone a light this year on foreign films and opened the gateway for more foreign films to be included in the major categories at esteemed awards.
Portrait of a Lady On Fire
Writer and director Celine Sciamma ventured into a new world this year with her exploration of erotic power in the beautifully created Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Having first made her name known from Euro-hits Water Lilies and Tomboy, Sciamma strikes a chord with us for her latest film, focusing meticulously on the details of each story and character for her late 18th-century drama.
Introduced to art teacher Marianne (Noémie Merlant), we’re thrown back in time to stormy sea-bound beaches as she recounts her time at a remote Brittany residence with former convent girl and bride-to-be Héloïse (Adèle Haenel). Commissioned to paint Héloïse, Marianne studies her subject, but electric tension between the two quickly grows into an intellectually erotic study of power and passion. Seamlessly intertwining ideas of love, politics and representation, the breathless romance embraces the scenic moments of two people falling in love, and the two leads provide us with a performance that rings with you weeks after watching.
The Devil All The Time
Spanning two decades between World War II and the Vietnam war, this “explosive Midwestern Gothic tale spanning two decades” interlaces dark storylines navigated by Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Robert Pattinson, Riley Keough, Eliza Scanlen and Mia Wasikowska.
Centred on the hauntingly lonely town of Coal Creek, The Devil All The Time we centre on Arvin Russell (Holland) whose father (Skarsgaard) returns from the war with visions of grotesque battleground crucifixion. With the loss of his beloved wife, the father then begins to move into odd desperate devotions to God, nailing a dog to makeshift backyard cross and begging for God’s resurrection of his dead wife. With “philandering preacher” (Robert Pattinson) and emotional abused young woman Sandy (Scanlen) making an appearance further on in the impressive story, threads of various storylines are woven together creating a ripe southern melodrama that leaves you stunned as the credits roll.
There seems to be a recurring theme of Robert Pattinson featuring in the best films of 2020. Coincidence? We think not. But if we were going to have to pick one role to applaud him for this year it would be A24’s mind-blowing feature The Lighthouse. From the mind of Robert Eggers (The Witch), we’re taken to a nightmarish coast with violent body slamming waves, with degraded seagulls and mermaid coitus in tow, in this black and white cinematic masterpiece. Starring Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, Eggers tells a turbulent saga of two lighthouse keepers in a twisted tale of loneliness and horror. A highlight is Pattinson’s damning monologue that is delivered with such ferocity and conviction you could hear a pin drop in the cinema. And be wary of the ending of the film; its what-the-fuck propensity will have you reeling for hours after.