2020. What a year. This one surely belongs in the history books, and cinema, I’m afraid, was certain to never to be the same again. We lost a lot this year, and this was certainly true for the art of film and the cinema, with many of this year’s biggest releases pushed off to the side, and more pushed back to 2021. There was plenty of time when the dream of cinema and the presence of the big screen felt like it had been pulled away from us forever.
However, we kept going and even in this year’s darkest moments we still could look forward to an incredible array of releases. And 2020 certainly had a range of terrific cinematic moments to celebrate.
Below is the list of our favourite films of the year and they’ve certainly helped us get through this difficult time, and given plenty of joy in the process.
Russell Crowe delivered an incredibly scary and full frontal attack of a performance as an unnamed man who suddenly flips and takes out all of his aggression and anger on an innocent woman in Unhinged. This was popcorn cinema at its most thrilling. Unhinged didn’t let up for a moment, and Crowe’s scary performance had us on edge the whole time. It was a simple premise that was executed with perfect delivery by its filmmaking team and as an audience member you were holding your breath right up until the very end frame. This was a pulse-pounding piece of thriller cinema at its best and Crowe’s performance as this nameless and violent thrill killer was sure to give you nightmares.
Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus brought out plenty of long-simmering tensions in Downhill and this was one dark-comedy that kept its audiences on their toes the entire time. Examining the nature of loyalty, cowardice and a clash of opposites, Downhill kept you guessing from the start and made for a very intelligent piece of cinema. Director’s Nat Faxon and Jim Rash teased out the long-held resentments between Ferrell’s Pete and Louis-Dreyfus’s Billie, and all throughout the film’s proceeding events you are constantly wondering whether or not their marriage is actually going to survive their so-called ‘dream holiday’. Downhill was something completely different and proved to be a very intellectually stimulating watch for audiences,
While you might think you understand and know the teen genre, you really needed to think again with the likes of Words On Bathroom Walls. Showcasing incredible sincerity with its subject matter and mind-bending creativity with its production, Words On Bathroom Walls was a piece of cinema that tugged at your heartstrings. The main character Adam Petrazelli is a complicated young man, made even more so by his underlying schizophrenia that he is battling with on a daily basis. Add to this teenage angst, young love and the hardships of not quite being normal and you have a recipe for an incredibly compelling piece of cinema that pulled audiences inwards towards its narrative.
It’s been a strong year for Disney- Pixar and director Dan Scanlon’s fantastical fantasy tale of brotherly adventure in Onward was a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Scanlen and his team turned the fantasy genre on its head with this one and there was a great inventiveness and creativity presented through this epic, heavy-metal, fantasy road trip. Actors Christ Pratt and Tom Holland made a perfect combination as the delightful Lightfoot brothers, and Onward told a story of rediscovering the magic and what it means to ultimately find your father. The geniuses at Disney-Pixar made 2020 that little bit brighter with Onward and this was a delightful film on every single level.
Two-time Academy Award winner Frances McDormand bore her soul with an introspective performance that was utterly beautiful to watch in Nomadland. Directed by rising talent Chloé Zhao, Nomadland was a powerful film of second lives, the open road and being forced to rediscover yourself while travelling down a new path. Both its striking imagery and the magnificence of McDormand’s performance seared themselves into your very soul, and this film was truly unforgettable. Nomadland was a film filled with depth, discovery and humanity and is a piece of cinema that audiences should cherish, especially after the events of this year.
Guy Ritchie returned to his native England and wound up his sleeves to jump back inside the gangster genre with The Gentlemen, which made for one of 2020’s coolest cinema experiences. Led by Matthew McConaughey as the impressive and stylish drug kingpin Mickey Pearson, and featuring a stellar supporting cast including Charlie Hunnam, Henry Goulding, Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant, this was a film that went from A to Z in a flash and everywhere else in between and was certain to put a certain strut into the step of the audience. Ritchie radiated his own unique brand of ‘alpha male’ cool with The Gentlemen, and for audiences who were looking for a stand-up good time, well, they were sure to find it with this slick piece of gangster cinema.
Raw and unflinching in equal measures, Sam Kelly’s Savage hit with the force of a ball-peen hammer and took audiences inside the brutal world of New Zealand’s gang culture. Kelly didn’t hold anything back in exploring the scary reality that gripped so many and took audiences inside the traumatic world of the state boarding schools that shaped innocents into monsters and then sent them out into a world filled with nothing but seething pain and relentless rage. Savage was a shocking watch, but this was all a part of the extreme honesty that Kelly used to showcase the reality of this world and the handling of his subject matter certainly struck a nerve with audiences. Praise also needs to be lauded on the performance of Jake Ryan as Danny aka Damage, a brutal, Frankenstein’s monster of a man who knows only violence, but who is in reality is just searching for a way back home. Savage was a film that hit us hard in 2020 and it was without-a-doubt one of the year’s best.
Director David Fincher returned to cinema in a long-held obscene since 2014’s Gone Girl and the master filmmaker did not disappoint in presenting a marvellous project in Mank. Chronicling the production behind what many claim is the greatest film of all time, Citizen Kane, Mank was a detailed exploration of one man’s creativity and ethics in a town which normally does away with such things. In terms of the narrative experience, everything came together in Mank. Production design, cinematography, location, costume design, hair and make-up and musical score all served to tell an incredible story and long-time film aficionados were sure to bask in the glow of this radiant portrait of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Mank was a deeply held passion project for Fincher and he delivered an incredible radiant piece of cinema that was well worth the watch.
How far would you go to protect your family? That was the simple premise behind director Thomas Bezucha’s adaptation of Let Him Go, a revenge tale burning with the fury of Old Testament frontier justice and this was a thriller that stripped its audience back to the bone. Featuring career-best performances from the likes of Diane Lane and Kevin Costner, Let Him Go was a simple and to-the-point thriller which was delivered with maximum intensity and hit the audience like the force of a Winchester rifle. It’s burning Western-setting brought to life in the style of Cormac McCarthy, and Bezucha certainly knew how to get the most out of the impressive pairing of Lane and Costner. Let Him Go was that rare kind of film that harkened-back to the True Grit days of John Wayne and delivered audiences a searing drama of family loyalty and justice that was certain to take them to the edge.
But if there had to be one movie that we crown as our favourite film of 2020 it is without-a-doubt Gavin O’Conner’s portrait of sports and addiction in powerhouse drama The Way Back. Starring Ben Affleck as washed-up alcoholic, and former high school basketball star Jack Cunningham who finds a second chance gifted to him, The Way Back was a searing drama that gripped your soul and wrestled your emotions as you saw a flawed man trying for a second chance. Borrowing from Affleck’s own personal life and battle with addiction, The Way Back is an extremely heavy film that examines themes of loss and triumph, addiction and love, heartbreak and hope and O’Conner and Affleck truly gave their all to this project. This film moved me to an incredible degree and as an audience member, I could not look away from the events that were unfolding on screen. The Way Back was powerful in its presentation and it’s third act twist hit you like a stone wall and made the film that much more powerful because of it. Film’s like The Way Back don’t come along that often and when they do they need to be celebrated.