2020 roundup: Top ten movie releases of the year
2020 has been challenging in a huge number of ways, not least for the film industry: amid the pandemic, cinemas closed down and studios had to postpone major releases. However, it wasn’t entirely doom and gloom – modern problems were met with modern solutions. More films saw early on-demand releases, film festivals went virtual and, of course, the streaming services were primed to succeed. Whilst 2020 in cinema didn’t look how anyone might have expected it to, it was an incredible period of discovery. Here are our top ten films of the year.
To her parents’ dismay, cancer-stricken Milla (brilliantly portrayed by Little Women breakout star Eliza Scanlen) finds solace in the arms of her scruffy drug dealer. This terminal romance feature holds its own in the crowded genre by refusing to be sentimental while depicting the heart-wrenching power of mortality.
Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey reinvigorates the DC film universe thanks to filmmaking that fully exploits the zany potential of a Gotham anti-hero story, following the dour and disappointing Suicide Squad. With a wonderful assortment of women surrounding Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the vigilante pursuits of the titular group are a blast.
Bong Joon-Ho rightfully became a global household name with this multi-Oscar-winning masterpiece. Parasite is so many things at once: a killer class allegory, a darkly comic family drama, an intense psychological thriller – and all of them are brilliant. The diverse interpretations of this twisty narrative grow in number every day.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire
The fierce love affair between Marianne and Héloïse captured the hearts of cinephiles everywhere and continues to linger in the zeitgeist. Céline Sciamma’s opulent examination of the female gaze and the art that binds women is hugely rewarding on both aesthetic and thematic levels. The deeply exhilarating finale is pure catharsis.
Sarah Gavron’s lovely follow-up to Suffragette is another story about young women in London, this time set in the multicultural present. This heartfelt coming-of-ager follows Nigerian-British schoolgirl Rocks (excellent newcomer Bukky Bakray) whose home life is complicated by her mother’s abandonment, forcing her to make ends meet for herself and her little brother.
The release of Christopher Nolan’s time-looping tale (about a secret agent aiming to prevent World War 3 by manipulating the flow of time) suffered from a dodgy sound mix, but the film is otherwise chock full of spectacle. The groundbreaking, mind-bending, never-seen-before action sequences provide some of 2020’s most memorable cinematic moments.
The 40-Year-Old Version
2020 welcomed a new triple threat: Radha Blank wrote, directed and starred in this delightful film about a playwright’s experiences in New York. She navigates the city’s rich art scene after clashing with her Broadway manager over his tone deaf ideas. A total original that captures the process of reinvention.
The Australian Dream
It was only after Aussie football star Adam Goodes walked away from the sport, having been booed for highlighting racial issues, that the country checked itself. This searing documentary chronicles Goodes’ journey, focusing on the broader picture of how poorly Indigenous Australians are treated as well as the remarkable core story.
One of the year’s most extraordinary works is a black-and-white documentary about love persevering within America’s broken corrective institutions. The effectively non-linear structure follows prison abolitionist Sibil Richardson as she restlessly campaigns over a decade for the release of her husband, who’s serving a 60-year sentence for participating in an armed robbery.
Wolfwalkers is comfortably the best animated film of 2020. When an English huntress and her father travel to Ireland to hunt the last pack of wolves during Oliver Cromwell’s conquest, things become complicated when she befriends a lycanthropic Irish girl. A marvellous, multi-layered adventure rendered in a gorgeous art style.