Honestly, this year I almost didn’t make the best list. For months it felt like I would be pushing it and scraping the bottom of the barrel to force 10 titles to appear on the list, every seemingly great film has been moved to 2021 and what was left for the 2020 audience felt more like the kind of stuff that’d be filler in any other year. 2020 has been one of those years where it felt like finding the positives was impossible, we spent months inside and watched countries battle against fascism. If you were to ask what the highlights of the year were, most would probably say “Uh… Parasite won best picture” and that would end the list.
But, to my surprise, as I looked through what I’d seen during the year I did manage to find ten films that felt like they were worth celebrating and earning the title ‘Best’. Yes, they’re not at the level of what’s been available for the last few years (except number one, which would’ve probably been my top pick for best film no matter what came out) but they’re all still genuine highlights of this particularly tough year, even if they weren’t the kind that would normally be on a best list. Think of this as, to quote Jaidynn Diore Fierce, Hashtag the best I can do right now in this situation. Before we get into this little list though, some rules.
- I didn’t get to see every film. Even with nothing else to do for most of the year and a total of 170 films seen, some films escaped me. Basically, If I didn’t review it, I didn’t see it. If there’s a film that you think I missed that should be here, list them in the comments and I’ll happily find it over the next year, watch and probably say “Yeah, that should’ve been here”.
- Only films released in Australia in 2020 are going to be on this list. We’re talking mainstream releases that I could access either by VOD or my local cinema (since no way in hell was I heading to a festival this year, not that there were any for me to go to). So if you see a film you think is from 2019, check and see when Australia got it because that’s what I have to go with. Also keep in mind some films that came out in 2020 in the states are slated for 2021 in Australia, so things like Promising Young Woman, Monster Hunter and Love, Weddings and other Disasters are all eligible for next year’s lists.
- Any video on demand movie is eligible for both best and worst lists. If they sent it out to be viewed by an audience, then they should be ready for critique. This is especially important this year when VOD was the safest way for most people to see movies.
- Remember that “Best” and “Worst” in the context of these lists really means “Film I liked the most” and “Film I disliked the most” because quantifying art by actual best and worst is impossible and all lists of this nature are merely using the titles that work best for the search engine and makes you sound like some form of an authority.
- These are merely my opinions and you are absolutely entitled to disagree with me for any reason. Hell, I fully expect some of these to make you go “Really? You liked THAT?” so go nuts, make your own list in the comments or question my order or even what I had on the list. That’s fine. What’s not fine is just saying “Your list sucks” with no reason behind it, critique is fine but blind attacks with no reason aren’t. If you leave a comment that’s a critique I will happily discuss it with you but if it’s an insult… well, I’m the one with the delete button.
Alright? Let’s start with…
A Beautiful Day In The Neighbourhood: One of the many movies that aired in 2019 in the states but 2020 in Australia, also one of the sweetest films of the year that put a constant smile on the audiences face and showed just how powerful love and kindness could be which was a message we needed in 2020. It also made me legitimately jealous that America got to grow up with Mr. Rogers and Australia didn’t, he seemed like the best kids show host that you could hope for and I hope American’s know how lucky they were to have them.
Birds of Prey: While the film itself was badly named, the actual film was one of the most balls to the wall superhero films in recent memory. With great fight sequences and action scenes along with a dark sense of humor, it would’ve been a fantastic ride no matter who was in the lead but with the exemplary performance by Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn (let’s face it, one of the best pieces of casting in the entire superhero genre), it’s absolutely incredible in so many ways.
Disclosure: This year was a great year for documentaries and Disclosure was one of the best ones. A frank and honest exploration of trans representation in the media that explores the history, both positive and negative. If you’re in any way interested in seeing an important element of entertainment history, this is one of the best documentaries you’ll find.
Becky: Look, if you had told me that the film where Kevin James plays a white supremacist and goes to kill Joel McHale and his kid would be one of the most enjoyable films of the year, I never would’ve believed it, but Kevin gave the most surprising performance of the year and this film was a bloody good time.
Hamilton: …look, this year had maybe 15 good movies, I’m reaching here and no, I didn’t review this one but it was a pretty incredible experience to see one of the best plays on Broadway being easily available on streaming. Honestly, this is the kind of thing that should be done more often. If Disney+ was smart they’d be paying to film a lot more Broadway plays and using that to draw more people to their service… also, Hamilton is just generally awesome and I’ve been wanting some excuse to say so.
The Gentlemen: For the longest time, The Gentlemen was the 10th entry on this list until a surprise entry turned up in late december to knock it out of the running. I almost wish I could just cheat and do a top 11 because The Gentlemen is one of those joyfully fun movies that starts at full blast and never slows down. It pushes for broad comedy, everyone talking a mile a minute and firing the C word like it was punctuation. This is a must see film and I’d talk more about it but… it’s an honorable mention now, I have to stop.
And now… THE LIST!
10) Da 5 Bloods
A Spike Lee joint is always going to be worth watching just because of who made it but this film about a troupe of black veterans going back to Vietnam to recover the body of their leader (the late Chadwick Boseman) and some treasure they hid there, it’s a film about paranoia and brotherhood with performances that are to die for. Delroy Lindo is on everyone’s shortlist to get an Oscar nomination for this film for a reason, his performance is incredible and the emotional core of the movie.
I’ll admit that war films aren’t my strong suit, they’re one of the things that I don’t tend to seek out but this takes the epic scale of a war film and makes it personal and engaging. While it might not be the best Spike Lee film in recent years (Go see BlacKkKlansman!), it’s proof that the man is still at the top of his game and has no plans on slowing down any time soon.
I’m a sucker for a movie that knows what it is and embraces it, and Unhinged is giving itself the biggest hug possible. It’s basically a cheesy exploitation movie, the kind that you used to see in grindhouse cinemas, but it’s the best version of that kind of movie that you could hope for. It’s also a lot smarter than it needs to be, from how it sets up events for later on in the film to just the visual metaphor of Russell Crowe’s big black bull of a car chasing after his victims little red flag of a car.
Sure, this film might not have been a critical hit this year (48% on RT… like I said, ‘Best’ is critic code for ‘Film I liked’, at least I’m honest in liking trash) and it’s incredibly violent at times, but it knows what it is and goes for broke by being the best version of that film that it can be. Physics? Reality? Who gives a goddamn about those things when we can plow a truck through a cop car and make the cop car vanish in a violent explosion. Who cares about interesting characters, the bad singer from Les Mis just killed someone by pushing them onto their partners knife 10 times! This is just a big ball of fun that doesn’t pretend to be something it isn’t.
Soul is the kind of film that starts strong and only gets stronger. It wastes no time, it kills its protagonist in the first ten minutes and has the audience on board for a spiritual journey unlike any other in cinema. From top to bottom this film is immaculate, the animation is stellar, the performances sublime and the music makes you just want to relax and drift off into the zone.
Considering that a large part of this film was finished during the pandemic, it shouldn’t be this flawless, I should see at least something that doesn’t hit the mark. Nope, Soul shot for the moon and planted its flag there. It is a strange kind of magical film, up there with Inside Out in the pantheon of films that have no right to be this smart, touching and deep.
Happy Death Day and its sequel were some of my favourite films of recent years, both of them answers to the question “What if Groundhog Day was a horror movie?”. Upon seeing them I was delighted and hoped that the director would keep playing with this weird genre idea of turning old magical comedies into horror movies and this year he gave me that in the form of Freaky Friday, but it’s a slasher and it was one of the best experiences I had in a cinema this year.
Freaky is having the most fun out of anyone on this list. It pushes its silly idea to the limit with incredibly game performances by Vince Vaughn and Kathryn Newton who sell the body swap idea perfectly. As a slasher, it really goes all out with some creative over the top deaths that’d fit right in with the classic kills of the 80’s slashers. It’s a bright bold horror flick that stands out just by being unapologetically fun.
When it comes to gay representation in cinema, let’s be honest and admit that it’s awful. In general if there’s a gay character in a film I’m counting down the minutes till either their story ends up revolving around the AIDS crisis, they have a dramatic coming out to their parents or the character dies for the benefit of a straight character’s story. Those are the three stories gay characters seem to get more than anything else so seeing a film where a bunch of gay men just hang out, make fun of each other and play a stupid party game felt like such a relief.
The film is based on the play of the same name and features the same cast of the recent revival, a cast made up entirely of gay men who are all on top of their game. Every line is perfectly delivered, every performance has been honed in thanks to a year of Broadway shows and the entire film goes between comedic gold and emotionally devastating on a dime on multiple occasions and did I mention that the cast is entirely gay men and every single one of them is incredible? Because they are, these are some of the best actors working today and here they get to show off just how obscenely talented they are and it’s just a joy to watch.
In recent years you’ve probably seen a cartoon frog being used as a meme by the worst person you know, that guy who you suspect would totally wear a swastika in public if he could get away with it. That frog is named Pepe and he came from a comic book titled Boy’s Club and the story of how he went from an innocent cartoon frog that felt good when he peed in a toilet with his pants around his ankles into the literal symbol of white supremacy is one of the weirdest most fascinating stories you’ll hear.
Of all the documentaries that were sent out this year, Feels Good Man is the one that’s the most relevant to our time in history by exploring not only how a meme can change the course of democracy but the power of the internet. It’s a dark disturbing story that honestly should be known by everyone and this documentary really helps explain just what happened over the last several years.
This year we all had to learn how to use Zoom and accept that everything would be done from our homes and it was only a matter of time before someone turned our current situation into a film. Thankfully the first cab off the rank was Host, a found footage horror flick that was one of the most obscenely tense experiences you could hope to have. Shot entirely in quarantine conditions over zoom and only an hour long, Host proved that with a little creativity and planning that you could still make a good engaging film even with the heaviest of restrictions.
From start to finish, Host is a tension filled ride that uses the medium we’ve all become familiar with in order to mess with the audience. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, it doesn’t bother with padding, it’s an hour long thrill ride that uses every second to the best of its ability, be it creating tension by having certain people drop out of the call or freezing their camera, only to unfreeze it right as they’re suffering a brutal demise, once the horror gets going it doesn’t slow down for a second.
Also, huge props to the actresses who basically had to do everything on their own, including their own makeup effects and camera work since the quarantine forced them into that situation. This film would be impressive any year but considering it’s born from looking at the current situation and asking how to use that to make a horror movie, it’s really something special.
Fun fact, this was the last film I saw back in March before the cinemas shut down for several months due to the world deciding to end… and what a film to go out on. Pixar are normally a reliable source of greatness and Onward definitely knew how to hit me right in the feels.
Maybe it’s because it’s a story of two brothers who go on a quest to get their father back for a single day and I have a younger brother who I would absolutely do the same thing with. Maybe it’s because I’m a sucker for medieval theming placed on top of modern day iconography. Maybe it’s because the ending of this film had me crying like a gigantic baby but Onward is up there in my top 10 favourite Pixar films.
From start to finish the film is a beautiful mix of touching and hilarious. Moments like the spell making one of the main characters shrink was a brilliant hilarious scene while the ‘walking across the gorge’ sequence was tension filled and also felt relatable. Everything is just set up so carefully and so well done that there are moments where you want to just tip your hat to the film in appreciation of how it paid off something that it set up earlier.
What genuinely got this movie up so high on this list is that final sequence where the two kids finally have a chance to see their dad one more time and due to circumstances only one of them can do it… and in that moment I was a mess because I knew for a fact I would be the one to give up that chance and knew my brother would do the same for me, and the fact a film featuring blue goblin creatures voiced by Starlord and Spider-Man understood that dynamic so perfectly made it feel truly special.
2) Bloody Hell
Bloody Hell is the kind of film that starts at an 11 in terms of energy and then pops a Red Bull to see if it can go further. Truly the nuttiest film on this list, it’s hyper stylised fun that throws curveballs out every half an hour just to see if the audience is going to keep up with it. It’s not even trying to take itself seriously, it might as well be a goddamn cartoon at times but I love it for that. It never even tries to be subtle, why bother when you have a film that decides “Family of cannibals have kidnapped the lead and taken his leg” is the middle of the film… THE MIDDLE! It goes further than that folks and it revels in it.
From top to bottom everything about this film just works, from the style choices to the shot composition to the performances by a cast who realised the movie they were in and decided that the scenery looked goddamn delicious so they should probably eat all of it. It’s not just balls to the wall, it’s pounding that wall so hard that the balls have actually gone through the wall. It’s the kind of film you watch with a big dumb grin on your face because you know the filmmaker has decided to have as much fun as they possibly could and you’re just being brought along for the ride.
This is actually the only film on this list that’s getting a later release in America than it is in Australia, the American’s get it about the middle of January so let me use this moment to scream “GO SEE THIS MOVIE!”. You won’t be disappointed with it, it’s one of the most fun experiences I’ve had watching a film this year… but, there was one film that I not only enjoyed more, but it impressed me beyond anything else that I saw this year.
AND THE BEST FILM OF THE YEAR IS…
A few years ago we were promised an MCU-esque series of films starring Universal movie monsters that would be known as the Dark Universe. Unfortunately, they only got out one film, the disastrous The Mummy, before realising that was a bad idea that bad people have and abandoning the project. This meant that the Universal movie monsters would be available for use by anyone and Blumhouse took a punt by calling in Leigh Whannell and asking him if he wanted to do something. What he came up with is the tensest and smartest take on The Invisible Man I’ve seen in my life.
The setup is simple, what would it be like to be a victim of the invisible man? Well, it’d probably be a little like being gaslit by an abusive partner and with that setup the film turns into a high stakes thriller about a battered woman who finally gets away from her abusive boyfriend only for him to find a new way to torture her until she comes back to him. From top to bottom the film is really working hard to tell a tale of spousal abuse but never pushes it so far that it becomes tasteless.
Elisabeth Moss is destined to join Lupita Nyong’o, Florence Pugh and Toni Collete in the exclusive club of “Female stars of 2000’s horror films who absolutely deserved an Oscar nomination but won’t get it because the Oscars are cowards who won’t give horror it’s due” with her absolutely brilliant performance. Keep in mind that she basically has to spend the entire film going crazy with nothing there to work with and she sells every single second. When she’s terrified, you feel it in your bones. When she’s broken down, you want nothing more than to help her. The final scene of this movie contains some of the best acting that Elisabeth has ever done, a simple change of expression at just the right time is powerful enough that it can send an audience into uproarious cheers.
Then there’s the visual language that was invented just for this film, the camera just going off on its own sometimes as though it saw something that you couldn’t creates some of the most breathlessly tense moments in the film. I spent so much of my time just looking around to see if something moved when it wasn’t supposed to because I knew that the invisible man could be anywhere. It’s the kind of film that’ll ratchet up the tension to its peak, then let it out with a scare only to have all the tension come rushing back the second you realise “Oh wait, he could still be in the frame right now”
The Invisible Man shows how good a horror film can be with the right creator behind the camera and the right star in front of it. Again, were the academy not a bunch of cowards, this film would be taking home awards that it richly deserves but instead it might just have to settle for being top of this list (and hopefully appear on many others like it)
So, what films this year helped you survive 2020? Like me I’m sure you’re probably hoping that next years crop will be better and here’s hoping that we all make it there together. Keep safe, wear your masks, let’s make 2021 a little less dumpstery than 2016-2020 have been