Top 5 Films of 2020

Okay, so we know that 2020 has been a, shall we say, challenging time. Personally, I’d refer to it as a log flume that used raw sewage instead of water, but let’s be diplomatic here.

Usually, as part of my year-end posts, I’d produce a Top 10 List of that year’s films; this year has been significantly barer than others in terms of releases, however, so that didn’t prove possible.

I could have opened the Top 10 to my classic reviews too, but I didn’t think it was appropriate to heap yet more praise on films from the past when there were significant releases this year that should be spotlighted too. I also briefly considered stretching it to the usual 10 with films I enjoyed but weren’t special, but that would just de-value the list as a whole I feel.

I have made my ‘Awards’ post open to every review I’ve done, however, as that would be significantly trickier than this.

The usual rules apply: only films I have seen that received a cinema or streaming release in the UK in 2020 are eligible, most, if not all, of these five released in the US in 2019, but since I am UK-based, I’m using their release over here as their date. I also introduced a ‘one comic-book movie per year’ rule last year, but that doesn’t apply this time out. Unusually for me, there are no honourable mentions this time out either.

Okay, that’s enough delays, on with the list…

5: Onward – Directed by Dan Scanlon

Pixar have well and truly entrenched themselves into the public consciousness as the kings of animation. So much so that even films that aren’t considered their best are still great works; because their highs are so high, even their middle ground is great.

What I’m trying to say is that even though Onward probably won’t make it onto most peoples list of greatest Pixar movies, it is still a heart-warming example of the pure magic animation can produce, it retains the same emotional heart that beats at the core of all of their films while exploring new pastures and settings.

The sad reality is that even though Onward is a great film, it probably wouldn’t have made the list in a normal year. Still, it is worth remembering its quality, and the fact that it offered a brief feel-good moment in this hellscape of a year.

4: Bombshell – Directed by Jay Roach

2020 has been a year of great social upheaval. On top of the obvious COVID storm lingering over the year like a terrible sword of Damocles, it has been a year of unrest and reflection in many different quarters.

Although the general focus has been on race relations for the majority of the year, the underlying battle for gender equality has still been raging. Several very brave victims have come forward with their stories, and I’d like to think that their bravery will continue to bring about a wave of changes in all areas of every-day life.

With this in mind, Bombshell was a perfect movie for the times. Telling the story of rampant sexual harassment at the right-win broadcaster Fox News, and shining a light on the true story of the women involved, it shone a light on an all-too-recent story, but also seems to have slipped by unnoticed.

It was also a brave new direction for Jay Roach, best known up to this point for making the Austin Powers series of films, themselves not entirely politically correct in the current climate. It can almost be seen as a form of repentance from the director for these past indiscretions. Not that I’m saying his previous films were entirely sexist, they were, after all, a spoof, but it is an interesting about-face for Roach.

3: 1917 – Directed by Sam Mendes

I’ll be honest, it was a tough choice putting this in the list, as it and my second place choice can be interchangeable, depending on my feelings that day.

As much as it is a technical marvel, the real appeal in 1917 for me was the characters and story. I’m always wary of films marketed because of their central gimmick. I’m into films for character and story, as a rule, I’m not interested in how you filmed it, as long as I can make out what’s going on, but I’ll be damned if the unique selling point here didn’t work well.

I think the difference between this and, say, Avatar, which was also sold on its central gimmick of 3D and cutting-edge effects is that 1917 had an engaging story, and its unique selling point enhanced that. It added a ticking-clock element and a feeling of ever-mounting stakes, it wasn’t just a gimmick that have you a headache, it served a purpose. It was a story told in real-time, and the way it was shot serves that, rather than being a story made to fit a gimmick, it was a gimmick made to fit a story, a subtle but crucial difference, I’m sure you’ll agree.

2: A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood – Directed by Marielle Heller

Even though 1917 is by far and away the better film technically speaking; sometimes all a film needs to do to meet my approval is a lovable subject, and this was a film that melted my heart on my first watch.

Growing up in the U.K. I was never exposed to Fred Rogers at any point growing up. His show never made it this far, but the more I learn about him, the more I adore him. Like Matthew Rhys’ character in this film, I find it hard it to believe that such a wholesome man can exist without him hiding something, but I want it to be true more than anything.

I suppose him being played by Tom Hanks helps, what with him being the single most wholesome, lovable man in the world, and Hanks’ performance makes Rogers all the more likeable, he inhabits this wonderful character and delivers his best performance in years.

It might be a fairly ordinary biopic, but it is set apart by its subject, its performances, and, most of all, the size of its heart.

1: Parasite – Directed by Bong Joon-ho

I mean, were you expecting anything else?

It says a lot about a film when I take my time to recommend it to everyone I talk to about it. I feel like it was a lifetime ago when I saw it, and yet I remember it so vividly. Few films manage to affect me as Parasite did, and few manage to change me in the same way.

It opened my eyes to the wonderful work of Bong Joon-ho, and Korean cinema in general. It was accessible to a new viewer without diluting any of its themes at all. It may have been a story entrenched in Korean culture, but it is still recognisable wherever you watch it from. A good story well-told can be understood and recognised universally, and this is a terrific example.

It’s not just my film of the year, it might be my favourite film I have ever reviewed, and even if this year had been as busy as previous years, it would have taken a monumental effort to shift it from its perch at my mountaintop.

I have run out of superlatives over the months since its release in which to use to describe it. It’s magnificent, thrilling and ground-breaking. It is, and I don’t use this word lightly, a masterpiece.

Come back tomorrow for the Second Annual Major Film Reviews Awards in which I’ll be handing out my awards for the best (and worst) films I’ve reviewed this year!

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