Top 10 Films of 2020
Okay, I’m not going to mince my words here when I say 2020 has been a pretty tripe year. In the wake of a global pandemic, one of the most intense presidential elections in history, an ongoing fight for racial justice that’s long overdue, and other harsh events, it’s fair to say it’s been a lot for people. And with cinemas being closed in the wake of COVID-19, and streaming services and Video on Demand platforms being on the rise throughout all this, films themselves have changed a bit. A lot more releases either had to be pushed back or distributed through safer means of streaming, and despite the anxieties that have come from all this, 2020 still provided plenty of excellent films to indulge on.
Today, I’m going to provide my Top 10 Favourite Films of 2020. Just as a disclaimer, all of the selected films on this are of my opinion, and my opinion alone. If any of your favourite films of this year weren’t in the list, I either didn’t get around to it, or simply didn’t think it met the criteria. However, it doesn’t make your opinion any less valid than mine, and that’s okay.
Before I start, here are the honourable mentions. The films from this year I hugely enjoyed, but just didn’t quite make the Top 10. Regardless, their achievements and contributions to a trashy year shouldn’t be ignored.
The King of Staten Island
Phineas & Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe
Over the Moon
The Trial of the Chicago 7
On the Rocks
Bill & Ted Face the Music
With that said and done, let’s begin the list!
Though it was technically released back in 2018, Howard only got its official wide release through Disney+ in 2020, which I feel makes it qualifiable enough for this list.
Howard is a documentary film that chronicles the life of esteemed playwright and lyricist, Howard Ashman, who in the tail end of the 1980s and early 90s created the songs behind The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. This film, brought to life mostly only using archival recordings and a display of photographed images of his life is riveting viewing. Don Hahn, the famed Disney producer already proved this format could work wonders with documentaries through his film Waking Sleeping Beauty, so to see it reworked to pay tribute to Ashman’s legacy is nonetheless heartwarming and inviting to see. It might have perhaps focused a bit too much of his Disney contributions rather than a large amount of his history creating Little Shop of Horrors among other things, but on the whole it’s still exceptional documentary storytelling. It’s an important film on the whole, lovingly sharing a talented man’s life, and how his musical magic changed the landscape of Disney Animation forever.
#9:- THE INVISIBLE MAN
2020 hasn’t particularly been an amazing year for Horror, mainly since a lot of the amazing spark of seeing scary films in the cinema has been undeniably quite absent with COVID. But just before everything went south, Leigh Whannel came back into the Horror genre under Blumhouse to deliver a unique and refreshing spin on one of the most iconic Universal movie monsters.
The Invisible Man was a ton of fun, not only working as a rompy scarefest, but also with a surprisingly amount of solid substance behind the horror. It’s quite a deep creepy look into a woman’s psyche after running away from an abusive relationship, and how that quite literally comes back to haunt her. In a weird way, the scares in The Invisible Man come sometimes less from the general suspense, but rather in the real life implications of Elizabeth Moss’s inner turmoil. That is a sign of a top tier Horror film, and it makes it an easy recommendation from my end, even if I can understand how some might be a bit turned off from the film’s Sci-Fi themes.
#8:- NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
If there was one film that came out this year that felt the most raw, genuine and brutally honest with its subject matter in unapologetic light, it’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always. This drama follows a young woman who runs off to New York with her friend in secret to have an abortion following a surprise pregnancy.
This film is a bit of a difficult sit, but as a piece of dramatic film, it’s fantastic. Nothing else this year has come close to feeling as raw and real as this one does. It puts you in the shoes of this young girl and the emotional weight she must have gone through to get an abortion without having to face the disappointment of her family. It captures that feeling of true loneliness that hasn’t been captured all that often in film, and it’s all the more commendable for it. It’s a huge slow burner and some will likely turn it off immediately, but if you are willing to stick around, you’ll be in for a film that won’t leave your mind long after you see it for better or worse.
#7:- ENOLA HOLMES
Easily one of the most delightfully entertaining films of 2020, Enola Holmes was a major treat if not for one significant reason: it finally gave Millie Bobby Brown a role where she should shine her exuberant acting colours.
This film felt like such a refreshing twist on a story and a world we know all too well with Sherlock Holmes, and thanks to the quirky as hell writing and direction to support it, Enola Holmes was such a pleasant surprise to come from it. It still works well as a compelling Holmes mystery narrative, while also having the right comedic chops to make it work for people of all ages. If anything, this film deserves to be in the Top 10, just for being so full of genuine good vibes. It’s funny, incredibly charming, well acted, and above all great fun. A perfect rompy family movie.
Kajillionaire is my far one of the year’s most bizarre films and it definitely benefits from that fact. The film follows a crime family, who basically go by robbing joints to barely get by in their lives until their daughter starts to fall for a girl. The film is really fun to watch, both as a small indie heist film, but also as a character study for Evan Rachel Wood. It’s a subtle but strong dissection of a daughter’s relationship with her loving but otherwise overbearing parents, especially as her growing romantic tensions for Gina Rodriguez make her want to leave everything behind.
Fans of Miranda July’s eccentric work will definitely get a big kick out of this, but those also looking for just a slightly different indie work that doesn’t stray too much away from the easy going comedy-drama conventions will find a lot of good from this. It kind of flew under the radar this year during the festival circuits which is kind of a shame, because it’s very enjoyable and worth checking out.
#5:- MOGUL MOWGLI
Another film that dropped this year during the festival circuit that not a lot of people got to see, Mogul Mowgli is a great acting powerhouse for it’s star and Co-Writer, Riz Ahmed, while also being an intriguing dissection into a young star falling from grace,
Mogul Mowgli follows a very successful rapper who returns to the UK and his Pakistani family after he gets diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that could potentially jeopardize his career and life. This film is a powerful work, being a surprisingly harsh depiction of immigrant families and how their cultures influence their treatment to their kids. Alongside that, the film is also an amazing example of how strong sound design, editing techniques and camera trickery can help us get into the shoes of a man whose career is escaping his grasp because of things out of his control. It’s very harsh and brutal to watch at times, but isn’t without a decent share of entertainment value with a great soundtrack and an earnest heart behind it all. It’s worth seeking out now it is available digitally following a cut short theatrical run.
Onward is perhaps the hottest take in this entire list, because while it was liked by audiences and critics on its release, it didn’t receive a lot of the same euphoric praise that a lot of other Pixar films had. It also likely didn’t help that it’s cinema run was cut tragically short and not many people got to experience it until Disney+ gave it a newfound audience.
But for me personally, Onward struck a massive chord not only for being so fun and expansive with its take on a suburban fantasy, but also how it feels like such a massive love letter to family and ESPECIALLY the sibling relationship. I cried harder in this film than I have for anything else in 2020, simply because the story resonated with me on a deep level. How it explores that unique sibling bond and how they help influence the special person you become later down the line, and also how someone can still deal with their own mental health struggles and grief long after losing someone close to them. It’s a beautifully emotional tale, but it also remembers to be really fun and exhilarating with its world building and characters. It’s understandable how some might feel disappointed at a fantasy universe built like modern suburbia, but with it’s message of embracing the magic within us all, there’s a way for this world to still have the right build to support its themes, especially with the inclusion of ancient magic.
Onward is simply enough, just a great time. An exciting road trip adventure with the right balance of adventure and heart all wonderfully woven together to create a welcoming bromantic man-cry of a movie.
While it is definitely a shame that Soul was utterly robbed of its cinema release because of the pandemic it got thrust into, to see it as a welcoming Christmas treat for many families to huddle up and watch during the holiday season on Disney+ is nonetheless welcoming.
Soul is above all else fantastic. Being a Pixar film more geared towards an adult crowd, it explores many philosophical and intellectual themes regarding our lives that I don’t quite think any other film has done before. It’s brimming with such great imagination with how it builds a truly visceral world where souls are created before being sent to Earth, along with the wonders of life itself in a Jazz filled New York City. It’s a film that could perhaps re-contextualise how someone perceives their own life for the better, and when a film does that in a reassuring and uplifting manner, it deserves to be commended. If among all else, Soul is a true masterpiece, that might not appeal to the kids on the same level of other family movies, but definitely provides a refreshing 2020 palette cleanser for the adults. It’s a beautiful ode to the meaning of life with a poignant message that needs to be heard more than ever.
#2:- I’M THINKING OF ENDING THINGS
Charlie Kaufman is one of the most original and experimental voices working in film to date. If you are familiar with the likes of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Anomalisa, or Synecdoche New York, his work could either be seen as wonderfully crafted or wildly pretentious depending on the viewer.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is perhaps the only film to come out this year that could be too difficult to describe in a single sentence. What starts off as a bubbly romantic drama about a young woman meeting her boyfriend’s parents, turns into one of 2020’s most thought provoking puzzles. At one glance it’s a psychological horror, but could randomly drift into one of the most beautiful odes to romance and love on an emotional level. I’ve never quite seen a film like this where it can capture both the joys of love, but also describe through visuals in similar fashion the isolation and loneliness that comes with the lack of it.
If you want to watch this film, my recommendation really is to just go in completely blind. Maybe give the film multiple viewings to wrap your head around some of the more experimental elements, and simply just try your best to interpret the story from your own perspective. I’m Thinking of Ending Things doesn’t hold your hand, but that’s what makes it so special. Charlie Kaufman made one of the year’s most audacious films, and though it might be hit or miss for some, I thought it was absolutely amazing. I only have the highest respect towards Netflix for allowing Charlie Kaufman to have the creative freedom to do whatever the hell he wanted with this film. It’s truly wonderful to see.
My favourite film of 2020 weirdly came from a place where I least expected it. I was already a big fan of the film of Tomm Moore who made the excellent Irish Folklore animated films, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. But never in a million years did I expect for his third and easily best film, Wolfwalkers, to really have that much of an emotional impact on me.
Wolfwalkers is a pure delight, not only as a beautiful piece of animated storytelling, but also in how it never felt afraid to be a bit darker and experimental with its filmmaking either. It’s got something for everyone here with a whimsical tale about the importance of friendship for kids, alongside a dark and gritty tale about war over things people don’t quite understand for the adults. Even when its story about a clan of people who become wolves when they sleep feels reminiscent of other animated films mainly of the Disney fare, it has more than enough of a unique spin on its world and characters that it can still feel remarkably original.
Wolfwalkers is less of a film I love because of what it represents or says, but more rather because it evokes such genuine entertainment and emotion. It’s just a damn great film all around that is equally fun to watch as it is moving and a feast for the eyes. Sometimes a film doesn’t need to seem important or ambitious, as long as it makes you feel something at all times, whether it be happiness, sadness, fear or all the things in between. This film is a pure delight from start to finish; a rollercoaster of emotions, thrills and a fun world that mixes fantasy and real Irish history. It’s one I feel anyone of any age should check out. I guarantee there will be at least something for you in Wolfwalkers.
As we head into the new year after being part of perhaps one of the most historically significant series of events we might ever experience, it’s more important than ever to look back over the things that mean the world of good to us rather than all of the bad that has happened this year. As for film themselves, while it is stressful to see how the industry itself is struggling amid the cinema closures, I still feel there is a bright future ahead.
Streaming has shown over the last few years to have the potential to combat theatres as a legitimate method of film distribution, not only for many of the streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, but also as a safe place for indie filmmakers and distributors who want to make their work more accessible to people.
I have a firm belief cinemas will return, and when they do we will be a gradual rise in capacity once more when we eventually exit this pandemic should the vaccines suffice. Cinemas are too precious to film fans, as well as the general public who just simply want to experience new stories. It’s a great space not only as means of escape but also as communal and social spaces. The important thing now than ever is to give theatres, especially indie venues, the support they can get, whether it be through social presence or donations where viable.
2020 has been a true slump, but I’m hoping with 2021 that there are brighter days ahead. Until then, stay safe, wear a mask, socially distance yourselves, and take care.