Top 10 Films of 2020
Based on UK release from January 1st-December 31st 2020. Ellis is EB, Gareth is GB.
2020 has been a strange year for all of us and in particular it's tested the world of film. With cinemas being closed, the production companies understandably haven't wanted to drop their films into an empty theatre. But the year has been filled with a very good dose of excellent movies: from Tenet to Spongebob; Mulan to Jojo Rabbit; Parasite to Mank; the variety has been incredible. So here, myself and Gareth have got together to choose the Top 10 films of the year, a year that I believe will go down in history for cinema. Never have so many stories of black lives been at the forefront: Rocks, Soul, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, His House, The Trial of the Chicago 7 and Steve McQueen's Small Axe series are just a few of the incredible films that all received 4 or 5 stars from us this year. So, with 2021 gearing up to be one of the busiest years for film, let's hope for more trips to the cinema, and more incredible stories like the ones we've seen this year. And let us hope, that people who perhaps were not major film fans before a national lockdown, will now rally together to help cinema to stay alive.
- Ellis Barthorpe
10. The Boys in the Band
Directed by Joe Mantello | Run time: 121 mins | ★★★★ | Netflix
At a birthday party in 1968 New York, a surprise guest and a drunken game leave seven gay friends reckoning with unspoken feelings, and hidden truths are brought to the surface.
EB: "The whole cast are exceptional here; it's a really collaborative performance! Together, they capture the sense of unity that you often get from a cast for a play. Jim Parsons in particular gives a career best performance. The way we see him celebrating life as a proud, gay man amongst gay friends and then to slowly deteriorate into an aggressive host is delicately done, yet so incredibly intense."
9. A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood
Directed by Marielle Helller | Run time: 109 mins | ★★★★ | NowTV
An award-winning cynical journalist, Lloyd Vogel, begrudgingly accepts an assignment to write a piece on the beloved television icon Fred Rogers. After his encounter with Rogers, Vogel's perspective on life is transformed.
GB: "The moment where Tom Hanks stares straight at you for a while is something I didn't realise I needed in my life. It completely summed up the man he was portraying and the film they were trying to make. A stunning example of a 'feel good' movie."
Directed by Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart | Run time: 103 mins | ★★★★ | AppleTV+
A young apprentice hunter and her father journey to Ireland to help wipe out the last pack of wolves. But everything changes when she befriends a girl from a mysterious tribe, going against the will of her protective father.
EB: "With animation delving more and more into a state of realism, having Wolfwalkers as an artistic, drawn picture left it pushing ahead of others. The heart was in the story, and the performances, and the colours...the quality fell effortlessly into place."
7. The Lighthouse
Directed by Robert Eggers | Run time: 109 mins | ★★★★ | NowTV
Two lighthouse keepers try to maintain their sanity while working on a remote and New England island in the late 19th century. But the chaos that follows is seemingly uncontrollable.
GB: "I watched this during the fancy free days of lockdown 1.0. The lights were down, candles on and the wine was poured. I barely touched my drink the whole time. A claustrophobic, tense and beautiful piece of cinema that, to me, is exactly what film is all about."
6. Jojo Rabbit
Directed by Taika Waititi | Run time: 108 mins | ★★★★ | NowTV
Jojo, a young German boy wishes to prove himself a true Nazi, following his idol Adolf Hitler as religiously as possible. But his idol lives in his head, as a particularly peculiar imaginary friend for a 10 year old boy to accommodate. And when he discovers a Jewish girl living upstairs, it forces Jojo to improvise. What would Hitler do?
EB: "One particular shot of a pair of familiar shoes is so stunningly harrowing. Having Jojo attempt to tie the laces but still being unable to makes his loss and struggle even more gut-wrenching."
GB: "Halfway through a long haul flight (in early 2020), tired and bored I stuck this film on after hearing so much about it. I laughed and I had a subtle, but very real cry into my tiny inflight meal."
5. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Directed by George C. Wolfe | Run time: 94 mins | ★★★★ | Netflix
Tensions rise when the Mother of the Blues, Ma Rainey and her band gather at a Chicago recording studio in 1927. Adapted from August Wilson's play, the story focuses primarily on Levee, the trumpet player and his reactions to the way events play out at the studio.
EB: "Chadwick Boseman delivers one of the best pieces of acting I've ever seen. The performance of 2020! May it be a memorable conclusion to an incredibly short but influential career."
GB: "Although it's not the best piece of filmmaking you'll see this year, the acting and story on display makes it a Top 10 movie. Everyone is on point here and it's easily one of Netflix's finer movie attempts."
Directed by Sarah Gavron | Run time: 94 mins | ★★★★ | Netflix
A teenage girl suddenly finds herself struggling to take care of herself and her younger brother when her mother suddenly leaves home.
EB: "Emmanuel steals the show here let's be honest. Child actors can often be insufferable, but on the odd occasion, you get a gem. And D'angelou Osei Kissiedu definitely does that here; and the chemistry that the rest of the cast have with him is beautifully real."
GB: "This is a Britain I know even if I didn't grow up in the same way or in the same place. It smacks of honesty and vibrance from start to finish. Rocks is everything I love about U.K film, humour, drama and truth through cloudy skies."
Directed by Sam Mendes | Run time: 119 mins | ★★★★★ | Amazon Prime
At the height of World War I, two young British soldiers must cross enemy territory and deliver a message that will stop a deadly attack on hundreds of soldiers.
EB: "Films looked incredible this year, and this one was the best of the bunch! Shots that showed glimmers of hope through strong lighting and steady camerawork were juxtaposed with true moments of carnage and destruction. The famous shot in particular of Schofield running alongside the trench says so much. A man who can almost see the finish line, and will do whatever it takes to cross it, for he's endured too much to lose out now."
GB: "I spent the whole runtime in awe at what I was watching. I thought that the one shot style would be a distraction but in fact it showed me devastation & loss in real time. The whole thing felt brutal; that feeling compounded by the magnificent score. Stunning!"
2. Small Axe: Mangrove
Directed by Steve McQueen | Run time: 127 mins | ★★★★★ | BBC iPlayer
The true story of the Mangrove Nine, Frank Crichlow, and the trial that took place at the Old Bailey in 1970.
EB: "How can a story about black prejudice and racism in the 60's and 70's be so relevant today? This film just proved that the world needs to adapt and Steve McQueen highlighted that brilliantly with effortless storytelling."
GB: "Going in to this via the BBC 9pm showing I wasn't expecting what I got; another British classic destined for the Top 10 of 2020. It's amazing to see these stories given their time in a year where a genuine change seems to be taking place in the film world at least. The Small Axe anthology is an important step for U.K film, with Mangrove being my favourite of the lot."
Directed by Bong Joon-ho | Run time: 133 mins | ★★★★★ | Amazon Prime
All unemployed, the Kim family take peculiar interest in the wealthy and glamorous Park family. All of them find a way to work within their ritzy home and feed off the family like 'Parasites'.
EB: "I think the reason I enjoyed this film so much was that going in, I had no idea what it was about. I'd watched no trailers, seen no interviews, just went in blind; and that made it all so much better. From start to finish, I was fascinated by the palette and intoxicated from the fumes of originality and twisting narrative."
GB: "What can I say about a film that's had everything said about it? I was delighted to get the opportunity to watch this for the first time at the cinema in early September. I really didn't expect the story and I still can't quite get over it now. Great filmmaking and deserved number one spot for the year."
So there it is, the top 10 of the year. Each film on this list is currently available on a streaming service and we have noted for each where you will be able to watch. On the podcast 'talkabout with Ellis & Gwilym' you will find the newest episode, '19. The talkabout Awards 2020' in which the Best Picture category is surrounded by eleven other awards including Best Album, Best Game and the Performance of the Year. Go and give it a listen wherever you stream your pods.
We hope you enjoyed our Top 10 and don't expect you to agree with us. So please don't hesitate to get in touch and tell us what your favourite films of the dreaded 2020 were. You can follow us on focusfilmmovies on Instagram now.
Find all of Ellis & Gareth's reviews on the blog now, including reviews for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Wolfwalkers and Small Axe: Mangrove.