Review of the year 2020

This is a film website so when I say review of the year, I’m only talking movies. There’s no getting away from the pandemic though because cinema, like everything else, has had to change due to the restrictions placed on our lives. Cinemas themselves were closed for four months of the year in the UK and at the time of writing are shut again in much of the country. In many parts of the States they have not reopened at all since this whole thing started. As a result most of the big blockbuster movies that usually dominate from May to August and again in December have not yet been released. Tenet did come out in the Summer, as did Wonder Woman 1984 a couple of weeks ago, and Mulan streamed on Disney+ but most have stayed locked up while the world has been locked down. Due to Christopher Nolan’s commitment to theatrical screening I did get to watch the film I was most looking forward to this year but I am disappointed not to have seen No Time to Die and Ghostbusters: Afterlife. I’m sure I’d have had fun with Black Widow, The Eternals, Top Gun: Maverick, In the Heights, Fast & Furious 9 and Dune too. Still, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is out there now so 2021 could be a particularly big year.

Of course the smaller films have managed to get out there via streaming and personally I’m only a little shy of the ninety to a hundred new release movies I normally see in a year. Following here, ten at a time, is the full list of all of them in preference order.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

2. Weathering With You

3. Babyteeth

4. The Assistant

5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

6. Tenet

7. Just Mercy

8. 1917

9. Bombshell

10. Uncut Gems

My top ten is not actually that different this year, being a mix of higher profile movies and largely unseen gems. I am particularly pleased to have seen a good number of films centring on women, in line with one of my blogs key focuses, and four of my top five films have female directors, which is about a quarter of all of the movies on my list that do.

For more details on my top ten click here

11. Jojo Rabbit

12. Parasite

13. Queen & Slim

14. Small Axe – Mangrove

15. Little Joe

16. Host

17.Mank

18. Summerland

19. The Trial of the Chicago 7

20. Saint Maud

These are another ten excellent films. To be honest we are going to get into the fifties until we find any movies I had a problem with and into the eighties before we get to any I didn’t like. Mangrove is the highest ranked of Steve McQueen’s brilliant series of Small Axe films but they really need to be seen together to properly appreciate them. Even beyond these five movies 2020 has had other great films that raised awareness of black rights issues, like Queen & Slim and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom that is coming up in the next batch. Even Aaron Sorkin’s latest The Trial of the Chicago 7 had some important things to say here.

As a rule Horror is probably my least favourite film genre but there were some excellent movies in this category too. Host was simple but so effective and Saint Maud was bonkers but brilliant, both films being built around excellent performances. Little Joe was delightfully creepy and of course there is Parasite that started as a quirky family con artist drama before going to some disturbing places at the end.

21. Rocks

22. The Invisible Man

23. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

24. Small Axe – Lovers Rock

25. On the Rocks

26. Dark Waters

27. Mulan

28. Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn

29. The Midnight Sky

30. Da 5 Bloods

At the start of the year no one would have predicted that Birds of Prey would end up being the best comic book film of the year but it was a lot of fun and wore its feminist sensibilities strongly on its tasseled sleeve. Mulan was also a great celebration of girl power for girls of all ages and Rocks and The Invisible Man showcased female strength in very different ways too.

The Midnight Sky debuted on Netflix on 23rd December to mediocre reviews but I really liked the relationship between George Clooney and the young girl that he finds in what he thought was a deserted polar station.

31. Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

32. Vast of Night

33. Dating Amber

34. Rebecca

35. The Hunt

36. Small Axe – Education

37. Axe – Ben Wheatle

38. Days of the Bagnold Summer

39. First Love

40. Enola Holmes

This ten includes two more of the Small Axe films but in when it comes to presentation there were also some good movies featuring LBGT characters this year (including my no. 1). Dating Amber was a charming romcom where the guy and the girl didn’t get together because because they are both gay. Then there was Summerland and to come we have Happiest Season. Further down the list there’s also The Prom that managed to have a moving message of inclusion despite James Corden giving the least progressive depicted of homosexuality since Deliverance.

Then of course there was Rebecca with the famous Mrs. Danvers. In this version her relationship with the first Mrs. DeWinter was more maternal so avoided the accusations of the monstrous lesbian levelled at the Hitchcock version. Overall it wasn’t as good as the original movie but this is only one of the areas in which it was better.

41. Emma.

42. Extraction

43. The Personal History of David Copperfield

44. Miss Americana

45. The Girl With a Bracelet

46. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

47. The Gentlemen

48. Small Axe – Red, White and Blue

49. Wonder Woman 1984

50. Happiest Season

You wouldn’t have expected Guy Ritchie’s The Gentleman to have the most positive representations of women but actually Michelle Dockery is quite good in it. Wonder Woman of course continued to celebrate feminine strength. This time she even got a pair of trousers. The great surprise though was Borat which had a really strong feminist element.

51. Around the Sun

52. Lynn + Lucy

53. Plus One

54. Relic

55. Ammonite

56. The Old Guard

57. The Witches

58. Eternal Beauty

59. Bill & Ted Face the Music

60. The Rhythm Section

Here we start the find some issues. Lynn + Lucy was brilliantly written and performed but was quite hard work. Plus One tried to shake up romantic comedy conventions by heavily mimicking When Harry Met Sally which is the film that pretty much defined the genre. Ammonite (which doesn’t formally open until March but showed around the country this year to mark the close of The London Film Festival) told of palaeontologist Mary Anning with telling very little of palaeontologist Mary Anning. The Witches took all of the darkness out of Roald Dahl’s darkest book and Bill & Ted just came too late to the party.

61. Soul

62. Bad Education

63. Vivarium

64. Project Power

65. Get Duked!

66. The Prom

67. How to Build a Girl

68. Used To Go Here

69. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

70. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

None of these movies between 50 and 80 are bad but none of them were totally satisfying. Sometimes it is just that they didn’t seem to know what audience they were going for, as with Soul and Get Duked!, some times they were just a bit all over the place like The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and as suggested already The Prom. In a few cases they were a little lacklustre like Bad Education or they just weren’t much fun like I’m Thinking of Ending Things and Vivarium. Most of them have full entries on the blog so search for them if you are interested.

71. An American Pickle

72. Onward

73. The One and Only Ivan

74. Misbehaviour

75. Military Wives

76. Bad Boys For Life

77. Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

78. Sonic the Hedgehog

79. Bloodshot

80. The Secret Garden

This selection includes the two highest grossing English language films of 2020, Bad Boys for Life and Sonic the Hedgehog; a couple of movies that were okay but wouldn’t have registered as much in any other year, especially the latter.

81. Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

82. The New Mutants

83. Artemis Fowl

84. Noelle

85. Cleanin’ Up the Town: Remembering Ghostbusters

86. Dolittle

87. Hubie Halloween

88. Desperados

Okay, these last few are pretty terrible. Click here to get the full breakdown on why but mostly it’s because they are dumb or unfunny. It’s worth noting that while Netflix had three movies in my top twenty, they have as many in the bottom eight.

So 2020 has not been a time for blockbusters, which with Marvel going from strength to strength over the last decade and Star Wars coming back, this sets it well apart from recent years. What it was though was a heyday for streaming and smaller films. The first of these definitely won’t pass when COVID-19 does but hopefully neither will the second. Let’s get what we can out of the year we’ve had.

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