Cult of the Cinema’s Favourite Films of 2020

This last year has been such a series of lows that Cinema, being the resourceful entity that it is, has strived to survive and flourish in such uncertain times. UK Cinemas have closed and opened to yet again close once more over the last year, during these times, trying to keep their audience expectations alive with a mix of blockbusters, independent films and foreign feature films and whole slew of re-release films from varying decades. The chain cinemas rather than the independent cinemas have faired much worse in the CoVid era, with Cineworld, the UK’s biggest chain, closing down completely prior to Novembers lockdown, citing the none release of the latest James Bond as a huge financial dent to their business. With no clear endgame, it has been difficult for film fans to visit the Cinema, which is a sad situation, but this will not last, Cinema is a strong beast and it will survive.

With this in mind, many of the films listed in my top fifteen have been a mix of Cinema and streaming sites such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and one of my favourites, Curzon Home Cinema. As my personal trips to the Cinema have been varied over the last four years, I have managed to visit these picture houses more often that I expected to considering the situation. From January to February 2020 I maintained regular trips to the Cinema, come the first lockdown, streaming and Blu-ray premiers became the norm, then the summer from July onwards the trips to the Cinema returned and I had the great pleasure of re-visit an old Cinema I had not been too since the 1990’s the Genesis in Whitechapel a lovely old-fashioned picture house run independently with top notch staff and a great variety of films on their books, along with returns to Cineworld and several trips to the Everyman Cinema in Crystal Palace, a newly re-opened picture house (two years ago) and again a lovely new discovery. I have, in these trying times, fully appreciated a trip to the Cinema as something more that a day out, it is my life blood and a place I can disappear too for several hours and immerse myself in the celluloid delights of film watching.

So here is the Cult’s favourite films of 2020, from cinematic delights, to streaming on the smaller the screen, read and enjoy my favourites and comment on them if you like…

15. Richard Jewell (2019) Director Clint Eastwood. Eastwood takes another story of the American everyman and shines a light on the hidden hero of his country. This time Richard Jewell, a security guard is an instant hero after foiling a bomb attack at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. His life becomes a living nightmare when the FBI leaks information to the media that he is a suspect in the case. Sadly and amazingly this is a true story and director Eastwood shows how an unlikely hero can become an overnight villain through the law enforcement overzealousness and the media baying for blood.

14. Siberia (2020) Director Abel Ferrara. Ferrara takes the viewer into a nightmarish world of cold and snow as Willem Dafoe eeks out an existence in a snowy Siberian bar with only a handful of patrons and his vivid dreams of his surgeon father and and various strangers afflicted with illnesses to keep him company. Dafoe is a master of the dark external struggles of a lone man, while Ferrara delivers another haunting and nightmarish trip into the psyche of a man struggling with life’s purpose.

13. Tommaso (2019) Director Abel Ferrara. Ferrara’s film follows the ups and downs of Tommaso, played by Willem Dafoe living in an Italian city, devising his time between his young wife and child (who he suspects is having and affair) and his work as a drama teacher. All the while he is struggling with writers block as he scripts a new film. I suspect that this film is very autobiographical and Dafoe brings a superb depth to his character struggling with his inner torments while maintaining a semblance of outward sanity. Superb.

12. Jo Jo Rabbit (2019) Director Taika Waititi. Waititi’s film is a metaphor for individuality, expression and being different. The Nazi Germany setting is simply used to accentuate the those metaphors against the horror of a group of people who had only one goal, to destroy anyone who did not fit their ideals. Told with very black humour, Roman Griffin Davis plays JoJo who’s imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler, as played by Waititi himself. JoJo tries to match up to Hitlers views of the world, while all around him Nazi Germany is losing the war, but those views are turned upside-down as JoJo befriends a young Jewish girl hiding in his house and learns how misplaced his ideals are.

11. Portrait Of A Lady On Fire (Portrait De La Jeune Fille En Feu) (2019) Director Céline Sciamma. Scaimma beautiful portrait of a love affair between a painter and her cold and unemotional subject is a dramatic love story set in an isolated chateau in eighteenth century France. Noémie Merlant & Adèle Haenel have a beautiful on screen chemistry which drives the film along so well. A well paced drama shot with natural lighting and a light palette of colours, Portrait is a visual delight for the eyes.

10. Possessor (2020) Director Brandon Cronenberg. Like his father David, Brandon has opted for a body horror Sci-Fi style of film that has some original ideas within it’s bloody premise. Possessor is a near future tale of assassins taking over living bodies so that they can infiltrate organisations without arousing suspicion and conduct their contract killing. Andrea Riseborough is one such ‘Possessor’ who is losing her ability to do her job well, while her handler, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh is afraid she will die not completing her job. Not so original in concept, the execution is excellent and is worth a watch.

9. Les Misérables (2019) Diretor Ladj Ly. Ly’s film deals with the same housing projects that the film La Haine (1995) also exposed. This time we are in the present day and it seems nothing has moved on from the 90’s. Les Misérables, taken form the Victor Hugo novel and the estate named after him, follows a few days in the life of a three man police team who patrols the estates and the various criminals and community leaders they have to deal with. The police are violent and racist, the estate kids are angry and unloved and the criminal fraternity play all sides for gain. A potent powder keg about to explode.

8. The Assistant (2019) Director Kitty Green. Green weaves simple story of a long twenty four hours of the titular Assistant played by Julia Garner, who starts her day at 5am bring in the coffee and notes to a high powered film producer while enduring over worked colleagues, her bosses sexual philandering and wether she should complain to the HR of the company. Garner is superb in the role and I can imagine that this film is based on some facts and maybe personal experiences.

7. The Roads Not Taken (2020) Director Sally Potter. Potter’s film is centred on a father played by Javier Bardem who is succumbing to Altzeimers disease and his daughter played by Elle Fanning who struggles to keep his father focused on even the simplest things. All the while the father is slipping between three life paths, an early one in a previous marriage, one on a Greek island as a writer and his current life in New York. Bardem is always watchable and he tackles his role so well.

6. The Lighthouse (2019) Director Robert Eggers. Eggers film is nightmarish and very well shot in monochrome, which matches the haunting performances of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson. Set on a lighthouse on a remote and mysterious New England island in the 1890s, the men slip eerily into madness and alcoholic delusions as they try to grasp some sanity in the bleakness of their existence. A hard watch, but very rewarding.

5. Da 5 Bloods (2020) Director Spike Lee. Lee does his own Vietnam war film, but he shows the viewer the African American experience of the war. To sum up ‘… we make up fiftieth percent of the population, but thirty percent of the fighting men in Vietnam!…’ The story has four Veterans, Da 5 Bloods, return to Vietnam to find their fifth member and return his body to the USA while trying to find a lost caché of CIA gold lost on a plane. A great drama, with good slice of action and an historical morality to the film as well.

4. Uncut Gems (2020) Director(s) Benny Safdie& Josh Safdie. The Safdie Brothers crime drama gives Adam Sandler an fantastic vehicle to play his downtrodden anti hero, Howard Ratner, running out of hustles and owing huge amounts of money to the Mob and his friends. Sadler plays the role superbly and much like Eddie Murphy in My Name Is Dolemite (2019), this role was especially written with Sandler in mind and he excels in it.

3. The Traitor (Il Traditore) (2019) Director Marco Bellocchio. Bellocchio’s film deals with the other side of crusading anti Mafia Judge Falcone in Sicliy during the 80’s and 90’s as it focusses on Tommaso Buscetta, a high ranking Cosa Nostra member who turns state evidence on his associates to save his family and give them a better life. Pierfrancesco Favino plays Buscetta, dominating the screen in every scene. From his one to ones with Falcone to his facing his old comrades in court, a great acting role from an excellent Mafia movie.

2. Mank (2020) Director David Fincher. Fincher delivers a wonderful homage to old 1940’s Hollywood, from the opening credits, to the lovely use of monochrome filming, to the great Gary Oldman in there of Herman Mankiewicz, the writer behind Citizen Kane, amongst others, the soundtrack, the art direction, costumes, this is a true labour of love film which exudes through every from of this wonderful movie. Definitely one of Fincher’s best and I am not a massive fan of the director, but this film deserves praise.

1. Queen & Slim (2019) Director Melina Matsoukas. Matsoukas plays out this drama at a measured pace with all the hallmarks of Terence Malicks Badlands (1973). Shot with an eye for beautiful landscapes and a palette of haunting colours, Queen & Slim is two hours of romanticised art on the screen. Daniel Kaluuya & Jodie Turner-Smith as Slim and Queen hold the audiences attention throughout the film and their performances are such a joy to watch, their chemistry works so well. The soundtrack is a patchwork of old Blues and modern Rap which evxentuates the film immensely and the cinematography is very well executed. Even when the audience reaches the final scene, you want it to end on a high. Superb.

There you have it, fifteen films that have made their mark on my film psyche. I do not expect anyone to agree with my selections, but that is the beauty of movies, everyone who watch films has an option on them and we do not have to agree, but it is always great talk film in any and all contexts.

“I believe you must be madly in love with cinema to create films. You also need a huge cinematic baggage.”  Jean-Pierre Melville

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