“Death to 2020” as Charlie Brooker sardonically toasted in his Netflix comedy special, and 2021 could not come anytime soon for the film industry. With hugely anticipated blockbusters pushed back by a year and venues shutting their doors to the public, cinema has taken an almighty battering from the COVID-19 pandemic that has led to widespread changes within distribution and exhibition that will continue to be felt over the coming years. However despite this doom and gloom, our Edge writers have come together once again to decide our annual list of the best films of the year. So sit back and enjoy our top 10 films of 2020!
10.= The Gentlemen, dir. Guy Ritchie
Guy Ritchie’s quick-paced exploration into the global criminal underworld was one of the most exciting releases of the year, counting its release on January 1st. With a star-studded cast that ranges from the brilliant talent of Matthew McConaughey as the film’s lead protagonist Mickey to the quirky and un-nerving performance of the one and only Hugh Grant, The Gentlemen buckles up the audience on a tale of action and anticipation as we learn the tense struggles of an American marijuana kingpin.
Set in the landscape of urban London, The Gentlemen manages to successfully merge a range of genres, blending dark comedy with action, and even including moments of sorrow and pain. If you didn’t manage to catch the film whilst it was shown on the big screen back in January then make sure to go and check it out as you’re seriously missing out an action-packed display of Ritchie’s talent. Personally, it tops his original gangster flick Snatch, but that’s up for some necessary debate.
10.=Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, dir. Jason Woliner
As the world was firmly gripped by the pandemic in 2020, the timely resurrection of Sacha Baron Cohen’s beloved Kazakhstani journalist was a much welcome surprise for fans that longed to see a follow up to 2006’s highly controversial Borat. 14 years on from his quest to find Pamela Anderson, Borat Sagdiyev returns to the US to deliver his fifteen year old daughter Tutar (brilliantly played by Maria Bakalova) as a gift for Vice President Mike Pence. As before, there are outrageous stunts that will leave jaws hanging in disbelief – a father and daughter dance at a debutante ball and a trip to a synagogue are still well seared into my brain. But unlike his first outing, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm is more politically charged with much of the comedy targeting the Donald Trump presidency and the sheer complacency that has epitomised his time in office; this complacency feeding into the film’s climax when Tutar’s encounter with senior Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani culminating into arguably the year’s most shocking moment. Whether it’s Borat poking fun at conspiracy theorists on COVID-19 or Tutar expressing her sexual activities in front of older women Republicans, Baron Cohen constantly puts America’s conservative attitudes under the microscope in a gleeful but serious manner. With the outcome of the US presidential election now known, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm’s legacy is still left to be decided but as a tiresome and frankly messy election came to a dramatic conclusion, Borat came calling.
10.= Emma, dir. Autumn de Wilde
Without realising it, everyone has probably seen a loose adaptation of Emma in the form of Amy Heckerling’s glorious 1995 cult hit, Clueless. Skip ahead 25 years and with another screenwriter (Eleanor Catton) who understands Jane Austen’s sharp wit and potential humour packed in her original source novel, you get 2020’s more faithful yet refreshing take on her 1815 classic. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy as the titular character and including beloved British talent like Miranda Hart and Bill Nighy, everything from the casting and writing to Autumn de Wilde’s sparky directing works perfectly to breathe new life into the costume drama that has been tiresomely revisited. It delivered everything you would want from an Austen adaptation and so much more, never forsaking its core material in favour of a joke, nor sacrificing any of the woes of questionable characters and their intentions. Simply put, Emma probably marks one of the best adaptations of Austen’s work to date and will hopefully reinvigorate the blissful charm of her often beautiful worlds for a new generation.
9. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, dir. Céline Sciamma
2020 was certainly a great year for international film, not limited to Parasite being awarded Best Picture at the Academy Awards, but another standout that caught attention was Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Set in 18th century France, the film follows Marianne (Noemie Merlant), an artist who’s commissioned to paint the marriage portrait of noblewoman Héloïse (Adele Haenel), a noblewoman reluctant to the idea despite the keenness of her mother (Valeria Colino). Disguising her artistic intentions as a ‘companion’ to Héloïse, the duo slowly become enamoured with each other as work on the portrait progresses, even when they know such a romance is futile in the end.
In Portrait of a Lady on Fire, director Celine Sciamma offers a more profound relationship through the simplicity of gazing. The ultimately doomed affair between Héloïse and Marianne is displayed in small gazes and unspoken gestures, telling the story more through showing. A scene set around a bonfire explains far more through its blazing visuals than dialogue. It’s a refreshing look at lesbian romance in film, especially with Sciamma’s delicate hand. Like the framing of Orpheus and Eurydice’s story within the film, the two main characters and by extension the director don’t make the lover’s choice, “but the poet’s.”
8. Da 5 Bloods, dir. Spike Lee
Spanning 50 years of American history, Spike Lee’s latest joint is a contemporary take on the subject of Vietnam that deeply embeds black issues into its narrative while staying relevant to the present day. Following a group of African-American Vietnam veterans who dub themselves the ‘Bloods’, their journey back into the Vietnamese jungle to search for buried treasure and the remains of their fallen leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) combines the nostalgic spirit of long-time companions remembering their younger days, and a meditation on the long lasting psychological impacts of warfare. Along with a terrific ensemble cast, including Chadwick Boseman who’s tragic passing now adds profound depth to his performance, Da 5 Bloods is an entertaining yet sombre feature about brotherhood that resonated in 2020 due its timely release during the Black Lives Matter protests in June.
7. I’m Thinking of Ending Things, dir. Charlie Kaufman
With each new release, writer-director Charlie Kaufman continues to explore the weird but wonderful aspects of humanity, whether it’s the human experience in Being John Malkovich or the importance of memory in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. His latest release I’m Thinking of Ending Things is potentially his most weirdest yet equally most wonderful construction to date. Adapted from a novel of the same name by Iain Reid, it involves a young woman (Jessie Buckley) and her partner Jake (Jesse Plemons) on a visit to his parents farmhouse during a snow blizzard, despite contemplating on ending their relationship. Upon arrival, they are greeted by his mother and father (both performed by Toni Collette and David Thewlis with disturbing mannerisms) and as their stay progresses, the house seems to have a life of its own as her surroundings slowly become a claustrophobic nightmare. As with every Kaufman film there are plenty of surprises in store from the bizarre to the downright insane. But with Jessie Buckley’s knockout central performance and a WTF ending, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is arguably Kaufman’s most daring venture since 2006’s Synecdoche, New York. Inventive in design but humane in its themes.
6. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), dir. Cathy Yan
Before the lockdowns, the original 2020 cinema schedule had plenty of superhero films to look forward to. Even if everything stuck to plan however, I still believe Birds of Prey would have been one of the best of the year. This latest instalment in the DC Extended Universe follows a loose non-linear structure where we follow the life of Harley Quinn (played brilliantly by Margot Robbie once again) after the Joker breaks up with her. As you might be able to tell from the lengthy title, the film’s vibe follows through with Quinn’s chaotic mind and energy, striving to be different and slightly crazier than the typical superhero structure. With a smaller budget and a lesser ensemble, we get a sharper focus on its characters much more than in Suicide Squad, especially Harley herself. The eccentric villain Black Mask (played by the marvellous Ewan McGregor) isn’t trying to end or conquer the whole world. Instead, he simply wants a diamond. It’s satisfying to see all of the storylines evolve and overlap, and all the bad ass women team up at the end. It’s a smaller type of superhero blockbuster that isn’t trying too hard, and is more character focused than most. Also, it’s just a really funny and entertaining to watch.
5. Eurovision Song Contest: Story of Fire Saga, dir. David Dobkin
As a huge fan of Eurovision, I greeted the surprising news that Will Ferrell is producing a film inspired by this extravagant singing contest in a sceptical manner. Eurovision has become ingrained in European culture (and all the other countries it now incorporates like Australia), and there is a fine line between capturing the bizarre, eclectic energy of the competition and making a mockery of it. However, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga embodies the pure joy of this annual event in a hilarious, tongue-in-cheek way. It follows the story of Lars and Sigrit (Ferrell and Rachel McAdams) from Iceland, whose lifelong dream of winning the Eurovision Song Contest finally has a chance of coming true when they are picked to be a part of their country’s entry selection competition. With a fantastic supporting cast including Pierce Brosnan, Dan Stevens and Demi Lovato, along with a few familiar faces if you’re a Eurovision fan, this film was a surprise antidote to the sad news that the real 2020 contest had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The songs are great, there are the usual digs about the rest of Europe hating the UK, and we even get a little bit of the Graham Norton commentary that has become a core part of the Eurovision experience. Whether or not you like the contest, this is a feel-good film and definitely an uplifting highlight from an otherwise pretty miserable year.
4. Tenet, dir. Christopher Nolan
Of all the films to be released in 2020, Tenet, you might say, is surely the most. From the virus-sensitive release period to the film’s own breakneck pace, the tumult surrounding Christopher Nolan’s latest time-bending blockbuster, about a protagonist that manipulates the flow of time, was overwhelming. Luckily, Tenet is great. The central concept of reverse entropy is wonderfully inventive – there are helpings of cinematic ear-to-ear-grin moments and handfuls of creative action amidst this. What is lost in an overly lightning narrative and some unnecessary padding is made up for by Nolan and company in a dense puzzle-piece plot brimming with mind-chewing strands of concept. The narrative kept my brain joyously working overtime, despite clocking in at an intimidating 150mins. The nicely unassuming John David Washington leads a snappy cast comprising a charismatic Robert Pattinson and a surprisingly scene-stealing Sir Kenneth Branagh. Between these confident performances and a sleek Nolanite sense of conviction, there is plenty of glue in between the cracks of the feature’s deliciously undisciplined ambition. Tenet is an intoxicating film, one that builds on formidable cinematic and conceptual delights with its potentially unwieldy (but thankfully mostly compelling) narrative devices. It’s the director’s most inspired release since Inception – I can’t wait to see it again at home.
3. Jojo Rabbit, dir. Taika Waititi
Helmed by New Zealand director Taika Waititi, famed for cult hit What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and the widely beloved Thor: Ragnorak (2017), there was no doubt that Jojo Rabbit wouldn’t be a hilarious film. However, what caught many by surprise was Waititi’s smart satirical wit and his ability to craft a heartwarming narrative along the way. As young German boy Jojo stumbles upon a deadly secret that his mother (Scarlett Johannson) Rosie has kept from him, Waititi pushes the boundaries of what to expect and managed to constantly surprise with equal joy and heartbreak. Easily my favourite film of 2020, it leaves me hopeful for Waititi’s career and the many films of humour he’ll no doubt continue to produce. Hopefully he parodies more political pasts (and presents) under a mask of humour, that feel just as smart and refreshing as Jojo Rabbit was in a year like 2020.
2. Parasite, dir. Bong Joon-ho
It took a scathing deconstruction of class divide and wealth in the form of a family-drama-comedy to finally push mainstream audiences over that subtitles hurdle. South Korean director Bong Joon-ho hoovered awards back in less troubled times with Parasite (an eerie title for 2020), breaking all the boundary lines for what foreign language films and their English counterparts could do in the process. It contains elements of numerous genres, but the essence of the plot concerns the fraudulent infiltration of a poor family into the employment of a much wealthier, and more naïve, family.
Parasite’s story involving two families from separate classes unexpectedly crossing paths contains a cornucopia of surprises, twists and turns. It is unpredictable yet funny, beautifully blocked and built and thematically bruising. Yes, its suspenseful centrepiece pays homage to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules’ party cover-up if you read the reddit theories, but Bong’s direction is magnetising as he depicts a modernist mansion that houses ample tension and horror: a shot of a man peering over the top of a step is horrifying and even more so when viewed in black and white. Those ‘one-inch barriers’ at the bottom of the screen have finally been shattered.
1. 1917, dir. Sam Mendes
Despite being released at the very start of 2020, Sam Mendes’s incredible war epic 1917 has withheld its challengers to take this year’s top spot, and deservedly so. This is such a moving and engaging visual experience into the war trenches that deserves to be seen on the big screen. 1917 follows First World War soldiers William Schofield (George MacKay) and Tom Blake (Dean-Charles Chapman) fighting through France to deliver a message to call off an advance into a deadly trap set by German forces. Much was, and still is, made of 1917’s technical brilliance. The masterful cinematography by Sir Roger Deakins giving the illusion of one single take is a technically impressive feat, but it’s important to point out that 1917 would still be a fantastic film without it. The talented rising stars in the form George MacKay and Dean-Charles Chapman are only cemented further by the veteran talent of Mark Strong and Colin Firth that add weight to a marvellous ensemble cast. But make no mistake, MacKay and Chapman are firmly at the centre of this story and their camaraderie and bravery drive their thrilling mission to an exciting and nail-biting conclusion. This tense and heart-wrenching traipse through Northern France has established 1917 as a bone fide classic in the war genre. A deserving film of the year.