I was going to write a trite preface to this list of my favourite films from 2020 with a reflection on what was an all time bad year for many of us and how we’ve been able to learn, grow and come through it for the better. That would feel disingenuous considering we’ve been flirting with a dystopian hellscape for some time now, but we’ve really, actually fucking done it. 12 long months in which a cloud of anxiety has shown the best and worst of society. We’ve reached shameless levels of caricature that have seen us deviate from science to ignorance and denial. A lack of empathy and an overabundance of mean spirit means that people are suffering on unprecedented levels. We struggle to trust earnestness because ultimately we’ve often seen charity and goodwill used as efficient marketing. It’s all pretty understandable really; it’s hard to make people consider existential and socio-economic threats when they think wearing a mask below their nose is working.
If you’re a fan of film, then there was even more to worry about as cinemas closed and the world’s entertainment industry came to a sudden halt. It’s all pretty bleak, but this heavy misanthropy is to set you up for a big uplifting third act, which is, while discourse rages around the future of streaming vs cinemas and how much humanity is willing to put lives versus livelihoods, the inevitable has happened. Great art has been born out of the strife. It has been one of the best years for horror films in some time (*spoiler* leaving Host off this list was rough and I didn’t actually even get to see Relic or Saint Maud…), Steve McQueen made 5 (!) Films, Bong Joon Ho won bloody Oscars, plural, and even though Tenet was a bag of shite, it meant that most people got their only trip out to the cinema. Whilst some films on this list, released elsewhere in 2019, foreshadowed issues around social class, isolation and self identity, others that released within 2020 have been born out of them. Hopefully going forward the huge corporations that puppeteer the entertainment industry can continue to embrace diversity, challenge us and show empathy without needing a marketable, exploitable catalyst.
Here are the 10 brightest lights in a dark year.
Make sure to follow the author of this article, Jason Lithgo, on Twitter @CosmicJase.
To call Mangrove a protest film would be grossly reductionist, but ultimately it is the most succinct way to describe this powerhouse.
It was the first of five new Steve McQueen films to be shown on the BBC for its Small Axe anthology, and it debuted at the London Film Festival.
Based off the real events around the Mangrove restaurant and the arrest of the ‘Mangrove Nine’, Steve McQueen has crafted a film that deals with institutional racism in a furious and ardent way. It also manages to bring this place and time alive in a way that should hopefully inspire a wave of films that show British history from a different point of view.
9. Da 5 Bloods
When I first saw Da 5 Bloods I was taken back by how urgent and frenzied it is. If no one has called it Blackopalypse Now then can I please?
Spike Lee has crafted a crazy collage of a film that spans two points in time, and it’s another from this year which aims to show us historical events from the perspectives of people of colour. It’s a triumph of mixing scathing social critique with over the top B movie thrills – it’s particularly violent and gory when it wants to be.
The standout here is the amazing ensemble of performances by the tremendous cast, specifically Delroy Lindo and Chadwick Boseman. We didn’t know when we were watching it that it would be one of Boseman’s last films, and it really is a phenomenal and heartbreaking performance.
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