Cinema is meant to be ogled at, to be lived in, to be felt and to be analysed. It is meant to reflect to us our greatest strengths, our most sincere aspirations, and our most deep rooted fears. Cinema is an art form, which is to infer that it is to be absorbed en masse in rooms each filled with an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation, eyes wide and brains primed to be transported to another world, to be pushed and pulled into a certain perspective, to forge empathetic stances with humans and creatures, past, present or future. Cinema is the height of our civilisation’s capability to tell stories, the collaborative masterpieces that adorn our screens the most sophisticated devices for legend, myth, metaphor and allegory that have ever existed. Cinema is not simply a product. It is not a piece of time and/or energy that is primed to be consumed and forgotten about, to be half-watched and barely engaged with, or to be reduced to its most basic elements. Cinema is rich, it is vast, each film’s making-of being a story in of itself and featuring artists at the very top of their respective fields each working in unison to achieve a unique and almost always coherent vision. It is transporting and often transformative, sometimes vicious and sometimes beautiful, and every now and then life changing.
In this The Film Magazine Movie List are ten such life-changing spectacles of the silver screen; ten films that have forged empathy and awe against all the odds and an almost complete shut down of the theatrical experience. These ten films are the very best of the 2020 calendar year. Movies that equate to more than just their written narrative or expressive cinematography. Films that have challenged us, transformed us and helped each of us through one of the most extraordinary times in our collective human history through the feats of their imagination and artistry alone.
These are the 10 Best Films of 2020.
Make sure to follow the author of this article, Joseph Wade, on Twitter @JoeTFM.
A certifiably scary film that packs one heck of an emotional punch, Relic is the debut horror feature of the year, Australian director and co-screenwriter Natalie Erika James presenting one of the most exceptional allegorical horrors of the past decade and placing Australian cinema right at the forefront of horror discussion for the 2020s.
Starring Robyn Nevin (pictured above), ‘The Newsroom’ star Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote as three generations of women from the same family dealing with increasingly mysterious circumstances regarding the eldest, Relic holds your brain hostage as it develops both in terms of anticipatory scares and emotional gravitas, earning a poignant closing act that leaves your jaw agape.
The sound design here is some of the very best you’ll find, and as the grandmother’s home creaks and distorts around this horror-punctuated tale of familial responsibility, trauma and grief, every sense of dread and hint at vulnerability comes to life through some remarkable creativity in set design, cinematography and editing, the exceptional performances offering the icing on a rather sumptuous cake filled to the brim with meaning and artistic achievement.
Recommended for you: 10 Best Horror Films 2020
9. The Lighthouse
Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe are simply unmissable in this old-timey horror fixated on the idea of what isolation will do to a person and inspired by remarkable art of centuries past. And under the never-flinching lens of Robert Eggers’ camera, the duo anchor one of North America’s most expressive pieces in a decade to something tangible and at times even relatable.
Shot in timeless monochrome by Jarin Blatschke using equipment outdated by the 1940s, and displayed in the boxy 1.19:1 format, The Lighthouse is a striking prospect reminiscent of early Hollywood on the screen (including a spectacular use of the same vast shadows that would make up so much of the era’s visual language), whilst being a poetic medley of curse words, insults and 19th century bards on the page.
At just under two hours of at times disorientating and frustrating cinema – apropos for a film about the claustrophobic life of lawless lighthouse workers fighting their own insanity – The Lighthouse can be a tough pill to swallow, but like the most effective of antibiotics can be life changing, and at the very least will make for a unique and memorable experience.