There won’t be much debating the fact that 2020 has been the worst year in living memory. Coronavirus has changed, and cut tragically short, millions of lives around the world. For most of us, it has been a lonely, isolating and relentlessly dark twelve months.
In the UK, cinemas shuttered way back in March, and the film industry worldwide has faced widespread disruption and threats to its very existence at every level after some of the year’s biggest releases have been pushed back to 2021 and beyond. Major studios toyed with shortening home release windows and “premium video on demand”, allowing audiences to watch huge movies like The Invisible Man, Birds of Prey and Mulan from the comfort of their own home within weeks or in lieu of a cinema release entirely.
If there’s a bright spot for film fans who have been deprived of their second homes in front of the big screen for so long, it is the sheer number and variety of films that have been made available to view from home. We’ve had no shortage of innovative indies, gutsy genre fare and discussion-worthy documentaries, not to mention numerous great films directed by women and dazzling feature debuts that have rightly dominated much of the discussion among cinephiles – it has actually been a great year for cinema, even without the cinema. All of the must-see blockbusters we were so looking forward to will be waiting for us on the other side when sitting with hundreds of people in a dark room is a safe and joyful experience once more.
What follows is my pick of the 10 Best Films Released in the UK in 2020 – those that wowed, wooed, affected and changed me.
Make sure to follow the author of this article, Sam Sewell-Peterson, on Twitter @SSPThinksFilm.
Perhaps more than any other, lockdown horror Host should be seen as the film most representative of 2020.
Zoom has become how we keep in touch with colleagues and loved ones, and the combination of this technology’s limitations and lockdown restrictions resulted in a hugely creative artistic endeavour to be proud of. It’s also one of the few films out there where the experience is actually heightened by watching it on a laptop screen. Director Rob Savage, and co-writers Jed Shepherd and Gemma Hurley, cast friends and regular collaborators, and brought them together to execute a killer concept with what they had.
Six friends take part in a virtual séance-gone-wrong and must survive demonic interference for the length of their zoom call. It’s quite something to see a slow-build in a film that’s under an hour, but it’s executed with precision by everyone involved, cleverly tweaking established séance mythology and showing no mercy to those of a nervous disposition in the film’s final stretch.
Host is the scariest film of the year not just because of the considerable paranormal fear factor and the believable performances of the cast, but because it manages to tap into our real fear that all this is our new normal.
Recommended for you: Host Interview with Director Rob Savage: “It Was Jemma’s Fault”
Oscars are likely coming for David Fincher and Gary Oldman as they dig into the life and career of the man behind Citizen Kane (who wasn’t Orson Welles). Near-universal acclaim from critics early on seems to have soured on this one, but it’s hard to deny the sheer level of craft or dismiss the go-for-broke performances on display here. Oldman is unusually unadorned, his larger-than-life performance seeming more so and in turn heightening the film’s reality.
Mank is a tribute to screenwriting and making movies that is affectionate and playful but also scathing and cynical. Not content with a conventional biopic set in an interesting time and place, Fincher uses a Welles-esque aesthetic and archaically striking filmmaking techniques for a new angle on a story many think they already know. The end result is riveting, funny and tragic in equal measure, none of the major players behind Kane coming out of it well, but the love of movies and artistry still shining a welcome light in the darkness.