I can almost hear the clamourings from those reading this who have woefully missed the joyous experience of going to the cinema. Something we once thought of as ordinary, yet the anticipatory thrill of the smell of popcorn and the smuggled bottle of wine (I can’t be the only one) has been sorely missed this year. Nevertheless, 2020 has provided us with a berth of films which we may have been deprived of seeing on the big screen but have certainly kept us going. This year has undoubtedly changed my viewing as I search for deeper escapism and new forms of cinema where my brain can be entirely enveloped by hours of welcome respite from 2020 and I believe the following list reflects the above.
Honourable mentions: Palm Springs, Class Action Park, Swallow, Babyteeth, The Trial of the Chicago 7, Let Them Talk, Rocks.
10. SPACESHIP EARTH | Matt Wolf
If there was ever a more apt time to watch this bizarre yet intriguing documentary from two time DN alum Matt Wolf, it was lockdown 2020. A rebellious young billionaire with a desire to carve his own path and a cult like leader decide to show us what happens when a group of people attempt to live in a biosphere for two quarantined years. It reminded me of the original reality TV set up in Big Brother and the inevitable arguments resulted from unnatural situations.
9. BACURAU | Kleber Mendonça Filho & Juliano Dornelles
A fierce town of beguiling individuals fight for their lives in the interior of Brazil reflecting sentiments felt all over the country and the much bigger picture being addressed. I have watched a handful of films this year with the same central theme of “hunting” yet none has even come close to Bacurau and everything this film is trying to tell us.
8. NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS | Eliza Hittman
Whilst a burgeoning friendship is beautifully portrayed in this film, I was taken by the raw determination of Autumn to do what she knew was right for her in the face of countless barriers. Whilst unfortunately living in an archaic modern day situation where she is forced to go to such lengths my heart was won over by this essentially sweet and warming film.
7. CUTIES (MIGNONNES) | Maïmouna Doucouré
This widely opposed feature by female director Maïmouna Doucouré emboldens us to think about why she chose such scenes to be depicted and should be seen as a social commentary about what is happening all over the world in the age of social media and the sexualisation of youth. I can understand why some felt uncomfortable by scenes in this film but why aren’t they also asking themselves “why”?
6. SMALL AXE | Steve McQueen
It would be remiss of me not to include this phenomenal collection of films all designed to make us feel uncomfortable and force us to be haunted by our own entrenched racism and white superiority. This impressive quintet leaves us with no choice but to face events and a not often discussed past which perhaps the majority of us would like to leave well alone.
5. SHE DIES TOMORROW | Amy Seimetz
We have all had far too much time to think over the past year and I myself am prone to the existential call of pondering death. She Dies Tomorrow echoes all too familiar fears and leaves a bitter taste in the mouth whilst leaving us unable to turn away.
4. TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG | Justin Kurzel
The performance by George Mackay had me so tense and wound up throughout the film. With incredible aerial scenes of desolate and lonely landscapes alongside gritty and heartfelt family ties, I was compelled to read more about the real character having finished the film and have felt haunting echoes of their plight since finishing.
3. UNDINE | Christian Petzold
I was immediately reminded of Le Grand Bleu which is my all time favourite film from Luc Besson when watching Undine. An incredible skillfully made feature playing on themes of fey and folklore but rooted in modern day Berlin. Adultery and blind rage are set alongside love and passion which make for a compelling, if ever so slightly flitty watch.
2. LES MISERABLES | Ladj Ly
This debut feature takes us around the modern day neighbourhood depicted by Victor Hugo and shows us how poverty and crime are as terminal as they were back in 1862. Spanned over two days and culminating in a stunningly shot scene in a stairway, Les Miserables showcases Ly’s talents and I look forward to seeing more material from this director.
1. NEW ORDER (NUEVO ORDEN) | Michel Franco
New Order surprised, engaged and enthralled me right from the start through to the end. None of the scenes I gorged on were things I hadn’t seen before in some other context, but by forcing the audience to face the daily brutalities in Mexican society – initially through the lens of the incredibly wealthy before spilling out into all stratum of Mexico City – and injecting us with a dystopian factor left me speechless by the credits.
You can check out the rest of team DN’s Top Ten picks here.