With all theatres closed, and a lack of films being made (due to a small thing called a pandemic happening), you’d think that there would be no films to make up a top films list this year. However, you’d be wrong. With streaming services, especially Netflix, being active and continuously to pump out films, there have been many, many great films to come out this year.
Now, let’s get this out of the way – Parasite is the best film to come out in 2020 (although some argue that it technically came out in 2019). Parasite is the best film to come out over the past decade. Parasite is the best film to come out since the turn of the century. Parasite might be the best film to ever come out, possibly ever.
The South Korean black comedy thriller has received widespread critical acclaim and even became the surprise Best Picture winner earlier this year. It’s been talked about to death (and mainly on this blog), and it’s definitely my favourite film of the year, so I thought it would be more refreshing to go through all the other best films that categorically AREN’T Parasite.
So, here are my favourite films of 2020 that are not Parasite:
First, some honourable mentions: The 40-Year-Old Version, The Assistant, Calm with Horses, His House, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Swallow, The Vast of Night, Weathering with You & Wolfwalkers
In history, this film will go down as possibly the first “pandemic movie”. The found footage horror film centres on a group of friends who perform a seance via a zoom call, and it’s thrilling tense, scary and wonderfully fun. It’s also gloriously short, at only 65 minutes. It’s definitely the most important horror movie of the year. I can’t wait to see what other creative avenues filmmakers are going to do with the pandemic in 2021 and beyond.
14. Saint Frances
Saint Frances is one of the most delightful and sweet surprises of the year. The plot is simple – set around a 34-year-old waitress, Bridget (Kelly O’Sullivan), who attempts to change her life by getting a job as a nanny to the annoying and bratty six-year-old, Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). The film is not revolutionary or life-changing, but remains a real bittersweet and charming treasure that has definitely gone under the radar this year.
13. Bad Education
Now, technically this counts as a television film, broadcast on HBO in the United States earlier in the year. It stars Hugh Jackson as a school superintendent, and Allison Janney as his assistant superintendent, who are both involved in an illegal embezzlement scheme that is soon discovered by the authorities. The film is brilliantly directed by Cory Finley (who previously directed 2017’s underrated Thoroughbreds), who makes it feel like a mixture between The Big Short, I, Tonya and Catch Me If You Can, and features an absolute career-best performance by Jackson (and Janney is great too).
This indie gem was broadcast on Netflix earlier in the year, and was a real treat. The film flirts with some heavy subject matter – centring on a young teenage girl, Olushola (nicknamed “Rocks”), who has to deal with her mother abandoning her and her little brother – but the real wonderful thing about it is that it remains full of joy and humour. It also features some star-making performances by it’s child actors, particularly lead, Bukky Bakray.
This David Fincher-directed biopic about the making of what many critics call the “greatest film ever made”, Citizen Kane is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea, but for those interested in film history, it was definitely a real treat. It’s possibly the most gorgeous and visual dazzling movie to come out this year (shot in beautiful black-and-white, and featuring some innovative, Orson Welles-inspired camerawork), and features an Oscar-worthy performance by Gary Oldman (also, Amanda Seyfried is an absolute revelation). This Netflix gem is really terrific, and has continued to establish that Fincher truly is one of the best filmmakers of his generation.
This Weird Western from the mind of Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonca Filho comes close second as being the biggest genre mesh-up of 2020 (the first obviously being Parasite). Centring on the inhabitants of a small Brazilian town, who are beset by an array of strange events (including but not limited to futuristic drones flying in the sky), the film is part sci-fi, part western and part violent thriller. With influences raging from Black Mirror, Tarantino and John Carpenter, this odd flick is definitely an experiment that for the most part, really pays off.
9. Small Axe: Lovers Rock
Steve McQueen’s Small Axe has been one of the many joys of 2020. The anthology series, consisting on five distinct stories looking at London’s West Indian community in the late 60s to 80s, brilliantly blurred the lines between television and film. Many of the films (or episodes, whatever they are) are terrific, particularly the police drama, Red, White and Blue and insightful drama, Education, but the absolute best remains Lovers Rock.
The drama centres on two lovers who meet at a Reggae house party in the 1980s, and strikes a wonderful balance between being a cinematic, beautiful pleasure and discussing issues and problems deeply prevalent in our society. It’s a really beautifully shot movie (with lots of one-shot camera takes) and filled to the brim with great music. Small Axe has been terrific, and I can’t wait to see what McQueen does next.
8. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
This subtle and quiet film from Eliza Hittman (13 Reasons Why, Beach Rats) introduces us to two future stars in Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. The plot is quite uncomplicated – it centres on a young teenage girl, Autumn (Flanigan), who must travel to Pennsylvania to get abortion, and does so with the help of her cousin and best friend, Skylar (Ryder). It has echoes of the 1960s Best Picture winner, Midnight Cowboy, and remains a wonderful example of “show, don’t tell” film-making. Hittman directs the film absolutely beautifully, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.
This Sam Mendes-directed war epic was almost the leading choice to win Best Picture before Parasite came along and surprised every-one. And, it remains absolutely great. What it lacks in narrative momentum (essentially being centred on two young soldiers in World War 1 who set off on a large trek to deliver a message), it makes up for in ground-breaking visual prowess, appearing like it is all filmed in one, continuous shot. It does so with brilliant direction by Mendes and incredible cinematography by the legendary Roger Deakins. Although, I’m obviously very glad that Parasite won Best Picture, 1917 was a very, very worthy runner-up.
6. The Trial of the Chicago 7
This Netflix historical legal drama was probably the best Netflix Original of the year. It is directed by world-renowned screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing, The Social Network), and centres on – as the title depicts – the notorious trial of the “Chicago Seven”, organisers of a protest that soon turned violent and destructive. The film is utterly riveting and heart-breaking, and is filled with great performances (especially by a surprisingly brilliant Sacha Baron Cohen) and some brilliant editing. The real best thing about the film, however, is that Sorkin has proven himself to be a really good director. We always knew he was an amazing writer, but this movie proves he’s great behind the camera too.
5. The Invisible Man
Leigh Wannell’s The Invisible Man, a very modern-day take of H.G. Wells’ classic novel, is proof that you can still make great horror films in the 21st century. The feminist movie stars Elizabeth Moss as an abused woman, who is being stalked by someone, who she believes is her recently deceased abusive boyfriend. The film is absolutely brilliantly directed, with some incredible creative jump scares. But, what so wonderful about it is that underneath all the scares is a story full of depth and interesting characters. It’s definitely the second best horror movie of 2020 (we’ll get to number 1 in a sec).
Pixar’s latest went straight to DisneyPlus on Christmas Day last year, and proved that the animation studio can still very much make charming and amazing movies in recent times. The film is quite complex – mainly centred on jazz lover, Joe who dies suddenly and tries to avoid being sent to the “Great Beyond” – but the great thing about it is that you never notice that while you’re watching it. Along with two of Pixar’s recent efforts, Inside Out and Coco, Pixar is turning away from making studio movies and sequels, and making more smart, insightful movies filed to brim with smart ideas and deep messages. Such a wonderful pleasure this movie was.
This under-seen science fiction body horror is from the mind of Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David, and much like his father’s best works, the film is filled with wonderful gross body horror and an extraordinary level of violence. However, Cronenberg still directed the film with a high level of expertise, craft and class, definitely breaking out of his father’s shadow in the process. It’s one of those films that the more I have thought about it, the more it has really grown on me, and I now think of it as one of the absolute best films of the year.
2. Jojo Rabbit
Taika Waititi’s World War 2 comedy-drama was one of the real highlights of early 2020. The film centres on a young boy, Jojo Bletzer (played brilliantly by Roman Griffin Davis), whose life is turned upside down by the discovery that his mother, Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) has hidden a young Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in the attic. The Oscar winner’s huge contrasting tonal shifts will not be for everyone, but for the people that get it, they really get it. It remains a really poignant and hilarious comedy with a mesmerising performances by Johansson. It is living proof that filmmakers should have creative license to produce whatever they want, even if the subject matter is somewhat controversial.
1. The Lighthouse
Finally we’re reached number one, and at the top spot is another Marmite choice with The Lighthouse. The latest from The Witch director, Roger Eggers is a psychological horror-thriller that centres on two lighthouse keepers (Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe) who try to keep their sanity while living on a remote and mysterious island. Eggers gives the film a striking visual style – being shot in an almost square 1.19:1 aspect ratio that is filmed in black-and-white. Brilliantly shot, written and performed, The Lighthouse is an absolutely brilliant horror fable that is equal parts surreal, entertaining, visual striking and oftentimes, strangely funny, showing in the process that Eggers has a bright future ahead of him.
The Lighthouse is brilliant, but remember – Parasite is still the best feature film of 2020.