The List's Best Films of 2020: 10–6
- Emma Simmonds
- 16 December 2020
We count down our favourites in what's been an incredible year for film, against all odds
It's been a year unlike any other, an often terrible one in truth, but a year in which the unprecedented disruption to the film schedule has brought smaller, more resonant stories to the fore, and that's seen minority and female filmmakers gain increased prominence.
Just missing out on inclusion here are such gems as Saint Frances, Queen of Hearts, Wolfwalkers, La Llorona, His House, Ema, Time, On the Record and Jojo Rabbit, while our pick from 2020's London Film Festival, Chloé Zhao's Nomadland, is out early next year and would have certainly placed very highly in our list otherwise.
A real variety of stories make the final cut, each with something unique to offer. Corruption, creativity, destitution and abortion are covered in the first of our lists, while Dickens gets a fresh and funny lick of paint too.
Suffragette director Sarah Gavron turns her attention to a bang-up-to-date story of female solidarity, created in collaboration with her excellent young cast. Set in London, it finds a Black British teenager, known as 'Rocks', struggling to provide for herself and her lovely little brother (scene-stealer D'angelou Osei Kissiedu) when their mother walks out, and finding strength and a way through with the help of her gang of loyal and spirited girlfriends. First-time performers Bukky Bakray and Kosar Ali play Rocks and her best pal Sumaya in a film that feels totally, utterly truthful.
A monstrous female genius is a rare thing to see on screen and who better than Elisabeth Moss to flesh her out. Starring as novelist Shirley Jackson, best known for The Haunting of Hill House, Moss is terrifying and vulnerable in equal measure as she bewitches her pregnant lodger Rose (fine work from Odessa Young) and begins work on a mystery story. Taking liberties with reality, the film is based on Susan Scarf Merrell's book and is directed with flair and fluidity by the always-interesting Josephine Decker (Madeline's Madeline).
Partially inspired by the unexplored territory in Cristian Mungiu's masterful, 80s-set Romanian drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Eliza Hittman's take on the difficulties of procuring an abortion is a damning, sensitively shot tale of modern-day America. A teen and her protective cousin travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York City on a journey that's incredibly tough, their anxiety stunningly communicated by newcomers Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder. The moment where the title makes sense is undoubtedly one of the scenes of the year. For those looking for a lighter take on this stubbornly-controversial issue, Saint Frances is also highly recommended.
Our documentary of the year is one of those films where you can barely believe what you are seeing. Romanian director Alexander Nanau takes the Colectiv nightclub fire in Bucharest as his scandalous starting point in a spiralling exposé of astonishing, countrywide corruption. We're placed right in the middle of a heroic investigation led by journalist Cătălin Tolontan and, later, end up immersed in the radical attempts to change Romania's desperately compromised healthcare system for the better, by former patients' rights activist Vlad Voiculescu. Alternately sickening and inspiring, it's truly unforgettable stuff.
The headline might be the tremendously successful colour-blind casting (including a delightful Dev Patel as David) but Armando Iannucci's take on his favourite Dickens novel is a triumph for so many reasons. It's terrifically cinematic in a way few Dickens adaptations ever are, positively springing from the screen. And by drawing out and seamlessly embellishing on Dickens's humorous touches, Iannucci and co-writer Simon Blackwell turn the whole thing into an extremely affectionate comedy, and help us see the author in a new light. Outrageously nominated for just one BAFTA, it's one of the best British period pieces in years.