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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

My 100 Favourite Films of 2020 (25-1)

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

So here it is, the final list. I know there will be controversial choices as well as their order in the countdown, but as previously mentioned, this is just...like, my opinion, man...

Anyways...



25. Last and First Men

Director: Jóhann Jóhannsson

Genre: Sci-Fi/Experimental Length: 1 Hour 10 Minutes Country: Iceland Language: English

Cast: Tilda Swinton


Synopsis: A voice two billion years into the future sends a message of humanity’s accomplishments and failures as they find themselves facing extinction.


My take: One of the most unique films of 2020 and arguably the most original exercise in storytelling through imagery since Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s first and last film he made before his death is a perplexingly brilliant piece of minimalist storytelling. Based on the novel of the same name, Tilda Swinton speaks to us, a descendent of humankind two billion years into the future. Working as a document of future history, she tells us about the advances of mankind, as well as its impending extinction. There are no elaborate sets, fantastical action sequences, or a large cast of eccentric terrestrial beings. It’s simply just a voice telling us a story with black and white cinematography of abstract sculptures (shot in Eastern Europe) and Jóhannsson’s haunting music to accompany it. All three of these elements combine to paint an incredibly vivid picture of a dystopian future that is both glorious and destined to be doomed. It’s a unique piece of visual and aural storytelling that has not been used in the same way since La Jetée, showing the simple power of imagery and sound working in perfect tandem together. It’s a gorgeous, hypnotic experience that is unlike anything you will see for quite some time.


Where you can watch it: BFI Player and most VOD platforms (UK)


24. Small Axe: Mangrove

Director: Steve McQueen

Genre: Drama Length: 2 Hours 7 Minutes Country: UK Language: English

Cast: Shaun Parkes, Letitia Wright, Rochenda Sandall, Malachi Kirby, Sam Spruell, Jack Lowden


Synopsis: An account of the harassment and racism the Mangrove restaurant endured from the West-London police in 1971, as well as the trial of the Mangrove Nine that followed.


My take: The first film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe Anthology film series is, in my opinion at least, the best of the lot. It’s a historical drama that stirs a necessary anger for the past, present and (unfortunately) future cases of injustices that people of colour constantly find themselves at odds with. Steve McQueen is no stranger at eliciting such intense reactions from the viewer, with technical attributes creating a collection of striking imagery and moments capturing the raw energy of each performer. The entire ensemble cast is outstanding, but the peak highlight for me is Shaun Parkes as the Mangrove’s owner Frank Crichlow; a man so fed up with the constant harassment and prejudice he receives from the police. Parkes exhibits a primal rage here, digging deep into what could only seem like real experiences to him. This raw, visceral energy is shared across the ensemble, with each one of them seemingly fighting for their dignity and their lives. Small Axe is such a unique series of films because it gives us important, topical black stories (true stories for that matter) set in the UK that we never get to see. Secretly the best courtroom drama of the year, Mangrove also happens to be far too relevant for our liking.


Where you can watch it: Prime Video (USA), Sky Go and most VOD platforms (UK)


23. Welcome to Chechnya

Director: David France

Genre: Documentary/LGBTQ+ Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Country: USA Languages: Russian, Chechen, English, French


Synopsis: Activists fight for the lives of the LGBTQ+ communities being tortured and murdered in Chechnya under the directives of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov.


My take: The level of rampant discrimination and homophobia the LGBTQ+ community in Russia under Putin’s regime is shocking. But it’s at its most shocking in Chechnya, where appointed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov is essentially purging the LGBTQ+ community through abductions, torture and even executions in some cases. It’s a harrowing documentary that is an urgent call for attention to what is happening right now. We follow the people fighting to get LGBTQ+ individuals out of the region, as well as the brave survivors who are fleeing, risking their very lives to do so. Shocking audio and footage of real instances of violence portrayed against these individuals are scattered about the film. It’s incredibly hard to get through, but these moments are entirely necessary, putting the whole crisis into sharp focus. Incredibly innovative VFX was applied to hide the identity of each survivor, advanced facial replacement techniques with the use of AI and novel VFX technology allows for these individuals to inherit real faces displaying real emotions as well as protecting their true identity. Welcome to Chechnya is a tough watch, but it remains an urgent call for action that is among the most important films of the year.


Where you can watch it: HBO MAX (USA)


22. Moffie

Director: Oliver Hermanus

Genre: Drama/LGBTQ+/Romance/War Length: 1 Hour 44 Minutes Country: South Africa/UK Languages: Afrikaans/English

Cast: Kai Luke Brummer, Hilton Pelser, Shaun Chad Smit, Ryan de Villiers, Luke Tyler


Synopsis: A young man is drafted into the South African Military at the height of Apartheid and the Border War. Having to hide his sexual identity, a relationship begins to form with a new recruit, putting them both in danger of being found out.


My take: South African cinema has been delivering profoundly moving and brave queer works over the past few years. Die Stropers (The Harvesters) and Inxeba (The Wound) took universal themes found within queer cinema and placed them against the backdrop of uniquely South African cultures, locations and situations. Moffie sits firmly beside these great films and touches on the toxic masculinity and homophobic retort buoyed on by Apartheid. A daring title is important in the film’s hard and harsh realities that young men drafted faced at the height of Apartheid. It’s a unique angle that we haven’t really seen in films set during Apartheid, providing a powerful piece of commentary on the repression and destruction of sexual identities within the South African military and the homophobic attitudes set out by Apartheid. I see a lot of similarities with Moffie and Claire Denis’ quiet queer classic of Beau Travail (1999). Although Beau Travail is far more understated in the brooding queer undercurrent surging underneath the surface, it is so similar in its themes of toxic masculinity in a stereotypically "tough-guy" environment and the desire to break free from the confines holding them down. A striking piece of South African and queer cinema worthy of the critical acclaim it received at Venice and the London Film Festival.


Where you can watch it: Showmax (SA), Most VOD platforms (UK), Theatrical distribution handled by IFC coming sometime this year (USA)


21. Black Bear

Director: Lawrence Michael Levine

Genre: Black Comedy/Drama/Psychological Thriller Length: 1 Hour 44 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Aubrey Plaza, Christopher Abbot, Sarah Gadon


Synopsis: Tensions rise when a filmmaker looking for inspiration arrives at the lakeside home of a couple on the rocks.


My take: One of the knockouts that came from nowhere in 2020 is Black Bear, a highly inventive and incredibly smart take on the creative process and the blinding stress and anxiety that comes with it. The less I tell you, the better. All you need to know is the initial setup before it manages to pull the rug from underneath you over and over again. Aubrey Plaza is the star of the show here, showing her to be more than just the typecasted, apathetic individual that she plays so well through her comedic style. The level of emotional range and ability to completely control each scene with such ease is magnificent to watch, putting in one of the very best performances 2020 has to offer. This is not to say the cast around her is weak, not at all. Levine directs and places the pieces around the storm of Plaza, allowing her to dictate the story as her character sees fit. It’s a tricky endeavor for a director to get right, and thankfully he manages to adapt his script with the same level of sheer intensity and anxiety the concept and its respective situations sets up. Black Bear is a deceptive little film that is deep, funny, thought provoking and unrelenting in the level of stress it induces. Go in on this one blind to experience it at its most effective.


Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA)

20. The Climb

Director: Michael Angelo Covino

Genre: Comedy Length: 1 Hour 38 Minutes Country: USA Languages: English, French

Cast: Michael Angelo Covino, Kyle Marvin, Gayle Rankin, Talia Balsam


Synopsis: A look at the turbulent relationship of two best friends over the years told over 7 chapters.


My take: The Climb was a critical hit at Cannes in 2019, setting the stage for it to be THE indie darling hit of 2020, but COVID-19 reared its ugly head and dashed The Climb’s deserved time at the top. After many release delays, The Climb finally reached a limited theatrical release with its arrival on most VOD platforms. The Climb is a touching exploration of a friendship that is both toxic and incredibly rewarding for both Kyle and Michael. Written by the two leads in Kyle Marvin and Michael Covino, who also happen to be real-life best friends (with Covino directing), we get a series of chapters taken out of key moments in their torrid relationship, painting a broad picture of their friendship that is deemed to last forever regardless of the moments of betrayal, confrontation and reconnection they go through. The Climb is a smart, funny and sentimental ode to the friendship’s that shape our past, present and future. You can read my extended thoughts on The Climb over here.


Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA)

19. Wolfwalkers

Directors: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart

Genre: Animation/Adventure/Fantasy Length: 1 Hour 43 Minutes Country: Ireland/Luxembourg/France/Denmark/USA/UK Language: English


Synopsis: Bill Goodfellowe and his young daughter Robyn move to Ireland, with the job tasked to him of wiping out the last remaining wolves in the country. But one day, Robyn befriends a mysterious free-spirited girl from the forest who shares an affinity with the wolves.


My take: Yet another gorgeous visual feast from filmmaking duo Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart, Wolfwalkers completes Moore’s Irish Folklore Trilogy in stunning fashion. It’s sad that animated features don’t go the way of 2D hand drawn styles as often as they should, but when the creators behind films like Wolfwalkers do, it can be absolutely breathtaking. Wolfwalkers is bursting at the seams with life; beautifully illustrated characters with loose expressive linework gives it a unique visual aesthetic that feels like it is leaping straight off the artist’s page. The visual language is partnered with a voice cast and soundtrack that allows Wolfwalkers to reach the highest levels that the medium is capable of delivering. Wolfwalkers is a breath of fresh air that is much needed in animated storytelling, reminding viewers that the medium continues to be one of the most thrilling forms of storytelling.


Where you can watch it: Apple TV+ (Worldwide)


18. Mayor

Director: Davis Osit

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 29 Minutes Country: USA/UK Languages: Arabic, English


Synopsis: A look at Musa Hadid, the Christian mayor of Palestinian city Ramallah.


My take: Documentaries and narrative films depicting the situation between Israel and Palestine often feature the ordinary people caught in the crossfire of conflict, diplomatic and political tensions. This is what makes Mayor such a fascinating and crucial film to put into the conversation of the Israel/Palestine conflict, as it gives us the perspective of someone in power just wanting to provide the best life possible for his fellow countrymen. Musa Hadid is the Mayor of the de facto capital of Palestine, Ramallah, he also happens to be Christian, which is a significantly small minority in Palestine. Mayor follows him over the course of two years as he runs his city with passion and love for his fellow man, never letting his religious beliefs get in the way of doing what is right and necessary. He is loved by the citizens of all religions, going to war with Israeli officials about improving infrastructure and quality of life for his citizens. It’s an essential documentary in further understanding the situation with Palestine and Israel that isn’t drenched in bias and hatred, just a man trying to give the best life possible for those living under his care. Mayor is a testament to how great, kind and effective a government can be in the most dire of circumstances.


Where you can watch it: Apple TV (SA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)

17. The Vast of Night

Director: Andrew Patterson

Genre: Sci-Fi/Drama/Thriller/Mystery Length: 1 Hour 31 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Jake Horowitz, Sierra McCormick, Cheyenne Barton, Gail Cronauer


Synopsis: Set in a small town in 1950s New Mexico, a radio DJ and switchboard operator investigate a mysterious radio frequency that descends upon their town.


My take: A bold, fresh new entry into a genre that often finds itself treading water with an overload of CGI and recycled ideas. The Vast of Night is a homage to the charm of sci-fi films of the 1950s, setting it up as a TV broadcast in the same manner of The Twilight Zone, getting back to the barebones of what made those stories so effective. The lead characters of Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Siera McCormick) find themselves running from point A to point B in hopes of solving the mysterious frequency taking over the town through investigative work; broadcasting the events on Everett’s radio program as they begin to make sense of the situation. It’s a film driven by its dialogue, refusing to let CGI set pieces drive the narrative. The dialogue is arguably my favourite of 2020, with both McCormick and Horowitz delivering their crackling, witty dialogue reminiscent of the features of the time with added substance and stylizing it even further. The back and forths between them are sharp, concise and musical, comparable to the work of Aaron Sorkin. The Vast of Night's screenwriters in James Montague and Craig W. Sanger are talents that need to be earmarked, as they show just how one can make dialogue with purpose sound so good, instead of a needless distraction to fill the air with. Patterson’s fluid direction also allows these moments to ebb and flow like the dialogue, constructing elaborate, yet simple steadicam shots that drift with them, almost as if we are a flying saucer observing and reporting on them. The Vast of Night is a gloriously original film that demonstrates how much you can still do with a simplistic approach in a genre stuffed with over-the-top expectations.


Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)

16. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

Directors: Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross

Genre: Documentary/Drama Length: 1 Hour 38 Minutes Country: USA Language: English


Synopsis: A look at a bar’s last night before it shuts down for good.


My take: What makes a documentary a documentary? What makes it go from reality to a staged piece of narrative filmmaking? Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets poses this question, creating the set-up with tweaks to help create an interesting experiment in merging non-fiction with fiction. A final night at a Las Vegas dive bar is proposed by the filmmakers, filled with barflies all familiar with each other. However, it actually took place over the course of three nights in a bar in New Orleans, with hundreds of real bar frequenters chosen through an interviewing process conducted by the filmmakers at other locations, with the final selection of people being the ones we see in the film. It’s an extraordinary collection of people whose natural chemistry makes it feel like they are lived-in residences of this bar. Fascinating characters come and go, giving us glimpses of their real-life stories and their genuine connections to each other. These impulsive meet-ups may not be truly authentic, but the people and events that unfold are, with the filmmakers allowing the inhabitants to do whatever they want; from getting to know each other to being shitfaced and entirely impulsive in their surroundings. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets never resorts to glamourizing alcoholism, but instead gives us insight into the people living in it, showing moments of touching humanity and love for their fellow man. More of my thoughts on Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets can be found here.


Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA), Curzon Home Cinema (UK)


15. Time

Director: Garrett Bradley

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 21 Minutes Country: USA Language: English


Synopsis: Fox Rich has been fighting for her husband’s release from prison for over two decades, who is serving a 60-year prison sentence for an attempted bank robbery they both committed during a time of desperation.


My take: A film of both despair and hope, Time chronicles the journey of Fox Rich’s road to redemption and her fight to get her husband released from prison. It’s an important discussion piece, drawing attention to the ever-widening cracks in the American justice system. Finding themselves in an unfortunately sticky financial situation, they get caught for attempting a bank robbery, which leads to an eventually suspended sentence for her and a 60-year sentence for him. Time spans over twenty years, covering her constant fight for his release as well as raising their boys all on her own. Instead of a procedural approach to Time, Garrett Bradley uses a mixture of archival footage provided by Fox as well as newly shot footage, opting to tell the film in a non-chronological order, jumping from moment to moment filled with hope, frustration, uncertainty, happiness, sadness, and their unwavering belief that the system will eventually come through for them. One of the essential documentaries of 2020, Time becomes a beacon of hope in an often hopeless world.


Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)


14. Another Round

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Genre: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 57 Minutes Country: Denmark/Sweden/Netherlands Languages: Danish, Swedish

Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe, Maria Bonnevie


Synopsis: Four friends who all work together as teachers at a high school, start drinking every day in an experiment to see how it affects their social and work lives.


My take: Thomas Vinterberg and Mads Mikkelsen’s previous outing together with The Hunt (2012) had them both reaching the top of their respective games, so it’s no wonder when Another Round started to rear its head, we all began to get very excited. Four friends find themselves unsatisfied with where their lives are, losing any sense of passion at work and home. In order to spice things up, they test the benefits of daily drinking. It soon proves to be working, with them discovering a newfound passion and enthusiasm in their work-life, as well as that enthusiasm spilling over into their family life. It’s Vinterberg at his best, creating an impassioned work on regaining your lease on life, and the consequences that come with it. Mikkelsen proves why he is one of the greatest actors on the planet, exhibiting his effortless ability to play a multitude of characters both subtle and extreme. Here, he is as subtle and personal as ever, delivering a character that we all see in ourselves, someone just needing to find some kind of purpose once more; leading to an unforgettable final sequence that celebrates life.


Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA)


13. Saint Maud

Director: Rose Glass

Genre: Psychological Horror Length: 1 Hour 24 Minutes Country: UK Language: English

Cast: Morfydd Clark, Jennifer Ehle, Lily Frazer


Synopsis: A reclusive young nurse makes it her divine mission to save the soul of her latest patient, a retired dancer dying of cancer.


My take: The past ten years or so have seen a steady surge of horror films having important things to say once more. Mostly coming from indie distributors and production companies, these films have rejuvenated a genre trapped in a loop of meaningless jump scares, forgettable characters and little or nothing at all to say. It’s also seen a return of the psychological horror, opting for atmospheric dread over the quiet-loud formula so overused in modern horror films. Saint Maud is one of those exceptional horror films that continues to make use of what the genre is capable of doing and saying. Touching on themes of guilt and faith, we explore the co-dependent relationship the two share with each other. Maud (Morfydd Clark) punishes herself for lapses in faith, with her fanatical belief she has been chosen by God to fulfill his purpose, pushing her closer to madness as she deteriorates mentally and physically. It’s a film that resonated with me on a personal level, understanding the need she feels to punish herself in order to try redeem herself from the guilt of the past. The atmosphere developed by Rose Glass is among the most unsettling of the year, with Morfydd Clark providing one of the truly great performances of not only the year, but the entire horror genre itself. A future classic, Saint Maud is an important footnote in modern British horror that makes truthful observations with terrifying results. You can read my extended thoughts on Saint Maud over here.


Where you can watch it: Epix (USA), Most VOD platforms (UK)


12. Soul

Directors: Pete Docter, Kemp Powers

Genre: Animation/Fantasy/Comedy Length: 1 Hour 40 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Jamie Foxx, Tina Fey, Rachel House, Richard Ayoade, Graham Norton, Daveed Diggs


Synopsis: A struggling school band teacher finally gets a big break to pursue his true passion of jazz, but dies. Finding himself in what appears to be the afterlife, he has to help a soul find their passion, with the hopes of him being able to return back to life on Earth for a second chance.


My take: Soul is as soulful as animation can get, breathing life into each idea, character and moment with the ease one would expect from a studio like Pixar. It’s yet another astonishing piece of storytelling from their rich filmography, a studio that not only makes gorgeous looking films, but prides itself on thought-provoking stories. Soul deals with a multitude of themes and ideas that all stitch together, allowing us to search deep within ourselves much in the same way the characters do so on the screen. Soul deals with second chances, rediscovering passions as well as finding your true purpose.


Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) is thrown into a tragically unfair situation. He finally gets his life back on track, potentially leaving his dead-end and unsatisfying job as a school band teacher, and pursuing his lifelong dream of being a fully-fledged jazz musician. Poof. All of that is gone in an instant when he dies. Angry and saddened by fate’s cruel hand, Joe plans a last-ditch effort to get back to Earth, managing to fool the creators into thinking he is a designated mentor in helping unborn souls find their passion before coming to Earth, with which he is assigned to the tough case of 22 (Tina Fey). Soul is a deep study on our preconceived ideas of what our purpose is when we are alive and what it could be when we die, giving audiences a film that is equal parts fun and enlightening. Pixar has always treated each one of their viewers with a high level of respect, never condescending in their approach to ideas that are as resonant to kids as they are to adults. They make kids movies for grown-ups and grown-up movies for kids. Soul is a spectacular piece of art that is highly perceptive with every passing instant. Beautifully crafted and vastly original, Soul is as perfect as cinema can get.


Where you can watch it: Disney+ (Worldwide), In cinemas right now (SA)


11. 76 Days

Director: Weixi Chen, Hao Wu, Anonymous

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 33 Minutes Country: USA/China Language: Mandarin


Synopsis: A documentary following the patients, healthcare workers and volunteers during the 76 Day lockdown that occurred in Wuhan, China.


My take: The most frightening film of the year is also the most essential, serving as a historical document for current and future generations in seeing how people reacted and dealt with a pandemic of this magnitude at ground zero. Three hospitals in Wuhan, China are the locations for the documentary, as we are thrown in the storm of a pandemic tearing a city apart. The inhuman courage, love and work performed by the healthcare workers and volunteers is a fitting testament to the human spirit, pulling together in acts of duty, humility and unconditional love. The filmmakers offer a fly-on-the-wall approach, letting the imagery and the actions of those on-screen to paint an accurate depiction of the fear, uncertainty, panic and resilience of the human spirit in raw detail. A patient suffering from Alzheimer's wonders the hallways, saying he is ready to accept death, parents wait in isolation before they can hold their new-born baby, a teary head nurse returns deceased patients possessions back to their families, a doctor pushes back against angry crowds of people demanding medical care, with her begging through tears of frustration and fear for them to keep back. It’s a frightening documentary that still manages to find hope underneath all the chaos and uncertainty. If you were to watch only one film from 2020, 76 Days would be it. My extended thoughts on 76 Days can be read here.


Where you can watch it: Apple TV (SA), Most VOD platforms (UK)


10. Possessor

Director: Brandon Cronenberg

Genre: Sci-Fi/Thriller/Horror Length: 1 Hour 43 Minutes Country: Canada/USA Language: English

Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbot, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuppence Middleton, Sean Bean


Synopsis: An elite corporate assassin, through the use of technology, takes control of other people’s bodies and uses them to assassinate high-level targets. But her consciousness begins to slip when she is assigned to a new target.


My take: Brandon Cronenberg’s new feature is a tech thriller with body horror elements that would make his father proud. Masquerading as an ultra-violent piece of sci-fi horror set in a not so distant future, Cronenberg manages to break away from the daunting task of living up to his father’s name, and carve his own identity out of the stone with loads of blood, guts and awesome practical effects for good measure. Like much of his father’s work, Possessor touches on the mind, body and soul’s reliance and misuse of technology in an ever-changing world. Colin (Christopher Abbot) finds himself the target of a high-level corporate assassin in Tasya Vos (Andrea Riseborough), as she invades his mind in hopes of using him as the trigger in a planned assassination on his father-in-law. Riseborough is astonishing as a woman who is slowly losing grasp on her own identity due to the countless number of targets she has possessed, with her new target of Colin proving to be the straw that broke the camel's back as she begins to merge with his mind. Abbot is outstanding as well, with each actor mimicking each other’s character through large portions of the film, further perpetuating the ideas of identity crisis found within Possessor. Possessor is so much more than the bloodfest that it is, providing thoughtful commentary on the physical and mental identities we find ourselves grappling with.


Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)


9. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Director: Eliza Hittman

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 41 Minutes Country: USA/UK Language: English

Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Sharon Van Etten, Ryan Eggold


Synopsis: Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) embarks on a journey to New York City with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), where they seek out medical help regarding Autumn’s unintended pregnancy.


My take: A deeply compassionate piece of work from Eliza Hittman sets Autumn and Skylar out on a determined journey to receive help and understanding when no one appears to do so in their home town. Hittman’s neo-realist style puts the reality of these characters into perspective, capturing moments of brutal honesty in her hometown environment, refusing to let her make decisions for herself. Thankfully, once she leaves the confines of her own town with her cousin Skylar, they find that there is compassion and understanding waiting for them in New York, giving Autumn a totally different experience far from judgment and disdain experienced before. What could’ve been a troped to death feature of small-town gals arriving in the big bad, scary city; it thankfully isn’t. Giving us touching insight into the friendship these cousins share, determined to support and care for one another. The real-world feel of Hittman’s neo-realist structure gives us authentic interactions with people from that world. A scene where a real healthcare worker goes through a series of questions with Autumn, giving us a brilliantly orchestrated and smartly utilized scene of exposition that finally lets us see Autumn’s internal vulnerability, exposing the truths she still struggles to come to terms with. It’s arguably one of the most powerful moments of clarity I have seen in a film, with Sidney Flanigan giving a performance of the utmost sincerity.


Where you can watch it: HBO MAX (USA), Most VOD platforms (UK)


8. Dogs Don’t Wear Pants

Director: J-P Valkeapää

Genre: Black Comedy/Drama/Romance Length: 1 Hour 45 Minutes Country: Finland/Latvia Language: Finnish

Cast: Krista Kosonen, Pekka Strang, Ilona Huhta


Synopsis: A widower accidentally stumbles across a dominatrix. They soon begin an obsession with each other that is both painful and completely enlightening.


My take: Juha (Pekka Strang) is a widower forced to raise his teenage daughter as best as he can all while working as a heart surgeon. But when he accidentally runs into Mona (Krista Kosonen), a dominatrix, his whole world changes. Set against the backdrop of a BDSM world, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants has a surprisingly sweet center to all the excruciating scenes of pain and asphyxiation leading to the incredibly touching finale. Director Valkeapää cleverly disguises themes of grief, human connection and identity within the leather-clad world of BDSM, allowing for Mona to help Pekka move on and accept his new identity. Pekka Strang and Krista Kosonen are perfectly paired as the leads who give nuanced performances that reveal deep insight into the intention of the material, with Valkeapää’s direction giving deeper meaning behind every beat; a hilarious teeth pulling scene would be meaningless if it wasn’t for the incredibly smart subtext sewn into each moment throughout the film. The blackest of pitch-black comedies, Dogs Don’t Wear Pants is intimidating in its provocative nature, but at the beating heart of it all, is one of the most touching films of 2020, delivering a surprisingly sweet and heart-warming finale that tugs at both your teeth and heartstrings.


Where you can watch it: Shudder (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)


7. Nomadland

Director: Chloé Zhao

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Country: USA/Germany Language: English

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn


Synopsis: Fern (Frances McDormand) hits the road to become a nomad after she loses everything to a recession.


My take: Chloé Zhao’s love and fascination for rural America continues with one of the most anticipated films and collaborations of 2020. Zhao has always had a great love for the real people that inhabit her stories, with Nomadland arguably proving this point more effectively than both of her last two films. Zhao and McDormand combine to form a team that could be likened to a documentary crew, with McDormand serving the purpose of exploring the rising trend in nomads living on the road in the US, as well as getting to know the real people who are living this lifestyle. It’s a wonderfully effective team-up that utilizes Zhao’s poetic style and McDormand’s authenticity to create a film of visual and spiritual splendour. McDormand is among the true acting greats of all time, and Nomadland proves just that. Her genuine sense of humanity and instincts as an artist are vital in her character’s interactions and growth with the wandering spirits that inhabit Nomadland. The unconditional love that both Zhao and McDormand feel towards their subjects is so evident; a radiant McDormand grows with her subjects, while Zhao’s empathetic nature paints a lyrical portrait of people who have seemingly been left behind and forgotten; ditching their past in order to live in the moment. A truly special piece of filmmaking from a truly special filmmaker, Nomadland is the craft at its most spiritually cinematic.


Where you can watch it: Hitting theatres from 16 April (SA), Hulu (USA)


6. Collective

Director: Alexander Nanau

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 49 Minutes Country: Romania/Luxembourg/Germany Languages: Romanian, English


Synopsis: We follow a team of journalists as they uncover a massive healthcare scandal that rocked Romania, so much so that it caused the Romanian government of the time to completely resign. We also follow the temporary new Health Minister, as the government tries to repair itself.


My take: An expertly precise piece of documentary filmmaking that champions investigative journalism and the power people have to stand up to higher powers drowning in systemic rot. Following a concert venue’s demise due to a fire, many people died from fatal burns, but an alarming number of victims who were not facing potentially lethal burns ended up getting worse and eventually died in the hospitals they were in. Through the help of whistle-blowers, journalists eventually got wind of this, with revelation after revelation exposing the deep rooted corruption and fraud from government officials within the public healthcare system in Romania. This led to the Romanian government of the time to completely resign after these damning reports sparked mass protests across the country. Collective wisely spreads itself over multiple fronts, avoiding the dangers of one-sidedness such exposes can fall into. Burn victims, journalists, whistleblowers and government officials all get ample time in Collective, delivering their sides of the story; uncovering more shocking details of the whole ordeal. We drop in on newly (and temporarily) appointed Health Minister Vlad Voiculescu, who is determined to get the public and journalists back on the side of the government, by regaining a new sense of trust with transparency and complete access to their resources in solving the problems at hand. Like the film Mayor, Voiculescu is a hopeful voice in the thick shit they find themselves in, proving once more that good people still exist in government wanting to make things right. The stakes are not only high for him, but every single Romanian as a new government begins to emerge. It’s a sobering film that brings to light the integrity and importance of investigative journalism in uncovering the truth; something that is needed more now than ever.


Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)


5. Boys State

Directors: Amanda McBaine, Jesse Moss

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 49 Minutes Country: USA Language: English


Synopsis: An annual event where 1100 17-year-old boys in Texas take part in a week long educational program of forming a government, complete with elections in determining who gets the highest office in Boys State: Governor.


My take: Boys State is an outrageously entertaining documentary that is a good indicator of who the future leaders of tomorrow will be. The subjects that are the driving force in the film’s dizzying and boisterous energy come from a multitude of different backgrounds and political stances. These colorful and endlessly fascinating characters make for an experience that is steeped in both hope and genuine worry for the future of politics in the US. Splitting 1100 boys up randomly into two parties allows for them to practice bipartisanship amongst themselves, selecting their party leaders and setting up policies going forward. But once the campaigning begins to elect a Boys State Governor, things get very ugly. Smear campaigns, lying and racial prejudice take center stage, painting an eerily similar picture to that of the political discourse happening right now in the US. What’s even more alarming is that these incredibly smart kids know what it takes to win, drawing influence particularly from Trump’s first term win of using biases, character assassinations and baseless lies in getting votes. The moral dilemmas each one of these kids face is equal parts fascinating and depressing, with some going against their own personal beliefs in order to avoid hurting their chances of being elected. As depressing as it all may sound, it also gives way to genuine enthusiasm and support for those few kids in it for the right reasons, actually wanting to unite and bring everyone together for the betterment of their country. Worrying, yet incredibly exhilarating, Boys State is easily one of the most thrilling viewing experiences I had in 2020.


Where you can watch it: Apple TV+ (Worldwide)


4. Sound of Metal

Director: Darius Marder

Genre: Drama Length: 2 Hours Country: USA Language: English, American Sign Language

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Paul Raci, Olivia Cooke, Mathieu Amalric


Synopsis: A drummer in a metal band starts to lose his hearing, forcing him to adapt to new changes.


My take: A big fear of mine is suddenly losing my hearing without any sort of warning whatsoever. Ruben (Riz Ahmed) unfortunately experiences this, but unlike him, his hearing is part of his livelihood, an intrinsic piece of his identity as a musician. Riz Ahmed’s strength as an instinctive and honest performer shines in these moments, exhibiting moments of genuine fear and frustration that fixes your attention on every nuanced detail performed by him. Ruben needs to adapt, and thanks to a counselor at a rehab clinic for Deaf addicts, Joe (Paul Raci) helps him find it within himself to want to adapt instead of giving up entirely. Sound of Metal is also important in creating a much-needed awareness and respect for the Deaf, who are very rarely represented through film and TV. Actual Deaf individuals are the supporting cast in helping Ruben come to terms with his new life, depicting them as real people with purpose instead of plot devices to evoke pity from the audience. As stunning as Riz Ahmed is as Ruben, Paul Raci is on the same level, showing the humanity and sincerity Ruben needs in order for him to move on and live again. Darius Marder's direction creates an environment for which each of these lived-in characters get to do just that: live in their environment. The results speaks for themselves, with each performance feeling like a personal extension of themselves, allowing them to be as sincere and as authentic as possible. Sound of Metal is a highly inventive piece of filmmaking that pushes the boundaries in performance, sound design and most importantly, representation of a group who have been marginalized for far too long.


Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)


3. Beanpole

Director: Kantemir Balagov

Genre: Drama Length: 2 Hours 10 Minutes Country: Russia Language: Russian

Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina, Igor Shirokov, Kseniya Kutepova, Andrey Bykov


Synopsis: Two best friends find themselves in search of hope and new beginnings in order to survive life in post-World War II Leningrad.


My take: Beanpole is many things. It’s a post-war film about survival, second chances, new beginnings, resilience, but most of all, it’s a film about friendship. Iya AKA ‘Beanpole’ (Viktoria Miroshnichenko) is taking care of her best friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina)’s son while she is away at the front. Circumstances lead to Masha’s son dying in Iya’s care, starting a rift of regret and anger between them. Beanpole is a heartbreaking endeavor in trying to find a new purpose in a world seemingly taken away from Iya and Masha. Bagalov creates a tensely tragic atmosphere, pitting these two women at odds with their environment and each other, trying to find ways to repair their diminishing relationship shrouded in a tragic accident. Both Miroshnichenko and Perelygina are incredible, with particular mention going to Miroshnichenko as Iya, a haunted individual suffering from post-concussion syndrome, which renders one completely frozen at inopportune moments. These moments are as suffocating to her as it is for us, giving us a portrait of a woman steeped in trauma, regret and sorrow. It’s an utterly devastating performance that might just be my favourite of the entire year. Perelygina’s Masha is the perfect scene partner for Miroshnichenko, giving an equally complex study of a woman doing her best to find a way out of her growing sorrow. It’s undoubtedly a sad film, but it’s still surprisingly hopeful and optimistic in the journeys of Iya and Masha, giving them chances to repair themselves and begin again. In a lot of ways, they’re a portrait of the city; scarred, lost and seemingly irreparable, but thanks to the instinctive need to survive, they’ll find a way to get through this.


Where you can watch it: Mubi (USA, UK)


2. The Painter and the Thief

Director: Benjamin Ree

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 46 Minutes Country: Norway/USA Languages: English, Norwegian


Synopsis: Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova decides to paint a portrait of a man who stole two of her paintings, forming a special friendship.


My take: An emotionally charged story about the most unlikely friendship, The Painter and the Thief is an endearing journey of forgiveness, acceptance and growth. Two men steal two prized works of Barbora Kysilkova from one of her galleries. After one of them is caught and undergoing trial, Barbora approaches him in court with the request that she paints a portrait of him, to which he agrees. Barbora is even perplexed as to why she did this, but she did, developing into a moving process of closure, forgiveness and finally redemption for both painter and thief. Karl-Bertil Nordland is the thief, a fascinating character with a troubled past hampered by drugs and abuse. Barbora, the painter is a survivor, managing to escape from an abusive relationship and eventually finding a creative saviour in her husband, who helped her regain her confidence as artist and paint again. Both individuals come from backgrounds of hurt and rejection, but with Karl stealing her painting, the stars aligned and threw them together, allowing them to grow from the pain and suffering their souls have endured over the years. The film is split into different sections that peel back the layers of these unlikely budding souls and their eventual part in each other’s lives. We see them at their best and at their worst: Barbora going through severe depression as she tries to create again amid crippling debt and rejection, Karl fights through addiction while recovering from a near-death car accident. They grow apart, but ultimately they come back together, stronger and closer than ever. The Painter and the Thief never loses sight of the spiritual connection these two have, keeping their personal moments in close proximity with each other, acknowledging the similarities in their own stories leading up to and after their fateful meeting. The Painter and the Thief is a deeply personal character study that taps into the very essence of what makes us human, delivering a true masterpiece of the medium.


Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA), Most VOD platforms (USA, UK)


1. i'm thinking of ending things

Director: Charlie Kaufman

Genre: Drama/Psychological Horror Length: 2 Hours 14 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, David Thewlis


Synopsis: Lucy (Jessie Buckley) agrees to go on a trip to meet her new boyfriend Jake (Jessie Plemons)’s parents during a heavy snowstorm. She soon begins to question their relationship and the very idea of herself as well.


My take: i’m thinking of ending things is another piece of perplexing filmmaking from Charlie Kaufman that puts him in a class of his own. No one has been writing films like him and since his directorial debut with Synecdoche, New York (2008), no one has been making films like him either. Kaufman goes down a scarier, more eerie route this time, creating genuinely unsettling moments of eerie introspection that constantly changes the dynamic and narrative structure in ways that is so Kaufman-esque that it’s impossible to predict how deep down the rabbit hole we will go.

Lucy (Jessie Buckley), through voiceover, provides thoughts and observations on what she thinks of her new boyfriend Jake (Jessie Plemons) in portions of the film. “I’m thinking of ending things” is what she keeps saying to herself, trying to find reasons for wanting to do so. You think this is where it’s going, a relationship drama of Lucy trying to figure out what she wants, but once she gets to his parents’ place, things get thrown in the Kaufman blender, completely flipping the script. Insight into Jake’s weirdly hostile relationship with his parents is exhibited through moments of compulsive anger and frustration, with emotionally and physically brittle parents doing their best not to embarrass him in front of his new girlfriend. We delve deeper into who Jake is, with trinkets of seemingly important pieces of who he is scattered around the house and in his room.


But before we can further understand where this is going, Kaufman shuffles everything once more, where we find the perspective of the film subtly shifting to Jake, beginning to give us an indicator of who he wants to be, as well as who he wants Lucy to be. Moments of interesting observations and insight from Lucy also cause Jake to feel like he isn't good enough or smart enough for her, further scratching the surface of their relationship. It’s a heartbreaking film that has the trademark inevitable sadness that comes with anything Kaufman has written, showing the vulnerability and erratic anxiety we see in these characters and that I, admittedly see in myself. It’s a film that resonated with me more than any other film this year, making me aware of these irrational feelings of inadequacy, stupidity and fear for where my future is heading. i’m thinking of ending things is atmospheric in its eeriness, hypothetical horrors and wishful thinking these characters go through. A masterfully written, realized and performed work of surrealist art, with each actor delivering moments of spontaneous absurdity and introspection that the script and atmosphere requires of them. i’m thinking of ending things is a masterpiece of the highest order that demands multiple viewings to unpack the labyrinth-like structure and meaning behind it all. Far too relatable for me in ways I'd like to admit, i'm thinking of ending things is far and away my favourite film of 2020.


Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)


And there you have it. I know a lot of these choices may baffle some of you but this is all just my subjective opinion and taste. Anyways, sorry if you hated some of these films but...



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