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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

My 100 Favourite Films of 2020 (50-26)

Updated: Jan 7, 2022

We're back again with part 3 of the big countdown...and off we go...

50. Onward

Director: Dan Scanlon Genre: Animation/Adventure/Comedy/Fantasy Length: 1 Hour 42 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Octavia Spencer, Julia Louis-Dreyfus

Synopsis: Set in a fantastical, magical world where technology has taken over, two elven brothers (Tom Holland and Chris Pratt) go on an adventure to bring back their deceased father for a day.

My take: Pixar’s almost perfect portfolio is strengthened even further by another imaginative, hilarious, fun as hell and of course, an emotionally resonant film. Pixar has this infuriatingly brilliant ability of taking familiar tropes and story structures and give you something that never feels stale or overused. Always making it feel fresh and most of all, unpredictable, in unfolding and executing the story within the world they have created. Few films manage to reach the level of sheer entertainment and heart the way Pixar manage to do with almost every one of their movies, and with Onward, we get just that: a genuine crowd pleaser that is buoyed by a strong cast and a smart script like every Pixar film, an important and highly resonant message of family at the center of it all.

Where you can watch it: Apple TV and Google Play (SA), Disney+ (UK, USA)

49. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Director: Aaron Sorkin Genre: Drama Length: 2 Hours 9 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, John Carroll Lynch, Mark Rylance, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Frank Langella, Alex Sharp

Synopsis: Based on the trial of seven defendants who were accused of sparking riots with law enforcement during protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, 1968.

My take: The trademark Aaron Sorkin dialogue, humour and wit is all over The Trial of the Chicago 7. Although there are still growing pains for him now trying his hand at directing (his second feature as director), he has a highly experienced cast and crew ushering him over the line in a film bringing the trial to the big screen. One of the most impressive ensembles in recent years brings Sorkin’s musical dialogue to life. It’s an overwhelming cast of major pedigree that could’ve stolen the spotlight away from the story, but thankfully the script’s taut approach never lets this happen, giving each performer their moments to shine; highlighting the importance each person played in the case. With a cast at the top of their game, particularly Cohen and Redmayne, The Trial of the Chicago 7 is a satisfying crowd pleaser that has Sorkin’s distinct dialogue sounding better than ever.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

48. Dick Johnson is Dead

Director: Kirsten Johnson Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 29 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: Documentary filmmaker Kirsten Johnson begins staging funny hypothetical deaths of her aging father with the purpose of them accepting and facing the inevitable.

My take: An exploration of death and acceptance, Kirsten Johnson and her father approach the matter with an endearing, heartwarming sense of humor. Both of them are concerned about the limited time they have left together, even planning a hypothetical funeral. It’s oddly optimistic in its portrayal of his eventual passing, with gorgeously over-the-top wish-fulfillment sequences of all his desires waiting for him in heaven. Sensitive, funny and personal, Dick Johnson Is Dead gives the grimness of a loved one’s death an optimistic new coat of paint.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

47. Driveways

Director: Andrew Ahn Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 23 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Hong Chau, Brian Dennehy, Lucas Jaye, Jerry Adler

Synopsis: Kathy (Hong Chau) and her lonely son Cody (Lucas Jaye) arrive at her recently deceased sister's home to begin the process of cleaning it out, with Cody forming an unexpected friendship with the neighbour Del (Brian Dennehy).

My take: A touching story of new beginnings and unlikely friendships, Driveways touches on the three people at different stages in their lives. Cody is still in the early stages of his life, Kathy in the middle and Del right towards the end. These points in their respective timelines don’t restrict them from creating fruitful new relationships, finding new ways to begin again. It’s fitting that this was one of Brian Dennehy’s final performances before his passing in 2020, his experience and natural chemistry with Lucas Jaye is a genuine highlight, showcasing the veteran’s talent in one of his greatest ever performances. Driveways allow us to reflect on these characters, encouraging us to look within ourselves and those around us to be able to find new beginnings we may need to make.

Where you can watch it: Showtime and most VOD platforms (USA)

46. One Night In Miami

Director: Regina King Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 54 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, Leslie Odom Jr., Lance Reddick

Synopsis: Based on a real encounter on a night that really happened, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown all gather to celebrate Cassius Clay’s triumph as the new World Champion.

My take: Regina King’s feature-length directorial debut is one of precise control. One of the great actors working right now, she brings her experience and eye for subtle performance details as well as really getting to the crux of what each character is actually saying. One Night In Miami really is the perfect place for her to show her chops as an actor’s director, fully aware of the subtext of each scene and letting each actor really act and play with the scene. Kemp Powers' script provides scenes of hypothetical conversations where each one of these iconic black figures exhibits moments of vulnerability, doubts and most importantly, their humanity. It paints complex portraits of these men living the black experience in America, from experiencing racial prejudice, hatred and trying to adhere to the expectations that white society demands from them. Powerful in the discussions it proposes, One Night In Miami is a vital piece of conversation helmed by a filmmaker who is ready to stake her claim as a directing force of nature. You can see my full thoughts in my review for it over here.

Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)

45. Sylvie’s Love

Director: Eugene Ashe Genre: Drama/Romance Length: 1 Hour 54 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Tessa Thompson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Lance Reddick, Jemima Kirke

Synopsis: After a summertime romance between Sylvie (Tessa Thompson) and Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha), they reconnect years later, rediscovering feelings that appear to not have gone away.

My take: A gloriously crafted love story that feels like a long lost romance from the Golden Age of Hollywood. The sound design, grade, slight imperfections in the film stock, and even the structure of the story all fit perfectly in a film that doesn’t want to be solely dedicated to racial disparity and pain; it wants to be a love story of black love first and foremost. Tessa Thompson is infectious as the charming Sylvie, turning in one of her finest performances to date. Her voice register, emotional range, delivery and even blocking is straight out of a performance from that era, turning it into what feels like a hidden, long lost gem from a star of the time. Sylvie’s Love could’ve been a wasted exercise in stylish filmmaking relishing in the nostalgia of the times it is replicating, but thankfully it isn’t, providing a love story that is as fresh and exciting as it is stylish.

Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)

44. Mank

Director: David Fincher Genre: Drama Length: 2 Hours 11 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried, Lilly Collins, Tom Burke, Charles Dance

Synopsis: The story behind Herman J. Mankiewicz’s torrid experience in racing to get the script to Citizen Kane finished.

My take: A true labour of love that honours not just Hollywood scribe Herman J. Mankiewicz’s, but also that of his father, Jack Fincher who wrote the script the film is adapted from. Fincher’s obsession for perfection is evident in Mank, creating a world that is highly authentic in its craft. Like Sylvie’s Love, it makes a point of showing love to its era, with particular attention heaped on the sound design and little edit details like black spots indicating reel changes. Like any Fincher film, the performances are as finely honed as the technical aspects with Oldman’s reliable-self excelling as Mank. But Seyfried is the shining star here as real-life actress Marion Davis, taking the sharp wit and charm she was known for and giving it a unique personal flavour that is both instinctive and respectful to her legacy. It may not be for everyone, but Mank genuinely feels like Fincher’s most impassioned work – a painstakingly detailed piece of filmmaking that strives for perfectionism through its story, themes and execution.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

43. The 40-Year-Old Version

Director: Radha Blank Genre: Comedy/Drama Length: 2 Hours 3 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Radha Blank, Peter Y. Kim, Oswin Benjamin

Synopsis: Struggling playwright Radha (Radha Black) decides to become a rapper at 40, in hopes of finding her voice again.

My take: Written by, directed by, produced by and starring Radha Blank as a version of herself in a semi-autobiographical film on her struggles as a writer living in New York City. Radha Blank’s film cuts deep for anyone still struggling to find their feet, especially those who thought they would amount to something more in their respective fields. It comes from a place of experience – moments of rejection and artistic integrity being tested feel real because it is real. It happened to Blank and it happens far more often to us than we’d like to admit. As a creative who literally feels incredibly inept within the areas I studied on a constant basis, Blank’s film serves as almost an intervention; reminding you that when things seem dire, life makes plans to make sure your creative voice is heard. It’s hysterical, it’s truthful, and it’s inspirational proof that it’s never too late to make it.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

42. Nobody Knows I’m Here

Director: Gaspar Antillo Genre: Drama/Psychological Thriller/Mystery Length: 1 Hour 31 Minutes Country: Chile Languages: Spanish, English Cast: Jorge Garcia, Millaray Lobos, Luis Gnecco, Juan Falcón, María Paz Grandjean

Synopsis: A former child star singer, Memo (Jorge Garcia) is now living a reclusive life with a family member, but is soon rediscovered by passing stranger Marta (Millaray Lobos).

My take: Nobody Knows I’m Here is a densely atmospheric film that feeds on the trauma of its protagonist, with Jorge Garcia doing the character’s hesitant rebirth justice. Jorge Garcia is best known for Lost, often finding himself typecasted similar to that of his Lost character Hugo Reyes. Garcia was great in Lost, but here he manages to really demonstrate his range as an actor, portraying a traumatized Memo with subtlety and fragility. It’s a performance that is absolutely vital to the film’s play on multiple genres and their tropes. Gaspar Antillo shows his skills as an astute storyteller able to weave a tale utilizing different genres to keep the audience guessing. Nobody Knows I’m Here fiddles with thriller and mystery elements that stops it from resorting to needless exposition, making Memo’s confrontation of the past and fear of rebirth that much more rewarding. Smart, assured filmmaking that allows Jorge Garcia to shine brighter than ever.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

41. Crip Camp

Directors: James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 46 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: A transformative experience for teens with disabilities, Camp Jened would prove to be vital in helping inspire key members of the Disability Rights Movement.

My take: A documentary about the Disability Rights Movement is the story that needs to be heard and appreciated more frequently. Camp Jened was a haven to teens with disabilities. These kids couldn’t go on the summer camps with the other able-bodied kids. They never felt like they fitted in, but Camp Jened was a refuge for them, finally allowing these teenagers to get together and just be teenagers. Summer romances, smoking pot and just having fun. It’s a beautiful utopia that actually worked, a place for these kids to be who they really were with other kids just like them. This setup is important in the grand scheme of the documentary. Many key leaders of the Disability Rights Movement came up through Camp Jened, formulating and discussing ideas that would essentially lead to an important revolution that would change things for the better. Crip Camp doesn’t patronize its subjects or the topic at hand, not wanting you to feel pitty. Instead, it wants you to view them as the titans that they are and the bravery they conjured to implement true change after being ignored for so long. It’s another extraordinary work from Michelle and Barack Obama’s production company Higher Ground Productions (first being the Academy Award-winning American Factory), delivering another film of historical and cultural importance.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide), Free on Netflix's YouTube channel (Worldwide)

40. Bull

Director: Annie Silverstein Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 48 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Rob Morgan, Amber Havard, Yolanda Ross, Peggy Schott

Synopsis: Directionless, rebellious teen Kris (Amber Havard) collides with her aging bullfighter neighbour Abe (Rob Morgan), significantly changing both their lives in the process.

My take: Annie Silverstein’s Bull is an effective coming-of-age drama of two souls trying to find and rediscover their purpose. Rob Morgan puts in one of the best performances of the year as the guarded and defeated Abe. His chemistry with co-star Amber Havard feels so natural, with them being on a respectful, equal footing with each other as performers, making the growth of their relationship feel organic and convincing. Silverstein’s steady and calming hand never lets Bull drift into melodramatic territories, giving the story a steady and natural pace that makes Bull one of the most enthralling watches of the year.

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

39. Kajillionaire

Director: Miranda July Genre: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 44 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Evan Rachel Wood, Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger, Gina Rodriguez

Synopsis: Old Dolio (Evan Rachel Wood), groomed since she was a child to be a hustler and swindler like her parents, finds her life turned upside down when her parents invite a stranger to take part in their latest heist.

My take: The long-awaited third feature-length from Miranda July is her at her quirky best, with Evan Rachel Wood breaking free from the confines of Westworld to deliver a performance equally fitting of the Miranda July treatment. Wood’s turn as Old Dolio has her demonstrating sides to her acting repertoire we never knew or even expected her to have; with moments of physical comedy and cultivated awkwardness renders her completely unrecognizable from what most audiences have come to recognize her as. July creates moments of profound self-discovery, pushing Old Dolio to finally get in touch with who she really is, examining the potentially restrictive effects family may have on your journey to self-discovery. Kajillionaire is Miranda July at her most touching, proving that personal revolutions may occur in the most unlikely of circumstances, all you got to do is just embrace it and run with it.

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

38. A Thousand Cuts

Director: Ramona S. Diaz Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 39 Minutes Country: USA/Philippines Languages: Filipino, English

Synopsis: A documentary following the work of world-renowned journalist Maria Ressa and her team at Rappler as they risk their lives in criticizing Filipino president Rodrigo Duterte’s strong-armed war on drugs.

My take: Maria Ressa and her team at Rappler are journalists of the highest integrity, fighting on the ground to get down to the hard truths in order to inform and create awareness to citizens of both the Philipines and around the world. Duterte, a populist leader who prides himself on excessive force and violence to maintain order and fear, is a frightening individual that, like other populist world leaders such as Trump, Putin and Bolsenaro, makes the media out to be the true enemy of the people. The film breaks down what is essentially a war within a war happening in the Philippines. There is the war on drugs, which has been proven to essentially be a war on the poor, then within that war is the war on the media and the truth, who are uncovering the sobering statistics and facts of what is happening on the ground. The spread of misinformation and irrational hatred through social media is also covered in A Thousand Cuts with terrifying detail, giving us an indicator of how powerful the platform is in spreading hatred and lies. It’s hard to watch brave individuals like Ressa and the team at Rappler having to endure arrests and death threats all in hopes of silencing them, but A Thousand Cuts proves to be inspirational in highlighting the vital importance of journalism with integrity. These attempts at silencing them prove ineffective, pushing them even harder to get the truth out there despite the fear of what this may bring looming over their heads. You can read my full thoughts on A Thousand Cuts in my review over here.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (USA), free on PBS YouTube page (USA)

37. She Dies Tomorrow

Director: Amy Seimetz Genre: Psychological Horror Length: 1 Hour 26 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Olivia Dudley, Chris Messina, Michelle Rodriguez

Synopsis: A woman is convinced that she will die tomorrow with no explanation behind this feeling, with it soon spreading to friends and neighbours, sending a town into a state of panic.

My take: Amy Seimetz’ second feature as a director is an exercise in irrational fears and anxieties that are far too relatable than I’d like to admit. Following a series of characters, each one passing on these feelings of inevitable doom facing them tomorrow, Seimetz creates an air of irrational paranoia into something that crawls under your skin, beginning to work its magic in convincing you as well. Characters are initially certain that these feelings are nonsense, but are swayed completely moments later, creating a truly unsettling atmosphere that hangs over She Dies Tomorrow. It’s an affecting piece of horror filmmaking that doesn’t go for traditional scares, but instead stems it from very real and irrational anxieties and thoughts lurking from within ourselves, and what if it is very real indeed.

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

36. City Hall

Director: Frederick Wiseman Genre: Documentary Length: 4 Hours 32 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: An observation on the ins and outs of Boston’s government.

My take: The longest film on this list by a hysterically long margin, Town Hall is a four-and-a-half-hour-long documentary showing the very ins and outs of a fully functioning government. "Aghhh four and a half hours of boring government shit” you say? “I might as well watch C-SPAN” you respond? What makes City Hall so good and essential in appreciating government work is that it never feels dull and mundane. Director Frederick Wiseman isn’t interested in talking heads telling us about what the government of Boston is up to, he likes to show you. Takong the “fly on the wall” approach, Wiseman lets us sit in on discussions about housing issues, sitting in on war Veterans support groups, seeing Mayor Marty Walsh reaching out to retirement communities, etc. It’s a fascinating tour of what makes the city of Boston tick, as well as creating an image of the people at work behind it. City Hall is a perfect piece of insight into how fruitful and wonderful a fully functioning government can be, filled with hard-working individuals that genuinely want what’s best for their city and its people. Not every government wants to screw you over, and with City Hall’s necessary running time, it proves the point of just that.

Where you can watch it: PBS (USA)

35. Small Axe: Lovers Rock

Director: Steve McQueen Genre: Drama/Romance Length: 1 Hour 10 Minutes Country: UK Language: English Cast: Amarah-Jae St Aubyn, Michael Ward, Shaniqua Okwork, Francis Lovehall, Kedar Williams-Stirling

Synopsis: A house party in West London sets the scene for a fateful romantic encounter between two individuals that could change their lives.

My take: The second film in McQueen’s brilliant Small Axe anthology film series is a change in pace, setting and genre from the previous entry. McQueen’s vision takes us through the euphoria a night out at a party can bring. Romance and music is on the cards for these individuals who need an escape from the daily drudgeries and shit they often find themselves having to endure. McQueen’s stylistic approach with each film is vastly different, with Lovers Rock arguably being the most fluid of the five films. Hypnotic, trans-like camera work indulges in the euphoric state of bliss each person feels as they give in to the music and the moments presented to them; drifting and swaying to the rhythmic content taking place physically and spiritually between each person. One of the most unforgettable moments has a packed dance floor all singing the lyrics to a song that is eventually tuned out by their extended take on it. It’s a stunning moment of spiritual unity that has them all fully letting go to the moment, inviting us to do the same.

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

34. Palm Springs

Director: Max Barbakow Genre: Comedy, Fantasy Length: 1 Hour 30 Minutes Country: USA/Hong Kong Language: English Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons

Synopsis: Two guests at a wedding become stuck in a time loop, forcing them to relive the same day over and over again.

My take: Palm Springs is often derivative of Groundhog Day, more so than other time loop type-films with the Groundhog Day rules and structure, but it still manages to be a fresh new spin on it, creating something that is funny, heartfelt and sincere. The chemistry of Milioti and Samberg is wonderful to watch. Samberg’s comedic timing is matched by Milioti, balancing the scales that never feels like one is tasked to carry the film. They’re such well-rounded and well-written characters that it looks easy for them, showing a wide spectrum of the range both of them are capable of. Palm Springs may essentially be a reimagined remake of Groundhog Day, but boy it is fun as hell.

Where you can watch it: Hulu (USA)

33. This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection

Director: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese Genre: Drama Length: Two Hours Country: Lesotho/South Africa/Italy Language: Sotho Cast: Mary Twala, Jerry Mofokeng, Makhaola Ndebele, Tseko Monaheng

Synopsis: A grieving mother (Mary Twala) regains her resilient spirit when she takes on the government’s plans to move her entire community due to the proposed construction of a dam.

My take: A story of grief, angst, attachment and resilience. Mosese’s latest feature is a spiritual experience, a fable of a woman finding a new lease on life after a state of deep sorrow. Mosese develops an oddly unsettling atmosphere that continues to rise in tension, creating a growing sense of rage boiling from within Mantoa (Mary Twala). Mary Twala gives an understated performance of a woman filled with vengeful fury in her newfound mission to save her village from impending doom. The desperation continues to grow with the tension, pushing us to an eventual finale that is a memorable stance against unwanted change. You can read some of my other thoughts on the film over here.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (UK)

32. The Surrogate

Director: Jeremy Hersh Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 33 Minutes Country: USA Language: English Cast: Jasmine Batchelor, Sullivan Jones, Chris Perfetti, Brooke Bloom

Synopsis: A young woman agrees to become a surrogate mother to her gay best friends, but when tests come back as positive for Down Syndrome, it forces her to come to terms with weight of the decision she has to make.

My take: A hidden gem of a film, The Surrogate is a powerful and introspective piece of filmmaking that tackles a multitude of topics with which our protagonist Jess (Jasmine Batchelor) is finding herself coming to terms with, challenging her notions of what is the right choice for her and the child growing inside her. Writer and director Jeremy Hersh challenges us to understand the weight of each decision she is at a crossroads to make. The sheer width of discussions that arise include disability rights, race, eugenics and abortion just to name a few. What is the right decision and when is the right time to make it? Batchelor is downright incredible as Jess. A furious passion burns inside her, forever getting angrier and more frustrated when everyone seems to want to make the decisions for her. Her impassioned desire to understand the consequences of each choice she will inevitably have to make, encourages important discussions for the viewer to confront. One of the most courageously performed and written films of the year, The Surrogate is also one of the most essential.

Where you can watch: Amazon, Google Play (USA)

31. Ema

Director: Pablo Larraín Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Country: Chile Language: Spanish Cast: Mariana Di Girolamo, Gael García Bernal, Santiago Cabrera, Paola Giannini Synopsis: A couple begins to fall apart following the aftermath of an accident which resulted in them giving up their adopted son.

My take: Somehow overlooked this past year, Pablo Larraín’s latest is him still at the top of his game. A lush visual and aural cinematic experience, Ema is lead by an extraordinary Mariana Di Girolamo as the titular character. A drama with dashes of a thriller thrown in, Larraín constructs a story rife with searing tension forming from the evergrowing orchestrated chaos growing from within Ema, a woman refusing to lay down and accept the nature of the circumstances seemingly tearing her life apart. It’s one of Larraín’s most complex and tense works, delving into the very instincts and nature of doing whatever it takes to reclaim a missing part of you, however toxic that part may be.

Where you can watch it: Mubi (UK)

30. About Endlessness

Director: Roy Andersson Genre: Drama/Black Comedy Length: 1 Hour 18 Minutes Country: Sweden/Germany/Norway/France Language: Swedish Cast: Tatiana Delaunay, Jan-Eje Ferling, Bent Bergius, Thore Flygel

Synopsis: A narrator observes everyday life, focusing on key isolated moments from different people as they go about their existence.

My take: We find ourselves eavesdropping on moments in people’s lives. A narrator simply says “Today I saw…” at the start of each moment. From a dentist at his wits end, to a group of girls spontaneously dancing in a seaside restaurant, and even to Adolf Hitler’s final moments before death. It all seems so random, but each snapshot paints a portrait of humanity through all its spontaneity, fear, frustrations, sadness, curiosity, cruelty, betrayal, compassion, and so on and so on. The narrator is studying these moments, fascinated by each passing second. This is also what makes the aesthetic of it work so well; each vignette is made of the bare minimum of mostly static shots, with a focus on gorgeous compositions that feel and look like paintings. This adds to the whole idea that this film is almost like a gallery of captured moments, studied by us, the celestial visitors to this odd planet. Today I saw a film about endlessness…

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

29. Make Up

Director: Claire Oakley Genre: Psychological Horror/Thriller/Drama/LGBTQ+ Length: 1 Hour 26 Minutes Country: UK Language: English Cast: Molly Windsor, Stefanie Martini, Joseph Quinn

Synopsis: A young woman living and working with her boyfriend at a seaside resort begins to obsessively believe that he is cheating on her.

My take: An utterly unique queer coming-of-age tale set in a Cornish coastal resort, Claire Oakley fabricates a densely atmospheric amalgamation of genres rarely seen within queer stories. Most queer films tend to be coming-of-age stories of people discovering their true selves through passionate encounters and the like. It works. But what Make Up does is subverts the tropes and even the genres that coming-of-age queer films fall under, giving us a film that plays with new feelings of uncertainty and curiosity through psychological horror and thriller characteristics. After Ruth (Molly Windsor) finds a long piece of red hair on her boyfriend’s clothes, she becomes obsessed with the idea that he could be cheating, forcing her on a curious and paranoid journey of finding who it belongs to. It’s a highly intriguing piece of cinema that refuses to be like everything else, making the trip that much more enlightening once the credits roll.

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

28. Rising Phoenix

Directors: Ian Bonhôte, Peter Ettedgui Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 45 Minutes Country: UK Languages: English, French, Italian, Portuguese

Synopsis: Athletes preparing for the Paralympic Games in Rio discuss the importance of the event in how it allows people to understand disabilities and make them feel more empowered.

My take: One of the most thrilling films of the year comes in the form of Rising Phoenix, a passionate doccie focusing on the world-class athletes and their preparations for the Summer Paralympics in Rio 2016. Inspiring is a word I don't use lightly here, as we delve deep into the world of these fascinating people, giving us insight into the challenges they had to overcome and still continue to do so. Like Crip Camp, it’s an amazing tool in creating awareness of people we aren’t used to having their stories told to us through film and TV. These are crucial steps in understanding the truly diverse spectrum of the human race, with these athletes seeming far more herculean than able-bodied athletes. Their stories often come from tragedies that life’s cruel hand inflicts upon them, but their overwhelming strength has them overcoming each one of these challenges thrown their way, making Rising Phoenix arguably the most inspirational film of the year. The level of passion drives you to scream at the TV when we see them in their respective sports fighting for that elusive medal. An emotional ride that proves how powerful the human spirit really is.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

27. The Nest

Director: Sean Durkin Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 47 Minutes Country: UK/Canada Language: English Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Oona Roche, Charlie Shotwell

Synopsis: A family’s relocation to the UK countryside begins to take its toll on their personal relationships with each other.

My take: The Nest appears to be a case of a classic “marriage in turmoil” exercise, but it’s so much more than that. Durkin’s knack for creating tension is perfectly realized in The Nest, developing an air of genuine uncertainty and resentment between Roy (Jude Law) and Allison (Carrie Coon). Carrie Coon is the standout here, making a worthy transition from her masterful turn as Norah in The Leftovers. Her presence remains as captivating as ever, making light work of the tricky role through moments of effortless restrain that makes her such a special talent deserving of the praise she receives from critics and collaborators alike. The Nest is a quietly tense dissection of a marriage constantly giving way to the cracks that begin to reveal themselves, slowly crumbling away.

Where you can watch it: Amazon, Vudu (USA), Cinema Nouveau (SA)

26. Martin Eden

Director: Pietro Marcello Genre: Drama Length: 2 Hours 9 Minutes Country: Italy/France/Germany Language: Italian Cast: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Denise Sardisco, Carlo Cecchi, Chiara Francini, Vincenzo Nemolato

Synopsis: Based on the Jack London novel, Martin Eden tries to rise up the ladder of the cultural and literary elite in hopes of winning Elena’s heart.

My take: Martin Eden is cinema at its inventive best, proving how creative, original and daring an adaptation can be. It refuses to play things safe; thinking out the box with an equally ballsy lead to help the film make its artistic and thematic statements. Screenwriter Maurizio Braucci takes creative liberties and reimagines the novel under different circumstances: set in mid-20th century Napoli, allowing for some of the themes of the original novel to be explored and discussed in a somehow more appropriate setting. Eden’s evolution of ideals and goals shift and change with the performer’s physical and mental evolution, but the visual style remains the same; shifting from the occasional super 8 footage to a highly-stylized visual aesthetic. Despite his desire to become a writer of realism and reporting the daily struggles of the working class, he elevates himself to becoming a staunch individualist; thriving on feeling superior to the very people he used to be. Pietro Marcello smartly sticks to visual styles that are not steeped in realism; creating a language of highly stylized imagery that falls more in line with Eden’s final form: exaggerated and out of touch with reality. Marinelli sets the screen on fire as the lead, a highly dynamic portrayal and interpretation of the character that goes through emotional, intellectual and physical evolutions throughout. Marcello lets the guttural harshness and bravado of Marinelli’s performance quickly guide the film to unexpected places; creating one of the most thrilling collaborative works of 2020. Martin Eden is a tour de force in truly cinematic storytelling. It’s a stunning marriage of technical prowess and precise, instinctive storytelling that saves it from ever being a case of style over substance. One of the true epics of the past five years, Martin Eden is proof of what cinema still has the power to be an do.

Where you can watch it: Mubi, most VOD platforms (USA)

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