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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

My 100 Favourite Films of 2020 (75-51)

Updated: Feb 18, 2021

And we are back...

75. Father Soldier Son

Directors: Leslye Davis, Catrin Einhorn

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 39 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: A documentary following Sgt. First Class Brian Eisch and his relationship with his sons following his deployment in Afghanistan with the US Army.

My take: Filmed over the course of 6 years, Einhorn and Davis captures the irreversible damage that war has on an individual physically, mentally and socially. It’s a documentary that never resorts to finger-pointing, instead opting to understand the long term effects on Eisch as well as his sons through a fly on the wall approach, capturing raw moments of emotion and honesty.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

74. House of Hummingbird

Director: Bora Kim

Genre: Drama Length: 2 Hours 18 Minutes Country: South Korea Language: Korean

Cast: Park Ji-hoo, Saebyuk Kim, Jung In-gi, Lee Seung-yeon, Son Sang-yeon

Synopsis: Set in 1994, 14-year old Eun-Hee (Park Ji-Hoo) is in search of her identity in a country on the verge of enormous change.

My take: A wonderfully explorative observation on the endless uncertainty and growing pains we all experienced in our teen years. Exploring young love and getting into sticky situations with best friends are just some of the instances we get to see a mirror image to what most of us experienced during these years of our lives. Despite being set in another decade, in another country and another culture, it is all so universally relatable, painting a portrait of a young teenage girl just trying to figure everything out.

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

73. Small Axe: Red, White & Blue

Director: Steve McQueen

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 20 Minutes Country: UK Languages: English, Urdu

Cast: John Boyega, Steve Toussaint, Neil Maskell, Stephen Boxer, Joy Richardson

Synopsis: The true story of Leroy Logan, a young black police officer determined to change the racist and prejudice attitudes festering within the Metropolitan Police.

My take: Steve McQueen’s masterful anthology film series Small Axe is arguably the most topically essential piece of narrative filmmaking of 2020, following black stories that took place from the 60s up to the 80s. Red, White & Blue is one of the best of the five films; with a magnetic Boyega delivering an impassioned plea for systemic change. It’s a hard watch, but it’s as vital as a film can get, showing us a glimpse of the black experience in the UK, one which we don’t often ever get to see in films.

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

72. I’m No Longer Here

Director: Fernando Frías

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 52 Minutes Country: Mexico/USA Languages: Spanish, English

Cast: Juan Daniel Garcia Treviño,Yahir Alday, Angelina Chen

Synopsis: One day after being mistaken for working with a local cartel at war with another, Ulises is forced to leave his family behind and adapt to a new life in New York City.

My take: Set amid the fascinating counter-culture backdrop of Kolombia, I’m No Longer Here is a gorgeous tale of social and cultural displacement. Treviño is phenomenal as the young Ulises, developing a hardened character having to protect himself from an increasingly hostile world. It’s hard not to relate to Ulises – just an individual constantly trying to hold onto their unique identity amidst an ever changing, hostile environment.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

71. Belushi

Director: R.J. Cutler

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 48 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: A biographical documentary about the legendary funny man John Belushi.

My take: A brilliant biography that does away with talking heads normally associated with biographical doccies, instead it makes extensive use of only archival footage, animation and recorded phone calls with his friends and family in getting to really know the man. Troubled with depression and drug addiction, John Belushi’s talent is dissected and appreciated as well as giving us frank and not so-pleasant observations of him as well; from his jealousy towards co-star Chevy Chase, to his sexist vote of no confidence in his fellow female SNL writers, all the way to his uphill battle with hard drugs. The definitive biography of John Belushi is as insightful as a biography can get, showing the perfections and imperfections of his raw talent.

Where you can watch it: Showtime (USA)

70. 2040

Director: Damon Gameau

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 32 Minutes Country: Australia Languages: English, Bengali, Swahili, Swedish

Synopsis: Director Damon Gameau goes in search of practical solutions to environmental problems in hopes of providing a more hopeful future for his daughter, who will be 21 in the year 2040.

My take: A brilliant message and vision of hope when it all appears to be completely hopeless. Gameau’s determination carries him all over the globe, giving us solutions that could potentially change our world for the better. He cleverly intercuts this information with kids telling us what they wish for in their future, extracting answers that show just how badly we have messed up. But he refuses to guilt-trip us, constantly providing answers to getting us back on a path that isn’t drenched in the mess we have found ourselves in. Gameau also creates hypothetical points in his daughter’s life, detailing the results of these said solutions he starts to uncover through his interviews and research. 2040 is an engaging, informative and important piece of realistic optimism needed right now as impending doom stares back at us.

Where you can watch it: Most VOD platforms (UK), will soon be available in South Africa sometime in 2021.

69. Bad Education

Director: Cory Finley

Genre: Comedy/Drama Length: 1 Hour 48 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan, Rafael Casal

Synopsis: Superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman)’s number 1 goal is to put Roslyn High among the very best schools in the country. However, a school reporter uncovers a massive embezzlement scheme, forcing Frank to try cover it up and save his and the school’s reputation.

My take: Jackman’s nice guy persona and natural charm is perfectly paired with the character of Frank Tassone, a man so desperate to get Roslyn High on the map that he is willing to do almost anything to make that happen. Bad Education is a smart mixture of satire and white collar true-crime, yielding surprising plot developments that make Bad Education more than just a worthwhile watch.

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

68. You Don’t Nomi

Director: Jeffrey McHale

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 34 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: An in-depth dissection of the “masterpiece of shit” cult classic Showgirls.

My take: Showgirls is one of those films that’s so bad it’s good. Torn to pieces upon release, it has developed a strong cult following since, celebrating the ridiculousness of it all. You Don’t Nomi makes the arguments of why it’s the “Masterpiece of shit”, and touches on the impact it has made on filmmaking and fans alike. The arguments and theories found within make you want to revisit Showgirls, developing a newfound appreciation for the trashy, campy classic.

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

67. Get Duked!

Director: Ninian Doff

Genre: Comedy/Horror/Adventure Length: 1 Hour 27 Minutes Country: UK Language: English

Cast: Samuel Bottomley, Viraj Juneja, Lewis Gribben, Rian Gordon, James Cosmo, Eddie Izzard, Kate Dickie, Jonathan Aris

Synopsis: Four teenagers on a camping trip in Scotland find themselves the targets of a pair of hunters.

My take: Get Duked! Is one of those surprises you stumble upon while trawling through the massive catalogues streaming services have to offer. The chemistry and comedic timing of the four boys pushes Get Duked! over the edge of becoming one of the best comedies of the year. A distinct Scottish charm, wit and humour is on full display in a survival horror that also boasts a killer hip-hop soundtrack to go along with it.

Where you can watch it: Prime Video (Worldwide)

66. First Cow

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Genre: Western/Drama Length: 2 Hours 2 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Alia Shawkat

Synopsis: Two travelers on the run try to make their fortunes on the frontier by relying on a wealthy local businessman’s prized cow, baking goods using the milk of the first and only cow in their region.

My take: An endearing tale of friendship set against the backdrop of the frontier during the 1820s, Reichardt brings her trademark thematic and simplistic visual style to a genre that is actually perfectly suited to her sensibilities. Although a slow-burner, Reichardt uses her sense of steady pacing to create a storyline that is devoid of filler, allowing for a friendship initially built on survival to unfold and develop naturally. A genre that is particularly hard to bring new ideas, themes and messages to the table, Reichardt does so in trademark fashion, adding to the plethora of great Western films.

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

65. Athlete A

Directors: Bonni Cohen, John Shenk

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 43 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: A documentary following the Indianapolis Star’s story that exposed the years of sexual abuse Larry Nassar committed as the USA Gymnastics doctor.

My take: Athlete A is brutal in its frank approach, never allowing for the monstrous acts of Larry Nassar to ever be downplayed. The film also addresses the institution that allowed for Nassar’s actions to go unpunished and ignored for so long, tracing it back to the very platform USA Gymnastics created in order for Nassar to be able to exploit. It’s an excellent piece of documentary filmmaking that allows for the victims to take control of their future again, able to voice their hurt and trauma that went ignored for far too long.

Where you can watch it: Netflix (Worldwide)

64. Lynne + Lucy

Director: Fyzal Boulifa

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 30 Minutes Country: UK Language: English

Cast: Roxanne Scrimshaw, Nichola Burley, Shaq B. Grant, Kacey Ainsworth, Jennifer Lee Moon

Synopsis: Best friends Lynne and Lucy find their lifelong friendship tested through dire circumstances.

My take: A devastating examination of a friendship in free fall, Lynne + Lucy is no easy watch, throwing suspicions of spousal and child abuse in the middle of them. Scrimshaw is a revelation as Lynne, struggling to grapple with the rumours spreading about Lucy and the possibilities of what will happen if they are indeed true. It’s an intriguing insight into the ideas of friendship loyalty and the potentially life-altering changes that come into play when those ties are severed.

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

63. Il Mio Corpo

Director: Michele Pennetta

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 21 Minutes Country: Italy/Switzerland Languages: Italian, Hausa

Synopsis: A Sicilian teenager and a Nigerian migrant worker share the same desire in breaking free from their restrictions for a better life.

My take: Although from entirely different backgrounds, the current circumstances of Oscar and Stanley are eerily similar; stuck in routines they desire to break free from, pushing them closer towards each other in an inevitable fateful encounter. Partly fictional, Pennetta utilizes the characteristics of Italian Neo-Realism to bring these two worlds together, eventually creating a resonant finale fitting of Stanley and Oscar’s spiritual connection.

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

62. The Twentieth Century

Director: Matthew Rankin

Genre: Comedy/Drama/Experimental Length: 1 Hour 30 Minutes Country: Canada Languages: English, French

Cast: Dan Beirne, Catherine St-Laurent, Sean Cullen, Charlotte Legault, Gordon Masten, Mikhail Ahooja

Synopsis: A re-imagined biography of former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

My take: A bizarrely eclectic interpretation of what a biopic can be, Matthew Rankin creates a stylish mish-mash of genre and experimental filmmaking that is highly reminiscent of the works of fellow Canadian experimental auteur Guy Madden. Tracking the rise of former Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, we are given a fictionalized reimagining that is a melting pot of various styles fitting to the vision Rankin has in mind. Art-deco, 16mm and super8 footage, as well as surreal performances, give The Twentieth Century the feeling of just that, a weird dream you once had about the former Canadian Prime Minister. Its approach is highly effective, hysterical and totally batshit insane. The Twentieth Century is, without a doubt, the most original film of 2020.

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

61. Swans: Where Does a Body End?

Director: Marco Porsia

Genre: Documentary/Music Length: 2 Hours 41 Minutes Country: Canada Language: English

Synopsis: An extensive history of Michael Gira and four decades of his influential band Swans.

My take: It’s no secret that Swans are one of my favourite bands of all-time. Michael Gira’s artistic approach and his ability to go through a range of different iterations of the band’s sound and identity is inspiring. A truly engaging film makes you forget about the running time, and thanks to the pacing of the edit and the sheer quality of research, interviews, insight into the constant evolution of Swans, it never feels overlong or exhausting despite the 161 minute running time. An essential viewing for fans of Swans, and a highly recommended piece to anyone who appreciates the growth that comes through artistic integrity.

Where you can watch it: Vimeo on Demand (Worldwide)

60. Monsoon

Director: Hong Khaou

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 25 Minutes Country: UK Languages: English, Vietnamese

Cast: Henry Golding, Parker Sawyers, Molly Harris, Van Lam Vissay, David Tran

Synopsis: Kit returns to Vietnam for the first time since he was six years old after his family fled the country post-Vietnam war.

My take: Henry Golding delivers a wonderfully assured performance of subtlety and restrain in Monsoon, a film that converses with the emigrant experience and how the past, present and future effects one’s identity. It’s a quality piece of work that finds solace in the moments of silent clarity in a world that refuses to slow down even for a moment.

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

59. Coup 53

Director: Taghi Amirani

Genre: Documentary Length: 2 Hours Country: UK/Iran Languages: English, Farsi

Synopsis: Taghi Amirani takes a deep dive into Operation Ajax, the CIA/MI6 staged coup that overthrew Prime Minister Mossadegh in Iran, 1953.

My take: Iranian filmmaker Amirani confronts the messy history the US and the UK have had in the Middle-East, namely pinpointing precise moments in his country’s history that have reshaped it for the worst. Investigative filmmaking with a wry sense of humour, Amirani finds himself getting down to the finer details of MI6’s involvement in the whole ordeal. He begins to uncover an interview with one of the key MI6 operatives behind the operation, but with all footage of it mysteriously missing, he recreates it shot for shot, setting for setting, with a handy stand-in of Ralph Fiennes as the subject of the interview. Coup 53 is a startling reminder of the damage done by colonial powers in the Middle East, and how the effects of their greed and interference is still felt today.

Where you can watch it: Virtual Cinemas (USA, UK)

58. Love and Monsters

Director: Michael Matthews

Genre: Adventure/Comedy/Sci-Fi/Action Length: 1 Hour 49 Minutes Country: Canada/USA Language: English

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Jessica Henwick, Michael Rooker, Ariana Greenblatt, Dan Ewing

Synopsis: Set seven years after a devastating apocalyptic event that has rendered humans living underground away from the giant monsters on the surface, Joel (O’Brien) decides to leave the bunker and trek across the country in search of a former girlfriend he has reconnected with over the radio.

My take: Another one of the surprise gems over the past year is Love and Monsters, a film made by South African (yay!) filmmaker Michael Matthews (Five Fingers for Marseilles). It's a great little adventure sci-fi film that reminds you just how fun the genre can still be. Seemingly slipping under everyone’s radar, it’s a film that deserves a lot more than just the positive critical reception it got. If it weren’t for the pandemic, it could’ve been the sleeper hit that it should’ve been. Here’s hoping it manages to find its deserving audiences through home media.

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

57. Asia

Director: Ruthy Pribar

Genre: Drama Length: 1 Hour 25 Minutes Country: Israel Languages: Hebrew, Russian

Cast: Shira Haas, Alena Yiv, Gera Sandler

Synopsis: Asia (Alena Yiv) finds herself having to make changes in her work and social life in order to reconnect with her daughter Vika (Shira Haas), whose health rapidly declines due to muscular dystrophy.

My take: A crushing emotional experience, Asia features two towering performances, with Shira Haas being the notable high point. At the moment, Haas can’t seem to do anything wrong - Unorthodox put her on the map as a shining talent, but Asia really showcases her as an acting juggernaut in the making as Vika, a teen diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy. Asia’s devastating ability to inform you of the impending tragedy makes the experience even more heart wrenching, and with delicately rendered characterizations of Asia and Vika, the film allows you to love, grieve and mourn the inevitable loss with which you will experience by the time the credits roll.

Where you can watch it: Prime Video and Curzon Home Cinema (UK)

56. Other Music

Directors: Puloma Basu, Rob Hatch-Miller

Genre: Documentary/Music Length: 1 Hour 23 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: A loving portrait of New York’s premier indie record store that managed to stand up and outlive the corporate mega-stores, providing an influential hub for local bands and musicians.

My take: A staple in the eclectic music scene in New York City for 20 odd-years, Other Music is a store that expanded the tastes, minds and influences of customers and artists alike. That’s why it’s a bittersweet experience watching Other Music, as it is a fond farewell; documenting the history of it, what it means to everyone, its taste-making impact all before it closes down. It’s inspiring seeing such a small indie record store outlive the mega stores that seemingly popped up everywhere, making it a fitting testament to the power of the little guy and the passion of those determined to make it work.

Where you can watch it: Prime Video (USA) Vimeo on Demand (Worldwide)

55. Rewind

Director: Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 26 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: Director Sasha Neulinger digs through his father’s home videos, beginning to pinpoint and construct a timeline of when he began experiencing sexual abuse from a family member.

My take: A heartbreaking, powerful piece of documentary filmmaking that serves as an empowering form of therapy for its director. Neulinger’s harrowing recounting of the cycle of sexual abuse his family endured is arguably one of the toughest and most shocking films of the year. It’s sort of a baptism of fire for its director, proving to be entirely necessary for his journey to confront the evils that effectively robbed him of his childhood. If you can stomach it, Rewind is a powerful film that showcases the therapeutic ability art can have on its creator.

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

54. And Then We Danced

Director: Levan Akin

Genre: Drama/Romance/LGBTQ+ Length: 1 Hour 53 Minutes Country: Sweden/Georgia/France Language: Georgian

Cast: Levan Gelbakhiani, Bachi Valishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Levan Gabrava

Synopsis: Merab’s years of training leads to hopes of him getting a starting spot in the National Georgian Ensemble, but with the arrival of a new dancer, a new rivalry and desire stirs from within him.

My take: Boycotted as well as heaving death threats made out to cast and crew upon its release in Georgia, And Then We Danced is a more than relevant film on the homophobic and toxic masculinity found within traditions not only in Georgia but all around the world. Non-actor Levan Gelbakhiani is stunning as the protagonist Merab, channeling anger, frustration and desire all into a character struggling to find a place for his artistic identity to truly shine. Georgian Dance is traditionally touted by its teachers as being highly masculine, encouraging them to push harder on Mareb, who just can’t be what they want him to be. It’s an insightful allegory for finding the voice that resonates truthfully from within. And Then We Danced is a compelling piece of queer cinema that also has one of the most thrilling finales of 2020 worthy of the ticket price alone.

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

53. Assassins

Director: Ryan White

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 44 Minutes Country: USA Languages: Vietnamese/Indonesian/Japanese/Korean/English/Malay

Synopsis: The bizarre story of the two women who were convicted for the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother.

My take: Completely ridiculous when the news first broke out, but the true story behind it all is even crazier. Assassins is part-documentary, part-spy thriller that investigates who the real perpetrators of the assassination was. Are the girls cold-blooded assassins, or were they just pawns manipulated by North Korean agents? The fact that this all happened is crazy, informing us through the court cases that followed and the play-by-play breakdowns of how it all came to fruition. It’s also a scary reminder of what North Korea is capable of, spreading its web further than we're comfortable with.

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

52. Max Richter’s Sleep

Director: Natalie Johns

Genre: Documentary/Music Length: 1 Hour 39 Minutes Country: UK Language: English

Synopsis: A documentary about the story of how Max Richter’s musical piece Sleep came to fruition.

My take: Max Richter has become one of the most critically acclaimed composers of recent years, building a catalogue of gorgeous work ranging from original albums to film and TV scores, you also may have heard one of his pieces in pretty much every first-year student film over the past 12 years or so when scenes call for more “emotion”. His biggest and certainly most ambitious work is that of his concept album of Sleep, an 8-hour lullaby. The film delves into the intentions behind the work, with the performance of the album in LA showcasing the level of intensity and skill that goes into it. It’s a truly hypnotic and aural experience that deserves to be experienced with the very best sound system available to you.

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

51. The Fight

Directors: Eli B. Despres, Josh Kriegman, Elyse Steinberg

Genre: Documentary Length: 1 Hour 36 Minutes Country: USA Language: English

Synopsis: A behind-the-scenes look at the ACLU and four key cases they are currently tackling during the Trump administration.

My take: There have been a lot of documentaries this past year that are highly relevant regarding their place within the landscape of the shit show that was 2020. These films not only created awareness of situations that are current, but have been happening for a long time prior to it. The Fight is one of those films that is particularly relevant in portraying the vitally important role the ACLU has in protecting the constitutional rights of every person living in America; from the past to the present, all the way to the necessity of them in the future. The magnificent team behind the tireless efforts of ACLU are the heroes of the story, showing ACLU’s history of soaring highs and barrel-scraping lows. Inspiring, engaging and highly topical, The Fight is as urgent as a film can get right now.

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

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