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OPINION: The 50 Best Films of 2020


Disclaimer: Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpoilerTV.

Welcome to the annual best of the year movie lists - taking place of the Month at the Movies article for December, as a lot of these films I did actually watch last month for the first time in my end of year catchup. I've seen a lot of great movies in 2020 and whilst it may have been the smart thing to cut down this list, in a year with so little else going for it, one of the best things about this year has been the wide quality of consistently great movies that we've had over the course of 2020. In a year so good that I could quite happily have upped this list to 60 films (you'll notice that excellent blockbusters, Birds of Prey and Bad Boys For Life, in addition to the wonderful animation Weathering With You don't feature on this list but are every bit as recommended anyway) without hesitation. There's a whole lot of goodness in here so I'll get stuck into it quite quickly - but before I do, there's a quick reminder that I'm going by UK releases this year as I'm based in the UK, so to qualify will have to have been theatrically released (or on streaming) in 2020.

That said, there are a few exceptions that are perhaps worthy of note: Parasite, Uncut Gems, The Lighthouse and 1917 all featured on last year's list along with Portrait of a Lady on Fire, so they won't show up here. This also means that films like the excellent One Night in Miami..., First Cow, Undine, Another Round and Nomadland don't qualify, as they are getting UK releases at some point in 2021. And it also rules out films that I haven't seen yet for obvious reasons like Sound of Metal and Promising Young Woman. But now that we've got the obligitary rules out of the way - let's get started - and feel free to leave your favourite films that you watched last year in the comments below, as well as what you thought of the films that made this list.

50. THE WILD GOOSE LAKE; Diao Y'nan
Between The Wild Goose Lake and Long Day's Journey Into Night, Chinese noir is having something of a resurgence of late and this hardboiled, ultra-stylised crime thriller is a perfect example of its success. Diao Y'nan borrows cues from Sejuin Suzuki to craft a cat and mouse game of memorable proportions, using vivid imagery of striking neon colours to create one of the most beautiful films of the year. Truly unforgettable - the fact that this film makes 50th on this list should tell you something about how great a year it's been for movies.

49. TENET; Christopher Nolan
Full confession: I was very much *not* a fan of Tenet when I first saw it but like with most Christopher Nolan films it finds a way to warm up to you after repeat viewings and I'm now very much glad I gave it another shot. It's Christopher Nolan's Miami Vice, if he dropped it somewhere in the middle of an arc-heavy episode of Doctor Who Season 6. Incredibly convoluted and not without its problems - the final act rivals Inception in its execution and although its sound problems still remain, the spectacle is so demanding it feels made for the biggest screen possible. The charismatic performances from John David Washington and Robert Pattinson triumph over the underwhelming villainous turn by Kenneth Branagh, and it remains a joy to watch that you should, for all intents and purposes, not try to overthink - as Nolan flat out warns you to avoid doing right from the start.

48. ZOMBI CHILD; Bertrand Bonello
I've been a Bertrand Bonello fan ever since his brilliant Nocturama and Zombi Child has stuck with me long after I watched it at the London Film Festival in 2019. Richly compelling in its fresh take on the zombie (or should that be zombi?) drama with unique imagery, Bonello utilises the setting of an elite private school to offer a damning critique of colonialism in this powerful contexutalised work.

47. SUMMER OF 85; François Ozon
How is this only my first François Ozon film? He's evidently a talented director and this coming of age drama earns its rich Call Me By Your Name comparisons as it explores the relationship between two boys, Alexis and David, who find themselves torn apart by an ultimately tragic ending to their tale. Utilising flashfowards that let you know how Summer of 85 is going ot play out from the start, Ozon's latest feels like the rare beast of a film that looks, in every sense, like a movie made in the '80s (akin to how Olivier Assayas' Cold Water feels like a movie made in the '70s) rather than a film made in the present day about the '80s. It'd be hard to overlook this film without mentioning its soundtrack too - The Cure's Inbetween Days and Rod Stewart's Sailing will remain stuck in your head long after the film has finished no matter how famjliar you are with the songs already.

46. THE ASSISTANT; Kitty Green
Just the right amount of understated, The Assistant moves along at a slow crawl as it finds a way to creep under your skin that most other movies fail to do. Kitty Green's realistic portrayal of a toxic work enviroment benefits from a truly star turn by Julia Garner, exploring an office culture filled with fear and abuse. Garner's portrayal of clear visual discomfort tells you everything whilst saying nothing, and the fact that the film goes on for a long runtime whilst keeping the score deliberatly hidden only works in its favour. Chillingly unforgettable, it won't leave your mind anytime soon.

45. BILL AND TED FACE THE MUSIC; Dean Parisot
They said it couldn’t be done. But this long overdue third film capitalised on the Keanuissance in order to receive the funding that it did to get made in style and bombast: time has caught up to wannabe rockstars Bill and Ted who are still trying to find a way to write a song that will unite the world and bring it all under one banner to create a future that they were told was coming. Now they’re experiencing a midlife crisis, their band has fallen apart and their daughters – Billie and Thea, are on treading the same path as them. Until the future arrives with a mission: They have 24 hours to save the world. It’s a crowd pleasing and joyous experience that combines the tone and pacing of the first two films into one, with Billie and Thea sent out on their own quest separate from Bill & Ted’s. Come for the great crowd-pleasing character interactions and an easy-to-like ending that serves as a great anditode for 2020. Stay for the Mozart/Jimi Hendrix musical battle and the 40-minute-long bass solo from Death himself. Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter haven’t lost any of their chemistry as Winter pours his heart and soul into the role that he’s best known for, and but the true stars are Samara Weaving and Brigette Lundy-Paine, who deserve all their own sequels, proving that lightning can very much strike twice.

44. PERFECT 10; Eva Riley
The fact that this film hasn't quite seen the incredibly talented Frankie Box break out among awards conversations yet should be a crime, Perfect 10 is a debut that feels like a British Kitchen sink drama of old - Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank is rightly comparable to a film that explores a longing for family and a split between multiple identities, whilst acting as a brillaint portrayal of the class divide. Eva Riley's debut may be a small film but it comes with a big heart, opting for a wholesome approach to its coming of age drama set on the outskirts of Brighton.

43. HIS HOUSE; Remi Weekes
2020 has been something of a memorable year for horror films and Remi Weeke's His House is further proof of that in the best way possible: a terrific case study of immigration that humanises its central characters, boasting great performances by Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu that go some way into crafting clear and sympathetic identities for themselves. Echoes of Hereditary are present in His House (not the first film on this list to earn that comparison) and it will find a way to keep you spellbound over the course of its brilliantly paced 93 minute that have plenty to say - it works just as much as a ghost story as it does a social commentary, drawing parallels with Mati Diop's terrific Atlantics that more than earnt its place on last year's list.

42. BLOODY NOSE, EMPTY POCKETS; Bill Ross IV & Turner Ross
This isn't a documentary although it plays out so naturally it will trick you into thinking it's one. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets neither victimises or idolises a bunch of barflies around a bar before a last call, going a great way to humanise them and explain their choices and what led them to this point in a way that will have you longing for a shared communal experience that in this new normal is so hard to find.

41. A WHITE, WHITE DAY; Hlyunr Palmason
This slow moving Icelanic noir won't be for everyone, but if you adjust to its level and tone you'll find yourself right at home with one of the more unique oddities of the year. It never quite goes in the direction that you'd expect it to and you're more than thankful for that, with the film tearing apart broken men in a powerful study of loneliness and toxic mascilunity that offers a truly memorable performance by Ingvar Sigurdsson.

40. POSSESSOR; Brandon Cronenberg
Brandon Cronenberg's unhinged, often delilerious blood-soaked extravaganza does not hold anything back. It's raw, brutal and a hundred percent commited to its vision, opting for a Hitman-esque mind-melting horror show where bodies are swapped without the owners' will, giving the occupant pretty much free run of the host's body. Possesor kept me guessing at every turn as it careered towards its end in a gloriously unpredictable fashion, utilising unique visuals and a well-anchored cast. It's clear Sean Bean is having a great time in his role as an utterly despicable CEO, Andrea Riseborough is fantastic as the face-stealing assassin, and the film is best not watched late at night, as it will keep you guessing long after it's over.

39. KAJILLIONAIRE; Miranda July
The other film on this list that took me two watches to truly warm up to (not helped by a first viewing that was marred in technical issues leaving me unable to give it a fair experience, Miranda July's Kakillionaire is delightfully odd in all the best possible ways - best exprienced on the big screen. A truly weird, rich and unique experience that feels appropiately one of a kind, this film about a family of hustlers explores a dynamic that is rarely before seen on screen. It'd be wrong to compare it to Shoplifters, but its heartfelt exploration of connection is meaningful and important, turning a world of low stakes grifting into a compelling family affair that boasts incredibly underrated turns from the stellar Richard Jenkins, Debra Winger & Evan Rachel Wood.

38. PROXIMA; Alice Winocour
An effective counterpart to the brilliant First Man and Ad Astra, Proxima keeps things grounded as it explores an astronaut who is suffering from increased isolation in training and is torn between her work and a longing to be with her family, having watched her daughter grow up from afar. Alice Winocour's film is at its best exploring the mother-daughter dynamic that is so central to the film's strengths it would hard to imagine the drama without it, Proxima feels like a significant upgrade on Noah Hawley's Lucy in the Sky and boasts plenty to say.

37. SOUL; Pete Docter & Kemp Powers
It’s a Pixar film. Of course, Soul was going to be on this list. I was lucky enough to see it at the Cine Lumiere as part of LFF during the film festival that was hosted in London earlier last year, and Soul is a movie that is so disappointing to see it not get released on the big screen as it truly deserves to be seen in cinemas. Although that said, being released on Disney+ on Christmas day wasn't a bad Christmas treat. It’s a completely magical movie featuring stellar vocal performances by Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, and boasts completely stunning animation by the Pixar team that faithfully create a bold new storyline that gives a joyous and hopeful energy that never fails to disappoint. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross give us one of Pixar’s best scores to date in a film that cannot, and should not be missed.

36. DA 5 BLOODS; Spike Lee
Spike Lee delivered one of the best films of the year. A testament of the brilliance of Lee's directing power and the split between the past and present narrative structure paying off dividends with the film adopting a Treasure of the Sierra Madre-influenced approach, Da 5 Bloods excells in showing the impact that the Vietnam War has left on African American soldiers who fight in it for a country that ignores them and brandishes them aside. It's a damning portrayal of colonialism and a stirring anti-war film, unafraid to tackle the impact that it has left on those who were left behind in Vietnam. Performances across the board, especially from Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors and Chadwick Boseman, are instantly memorable in this drama that's one part treasure hunt and one part war epic, the film leaves a clear and distinct impression on the audience with a powerful statement of intent, and nobody is spared from Lee's wrath. Once again Terrence Blanchard's score is truly remarkable, he adds beautiful depth to another Spike Lee masterpiece.

35. COLLECTIVE; Alexander Nanau
Collective is a powerful Spotlight-esque documentary that delivers on its damning portrayal of the Romanian Government and its corrupt institutions in a way that feels, unfortunately, universal in its themes of abuse of power. Timely and effective with not a second spared in its meticulously detailed approach, Nanau gets effectively to the point in a way that deserves wider recognition that hopefully Oscar success will give it.

34. SWALLOW; Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Haley Bennett delivers the best performance of her career so far in this hypnotic and entrancing horror movie that finds a way to get under your skin keeping the tension high throughout. Acting as a powerful portrayal of isolation and mental illness, Swallow feels quietly brilliant - told with a true sense of purpose to it that never escapes its unshakable sense of dread.

33. MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM; George C. Wolfe
If anything, the praise for Chadwick Boseman's performance in Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is undersold. He's Oscar-worthy good here and should walk away with the best actor oscar in a role that should have been another terrific entry to his list of great accomplishments rather than what amounts to a tragic final major performance in a movie. Wolfe's direction turns this emotionally charged story into a force to be reckoned with, with its final few minutes finding a way to break your heart into pieces. As great as Boseman is - Viola Davis is equally good in her lead role, with both acting talents showing true mastery of their roles. A true actor's movie.

32. COUNTY LINES; Henry Blake
Unflinchingly bleak and told without narrative compromise akin to Céline Sciamma’s Girlhood, County Lines feels like a harsh watch, but very much a necessary one. It opens with a chilling warning about those mixed up in a lethal nationwide drug selling enterprise where the main character, a young boy still at school, is told: “do you know what the acceptable loss for your business is? You” and cuts back six months earlier to showcase his path that led him to that moment. Refreshingly mature in a way that avoids the Trainspotting-homages most of its ilk falls into, County Lines is about as far removed from Danny Boyle’s masterpiece as you would expect, a towering drama that shows a side to an often-told story that you haven’t seen before.

31. I'M NO LONGER HERE; Luis Fernando Frias De La Parra
I'm No Longer Here is a vibrant odyssey of dance and soul that feels truly alive. Following an immigrant teenager who struggles with loss and alienation in his new surroundings, I'm No Longer Here uses music as an escape from the real world against the backdrop of its setting. Culturally rich and stylistically brilliant, the film opts for a remarkably warm and wholesome approach whilst still finding plenty to say in a work of great relevanc that is highly recommended - if you liked HBO's Los Espookys, you'll want to check out more from its writer-director.

30. LES MISÉRABLES; Ladj Ly
No, this is very much not another adaption of the classic Victor Hugo source material. Instead; Les Misérables tears apart the systemtic abuse of police power in French neighbourhoods of Paris, exploring corruption and gang violence in a way that has shades of The Hate U Give and Training Day, hardboiled and instantly reminiscent of French classic La Haine. From its first shot of a united Paris celebrating France's World Cup win to its last, haunting image - Les Misérables is a force to be reckoned with - as every bit a tour de force as its reputation suggests.

29. A FAMILY TOUR; Ying Liang
A holdover from 2018 that has finally been released on Mubi internationally, A Family Tour has a deep sense of longing and reconnection - painfully honest and authentic storytelling from a director who himself, is living in exile. It's one of the best films of whatever year you decide to count it as released in - the fact that it has rarely left my mind since I saw it back in LFF 2018 is an incredible feat. Poignant and political, this film draws from the director's own experiences to focus on family in a way that is beautifully brought to life from cinematographer Ryuji Otsuka.

28. THE OTHER LAMB; Małgorzata Szumowska
A memorable, controlled descent into madness, folk horror is having something of a resurgence that is lead by the brilliant The Other Lamb. Taking place in what amounts to a near-timeless setting that could barely be placed in any one location, you are drawn into a darkly twisted cult led by its sinister leader, the only male member. Director Małgorzata Szumowska gets the most out of the incredibly talented Raffey Cassidy and brings some utterly breaktaking visuals to the table. I was hooked at every turn: its short runtime and slow pace proved to strike a clear, distinctive chord with me, and for a film that reminded me instantly of Monos and Midsommar I was surprised as to how well it rivalled both in terms of quality.

27. LYNN + LUCY; Fyzal Boulifa
Fyzal Boulifa’s debut is heartbreakingly authentic and devastatingly real, one of the most uncomfortable experiences that I’ve had watching a movie this year. Exploring a life-changing event that shakes the foundational friendship between two lifelong friends, Lynn + Lucy offers a depressingly social realist commentary akin to Ken Loach that is unavoidable and unshakable in its harsh outlook on life. Roxanne Scrimshaw and Nichola Burley are terrific in this understated film that harkens back to the days of the old British Kitchen Sink drama: the Lynne Ramsay and Andrea Arnold comparisons feel earned.

26. SELAH AND THE SPADES; Tayarisha Poe
Talk about a film that came completely came out of nowhere and took me by surprise. Reminding me of Rian Johnson's Brick were it to borrow from The Godfather rather than film noir, Selah and the Spades turns high school cliques into a ruthless, double-crossing battleground for survival (so like, an ordinary high school?), where you'll get characters as well-developed and as well-acted as any other film - with Tayarisha Poe directing something that soars in its creative vision. Amazon have recently comissioned a TV series out of this film so you'll want to get ahead of the curve and watch it before the series arrrives on their platform, as if it's anywhere near as good as the film - it's almost certainly going to be a mega hit.

25. A SUN; Chung Mong-Ho
A Taiwanese family epic that is almost three hours long and earns every second of its runtime, I never felt the length of this film once. Released on Netflix and promptly buried like most of the films on its service this gem of a foreign film looks at the troubles that befall horrible people doing horrible things, and gives them a reason to be doing those things in a way that feels incredibly tragic as as a family is torn apart by circumstances outside of its control. Chung Mong-Hong impressively handles both directoral and cinematography duties to create a unique experience that is one of the richest films of the year.

24. MAKE UP; Claire Oakley
Claire Oakley's debut is a real treat. Released in the UK inbetween lockdowns and aired on broadcast TV as part of BBC's partnership with the BFI later in the year, Make Up is an under-the-radar drama that's best left going in with no preconcieved perceptions, it will only throw you off. Set against the backdrop of a rurual Holiday Park in the UK the film works as a journey of self-discovery for young Ruth, who has moved to the park to be with her boyfriend. The chilling atmosphere of offseason haunts the empty carriages of Ruth's workplace, and its residents are even more unique and distrubing. There's an eerie edge to Make Up that keeps it interesting and delightfully unpredictable, with Oakley earning clear and distinct praise comparable to the likes of Ken Loach and David Lynch, maxmimising its social commentary with a uniquely twisted underbelly of dark, disturbing secrets. This is a film that will pull you in and keep you entranced under its spell, ending in a way that makes it a rewarding watch.

23. CLEMENCY; Chinonye Chukwu
A powerful death-row drama that tears down just how flawed the system is and how it completely destroys everyone attatched to it - from the guards to the Wardens to the victim's family and yes, of course the victim themself. Chinonye Chukwu's drama is passionate, raw and an especially hard watch of memorable proportions, as it explores the dynamic between a prison warden and a new innmate who she is about to execute. Alfre Woodard, exceptional in Luke Cage, is awards-worthy brilliant in this film, and Aldis Hodge puts in an equally memorable turn opposte her.

22. EMA; Pablo Larrian
Give yourself to the dance. Playing out like Marriage Story ramped up to eleven, Jackie director Pablo Larrian returns with a slow and gradual descent into anarchy that offers a unique take on the marriage falling apart story. With vivid imagery and hypnotising dance moves you'll find it hard to look away from the deconstruction of sex, power and family that benefits from stellar performances from the impeccably talented duo of Mariana Di Girolamo and Gael Garcia Bernal.

21. TIME; Garrett Bradley
2020 has been an excellent year for documentaries and Time is right up there with the best of them - the fact that it is not the best says something about just how good of a year it's been. Brilliant, heartbreaking and a critique of the horrific US prison system, this film spans 21 full years in the space of 81 minutes effortlessly, acting as a rallying cry of profound proportions. Easily one of the most emotionally-charged documentaries that I've seen - you will be left devastated by the end of this film as director Garrett Bradley succeeds in making a clear mission statement. Its hard-won triumphs have rarely felt more earned.

20. SHE DIES TOMORROW; Amy Seimetz
Amy Seimetz delivers a movie that feels like it was made for 2020, an unflinchingly smart and subversive indie horror film that will keep you guessing at every turn about where it's going to go next. Casting a spotlight on a woman, named Amy, who is convinced she's going to die tomorrow, the film follows her pathway as she becomes more and more unhinged, trapped in a dizzying spiral that she cannot escape from. What's worse is that her curse is contagious: people nearby her find themselves entrapped in the constant state of misery that Amy brings with her. The neon lighting that She Dies Tomorrow brings to the table makes the film all the more stylishly brilliant, the lightning-in-a-bottle premise is presented in such a unique way that you won't see another film quite like this one in 2020. It's the perfect blend of anxiety, nihilism and dread that captures the creeping build of tension and paranoia brilliantly.

19. SMALL AXE; Steve McQueen
What's better than one new Steve McQueen film? FIVE new Steve McQueen films. With one of the year's most ambitous projects, McQueen pulls together a variety of true events and a stellar cast for a series of different storylines that soar. Mangrove beats The Trial of the Chicago 7 at its own game in the courtroom for legal affairs - powerfully devastating and richly rewarding, whilst Lovers Rock offers a glimpse into one of the greatest parties ever filmed. And then Red, White and Blue boasts a stunning performance by John Boyega as it tears down the racism in the Met Police. All films have a point to prove but it's these three that are the standouts, boasting a memorable Ska and Reggae-fuelled soundtrack that comes from the vibrant heart and soul of Trojan Records, making London feel as alive and as vibrant as ever. Regardless of whether you count Small Axe as a TV series or a film (BBC and Amazon are similarly divided in its marketing but Steve McQueen is clear that they are films) Every entry here is unmissable.

18. BAD EDUCATION; Cory Finley
It's a shame that Bad Education is not elegible for the Oscars this year as it features Hugh Jackman's strongest performance since The Prestige, if not his whole career. He is just on another level as a corrupt school superintendent whose secretive embezzlement scheme is discovered by an doggedly determined student journalist. Jackman's manipulative brilliance is on full effect in this roaring Spotlight-esque dark comedy that pulls audiences in and refuses to let go: Robert Kolker & Mike Makowsky's fast-track dialogue keeps audiences engaged from start to finish, and the supporting cast, Allison Janney and Geraldine Viswanathan, round out the ensemble on a terrific note. The humour is perfect, there is distinct Yorgos Lanthimos-influences on the script, and the look into the dark, hidden secrets buried underneath the American Dream allows for a rewarding watch that plays brilliantly with an audience. Cory Finley's debut, Thoroughbreds, may be a stellar movie in its own right, but Bad Education is even better.

17. THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF; Benjamin Lee
A documentary so dramatic it feels like a work of fiction more than a real depicition of true events, but this exploration of a bond between a painter and a thief who stole her art is tremendous, deeply captivating at every turn. It finds ways to test the boundaries of the format in more ways than one, acting as accomplished piece of storytelling genius from Lee that enables a comprehensive look into the lives of two self-destructive people who get the best, and worst out of each other.

16. THE WOMAN WHO RAN; Hong Sang-Soo
Hong Sang-Soo is the most prolific filmmaker currently working often putting out multiple new films each year - so you'd expect a quality drop at some point but the fact that it hasn't happened yet is a true testaement to his skill. The Woman Who Ran, although simple in its plot and short in its length, emerging as a bitesize slice-of-life novella type filmmaking, it allows the director to step away from the confines of his self-insert characters that he has perpetuated in his earlier work in favour of a female-centered perspective of a woman simply going about her life doing her day-to-day chores. Boring for some, but in an otherwise hellish year, the return to relative normalcy that The Woman Who Ran provides us with is irresistibly welcome.

15. THE PERSONAL HISTORY OF DAVID COPPERFIELD; Armando Iannucci
I’m no Charles Dickens fan but The Personal History of David Copperfield won me over completely with its magical and completely engrossing experience that updated Dickens’ semi-autobiographical work for a new audience bringing the titular character life with a stellar performance from the incredibly talented Dev Patel. Iannucci takes delight in bringing Copperfield’s story to life with an all-star ensemble of colourful characters: Peter Capaldi, Ben Whishaw, Tilda Swinton, Gwendoline Christie, Hugh Laurie and Morfydd Clark all ensure that this film won’t be forgotten any time soon and it emerges as a delightful family favourite that may well end up being the best Dickens adaption thus to date. When it can even win non-fans over, you know it’s going to be something special.

14. DAVID BYRNE'S AMERICAN UTOPIA; Spike Lee
Few musicians are lucky to have one all-timer of a concert film under their belt during their career. The inheritably likeable David Byrne now has, between Stop Making Sense and American Utopia, two. From the moment the film begins you get a much-needed sense of optimism and openness, as Byrne brings the audience into the film in a way like no other: Road to Nowhere has the band dance through the audience much to their delight, and it’s great to see a crowd so into the greatest hits of The Talking Heads that Byrne executes to a near-unmatched level of perfection, connecting the audience with his band in a way that feels instantly welcoming and all-inclusive. I’m sorry, but as good as Hamilton is, it doesn’t come anywhere close to American Utopia.


13. THE VAST OF NIGHT; Andrew Pattinson
One of the year’s most daring and bold sci-fi debuts comes from the low-budget but ambitious The Vast of Night that came out of absolutely nowhere to take me by complete surprise when I watched it on Amazon Prime Video earlier last year. Its fast-paced dialogue helps The Vast of Night capture the spirit of a radio play in nature, and its Twilight Zone-inspired roots really help make it shine. It’s full of twists, turns and moves at a fast pace that feels wholly remarkable: a rare breath of fresh air in a genre that has seen every possibility told and retold countless of times over.

12. BACURAU; Kleber Mendonca Filho, Juliano Dornelles
This gritty, violent and pulpy Brazilian western sees a small town cut off from the rest of the world in the wake of the loss of its matriarch, 94-year-old Carmelita. What follows is an experience that has to be seen to be believed in a smart, engrossing social commentary of a film that provides an interesting background for the talented Filho and Dornelles to build on their impressive filmography after the masterpiece of Aquarius. It’s wild and uncompromising from start to finish, domestically released on the same day as The Hunt in the United States but by far the superior film – dealing with similar themes in a much better way. There’s a lot of strong political allegory in Bacurau, and it’s a true rollercoaster of an experience that refuses to compromise.

11. DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD; Kristen Johnson
What do you do when you know your dad is going to die? You kill him off over and over again in multiple, creative ways, and film it for a documentary. Such is the good-natured black humour of Kristen Johnson and her family that make Dick Johnson is Dead possible, enjoyable and as richly entertaining as it is: the Netflix documentary is a phenomonal follow up to Johnson's medium-defining Cameraperson that was released back in 2014. It can make you both laugh and cry in the same scene in a way that few movies are able to even attempt to capture - and as a stirring tribute to a man who we likely never knew existed before this documentary, Dick Johnson is Dead does its job perfectly - emerging as a true celebration of life at its finest.

10. SAINT MAUD; Rose Glass
I saw this back at the London Film Festival a year ahead of its theatrical release and Saint Maud is something that truly left an impact on me - I've been unable to forget it and it has stayed in my mind ever since. The performance from Morfydd Clark is instantly memorable in this unflinchingly dark debut that pulls you in in a way like few other movies of its ilk: Think Hereditary for a more direct comparison and it more than lives up to the billing in that regard. The atmosphere and mystery is rich right from the word go, and there are multiple moments that left me breathtaken by the sheer audacity that Rose Glass is able to accomplish in her debut. It's a psychological drama that gets under your skin the way few movies have been able to, with Clark playing a devout live-in care-giver who finds herself swayed by an otherworldly influence that does not have her best influences at heart. Obsession and possession are concepts that have never been explored as richly or as in depth, and Glass makes sure that Saint Maud is an experience that audiences won't be able to forget anytime soon...

9. CALM WITH HORSES; Nick Rowland
Nick Rowland’s intense, gritty debut has a touch of melancholy to Calm With Horses that sees it earn comparisons to Chloé Zhao’s The Rider and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. Set in rural Ireland the film explores the pull between a man’s family and the life of crime that there is seemingly no escape from with stunning performances that offer a gripping portrayal of the cycle of violence and how hard it is to break out of for those once you are in. Cosmo Jarvis and Barry Keoghan are remarkable in this film, with Niamh Algar impressing in what amounts to an incredibly strong ensemble. The film even finds time for a memorable car chase, skilfully pulled off when you least expect it in an entirely personal drama that had resounding repercussions on me when I watched in the year. Unforgettable.

8. AND THEN WE DANCED; Levan Akin
Thematically and tonally similar to Call Me By Your Name, but superior by far in its execution And Then We Danced follows Merab, a dancer at the National Georgian Ensemble who finds his place challenged by the new arrival of his strongest rival and a new love interest. Set against the backdrop of a deeply conservative environment, the film explores identity and tackles themes of self-destruction with care, escaping its familiar set-up with an exciting feel to it. Keep an eye out for the stunning party one-shot, where Levan Akin maximises his creativity and gets the most out of a remarkably talented lead performance by Levan Gelbakhiani.

7. WOLFWALKERS; Tomm Moore & Ross Stewart
Soul may be the animated film that is the favourite to win at the Oscars this year, but the dark horse, Wolfwalkers, is infinetly more magical, mystical and brilliant, drawing from a rich tradition of Irish folklore in favour of an emotionally investing tale for all ages that's able to keep the family entertained as much as adults. Despite its dark nature it captures the all-ages appeal that a film like this needs, every frame feels like a painting and the artwork comes to life before your eyes in a way where you will believe that everything that you see before you is completely and utterly real.

6. BABYTEETH; Shannon Murphy
Shannon Murphy’s directorial debut is an exciting one that showcases, just as with last year’s Little Women, how good Eliza Scanlen is at breaking your heart over and over again. Scanlen puts in everything she has to her performance as a terminally ill teenager who brings a small-time drug dealer back to her parents home after meeting him on a train platform much to their displeasure. The complex family dynamics are explored to perfection in this film that could easily have put so many steps wrong, but thanks to a carefully balanced tonal structure you will find yourself in love with Babyteeth by the end. Keep an eye out for the excellent supporting cast: Ben Mendelsohn proves that his strengths lie in comedy as much as being typecast as Hollywood villains, and Essie Davis is terrific. Expect to cry by the end and if you don’t, you’re soulless.

5. ROCKS; Sarah Gavron
Rocks is a proper London movie. Set in the capital of England and capturing the mood of the classroom and its subjects to precision, the film explores a young girl and her brother on the run from a system that is meant to protect them. It’s an emotionally investing experience that feels deeply alive and empowering, thanks to the strong mix of non-professional and professional actors in its cast. I can’t praise Bukky Bakray and Kosar Ali’s entirely natural performance enough, their chemistry feels as believable and authentic as the dialogue, and it’s so good to see Sarah Gavron represent a side of London on screen in a way that does not get depicted on screen often. As far as coming of age movies go, it’s wonderful.

4. BEANPOLE; Kantemir Balagov
Set in post WW2 Leningrad, Beanpole isn’t an easy watch. Focusing on two female soldiers returning from war and adjusting to the city that they left, it is a punishing experience that will be gruelling and leave you uncomfortable by the end. But in the same way as films like Son of Saul, if you stick with Beanpole you’ll be rewarded with the very best film of the year. Striking images and unique cinematography from the incredible Kseniya Sereda help bring this version of Leningrad to life in immaculate detail that doesn’t miss a beat, providing a backdrop for the emotionally heartbreaking and entirely devastating journey that Beanpole will take you on. It is meticiously planned and well-executed from the first shot to the last: unavoidably harrowing but refreshingly authentic in its rare moments of compassion and kindness that all come together for an historical epic for the ages.

3. MATTHIAS & MAXIME; Xavier Dolan
Xavier Dolan’s latest Matthias & Maxime is the most beautiful film of the year. Anchored by gorgeous cinematography by André Turpin, this exploration of unspoken love between two close friends who are asked to share a kiss on a short film changing their relationship and their family dynamics forever in the process. The soundtrack, as usual with Dolan, is full of non-stop bangers: Arcade Fire, Pet Shop Boys & Phosphorescent all make up its eclectic discography, and the nostalgic tinge to Matthias & Maxime feels pure, poetically intricate and incredibly heartfelt. Full praise has to go to both Dolan and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas, who pour their heart into every scene. A much-needed improvement over the underrated but messy The Death and Life of John F. Donovan, and a welcome return to form.

2. A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD; Marielle Heller
Between this and acting in The Queen's Gambit, it's been quite the year for Can You Ever Forgive Me director Marielle Heller. An understated portrayal of America's icon, Fred Rogers, in possibly a career-best role for Tom Hanks subverts the normal fallbacks of a biopic in favour of a heartwarming and endearing tale that feels accessible and uplifitng for all audiences, boasting a strong supporting turn from Matthew Rhys. As someone who knew nothing about Fred Rogers going in - he's virtually unknown in the UK among my agegroup at least - A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood found a way to be endearingly hopeful and kind from start to finish, hitting me in the heart right where I needed it to.

1. NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS; Eliza Hittman
Eliza Hittman’s important Never Rarely Sometimes Always is deeply heartwrenching and unavoidably moving, it should be required viewing by all. Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder put in year’s best-performances as a pair of teenage girls travelling unaided to New York city to seek out medical help as a result of an unplanned pregnancy. The film tackles its central theme of abortion strongly and decisively without missing a beat and Hittman’s natural social/political criticism game is very strong in this approach with a special and memorable way. Hélène Louvart’s cinematography is marvellous, and the film sees Hittman's promise after the fantastic It Felt Like Love fully emerge before our eyes in what amounts to one of the year's most powerful films - that titular scene will leave you breathless.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS: An Easy Girl, Wasp Network, Birds of Prey, Bad Boys For Life, I'm Thinking of Ending Things, Onward, Host, The Invisible Man, Dark Waters, Color out of Space


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