Archive for January 1st, 2021

1: Portrait of a Lady on Fire – I did a half year list during the first lockdown, this came second; on re-watch, it’s even better and jumps up to number one.  I went into this movie not knowing anything about it, that’s probably the best way, so I am not going to give a synopsis to give anybody who hasn’t it the same opportunity.  The film is beautiful to look at, and tells a beautiful story that unfolds to devastating effect.

2: Parasite – My number one at the half year stage, a beautifully crafted movie, it doesn’t lose anything on rematch, but it didn’t haunt me the number one did.   Again, I will not give a synopsis, or even genre.  I went in knowing nothing, again the best way to see the movie.  There is no one outstanding performances, the whole cast is sensational.  The direction is sublime, and the story subtly brilliant, with movements of humour, pathos, and overflowing with subtext.

3: JoJo Rabbit – I saw a preview of  this in December 2019 (that seems like a lifetime ago!) but it didn’t come out in the UK until January 2020.  I made a decision few years ago to pick my annual top ten based on UK release dates.  A satirical comedy about a ten year old member of Hitler Youth, whose imaginary friend is an incarnation of Hitler, sounds like a bad idea.  But when the Writer, Director, Hitler is Taika Waititi it all strangely works.  The film is light and very funny, that makes it even more hard hitting in the serious moments.  An absolute masterpiece.

4: 1917 – Set on the Western Front in northern France at the height of WW1, two young British soldiers are tasked with delivering a vital message.  Made up of long takes (up to nine minutes at a time) and near seamlessly edited together to look like a single take.   It’s not the first single take movie, and far from the longest take, but it is certainly the most ambitious given what is depicted.  Although fictional, it is inspired by a true story told to writer/director Sam Mendes by his grandfather.  An outstanding and breathtaking movie that is so much more than the (effective) gimmick of its shooting.  Dean-Charles Chapman and particularly George MacKay are both excellent.  I watched the movie in IMAX, and have avoided re-watching it on TV as I fear it won’t be the same. 

5: Diqiu zuihou de yewan (UK title: Long Day’s Journey into Night) – Technically not a 2020 film, it received a limited UK release in the last week of 2019, but didn’t see the inside of many cinema’s until the following month.  A man returns to his hometown for his father’s funeral.  He reminisces about an old friend killed years before, and sets out to find a lost love.  The whole film has a dreamlike quality as it skips around in time and space until the final hour depicts an actual dream, shot as one long unbroken shot.  A lot is left unexplained leaving the viewer to decipher the story from the flashbacks and the dream.  Stunning throughout, the film is at its best in the final hour.

6: Mangrove – I normally only pick from movies seen at the cinema, in a break from tradition Mangrove was made for TV and originally show on the BBC as part of the “Small Axe” series of films.  Directed by Steve McQueen and set in London in the 1960s and 1970s all the films depict the lives of West Indian immigrants.  The story of the “Mangrove Nine”, comparisons with Aaron Sorkin’s The Trial of the Chicago 7 are inevitable.  While it lacks the comedy of its American counterpart, Mangrove is a better film.  While hard hitting, it doesn’t paint its protagonists as victims.   

7: The Invisible Man – Following the abject failure of The Mummy (2107) Universal’s overly ambitious  so-called Dark Universe didn’t happen.  This left the door open for the Blumhouse treatment.  The story is as grounded and real as The Invisible Man could be, and also benefits from the always brilliant Elisabeth Moss.  Not only better than expected, but genuinely good.  Like all great thrillers and horror movies, the story has real world relevance.  

8: Saint Maud – Marketed as a horror, Rose Glass’ feature debut defies genre.  Morfydd Clark’s titular Maud’s religious devotion is treated in a way reminiscent of something more demonic.  The gloom and despair of a faded British seaside town all helps with the oppressive nature of the film.  What the film is about is open to interpretation, what is not is the sense of melancholy, dread and malevolence that haunts the film. 

9: Queen & Slim – I thought long and hard about including this film of the list, because it’s so timely, I was concerned how it would hold up over time.  Looking back after nearly a year I decided I had to include it, partly as a testament for the time it was made, but mainly because it is there on merit.  For those who don’t know, the story follows a young black couple on a first date; things spiral out of control following a routine traffic stop.  More than just a road movie, it uses the language and conventions of cinema to make a powerful statement.  Daniel Kaluuya and Jodie Turner-Smith are outstanding. 

10: The Gentlemen – Guy Ritchie, returns to what Guy Ritchie does, British gangsters.  While not as fresh and original as his early work, it is a refreshing change from some of the rubbish he has made more recently.  It’s all too slick and contrived to be great, but is exactly what a film like this needs to be, fun.  Worth watching for standout performances from Colin Farrell and Hugh Grant.

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