Time for Part 2 of my Top Ten Films List for the last year! As I said in the last post covering my picks for #10-#6 in 2020, I am publishing this on 4th January. That is right, I am gonna stick to a schedule for once!
As always for these posts, I shall reiterate the rules: I bear in mind the film itself and my own personal enjoyment of said film; the selection is from films that released in 2020 and I saw in that year; and I go by the UK release date, so a film such as Seberg would qualify. In addition, I have included links to my previous lists (I started in 2017) at the bottom of the article! Now, into my Top 5 for 2020!
#5 – Waves
“I haven’t heard of this?” I hear you say. Well, yes, Waves was an A24 production released early in the year that seemed to run for only a few days, even at Picturehouse Central in London, which is where I went to see it. That is disappointing, too, because more people need to witness the way that Waves uses cinema in bold and innovative ways. Waves is about the ongoing lives of an African-American family living in South Florida; to start with, the focus seems on son Tyler Williams (Kelvin Harrison Jr. ) as he goes through adolescence, navigating a complicated romantic relationship with Alexis Lopez (Alex Demie) and reacting to the strongly disciplined upbringing of father Ronald Williams (Sterling K. Brown). For a while, Waves is a grounded story of obsession in romance and family. Why it pushes on into one of my top 5 films of the year is because it does not stop there, and constantly makes very bold decisions that surprise and question the audience. I have never seen a film do that in quite this way, as the nature of the media format itself is combined with narrative decisions that set a whole new course and uncover new aspects of characters that you may not have expected – aspects delivered delicately and expressively on screen by wonderful performances. Challenging topics are tackled throughout, with themes of loss, acceptance, and then most poignantly hope. This is an experience of the film that I encourage you to seek out, as it may change the way you see the world.
#4 – 1917
Now 1917 was a tricky one to place in my list. This World War I epic from director Sam Mendes is a vivid story of how British Lance Corporals William Schofield (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Tom Blake (George MacKay) cross treacherous northern France territory on 6th April 1917. They do this in order to deliver intelligence on a planned German ambush that jeopardises the lives of the Second Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment – if I was describing the USP (Unique Selling Point) of 1917, it would be the way it is shot; the whole film is put together as if it was one take (clearly it is a sequence of several long takes tied together, Birdman-style), which viscerally puts you into the action with the characters as they navigate No Man’s Land, an abandoned bunker, the devastated town of Écoust-Saint-Mein, and more. That style of filmmaking is one that is incredibly impressive to view, and the logistics of how they managed to put everything together in terms of timings and practical effects is stunning. Credit to all the people both on camera and off it! Based on that, it was immediately fighting for a spot high on my top ten. Yet, 1917 is also a film that slightly fell down the list over time… See, when I now think back to the story it tells, I realise that the characters, their interactions, and the themes of the film are a bit flat and undeveloped. It is certainly less inspiring than my top three. This could be viewed as the cinematography being so amazing it overshadows other parts of the film; however, it could also be viewed as evidence that beneath the style of it all is the substance of just another war film – one that is great, but not as breathtaking as it seems. Being at my #4 spot, 1917 is still undeniably an achievement of filmmaking, even if it is one that is easy to get carried away with.
#3 – Richard Jewell
Similarly to Waves, Richard Jewell released early in 2020, but was only in cinemas for a short time, and overall sadly seemed to go under the radar. If we go back to my choice for #8, Dark Waters, I spoke about how investigative-style films needed to do something refreshing for me to put them near the peak of the list, and that happens here, with an injection of an evolving sense of humanity and morality. This is a film based on the real story of Richard Jewell, a man with an attachment to law enforcement who we see going between jobs to various success. It leads up to him working as security for the Summer Olympics of 1996 in Atlanta, Georgia; specifically, Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser) is one of those watching over the concerts at the Centennial Park, where one day he spots a suspicious bag; after initially being almost mocked for his cautiousness, he is proven right when a bomb is found inside. The actions of Jewell limit the capacity for damage, though there are multiple injuries and one death amongst a chaotic scene depicted in harrowing fashion. Initially talked about as a hero, soon the FBI – and others – start to view Jewell as a potential suspect, taking away not just his privacy but also that of loving mother Bobi Jewell (Kathy Bates). Being subjected to shady tactics from authorities in order to get the case they want, Richard Jewell turns to a past acquaintance in the form of lawyer Watson Bryant for help. Jewell is so tied to his admiration for law and rules that he is often naïve in his response to the situation he is in, and whilst this leads to humorous moments with Bryant, the other side of it is a film-long struggle for Jewell to adapt his own personal beliefs to a system showing just how imperfect and unjust it can be. Understated and yet powerfully believable performances – especially from Walter Hauser, Bates, and Rockwell – are a remarkably effective conduit for this story, with an on-the-ground shooting style from director Clint Eastwood that lets the developing characters breathe. In contrast to 1917, Richard Jewell is a case of all elements combining in a manner befitting the narrative being told, without any one part of the film taking all the focus. Balanced, insightful, and quietly evocative, Richard Jewell is another film gem of 2020 I urge not to let pass you by.
#2 – Parasite
Well, Parasite had to be in this list somewhere, didn’t it? The South Korean, multi-genre masterpiece that took the world – and the Oscars, including winning Best Picture – by storm, Parasite is a magnificent demonstration of film as both commentary and entertainment. When Ki-woo Kim (Choi Woo-sik), from a close-knit but poor family, is offered the opportunity to falsify his credentials in order to gain access to a prosperous tutoring job in the rich Park household, his profits subsequently lead to the Kim family placing more and more of themselves there in various roles. Much humour ensues as they take on these new identities; however, the light-heartedness arrives at a sharp stop of revelation that brings up key questions of how society is built. The way that director Bong Joon Ho demonstrates his comprehensive understanding of the medium of film is amazing; he shows the similarities and disparities of the ways in which different people live through literal and metaphorical levels and lines in his filmmaking, supplemented by motifs of light and dark, inside and outside, and even the change of the weather. In addition, Parasite breaks into uncharted areas in how it seamlessly skips from genre to genre without any detectable break points from one to the other, which is very impressive when the range of genres varies from comedy, to drama, and even to horror, often switching back and forth. A distinctly personable cast of characters, and the excellent acting behind them, are another key part of the Parasite puzzle, with all the members of each family having their own expressive personalities. That may be eagerly opportunistic father Ki-taek (Song Kang Ho) of the Kim family, or earnestly unaware mother Yeon-kyo of the Park family, to name just two. Everything in Parasite is there for a reason – this is expert craftmanship done with confidence and skill, and it was going to take something special for me to not put it at number one…
#1 – Wonder Woman 1984
I left Wonder Woman 1984 beaming. As a DC fan, a Wonder Woman fan, and a fan of the Patty Jenkins-directed 2017 feature film Wonder Woman, I had been excited for years at the prospect of director and cast returning, and the delays (for various reasons) just prolonged the anticipation. So, when I was finally able to go to my local cinema to see it on 16th December, and I got to discover just how spectacular it was, it supplied a shining moment of joy in a tough year, combining incredible filmmaking with a personal impact that I connected to more than any other film of 2020. Set decades after the first film, in 1984, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) is respected but lonely as she balances her museum work with secretly delivering justice. The arrival of endearing but self-doubting Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig) supplies each with much-needed companionship, but the intrusion of an artifact that appears to grant wishes, and the greedy yet empathetic Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal), threatens not just their new friendship but soon the rest of civilisation. As a plot, it is quite straightforward, with the magic coming from how much room that gives Jenkins to spend time building out and exploring these fascinating characters and their dynamics, which includes the return of Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) into Diana’s life and the emotional consequences that follow. Essentially, it is a 2.5-hour-ish globe-trotting, action-packed character piece that forces these individuals to search themselves introspectively, as it is pressed on them – and us – that you cannot cheat your way to being your best. Strong themes and magical moments are present, wrapped in a delightful, vibrant 1980s aesthetic and style; oh, and the score from Hans Zimmer is phenomenal, remixing the energetic Wonder Woman theme in multiple creative ways as well as bringing new majestic tracks to the table. The combination of a certain point in the narrative and the choice of music for it left me in tears in the cinema! No other film in 2020 had the same type of effect on me, and it is welcome to see a comic book film that is resolved more with words than fists. Wonder Woman 1984 was the wonderful ray of light I needed in 2020, and is my personal favourite film of the year!
There you go, those are my top 5, and that brings to an end another annual edition of My Top Ten Films. You can leave any thoughts or opinions on the topic in the comments below! Also, for my previous lists from 2017 on, you can go to the links below: