Finally, we’re done spreading negativity in a year that’s been nothing but negativity. Now, we can focus on the brightest spots of 2020 cinema, and which films captured our hearts and minds either in cinemas or at home (mostly at home).
Before that, though, here are some honourable mentions (in no particular order):
The Broken Hearts Gallery
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Bad Boys for Life
The Vast of Night
Wonder Woman 1984
- Get Duked!
And now, we kick things off with…
15 – BORAT SUBSEQUENT MOVIEFILM: DELIVERY OF PRODIGIOUS BRIBE TO AMERICAN REGIME FOR MAKE BENEFIT ONCE GLORIOUS NATION OF KAZAKHSTAN
The return of Sacha Baron Cohen’s most outrageous character is the perfect representation of America in 2020: a country already on a knife’s edge during an extremely divisive election year, but with the threat of COVID-19 and the politicisation of basic safety measures like social distancing and wearing face masks, it needed a fake Kazakh reporter to show the world its true insanity.
The comedy sequel scored a lot of nervous laughs, not just from Baron Cohen’s wide range of shocking material that ranges from anti-Semitic cake decorations to THAT Rudy Giuliani scene, but also from how more people than even back in 2006 seemed to be so open and proud about their bigotry, fuelled by the toxic ramblings of the outgoing President. Conspiracy theorists, pro-life doctors and people who high-five the idea of children in cages made for some of the year’s most telling, but also hilarious, commentary on the current state of the United States, and having them exposed by none other than Borat himself made it all the more delightful.
This time, it wasn’t just Baron Cohen going around fooling people; Maria Bakalova, as Borat’s equally uncultured daughter, proved to be the film’s secret weapon, turning in a fiercely committed performance that saw her doing just as jaw-dropping public stunts like preaching about masturbation to a conservative woman’s group, performing a dance with far too much menstrual blood, and of course acting opposite the unaware Rudy Giuliani in the infamous scene that further sullied the former New York mayor’s image. Both her and Baron Cohen made for a delightfully outrageous pair, and together they helped make the film, and its title character, far more relevant and fresh than he was fourteen years ago.
Unless things are somehow even worse another fourteen years from now, don’t expect another visit from Kazakhstan’s third most-famous reporter – but there’s more than enough to leave us satisfied until then…
14 – POSSESSOR
Canadian auteur David Cronenberg is apparently considering retirement after a fifty-plus directing career, and while it would be a great shame to lose a true visual mastermind, it can’t be all bad if his son Brandon Cronenberg keeps carrying on his father’s spirit, as he does in this dark, disturbing and devilishly smart sci-fi horror.
The film makes strong use of its ingenious set-up – a corporate assassin transplants their subconscious into other people to carry out kills – by not only showing some of the most brutal, and certainly some of the bloodiest, on-screen deaths all year, but by also examining the psychological toil it is taking on Andrea Riseborough’s emotionless killer as she goes in and out of other people’s minds, leaving more of her humanity behind every time. It gives us an intelligent portrayal of how this sort of technology could function in the real world, while also being a very unnerving thriller with about as much gore as one of Cronenberg Sr.’s older movies.
Most of all, it leaves you guessing right up until the final few seconds of the film, adding to its sheer unpredictability and, again, brilliant psychological examination of its lead character. For much of the film, Riseborough is inhabiting the mind of Christopher Abbott (also excellent), and when he/she begins exhibiting signs of losing control, you’re never entirely sure whether it’s him or her in control, especially in some of the film’s darkest moments (and believe me, there are plenty). It’s easy to understand how its excessive violence and cold-blooded plot and characters can put people off it, but I found this to be an exhilarating watch, right up there with Leigh Whannell’s Upgrade in terms of smart, adult sci-fi horror that is also a blast to sit through.
If you can stomach it, you’ll be in for a bloody, and bloody excellent, thrill ride…
13 – COME AS YOU ARE
You can make any argument you want about the lead actors in this, who are playing physically disabled people, not actually being disabled in real life, and what that means for the ongoing conversation about having more people of disability in acting roles, but for me it won’t cloud over how enjoyable and ultimately uplifting this movie is.
A remake of the Belgian comedy Hasta la Vista, Richard Wong’s film about three friends going on a road trip to lose their virginities at a legal brothel in Montreal – the twist being, they’re all disabled, and the brothel specifically caters to those with special needs – takes the expectations of a regular sex comedy like Road Trip or American Pie and repurposes them into a sweet, affectionate tale of friendship and living life without boundaries. The chemistry between all the actors is great, and you really feel for their very different but unique personalities in a script that treats them like actual human beings instead of living pity magnets. Plus, it’s also nice to see Gabourey Sidibe – who since her Oscar-nominated turn in Precious has been largely underused in Hollywood – back in a meaty supporting role that brings out her natural charm and magnetism with great ease.
Given its subject matter, specifically the conversations surrounding sex and love (regardless of whether you’re disabled or not), it has some very heartfelt messages to convey about the importance of experiencing both, and the conclusions that the characters come to in this movie are a fair compromise that is bereft of judgement or cheap humour at their expense. It’s a fun road trip movie that has meaningful things to say about what they’re driving towards, and the good news is that you’re enjoying being with these characters enough to see them through to their overall goal (not all the way, though – that would just be weird).
If you’re willing to accept the minor price of able-bodied actors portraying disabled people (and as someone with a mild disability, I really couldn’t care any less), then you’ll be able to enjoy this sweet and charming alternative to the classic road trip movie…
12 – DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE ON OUR PLANET
The legendary broadcaster, who turned 94 back in May, once again made waves this year with his eye-opening “witness statement” about the current state of the world’s most valuable resources, and how – if no action is taken soon – we will be living on a planet where none of its beauty shall remain.
Told with stunning wildlife cinematography set to Attenborough’s ever-reliable narration, we see through his own eyes the world and its biodiversity he has spent most of his life exploring and reporting on, and the vast dangers that humanity has put it in thanks to decades of burning fossil fuels and growing population rates. In a stark and urgent call for change, Attenborough lays out exactly what life will look like in the decades and centuries to come, with upsetting but necessary imagery that is tough to stomach, yet hard to deny.
The film, however, ends on a sense of hope for the future. By laying out his ideas on how to set things right before it’s too late, Attenborough clearly shows a strong understanding of what needs to be done, even if you don’t agree with everything he suggests. He also shows how, no matter what, the planet can always adapt to the most dire of environments: we visit the abandoned Ukrainian city of Pripyat, once the site of the Chernobyl disaster but is today covered in luscious, expansive plant life that has made it a beautiful sight to behold. It’s surely a sign that, whatever happens in the near future, this planet will dominate once more, and this is a powerful and highly important reminder of its full power.
It just goes to show the ongoing mightiness of David Attenborough, who is putting most other nonagenarians to shame by still going strong…
11 – HOST
2020 has brought a lot of misery for the creative industry, but people like director Rob Savage made extremely good use out of the lockdown situation by conceptualising, writing, filming, editing and submitting to horror streaming service Shudder a 57-minute supernatural chiller set entirely on a Zoom chat – all within 12 weeks, no less.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, along with the fact that the actors set up their own effects and stunts in their own homes during self-isolation, the film itself is a genuinely terrifying treat that packs effective scares, likeable characters and a steady pace that doesn’t waste a single minute of its short running time. It’s a simple enough premise, with a group of friends holding an online séance that, of course, goes rather wrong, and unlike a lot of other horrors seen entirely through a computer screen, this one manages to actually use its pixelated imagery for a couple of seriously unnerving moments.
Overall, Host represents a strong drive for creativity in a year where not many were allowed to do the things they had hoped to, and shows that not even a nationwide lockdown can stop a talented group of people from getting together and making their own horror film from the comfort of their own homes. The fact that it’s also a very strong film in its own right is already pretty fortunate, but to see people like director Rob Savage, the actors including Haley Bishop, Jemma Moore, Emma Louise Webb and others, and the numerous production and post-production crew not allowing the restrictions to deny them the chance to tell a seriously spooky tale, it is also – in a strange way – a rather inspiring film to spotlight.
Maybe check very closely in the background next time you make a Zoom call to your parents, because you never know what might be lurking in the shadows…