It’s 2021, and that means a whole new year’s worth of movies. It also means it’s time to reflect back on the films that I got to watch last year. Obviously COVID hit the film industry hard, and there was a big limit on the number of films that were released. Cinemas in the UK closed in mid March, and only opened a couple of times after that for short periods. Normally I watch well over 100 new releases a year, but this year I was restricted to 69, and that was largely thanks to a mad dash in the last week of the year to watch as many new releases as possible. You can see every film I watched in order on my Letterboxd here. But now, let’s get into my ranking of new releases I saw in 2020.
69) Artemis Fowl – I cannot express how much I loathed this terrible adaptation of one of my favourite books as a kid. They butchered one of my favourite characters ever, along with nearly everything else. And on top of that it was just a bad film.
68) Scoob – I’m sorry the point of Scooby Doo is that there is always an actual explanation behind everything, instead we got an attempt at a Hanna-Barbera shared universe. WHY?
67) Rogue – The only thing worse that this action thriller is the attempts at CGI on the lioness that is murdering everyone in cold blood.
66) Dolittle – You can do much better than this for a kid’s film. RDJ is doing what I’ve heard was meant to be a Welsh accent, and is probably offensive to the country of Wales. Also nobody yeets a seal off a cliff, so just watch the original.
65) Primal – How is Nicolas Cage fighting an assassin and a tiger on a boat boring? I’m not sure, but it is.
64) Bloodshot – Eiza Gonzalez is pretty much the only good thing in Bloodshot. One or two cool action sequences, but pretty bad.
63) Ava – The cast is stacked, the story not so much.
62) The Rhythm Section – It’s a little better than Ava pretty much purely because of Blake Lively.
61) The Prom – If you like Glee and actor self indulgence then The Prom is probably the movie for you.
60) The Lodge – Bleak rather than scary or horrifying. This is probably our first step into mediocrity that really defined 2020.
59) Underwater – Kristen Stewart, that’s good. TJ Miller, that’s bad. The claustrophobic and tense action sequences, that’s good. The dialogue and screenplay, that’s bad. TJ Miller’s character meeting a grizzly end, that’s great. The film as a whole, eh.
58) The Midnight Sky – Clooney is back in the acting space, with a bit of an apathetic shrug. A little dull on the whole.
57) My Spy – Action star teams up with small child, a classic combo. I’m not a fan, next.
56) Extraction – I honestly don’t remember anything about Extraction except that it had Chris Hemsworth in it.
55) Rebecca – Shocking lack of Ben Wheatley’s personality to Rebecca, and if this is your first exposure to Daphne du Maurier’s story like me, then it’s gonna be hard to see why it’s a classic.
54) Bad Boys For Life – The final third was pretty fun, utterly forgettable before that, I’m glad Michael Bay didn’t come back.
53) The Devil All the Time – Relentlessly sad and a bit dull, but with an exceptional cast.
52) The Christmas Chronicles: Part Two – A big step down from the first. Kurt Russell is a fun Santa, but just lacks the charm that made the original such a fun time.
51) Babyteeth – This one has garnered a lot of acclaim, but it just didn’t work for me. Probably worth seeing given that many smarter people are fans.
50) Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – In a surprise flip from the first film I actually prefer the more scripted moments to the unscripted awkwardness, but it needs to be said Rudy Giuliani is a creepy guy.
49) Sonic the Hedgehog – It’s aimed at kids, it’s generally forgettable, I still got far too excited from the post credit scene when Tails appeared.
48) To All the Boys: P.S. I Still Love You – The cast is still charming, but the story really isn’t there. Didn’t feel like there was any reason for this sequel.
47) How to Build a Girl – Beanie Feldstein is charming, and there’s a few laughs, but it’s a fairly formulaic and well worn story.
46) Black Box – It’s solid. Some nice ideas, and a good twist, but never goes to another level.
45) #Alive – The last film I saw in 2020, it does fit the themes of 2020, social isolation and loneliness well, but the zombie space is a hard one to really do something truly original in.
44) The Hunt – From the last film I saw in the year, to the last I saw before COVID shut everything down. The action and over the top violence is fun, but it’s so non commital on it’s political idea, that the controversy that surrounded The Hunt seems laughable.
43) The Babysitter: Killer Queen – It’s a bit of a rehash of the first film, there’s some strange character decision from that first, but once the original cult comes back from the dead it’s a good time.
42) Buffaloed – Zoe Deutch’s charisma is pretty much what holds together this comedy crime film. I also didn’t get the jokes about Buffalo.
41) The Gentlemen – The first film I saw this year. It might not be his best, but I do enjoy Guy Ritchie’s filmmaking style.
40) Yes, God, Yes – Really solid coming of age comedy drama, not too much more to say.
39) The New Mutants – This is not the trainwreck most of us assumed it would be given the ridiculous levels of buildup and the delays, the Fox X-Men franchise ends with a bit of a shrug.
38) The Half of It – It’s a nice and well done coming of age film about feeling stuck in a rut. I just didn’t love it.
37) Bombshell – A little all over the place trying to tell a bunch of different stories, but there are some fantastic performances.
36) Dreamland – A Bonnie and Clyde esq crime story that leans far harder into the romantic drama elements than anything else. A little slow, but decent enough film.
35) The Old Guard – Probably the best of Netflix’s action films. Occasionally goes too far into set up for potential sequels, but a fun time, and Charlize Theron is a badass.
34) On the Rocks – It’s a sweet film with some good laughs, particularly from Bill Murray.
33) The Boys in the Band – Good play adaptation that manages to turn it into a cinematic experience. There’s plenty of acting talent, but I’m really not a fan of Jim Parsons.
32) The King of Staten Island – Pete Davidson making a deeply personal comedy drama sound ridiculous, but it winds up being a very poignant, if a little too long, film.
31) Shirley – Some stunning performances, and excellent direction make Shirley better than your average artist biopic.
30) The Trial of the Chicago 7 – It’s pure Aaron Sorkin. I so prefer him working with another director who will be a bit more brutal and trim some of the fat of the screenplay, but if you like Sorkin’s other work you’ll like The Trial of the Chicago 7.
29) Dark Waters – It’s an import film bringing an important case to public awareness, and I think Todd Haynes does a terrific job. But this kind of legal drama is just never my favourite.
28) Freaky – I love these more comedic horror films from Blumhouse. I might slightly prefer Happy Death Day, but Freaky’s R rating does allow for some great gory kills.
27) Enola Holmes – Enola Holmes was a perfect lockdown film, a really fun time, and a fantastically charismatic performance from Millie Bobby Brown.
26) Emma – I am not a fan of Jane Austen, but Anya Taylor Joy is an absolute delight and really got me to enjoy this period remake of Clueless.
25) Sputnik – A good Russian sci-fi horror. The horror is built on tension and atmosphere, but I loved the creature design, and the character work is strong.
24) Happiest Season – Suuuper cheesy, but I was on board for that, and Dan Levy steals every single scene he’s in, with not only the funniest performance, but the film’s most moving one as well.
23) Colour out of Space – Nic Cage crazy + Lovecraftian eldritch horror crazy. Yes please.
22) Da 5 Bloods – Give Delroy Lindo a damn Oscar. The film itself is a bit inconsistent, but when Spike Lee is good, he’s REALLY good.
21) Jojo Rabbit – Some moments of real greatness here, particularly in the more dramatic sequences, rather than the comedy.
20) A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood – I don’t know anything of about Mr. Rodgers, but this is a lovely fims tackling themes of anger, forgiveness, and friendship, whilst celebrating a classic American entertainment.
19) Mank – Often brilliant, occasionally frustrating. It can be best summed up by a quote from the film “The story is so scattered I’m afraid one will need a roadmap” and whilst I get the film’s rebuttal, Mank is no Citizen Kane, but then what is?
18) Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – George C. Wolfe does a better job than Denzel Washington in making one of August Wilson’s plays a cinematic experience. Also Chadwick Boseman shines in his final film performance.
17) Small Axe: Lovers Rock – There isn’t much of a narrative here, instead this is a celebration of 80s black culture in London.
16) Onward – Definitely the weaker Pixar film this year. The majority of its runtime is a fun family film, but the ending really does bring it home with an emotional ending.
15) The Vast of Night – Has major Close Encounters of the Third Kind vibes, but most importantly this is a big marker that director Andrew Patterson is someone to watch out for.
14) Saint Maud – We’re into the really big guns now, and another excellent debut feature. Rose Glass’ horror film is genuinely gripping and anxiety inducing. Morfydd Clark is a star as the titular Maud as well.
13) Pixie – I think I enjoyed Pixie a lot more than I thought it was good. A fun light hearted Irish comedy drama that had a big smile on my face throughout.
12) Tenet – A divisive film that definitely has me in the pro camp. I think talk of its complexity is a little overblown (unless you want to get into the minuta of every action sequence). Regardless of where you end up, any divisive film is worth seeking out.
11) Uncut Gems – I don’t love it as much as Good Time, but this is probably Adam Sandler’s best work (Punch Drunk Love being the other contender). Honestly it feels like a lifetime ago that Uncut Gems was the talked about film, but its further proof of the Safdie Brother’s talent.
10) Possessor – Who would ever have thought that Brandon Cronenberg, the son of legendary director David Cronenberg, would make a genuinely disturbing, gory, and horrifying science fiction horror film? Everyone? Oh right. Possessor is the kind of movie that can really get under your skin, and certainly isn’t for the faint hearted. But if you’re one for weird and messed up horror movies, I can’t recommend Possessor enough.
9) Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – You can tell from the title exactly what kind of tone you’re gonna get with Birds of Prey and boy does it deliver. I described it as Deadpool meets Snatch in terms of tone, and that alone meant this was easily up there with the most fun I had watching a film this year. Sure there have been better films below it on the list, but there were not many that were as pure a good time as Birds of Prey.
8) Small Axe: Mangrove – The first of Steve McQueen’s series of 5 TV films for the BBC, Mangrove was a fantastic film about the racially motivated trial of the Mangrove Nine in 1971. It has a powerful message about the history of racial injustice in the UK, and those who fought against prejudice. Steve McQueen is one of the best filmmakers working today, and he showed it again with Mangrove. I haven’t finished the rest of Small Axe, but I’m looking forward to catching up with the rest of them.
7) Wonder Woman 1984 – I wasn’t expecting such a big divide over Wonder Woman 1984, I did however appreciate that I would probably enjoy it more than most I’ve seen. I could watch Gal Gadot and Chris Pine interact as Diana and Steve forever, because the pair’s chemistry is still off the charts. The film also adds some villains with far more depth than the first, in Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah, and Pedro Pascal getting to ham it up to the max as Maxwell Lord. Sure the film is cheesy as hell, but with the year we’ve just had, I can really get behind some cheesy and inspiring blockbusters.
6) The Invisible Man – It’s the best horror movie of the year, and a brilliant reimagining of the classic story for the 21st Century. Leigh Whannell turns it into a small scale story of domestic abuse, both physical and mental, in such an effective move. He also completely delivers on the horror front and the tension in the film is unbelievable. The opening sequence of the film was so oppressive in the tension, but that slowly eases as Elizabeth Moss’ Cecilia slowly gains more confidence to stand up to her abusive ex-boyfriend.
5) Soul – Pixar’s second film of the year dropped on Christmas Day, and I’ve got to be honest, I was blown away. Soul really feels like a film that isn’t made for kids at all, instead offering a look at what it means to truly live. It’s more alike with Inside Out in taking high concept ideas and turning into a Pixar movie, but for me it felt like it was missing some of the more kid friendly jokes and comedy elements. That doesn’t really bother me, as someone in their 20s though, and I loved Soul. It was a genuinely moving and great celebration of life.
4) Weathering With You – Weathering With You was Makoto Shinkai’s follow up to Your Name, and I personally don’t think it really comes close to it. But when you consider that Your Name is right up there for one of my favourite films of all time, that’s not exactly damning. Yes you can see some of the recurring narrative beats between the two films, but Weathering With You still has a lovely and really heartfelt story that really moved me. Visually however it blew everything else this year of the water, with some stunning animation work, a gorgeous colour palette, and some of the most gorgeous shots of the year.
3) Palm Springs – Going by US release dates Palm Springs would be my favourite film of the year. The repeated day trope isn’t something new, but Palm Springs managed to carve out a new take. We’re thrown straight in with one of our characters having lived in the repetition for a long time already. Palm Springs is genuinely funny, heartfelt, and led by two terrific performances from Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. This wasn’t a big splashy release, but definitely one to search out.
2) 1917 – It was a close run thing at the Oscars between 1917 and Parasite (spoilers for number 1), and the fact that a war film features this highly at all on a list of mine, means it has to be pretty special. The decision to make it appear like a single shot could easily have just been a gimmick, but it succeeds in really bringing you into the film, and getting you more invested in this journey that we are on. The cinematograph from Roger Deakins is absolutely unbelievable, and the score is stunning as well. It’s a marvel on every level, but it just misses out to Parasite for my number 1 film of the year.
1) Parasite – Look it won Best Picture at the Oscars this year for a reason, it’s just a masterpiece. Much like 1917 it’s a film from 2019 in America that didn’t get released until this year over here in the UK. I was completely blown away watching Parasite for the first time, not only did it live up to the hype but Bong Joon-ho delivered one of the most gripping films of the year and powerful social commentary all wrapped into one. What really made Parasite special is how much it improved in my mind on second viewing, that means there’s so much depth to the film that can keep you coming back. If you haven’t yet seen Parasite you need to rectify that immediately.