2020 was a horrible year. It was also just a rather weird year for the entertainment industry. With COVID-19 disrupting filming, pre and post-production, things started to trickle to a stop seemingly. Movie studios decided to shelve many films until 2021 and beyond. And those ones that did release were only viewed on such a small number of big screens across the world. Many films that wouldn’t have seen a straight to VOD release, got one.
Fortunately, amongst all of that, we still got some terrific films in 2020. Scary, charming, heartfelt, sad and laugh-out-loud funny — it’s all here. From the big screen when we could go, to the small screen at home.
Here are our picks for the Top 10 Movies of 2020.
A wonderful addition to Pixar’s filmography, Onward is just a lot of fun while also holding a very personal story at its core that makes it shine. Set in a fantasy world in which magical creatures have forsaken magic for the ease of technology, we follow two elf brothers as they try to complete a spell to let them spend one day more day with their deceased father.
An enjoyable adventure story featuring a number of great set pieces and moments that feel like they are straight out of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Whether escaping from a Pixie biker gang across a highway, escaping from a Manticore’s Tavern or fighting a concrete dragon golem, Onward is always exciting and engaging.
At the centre of Dan Scanlan’s film is family. Based on his own personal experience of never meeting his father due to his death before he was born, Ian’s (Tom Holland) desire to meet his Dad and hope to fill some sort of void in his life, feels very honest and real as does his final revelation. The ending of this film is classic Pixar, hitting the perfect note and make you wonder how something got in your eye. The world of Onward was a joy to experience and I hope we get to go back there soon.
– Ashley Hobley
9.) Portrait of a Lady on Fire
Although Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a period film, its island setting leaves it feeling like a fantasy lost at sea. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on an island as a portrait painter and is tasked with secretly painting Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) for her mother. She wants the portrait to betroth Héloïse to a wealthy gentleman.
The two women start their friendship by wandering the beach and vistas of the island, talking and getting to know one another. Marianne studies Héloïse and attempts to memorise every detail of her from head to the tiniest curvatures of her ear. Soon, they realise they’ve fallen for one another. A romance begins. But one that cannot last as the days tick-down until Héloïse’s mother will arrive back on the island to take her daughter away.
Director Céline Sciamma has more she wants to discuss with this film than merely the 18th-century female story or the forbidden romance the two women form. The film has many subtle details and conversations that often are hanging for the viewer. A big part of the movie involves discussing Orpheus and Eurydice, particularly in a famous portrayal and painting. That and the ending of the film can be broken down and discussed for hours.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire is a beautiful film. It sticks with you long after the credits roll as it’s more than just a romance. It provokes discussion in some exciting ways, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks after watching.
– Dylan Blight
8.) The Invisible Man
As one of the few horror films to get a cinema release in 2020, The Invisible Man was an unforgettable experience on the big screen. Leigh Whannell’s very bleak take on the classic story and character by H.G Wells is a twisted reality. The Invisible Man is no longer a science experiment gone wrong; it’s a dark tool for an abusive boyfriend to use. And every scene in The Invisible Man plays on the psychology of that. It’s as crucial as building tension and scares.
Whannell‘s script and direction is all-around his best work yet. But it’s the performance from Elisabeth Moss that makes the film so terrifyingly memorable. From the opening scene of her attempting to fly from her abusive partner’s nest, till she’s fighting with something no one else believes is there. Moss is a tour de force in this film.
The Invisible Man is so terrifying, because all of its sci-fi details aside, it’s just about a man using his power to physically and mentally abuse someone. And the scariest stories are always the closest to home and reality.
– Dylan Blight
7.) I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I’m Thinking of Ending Things is one of those films that gets better the more you think about it and rewatch it. I’ll admit, I didn’t get it at first. I definitely had mixed feelings about the film after watching it, unsure what it was trying to say but impressed by the performances and dialogue. But as I read about it and listened to others dissect the symbolism and meaning, I came to appreciate the film much more.
Jessie Buckley plays a young woman you is travelling with her boyfriend, Jake (Jesse Plemons), to meet his parents for the first time. And to say much more from there is kinda spoilery and this is one that you should watch without knowing much about the plot, although some knowledge of Oklahoma and A Beautiful Mind will enhance the initial experience.
Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons are amazing, holding your attention as they converse in their car for 15-20 minutes. Toni Collete and David Thewlis are also really great as Jake’s parents and really add to the experience. Another thought-provoking and mind-bending story from Charlie Kaufman, and if it is really his last film, it is an impressive one to end with.
– Ashley Hobley
6.) Uncut Gems
Watching Uncut Gems with a heart condition is probably not advisable. It is one of the tensest, anxiety-inducing films I have ever watched. Surprisingly, it does all of this without falling into the horror genre. Instead, it’s a crime-thriller that follows a jeweller’s attempts to turn a rare uncut rock into his biggest score ever.
Every stressful choice than Howard (Adam Sandler) makes in Uncut Gems builds and builds like an opera. The Safdie Brothers’ direction and script is dizzyingly messy, but it’s all on purpose; a scene like the film’s opening in the jeweller is a perfect example of this. They were shooting it with all the cross-talk of characters and moving pieces. It draws you right into the worlds of the film. It’s like you’re watching a documentary that people weren’t aware of being filmed.
Uncut Gems is a rare film. It’s one of the scariest movies in years, and it’s all about selling diamonds. It’s Adam Sandler’s best dramatic performance without a doubt and a real head-turner for the actor that makes you wish he’d stop making films like Grown Ups. As the Safdie Brothers follow up to the sensational Good Time, they’ve quickly become one of the most ‘to-watch’ directors working currently.
– Dylan Blight
5.) The Trial of the Chicago 7
Aaron Sorkin is one of very few screenwriter’s whose every project is a must-watch. With credits like A Few Good Men, The West Wing, The Social Network and The Newsroom, Sorkin has his own style and rhythm to his dialogue that people love and he brings that again in his second directorial effort, The Trial of the Chicago 7.
The film focuses on the trial of the Chicago 7, a group of anti–Vietnam War protesters who were charged with conspiracy the intention of inciting riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Cutting between the trial itself and the events that led up to the riot, Sorkin keeps this engaging and interesting for those who don’t know anything about this particular event in American history.
As good as Sorkin’s script is, it would be nothing without a good cast to perform it and he is fortunate to have assembled an amazing cast. Standouts include Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Jeremy Strong, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Frank Langella but it is Sacha Baron Cohen as Abbie Hoffman who steals the show. While it is no means an in-depth look at what happened, The Trial of The Chicago 7 is a great starting point to get people interested in a moment of time and issues that are just important now as they were back then.
– Ashley Hobley
4.) Little Women
Greta Gerwig’s take on Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel hits many familiar notes as past adaptations, but it’s also more modern.
You have Saoirse Ronan as Jo March who adamantly wants not to follow the straight path in life and the one expected of her. She wants to be an author. But as we see in the film when she tries to sell her first book, she’s told to make sure the lead, if it’s a woman, is married by the end. Mirroring Jo’s story itself, she doesn’t want to write that well-told fairytale.
The traditional March family is here to back up Jo. Florence Pugh, Emma Watson and Eliza Scanlen fill out the sisterhood wonderfully; each giving one of their best performances to date. And then Timothée Chalamet seems like he was born to play the charming Laurie’s role, a fundamental love interest and friend for the girls.
Little Women is more than just great performances. With Gerwig’s direction scenes come alive with personality at all corners. The characters feel more real than ever before, and much like how the novel pushed feminist ideals for its time, the story is slightly updated to keep what’s right to its heart centre stage.
– Dylan Blight
3.) Palm Springs
I don’t know how I heard about Palm Springs being at Sundance, but as soon as I heard what the film was about and who was in the cast it became one of my most anticipated films of the year. While it was a long wait for the film to finally release here in Australia, it was well worth it as I loved every second of it.
A romantic comedy set inside a time loop may sound like a cool high concept but few would have faith that someone could pull that off. But screenwriter Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow manage to get the most out of that idea with massive support from the two outstanding leads, Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti.
This is one of the funniest films of the year, filled with silly moments like Nyles and Sarah tattooing penises on each knowing they won’t have to live with them, performing a ridiculous choreographed dance in a bar to a stunned patron or J.K. Simmon’s Roy seeking revenge on Nyles for also getting him trapped in the time loop. Palm Springs doesn’t skimp on the emotional and serious moments, with the revelation of why Sarah really desires to get out of the time loop a moment that is perfectly built to. The conclusion of the film is also satisfying and not what you’d expect for a film like this. In a year where it seemed like we were living the same day over and over, Palm Springs showed that maybe that isn’t so bad.
2.) True History of The Kelly Gang
Justin Kurzel’s film about Ned Kelly isn’t just another Ned Kelly film. It doesn’t follow the similar beats we’ve seen done-over several times before. It doesn’t even attempt to be a faithful biopic. The film is more interested in the folklore that surrounds Ned Kelly. The Australian Bushranger is an icon and one of our most famous ‘tough-guy’ pop culture pieces. George MacKay’s performance as Ned Kelly turns him into something of a punk rocker. There’s a real Sid Vicious vibe to his performance and swagger on screen.
Filmed on location in Victoria, the haunting Australian landscape has never looked so much like an alien planet. It’s a dark world, and you can taste the dirt through the screen. But it’s also some of my favourite cinematography of 2020. The original music by Jed Kurzel is also suitable otherworldy, and an essential piece of the films experience.
True History of the Kelly Gang is one of my favourite Australian films in recent memory. Some of the years’ best performances and production all come together, and the finale has one of the best shoot-out scenes in years.
– Dylan Blight
1.) Sound of Metal
An amazing character piece with stunning performances, Sound of Metal is riveting from start to finish. Following heavy metal drummer and recovering drug addict Reuben (Riz Ahmed) as he starts to lose his hearing, the film covers subject matter that I’ve never seen or considered before.
Director Darius Marder does a fantastic job delivering his emotional story, featuring a number of cast members from the deaf community. I appreciated some of the subtle storytelling, particularly in the early moments of the film, like Oliva Cooke’s Lou having self-harm scars and Reuben preparing very clean meals. The sound design he implements in this film is unlike anything I’ve heard before, giving you a feel for what it is like in Reuben’s shoes as his hearing diminishes.
The centrepiece of the film is the amazing performances of Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci. Riz Ahmed runs the full gamut of emotions as Reuben comes to terms with the situation he is in, occasional falling back to his addict tendencies. Paul Raci is amazing as Joe, the head of a rural community of deaf people where Reuben comes to deal with his deafness. Their several conversations with each other are brilliant and truly memorable.
A fantastic film that makes everyone involved someone to watch in the future.
– Ashley Hobley
This Top 10 list was compiled by Dylan Blight and Ashley Hobley.