I watched 211 films in 2020, beating my previous record of 208 in 2016. The fact that there was really nowhere to go for most of the year, and that I had a lot more available time in the evenings thanks to working from home increased my film watching quite considerably. While there was a strong temptation to just watch safe and familiar films, I’m quite pleased that 134 (64%) of what I watched was new to me, and that’s about the same percentage as last year. However fewer new releases meant there were only 33 films from this year, 16% of the total, down from 21% last year. I went to the cinema just 12 times, and all but 2 of those were in the first two months of the year. That’s just half the number compared to last year, which was already substantially down on the previous year with 39. I really do miss cinema, even when I go by myself it’s nice to have a shared viewing experience, and watching a film on the sofa just isn’t the same escape from the real world.
So almost every film on this list was watched from my sofa via streaming services. Netflix led the way with 71 films (34%) including a lot of the more diverse titles from documentaries and world cinema. Amazon Prime was second with 45 films (21%). I finally subscribed to Disney+ at the end of the year and powered through their back catalog with 34 films (16%) although other than occasional new releases I’ve probably exhausted their supply. I also watched 38 films (18%) on dvds, 12 films (6%) that were on normal telly and ONE film that I got bought from Sky (except I didn’t buy it as it was a free gift). I didn’t pay for any new releases through any of the (I’m sure) excellent cinema replacement sites like Curzon Home Cinema, simply because there wasn’t anything that I really wanted to pay for over the options on the services I already pay for.
FILMS OF 2020
I only rated one film from 2020 as 9/10 and utterly amazingly, it’s also the film that won the Academy Award for best picture – Parasite. I’m usually a bit snippy about the Oscars, but this year they were spot on, it was original but timeless; easy to watch and enjoy but challenging and thought provoking. I was completely blown away.
Other standouts from the year are a bit more eclectic. If you’re looking for pure entertainment there’s Enola Holmes or Birds of Prey. Dating Amber and Rocks are both a bit more deep, offering powerful insights into the challenges of being a teenager, and to a certain extent the same description could be applied to Mulan the first of the Disney live action remakes that I’ve seen that’s a real step change from the original animation. If you’re after more traditional dramas I’d recommend The Midnight Sky and Uncle Frank, and if you really feel like going all in Uncut Gems is an anxiety attack in film form. For outright technical genius 1917 has to be seen to be believed. And the closest that I can come to a comedy recommendation is the harsh but hilarious, Death to 2020.
Unfortunately, the biggest miss I have of the year was Saint Maud which a lot of critics have raved about but I found boring and uncomfortable (and not in a good way). The film that probably made me crossest was Artemis Fowl because I like the books so much, they would have made a great film, and this one completely missed the whole point. And the one that I found most disappointing was Tenet which wasn’t terrible, but was distinctly mediocre and had some very clumsy film making errors (why can’t Nolan make his dialogue audible?). Incidentally Saint Maud and Tenet were the only two cinema visits I made between lockdowns, which made the disappointment even worse.
The rest of this post breaks the films down roughly by genre (very roughly in places) and I try to highlight the best of 2020, the best of the films I caught up on from the last couple of years, older ‘classic’ films and then some stuff that you should avoid.
DOCUMENTARIES – 9 films (4.3% – slightly up on last year’s 3.5%)
Best of 2020: I only watched one documentary from 2020, the rather underwhelming Secrets of the Saqqara Tomb.
Best of recent years: For Sama is an unparalleled look at the lives that are going on behind the short news coverage you might see of the conflict in Syria. It’s brutal, heartbreaking, intimate and sometimes joyous – everyone should watch this film. I’d also recommend Circus of Books an absolutely fascinating look into LGBTQ+ history by telling the story of a LA sex shop run by a terribly nice middle class Jewish couple, now in their 70’s; American Factory, an intriguing look at a culture clash between American and Chinese working practices; and Three Identical Strangers which starts out as a fun “weirder than fiction” story and develops into something even more incredible that really impacted me.
Classic: Well, the only one I watched that was older than 2019 was Filmed in Supermarionation which is a bit middling, but if you’re a Gerry Anderson fan you’ll find it lovely.
To be avoided: Democracia em Vertigem (Edge of Democracy) unless you want a rather jumbled and one sided view of Brazilian politics (which admittedly sounds INSANE), and I was disappointed by Diego Maradona which I found boring and failed to make me understand who Maradona really was.
ANIMATIONS – 29 films (14% – slightly up on last year’s 12%)
Best of 2020: slightly slim pickings. Even the best rated only got 7/10 – Pixar’s Onward and The Willoughbys, both of which were absolutely fine, but felt like they just didn’t do enough with the ideas.
Best of recent years: Why did I not watch Spies in Disguise earlier? Will Smith as James Bond (basically) who gets turned into a pigeon. It’s HILARIOUS. A close runner up was Klaus which is a brilliant Christmas animation in the spirit of The Nightmare Before Christmas but with a style and charm all of its own. And although I found recent Pixar films Onward and Soul underwhelming, there’s always the beautiful Finding Dory.
Classic: I enjoyed re-watcing a lot of Studio Ghibli on Netflix and Kiki’s Delivery Service and Porco Rosso were the standouts. Does 2014 count as classic? If it does then The Boxtrolls is a lovely grungy alternative to Disney, and I also rewatched Disney’s animated Aladdin and it’s still great entertainment.
To be avoided: Over the Moon was a Netflix release in 2020 and although the opening bit in China is really great, as soon as we go over the moon it turns into cliche ridden chaos that bored me. I’m not sure whether Space Jam counts as animation, but whatever it is, it’s really rubbish.
HORROR – 21 films (10% up on last year which was 6%)
Best of 2020: the only 2020 horror film was Saint Maud and I thought that was rubbish.
Best of recent years: Prevenge from 2017 was incredibly acted, directed and written – all by a heavily pregnant Alice Lowe, it’s creepy, gory, unpleasant and occasionally also really funny; a masterpiece in 88 minutes. Also worth a watch are Split which I’d always written off a bit as just an acting exercise for James McAvoy playing multiple personalities, but there’s a lot more going on. Midsommar is also pretty good and it’s a nice to see a very sunny horror, but it was let down slightly by the 2.5hr runtime.
Classic: El orfanato (The Orphanage) is a great creepy horror and The Shining is a beautiful piece of film making, although having read the book there’s a lot that was sadly lost.
To be avoided: I really don’t know why I watched Interview with the Vampire which was actually worse than I expected with a meandering plot and catastrophically bad casting. The 2019 Hellboy is an absolute muddle that utterly fails to recapture the magic of the del Toro version and Van Helsing is just plain rubbish from start to finish.
SF/FANTASY – 44 films (21% up on last year which was 9%)
That’s a lot of SF/Fantasy although my definition is pretty broad and to be fair it includes 14 Star Wars films and 4 Alien films.
Best of 2020: The Midnight Sky, it’s not the cheeriest of films at the moment and didn’t always feel like it was working, but it comes together at the end. It’s not exactly amazing, but it’s rather slim pickings from new releases and I’m afraid I really didn’t get on with Tenet.
Best of recent years: Star Wars 8: The Last Jedi is the best of the recent Star Wars films, and thanks to new effects, a great cast, and the joy that the nostalgia brings, I’ve actually ranked it higher than most of the original trilogy. Ready Player One and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom both stand up well for entertainment value.
Classics: Moon was released in 2009 so is now firmly the classic that I thought it would be as soon as I saw it in the cinema. A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back still stand up really well (sadly the same can not be said of Return of the Jedi or ANY of the prequels.
To be avoided: I’m sorry, but 2001: A Space Odyssey is just rubbish. I mean it still looks beautiful, but it’s INCREDIBLY boring. Jabberwocky somehow completely missed the the Monty Python sweet spot, and Battle Beyond the Stars is an incoherent mess.
MUSICALS – 16 films, excluding animations (7.6% up on last year’s 3.5%)
Best of 2020: The highest rated is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga but that’s not saying much as it only got 6/10. Half of it is brilliant, perfectly capturing the charm and insanity of Eurovision, but the other half is awkward and uncomfortable. The only other 2020 musical was The Prom which was even worse.
Best of recent years: I’m as surprised as anyone to say that it’s the 2019 live action remake of Aladdin. I was expecting to declare that no one could replace Robin Williams and there was nothing to be gained by remaking the original. But Will Smith brings a different and wonderful energy to the Genie and the writers have added more depth and complexity to the story, the only thing that let it down was actually the direction of the musicals which are really not Guy Ritchie’s strong suit.
Classics: Into the Woods is a full on all-singing musical and it’s charming and clever. Funny Girl is a great film, with a stunning performance from Barbra Streisand but to be honest I felt it was the musical elements that pulled the film back. Oh and of course, The Muppet Christmas Carol every time.
To be avoided: The News Boys (Newsies) felt incredibly flat, has a rubbish script, mediocre songs and Christian Bale failing to sing, dance or act like a teenager (despite actually being 18). All three Descendants films are a waste of a good idea and Pitch Perfect 3 is an incredibly sorry end to an otherwise joyous trilogy.
COMEDY – 28 films (13%, down on last year’s 19%)
You’d think I’d go searching for comedy as an escape from the real world, but I actually tend to avoid them as I just don’t tend to find them that funny, and a non-funny comedy is just more depressing.
Best of 2020: Death to 2020, maybe this should have been in the documentary category, but it was the fictional characters and the comedy that really stood out. It’s impressive to take the rubbishness and deliver something with both impact and big laughs.
Best of recent years: Two categories in a row with recommendations for Guy Ritchie films, The Gentlemen is back in more familiar territory for him with violence, intertwining stories, blokishness and a lot of swearing, and I really enjoyed it. For contrast – Book Club is all about women and has four absolute acting legends (Diane Keaton,Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen and Mary Steenburgen) being friends, drinking copiously and making dirty jokes, I roared with laughter. Honorable mention to Knives Out which is just as much fun on second viewing at home as it was on first viewing in the cinema.
Classics: The film I was most pleased to see remains wonderful was Cool Runnings, 27 years young and probably the quintessential sports underdog story. Impressively still funny after 61 years is Operation Petticoat, Cary Grant at his downtrodden best. There are also a couple of relatively low key cooking movies – Chef and Julie and Julia both of which have a lot of heart and a lot of laughs, they’re both warm hugs of comfort food. Finally I’m still not entirely sure if A Cock and Bull Story was inspired or bonkers with the walk between parody with laughs and tender observation with heart.
To be avoided: Two films were so unfunny they made me angry. The Hippopotamus was Stephen Fry dialled up the annoying pretentiousness and crudeness that even Roger Allam couldn’t rescue. The other was The Seven Year Itch which charitably may have been funny in the 50’s, but despite Marilyn Monroe’s quirky performance I found little to laugh at about marital infidelity and the treatment of Monroe as nothing more than a target. (On a similar note You’ve Got Mail really hasn’t aged well.)
ACTION – 27 films (13% – I didn’t track this last year)
Best of 2020: Rather wonderfully, both of my top action films from this year have female eponymous heroes! The original Mulan animation was fine but nothing special, but this year’s live action re-imagining adds a lot of richness, takes away the silliness and songs and results in a really entertaining film. Enola Holmes is a lovely spin on Sherlock Holmes, maybe it’s not really an action film, but it’s got so much spark and speed that it felt like a really satisfying roller coaster.
Best of recent years: Slightly surprisingly I really enjoyed a Transformer’s film – Bumblebee was fun, charming, and had action sequences that I actually followed. The Meg is a wonderfully stupid film about a giant shark, it’s objectively rubbish, but hugely fun. And in another nod to Guy Ritchie (what’s going on?), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is still cool and a great reimagining, it’s a shame that it didn’t lead to a franchise.
Classics: Speed was made in 1994 and although it’s clearly not imax screen quality, the central ideas and action sequences are still brilliant. I also watched all the Mission Impossible films and the standout was definitely 2011’s Ghost Protocol
To be avoided: For reasons I cannot now remember I watched all the films in the The Da Vinci Code series and they are all pretty poor, but the first one really is the worst. Deep Blue Sea is also rubbish, getting everything wrong that The Meg got right.
DRAMAS – 46 films (22%)
This is the generic catchall category at the end, capturing intense dramas, biopics, a couple of westerns, some non-animated kids films, some murder mysteries and some utterly undefinable stuff.
Best of 2020: Uncle Frank is a really easy to watch film that packs quite a lot of emotion, Uncut Gems is pretty much the opposite and is incredibly high intensity and a really quite uncomfortable watch.
Best of recent years: Monos is a Columbian film that had me completely gripped from start to finish with some incredible performances by very young actors. Bombshell meanwhile has a very well known cast telling well known recent events in a way that had me cheering and swearing at the screen. Little Women came out at the very end of 2019 and I rewatched it this year in the privacy of my own home where I could laugh, cheer and sob uncontrollably all by myself and it was glorious, one of my favourite books of all time told by someone who loves it, and gets it completely. I’d also recommend the little heard of, and gloriously named Peanut Butter Falcon which is just the kin of warm hug of a film that we need at the moment.
Classics: Educating Rita could have been incredibly trite, but the film brings such nuance and complexity to the characters and the situation that I was completely gripped (just a shame about the synthesizer music). The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is an absolute defining moment in film, a perfectly crafted slow and thoughtful spy film that was unsettling throughout and satisfying in the end.
To be avoided: Two films with 3/10! Disappearance at Clifton Hill was so badly written, badly acted and badly directed that I did something almost unheard of for me – I gave up. I did jump to the end and discovered that the ending was even worse. 1995’s Sabrina meanwhile wasn’t badly made but committed crimes against feminism that even in 1995 I don’t think were acceptable, the age gaps between characters and actors are nauseating and the single track mind of all the characters are abominable.