Best Films of 2020

Credit: Grasshopper Films

Like any self-respecting, self-defeating publication, we at Cinema Year Zero lack immunity to the lure of the end of year poll. We asked everyone who contributed in our first six months to submit two ballots: of 10 2020 films, and 10 older films that were new to them in 2020. That list of discoveries shows the breadth of curiosity, accessibility, and cinematic excitement that our odd year allowed. The individual ballots are fascinating. 

For the new releases ballot, our rules were vague. We are unperturbed by theatrical release dates in a world without a monoculture. We asked what 2020 meant to our voters. That is how The Lighthouse (Cannes 2019) and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (1990, new cut 2020) both feature on ballots. Unlike most voting bodies, Nomadland, Promising Young Woman, Minari, and Mank didn’t receive a single vote. Of those standards, we can be thankful.  

Generally though, and despite our lackadaisical rule making, a consensus appeared that closely reflects the list-making industrial complex at large. New York Critics Circle winner First Cow is healthily represented in the ballots, as is LA critics winner Small Axe. We will discover how the London Critics voted on February 7. We let our voters decide whether Small Axe is a single film or five. Lovers Rock got nearly as many votes as the full opus, but finally we split the difference. 

Eliza Hittman’s extraordinarily detailed American Neo-realist film Never Rarely Sometimes Always nearly pinched the top spot. It’s the type of crowd-pleaser we need more of. But our number one is a big screen experience like no other. It was the top spot on all three of our editor’s lists. Perhaps it is too mainstream. Perhaps it is an instant classic. Days finds the future of cinema by reaching through its minimalist mise-en-scene to find the past. 

  1. Days (Tsai Ming-Liang)
  2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
  3. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
  4. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)
  5. Small Axe (Steve Mcqueen)

Multiple votes 

The Assistant 4, Dark Waters 3, Da 5 Bloods 3, Los Conductos 3, małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore 3, Rocks 3, Siberia 3, The Woman Who Ran 3

About Endlessness 2, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets 2, 40 Year Old Version 2,  I’m Thinking of Ending Things 2, My First Film 2, The Invisible Man 2, The Lighthouse 2, Wolfwalkers 2, Talking About Trees 2, To the Ends of the Earth 2, Parasite 2, Malmkrog 2, Undine 2, Point and Line to Plane 2, People on Sunday 2, Her Socialist Smile 2, Nasir 2

INDIVIDUAL BALLOTS

Alonso Aguilar

  1. Days (Tsai Ming-Liang)
  2. El Año del Descubrimiento (Luis Lopez Carrasco)
  3. Fauna (Nicolás Pereda) 
  4. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
  5. Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu)
  6. Autoficción (Laida Lertxundi) 
  7. Isabella (Matías Piñero)
  8. The Cloud in Her Room (Zheng Lu Xinyuan)
  9. Malni – Towards The Ocean, Towards The Shore (Sky Hopinka) 
  10. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)

It shouldn’t come as a surprise just how much the moving image was eulogized in a year where uncertainty consumed every aspect of the artistic world. Its dire state and the many stages of its assumed demise were thoroughly dissected all over lockdown, and still, somehow we’re in December celebrating the artform. Sure, this isn’t just another time for “best of year” stuff; more than any other moment in recent history, the last couple of months have recontextualized our relationship with the screen. As we’ve seen ourselves secluded to an apparently never ending loop of transitions between living room and bedroom, the long-sheltered essence of the cinematic forms has diluted even more. We’re now projecting our shared sensory yearn into what’s in front of us, making our approach to film viewing almost aspirational; a quixotic quest to recapture any remnant of collective feel left. 

Little glimpses of solace amidst emotional isolation, pure and unfiltered elation by watching uncompromised bodies interact with each other, suffocating encounters dealing with language and images as political weapons; the virtues of these listed works shouldn’t be circumscribed to any given context, but even if unintentionally, by putting them together they now also represent a very personal snapshot of these trying times. 

Kirsty Asher

Days (Tsai Ming-Liang)

Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles)

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)

Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (Bill Ross IV, Turner Ross)

Small Axe (Steve McQueen)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)

About Endlessness (Roy Andersson)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman)

Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić)

First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)

Thomas Atkinson

Apiyemyeki (Ana Vaz, Brazil)

Days (Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan)

Her Socialist Smile (John Gianvito, USA)

Krabi 2562 (Ben Rivers and Anocha Suwichakornpong, Thailand)

Liberté (Albert Serra, France/Spain)

małni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (Sky Hopinka, USA)

Meridian (Calum Walter, USA)

Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (Jia Zhang-ke, China)

This Is Not a Burial, It Is a Resurrection (Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Lesotho)

To the Ends of the Earth (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Japan)

In alphabetical order. 

Days has been my film of the year ever since I saw it back in March. A few movies I saw only in the year-end catch-up almost knocked it off its perch (Liberté, Krabi 2562, To the Ends of the Earth), but it has remained steadfast, perhaps Tsai Ming-liang’s finest hour as a filmmaker. Honourable mentions go to Miss Juneteenth, She Dies Tomorrow, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets, N.P, The Inheritance, Tesla, Tenet, Time, The Year of the Discovery, Let Them All Talk, Da 5 Bloods, Small Axe: Education, s01e03, The Grand Bizarre, First Cow and The Woman Who Ran. Save for one still quite good film, all of the features that played in the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival’s feature competition are to be found somewhere in my ballot or my honorable mentions. BFMAF forever.

The worst new film I saw all year (and dear reader, it was a crowded race to the bottom, cc: Kajillionaire, Shirley, The Social Dilemma, The Prom) was Charlie Kaufman’s i’m thinking of ending things, a polished turd if ever there was one. 

While I’m in constant fear of beloved institutions disappearing because of what’s transpired this year (Film Comment, Peckhamplex Cinema), the silver lining is that I didn’t have to have a single conversation about a new Marvel or Disney product that sucks oxygen and arse. Instead, the vacuum in my personal film discourse was filled by a great many interesting critics and writers whom I had never encountered before, and I found even deeper enjoyment in ones I had been following for ages. For that, I am thankful, and remain confident that cinema culture will always persist even when the cinemas do not. 

Cathy Brennan  

Always Amber (Hannah Reinikainen, Lia Kim Hietala)

Purple Sea (Amel Alzakout, Khaled Abdulwahed)

Time (Garrett Bradley)

The Assistant (Kitty Green)

Futur Drei (Faraz Shariat)

The Hardest Working Cat in Showbiz (Sofia Bohdanowicz)

The Man Standing Next (Woo Min-ho)

The Forty Year Old Version (Radha Blank)

A Dim Valley (Brandon Colvin)

Strasbourg 1518 (Jonathan Glazer)

Anna Devereux

Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, (Francis Ford Coppola)

Rocks, (Sarah Gavron)

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, (Marielle Heller)

Small Axe, (Steve McQueen)

Dick Johnson is Dead (Kirsten Johnson)

Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart)

Hubie Halloween (Steven Brill)

Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)

The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell)

Paul Farrell

1. Red, White & Blue (McQueen)

2. Days (Tsai)

3. Dark Waters (Haynes)

4. My First Film (Anger)

5. The History of the Seattle Mariners (Bois)

6. Let Them All Talk (Soderbergh)

7. Los Conductos (Restrepo)

8. Da 5 Bloods (Lee)

9. Things to Come (Jacobs)

10. Rocks (Gavron)

Ben Flanagan

  1. Days (Tsai Ming-Liang)
  2. About Endlessness (Roy Andersson)
  3. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets (Bill Ross, Turner Ross IV)
  4. Los Conductos (Camilo Restrepo)
  5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
  6. Siberia (Abel Ferrara)
  7. Undine (Christian Petzold)
  8. Richard Jewell (Clint Eastwood)
  9. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell)
  10. Small Axe (Steve McQueen)

Rhys Handley

  1. Dark Waters (Todd Haynes)
  2. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
  3. David Byrne’s American Utopia (Spike Lee)
  4. Lovers’ Rock (Steve McQueen)
  5. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
  6. Alex Wheatle (Steve McQueen)
  7. Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho)
  8. Mangrove (Steve McQueen)
  9. Ema (Pablo Larraín)
  10. Rocks (Sarah Gavron)

Satya Hariharan

maɬni – towards the ocean, towards the shore (sky hopinka)

The Giverny Suite (Ja’Tovia Gary)

Martin Eden (Pietro Marcello)

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

Nasir (Arun Karthick)

We Are (Eugene Kotylarenko) 

The Inheritance (Ephraim Asili)

No News Today (Ayo Akingbade) 

Wash Us In The Blood (Arthur Jafa)

Days (Tsai Ming-Liang)

Katie Hogan

Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart)

Parasite (Bong Joon-Ho)

The Assistant (Kitty Green)

Kajilionaire (Mirandy July)

Birds of Prey (Cathy Yan)

Saint Maud (Rose Glass)

Misbehaviour (Philippa Lowthorpe)

Queen & Slim (Melina Matsoukas)

Little Women (Greta Gerwig)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Celine Sciamma)

Amos Levin

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

First Cow  (Kelly Reichardt)

Small Axe – special commendation to Education (Steve McQueen)

My First Film – March 31st performance (Zia Anger)

Enormous (Sophie Letourneur)

In Sudden Darkness (Tayler Montague)

Days (Tsai Ming-Liang)

Undine (Christian Petzold)

S01e03 (Kurt Walker)

Talking About Trees (Suhaib Gasmelbari)

Catriona Mahmoud

Seeing as I only contributed to the documentary issue of CYZ this year, here are my top docs!

  1. Talking About Trees (Suhaib Gasmelbari)
    One of my favourite subplots of any film, the Sudanese Film Group’s entire problem solving around what to do about the Isha call to prayer interrupting their planned evening screenings deserves an entirely dedicated think piece. A fantastic way of demonstrating the battle between secularism in art and when challenged with a hyper religious political system.
  2. Trixie Mattel: Moving Parts (Nick Zeig-Owens)
    I admit I don’t watch Ru Paul and had never heard of Trixie before the screener for this film landed in my inbox, but before long I was obsessed with trying to screen Moving Parts for audiences (damn that Netflix deal beating me to it). Bonus content: I recommend listening to Trixie’s cover of Lana’s Video Games [link] which was released solely to get me through Lockdown 2.0.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeIHmYg7DJ0
  3. Faith and Branko (Catherine Harte)
    Probably one of the most intimate pieces on this list, it almost makes you feel like an intruder on the relationship between husband and wife musical duo Faith and Branko. A fascinatingly relatable account of the entire 7 year journey of their relationship, from meeting to marriage to (spoiler alert) impending divorce, Catherine is granted remarkable access to two public figures and their unabridged vulnerability.
  4. Trouble Sleep (Alain Kassanda)
    Trouble Sleep was so intense and fun to watch – yet a stressful viewing experience for anyone with a driving license. But as a regular fan of University Challenge, I was pleased to see Trouble Sleep proving useful as an education in regional Nigerian taxis, when I found this exciting trivia question show up on my Twitter timeline. Spoiler: the answer is Ibadan.
  5. Sunless Shadows (Mehrdad Oskouei)
    Completing his trilogy of life in Iranian prisons, Oskouei’s Sunless Shadows is a particularly moving portrait of the patriarchy at its worst. This doc felt very close to home, made me angry, and was definitely one of the most important watches for me in 2020.
  6. Mayor (David Osit)
    Essentially a Palestinian spin-off of Veep (or The Thick of It for British readers/purists), Mayor carefully, expertly and successfully seeks humour through the mundanity of everyday life in one of the most devastating occupations in history.
  7. The Mole Agent (Maite Alberdi)
    Putting the age in espionage, Alberdi returns with another doc that really hits all your feels. Getting old is so scary, mostly because it seems so lonely. You will definitely call your parents after watching this.
  8. The Viewing Booth (Ra’anan Alexandrowicz)
    Is there a point in making films to convince everyone that occupying Palestine is a bad thing, if the audience watching them already agrees with you? Alexandrowicz performs a self reflecting experiment on the role of filmmakers and their audience – I’d say more but why spoil the entire article available on the film via CYZ?
  9. Miss Americana (Lana Wilson)
    Before watching Miss Americana I considered myself a feminist. But I was pretty scathing towards Swift, often using the ‘calculated’ term to insult and undermine her success. I watched this doc in January and it taught me to be much kinder, before Covid and doorstep applause was even a thing.
  10. Cheer (Greg Whiteley)
    I can have a TV show in this list right? Nothing gripped me the way watching an 18 year old fall 20 feet and slam her body into the ground did. Cheerleading is brutal.

MLP 2020

Top 13 FEATURES:

How to With John Wilson (John Wilson)

The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) (C.W. Winter, Anders Edström)

The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo)

Nasir (Arun Karthick)

Her Socialist Smile (John Gianvito)

Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg)

Siberia (Abel Ferrara) 

IWOW: I Walk on Water (Khalik Allah)

The Shepherdess and the Seven Songs (Pushpendra Singh)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)

Bottled Songs 1-4 (Chloé Galibert-Laîné, Kevin B. Lee)

Los Conductos (Camilo Restrepo)

Judy Versus Capitalism (Mike Hoolboom)

Top 10 SHORTS:

La France Contre Le Robots (Jean-Marie Straub)

Twelve Seasonal Films (Jorge Suárez-Quiñones Rivas)

Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanowicz)

Glimpses from a Visit to Orkney in Summer 1995 (Ute Aurand)

Still Processing (Sophy Romvari) 

Brown Thrasher (Kevin Jerome Everson)

Avant l’effondrement du Mont Blanc (Jaques Perconte)

The Whole Shebang (Ken Jacobs)

People on Sunday (Tulapop Saenjaroen)

SLEEPWALKER (Maximilien Luc Proctor)

THREE FINAL FILMS BY ELI HAYES:

The Projected Rays

Floating Light

Not Dead Yet

Joseph Owen 

First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)

Days (Tsai Ming-liang)

Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)

Siberia (Abel Ferrara)

Malmkrog (Cristi Puiu)

The Assistant (Kitty Green)

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

The Nest (Sean Durkin)

The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo)

The Year of the Discovery (Luis López Carrasco)

Patrick Preziosi

  1. Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)
  2. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
  3. I Was At Home, But… (Angela Schanelec)
  4. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee)
  5. Tommaso  (Abel Ferrara)
  6. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
  7. To the Ends of the Earth (Kiyoshi Kurosawa) 
  8. City Hall (Frederick Wiseman)
  9. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
  10. Fourteen (Dan Sallitt)

Ren Scateni

People on Sunday (tulapop saenjaroen)

N.P (Lisa Spilliaert)

Red Aninsri; Or, Tiptoeing on the Still Trembling Berlin Wall (Ratchapoom Boonbunchachoke)

The Tree House (Truong Minh Quy)

Point and Line to Plane (Sofia Bohdanovicz)

Under the Open Sky (Nishikawa Miwa)

Love Poem (Xiaozhen Wang)

Cenote (Oda Kaori)

The Woman Who Ran (Hong Sang-soo)

Fedor Tot

Idiot Prayer: Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace  (Nick Cave)

Monsoon (Hong Khaou)

Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie)

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers)

Take Me Somewhere Nice (Ena Sendijarevic)

The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson)

Waiting for the Carnival (Marcelo Gomes)

Dark Waters (Todd Haynes)

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa)

His House (Remi Weekes)

Orla Smith

As bad as 2020 has been, the movies were pretty great. This list was even harder to make than last year’s: although I spent December frantically catching up with titles I missed, and still have more to speed through, part of me wants to stop now for fear that I’ll watch yet another gem that knocks something I love off of the top 10. That’s what happened last night when I caught Mikhaël Hers’ Amanda at the 11th hour and fell for it so hard that it knocked Andrea Dorfman’s delightful, smart anti-rom com Spinster off my list.

For honourable mentions, check out my Letterboxd top 40, the top 25 of which I consider absolute must sees (although all of them have my heart in some way or another).

  1. Proxima (Alice Winocour)

I treasure the experience of seeing Alice Winocour’s awe inspiring Proxima on the big screen, at its world premiere at TIFF in 2019. Although the film is about an astronaut, Sarah (Eva Green), it all takes place before she launches into space, so the film features none of the visuals that typically characterise space movies. Nevertheless, the emotions in Proxima are epic. Winocour takes the intimate relationship between Sarah and her young daughter and blows them up to cosmic scale.

  1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)

Kelly Reichardt is my favourite working filmmaker, and First Cow is just another reason why. I think something that characterises a lot of my favourite films, and particularly the top two films on this list, is storytelling that explores big ideas through the prism of intimate relationships. In this case, we follow Cookie (John Magaro) and King-Lu (Orion Lee) as they become friends and bake cakes. Through their simple tale, Reichardt delivers one of the most scathing cinematic critiques of capitalism and the American Dream I’ve ever seen.

  1. The Perfect Candidate (Haifaa Al-Mansour)

The Perfect Candidate is a crowdpleaser that’s also smart and political — something that’s incredibly tricky to pull off, and is never appreciated as much as it should be. Al-Mansour’s film mines the comedy of a young female doctor running a campaign for local office with absolutely zero political experience, but never falls into mocking her determined protagonist. She also manages to critique a patriarchal society without turning the men in the film into villains. Just like the women, they’re caught up in an unjust system that’s bigger than any individual.

  1. Ammonite (Francis Lee)

Francis Lee’s unfairly dismissed Ammonite is an unconventional biopic of 19th century paleontologist Mary Anning (Kate Winslet) that explores her relationship to work and her position as a working class woman in Britain. Her romance with Charlotte (Saoirse Ronan), while intimate, is quiet, established through looks and gestures rather than words, and fraught with complicated class dynamics. It’s rare to see a British period piece about working class people, perhaps because it’s rare that a working class filmmaker like Lee is given the support to make a period piece. As a result, Lee’s film is smarter and richer than most films in the genre — and his filmmaking is exquisite to boot.

  1. The Assistant (Kitty Green)

Kitty Green’s fiction debut, The Assistant, is shot and edited with incredible precision — not to mention the sound design, which makes an office feel like the setting of a horror movie. By chronicling the mundane daily tasks of an assistant (Julia Garner) to a sexually abusive film exec (think Harvey Weinstein), The Assistant says more about rape culture than any bombastic, over-stylised revenge movie could (I’m looking at you, Promising Young Woman).

  1. Sorry We Missed You (Ken Loach)

Despite how prolific he is and his legendary status in the British film industry, I still tend to think that Ken Loach is underrated. Every few years he turns out a scathing, meticulously researched indictment of the British government and the myriad ways it fails working class people. They’re always well made and incredibly well acted. Sorry We Missed You is one of his best in years.

  1. The Forty-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank)

If the words “2 hour long Sundance dramedy” make your recoil, make an exception for Radha Blank’s The Forty-Year-Old Version. Blank writes, directs, and stars in a film that’s inspired by her own experiences as a middle-aged Black woman in the New York theatre scene. It’s packed to the brim with ideas about art vs. commerce, compromise, poverty porn, gate keeping, gentrification, and more. Plus, it’s fucking hilarious, and features original rap songs that are actually good, performed incredibly well by Blank. Is there anything she can’t do?

  1. Amanda (Mikhaël Hers)

I’ve only had 24 hours to sit with Amanda, but Mikhaël Hers’ latest thoroughly has my heart. It wins the award for this year’s “Movie in which you most want to step through the screen and give the characters a big hug.” Vincent Lacoste is fantastic as a 24-year-old who suddenly has to learn to be a father after his beloved sister dies in a terrorist attack, leaving behind her seven year old daughter, Amanda (Isaure Multrier). It’s a film in which every character is a good person trying their best, and you’ll root for them every step of the way.

  1. Swallow (Carlo Mirabella-Davis)

I wondered if I’d overrated Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ thrilling, stylish film because of the excited atmosphere of watching it in the cinema, at a festival, just before the world fell apart. But upon rewatch, the film only deepened for me — and surprisingly became more moving. It seems conventional on the surface — a repressed housewife rebels against social constraints — but Mirabella-Davis’ film goes in all sorts of directions I didn’t expect. 

  1. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (Charlie Kaufman)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things so thoroughly perplexed me that I was compelled to watch it twice in one week. It’s a film that has stuck with me for months as I’ve slowly come to understand its twisty plot more and more, peeling back the dense psychological layers. Even on the viewings where I didn’t totally understand what was going on, I was always immersed in the unsettling atmosphere Charlie Kaufman creates.

Discoveries/Restorations

Ben Flanagan

  1. Berlin Alexanderplatz (Fassbinder, 1980)

I went through most of the gaps in my Fassbinder during a 2 week stint in April, but Alexanderplatz ended up being a christmas treat. It’s everything you could hope for from an incredibly long film and more. 

  1.  Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone (Coppola, 1990)

The last film I saw on the big screen. Coppola fixed it. In the build up, I rewatched the whole Coppola oeuvre, including first watches of Cotton Club Remastered/Apocalypse Now final Cut, both of which are superlative. The greatest of the boomers.

  1. Three Times (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2005)

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Intolerance.

  1. Arizona Dream (Emir Kustrurica, 1994)

This should be remembered for the Gonzo masterpiece that it is. I think the cult is growing. Kusturica is a giant of Balkan cinema. Seeing W.R. at Berlinale switched me on to the Yugo Black Wave, and with the guidance of CYZ alum Fedor Tot I am growing my knowledge of the movement.

  1. Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007)

I’m a Bollywood luddite but watching this Singin’ in the Rain level masterpiece about movies on Netflix Party turned me into a straight up slut for SRK.

  1. Born in Flames, Losing Ground, My Brother’s Wedding, films of Bill Duke 

The ‘reading list’ mentality that took over social media during last summer’s wave of Black Lives Matter protests was generally cringey, but it nonetheless opened up access to the canon of Black American cinema though free streams and reignited critical attention. I was thankful to catch up with these bangers. 

  1. Foolish Wives (Erich Von Stroheim, 1922)

Just good, horny vibes.

  1. Glory and Dignity

yo Amos you killed this beat.

  1. Maurice Pialat

I spent years meaning to get around to Maurice. 1 week in the company of his films (I watched everything except for Le Garçu and his mini-series, The House in the Woods) has changed how I look at film and people around me. 

  1. 15.17 to Paris (Clint Eastwood, 2018)

I could watch this incredible movie any time or any place. 

Thomas Atkinson

Camp de Thiaroye (Ousmane Sembene, Senegal, 1985)

Dishonored (Josef Von Sternberg, USA, 1931)

Face-Off (John Woo, USA, 1996)

Fireworks (Takeshi Kitano, Japan, 1997)

Flowers of Shanghai (Hou Hsiao-hsien, Taiwan, 1998)

In Praise of Love (Jean-Luc Godard, France, 2001)

India Song (Marguerite Duras, France, 1975) 

 J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood, USA, 2011)

Wavelength (Michael Snow, USA, 1967)

West Indies (Med Hondo, Mauritania, 1980)

Kirsty Asher

The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)

You, The Living (Roy Andersson, 2007)

The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (Colin Higgins, 1982)

Blood Ah Go Run (Menelik Shabazz, 1982)

Dreamcatcher (Kim Longinotto, 2015)

In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)

The Host (Bong Joon-ho, 2006)

The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 2013)

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Charlie Kaufman, 2004)

God’s Own Country (Francis Lee, 2017)

Patrick Preziosi

  1. Francisca (Manoel de Oliveira, 1981)
  2. Beau Travail (Claire Denis, 1999)
  3. Xiao Wu (Jia Zhangke, 1997)
  4. Malina (Werner Schroeter, 1981) 
  5. Smooth Talk (Joyce Chopra, 1985)

Alonso Aguilar 

  1. Baxter, Vera Baxter (Marguerite Duras, 1977) 
  2. Antigone (Straub & Huillet, 1992) 
  3. Window Water Baby Moving (Stan Brakhage, 1959) 
  4. Passe ton bac d’abord (Maurice Pialat, 1978) 
  5. Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) 
  6. Our Daily Bread (King Vidor, 1934) 
  7. Variety (Bette Gordon, 1983)  
  8. Seasons of the Year (Artavazd Peleshyan, 1975) 
  9. Frágil como o Mundo (Rita Azevedo Gomes, 2001) – 
  10. Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (Paul Wegener & Carl Boese, 1920)

Cathy Brennan

Lightning (1952)

A Flame at the Pier (1962)

Whispering Pages (1994)

Hour of the Star (1985)

Running on Karma (2003)

Scandal Sheet (1952)

Black Sun (1964)

Z (1969)

Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler  (1922)

Marriage (1947)

Anna Devereux

What’s up, doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972)

Twin Peaks: The Return (David Lynch, 2017)

The Outsiders (Francis Ford Coppola, 1983)

Cemetery Man (Michele Soavi, 1994)

To Be Or Not To Be (Ernst Lubitsch, 1942)

The Silent Partner (Daryl Duke, 1978)

Blue Collar (Paul Schrader, 1978)

Om Shanti Om (Farah Khan, 2007)

Mikey and Nicky (Elaine May, 1976)

The Daytrippers (Greg Mottola, 1996)

Paul Farrell

1. Deja Vu (Scott, 2006)

2. India Song (Duras, 1975)

3. The Watermelon Woman (Dunye, 1996)

4. Ashes of Time/Redux (Wong, 1994/2008)

5. The Moon (Ito, 1994)

6. The American Friend (Wenders, 1977) / The Muppet Movie (Frawley, 1979)

7. Dil Se.. (Ratnam, 1998)

8. All My Life (Baillie, 1966)

9. Right On! (Danska) / Sometimes It’s Gonna Hurt (Dunlap, 1983)

10. Our Daily Bread (Vidor, 1934) / Panelstory (Chytilova, 1979)

Rhys Handley

Whisper of the Heart

The Green Ray

La Haine

The Conversation

Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid

Paris, Texas

Wendy & Lucy

Stop Making Sense

Eyes Wide Shut 

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown 

(honourable mentions: Terrorizers, Seven Samurai, Daisies, L’Avventura)

Satya Hariharan

Graceland (Anocha Suwichakornpong, 2006) 

Parsi (Eduardo Williams, 2018)

Johnny Mneumonic (Robert Longo, 1995)  

The Joycean Society (Dora García, 2013)

Aidol (Lawrence Lek, 2019)

BLKNWS (Kahlil Joseph, 2019) 

His Motorbike, Her Island (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986)

Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002) 

Jobe’z World (Michael M. Bilandic, 2018)

Parallel I (2012) & A New Product (2012) – Harun Farocki 

Katie Hogan

The Thing

Phantom Lady

The Tribe

Office Killer

Gamera

Scottish Mussel

Metropolitan

Basic Instinct

Woman on the Run

Black Rainbow

Amos Levin

The Clock (Minnelli, 1945)

An Autumn Afternoon (Ozu, 1962)

Mildred Pierce (Curtiz, 1945)

Bombay (Ratnam, 1995)

Girlfriends (Weill, 1978)

Candyman (Rose, 1992)

The Innocents (Clayton, 1961)

Tilaï (Ouedraogo, 1990)

Faust (Murnau, 1926)

Not Even Nothing Can Be Free of Ghosts (Kohlberger, 2014)

Joseph Owen

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (Andrew Dominik, 2007)

Klute (Alan Pakula, 1971)

I Vitteloni (Federico Fellini, 1953) 

The Blue Angel (Josef von Sternberg, 1930)

Hiroshima Mon Amour (Alain Resnais, 1959)

Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)

Rheingold (Niklaus Schilling, 1978)

Tabu (FW Murnau, 1931)

Germany, Pale Mother (Helma Sanders-Brahms, 1980)

Metropolitan (Whit Stillman, 1990)

Ren Scateni

the watermelon woman (cheryl dunye)

challenge of the lady ninja (lee tso-nam)

the glamorous boys of tang (su hui-yu)

the scent of green papaya (tran anh hung)

chungking express (wong kar-wai)

song of the exile (ann hui)

suzhou river (lou ye)

like grains of sand (ryosuke hashiguchi)

an elephant sitting still (hu bo)

i are you, you am me (obayashi nobuhiko)

Orla Smith

An unconventional year calls for unconventional lists. I’ve structured my list of 10 favourite 2020 discoveries not in order of preference, or release order, or alphabetical order, but in the order I watched them. I spent this year sitting relatively still, as we all did, with little else to do than work and consume art. My experience of these films was shaped by the point of lockdown in which I watched them, but even more so, these films shaped that period of time for me.

March 17th: Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell, 2016)

I find it hard to believe Sami Blood is a feature debut, because it’s breathtakingly accomplished, and structured like an epic. Kernell’s 1930s-set film follows a young Sami girl (the Indigenous people of Sweden) who attends a boarding school run by white Swedes, who aim to beat her culture and language out of her. She then has to choose between returning home, or assimilating into white Swedish society while being ostracised from her family. It’s both a horrifying film about the violence of colonialism and a brilliantly told coming-of-age tale.

April 5th: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu, 2007)

Cristian Mungiu’s bleak and brilliant 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days follows two friends — the scatterbrained, pregnant Gabita (Laura Vasiliu), and the resourceful Otilia (Anamaria Marinca) — in 1980s Romania, as they try to arrange Gabita’s illegal abortion. One of the most famous screen faces of illegal abortion is Vera Drake in Mike Leigh’s film, but while Leigh imagines the illegal abortionist as a kind and noble woman, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days takes a darker tack. The abortionist is a seedy man who takes the secrecy and urgency of the operation as an excuse to sexually exploit the two women. As Mungiu points out, illegal abortion doesn’t just put women’s health at risk, it also renders them with less social power, which opens a door for exploitation.

June 1st: Our Loved Ones (Anne Émond, 2015)

In the space of a week, to prepare for an interview with her, I watched all four of Anne Émond’s films, and with each subsequent feature, I grew more and more angry that she isn’t an internationally celebrated auteur. The Quebecois director has incredible range: from Nuit #1, which I like to call “depressed Before Sunrise,” to experimental biopic Nelly, to one of the best teen movies of its decade, Jeune Juliette, each of her features is accomplished and none of them are anything like each other. Our Loved Ones, an emotional epic about cycles of suicide, is my favourite. It begins with two men retrieving the body of their father, who has hung himself, and then follows one of those men as he starts his own family. The film is a series of mundane moments that build to something monumental.

June 7th: Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same (Madeleine Olnek, 2011)

I rarely ever laugh out loud at films — not even ones I find extremely funny — but Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same had me audibly howling. I became acquainted with Madeleine Olnek’s work through her third feature, Wild Nights with Emily, which is one of my favourite films of the last 10 years. Her first film, Lesbian Space Alien (as I’ll refer to it), is an ultra low budget, black and white, New York-set comedy about, well, lesbian space aliens who arrive on Planet Earth and date women. It’s just the right amount of absurd.

June 25th: Augustine (Alice Winocour, 2012)

2020 was the year I fell in love with Alice Winocour’s films, after becoming enamoured with Proxima at TIFF 2019 (and eventually naming it my film of this year). Céline Sciamma was rightly celebrated for upending notions of “artist” and “muse” and exploring the female gaze in her 2019 feature, Portrait of a Lady on Fire. This year, I was surprised to discover that Winocour did all of that back in 2012 with Augustine (the two films even share the same editor, Julien Lacheray). The film is a rich, gothic tale about the star teenage patient (Soko) of Jean-Martin Charcot (Vincent Lindon), a 19th-century neurologist who researched female hysteria. Critical discourse has advanced far enough now that Sciamma was celebrated for Portrait, whereas reviews of Augustine at the time, written mostly by male critics, complained that we didn’t get enough of the male perspective.

July 11th: Conversations with Other Women (Hans Canosa, 2005)

When I recommend you watch Conversations with Other Women, I mean a very specific version of the film. The film was originally released in split screen, as it was shot and intended: one half of the screen stays on Helena Bonham Carter, the other on Aaron Eckhart, as they play old lovers reconnecting over the course of one night. Perhaps due to a muted critical reception or a misguided attempt to make the film more commercial, the studio later re edited the film into a single camera version, and that’s the version you’ll find on any streaming service or newer DVD release. The only way to watch the original is to seek out the first run DVD, which is easiest to do via eBay — and you must, because the split screen device is fascinating, compelling, and an essential part of the film’s storytelling. It’s a bracing, exciting way to communicate that these two characters are in completely different movies in their own heads. We get to see both play out side by side.

July 18th: Career Girls (Mike Leigh, 1997)

I spent a few blissful weeks in summer marathoning Mike Leigh films, some rewatches, some first time views. Career Girls was my favourite discovery, an intimate little gem about female friendship nestled chronologically inbetween two of his more lauded films, Palme d’Or winner Secrets & Lies and Gilbert and Sullivan biopic Topsy Turvy. Leigh and his actors have crafted some wacky characters over the years (Timothy Spall in Life is Sweet, Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky). But even in comparison to them, Katrin Cartlidge and Lynda Steadman turn it up to 11 in the flashback scenes of Career Girls. It takes some time to get used to, but when contextualised with the scenes of them older, reuniting and reminiscing, their manic extremity makes sense as a heightened memory of their youthful energy.

August 17th: The Secret Garden (Agnieszka Holland, 1993)

Hollywood seems to have forgotten the art of making great childrens films, which has never been better evidenced than by the atrocious 2020 remake of The Secret Garden. The one good thing to come out of that film was giving me an excuse to revisit Agnieszka Holland’s incredible 1993 version — and yes, I’m counting it as a discovery since I was too young to remember watching it the first time. I was charmed by the story of The Secret Garden as a child — particularly the book — but watching the film as an adult reveals emotional complexities that I could never have fully appreciated as a kid. It’s magical, but it’s also smart and wise about dealing with young orphan Mary’s trauma, and not trying to artificially resolve it as the 2020 version does.

November 22nd: The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996)

Cheryl Dunye’s landmark New Queer Cinema film, The Watermelon Woman, is every bit as imaginative, invigorating, and funny as I’d heard. It’s a film that leaves its audience in a state of confusion over what they’re watching — is it a fiction film, a documentary, or a bit of both? I saw a lot of great new films, mostly nonfiction, in 2020 that aimed to reclaim the history of marginalised people, like No Ordinary Man and Cane Fire. The Watermelon Woman feels like an essential predecessor. Dunye plays a fictionalised version of herself, a filmmaker who is determined to find out more about a 1930s Black actress dubbed ‘The Watermelon Woman’. Through this meta device — the filmmaker-actress playing a filmmaker who is investigating the life of an actress — Dunye effortlessly weaves together her character’s contemporary life with queer Black history.

December 21st: A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988)

Watching A Short Film About Killing with a pizza dinner was one of the worst decisions I made in 2020. My food instantly started to taste slimy and gross as soon as Kieslowski’s film began on a shot of a dead rat in the street, and next, a cat hanging from a noose, all bleached in grim yellow tones. What follows is an unrelentingly bleak film about murder and capital punishment. Like last year’s Clemency, it indictes capital punishment simply by observing how the system works in a removed, somewhat mundane way. I appreciate any film that’s able to make me feel viscerally horrible, and if nothing else, A Short Film About Killing did that.