We decided to split our year-end roundup into individual posts this year, with each of the team providing their personal take on the entertainment that helped us through this crazy year. In this post, Clare discusses her top 5 movies and TV shows. Let us know if you agree or disagree with any of her choices and be sure to keep an eye out for posts from the rest of the team.
Clare’s Top 5 Movies 2020
2020 has been my best year ever at the movies. Yes, cinemas have been closed and I miss them terribly. As an MCU fan, I missed my outing to the wonders of teamwork, space and epic battles. But anyone telling you no good films were released in 2020, or even worse that there were no films released in 2020, has an incredibly bad take. It’s been an odd year, and many haven’t been able to watch the breath of films they normally would due to family or childcare issues. But if those haven’t been an issue, film had never been more accessible. I live outside of London and my cinema choices are megaplex vs megaplex (of my 6 nearest cinemas, 3 are owned by the same chain). This means my yearly film options are usually children’s animation (love) and 30+ daily screenings of the newest franchise film (MCU love, Fast and Furious not so much). This is brilliant, but it means I often exhaust my options quickly and original or independent stories pass like ships in the night, if the cinemas dare to show them at all. Due to everything happening in 2020, we’ve seen an unprecedented amount of films hit streaming services quicker than ever before. Films that I would hear about on review podcasts but not be able to access for months, if not years after release are suddenly appearing on Netflix or MUBI weeks after the premiere date (sometimes premiering there straight away). It’s a complex issue and whilst I am 100% behind cinema and experiencing a film on the big screen, as someone who lives alone, films have kept me afloat this year. And what a beautiful year for film it has been.
I’ve been limited to a top 5 films, but I could write a top 5 of top 5’s – my top 5 shots of the year, top 5 uses of colour, top 5 directorial debuts, top 5 female directors even top 5 closing shots. This year I managed to watch (at time of writing) 338 films. Of these, 235 were first time watches and of those, 125 were 2020 releases. Within just my top 20, 6 featured a queer main character, 9 were female directed and 11 had a female lead. Whilst this may highlight the types of film I am interested in; I have also seen a number of these films on other end of year lists. Maybe without the big explosions of tentpole movies, we’ve allowed some room and some air for new and different to come to the front? It’s been a long time coming.
More than any year before I’ve found it hard to make these rankings, but my choices have been a combination of my initial ranking, my emotional state when watching and afterwards, as well as my desire to re-watch and recommend.
Some special mentions to films that didn’t make the cut –
- Flint, my favourite documentary of the year which I awarded 5 bears.
- Another Round, one of the best film endings of the year, and likely the decade.
- Driveways, another reminder in the lowest point of lockdown of just how important connection can be.
- The Assistant, Saint Frances and Never Rarely Sometimes Always – 3 very different stories about being a woman in the modern world that are essential viewing.
So where do we start?
Well, let’s take it back to January with number 4 on the list, Parasite. No 2020 UK list is complete without this year’s best picture Oscar winner (it released in 2019 in a number of other territories). Bong Joon Ho was a name many film fans knew, but he had yet to really push through to mainstream recognition. English language films Snowpiercer and Okja had got him close, but returning to his Korean roots with Parasite, he finally got the world to cross over the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles.
Following a lower-class family who one by one get jobs within the home of a wealthy one, it’s a smart dissection of class welfare. As mentioned in my initial review back in January, its universal themes of desire, discontent and desperation, as well as Bong’s signature weirdness and shock value, are the reason almost 12 months on it still sticks in my mind. It’s available to stream on Amazon currently, so if you haven’t already made the leap over those subtitles, there’s never been a better time.
Cut to April. I’ve been in lockdown by myself for 3 weeks by this point, I’d attempted and failed a decorating project and my cat was growing gravely concerned for my mental health. Enter Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
It’s hard to explain just what this film means to me. When I attended the London Film Festival in 2019, I had seen it advertised, but I am a self-confessed costume drama hater. Two women in froofy dresses talking for 2 hours? No thank you. But every time I met someone in a queue, it was the film they gushed about. At the end of the year, many US critics cited it on their lists, and then there was a grand controversy when France did not select it as their Oscar choice. By the start of lockdown, I was desperate to see it and infuriated by the cinema closures, blocking my access. As if sensing my deteriorating state, MUBI rang a magical bell and it appeared in their stream. I drew myself a bath and settled into the film, unsure how I would feel. To this day I still don’t know what I feel over than overwhelming love and pain. It’s almost silent, a perfect isolated watch. Since my first viewing on the 10th April, I have watched it 4 times. I cannot think of a single other film I have purposefully chosen to do this with in its release year, let alone a French-language film. Each time I have watched, I find myself fully absorbed by this passionate and stunning portrait of love and womanhood. The campfire acapella scene makes my skin buzz and no matter what, the final sequence has me sobbing well beyond the end of the credits. Portrait of a Lady on Fire is such a special and gorgeous film, that not only is it my film of 2020, but it is also now in my top 3 films of all time.
Summer rolled on and I continued to see some great films, but it wasn’t until October when my breath and heart were truly taken again, this time with films 5 and 3 on my list at London Film Festival 2020. Harry Macqueen’s Supernova felt like a perfect companion to Portrait of a Lady on Fire, focussing instead on the end of a relationship – once full of love and adventure it had now been touched with old age and illness. Much like Portrait, I found myself blown away by the smallest of sequences and the gorgeous use of silence and landscape within the film. When the credits rolled, I found myself in pools of tears. I had to return to work for a video meeting and wondered how I could possibly pull myself back together after experiencing such heart-breaking beauty. The mainstream release has unfortunately been delayed again due to new covid restrictions, but I cannot wait to watch this again – even if it will break my heart.
Swiftly following Supernova with less than 24 hours to recover, I discovered the magical world of Wolfwalkers. Lee covered our site review of this one, but I’m happy to say we both adored it. I’ve always loved animation, but as an adult it’s rare for you to be quite as swept away as you were at age 6, watching Simba and Nala parade with the other animals. Well, Cartoon Saloon transported me back to that childlike state and I was wide-eyed for the whole film. Everything about it is gorgeous and painstakingly meaningful. I laughed, I cried, I wanted to immediately run to the nearest shop and buy a cuddly wolf. It’s everything daring and beautiful that animation should be and feels like an homage to films gone before and still entirely new and unique through its Celtic symbolism, it’s sketch-like storybook design and its wonderful use of magic and love throughout. Not just relying on visuals, the story is heartfelt and timeless. I’ll be championing hard for this to win every big animation trophy in the awards season, and I cannot wait to dive into the Cartoon Saloon back catalogue.
My yearly rankings have been running since the start of the year, but the top 10 had been locked in since LFF, with nothing attempting to break down those walls for months. But, in an attempt to be a diligent film watcher, I’ve been catching up with as many 2020 releases as possible. Which is why in December, 10 days before the end of the year, my third favourite film of the year entered the game.
Swallow has eluded me all year. I first heard about it whilst listening to a Kevin Smith podcast back on one of my lockdown walks in April. Throughout the last 8 months, I’ve heard people mentioning it, and never anything but glowing praise. I expected it to be good, but it floored me, being one of only 4 2020 releases to earn the coveted 5 bears from me. Since watching, I just keep thinking back to all the gorgeous static shots, each of which could hang in a photography gallery. A stunning shot of Hunter’s face, low down in the frame, off centre and chin cut off. Such simple choices that led to an extraordinary viewing experience. I can see myself purchasing this on Blu-ray very soon. I need that director’s commentary.
Clare’s Top 5 TV Shows 2020
Considering I’ve spent nearly 2000 words gushing about films, you’d think I would have an easier time with my top 5 TV programs – but Top 5?! I’ve got at least 11 I want to mention. In fact, I’ve swapped out position 5 three times in my head whilst writing. So here’s a few that didn’t make the cut –
Schitt’s Creek – forever one of my top shows of all time, with its Emmy extravaganza this year, they are doing amazing and I’m so glad I had the Rose family in my life these last few years.
Unorthodox – a fascinating 4-episode story of a young woman leaving an orthodox Jewish community. The story is captured perfectly and Esty’s story was enthralling.
I also gave myself strict parameters, which is that the whole season needed to air in 2020. This allowed me to discount the final season of The Good Place and BoJack Horseman which in very different ways broke and pieced me back together again.
My choices below might not surprise you, but they did surprise me. I’ve been a long champion of the scripted network show. I want weekly 22 episode season runs. I live for them. But this year, as they disappeared from the screens, I made time for shorter stories, more nuanced stories from voices I haven’t heard before. I still champion a weekly release schedule as 3 of my 5 were released, but I finally willing to admit maybe 22 episodes in any one season is too much. All of my 5 were brand new to me this year, with only one being a returning show. Whilst I miss my old friends at Grey-Sloane memorial and Star Labs, it’s been lovely to spend some time with these new characters in my life.
Starting at number 5 we have I May Destroy You. A British comedy-drama from Michaela Coel, it became essential viewing this summer and gave us some of the most daring and thought-provoking storylines of 2020. Starting with Arabella’s sexual assault, we follow her as she is forced to reassess everything within her life, alongside close friends Terry and Kwame. In just 12 episodes it touches on sexual assault, consent, drug and alcohol misuse, guilt and responsibility, black culture, racism and cultural appropriation, social media and queer issues. Far from being a ‘issues-based’ show, it’s a show that gives a real view of London life in 2019/2020 (pre-pandemic). It offers so many questions and shows a whole prism of sides to a story. Every episode I was left questioning my own thoughts, my own bias, my own opinions. But alongside all of this? It’s funny. It’s hilarious. It’s visually stunning and daring. Narratively challenging. It’s everything modern TV can be.
Better Call Saul eluded me for many years. Last Christmas I decided to give it a go, and boy am I pleased I did because I managed to catch just in time to watch Season 5 as it aired and get the electricity sparked from a weekly release. Whilst every season and every episode of the show deserves all the praise, it features on my list today for one scene. In episode 9 ‘Bad Choice Road’ there is a 3-minute scene where we see our precious Kim Wexler face off again Lalo Salamanca in her and Jimmy’s home whilst Jimmy and Mike watch on. Rhea Seahorn is the beating heart of the show and steals every scene she’s in. The fact that she is yet to be rewarded for her portrayal of Kim is not a mistake, but an outright insult to anyone who has ever acted. As a small blonde woman, using every lawyer skill she has, she controls and maintains one of the tensest scenes I have ever seen on TV. Every part of me retracted into myself watching it, desperately, desperately praying for Kim’s safety. Very little matches up to the power of this woman in 2020. Whether you watched Breaking Bad or not – Better Call Saul is essential viewing.
Normal People. How you ruined my life. Do you ever watch something and think it was tailor-made for you? For me, this was Normal People. Based around a years-long on and off relationship between Marianne and Connell as they leave school and head out to university in Dublin, I devoured Normal People. I stayed up until 4am drinking and crying with them. Based on Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel and set in post-2008, this was exactly the time I too was away from home for the first time and at university. The clothing, the music, the angst. I remember it all oh so well. Never have I seen two people more in love who just could not communicate, but I knew everything each one was saying inside as I have been both of these people. Tremendous acting from the young cast, brilliant pacing and just a show that shattered every part of me during lockdown. I think of re-watching it almost every week, but I don’t know if I can open those wounds again.
Now for something fun! Ted Lasso is one of the newer offerings on AppleTV+. I covered it for the site earlier this year and I am STILL banging on about it. Nothing has made me smile or feel more hopeful this year than Jason Sudeikis’ big goofy moustachioed grin every week. It’s joy, it’s love, it’s sincerity, it’s pure friendship. We’ve been in an era of peak tv for a while now, and whilst as you can see from the rest of my list, I love a gritty drama with all the sensibilities of an epic film, sometimes you just need 30 minutes of fun. Ted Lasso is that. Please, please, open your heart to Ted, to Coach Beard, to angry, angry soft hearted captain Roy. Give yourself some joy at the end of 2020.
Royalty at the top as it should be. The Queen’s Gambit is extraordinary. Again, you can read my full review from earlier this year, but nothing has felt as luxurious and decadent to me this year than watching Anya Taylor-Joy play chess. Similar to Ted Lasso, how these two separate TV shows have made me almost care about sports results to the point of tears in my eyes I do not know. Exquisite through and through, it’s solidified to me that limited series are perhaps the way forward, despite my 10 years of pushing back. Everything about Beth’s world was enchanting from the very first green pill. It’s a world I see myself revisiting time and time again.