2020 has been a year we’ll never forget… but that’s more related to COVID-19 as opposed to what we’ve seen on the big screen. I’ve been reviewing movies for over 25 years and never could I have imagined a scenario where Brisbane cinemas would be closed for over three months and major blockbusters would be debuting on HBO Max and Disney Plus in the United States.
Still, it is what it is and thankfully, we’ve been able to limit the impact of COVID-19 here in Australia. I’ve had the chance to review 151 cinema releases during 2020 (down slightly from my yearly average of approximately 200) and as always, there’s no difficulty in identifying great movies for people to watch.
You can check out all my past top 10 lists here and they go back as far as 1996.
Those worthy of honourable mentions which I couldn’t quite squeeze into my top 10 list this year were Waves, 1917, Nomadland, American Utopia, The Lodge, The Booksellers, La Belle Epoque, Mank, Pinocchio, Babyteeth, Slim & I, Honeyland and Monos.
Those are all worth seeing but if you’re looking for the “cream of the crop”, here are my top 10 movies for 2020…
10. A Hidden Life (out Jan 30) tells the true story of an Austrian farmer who was persecuted for refusing to pledge his allegiance to Adolf Hitler during World War II. As he’s done in the past, director Terrence Malick wants to show us how beautiful and simple the world is… but then contrast that with the complexity of humanity and the issues that we create for ourselves.
9. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (out Oct 1) battles to condense everything inside of two hours but it's still a riveting courtroom drama (with a splash of comedy) that's filled with top-notch performances. Based on actual events, it's the true story of an eclectic group who were charged with inciting riots during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. A must see.
8. Soul (out Dec 25 on Disney+) is an animated feature about a middle-aged music teacher who falls down a pothole, travels to the afterlife and then must find a way home. This is deep, creative and beautiful. The kind of movie you could love as a 10-year-old and then love as a 40-year-old for completely different reasons.
7. The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart (out Dec 3) is a fascinating documentary from start to finish. We begin with their upbringing here in Brisbane, we culminate with their final works, and in between we explore the brilliant music that saw them inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There of lots of interesting subplots (e.g. the death of disco) and there really is something for everyone.
6. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (on Netflix from Dec 18) is a brilliant drama that takes place inside a Chicago recording studio on a hot summer afternoon in 1927. Based on the play of August Wilson (Fences), the film explores many topics (race, religion, money, music) but above all else, it’s a riveting tale of power. It’s easy to forget you’re looking at the likes of Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (in his final role) given the way they embody their respective characters.
5. Les Misérables (out Aug 27) is not a remake of Victor Hugo's famed work. Rather, it's a contemporary story set in 2018 that delves into current day issues including crime, corruption and multiculturalism in Paris. French President Emmanuel Macron saw the film himself in late 2019 and was rocked by its power and authenticity. That endorsement says more than any review ever could.
4. Little Women (out Jan 1) is an exquisite drama about art, wealth, family, sisterhood and unrequited love. The performances are flawless and I love the openness and affection shown by these characters towards each other. Saoirse Ronan brings a beautiful spirit to the role of Jo, Florence Pugh is outstanding as the envious Amy and Timothée Chalamet (complete with pitch-perfect hair) is adorable as the love struck Laurie.
3. The Invisible Man (out Feb 27) is an effective, memorable thriller. It's the story of a woman who is terrorised by her invisible husband (who she believed was dead). There's tension from start to finish, Elisabeth Moss is outstandingly credible in the lead role, and the crew make great use of sound and visuals.
2. Corpus Christi (out Oct 22) is an outstanding, thought-provoking drama about a young man, fresh from a stint in a juvenile detention centre, who fraudulently becomes the new priest in a small Polish town. There's plenty to sit back and ponder here. It's easy to see why it was nominated at the Oscars for Best International Feature Film.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (out Oct 29) is the story of a 17-year-old girl who, accompanied by her cousin, travels from Pennsylvania to New York to have an abortion. This is a powerful, complex, emotional drama that takes us inside the world of a scared, anxious individual. One of the year's best. Sensational performances.