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Top 20 films of 2020

Staff Writer

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s tradition for us to take a look back at the best films to hit our screens over the past 12 months. This year, though, has been far from traditional as far as movies are concerned, as cinemas closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and distributors turned to premium VOD releases for titles such as Trolls World Tour and The Invisible Man while other anticipated titles such as Never Rarely Sometimes Always went straight to digital. Others were sold to Netflix or Amazon Studios, such as The Trial of the Chicago 7, to secure a timely release, and some were original productions for streaming platforms, such as Host.

Throughout a tumultous year for the film world, streaming has been the constant, keeping audiences connected and entertained, even if it was as an alternative to gathering in person in a darkened room to watch something together. With a growing number of film festivals going online, it’s telling that our best films of the year – as voted for by our team of writers – has several that made their digital debut at festivals, including one of the standalone episodes from Steve McQueen’s Small Axe anthology. And, while Netflix titles are prominent in the list (5) and many home entertainment or theatrical releases are now available on Sky Cinema and NOW TV (4) or included with Amazon Prime (3), this year also sees one film hail from Disney+, one from Shudder and two from Apple TV+. What the film landscape will look like in 2021, the year of the coronavirus vaccine, isn’t yet clear, but streaming will certainly be at the centre of it. And, for anyone needing a comprehensive guide to digital viewing, will be there too.

Here are our top 20 films of 2020:

1. Parasite

“Bong Joon-ho’s thrilling tale of families divided by class is impeccably mounted, deftly switching from one genre to another.”

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

2. Little Women

Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s seminal novel is a gorgeously composed masterpiece. It takes the tale of the four March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy — and folds the book’s two halves in on each other, turning a linear coming-of-age story into a flowing, timeless cycle of growing up. It’s breathlessly contemporary, warmly compassionate and full of tiny details that build the world of the characters around them – and, underlying it all, is the empowering story of a woman finding her voice and knowing her creative worth, weaving youthful exuberance with adult maturity. From the fluid camerawork to the flawless cast, it’s one of the best films of the year – and guaranteed to be carried forward by generations to come.

Watch on Sky Cinema and NOW TV

3. His House

Home is where the heart is, but what if the place where you live doesn’t have the heart to welcome you? Remi Weekes’ remarkable feature debut immerses us in the horror of the UK’s immigration system, finding the claustrophobic chill in the country’s hostile environment. Wunmi Mosaku (Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them) and Sope Dirisu (The Huntsman: Winter’s War) deliver powerful performances as a couple fleeing South Sudan but find an evil lurking beneath the surface of their rundown home – and the result is a poignant and often unsettling meditation on belonging.

Watch on Netflix UK

4. Uncut Gems

“Adam Sandler is sensational in the Safie brothers’ intense, nail-biting, adrenaline-fuelled thriller.”

Watch on Netflix UK

5. The Personal History of David Copperfield

“Armando Iannucci’s quick-witted, modern period drama is an absolute delight.”

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

6. Wolfwalkers

“Cartoon Saloon’s beautiful environmental fable of friendship and understanding is a truly magical wonder.”

Watch on Apple TV+

7. The Invisible Man

“This chilling update of the classic sci-fi story makes the all-too-real issue of gaslighting terrifyingly visceral.”

Watch on Sky Cinema and NOW TV

8. Da 5 Bloods

“Spike Lee’s bold epic of racial injustice and reparation is uncompromising, urgent, thrilling and powerful cinema.”

Watch on Netflix UK

9. Knives Out

“With a stellar cast and witty script, Rian Johnson’s modern whodunnit is knowing, surprising fun.”

Watch on Amazon Prime Video

10. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

“Céline Sciamma’s most accomplished film to date is beautiful, bold and sensual.”

Watch on MUBI UK

11. Small Axe: Mangrove

“Steve McQueen’s retelling of the Mangrove 9 case is vital, urgent and passionate TV.”

Watch on BBC iPlayer

12. Host

“Rob Savage’s scarily innovative Zoom chiller is the definitive lockdown horror of 2020.”

Watch on Shudder UK

13. Bad Education

“Hugh Jackman delivers a career-best performance in this school embezzlement drama from the director of Thoroughbreds.”

Watch on Sky Cinema and NOW TV

14. Relic

“Natalie Erika James’ thoughtful, terrifying debut is a haunted house tale with heart.”

Buy/rent online

15. Possessor

“Brandon Cronenberg’s ambitious sci-fi thriller is as slick as it is unsettling.”

Buy/rent online

16. Hamilton

“Hamilton is a work of art that attracts all sorts of hyberbole. So comprehensive and effusive is the love for this hip-hop-history musical that you’ve almost certainly heard about it and you’ve probably already seen it. So here’s an extra-outsized statement to try on for size: Hamilton is the Hamlet of the 21st century.”

Watch on Disney+

17. The Trial of the Chicago 7

“Aaron Sorkin’s timely political drama turns a show trial into a witty cinematic circus.”

Watch on Netflix UK

18. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

“Eliza Hittman’s powerfully understated abortion drama is a hard but necessary watch.”

Watch on Sky Cinema and NOW TV

19. Saint Frances

“This funny, heart-wrenching and gorgeously shot tale of a 30-something woman finding herself exudes warmth, kindness and humour.”

Watch on Netflix UK

20. Boys State

“This entertaining, timely, gripping political documentary is one of the most surprising films of the year.”

Watch on Apple TV+

Other strong contenders: The Farewell American Utopia 1917 Rocks Shadow The Assistant Le Mans 66 Burning Disclosure Uncle Frank Bait Tenet Bacurau Welcome to Chechnya

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