The Skinny's Films of 2020

From the breakneck chaos of Uncut Gems to the dark satire of Parasite – via two Spike Lee joints – we find plenty to celebrate from 2020 in film

Feature by Film Team | 30 Nov 2020
  • Films of 2020

10. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Dir. Charlie Kaufman

Jessie Buckley and Jesse Plemons star as a couple on the brink of a messy break-up in Charlie Kaufman’s latest inquiry into the mysteries of the human mind. The film follows the pair on a journey through the topography of their own memories, but the visual inconsistencies and shifting timelines of this psychological thriller only highlight the potential for horror lurking inside us all. [Patrick Gamble]

9. The Invisible Man

Dir. Leigh Whannell

Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man re-frames the tale as a nerve-shredding look at one woman’s attempt to escape a danger that even those closest to her simply cannot see. The perfect example of how to make an old story new again, built around another incredible Elisabeth Moss performance as a character holding herself together by the edge of her nails. [Ross McIndoe]

8. David Byrne’s American Utopia

Dir. Spike Lee

Spike Lee’s immersive documentation of David Byrne’s 2019 Broadway show is worlds away from a bog-standard point-and-capture situation like an NT Live broadcast or the Disney+ recording of Hamilton. A proper film experience in its own right, American Utopia is absolutely exhilarating. Byrne-wise, it’s not quite on the level of Jonathan Demme and Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, but few other concert films have come as close. [Josh Slater-Williams]

7. Rocks

Dir. Sarah Gavron

Tender yet forceful, Rocks presents us with a coming-of-age narrative which is rooted in the real, rather than the romantic. The film approaches the story of a working-class, Black girl and her younger brother with a care and honesty that is both poignant and harrowing. A powerful celebration of friendship, Rocks depicts these teens with a palpable warmth – truly joyous. [Eilidh Akilade]

6. Vitalina Varela

Dir. Pedro Costa

Despite being a great artist, Pedro Costa’s films have become progressively more powerful and important because of how he has transcended his own artistry. Before, his films were about the relationship between spectator and impoverished (in this case, Cape Verdean immigrants in Lisbon). Vitalina Varela’s essence is the people themselves. Like 2014’s Horse Money, Costa’s precision is only matched by the respect he affords his subjects. [Thomas Atkinson]

5. Da 5 Bloods

Dir. Spike Lee

Spike Lee's tale of a group of ageing black soldiers who return to Vietnam in search of emotional reckoning and a locker of lost gold showed the director's tightening grip on his latter-day style of historical redress through messy, essayistic, VJ-like mixology. Brashly entertaining, with a pained consideration of scars left on both America and Vietnam, with a particularly devastating performance by Delroy Lindo as the macho Black Trump supporter whose bombast masks deep despair. [Ian Mantgani]

4. Shirley

Dir. Josephine Decker

Josephine Decker’s fourth feature focuses her experimental, psychological storytelling on one summer with the dysfunctional American author Shirley Jackson and the simultaneously repressed and repressive community she masochistically attracts. The resulting film feels remarkably true to Jackson’s own oeuvre. The seamless blend of reality, imagination, and deliberate recreation create a dark, dreamlike atmosphere fraught with the possibility of transgression – and Moss’s volatile, calculating Jackson threatens no return. [Carmen Paddock]

3. Uncut Gems

Dir. Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie

A film that's as abrasive as it is exhilarating, Uncut Gems plunges the viewer into the chaotic world of Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler), a small-time jeweller chasing the score of a lifetime. Howard lives by his wits, follows his gut instinct and is drawn to disastrous choices like a moth to a flame. The Safdies’ cacophonous filmmaking style forces us to experience his mounting anxiety and desperation. It’s one of the all-time great noose-tightening pictures. [Philip Concannon]

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Dir. Céline Sciamma

It’s no surprise that Céline Sciamma, director of Tomboy and Water Lilies, should have offered up such an incisive, evocative examination of gender, love and power, but Portrait of a Lady on Fire still burns with an intensity that is startling. Dubbed a “manifesto on the female gaze” by Sciamma herself, the lush period costumes and imposing sets belie a feminist politics that is unflinchingly contemporary. [Anahit Behrooz]

1. Parasite

Dir. Bong Joon-ho

A Shakespearian, South Korean tragicomedy, Parasite won its director Bong Joon-ho numerous, history-making Oscars earlier this year. A social commentary as horrifying as it is hysterical, Parasite is the culmination of Bong’s genre-bending career and his slippiest film yet. Its imagery – a peach, a knife, a scholar stone – is already iconic, but it’s Parasite’s chic haunted house, and the horrors it contains, that is truly unforgettable. [Katie Goh]

The Next Ten

Kajillionaire (Dir. Miranda July)
Possessor (Dir. Brandon Cronenberg)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Dir. Eliza Hittman)
Lovers Rock (Dir. Steve McQueen)
Mangrove (Dir. Steve McQueen)
And Then We Danced (Dir. Levan Akin)
Dick Johnson Is Dead (Dir. Kirsten Johnson)
Wolfwalkers (Dirs. Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart)
She Dies Tomorrow (Dir. Amy Seimetz)
Bill & Ted Face the Music (Dir. Dean Parisot)

We asked 21 of our film writers to provide their top ten films of the year to compile this list – read each of their lists in full here...