Best and worst movies of the year

 

2020 was a year in movie history like no other. Cinemas went dark for extended periods. Streaming services went through the roof. And yet, the big hits and big misses kept coming as they always do. LEIGH PAATSCH nominates his best and worst of what hit our screens in 2020.

 

Best Ten Films of 2020

 

1. 1917

The best film of 2020 arrived early in January, and would not be budged from our collective memory. A simple tale of two young WWI soldiers setting off to deliver a single message that will save 1600 lives became a nerve-shredding, mind-bending masterclass in filmmaking: strikingly composed as one extended, seamless camera shot.

A scene from 1917, a Universal Films release.
A scene from 1917, a Universal Films release.

 

2. The Vast of Night

The movie almost everyone missed in 2020 deserves a track-down this summer. The setting is a small Texas town in the 1950s, where unexplained electrical interference could be signalling an imminent visit by strangers from parts unknown. A little film with big ideas, and the smarts to make 'em work.

Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night.
Sierra McCormick in The Vast of Night.

 

3. Mank

The best acting performance of the year was Gary Oldman's flawless portrayal of the legendary Hollywood screenwriter Herman Mankiewicz. What a one-off this bloke was: a drinker, a thinker, a raconteur, a rogue, and the true author of the undisputed movie masterpiece Citizen Kane.

A scene from Mank.
A scene from Mank.

 

4. Emma

Now a major star after her Netflix series The Queen's Gambit dropped, Anya Taylor-Joy is equally spellbinding in markedly different circumstances here. That's her in the title role, capriciously burning and rebuilding many romantic bridges across Jane Austen's classic period tale.

Mia Goth (left) as Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as Emma Woodhouse in a scene from the movie Emma. Picture: Universal Pictures
Mia Goth (left) as Harriet Smith and Anya Taylor-Joy (right) as Emma Woodhouse in a scene from the movie Emma. Picture: Universal Pictures

 

5. Nomadland

Haunting, heartfelt and human at all times, this Oscars-bound drama is a complete acting triumph for its star, Frances McDormand (Three Billboards). She plays a new member of a tribe of factory workers who crisscross the US, living year-round in their campervans. Releases in Australia on Boxing Day.

Frances McDormand in the Nomadland. Picture: Searchlight Pictures
Frances McDormand in the Nomadland. Picture: Searchlight Pictures

 

6. On the Rocks

Much more than the stylish trifle most fans of filmmaker Sofia Coppola (Lost in Translation) would have happily settled for. The key is an inspired performance from Bill Murray as a gadfly dad who believes his daughter's husband is cheating on her, and is hellbent on doing something about it.

Rashida Jones in a scene from the movie On the Rocks.
Rashida Jones in a scene from the movie On the Rocks.

 

7. Queen & Slim

Another great 'lost' movie of 2020 that deserved a wider audience. A spellbinding road movie fuses familiar elements many would associate with the likes of a Bonnie & Clyde or a Thelma & Louise to fresh perspectives on love, race and community. Tough, authentic stuff.

Elisabeth Moss in a scene from The Invisible Man. Picture: Universal Pictures
Elisabeth Moss in a scene from The Invisible Man. Picture: Universal Pictures

 

8. The Invisible Man

Just beneath the surface of this sleek, efficient and intimidating thriller is a contemporary relevance few would have seen coming. Especially in a movie with a villain you will never see coming. A fearless, up-for-anything performance by Elisabeth Moss keeps raising the stakes, and collects every time.

Elisabeth Moss in a scene from the movie The Invisible Man. Universal Pictures.
Elisabeth Moss in a scene from the movie The Invisible Man. Universal Pictures.

 

9. Uncut Gems

In which serial screen-stinker-upperer Adam Sandler delivered the performance of a lifetime. As for this remarkable movie, it does not so much build tension as conduct it like electricity. Get too close - too involved, too curious, too invested - and it will zap you right out of your chair.

Adam Sandler in Netflix movie Uncut Gems.
Adam Sandler in Netflix movie Uncut Gems.

 

10. Tenet

This highly divisive, ridiculously overambitious folly still makes the cut by virtue of its game-changing camera moves and production design. Director Christopher reset the outer limits of how lights, cameras and action can be configured to conjure new feats of movie magic.

John David Washington in a scene from Tenet. Picture: Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros via AP
John David Washington in a scene from Tenet. Picture: Melinda Sue Gordon/Warner Bros via AP

 

 

Worst Ten Films of 2020

 

1. Dolittle

Robert Downey Jr can talk to the animals … in an inexplicable accent that sounds like a Welshman with a severe head cold. As for the animals, they include a polar bear that calls everyone "bro", a surly squirrel that wants to kill a teenage boy, and a dog that wears glasses. A $250 million debacle that just yoyos from bad to worse repeatedly.

Kevin the squirrel, voiced by Craig Robinson, and Robert Downey Jr star in the movie Dolittle. Picture: Universal Pictures
Kevin the squirrel, voiced by Craig Robinson, and Robert Downey Jr star in the movie Dolittle. Picture: Universal Pictures

 

2. Fantasy Island

For reasons still unknown, the shonky '80s TV show Fantasy Island was rebooted into a dodgy modern horror movie. The only fantasy anyone had while watching this sludge was getting their money back.

A scene from a reboot of Fantasy Island in film format. Picture: Sony Pictures Australia
A scene from a reboot of Fantasy Island in film format. Picture: Sony Pictures Australia

 

3. Like a Boss

A truly terrible comedy. Rose Byrne and Tiffany Haddish are supposed to be BFFs, but appear in most scenes to be meeting for the first time. Meanwhile, co-star Salma Hayek chews more scenery than Godzilla in his last five movies combined.

 

 

4. I Am Woman

I Am Woman was a hell of an inspirational song in the 1970s, but a hopelessly uninspired movie in 2020. The late, great Helen Reddy deserved much better than botched biopic playing cheesy dress-ups with her memories and achievements.

Lead actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Reddy. Picture: Julian Andrews
Lead actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey plays Reddy. Picture: Julian Andrews

 

5. Brahms: The Boy 2

In the pantheon of cinema's creepy old dolls, Brahms is best described as Annabelle's better-dressed, lesser-talented cousin. Doesn't have much of a skill set for a paranormally powered streak of pure porcelain evil. He just kind of, umm, sits there.

 

6. True History of the Kelly Gang

While no-one could accuse this bonkers biopic of Ned Kelly of being all dull - fat chance of that with its steady supply of cross-dressing cattle duffers, mullet-haired miscreants, and tattooed toughs - it remains in a closed loop of swinging and missing throughout.

A scene from True History of the Kelly Gang, a Transmission Films release.
A scene from True History of the Kelly Gang, a Transmission Films release.

 

7. Downhill

Pointedly unpleasant one minute - then unfeasibly inert the next - this slo-mo trainwreck plummets into the void where comedy ends and drama begins. We all know Will Ferrell can squeeze out a lemon when he wants, but none have been so sour.

Julia Louis Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in a scene from Downhill. Picture: Twentieth Century Fox
Julia Louis Dreyfus and Will Ferrell in a scene from Downhill. Picture: Twentieth Century Fox

 

8. Dirt Music

Ever wondered what an episode of Home And Away might look like if you had 10 million bucks to spend, and a few miscast international stars in the lead roles? This shopsoiled adaptation of the Tim Winton novel had the answers you were looking for.

A scene from Dirt Music. Picture: Universal
A scene from Dirt Music. Picture: Universal

9. Hillbilly Elegy

Poverty porn for the posh, making all the right noises about all the obvious inequalities, all the wrong ways.

 

 

10. Tenet

On a technical and creative level, Tenet was one of the landmark movies of the year. On a scripting and storytelling level - the plot was written in a code not even its author knew how to crack - Tenet was one of the skidmark movies of the year.

Originally published as Best and worst movies of the year


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