2020 was…a lot. There are many adjectives to use to describe the utter chaos of the year, but we won’t get into all of that. This year has taught me many things, one of which is that my taste in films is pretty impeccable. Joking! Or am I? Anywho…the year saw a lot of my most anticipated movies get pushed back because of this pesky global pandemic, which oddly turned out to be a good thing. As many blockbusters moved out of the way, smaller mid-tier to independent films that wouldn’t have gotten my attention were able to shine bright. To condense all of my favourites of this year into 10 was a rather difficult task, so the 10 you see here are the ones that I found myself gushing about the most; the ones that lingered in my mind long after the credits rolled. Plus, there will be an even longer list of great films from first-time women feature directors that you will have to check out too.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Cathy Yan’s Birds of Prey (And The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is the kind of comic book movie I have been dreaming of. A film that is unapologetically directed with the feminine gaze but accessible to all (if they would allow themselves to enjoy things). The film centers on Harley Quinn played by the perfectly cast Margot Robbie, who also took on a producer role for the film. Robbie is so in sync with the essence of Harley and what has made her such an explosive character since her debut on Batman: The Animated Series. Although it is easy for Harley to suck up all the air in a film, both Robbie and Yan alongside screenwriter Christina Hodson bring on an ensemble of characters that all stand on their own. Each character is deserving of their own standalone projects, each cast beautifully, each with a unique signature look that stays on your mind. Birds of Prey is all that I could have wanted from a fun and electric comic book movie. One that truly feels like it leapt off the page in both style and tone.
Promising Young Woman
Margot Robbie strikes again with another favourite of 2020. Promising Young Woman is not for the faint of heart. It is a film that is bold, funny, vicious, dark, and devastating. Emerald Fennell has done something that sounds utterly mad, but works so beautifully. Without getting into spoilers, the film follows Cassie (Carey Mulligan) , a woman on a mission to punish men who sexually assault women. Fueled by a dark event in her past, Cassie deploys all of her feminine charm and smarts to exploit the most pervasive villain in our society, “The Nice Guys”. The film is not easy to sit through; it is uncomfortable, it is unflinching, and it is a revenge fantasy that gets all too real. However, the beauty of cinema is confronting big and important issues in ways that truly capture our attention. Law and Order: SVU has been a righteous endeavour for a long time, hammering the importance of finding justice for the most heinous crimes. Sometimes a different approach to convey the same message is needed. Promising Young Woman is one of those films that you just won’t be able to shake, and for me, it will live rent-free in my mind for many many years.
The Old Guard
There are a ton of comic book and graphic novel adaptations out there. They range in genre, tone, style, and maturity. The ones that get the biggest debuts and the loudest responses, tend to be loud, bombastic, and pure sensory entertainment. The Old Guard is different in that it’s grounded despite a fantastical premise. It’s a meditative journey into the minds and hearts of the oldest mercenary group in the world, although they don’t look it. It’s a story about Andy (Charlize Theron) who has lived for thousands of years. Believing her immortality is meant to make the world better, time finally catches up with her, and she becomes disillusioned with what her purpose is. It’s for a mature audience, looking for a more introspective genre adventure. One that is quiet and approaches its larger themes with patience and subtlety. The themes are simple, the performances are spectacular and the directing is exceptional. We’ve seen the story of heroes feeling their work is not changing anything, but The Old Guard thoroughly explores this in a studied yet exciting way.
Jane Austen left quite an impression on all of us. All six of her novels have been embraced, adapted, reinterpreted, and wholly beloved. In Autumn de Wilde’s take on Emma. she has given us the visual equivalent of a delectable pastry, that is just almost too sweet to bear. Our lead Emma is a tad bit crueller than what we have become used to in past adaptations, but accurate to how Austen envisioned her in her novel. Anya Taylor-Joy is such a delight and was meant to be dressed in the finest garbs and utilize every part of her exquisite features to her advantage. And de Wilde certainly knows how to make use of all of Taylor-Joy’s gifts. She is this slightly fallible deity that just demands your attention and adoration. Oh, Emma. The film is also funny, charming, and frantic. Honestly, it is directed to perfection.
The Broken Hearts Gallery
The Broken Hearts Gallery is a comforting reminder that trivial tokens don’t matter as much as building meaningful relationships. Lasting memories with the ones you love and love you back don’t need tokens. Aside, from the heartfelt story at its centre, this film is a delightful rom-com. Geraldine Viswanathan is a stellar lead, the story is endearing, and the comedy on point. It’s a delightful time and one worth revisiting over and over again. Also, I wrote a long-ish piece expressing just how much I loved the film
Steve McQueen gave us a slate of films that give us something many have been craving. The series of films under the title Small Axe dive into the rich and complex lives of Black people in the UK, specifically those from the West Indies. Lovers Rock is a beautifully crafted story about a party. What is the party for? Doesn’t matter. What do folks have to do the next day? Doesn’t matter? All that matters is the community comes together for laughs, music, food and dancing. Love, friendship, passion and community is the beating heart of the film. It is incredibly put together, from the cinematography, the casting, the music, and the deliberate camera movements. It is a 10/10 movie that you wish never ends. The true power of the film is its ability to transport you into this night. We may not be able to party right now, but McQueen makes sure you feel as though you did.
There have been many debates about the legitimacy of animation in cinema. Those who wish to discredit the medium can kindly walk off a cliff because I will not entertain such a disrespectful discussion. Animation is a fabulous medium and one that should be cherished. Wolfwalkers is one of those films that makes one want to dive into hours upon hours of animated films to immerse oneself and fawn over the talent needed to craft such stories. The 2D animation on display in Wolfwalkers is one that has been slowly making a comeback. It makes an excellent case as to why we should embrace the method once again. Firstly, it is difficult to make 2D seem so lively and imaginative, but it is so worth it. Not only does Wolfwalkers have stellar animation, but it is also a moving story about found family and the beauty of finding love and friendship in those you are taught to hate. It is fantastic in every way. I can gush about it all day.
The Invisible Man
There are many ways anInvisible Man remake could go. Ones that harken back to the originals from Universal’s heyday, but Leigh Whannell has done something that seriously needs to be done more often. These stories about ambitious men who are morally corrupt are fun to a point, but Whannell uses his adaptation to interrogate just how much we let rich geniuses get away with abuse. It is certainly a bold step to center the woman at the heart of the story, and it is sad to say that’s bold. However, The Invisible Man is a triumph about the social commentary of the dangers of being in an abusive relationship and the fractured societal structures that embolden men. It is an honest to god frightening ride. His expertise is on full display as he makes an invisible man the most terrifying creature on the planet. It isn’t just thanks to an imaginative mind, but is also due to a keen eye on how to craft suspense from strategic filmmaking techniques
Okay, I am gaga for Gugu. I have been a fan of Gugu Mbatha-Raw since she stole my heart in Amma Asante’s Belle. She is a brilliant actress who has consistently proven herself to be one of the greats. This year I was gifted with not just one, but two lovely films that she co-starred in. The first being Jessica Swale’s feature debut, Summerland. This is a story that is in two ways a personal attack. One, it is a story about a grouchy woman who lives in a picturesque village in the countryside, and her heart softens because of an adorable little boy. Second, it is a story about love, between two women who absolutely adore each other but part ways for…reasons. Jessica Swale did not have to attack my emotions like that, but I am glad she did. I’ll forgive her for putting my heart through an emotional ride because her film is beautifully crafted with equally beautiful and tender performances from Arterton and Mbatha-Raw.
One Night in Miami
Regina Hall has finally stepped into feature filmmaking and it’s over for y’all. Excellence is what she is here to provide. One Night in Miami is a character study that takes place in a single location (mostly). There is a lot of talking, banter, silent beats, laughter, and a bit of shouting too. Kemp Powers wrote the story which is a fictional gathering between four juggernauts in Black American history, and while this film is mostly a study into these great men, King directs it as though it’s an epic. It is a stellar showcase of what a brilliant director can do with a dense story, a single space and four talented actors. King does not compromise or take short cuts. She doesn’t hold your hand or spell things out for you. She gives you everything all at once and it is excellent.
Ferdosa (she/her) is a lifetime student of cinema. Three of her current favourite films are: Addams Family Values, Cinderella (2015), and Emma. (2020). On Twitter you can see her support women-led cinema, her ongoing love/hate relationship with Disney, her totally healthy obsession with Eva Green, and her great admiration for Guillermo del Toro.