The Best of 2020
artwork by Amy Lauren McGrath
It has, somehow, been a year. And while this year hasn’t allowed us to seek refuge in front of the big screen as often as we might like, and though many of the most anticipated releases of the last twelve months have been deferred to 202-dot-dot-dot-question-mark, we still have been able to enjoy some truly exceptional films at a time when we really needed them. Using Irish release dates, the Film In Dublin team have come together to pick out ten of the best of 2020. Films that helped us to escape. Films that served as a funnel to feel through *all this*. Films with pet hyenas in them. So a broad spectrum as always.
What films made your own personal Best of 2020 list? As ever, we’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment below or hit us up on Twitter and Instagram and let us know what movies moved you over the last year, and let us know what you make of the list below.
Horrific. Harrowing. His House is bursting with the invigorating verve of a talented and thoughtful director taking charge of a first feature. Remi Weekes nails the creeps, tweaks and freaks of this kind of horror, equally offering well-timed big scares and a more encompassing (and harder to pull off) sense of dread. While the haunted house genre is traditionally home to big estates hosting big secrets, this story of a refugee couple crammed into a run-down council house is well-crafted pressure cooker, a cage shared with grief and paranoia and trauma. And something else besides.
It isn’t just a buzzer of a director that makes this essential viewing. Sope Dirisu and particularly Wunmi Mosaku’s performances of a couple trapped under the weight of everything it took to bring them from South Sudan to England undoubtedly – loaded though the word is for this genre – elevates the material, and the different approaches they take to the nightmarish night witch that followed them uncover the many layers in this must-see. – Luke
Oh to be the sweet and innocent children of January, who thought that the Safdie brothers’ frenetic bet-athon would be the most stressful experience of the year. A feverish combination of 70s New Hollywood grit, 90s Sandler fire, 2000s pop aesthetics and 2010s sports-channel-ad-break-subject-matter pervasiveness, a film as busy and blood-pressure pumping as this is an unlikely candidate for crowd-pleaser, yet here we are.
Adam Sandler’s Howard Rattner, as obnoxious and repulsive as he may be, is so richly drawn a character he’s impossible not to connect to. The Safdies push the worst of us right to the front of our faces where we can’t look away, the better to see the sympathy of his sorry state and the thrill of his wins. Which never last. Detractors can question the merits of a prolonged panic attack, but 2020 has given us a point of comparison if nothing else: at least this version is also fun. – Luke
The cinematic landscape has been snowed under with a constant slew of DC and Marvel films since the early 2000s, and many of us have become understandably fatigued to the point of refusing to watch any more superhero/comic book films whatsoever. Todd Philip’s Joker last year was widely considered as some kind of antithesis or even antidote to this franchise fatigue, in the same way that audiences reacted to pared back and emotional Logan a few years prior. I would argue that although these films differ from the main, they still tap into the dark dank, self-serious fog that DC and Marvel have created.
So why did I love Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)? Because it isn’t afraid to express joy! People look down on Adam West’s portrayal of Batman but he’s the only version of the character I’d want to spend time with. Similarly, Birds of Prey doesn’t shy away from having a bright and colourful visual palette, it doesn’t have an overly complicated and sanctimonious plot and it offers us creative and surprising fight scenes without defaulting to cold and detached CGI. Don’t let me give you the impression that BOP‘s only strengths come from its contrast to the films we’ve gotten used to, this is a stylish and confident piece of filmmaking that I challenge anyway to come away from not feeling buzzed with the joy and enthusiasm the film was obviously made with. For director Cathy Yan to have produced this slick and iconic film having never worked with a VFX or stunts department prior is such a triumph. – Jess
Whether you’re a seemingly directionless millennial or a winsome indie dramedy, sometimes you just need a bit of time to be properly appreciated. In so far as star ratings mean anything we scored this film with 3 in the summer, but its measured and mature approach has stuck in the memory and, where all the big blockbuster indulgence and noise decided to skip a year, it’s worth highlighting stories like this that stuck around for film fans: intelligent, adult fare about ordinary people finding their own joys under their own pressures.
Writer and star Kelly O’Sullivan finds new ground in a familiar archetype with Bridget, a free spirit in her 30s without a clear career path, stable relationship, comfortable relationship with her parents etc. She stumbles into a babysitting job with the precocious Frances and finds herself pulled into the challenges facing the marriage of her ward’s two mams, capital L Liberals Maya and Annie. So far, so Sundance. But the engaging performances, refreshing openness in the subjects explored, and the focus on character over quirks put this quietly confident story closer to Mike Mills or Greta Gerwig fare, a promising, compassionate and compelling story. – Luke
Go hálainn. The triumphs of Cartoon Saloon are easy to get behind not only because they’re the local studio done good, and not just because they remain a shining light for the skills of their craft while facing up against the all-encompassing conglomerate overdog (or mouse) to their underdog. They’re also easy to get behind because they’re just that good and only getting better.
Wolfwalkers ‘ gorgeously animated world of magic and myths, framed through the budding friendship between wolfgal Mebh and aspiring hunter Robyn is richly rewarding, and easily accessible for all ages. Like a lot of the best of animation to the East and West of our island, its themes are straightforward but richly explored: of co-existing, of being kinder to the land around us, things we think are simple stuff for kids but still end up not understanding well into our adulthood. With a few more stories of this calibre coming out of Kilkenny perhaps we’d be a little better able to. Awards and acclaim all richly deserved, while we’re hupping the parish we dearly hope to see a few more locals sharing the pews. – Luke
“This is an intoxicating, feverish, unnerving and often hilarious experience and one that will have fans ruminating on its messages for years.” – So said our Néil Rogers in reviewing this film back in January.
Robert Eggers delivered his second major feature that introduced a sense of isolation and cabin fever into 2020. While at the time of its release, audiences had yet to come to terms with how realistic these feelings would ultimately become by the end of the year, its claustrophobic sense of horror makes it arguably the most definitive film of the year. Robert Pattinson continues to resist the typecast of broody pretty boy by delivering a gritty and convincing performance. However, what makes The Lighthouse shine so bright is the career best performance from Willem Dafoe. Drowning in alcohol, seaweed, and darkness, Robert Eggers puts together an utterly convincing horror that matches and perhaps even surpasses the convincing screen acting and technical prowess that was so brilliantly demonstrated in The Witch. – Ethan
Kirsten Johnson’s doc has a dark sense of humour, using her experience of movie-magic to depict offbeat fantasies of her elderly father’s death over and over again, but there’s so much more at play here than cheap charms and showy quirks. It’s a full portrait that does right by its subject; fun and warm in ways it can’t help but being while covering the almost impossibly sweetly natured Dr Dick, but also raw, honest, and uncompromising: the gentle banter between daughter and father is easy to watch, the mental decline of someone in their mid-80s is not, keeping a balance while this close to the subject matter may one of the acclaimed director’s best achievements to date.
Unpacking the ways that we engage with mortality, the fears and inability to accept even when we think we’re accepting, Dick Johnson is Dead may be an even greater risk personally for those involved than it is a professional one, a strange and ambitious work that pays off beautifully. Entertaining and emotional, it’s a eulogy that celebrates a life, and a blueprint to celebrates those lives while they’re still there with you. – Luke
The Lodge is one of those films that haunts you for days, even weeks after you’ve finished watching it. I don’t want to give too much away but, early on audiences are gut-punched with a sudden stark image seemingly coming out of nowhere involving Alicia Silverstone’s character, and this really sets the measure for how the rest of the viewing experience will play out. In a time where we’ve been trained to engage with film and TV ever more passively by streaming services like Netflix who churn out offerings designed to provide background noise while you play with your phone or bicker with your boyfriend, The Lodge shocks you out of complacency and keeps you actively engaged throughout and while it’s jarring, it’s really quite something to experience.
The cinematography (coming from Thimios Bakatakis who has worked with Yorgos Lanthimos several times) amplifies the claustrophobic and unsettling story. Characters are almost always shot from above or below and frames are off-kilter from what we’d expect, and by interrupting our natural vision in this way the audience is kept on uneven ground never sure of what we’re seeing which sutures us into the thriller’s plot. – Jess
What more can be said about Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar winner. The first non-English language winner for Best Picture and deservedly so, Parasite barely put a foot wrong. Upon second, third, and even fourth viewing, there’s more to be seen, and even more to be impressed about. Having also been released in a black and white version, it has also led to a revival of the director’s earlier work, and will hopefully come to represent a watershed moment for mainstream audiences to finally give more time to subtitled films. It tells a magnificent story about class divisions, and emerges in a class of its own. – Ethan
Why does Orpheus turn to look at Eurydice when he knows that it will tear them apart? Why do we love at all if we know that love can perish? What compels a painter to paint, or any artist to try and create when the moment, the meaning, the majesty slips out of grasp before they’ve even finished capturing it? In Portrait of a Lady on Fire, we see the beauty of the moment, that ineffable quality artists try to seize, and how an experience, a creation, an image, can retain its power even when the moment itself is long gone.
Fires burn, and they burn out. A fierce and mesmerising glow; all power and passion, force and fury, it all turns to ash, one way or another. But there was still a fire. There will fires again.
Céline Sciamma’s gothic romance works masterfully on its substance, the better to bask in its style: carefully considered camera work, rich photography, a finely tuned script brought to life by performers perfectly on their director’s wavelength. Its story of artist and subject falling for each other in their own fleeting slice of space and time of 18th century France is an electrifying love story, but its packed with many other ideas too, ensuring its status of one of the richest films of the last few years and a tale worth returning to always, a light that never goes out. – Luke