My top ten new film releases of 2020

Many people like to publish their end of year lists near the start of December but I always think that’s unfair on December releases! I have been working on this list for a while and I’ve finally settled on a top ten (for now, this feels subject to change!) and have waited until the last day of the year to drop my round-up.

2020 hasn’t been a great year for blockbusters and cinema, given all the closures and film postponements due to Covid, but there have still been a bunch of releases I really enjoyed this year. Admittedly, I didn’t give out too many five stars, but that could be down to watching them on a laptop at home rather than in a cinema/screening room.

As ever, this list is for UK release dates, so some movies I saw in 2019 (like Parasite) are included, while some I’ve seen this year but aren’t out here yet (like Another Round and Supernova) have been discounted and may make an appearance on next year’s list.

Without further ado, here is my top ten list of 2020. If you want to read the full review, click on the title.

  1. Parasite

I didn’t want to put this top because I first saw it in 2019 but nothing has beaten it this year. Parasite winning Best Picture at the Oscars is one of the few good things to come out of 2020. I don’t re-watch films very often but I have seen Parasite three times, which says A LOT about how much I love it. Bong Joon-Ho‘s movie starts off like a simple domestic drama but then, bam, all of a sudden, it’s not! I urge you all to check this out if you haven’t already.

2. The Trial of the Chicago 7

I see a lot of people dunking on Aaron Sorkin‘s legal drama on social media but I absolutely loved it. It told an incredibly fascinating story, the screenplay had me hooked, the structure made it more interesting, and the star-studded cast was fantastic, with my particular favourites being Sacha Baron Cohen, Eddie Redmayne, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (always got so much love for JGL!)

3. Host

The success story of Host is so, so deserved. It debuted on niche streaming service Shudder in the summer but thanks to word-of-mouth it ended up with a cinema release (where possible) in December. It tells the story of a group of friends who take part in a seance via Zoom with devastating consequences. It is truly terrifying and I think about certain imagery when I’m trying (and failing) to sleep, and considering this was made during the lockdown in accordance with the social distancing rules, it’s super inventive and clever.

4. Saint Maud

Keeping with the horror theme, I give you Saint Maud, which stars the terrific and creepy Morfydd Clark as Maud, a newly devout hospice nurse who moves into a dying dancer’s home. It takes its time setting up the characters and the situation but then it goes full throttle towards a heart-pounding ending. I literally gasped out loud at one point. A sensational debut from Rose Glass.

5. The Broken Hearts Gallery

I doubt this will appear on many end of year lists but I’m a sucker for a romcom and I think Geraldine Viswanathan is simply brilliant. This was the first film I saw in a cinema after the original lockdown and I came away with a huge smile on my face. Sure, it’s predictable as hell (what romcoms aren’t?!) but it made me feel good and put a spring in my step. If that’s not the mark of a great movie, I don’t know what is.

6. Wolfwalkers

I know Pixar has brought out two movies this year and Soul has been particularly popular but I would love for this hand-drawn animation to win the Best Animated Feature prize. It looks gorgeous, has a terrific voice cast (featuring Sean Bean), and tells a fascinating story about a girl who can become a wolf when she sleeps.

7. Birds of Prey

I love Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn and it was so so good seeing her lead her own movie along with the likes of Jurnee Smollett and Rosie Perez. Cathy Yan‘s movie is a lot of fun; the funhouse fight sequence is amazing and the egg sandwich scene is so relatable and hilarious. I want more!

8. The Invisible Man

I didn’t have high hopes for Leigh Whannell‘s horror at first but it was so smart, scary, and had a strong lead performance from Elisabeth Moss. This film contains the single most out-of-nowhere shocking moment in 2020 cinema – if you know, you know – and I was so tense basically the whole time.

9. Jojo Rabbit

A lot of people seem to be dunking on Taika Waititi‘s ‘anti-hate satire’ and I totally see why it’s a divisive piece of cinema, but I enjoyed it a lot. I saw it in 2019 and it has managed to stay on my list. I’ve seen it twice and I appreciated it even more the second time around. Waititi is hilarious as Hitler but my personal favourite was Archie Yates as Yorkie – he was just brilliant – and it still manages to pack an emotional punch.

10. Bad Education

It’s a shame this movie ended up premiering on Sky Atlantic over here as it probably slipped under the radar. It’s definitely worth checking out. The film depicts the largest public school embezzlement in American history and Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney have never been better as the masterminds behind the scandal, swindling the books to scam their school district out of millions. It’s shocking stuff!

Other honourable mentions – Rocks, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, The Old Guard, The Assistant, The Boys in the Band, and 1917.

Host: Film Review

Host

I have heard nothing but praise about Host in the weeks since it premiered exclusively on Shudder in July and the power of word-of-mouth has taken the film to new heights – it’s now getting a cinema release in the UK!

The British found footage horror film was developed and shot entirely during the Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year, with the cast all communicating from the isolation of their own homes via Zoom. Hoping to spice things up a bit – presumably from Zoom quiz fatigue – Haley (Haley Bishop) and her friends Emma (Emma Louise Webb), Jemma (Jemma Moore), Radina (Radina Drandova), Caroline (Caroline Ward), and Teddy (Edward Linard) hire a medium, Seylan (Seylan Baxter), to host a virtual seance, with fatal consequences.

I was advised to watch this film in the daylight and I didn’t pay attention to this advice – and I should have! Host is genuinely very scary, perhaps even the scariest movie I’ve seen all year (although Saint Maud and Relic come close). I watched it a few days ago and I haven’t been able to shake it off, with certain imagery popping into my mind when I’m trying to sleep. It has effective jump scares – which are tricky to pull off over Zoom – shocking moments, and anxiety-inducing sequences filled with tension and fear. I had such a visceral reaction to it; I jumped, hid behind my hands and told characters “don’t go there/don’t do that” – I was truly involved.

Not many films have a zippy runtime of 57 minutes and I truly recommend it. More like this please! Director Rob Savage had carte blanche on the film’s duration so he picked one which best served the story and Host is all the better for it – it would have been weaker and had less impact if it had been padded out to try to hit 90 minutes, for example. The film is lean, we have a brief introduction of the characters and their relationships and then it gets down to it. Savage has trimmed all the fat so Host doesn’t hang about – when the scares well and truly get going, it doesn’t let go. I’m glad it was short because I don’t think my pounding heart could have handled much more.

There’s some obvious foreshadowing in places but that doesn’t make it any less effective, and normally I would criticise a film for not developing its characters enough as a lack of characterisation generally means I don’t care about anybody, but that wasn’t the case here at all. I actually forgot about that once the action got going, it just doesn’t stop and give you a minute to think about anything else. And you care about them regardless, because they’re in a terrifying situation. I was particularly fond of Caroline – she was the most scared about doing the séance – and Emma, as she gets put through the wringer and gives an amazing performance, although there are no weak links in the cast, who are friends in real life.

Host has become something of a phenomenon and I’m glad it has been picked up so it’ll be seen more widely because a film of this quality deserves to be celebrated by the masses. Savage has landed a Blumhouse deal off the back of Host’s success and he thoroughly deserves it. Host is clever, inventive, timely, and original and shows what can be done within the limitations of lockdown. It is truly terrifying and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. Go check it out!

In selected cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday 4th December

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.