With so much taken away from us in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, one would think that entertainment would have continued unabated as it has done in the past – after all, people flocked to the movies during World War II to take their mind of that particular mayhem. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple and film production, like TV and music concerts, was ground to a halt for a while.

Perhaps worse still, film distribution took a hit from the cinemas being closed, with the release dates of many anticipated titles constantly being put back. Not everyone saw this as a problem however, as that new devil could streaming meant films could still be seen by the public, the only deficit would be in the box office takings. So, staying in became the new going to the cinema, whilst film festivals also switched to online to keep the film flag flying during this time of uncertainty.

This might not have anything directly to do with my top ten list for the year but I do wonder how different it might have been if I had been able some of the delayed films or others that haven’t yet made it to DVD. To that end, I must confess this was the hardest list I have ever compiled, despite many great films included here. I had to mull over my reviews to determine the picks as opposed to knowing automatically from memory – in fact, even my top three picks are disputable and they are usually carved in stone at the time of publishing. So, it is what it is. 

Of course, I must point out for anyone who might be more pedantic than I am (if that is possible) that whilst some of the films I’ve chosen were big on everyone else’s lists in 2019, not all of us were so fortunate to see them back then and had to wait for the UK release before enjoying them.

So, without further ado, here are my personal Top Ten films either released or available to the UK for the first time in 2020 and as usual agree or disagree as is your wont.

10. The Painted Bird (Czech Republic Dir. Václav Marhoul) 

Perhaps the title I struggled with the most for inclusion, this bleak and harrowing tale of a young Jewish boy in a war torn country moving from one abusive situation to another as he tries to find his family is not prime entertainment but is one of those films that stays with you emotionally. It might leave the audience with the same psychological scars as the young lad, and exposes humanity at its lowest, but is incendiary filmmaking at its peak.

Read the full review HERE

9. Beanpole (Russia Dir. Kantemir Balagov) 

More wartime related misery as tall Russian nurse Ilya is blackmailed into having a baby for her infertile best friend Masha after Ilya accidentally kills Masha’s son. There is so much ethically wrong with the story but that is the hook that keeps us watching, along with a few gnarly twists to pile on the emotional misery and a look at the psychological effects beget by war. Despite being a litany of tragedies, this is a haunting slow burn of a film rich in melancholic lyricism.    

Read the full review HERE

8. Monos (Columbia Dir. Alejandro Landes)

Another film in which war is a central theme but this time, the protagonists are children, a group of orphans tasked to look after a POW at the behest of “the Organisation”. Kids with guns is a frightening prospect but sadly a very real one in some Middle Eastern and South American countries. Yet, this doesn’t stop this film from being ambiguous about its message, if there is one, to remind us how awful the world can be sometimes.

Read the full review HERE

7. By The Grace Of God (France Dir. François Ozon)

One of France’s enfant terrible filmmakers sinks his teeth into the subject of child abuse via the Catholic church in this powerful drama. A former victim learns the priest who abused him and others is not just still active but working with children, and forms a group with other ex-victims to have the priest tried and defrocked. Ozon has never been known for subtlety but he is rather restrained here but don’t mistake this for him being passive – this film hits very hard!

Read the full review HERE

 6. Papicha (Algiers Dir. Mounia Meddour)

Gender equality is still a prevalent issue two year after the #MeToo movement, hence the making of this 1990’s set film in which a group of Muslim girls defy the prejudice of Islamic doctrine to make modern fashion for women and not be hidden under hijabs and burqas. Misogyny is everywhere but is a way of life in some territories, and whilst there is a strong feminist theme here, this is also a potent essay on the dangerous myopia of religious extremism.   

Read the full review HERE

5. So Long, My Son (China Dir. Wang Xiaoshuai)

China’s one child policy is among the most destructive and cruellest edicts forced upon their people by the communist regime, and this stirring drama highlights this as well as other issues relating to party mandates. A gut wrenching tale of a couple forced to abort a baby leaving the wife sterile then have their young son die is the launching point for this decade-spanning three-hour disquisition of life under Communist rule. It’s a film that makes you angry yet is not an angry film, but is still deeply affecting.

Read the full review HERE

4. System Crasher (Germany Dir. Nora Fingscheidt) 

What to do with problem children is a question that may never have a right answer. For explosive nine year-old Benni she wants to live with her mother, but her mother is the one who put her in care because of her turbulent behaviour. Unfortunately, the German care system for children is underfunded and ill equipped to do anything but treat kids like Benni like animals – lock them up and pump them full of drugs. A confrontational film, it has no answers but asks the right questions without fear or restraint.

Read the full review HERE 

3. Mother (Japan Dir. Tatsushi Omori)

Parents are the people we should be able to turn to without condition but not everyone is that lucky. Young Shuhei stays by the side of his single mother Akiko despite being let down and mentally abused by her on a regular basis, yet Akiko believes it is her right to raise Shuhei any way she sees fit. Shockingly based on true events, the tragedy that ensues is horrific and avoidable whilst the journey to it as depicted here is unfiltered yet morbidly compelling.

Read the full review HERE 

2. Better Days (China Dir. Derek Tsang)

Bullying is a problem that won’t be eliminated as long as people turn a blind eye to it, therefore films like this are a sad necessity until someone gets the message. When a bullied girl stressed about her exams commits suicide, her best friend Chen Nian is the bullies’ next target, so she turns to street punk Bei for protection. A nightmare scenario that spirals out of control, this is a searing indictment of the bullying problem in China and the pressures of academia that also drive kids to suicide.

Read the full review HERE

 

No 1.

Bori

(Korea Dir. Kim Jin-yu)

I don’t know if it was the enigmatic performance of the young lead Kim Ah-song or the sheer emotional pull of this film, but there is something intangibly resonant about Bori that it earns the top spot this. The eponymous Bo-ri is the only one in her family who isn’t deaf and in feeling left out, she decides to damage her hearing so she can fit in with her parents and brother. However, her attempts fail so Bo-ri fakes it instead, but doesn’t realise the full effect her also being deaf has on the family’s place in the community.

Only the actor playing Bo-ri’s father is hearing capable, the others are genuinely deaf which is huge step forward in terms of representation in Korean cinema, but we must credit Kim and other cast members for learning sign language so well too. Bori avoid being a preachy film and instead asks for understanding about sensory impairments as well as asking us to recognise how deaf people can still contribute to society. Sweet, empathetic, and earnest in all it does, this is a rare positive depiction of people with disabilities.

Read the full review HERE

 

Some titles that just missed out on inclusion after much deliberation include Portrait Of A Lady On Fire, Happy Old Year, The Truth, First Love, Joker, Melancholic, Another Round, The Perfect Candidate, and Mangrove from Steve McQueen’s Small Axe TV film series. All quality films, with some coming very close to making it through. Perhaps they should have, perhaps it is just me – I really don’t know anymore.

God knows what 2021 will bring, be it more films being streamed, cinemas opening up again or bigger titles going straight to DVD, I just hope I get to see some of them and have a more representative list to share in twelve month’s time.

Thanks for reading and until next time, this is the Man in Black saying Sayonara!

14 thoughts on “MIB’s Top Ten Films of 2020

  1. A varied list with lots of interesting titles. One of the interesting things about Covid-19 is that smaller films and foreign films got a little more coverage in the absence of blockbusters so I will be interested in seeing what the awards season will bring.

    Hopefully 2021 will be a much better year for everyone and going to cinemas will be doable and people will be safe from the virus!

    Happy New Year!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! Same to you! 🙂

      I think Parasite might sadly prove to be an anomaly as far as the major awards go. The Oscars in particular will focus on Netflix made films this year, whilst the BAFTAS will look to Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series and the other BBC assisted films (Make Up, Dirty God, etc) for their picks. I’d like to be wrong but, you know… :-/

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a high brow list! I’m really impressed. I’ve only really heard of that Painted Bird but it sounded a bit dark. I’ve heard there’s an ‘interesting’ scene with a goat….(lol)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I don’t know about it being that high brow as there are many lists with far more obscure films on them! 😉

      Yes, Painted Bird does have a scene with a goat that I am staggered made it past the censors of any country let alone the BBFC! 😮 I only mentioned it briefly in my review as there is SO much else going on in this film that is objectionable that I didn’t want to spend half the review ranting about it… :-/

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sorry to be so predictable brining up the ‘Goat Scene’ ha ha ha! It all sounds like a very shocking film. No doubt one day I will watch it.

        Still far more highbrow than any list I could come up with ha ha.

        You all ok? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Nice list! Yeah, putting a year end top ten together in the U.K. is always a pain as we get the best stuff from the year before released at the start of the year here. And…. I’ve heard of ONE in your top ten. Yikes! (Monos, and I know it’s actually available to watch). I like the sound of your number one but, wow, the rest sound very grim! 😳😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by (at last 😉 ).

      What can I say? I like happy cinema! 😛

      FYI – Numbers 10-5 are all available on home media in the UK, 4 is on streaming services somewhere , 3-1, well, I had to look further afield to see them so to speak! 😛

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