Minor Spoilers Ahead for Film and Television Shows of 2020
To say that 2020 might not have been the best year is a huge understatement. The coronavirus hit and every country around the world was and is still being affected. The coronavirus has cost nearly two million people their lives and has brought worldwide operations to a halt. It is important to remember all those lives lost as we now find our lives disrupted and we should do whatever we can to prevent more deaths.
The widespread closure of cinemas has been one safety measure that has surely paid off. For the film industry, this has changed what we consume and how we consume media. Companies have either withheld their products until it is safe to put them out in theatres or put them directly on streaming services. There has been content to watch though. In these difficult times, these films and television shows offer some form of escapism. There has been a fair share of film and television shows that are worth checking out in 2020.
Before the top 5 ranking, here are some honorary mentions: (Only films that premiered this year will be included so this excludes films like Parasite which premiered in 2019).
The Way Back
Ben Affleck is both in the director’s chair and in the lead role for this emotional story about recovering from alcoholism. In a way, the film mirrors the actor’s own struggles and Affleck gives one of the best performances of his career. Keep your eye out for an Oscar nomination for Affleck in the coming months. The film also manages an engaging drama centred around basketball as Affleck’s character, Jack Cunningham, a promising star in his high school days, returns to the sport to coach the new generation.
I’m thinking about ending things
Charlie Kaufman delivers a reflective look at life, our dreams and hopes, and what death brings. Adapted from the book, “I’m thinking of ending things” may be too bleak for some and Kaufman occasionally goes over the top with the theatrics; however, there is no denying that there is a master at work here. Just by looking at individual scenes, you can see Kaufman’s talent as a director from the dialogue to creative sparks of genius. You may leave this film depressed but in total awe.
Who would have thought that a TV show centred not on Original Trilogy characters but on a Mandalorian would bring together the Star Wars fandom? Well it did not only that but hooked in even the general audience with storytelling of the highest quality. And all around the world, fans fell in love with a new addition to Star Wars, Baby Yoda. This year, Disney released the second season which leaned into even more fan service while staying true to its roots. This season was slightly less consistent with some filler episodes yet without a doubt, season 2 had the best individual episodes. From a fantastic Western themed premiere to a heartfelt yet explosive finale that effectively wrapped up Mando’s journey, the show was at the top of its game.
And here are the top 5:
David Fincher strikes again in a black and white semi-biographical drama film centred around Herman J. Mankiewicz, the screenwriter of Citizen Kane. The film had the tough task of following up Gone Girl and Mank was certainly not easy to pull off yet Fincher mostly succeeds. Fincher is quite a unique director in that every film he directs feels different. Here Fincher takes aim at the the 1930s capturing the excesses and idiosyncrasies in exciting fashion with stunning cinematography, and the whole film feels like an homage to the cinema industry at large. Mank in many ways mirrors Citizen Kane (cinematography and themes) yet it stands on its own as well as being a neat companion piece. For any cinema lover, Mank is a must watch.
4. The Boys
The Boys marked Amazon’s big foray into the superhero genre but the show was anything but conventional. Taking a TV-MA rating, The Boys was violent, crude, and generally crazy but that was all part of the show’s charm. Season 1, against all odds, was a hit success for Amazon and they greenlit a second season which premiered this year. Both seasons were not just dumb superhero fare and Season 2 even more than the first leaned into politics and took aim at corporate culture. In this show, the supes were not the heroes but a group of ordinary humans, The Boys, were. Even more villainous was the corporation behind the supes, Vought. The show managed to be meta on so many levels and both seasons were downright hilarious. However, the show was also a drama putting proper emphasis on storytelling. Season 2 had its fair share of explosive large scale moments but this time around the show put a special emphasis on smaller scale character moments. This superhero fare feels like nothing else – An out of the box gambit for Amazon that has paid off massively.
Soul truly marks a return to form for Pixar. This is Pixar at its best. Soul is a beautifully curated story about life and death. “I’m thinking of ending things” might come to mind as a comparison but the two films are starkly different and each shine in their own way. For a film that children will watch, Soul delves deep into some heavy topics and has its fair share of emotional moments but ultimately it is hopeful. Soul is an inspirational film that surely touches everyone of us as it comments about how we spend our lives and we as humans wrestle with the constant notion of death. The animation is also stunning from the way the film captures the buzzing city of New York to the soul world. This is the film 2020 needed. The film has a lot of heart and hopefully can spread some optimism during these difficult times.
2. Queen’s Gambit
Another surprise hit of 2020 is The Queen’s Gambit. Probably not even the people involved thought that a limited series about chess would be the most-watched scripted limited series to date on Netflix with 62 million watching in the first 28 days. Anya Taylor Joy shines in the lead role as Beth, an orphan girl who is also an addict who goes on to become the best chess player in the world. The young actress who played Beth in the earlier episodes was also hugely impressive. A lot can be said of the show but what everyone seems to be talking about is how it managed to make Chess interesting. From the inventive way of depicting games in Beth’s mind to the drama surrounding Beth’s rise in the chess world, The Queen’s Gambit was an immensely compelling show about chess of all things.
The design of the show is also worth commenting on as it was simply stunning as the show swept its way through different eras. And that ending in Russia with a high stakes chess game during The Cold War was a genius choice. Anyone watching will surely find their interest in chess peaked and you might even find yourself getting out your old chess set.
1. Birds of Prey
No other superhero film is like Birds of Prey. That is why it is first on my list. An R rated completely bonkers Harley Quinn film featuring the Birds of Prey sounds ill advised on paper but it turned out to be one of the greats in large part due to Cathy Yan’s direction and Christina Hodson’s script. Yan and Hudson captured the zany world of the one Harley Quinn in a unique manner portraying Gotham like never before. Pulp Fiction was clearly a major influence as well as gangster films like Scorsese’s Goodfellas. DC can truly excel when directors are given free rein. A story told through the lens of Harley Quinn is fun, exhilarating, violent, and overall crazy.
Ewan McGregor turns in one of his best performances as the eccentric Black Mask. The Birds of Prey spend most of their time separate from each other but that makes the pay off in the end resonate even more. Some complained about this being too much a Harley Quinn film and not enough of a Birds of Prey film but this was intended to be merely the set for future team adventures. Unfortunately, that does not seem likely at the moment due to underwhelming box office results and there are no current plans for a sequel according to Margot Robbie. Poor marketing and the R rating probably cost the film dearly at the box office. Fans including myself however still hold out hope for a Black Canary spin off or just anything that continues this story. Hodson is next taking on the Flash film and I can’t wait to see what Yan does next whether it be DC or an original project.