2020 was a strange year for the film industry. Covid-19 closed the theatres; a number of movies appeared first on streaming services like Amazon and Netflix.
We’ve selected a dozen of the year’s releases for our readers. Not all of them are Oscar material, but they all combine artistry, engagement and reasonably humane values which put them a cut above the rest.
We’ve done our best to cater for all ages and interests. No doubt we’ve left out some of your favourites – please leave comments with your suggestions.
Nobody in Hollywood does the weary, noble, self-sacrificing leader of men shtick better than Tom Hanks. Greyhound is a thoroughly satisfying World War II movie about an American destroyer escorting a convoy of merchant marine ships through the U-boat infested waters of the North Atlantic. A thoroughly enjoyable film about ordinary men who show extraordinary courage and endurance. Rotten Tomatoes 79%
In the Vast of Night
Baby Boomers will probably remember a classic TV series called The Twilight Zone. This low-budget film about alien abductions does a fantastic job of recreating its eerie and unsettling atmosphere. In a small town in late 1950s New Mexico, a teenage switchboard operator and a young DJ on local radio hear a strange noise which seems to be linked to mysterious past events. It sounds simple, but it keeps you on the edge of your seat. Rotten Tomatoes 96%
Two vagabonds, on the run from vengeful hunters in the 1820s Northwest of the United States, dream of striking it rich. But their hopes of making a fortune comes to rely on the secret use of a landowner’s prized dairy cow. Complications ensue. A film which turns sharp, small observations into a warm-hearted story about friendship. Rotten Tomatoes 95%
I initially thought that this was a story about the jungles of West Africa. But it turned out to be a Disney dog story about a Siberian Husky in the frozen wastes of Alaska. In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic struck the isolated town of Nome. A dog-trainer and sledder, played by Willem Dafoe, volunteers to mush his way over 600 miles of snow to get a life-saving serum. The lead dog, Togo, is eager but old and nearly dies of exhaustion after saving his master and the other dogs time after time. This charming film is based on a true story. Rotten Tomatoes 92%
The Invisible Man
After staging his own suicide, a crazed scientist uses his power to become invisible to stalk and terrorize his ex-wife. When the police refuse to believe her, she takes matters into her own hands and fights back in this feminist update of H.G. Wells’s classic horror story. Rotten Tomatoes 91%
This film about the futility of the First World War was nominated for ten Oscars, and only received three of the minor awards. But it is a magnificent story about two young British soldiers’ mission to stop a regiment from being slaughtered in a hopeless assault on enemy lines. It is arty and verges occasionally on surrealism, but keeps you interested up to the very last minute. Rotten Tomatoes 89%
Teenage elf brothers Ian and Barley embark on a magical quest to spend one more day with their late father in this Pixar film. Their quest is filled with cryptic maps, impossible obstacles and unimaginable discoveries. When Mom finds out that they are missing, she teams up with the legendary manticore to bring them back home. A likeable family comedy. Rotten Tomatoes 87%
It’s hard to make a disaster movie which satisfies the critics. And there’s seldom a lot of originality in stories about a countdown to Apocalypse. But Greenland is good popcorn entertainment. The hero, his estranged wife and their young son seek sanctuary as a planet-killing comet hurtles toward Earth. Amid terrifying reports of widespread disaster, they experience the best and worst in humanity. Rotten Tomatoes 73%
To spare her ailing father from service in the Imperial Army, a fearless young woman disguises herself as a man to battle northern invaders in China. This is a live-action remake of Disney’s beloved cartoon with plenty of heart and thrilling combat scenes. Rotten Tomatoes 73%
Director Christopher Nolan is very original but he is fixated on manipulating time. In Tenet he tries to improve on the James Bond spy genre while indulging his obsession. The special effects are impressive, the villain is truly villainous, the stakes are as high as can be (annihilation of the planet) and the pace is unrelenting. Exciting but very cerebral. Rotten Tomatoes 70%
The Croods: A New Age
Searching for a safer habitat, the prehistoric Crood family discovers an idyllic site that meets all of its needs. Unfortunately, they must also learn to live with the Bettermans — a family which is a couple of steps above them on the evolutionary ladder. As tensions between them rise, a new threat draws the two clans together. An enjoyable animated film for the kids. Rotten Tomatoes 75%
The Social Dilemma
Tech experts sound the alarm on the dangerous effects of social networking in this excellent documentary. After watching it, you will toss your smartphone out into the rubbish bin. Actually I know that you won’t, but at least you’ll understand how the big social media companies are manipulating you. Rotten Tomatoes 87%