A look back at 2020's films
After a year of uncertainty: opening, closing, delaying and postponing, I’ve been settling myself by looking back fondly at the films that managed to break through. Last week, I wrote about Modern Films’ new streaming platform, and the rise of online screenings and access to film. So let’s continue the positivity, and look at some of this year’s cinematic wonders.
Though it seems like decades ago, it’s important to remember that the start of 2020 was one of the most promising quarters for independent cinema (at least in my own, relatively short memory). There were bustling, busy screenings of Armundo Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield’, a delightful film overflowing with charm that’s the perfect thing to revisit this Christmas. We were also packing out screenings with pounding hearts watching Uncut Gems - directed by the Sadie brothers, who are in my opinion, some of the most exciting American filmmakers out there. Then there was The Lighthouse, from another of the US’ most promising newcomers Robert Eggers. That’s a film I plan to rewatch soon, revisiting all of its deranged isolation with new, experienced eyes. And of course, Parasite. Bong Joon-Ho’s thrilling, genre-bending, stunner of a film was the first international feature to win the top prize at this year’s Academy Awards. It was a genuinely landmark moment that pointed to a hopeful cultural shift. I remember watching it in the Showroom’s screen 4, which seats 282 people. It was sold out - the first time I have ever seen those numbers for any foreign language film. I didn’t realise then that it would be the last time I would experience something collectively for the rest of the year. I naively hoped that it would spell the beginning of many such screenings for the year ahead, giving people a renewed love for shared viewing. Nevertheless, it probably remains one of my favourite cinema experiences to date, with so many people sharing in shock, laughter, horror, awe and at the end of it all, applause.
And then, a pandemic. The shuttering of cinemas all over the country. Despair! Many of the films we had programmed for March and April went online or disappeared into 2021 and I’ll admit, I lost touch with cinema for weeks. I had been so excited for films like Rocks - which remains one of my highlights of this year, and which we did manage to screen come September - that I found the disappointment crushing. But despite all that, films still managed to find me. I was completely taken aback by Kitty Green’s quiet-but-striking debut The Assistant, and Chinonye Chukwu’s devastating Clemency. Then in November, Steve McQueen delivered not one, but five incredible films, as part of his Small Axe series with the spirit-lifting Lover’s Rock being named Sight & Sound’s Best Film of the Year. Those five films are a gift, delivered to us for free on television! And finally, we can’t forget that some of cinema’s heavyweights (McQueen included) also treated us to new work to help us see this year through - Charlie Kaufman offered I’m Thinking of Ending Thing’, Spike Lee sent Da Five Bloods and David Fincher just released Mank, all available on Netflix if you haven’t seen them yet.
So, it doesn’t all have to be all doom and gloom. Cinema didn’t stop this year, and considering all of that made it through in 2020, I can only imagine what next year will bring.
This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 17 December 2020.