Year-Ender | Top 15 Movies Of 2020
A year ago no one could’ve thought we would all be locked in our homes. It was a reality we lived, as crazy as it might sound. While being cooped up in our houses, many of us looked back upon our hobbies we had stopped partaking in due to busy lives. Some of us took up cooking and joined the famous challenges trending on social media, others picked up books but most of us turned to our screens -be it be a mobile screen, a television screen, or a laptop screen- for comfort and discomfort both.
The latter was usually due to the onslaught of news regarding the pandemic and how bleak the future was looking at the moment and the former was provided by films and tv shows.
Here is a list of my favourites ones including both Hollywood and Bollywood films.
15) I’m Thinking of Ending Things
This is my most controversial choice of all the list. Not that it wasn’t a good film but I’m sure everyone else will place it higher on their list of favorite films of 2020. Directed and written by Charlie Kaufman, I’m thinking of ending things is an adaptation of a horror-thriller book by Ian Reid and follows the journey of a young couple. As far as an adaptation goes, the first half of the film is perfect. It is in the last 15 minutes that Kaufman takes the liberties to change the ending of the book altogether. And that wasn’t the best decision because the last 15 minutes of the film are the most pretentious minutes in a film. If you consider yourself a pretentious cinephile, you’ll love this film and might even say that it’s among the top 5 of this year.
This was perhaps the most highly anticipated films of the year. Directed by David Fincher, a director who seldom goes wrong, Mank is the story of an alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz who is one of the credited screenplay writers of the famous ‘Citizen Kane.’ It is alleged that Citizen Kane was written by Mankiewicz but the director Orson Wells hijacked the script and named himself as one of the writers. Before Mank was released, many thought that the film would mainly talk about the relationship between Wells and Mank. However, the film upon its release showed itself to be a dramatic biopic of sorts that forgot to talk about the one thing that made it interesting.
In recent years, Bollywood is perhaps getting the hang of how to make good horror films. Last year, it was Tumbaad and this year it’s Bulbbul, a beautiful film set in the Bengal Presidency of 1901 – a British-Indian world where husbands expect their wives to be subservient to them. It is this patriarchal narrative of the film combined with the magical realism of horror that makes Bulbbul both relevant and one of the best films of this year.
80 percent of the Bollywood films that release every year are comedies and seldom do they actually make you laugh. Whenever a director or an actor is asked what is the most difficult thing to pull off, they always say comedy. It really is difficult to make people laugh and slapstick comedy can’t carry the entirety of the runtime of a Bollywood film. The film needs witty dialogues, dark humor, and great actors who have good comedic timing. And Lootcase is one of the few comedy films that has all of that. Directed by Rajesh Krishnan and written by Kapil Sawant, Lootcase will make you laugh and forget the pandemic you’re living in with its story of a working-class man, Nadan who finds a suitcase filled with 10 crores in cash. The premise is far from original but it’s the characters and their mundane lives that will make you smile for days.
11) Vishaanu – Unpaused
Vishaanu is one of the five short films in an Amazon Prime anthology named Unpaused. Directed by Avinash Arun Dhaware and written by Shubham, Vishaanu, is about a migrant family from India, that has been rendered jobless and homeless in the lockdown. It is the little moments of joy in the film that will make your heart melt and it’s the subtle storytelling wherein a scene where not much has happened but the implications are huge, will make you realize just how privileged you are and how you take so much for granted.
10) Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Many would argue that there are too many teenage coming-of-age films, and perhaps there are. But seldom does a film gets the vulnerability of being a teenager right. Never Rarely Sometimes Always is one of the few rare ones that perfectly depicts the teenage girl of today, and with all the joy and pain that comes with being one.
09) The Half of It
I promise this is the last teen film on this list. There were so many ways in which this film could’ve gone wrong but surprisingly it never did. The Half of It follows the story of a shy, introverted Asian nerd who helps a jock woo a girl. Wrapped in the skin of a teen rom-com, the film is at its core a coming of age story. Also, there’s a rendition of a Bollywood scene in this film and you’d be amazed at how smoothly it’s done.
Countless films have been made on the American Dream but only a few of them realize how fleeting that dream can be. Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari doesn’t play into the romanticized depiction of the dream but rather shows the hardships of an immigrant family and showcases the isolation one feels when they’re different from others and away from home.
07) Athlete A
I have the lockdown to thank for opening my heart and mind to documentaries. A year ago I was amongst the people who found documentaries boring, but now I might like watching them more than films. A good documentary will move you more than a good film. And a good investigative documentary is 100 times more thrilling to watch than a good thriller. Maybe it’s because documentaries aren’t disguised in fiction. Netflix’s Athlete A is one of the great investigative thrillers of our time. It follows the biggest sexual abuse scandal in U.S. sports history and never once does is its tone accusatory or shaming the victims in any way. The last scene of this documentary is the most empowering moment in the entirety of cinema.
06) The Sound of Metal
I didn’t realize how important sound design is when it comes to making a film until I saw The Sound of Metal. This film depends on sound and its use of sound design is the best in recent memory. Riz Ahmed is phenomenal in his portrayal of a drummer slowly turning deaf.
The premise of this film is the same as many Pakistani dramas, but no Pakistani drama could ever portray the sense of self and worth the main female lead has in this film. Sir is a hesitant love story between a maid and her upper-class employer however it doesn’t scream about inequality, or class divide but instead focuses on the little moments. The biggest strength of Sir is the protagonist’s character, Ratna. She may be a maid but she’s also graceful, strong and above all she carries a sense of dignity many of the so-called independent rich ladies she encounters don’t. It’s a refreshing change, because in our dramas and films treat the less fortunate the way we treat them: as just service-providing machines; machines that should stay silent and invisible, machines that should work and evaporate.
04) Dick Johnson is Dead
This is the second and the last documentary on this list. Dick Johnson is dead follows the director Kirsten Johnson killing her father again and again. I know it sounds weird and it is. But the documentary is also soulful and emotional in a way that will make you want to call your parents after you’re done watching it. The documentary encaptures grief in a way no other film or documentary has been able to do. The only purpose behind this documentary is to show how we hope that our grief for our parents is inextricably linked to the light of their living rather than the process of their dying.
If I could screen one Indian film in Pakistan it would be Thappad. Directed by Anubhav Sinha and starring Tapsee Pannu, Thappad follows the story of a housewife who is slapped by her loving and doting husband in front of an entire party. This one slap makes all the sexist and misogynistic behavior the protagonist had been unconsciously ignoring more prominent and she decides to file for a divorce. It’s a simple plot and there were so many ways that the film could’ve become preachy or taken aside. But Thappad stays neutral. Though the characters and the acting in this film are immaculate, the biggest strength of this film was the portrayal of the male lead. He’s not the token bad husband who resorts to domestic violence. He is not demonized but is dismissive. He is dismissive of his wife’s sacrifices and her hard work. He is as many men are a product of a culture that normalizes dismissive gestures and makes him the center of attention. He is educated, respects his wife but he doesn’t view her as his equal. There’s this one moment in the film where he justifies the slap by saying he was under stress because of his job, to which his wife replies that what about the stress she feels every day doing her job as a wife and a daughter in law.
02) The Trail of the Chicago 7
Give me drama, good dialogues, and court scenes, and I’m sold. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that I loved Aaron Sorkin’s directorial, The Trial of the Chicago 7. The film is a courtroom drama re-enacting the trial of seven people charged with conspiring public outrage at the 1968 Democratic National Convention held in Chicago. The film re-opened the conversation that nothing really has changed; the police do serve the people, but only the people on top and the law is bent and stretched to cater to the wealthy. From a technical point of view, this film might not have even made this list, but the strength of The Trail of the Chicago 7 lies in the sentiments. And Aaron Sorkin’s is nothing if not sentimental. Also, out of all the films on this list, this is the most relevant one. Honestly, the timing couldn’t get any better as multiple countries are experiencing some sort of a protest movement. I recommend this film to anyone who needs a wakeup call and remains apolitical in an environment where the system is rigged by the wealthy 1%.
01) Eeb Allay Ooo!
This was the first film I watched in the lockdown and I loved every minute of it. Since then, I’ve rewatched it 2 times and every time I notice a new detail. I don’t if so much of subtext was intended or it’s just there naturally, but Eeb Allay Ooo is one of the best satires I’ve ever seen. Directed by Prateek Vas, the film is a satire on the lives of migrant workers in India. The protagonist is a migrant worker who finds himself with a job that requires scaring off monkeys. On the surface, it’s just a story of a guy who isn’t very good at scaring away monkeys. But the movie is serious about putting us in a specific time and place, in the India of the now. Nationalism is king, and crowds gather around a parade of military might. Meanwhile, there are 30 million jobs, but not one in Delhi for our poor hero. He’s kind of a dolt, sure, but certainly, he deserves a chance to keep his family fed. All our hero really wants to do is hold on to a job. But he is poor, and he never had the opportunity to become qualified for the jobs that are out there. He’s just a pest, really, and everyone’s just trying to scare him away.