Arts

Favourites from 2020's best of the big and small screens

With 2020 almost over, David Roy takes a look back over the past 12 months and picks his favourite films of the year, along with a couple of TV choices which helped him survive lockdown

Robert Pattinson and John David Washington in Tenet

DESPITE many of the biggest releases planned for 2020 being postponed – we're looking at you, Mr Bond – there was still plenty of film fun to enjoy at the cinema between lockdowns, or indeed at home from the comfort of your own sofa.

In fact, home viewing has been such a big part of 2020 that, for the first time, my annual end-of-year favourites list has been expanded to include a couple of the top TV shows which have helped yours truly survive this annus horribilis...

TENET

CHRISTOPHER Nolan's time/brain bending thriller was one of the few 'tentpole' movies to actually make it to the big screen in this strangest of years. Released at the end of the first lockdown, experiencing this slick, big budget spectacle as part of an eager stir-crazed and socially distanced audience was the perfect reminder of the cinema experience at its best.

Does it make sense? Possibly not – but excellent central performances from stars John David Washington, Robert Pattinson and Kenneth Branagh, steadily mounting tension and superbly staged set-pieces more than compensate for any incoherence. Roll on the sequel/prequel.

CALM WITH HORSES

THIS excellent west of Ireland-set indie crime drama had the bad luck to be released just as Covid-19 hit in early March, but thankfully people can now catch up with it on Netflix.

Cosmo Jarvis gives a knockout performance as Arm, a boxer turned enforcer for a crime family. This soulful brute dreams of a quiet life with his ex-girl and young autistic son, but his masters – including the devious young gangster Dympna, played by Barry Keogh, and cold-blooded crime boss Paudi (Ned Dennehy) – have other, murderous ideas.

This auspicious debut feature from director Nick Rowland is a gritty, affecting gem.

THE LIGHTHOUSE

TWO grizzled blokes going slowly mad in a lighthouse, in black and white: It might not exactly scream "must-see feature", but cerebral horror The Lighthouse was definitely worth watching, especially since those aforementioned blokes were portrayed by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson (whose Twilight era teen heart-throb status now seems like some sort of Mandela effect, given his pointedly offbeat post-franchise career).

Directed by Robert 'The VVitch' Eggers in typically unsettling style, The Lighthouse delights in ensuring its audience shares in the growing psychological discomfort/discombobulation of characters trapped in close quartered squalor. Ideal lockdown fare.

SAINT MAUD

THIS chilling, slow-burning psychological horror from director Rose Glass centres on meek, devoutly religious home hospice nurse Maud (a superb Morfydd Clark) who comes to believe she has been instructed from upon high to help terminally ill avant garde dancer and atheist Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) to repent her sins.

However, it seems that the timid and achingly vulnerable Maud may be in the grip of some sort of psychosis characterised by visions and physical, sexually charged moments of religious fervour. Dread builds steadily towards Saint Maud's shattering climax as the tormented soul increasingly cedes control to her 'divine' directions, with terrifying consequences.

PARASITE

UPON first watch, director Bong Joon-ho's masterfully staged Oscar-winning ensemble comedy/horror didn't quite live up to the endless hype which preceded its belated UK and Ireland release back in February.

However, this devilishly funny tale of a poor South Korean hustlers who slowly infiltrate the lives and home of an unsuspecting wealthy couple was still a hugely enjoyable watch and certainly one of this year's best films, which no doubt prompted many to go back and investigate Bong Joon-ho's other work such as Snowpiercer, Okja and The Host during lockdown.

With a new Black & White Edition now available to watch at home, perhaps it's time for a repeat viewing.

THE ASSISTANT

SET during one single day in the 'behind the scenes' world of movie production, this short, stark drama from writer/director Kitty Green about a woman's psychologically abusive relationship with her boss is very much the product of the #metoo era.

Indeed, this unseen ogre is clearly modelled on shamed Miramax founder Harvey Weinstein, perpetrating a litany of unsavoury/illegal activities for his young, long-suffering and frighteningly powerless assistant Jane (the brilliant Jenifer Garner) to 'manage', much to her increasing emotional torment.

The palpable passive aggression simmering onscreen – particularly in a stand-out scene featuring Succession's Matthew MacFadyen as a reptilian HR mediator – conjures an oppressive atmosphere guaranteed to make you clench.

BILL & TED FACE THE MUSIC

OK, SO it may not have been the most triumphant return for our now middle aged time travelling chums that we'd all hoped for, but somehow the very fact that Bill & Ted Face The Music actually managed to get released this year at all felt like cause for celebration.

Despite its script, special effects and certain key performances being somewhat lacking in awesomeness, B&TFTM's big dumb heart was so obviously in the right place that it felt kind of bogus to be too critical – especially when it was worth watching just for the return of Death, William Sadler's hooded harvester of souls turned bass player extraordinaire.

Party on, dudes.

THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT

WHO needs movies when you have a 'limited series' as good as this to binge on? Just kidding, but the fact remains that this Netflix adaptation of the novel by Walter Tevis (whose works also inspired big screen hits The Hustler, The Man Who Fell To Earth and The Color of Money) about a troubled chess prodigy was one of the best dramas on any screen this year.

Top drawer performances by Anna Taylor Joy, Marielle 'yes, that one' Heller and Thomas Brodie-Sangster, incredible period production design and a snappy script by writer/director Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Logan) made The Queen's Gambit a binge-friendly delight. Check, and mate.

THE MANDALORIAN (SERIES 2)

THIS is the way... to do Star Wars. Yes, we can now finally admit that pretty much every new addition to the Star Wars universe post-Return of The Jedi has been varying degrees of awful – with the honourable exception of Gareth Edwards' excellent prequel Rogue One – because they've all been rumbled as joyless, planned-by-committee exercises in flashy mediocrity by Jon Favreau's endlessly delightful TV show for Disney Plus.

Centred on the adventures of its titular masked bounty hunter (Pedro Pascal) and his adorable tiny side-kick The Child, it looks amazing, the writing offers a perfect mix of humour, action and emotional heft and the ongoing second series is even better than the last. Plus, it has Werner Herzog in it.

Essential Friday night viewing.

SCHITT'S CREEK (SERIES 6)

THIS year would definitely have been much more unbearable without regular doses of this excellent sitcom available on Netflix to help salve the soul.

Its simple premise – family of rich, vapid LA idiots lose their money and are forced to move into a dilapidated motel in a small town with a silly name, where they gradually learn how to be human beings – pays huge dividends, in a show so smartly written and brilliantly performed that you'll even come to enjoy its unabashed sentimentality.

Don't let the cringey title put you off: it's really good Schitt (sorry).

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