By Abbie Kean
2020 was a lost year for mostly every single person on the planet. It chewed up and spat out all of our plans, from holidays to parties to simply hugging your best friend. The coronavirus pandemic also had a severe impact on the film industry and the art of cinema in general. Since the cinemas were forced to close their doors last March, countless movies have been delayed and those that were released had to rely on the loyalty of viewers to make any impact. For me, there are ten movies in particular that, throughout 2020 (and not just the pandemic) that have been overlooked, cast aside and not savoured as the magnificent pieces of beautiful artwork that they are. That may appear as me being overly passionate, but if 2020 taught us anything, it is to admire the things we love as loudly and passionately as we possibly can. Here is my list of some of those things that I love, that I feel were not loved enough in the year 2020.
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Release date: 25th January 2020
Director: Radha Blank
The Forty-Year-Old Version saw the powerhouse that is Radha Blank deliver not just her directorial debut, but also a debut that she wrote and starred in. Making it look easy, Blank was able to convey a story, that was loosely based on her own life, surrounding a woman (Radha) who is a playwright and teacher nearing her 40th birthday, who believes the only way she can salvage her voice as an artist by becoming a rapper. The film is a hilarious, heart-breaking and honest portrayal of the reality of both the messiness and beauty that is life, and shows just how impossible it can be to navigate that as a woman who has so any expectations placed upon her due to society’s issues around women aging. The Forty- Year Old Version is a masterpiece in its ability to tell the truth in new and enlightening ways. This movie did not receive anywhere near the amount of credit it deserved in 2020 so I can only hope we will be seeing much more from Radha Blank in the years to come. Years where her talent will be honoured in the way she deserves.
Release date: 27th January 2020
Director: Remi Weekes
His House is a horror unlike any other. Starring the incomparable Sope Dirisu and the impeccable Wunmi Mosaku, the film tells the story of a refugee couple who have fled to England to escape the conflict in their home country of Sudan. This is a horror unlike any other as it exposes the reality of the existing horrors of loss, anti-immigrant discrimination and the trauma that refugees are left with when forced to watch other innocent people dying trying to make it to a better life. This tale of the harrowing torture of survivors guilt takes you on an exquisite, suffocating journey that countless individuals face each and every day. The important issues highlighted in this movie are enough reason to watch this breath-taking nightmare fuelled film, but the acting really is another. Giving some of the best performances of 2020, these actors and the movie itself were harshly overlooked in 2020. As we carry forward into this new year, we should be looking to movies like this to face up to the real-life terror that people face within the UK’s immigration system but also to learn from the mistakes and do better. Above all else, this is a film that stays with you for a long time after viewing, and I just wish it had been given more credit so more people could have experienced the same thing.
Release date: 27th March 2020
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Vivarium is a creepy but brilliantly clever psychological horror that portrays the story of a couple, played by Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, who become trapped in a suburban neighbourhood home and follows their labyrinth- like journey trying to escape. It highlights the reality of how no matter how hard you try to smother life, life can smother you back even more. It is a simple but wild movie, with an ability to feel insanely real but also very sci-fi. Vivarium leaves you feeling numb and lost, just like its characters, but I think that’s part of why it’s so brilliant. 2020 was the year where most of us were trapped within our own lives, unable to escape. The suffocation of the suburban reality is one audiences could definitely have related to last year, and so I think it is sad that it did not receive the spotlight it deserved. There are valuable lessons and harsh truths to face while watching this mind-blowing piece of film, and I still think now, as we are all starting to escape our quarantine bubbles, that this is a story worth watching.
Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always
Release date: 13th May 2020
Director: Eliza Hittman
Never? Rarely? Sometimes? Always? These are questions that face 17-year-old Autumn, played by Sidney Flanigan, as she seeks out an abortion that she had to travel miles out of her home town for because she could not safely and legally access one where she lives. This powerful and honest story is an accurate on-screen representation of the real-life reality of so many young women and non-binary individuals across the world. Seeing what the character has to endure just to access something that should be her human right is unbearable and intensely frustrating. Eliza Hittman has done a magnificent job of telling it like it is with this film- simple, raw and honest film-making that has the ability to move audiences and spark real and important conversations. I sincerely hope you will watch this movie and tell everyone you know to watch it. I mourn the fact that this was not watched by millions on the big screen in 2020 and the fact that I could not experience it with my best friends, the way the characters in the movie experience such a massive life choice with no one but their best friend by their side, is something that deeply pains me. However, movies like this were very common in 2020, and that is a sign of something far more important and exciting for the film industry than I could have ever imagined. So let’s hope for more of that as cinemas begin to open again this year.
Release date: 4th June 2020
Director: David Freyne
Dating Amber is a relatable, hilarious and stunning exploration of friendship, sexuality and the freedom that comes with living your truth. Set in Ireland in the mid-90s, young Eddie and Amber, played by Fionn O’Shea and Lola Petticrew, establish a fake relationship in order to hide the fact that he is gay and she is a lesbian. The two young actors have an exquisite chemistry and are so unbelievable talented in portraying the real range of emotions and complications that come with teenage life in a stiflingly boring and often judgmental environment. This is a story of love, acceptance and the power of following your dreams, no matter where or who you are. I know that so many cinemagoers would have left their seats after watching this movie, feeling seen and understood. This movie is one of the best, in my opinion, LGBTQ+ movies of our generation and I sincerely hope people of all sexualities, genders and existences can watch this movie and feel the way I felt when I saw it. Again, besides the frustration that comes with this movie not getting the recognition it deserves, is the knowledge that stories like this are being told and countless individuals who love cinema as much as I do, can see themselves and their stories finally being told on the big screen.
Release date: 4th July 2020
Director: Alex Thompson
Saint Frances is a beautifully touching modern story that follows a young, complicated woman called Bridget, played by Kelly O’Sullivan, who is hired to look after 6-year-old Frances, played by Ramona, Edith Williams, after going through a recent abortion. This messy but brilliantly sarcastic and loving character discovers friendship and love in the most unanticipated places as she goes on this journey to accept herself, flaws and all. Frances, despite being so young, is an old soul with the ability to influence positive change in Bridget’s life, as she gives her life purpose and meaning. This uplifting film is first and foremost essentially human and incredibly honest and moving. For me, the best stories are the ones that touch us deep inside and shine a light on parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed. This was one of those movies. With feminist themes and clever portrayals of the realities of same-sex marriages and adoption, this is a movie that’s impact and influence will last for a long time to come. It breaks my heart that people did not give this movie the attention it deserved in 2020, but I for one will not stop talking about it for many years to come.
Release date: 14th August 2020
Director: Shannon Murphy
In Shannon Murphy’s directorial debut, Babyteeth tells the heart-shattering but also hilariously sweet story of Milla, played by Eliza Scanlen, who is a seriously ill teenager that falls for a small-time drug dealer called Moses, played by Toby Wallace. This nuanced tale of pain, love, addiction and family is one of the most stunning movies to come out of 2020. It has the ability to make you laugh out loud one minute and then be weeping into a tissue the next. It is simple, unironic and gives a new and clever way to tell stories of loss and illness. Eliza Scanlen is sensational, as always, and I wish her performance in this movie had been given the credit it deserved. It is an Australian, indie coming-of age drama that would be understood and loved in any household, in any place and time. It is one of the most honestly gorgeous love stories of our generation and I can only hope other people can experience this movie in all its glory as soon as possible.
Release date: 10th September 2020
Director: Rachel Lee Goldenberg
Unpregnant is another movie that came out of 2020 that follows two friends crossing state lines so that one of them can access an abortion, as it is illegal for her to where she lives. This one however, has more of a teen- buddy comedy feel to it. Veronica, played by Haley Lu Richardson and her former best friend Bailey, played by Barbie Ferreira, embark on a road trip to Mexico after Veronica discovers she is pregnant and that she is unable to access an abortion in her home state. It delivers a similar message to previously mentioned movies, whilst still having the light and airy familiarity that comes with coming of age comedies. It manages to leave vital lasting thoughts, while being warm and entertaining at the same time. Covering topics like this doesn’t always have to be harrowing and dark, and this movie proves that. Sadly, I didn’t hear a lot of discussion of this movie at all in 2020 and only recently discovered it myself. I urge you to watch this, laugh along and also learn from its vital and obvious messaging.
On The Rocks
Release date: 2nd October 2020
Director: Sofia Coppola
Despite being one of the more anticipated movies of 2020, On The Rocks was still met with little reception compared to what it deserved in my opinion. Starring Rashida Jones as Laura and Bill Murray as her father Felix, the movie follows the pair attempting to reconnect as they investigate whether Laura’s husband (played by Marlon Wayans) is cheating on her. It is a comedy that explores aging, marriage and the complexity of the relationships between parents and their grown children. An A24 film with a cinematic feel, this movie filled with stellar acting performances from both stars respectively, is one I feel should have been given far more respect than it was. It was a very new move from Sofia Coppola and for me, it definitely paid off. 2020 was a year where a lot of us were (and still are) stuck in confined environments with our family members and this movie is a very clever examination of these bonds and how they impact us as fully formed adults. A must watch, so please do.
Release date:15th November 2020
Director: Steve McQueen
Arguably one of the best movies to be released in any form during 2020, Mangrove was the first instalment in Steve McQueen’s five-part anthology called Small Axe, which debuted on the BBC late last year. Mangrove told the true story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of Black British campaigners who were tried on charges of incitement to riot after demonstrating against police harassment of the Mangrove restaurant in London. The trial that followed was the first judicial acknowledgment of racial discrimination within the Metropolitan Police. This was an incredible, impassioned account of real-life discrimination, life and the reality of the treatment towards Black people at the hands of police in the UK, a story often forgotten. Steve McQueen is one of the most talented directors that exists in the film industry today, and his ability to tell stories that matter and that are so often overlooked in history is incomparable. Despite the anthology as a whole and the Lovers Rock instalment in particular being highly regarded, as it should, I believe Mangrove as movie in itself was overlooked. The directorial skill, the acting performances from cast members like Malachi Kirby, Letitia Wright and Shaun Parkes and the opportunity to learn such an important part of British history, are only a few of the reasons this film is one of the best to come out of 2020. I implore you to watch this and give it the immense levels of attention it deserves.
Those were my top 10 most overlooked movies of 2020. Watch them, learn from them, love them. As the world begins to open up again and the prospect of going to watch a movie in an actual cinema seems more and more realistic, I hope 2021 will bring the lifeforce back to the film industry. I want cinemagoers to be able to feel movies this year and not just watch them. These movies from 2020, I believe, will still have their day. As great art always does.