Normal People (Ireland) - A beautiful, erotic and visceral look at a relationship between two young people over the course of several years. Normal People will make you pine for the emotional intensity of youth. The performances are so startlingly good that it’s impossible to not be completely wrapped up in the characters and the exquisite agony of first love.
Love and Anarchy (Sweden) - A game of dare between two office colleagues quickly escalates, challenging not only societal norms but also how they feel about each other. I could not love this binge-able Swedish rom-com series any more. It is perfect.
Industry (UK) - Lena Durham, who directed the first episode, describes Industry as “The Wolf of Wall Street meets Melrose Place”. I loved it anyway…a look at the toxic work culture of the banking industry in London, with a cast who should all be famous.
I May Destroy You (UK) - There is nothing that hasn’t been said already about I May Destroy You, probably the most discussed show of 2020. Like Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Michaela Coel (all hail!) has dismantled and re-imagined female narratives for the small screen. If you want to be inspired, read Michaela Coel’s 2020 interview about turning down Netflix’s $1 million offer for the show …she is a role model for us all.
Lover’s Rock (Dir: Steve McQueen, UK) - One of my favourite things about Steve McQueen’s sublime ‘Small Axe’ anthology film series occurs at the beginning of the Mangrove episode. It features two visual effects shots of The Westway (an overhead motorway in West London) being built. The production team would have spent a fortune on those two shots (VFX is expensive!) and it’s only people who have lived around the Ladbroke Grove area who would really understand the significance of these scenes: that all cultural life in Ladbroke Grove takes place under the shadow of The Westway. It’s such incredible attention to detail that infiltrates the entire ‘Small Axe’ anthology, particularly for me in Lover’s Rock. The immediacy of the camera-work places the viewer right there in a lounge-room sound system in Ladbroke Grove in 1980, as two young people meet on the dance-floor. The musicality of the film dictates it’s pace, it’s slow-burn action and the feeling of being in the room as young British Jamaican’s slow groove to tunes. Much has been written about the ‘Silly Games’ sequence - a 12-minute musical moment allowed to play out in the most beautiful way (heaven for an editor with a musical bent!). But I loved the ‘Kunta Kinte Dub’ scene just as much, familiar to anyone who has witnessed any untold number of rewinds at a Jamaican sound system during Notting Hill Carnival and the ensuing craziness of the crowd. Lover’s Rock is a thing of absolute beauty…without a doubt my favourite film of 2020.
Another Round (Dir: Thomas Vinterberg, Norway) - I once sat opposite Mads Mikkelsen at a Soho restaurant and accidentally drank his beer, whilst he chuckled at my drunk friends who were being inappropriately filthy. The film centres around a small group of middle-aged teachers whose stagnation in life leads them to conduct an experiment in keeping a steady blood alcohol level. The scenes of drunkenness in Another Round are so authentic that myself and my cinema-going companion decided the actors must have filmed themselves drunk to replicate this with such authenticity. Mads Mikkelsen is so captivating as an actor that he could tell me all manner of lies and I would believe every word. And the dance scene? A thing of joy and beauty…
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Dir: George C Wolfe, USA) - Like ‘Lover’s Rock’, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom has a certain poetry and musicality to its story-telling which is both riveting and beautiful. If Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman (RIP) don’t win every award for their astonishing performances, there is no justice in the world. Such poetic and sublime story-telling.
Shirley (Dir: Josephine Decker, USA) - The magnificent, perverse and riveting Shirley, a boundary-less biopic of horror writer Shirley Jackson, was one of my favourite films from the London Film Festival 2020. Elisabeth Moss and Michael Stuhlbarg’s performances are astonishing. Such an indefinable and thrilling film.
The Hunt (Dir: Craig Zobel, USA) - If like me, you grew up on slasher films in the ’80s, then social satire The Hunt will be fun and familiar territory. A group of wealthy, liberal Americans engage in the sport hunting of ‘Deplorables’. For anyone who has lived in a state of permanent alarm through the car crash of Trump-era America, it’s very cathartic viewing.
Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Dir: Céline Sciamma, France) - It is indicative of how devoid cinema is of the female gaze that Portrait of a Lady on Fire seems so exquisite and unique. This sensual portrayal of a relationship between an artist and a countess, where the observer and the observed are seamlessly intertwined, is startlingly beautiful.