Culture Fix’s Top 20 Films of 2020

Coming up with a end of year best of list for 2020’s cinematic output was always going to be a bittersweet one. On one hand, we’ve probably spent less time in a cinema than we can ever remember, missed the film festival experience, and the buzz of seeing a hotly anticipated new release with fellow humans. Yet 2020 has encouraged us to seek out smaller scale projects that have proceeded with their releases to provide moments of intrigue, engagement, and emotion in 2020, a year when we truly needed it.

Perhaps our most diverse and international end of year list, we would just like to take a moment to commend any distributor or filmmaker who released a feature, short or artistic piece of work this year whose work has entertained, stimulated, or challenged a very appreciative audience.

We haven’t ranked these in any particular order.

Matthias & Maxime

Review
Country: Canada
Director: Xavier Dolan

We said:
Xavier Dolan and Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas’ performances feel tremendously natural and unforced, gently guiding us into the narrative and capturing a multitude of rich emotion between each other. Both actors have a natural charisma and whilst their characters may frustrate with their lack of articulation regarding their feelings, their challenges feel perfectly expressed in both performances.

Liberté

Review
Country: France
Director: Albert Serra

We said:
Albert Serra, no stranger to tackling themes of darkness and debauchery in classic French society in previous feature Last Days of Louis XIV, turns his eyes to the French libertine tradition of yesteryear. Liberté (Freedom) is some of the filmmaker’s most provocative work as it provides an entrancing, voyeuristic glimpse into sadism, the fulfilment of hedonistic pleasure, and the worlds of power in control in the context of pre-revolution France.

Summer of 85

Review
Country: France
Director: François Ozon

We said:
François Ozon’s Summer of 85 sees the French filmmaker return to his more expected territory of glamorous, sexually-charged psychological drama after his hard-hitting 2018 feature By the Grace of God. The hot-blooded, hormone-fuelled Normandy set coming of age drama tackles the woozy romantic dreamlike world of a first love through a queer lens, before veering into piquant psychological territory.

The Life Ahead

Review
Country: Italy
Director: Edoardo Ponti

We said:
The Life Ahead is a stunning showcase for Sophia Loren, who delivers a late career-best performance. Matched by a turn of understated beauty from Ibrahima Gueye, Edoardo Ponti’s feature is a gorgeous character drama.

Queen of Hearts

Review
Country: Denmark
Director: May el-Toukhy

We said:
Danish melodrama Queen of Hearts is an impressive one that lulls us into expecting a tale of an older middle-aged woman lured by the temptation of a younger man, but delivers some unnerving thematic twists turning into a darker beast than initially thought. May el-Toukhy directs this feature and co-writes with Maren Louise Käehne, and is wholly unafraid to tackle uncomfortable narrative territory.

Dry Wind

Review
Country: Brazil
Director: Daniel Nolasco

We said:
Blending a magnificent visual style centred on queer aesthetics, with an investing study into same-sex desire makes Brazilian erotic-drama Vento Seco (Dry Wind) an intoxicating watch. Daniel Nolasco writes and directs this, his first narrative feature film, following hot off the tails of his 2019 documentary Mr. Leather – the aftermath of this study into the fetish world can be seen in Dry Wind in its vivid depiction of fetish culture.

Monsoon

Review
Country: UK
Director: Hong Khaou

We said:
Khaou has crafted a quiet and absorbing character study that conveys its themes in an unforced, compelling human manner. Henry Golding’s rich performance and Monsoon’s intelligently-crafted narrative showcase concepts of displacement and reconnection with a delicate fortitude, whilst beautifully capturing post-war urban Vietnam.

Pinocchio

Review
Country: Italy/France
Director: Matteo Garrone

We said:
Pinocchio is a beautifully macabre and lavish fantasy that truly transports us to another world. Well-pitched, investing performances, a fantastical and surreal Italian landscape, and full conviction to the strangeness of the source material ensure that Garrone’s adaption of Pinocchio is a firm contender for the definitive cinematic adaptation of  Collodi’s classic novel.

Mucho Mucho Amor: The Legend of Walter Mercado

Country: USA
Director: Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch

We said:
Mucho Mucho Amor introduced iconic astrologist Walter Mercado to a legion of new fans (as did Alexis Mateo) capturing the Latin eccentric’s madcap life in an absorbing and affectionate manner.

Disclosure: Trans Lives on Screen

Country: USA
Director: Sam Feder

We said:
Outlining just how much work needs to be done to improve trans representation onscreen, Disclosure is a defining as The Celluloid Closet was in 1995.

Da 5 Bloods

Country: USA
Director: Spike Lee

We said:
Pairing Vietnam-set B-Movie action heroics with a powerful social resonance highlighted through the Black Lives Matter context in which the film was released, Da 5 Bloods was an impressive, urgent release.

Saint Maud

Review
Country: UK
Director: Rose Glass

We said:
Blending darkly surreal and provocative horror with gripping character drama, Rose Glass’s debut feature Saint Maud is one of the strongest British horror films in recent memory. Bolstered by a sympathetic and engaging lead turn from Morfydd Clark and fiery support from Jennifer Ehle, the simmering tension of Saint Maud grips from the onset.

Deerskin

Review
Country: France
Director: Quentin Dupieux

We said:
Brutally comic and invigoratingly original, Deerskin is an absorbing and magnificently unpredictable ride showcasing the madcap genius of Dupieux and a gripping, unhinged and note perfect turn from Jean Dujardin as he plays a man forced to murder to please his deerskin jacket. 

The Truth

Review
Country: France
Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

We said:
Acclaimed Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda assembles a staggeringly impressive cast for his English/French language debut, with Catherine Deneuve and Juliette Binoche leading The Truth (La vérité). The two leading ladies soar in this gentle and wistful character piece, delivering an engaging take on family relationships against a backdrop of European cinema.

The Call of the Wild

Country: USA
Director: Chris Sanders

Jack London’s classic novel got the big screen treatment with Harrison Ford and a CGI pup and the results are quite impressive. Capturing a sense of whimsy and classic adventure, Call of the Wild is heartfelt, adventure fun that captures man’s relationship with dog and dog’s relationship with wild in a rousing, entertaining manner.

365 Days

Review
Country: Poland
Director: Barbara Bialowas

We said:
The narrative twists and turns with a frantic energy with many of the scenes focussed on story development half-baked, and other less important scenes exploitatively over the top. Yet 365 Days is massively entertaining and Morrone and Sieklucka engage with their presence. Bialowas’s direction lacks any form of subtlety and delivers its eroticism like a sledgehammer – but the high camp, two dimensional tone of her feature is engrossing in a so bad it’s wonderful kind of way. One thing is for certain, we’ll be first in line for a sequel.

The Lighthouse

Country: USA/Canada
Director: Robert Eggers

We said:
Robert Eggers followed up his sublime gothic horror The Witch with a more surreal tale of Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson’s lighthouse keepers gradually losing their minds. Rich roaring aesthetics paired with mystic sea-fairing surrealism resulted in a watch that thrilled, repulsed and challenged in equal measure.

End of the Century

Country: Argentina
Director: Lucio Castro

We said:
Lucio Castro’s End of the Century is packed with emotive storytelling of two lovers reconnecting by chance twenty years on was a poignant watch that pitches its emotions in an authentic, naturally heartfelt manner. Sexy and gripping with an intellectual edge to its narrative thread, End of the Century was an impressive slice of queer cinema.

Stage Mother

Country: Canada
Director: Thom Fitzgerald

Well this one caught us of guard, one of the few releases we have had the pleasure of catching in the cinema this year, Stage Mother delivered bucketloads of camp, but matched this with a queer storyline containing a gut-punching sense of heart. Seeing Jacki Weaver’s southern conservative choirmaster changing her ways and running a drag-queen packed gay bar took us to heaven – we were officially pronounced dead when Jacki launched into her rendition of Total Eclipse of the Heart.

Are We Lost Forever

Review
Country: Sweden
Director: David Färdmar

We said:
Swedish gay themed drama Are We Lost Forever began as the short No More We (which UK audiences may remember from Boys On Film 19: No Ordinary Boy). The feature from writer-director David Färdmar follows the tumultuous break-up of Adrian (Björn Elgerd) and Hampus (Jonathan Andersson), chronicling the spectrum of emotions, challenges, turmoil, and rebirth experienced from the death of a relationship.