Favourite films of 2020
By Suzie Beckley and Eilis Rooney
With our sofas replacing the plush red seat of a cinema, 2020 was a different (to put it mildly) year for film. With fewer new releases, we took the opportunity to seek out some older hidden gems. Here we round up just a few of our favourite watches from this year, both old and new.
Waves was the first film I saw at the Watershed in 2020. Wednesday 23rd January. I had no real expectations for it, I didn’t even know what the story was about. To be completely honest, I saw that it was distributed by A24 and I bought myself and two friends tickets. Flash forward 2 hours later, Sadie, Isa and I turn round to each other, faces wet with tears and eyes red from trying to hold them back. Directed, written and co-produced by Trey Edward Shults, Waves is a film in two acts. The first follows the son of a middle-class, African-American family. Put under too much pressure by his disciplinary father, he finally snaps. The echoes of his actions are felt by his sister, whom we follow in the second act. The cast will contain names you’d recognise - Kelvin Harrison Jr., Lucas Hedges (an A24 favourite), Taylor Russel, Alexa Demie, Renée Elise Goldsberry, and Sterling K. Brown. Their performances are faultless, hitting you where it hurts. Pulled through the story by the dynamism of the camera, the audience is at the mercy of the ebb and flow of this family’s emotions and experiences.
Céline Sciamma has risen to the international spotlight through her most recent masterpiece, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but I have yet to meet someone who has seen Tomboy. Released in 2011, it follows the story of Laure, a young girl who struggles to identify with her biological gender. What her mother doesn’t know is that she is in fact a he. This tear-jerker (wow, there really is a theme to my favourite films) follows his story, Mickaël, on his journey to discovering himself through the help of his new friends and his little sister. The simplicity and silence of Céline Sciamma’s storytelling is more dramatic than any special effects, louder than any speech, and the empathy she draws from her audiences is unlike anything I’ve experienced from other filmmakers.
Tampopo is a struggling chef whose dream is to create the perfect noodle soup. Dubbed a “ramen western”, a japanese equivalent to the Spaghetti Western, Tampopo’s rise to noodle fame and fortune is interspersed with (often raunchy) food-related sketches - which although unrelated to the main narrative - establish this film as a light-hearted love letter to all things edible. Blending Western tropes, comedy, and the visual pleasures of food is no easy feat but this odd and unique blend somehow creates a timeless piece of cinema. For all the foodies, watch this with noodles in hand - popcorn was not an adequate substitute.
This documentary follows Sandi Tan, a filmmaker and critic, as she traces the story of Shirkers - a film she shot with her friends as teenagers in Singapore back in 1992 - whose footage all mysteriously went missing. In a mix of whodunnit and nostalgic reflections, Tan narrates her upbringing, her early love of film shared with her friends, and the painstaking loss of the Shirkers footage which has haunted her life and career. What is most intriguing are the clips of her old footage whose pastel hues and surreal imagery create a completely unique cinematic world. As many of the interviewees recognise, what could have been a groundbreaking work of cult cinema in Singapore and globally has been relegated to the margins of film history. This documentary occupies an important space in finally giving a voice to her lost film.
Pixar’s latest animated adventure sees middle school jazz band teacher Joe (voiced by Jamie Foxx) play cat and mouse with his soul after a near-death experience. Joe finds himself - or his soul - exiting his body and through a series of accidents in the Great Before, the precursor to life where souls are trained before entering life on earth. Whilst this could all be interpreted as a tad too meta, there is comedic aplomb in the shape of Richard Ayoade as Jerry, a soul counsellor, and there is enough tongue-in-cheek energy to strike the right kind of balance between (literal) soul-searching and slapstick humour. Not to mention its impeccable jazz score which accompanies Joe through the streets of New York and in his adventures in the Great Before, breathing life into his love of music. Soul’s real magic, however, lies in its attempts to answer questions that cinema often tries to tackle, but that we’ll never know. This is definitely one to watch in January - asking some tricky existential questions but a feel-good romp nonetheless.
Stills from Waves (A24, 2020), Tomboy (Canal+, 2011), Tampopo (Tōhō, 1985), Shirkers (Titmouse Inc, 2018) and Soul (Pixar, 2020).