The pandemic has paralysed the global film industry, but the year has still left us with plenty to talk about. Film Editor David Mouriquand rounds up the films that defined our year. The only criteria: that they were released, or available to stream, in Germany in 2020.
A modern classic
There have been innumerable adaptations of Louisa May Alcott’s forward-thinking novel both for the big and small screens, but Greta Gerwig’s sophomore directorial effort stands out as the strongest. This year’s Little Women is a fiercely intelligent and beautifully romantic film, an instant classic of the costume drama genre.
The Invisible Man
A horrific surprise
Saw mastermind Leigh Whannell surprised everyone with his reinvention of H.G. Wells’ 1897 classic novel by making it better than anyone could have hoped. Powered by a harrowing performance from Elisabeth Moss, the story blends sci-fi with gaslighting horror and updates the story of a translucent stalker with timely social commentary.
The homegrown hit
So much could have gone wrong with this contemporary twist on Alfred Döblin’s famed 1929 modernist novel, but to Burhan Qurbani’s considerable credit, this shrewdly constructed adaptation never buckles under the cultural weight of the text and its previous cinematic takes. It’s a masterful and frequently moving odyssey with ambition and thematic richness to spare.
French eccentric Quentin Dupieux’s delicious deadpan slasher is as deceptively smart as it is hilarious. Fantastically renamed Monsieur Killerstyle in Germany, it’s a pitch-black comedy that follow one middle-aged man’s sociopathic quest to make his deerskin jacket the only jacket in the world…because his jacket told him to destroy all other jackets. As macabre and loopy as it sounds.
I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
An existential headtrip
Netflix bagged the new Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) this year, and to resume the film in a logline is a fool’s errand. Safe to say this is a crescendoing headtrip that defies any single reading, blurring the line between reality and fantasy in order to embrace all of life’s questions in a surreal, unhinged and thrillingly unique way.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
One of 2020’s most vital dramas
Eliza Hittman won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize for her third film, which addresses the topic of a woman’s right to choose with great veracity and empathy. Despite the troubling reality of reproductive rights in America today, the film steers clear of any overt moralising or political messages. Hittman prefers an immersive human drama over polemic. The results are devastating and show how subtly she continues to chronicle American youth.
The Forty-Year-Old Version
A gorgeous satire
For her feature debut, Radha Blank writes, directs and stars as a down-on- her-luck playwright who tries to salvage her creative voice by embarking on a rapping career. The Forty-Year-Old Version is a funny, semi-autobiographical story that channels early Spike Lee and addresses the compromises black artists have to make in a predominantly white industry. Having done the festival rounds, it ended up on… you guessed it… Netflix.
A swoon-worthy Australian gem
This heartachingly powerful debut feature by Shannon Murphy is so much more than the The Fault In Our Stars coming-of-age tearjerker-by-numbers its premise initially suggested. Babyteeth is a strikingly fresh variation on familiar terrain that rips your heart out in all the right ways and benefits from one of this year’s best soundtracks.
This Netflix release is a bone-chilling, thoughtful and stunningly disorientating horror-thriller from writer-director Remi Weekes. Reminiscent of Babak Anvari’s Under The Shadow because of the rich social commentary at the heart of its narrative, His House deftly marries a dread-suffused atmosphere and typical horror beats with well-drawn characters, themes of trauma and survivor’s guilt, all while offering an urgent allegory about the refugee experience.
Netflix’s best awards contender
For his first feature film since 2014’s Gone Girl, David Fincher went over to Netflix for his newest effort, and it represents the streaming giant’s most promising bid for Oscar glory. This monochrome biographical drama follows the life of the overlooked Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J. Mankiewicz and offers a sophisticated love letter / takedown of the Hollywood system.
The year’s biggest disappointment
Dubbed one of the most important films of the year, Christopher Nolan’s ambitious noodlebaker was the first Hollywood blockbuster released in cinemas since the first lockdown. Tenet unfairly became the high-stakes player in an exhausting narrative that cast it as the litmus test to see whether crowds could be lured back to cinemas in a post-lockdown world.
Anticipation over what seemed to be a spiritual successor to Nolan’s very own Inception was only heightened by talks of Tenet being the saviour of the moviegoing experience. Hype aside, it’s an epic Bond-meets-temporal-fuckery spectacle that’s far from a bad film, but it was hard not to feel let down by the end result. The deafening sound design frequently obscured the dialogue, making some lines completely inaudible. Coupled with a lack of emotional engagement with the characters and an unnecessarily contrived finale, audiences were left with a film whose “aren’t I impressive?” peacocking made it come off as far less ingenious than it thought it was.