Our Top 10 Film Discoveries of 2020
There is beauty in the world of cinema because films can translate an intense personal emotion into a universal sense of kinship. And kinship is what we all clung onto through this insane, unpredictable year, confiding in friends, family and even strangers online, as we passed through the tectonic shifts heralded by 2020.
Cinema for us, was one such confidante, ranging from the most mundane to the most profound. Our list of top 10 film discoveries covers titles that offered not just solace, but also made us feel immense gratitude for the very existence of the medium.
1. Eeb Allay Ooo! Directed by Prateek Vats
Anjani, a young migrant, secures a job as a monkey-repeller in New Delhi, shooing away rhesus monkeys from government buildings so that the ‘sarkari babus’ can work in peace. A satire on migrant life and the facade of a government job’s illustriousness, the film is a witty, brilliantly written, tongue-in-cheek take on the absurdities of social construct in the face of a human being’s worth.
In Cinemas Now
2. Parasite, Directed by Bong Joon Ho
The Kim family, poor and unemployed, play out a well-laid plan to secure jobs for themselves at the wealthy Park family’s home, only to unleash a series of unexpected events. Parasite broke through the glass ceiling of English elitism and gave us a visceral portrayal of class divide. Through its subtle visual language, stylised sequences set to a brilliant background score and exceptional performances by the cast, especially Kang Ho Song, Parasite was a revelation in the increasingly animated conversation around class disparity.
Streaming on Amazon Prime.
3. Sir, Directed by Rohena Gera
Ratna returns to work as a live-in maid for her employer, Ashwin after his wedding is called off. She is an independent and spirited young woman who aspires to be a fashion designer. Ashwin has left his ambitions of being a writer in the US to shoulder family responsibilities at home. But can they ever be more to each other? A delicate portrayal of a relationship bound by class, Sir is a gentle and nuanced film, in which not needing to say much, says everything.
4. A Hidden Life, Directed by Terrence Malick
A Hidden Life tells the little known story of Austrian farmer, Franz Jägerstätter, who is drafted into the German army as part of the Nazi war effort. But when he refuses to swear the oath to Hitler, he is sent to prison and faces the threat of execution for treason. What follows is a test of faith, love, conscience, and the enduring human spirit. This Terrence Malick film is ethereal, with the fight against evil set against a landscape that radiates goodness and purity. With the depth and complexity of the performances (especially August Diehl as Franz) and Malick’s quintessential filmmaking style that places us in a dream, A Hidden Life is definitely one of the most evocative films we discovered in 2020 and one we most wished to have watched on the big screen!
Streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, Directed by Celine Sciamma.
Set in 18th century France against the beautiful beaches of Brittany, Portrait… tells us the story of Marianne, a painter who is commissioned to paint the wedding portrait of Heloise. But she must paint it without Heloise knowing, because Heloise doesn’t want to be married at all. A tender romance follows between the two, which Sciamma captures effectively through the little things in a beautiful synergy of bold sensuality and emotional depth. The film goes beyond portraying it’s lesbian relationship simply as ‘forbidden’ and instead takes it to a far more cerebral form - ‘a manifesto of the female gaze’, as the director rightly calls it.
Streaming on Amazon Prime and MUBI
6. Moothon, Directed by Geetu Mohandas
Moothon (The Elder One) tells the story of Mulla, a young boy from Lakshadweep who goes to Bombay to look for his elder brother Akhbar, who left the island years ago because of a dispute. With riveting performances by Dipu, Nivin Pauly and Roshan Mathew and an aesthetic that is totally unlike the director’s first film (Liar’s Dice, India’s official entry to the 87th Oscars), Moothon gives us an elevated understanding of human relationships through the prism of love in all its different forms.
Streaming on Zee5
7. Aamis, Directed by Bhaskar Hazarika
Bold and refreshingly original, Bhaskar Hazarika’s Aamis tells the story of Nirmali, a married paediatrician, and Sumon, a young PhD student, who bond over their shared love of unusual meats. But soon, their relationship begins to take a dark and bizarre turn. With a screenplay that will keep you hooked, Aamis is a revelation in terms of the performances of its leads and the metaphor it employs to regale us with a tale of forbidden desire.
Streaming on MovieSaints
8. The Trial of the Chicago 7, Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Oscar winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin’s second directorial venture, Trial of the Chicago 7, is based on the landmark 1969 court case, in which seven people were accused of inciting violence and rioting at a Democratic Convention in Chicago, during what was supposed to be a peaceful protest against the Vietnam War. The powerful individual moments each character is ascribed along with the tightness of its script, brings the film together as a whole beautifully, making this courtroom drama a cinematic masterpiece for our times.
Streaming on Netflix
9. Family Romance LLC, Directed by Werner Herzog
Family Romance LLC is part fiction, part documentary based on a Japanese company of the same name which rents out actors to play any role their client requires; father, daughter, brother, you name it! Despite its voyeuristic gaze, in Herzog’s capable hands, buoyed by his whimsical outlook of the world, this film is refreshingly non-judgemental of its subjects. It also succeeds in ensuring its viewers aren’t either. With raw and real cinematography juxtaposed against tenderly staged relations, Family Romance LLC makes for a poignant and fascinating watch about a very pertinent existential topic; our need for relationships in an increasingly isolated world.
Streaming on MUBI
10. The Platform (El Hoyo), Directed by Galder Gazztelu Urrutia
Set in a dystopian future, The Platform is about a seemingly unending vertical prison where inmates are housed on different levels, two per floor. The single meal of the day is dispensed via a huge descending platform, such that inmates on the topmost levels get to eat to their heart’s content, leaving those below them to starve. Urrutia delivers a startling debut, bolstered by fearfully realistic performances from its main cast. El Hoyo is a gnarly class commentary which dives into the desperation and depravity of the human psyche with its clever analogy of the class divide having become as fundamental a ‘necessity’ as food.
Streaming on Netflix
Watching films is like munching on popcorn; you can’t just stop at one. After hours spent picking these 10 films, we shrugged and thought to ourselves - it wouldn’t be the end of the world to include 5 more that came close. Our honourable mentions are:
1. Mank by David Fincher; Streaming on Netflix
2. Ma Rainey's Black Bottom by George C. Wolfe; Streaming on Netflix
3. The Sound of Metal by Darius Marder; Streaming on Amazon Prime
4. Superman: Red Son by Sam Liu; Streaming on Amazon Prime
5. Farewell Amor by Ekwa Msangi; Streaming on MUBI
Of course, no list about films can be exhaustive because everyone has a different perspective on why a film touched them. For us 2020 was defined not only by the pandemic, but also by the wonderful assortment of films that graced streaming platforms, making it that much easier and much more rewarding to live life through our screens this year!