2020 has been an absolutely crazy year, with a global pandemic (in case you hadn’t noticed), and a lot of unrest throughout the world. So in order to add a bit of balance against all the negativity in the world right now, I thought I would end the year with a list of some of the best films and TV shows that I have seen this year. This list is not exhaustive, as I am sure there are many films that I have forgotten about, but I’ve tried to include a fairly broad array of genres on the list, so there should be something for most tastes – Enjoy!
It took me a long time to watch this as I was hesitant due to the hype going around, and the fact that Nicolas Cage has been in a lot of terrible movies over the last decade or so. But I am glad to say it really did live up to its hype. Following a couple who live peacefully in an isolated forest, who have their lives turned upside down when a cult leader becomes fixated on Mandy. What follows is a weird, dark vengeance story with vibrant and striking visuals (no kidding, the majority of shots in this film are works of art) and brutal violence from both sides.
He Never Died
If you have read my review on this film, you already know that I loved the hell out of this film. It was such an unexpected surprise, as I had just picked up for some background viewing and got immediately sucked in by Henry Rollins’ compellingly misanthropic character.
I watched this after looking for some light sci-fi and was very impressed with the story and the visuals in this crossover sci-fi/boxing-redemption movie. It follows an absentee dad (Jackman), down on his luck with money, who sees an opportunity to bargain for some cash by giving up the rights to his son. Hugh Jackman is not a likeable character at first, but once he is forced to care for his kid for the summer, they go on a turbulent bonding journey, during which they participate in several robot fight matches. Unlike other robot films, the focus is on the relationship between the father and son, rather than an oft visited allegory about a robot being sentient, which was a nice change of pace. Also unlike other big-budget sci-fi films (looking at you, Transformers franchise), they used animatronics as well as CGI, which gave it a much more realistic feel, deepening the connection the audience felt with it.
I love a good legal battle, with ethics and morals being questioned so this was right up my alley. Dark Waters focuses on a singular man rather than a legal team, who takes on the chemical giants in the late nineties, after a distraught and angry farmer approaches him for help. The fact it is based on a true story, makes it much more interesting, as you feel right in the thick of it. This is a powerful film, that might make you take a second look at your frying pan (you’ll know once you’ve seen it), with a very stark atmosphere and a complete and impressive performance from Mark Ruffalo.
The Ash Lad: In the Hall of the Mountain King
Probably the best fantasy movie I have watched in a very long time, The Ash Lad is unlike other Scandinavian films. With a hopeful and comedic side, it hits all the beats you need for a good fantasy adventure that everyone can enjoy. You can read my full review of this classic Norwegian folklore adaptation to get a better picture of the film. But in short, it is a sweet tale about a princess that is being forced to marry before her 18th birthday to stop a troll king from claiming her as his bride. However, the reluctant would-be-bride flees from marrying the suitor her parents picked for her, and is kidnapped by the troll. After the unfortunate fire of a farmer’s house, three brothers try to rescue the princess, in hope of a reward to help save their farm. What ensues is both endearing and magical, and thoroughly enjoyable.
Nekrotronic is a nice low stakes action sci-fi that is a lot of fun. From the creators of Wyrmwood, it has that same Australian humour that fans will have become accustomed to. This is a story of how demons are taking possession of human souls through technology, specifically through smartphone apps – bringing a familiar supernatural story into a modern setting with a surprising finesse. In a weird turn of events, a man who was adopted as a child realizes he is part of a secret faction of demon-hunters. This is fun sci-fi that has a lot of wacky, hilarious moments in it.
Baywatch (Extended Edition)
I was never a fan of the original TV series, so this film was not something I would have normally picked. However, with The Rock as the lead, I thought I would give it a chance. And it is insane how funny it is, with witty banter and some great one-liners – and somehow they manage to make lifeguards seem interesting, with an intriguing storyline giving it some meat. Even without that, the abundance of sick burns that are thrown around at a ferocious pace in the film would be worth the time investment at the very least.
Ready or Not
Probably one of the best comedy horrors in a very long time, which also makes me hopeful for the next Scream film, as it also has the same directorial team from Ready or Not. A newly-wed couple retreat to the husband family’s estate for a gathering, at which they take part in a ritual game, that was part of a deal by made by their ancestor to build their family fortune. The bride, thinking she is taking part in a harmless hide-and-seek game, soon comes to the shocking realization that her new family are hunting her down. This is a black comedy that works like magic, with brilliant quips and glorious deaths to keep everyone entertained.
Siege of Jadotville
Irish soldiers face an against-the-odds battle against mercenaries in this tight, gripping movie set against the interesting backdrop of 1960s Congo. With so many war films being based on the more famous historical war scenarios (usually WWII and Vietnam), this added a welcome element of historical education which, along with some compelling performances from the lead actors, made this a memorable experience.
Another military based movie, this time set in the more recent, familiar setting of Afghanistan in the 00s, was a surprise. This setting would not normally appeal to me, but the intensity of this film kept me absolutely spellbound for its duration. A squad of American soldiers stumble into a minefield – at which point the walls of the movie close in, and we become utterly focussed on whether this small group of men will make it out of the small gully alive. Excellent performances and direction make this a fully invested and absorbing watch for the audience.
Line of Duty (Season 5)
Line of Duty is the best British TV police show that has probably ever graced our screens, and the latest offering continued that trend with a firecracker of a season. Following AC-12, a unit who seeks out corruption within the police force, no matter who their target is, with devastating ripples for the police force and their unit in each season. In season 5, the anti-corruption unit face their most vicious adversary yet, when they investigate police collusion following the shooting of three police officers during the hijack of a seized drugs haul. As fans of the show will already know, the storytelling is compelling, tight and almost addictive – the latest season is no different, and comes highly recommended.
Based on Henning Mankell‘s novels, this is a British TV series set in Sweden, that follows Kurt Wallander, the police detective who lives in a small town in Sweden. I recently praised this on Twitter, for its compassionate and nuanced portrayal of a male detective. Too often emotions do not factor into police shows, but Wallander manages to be gripping in its crime stories whilst having a realistic human element from both the police and the criminals. As each episode follows a different story from Mankell’s, each episode has a different crime being committed, but it is not episodic like other shows, as the characters surrounding the police station evolve along with the stories.
Into the Night
This is such an odd concept that frankly I did not think they could extend beyond a few episodes, but with its renewal of a second season, there is a lot more story to tell. Into the night follows a group of random strangers on a flight, that are hijacked by an Italian NATO officer who tells them that sunlight kills all living beings. As disbelief dissolves into shock, they use this aircraft to stay in the dark, trying to prolong their survival. But with supplies and rest needed, how long can they play this game of cat and mouse with the sun. What I especially like about this is the characters are just realistically normal people, trying to survive in this global deadly threat, with trust and stamina being tested throughout.
This is a crime anthology series which is based on true stories about women who have been abused and manipulated by dangerous men. I have only watched the first season so far, but it was immediately compelling to me. To see the web of lies and deceit from “Dirty John” and the justifications from Debra for his strange and disturbing behaviour was magnetic to watch. It was like watching a car wreck, horrific but compelling, with particularly fantastic acting coming from Eric Bana, who slides from charming to menacing with such ease that is terrifying to watch.
The Last Kingdom
Everyone has heard of Vikings but not enough love has been given for The Last Kingdom, which is just as good if not better. It is set in the late 800s when the Kingdom of Wessex was suffering from ongoing Viking incursions into Southern England. Uhtred is our protagonist who suffers much tragedy in his early years, with his biological father being killed and, later, his adoptive father meeting his demise in a fire caused by a disgruntled Viking who had been banished for his son’s crimes. It follows Uhtred protracted quest to take back his land and castle, whilst constantly having both bravery and loyalty tested, and having to make hard decisions between loyalty for the kingdom of his ancestors and loyalty to those who raised him.
Featuring on my 13 underrated horror TV shows, Wynonna Earp is a breath of fresh air in a supernatural genre. The granddaughter of legendary law man Wyatt Earp, who returns to her home town, Purgatory, where she ends being the last line of defence in battling the revenants – reincarnated outlaws that Wyatt had killed. With its female fronted cast, and western style in a supernatural era, it is definitely that something has not been done before. The characters are all well written, with the lead character offering her sharp-tongued wit to add an air of whimsy to a dark supernatural horror – this is a show you will not regret giving a watch.
This is a more understated historical series than some of the more popular historical series out there, but with as just as much intrigue in its characters and plot. It follows Poldark, a man who has returned to Cornwall after fighting in the army in the American War of Independence for 3 years. Much has changed not only within Poldark himself, but with his town and his loved one. He returns to find that his father has died, the estate is in ruins and in insurmountable debt and his childhood sweetheart is now engaged to his cousin. As mentioned, the tone is understated, but the pacing of the drama as it unfolds draws the viewer in expertly.
This name is a bit ironic considering the content of the TV show. Happy Valley is a British crime drama series that features Catherine Cawood, a strong-willed police sergeant in West Yorkshire, that is still reeling from the suicide of her teenage daughter. After hearing that the one responsible for her daughter’s rape and eventual suicide, is out of prison after 8 years, she becomes obsessed with finding Royce and seeking some justice for her daughter. This is definitely a hard-hitting show, not pulling any punches with any of the crimes depicted. It is brutal in its violence as well as the complicated and turbulent relationships that feature in this show.
American Gothic (2016)
Following an affluent Boston family, their lives are rocked when they uncover that their recently deceased father, possibly had ties to a notorious serial killer. Paranoia is abound in this series, as nothing is clear when it comes to who is the true serial killer, leading them to mistrust not only their family members but also their partners, who all have secrets that they are keeping from one another. A fantastic mystery who-dun-it, that has an old-fashioned feel about it, similar to the more traditional mystery thrillers. Unfortunately there is only one season, but thankfully 13 episodes give enough drama and intrigue to make up for its short run with a fantastic twist in the finale.
Trapped is an Icelandic production that follows the chief of police in a remote town in Iceland, where the mutilated corpse of a former townsman is found by local fisherman, just as a powerful storm traps the citizens within the town. As you soon see, there is a lot of mystery surrounding this death, and the conspiracy goes a lot further than you can imagine. With two seasons already out, the story is still not finished but it is so far a whirling mystery of deceit, lies and betrayal, with outstanding performances by all the actors in this show.