While it has no doubt been a terrible year, there have been a lot of fantastic films released in Ireland in 2020. So HeadStuff gathered the collective minds of our Film section to bring you our picks for the top 20. Below are #20 to #11. See our top 10 best movies here.
20. Da 5 Bloods
Like BlacKkKlansman before it, Da 5 Bloods finds co-writer-director Spike Lee merging his righteous anger at the state of the US with exciting genre fare. His simultaneously spawling yet tight 156-minute long epic finds a group of black American veterans returning to Vietnam to retrieve the gold they hid away – battling the elements, the avarice in the hearts of men and the trauma of their wartime as they do so.
Partly a visceral war movie, partly a thrilling Treasure of the Sierra Madre-esque adventure, but also an exploration of how the US exploits African-Americans before discarding them, this blend of ideas and tones would always be fascinating. Add to the mix stunning performances from Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters and the late Chadwick Boseman, and a powerful vibrant score by Terence Blanchard and you have another masterpiece from one of our most vital living filmmakers. Stephen Porzio
Similarly ambitious in blending fierce social critique and genre thrills is horror-sci-fi-western Bacurau. In the near future of Bolsonaro’s Brazil, a community in a remote country settlement discovers their town has disappeared from satellite maps as they find themselves under threat from an unknown enemy. Depicting the clash between a village brimming with culture and modernity, personified by vulgar outsiders who only judge people and places by how much money they can make off of them, directors Kleber Mendonca Filho and Juliano Dornelles take this battle and exaggerate it to absurd, comical, thrilling new heights. Beginning in space, before introducing exploding heads, ghosts, flying saucers and Udo Kier into the mix, if only all political statements were this much fun. Stephen Porzio
18. The Invisible Man
It’s no coincidence that two of this year’s best films – Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman and Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man – are about the abuse women suffer at the hands of men. One lingers on the after-effects of sexual trauma on its victims and those who hold them dear. The Invisible Man examines a more insidious kind of psychological and emotional abuse, one focused on stripping protagonist Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) of any kind of control she has over her life and the PTSD this inflicts on her. As she tries to recover from the abuse by her presumed dead ex-boyfriend Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), it’s made clear that he is using his revolutionary research into optics technology to harass Cecilia.
The Invisible Man is that rare Blumhouse horror film that achieves both rave reviews and earns its relatively small budget back 20 times over. Doubly impressive is that it was released just as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the West in full force. But it’s easy to see why. Many of the film’s supporting cast are small timers with bit parts in movies or lead roles in TV shows which means the focus is on a haggard, desperate Moss throughout. Her journey from rock bottom to the mountain top is a joy to follow despite the film’s heavy themes and deliciously tense sequences.
The Invisible Man is very much its own beast and it’s great to see such an iconic character being brought into the modern era with such contemporary ideas and style. Adrian may have been gaslighting Cecilia her whole life but Whannell never gaslights his audience. From the first frame to the last we remain on Cecilia’s side. That might seem par for the course in a female led horror film but it somehow sharpens this film’s edge rather than dull it. Andrew Carroll
17. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
If the past year has left you in low spirits, know you are not alone. That said, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood may be the feel good, warm hug of a movie to restore your faith in the world. Matthew Rhys (Perry Mason) stars as a cynical journalist with unresolved issues with his absentee father (Chris Cooper). Assigned to interview the sweet-natured children’s TV presenter Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks, Oscar nominated for his turn), he sets out to expose his subject as a phony – only to be taught about empathy and kindness.
The drama is directed by Marielle Heller (star of The Queen’s Gambit), who through surreal touches and striking framing makes the film feel more visually dynamic than it could be. On top of this, the film boasts a humanistic script that refuses to classify people as simply heroes or villains. All in all, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is cinematic chicken soup for the soul and all the better for it. Stephen Porzio
Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium’s conceit is so on the nose it’s shocking, and this is by no means intended as an insult. Instead, the central premise is so cogent and elegant that it’s surprising it hasn’t been done yet. There’s a satisfying concreteness to this feature as young couple Tom and Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots) look to buy a home in a housing market that might just literally be the death of them.
With impressively imaginative set design and an appropriately disquieting performance from Senan Jennings as their quasi-human son-cum-jailer, Vivarium is almost pitch-perfect as a black comedy. Quite honestly, it deserves to be seen on its premise alone, and the fact that much of it works well is a very welcome bonus. Sarah Cullen
15. His House
I had His House in 2nd on my own list, but then I am fond of a good spooky movie. And His House is a superb spooky movie in every respect. It features a pair of splendid performances from Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu, and their mixture of quiet dignity and fraying sanity ensures the horror works as both a genuinely frightening film, and a shocking, unflinching examination of the refugee experience. I have such admiration for art that is socially conscious without being preachy, and smuggles a completely different culture and worldview in the guise of a good story. His House is the best example of that I saw on screen in 2020. It also clocks in at a taut 93 minutes, so there’s not a wasted second in the whole thing. It is a radical exercise in empathy, and the freshest haunted house movie in ages. Jack Stevenson
14. Dark Waters
It’s hard to make a bad version of this film. The fundamental storytelling elements are there. We have the gutsy lawyer, the big evil corporation, the whistleblower, the knowing victims and the unknowing public. We’ve seen films like Dark Waters before and while some deal with similar territory (Erin Brockovich and The Insider for example), the same fundamentals are abundant across the legal thriller genre in general – sub out lawyer for journalist and you have All the Presidents Men, sub out evil corporation for American foreign policy and you have The Report. It’s the underdog story, David and Goliath, and when we see the truth exposed and those guilty held to account, we can sleep that little bit better.
Directed by Todd Haynes, Dark Waters tells the story of Robert Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), a lawyer who took on the DuPont corporation and exposed the truth of how they poisoned the town of Parkersburg, West Virginia with a chemical called PFOA. Ruffalo, who was also a producer on the film, is known for his own fights against social injustice. Clearly a passion project, he portrays the initially skeptical lawyer with depth and honesty. His evolving relationship with the local farmer and victim figurehead, played by the wonderful Bill Camp, adds the gravitas and emotional context vital for the film’s legal and chemical jargon to land. Further supporting players in the superb cast include Anne Hathaway, Bill Pullman, Tim Robbins and Victor Garber. Haynes is an exquisite director and his steady hand gently glides the viewer through these turbulent and infuriating waters with ease.
These horrid stories of death and disease and cover ups and manipulation deserve to be seen, and told, and shared. Dark Waters is another brilliant torch illuminating the horrors of corporate capitalism and one of the best films of 2020. Peter Morris
13. Jojo Rabbit
I’ve gnashed my teeth before on this very website about the appropriateness of making a wacky comedy film about the Nazis that has Sam Rockwell star as a zany, lovable one, and lacks any real satirical purpose beyond a broad, obvious message about how fascism is probably bad. Thankfully, Jojo Rabbit renders those concerns irrelevant by being undeniably hilarious (and man, did I want to deny it at times) and, in the end, actually quite moving. Writer-director and star Taika Waititi camping it up as Hitler is the most eye-catching display, but most credit should go to Roman Griffin Davis for a remarkably nuanced performance, considering he was 12 years old when this came out and most 12 year old boys are idiots. He nails both the comedic and melancholic aspects of his character, and Jojo Rabbit would have been much less effective without him. Jack Stevenson
12. Les Miserables
There was minor shock among cinephilic communities when it was announced that France had chosen this film, and not critical powerhouse Portrait of a Lady on Fire, as their entry for the Best International Feature race at the Oscars. Whatever you view on which is the stronger work, events over the summer has vindicated the country’s national film board somewhat. Portrait of… was the masterpiece sure, but Les Miserables had certainly documented the moment. While it’s socioeconomics are firmly rooted in the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil, its guttural howl for justice is felt in the United States and beyond.
We follow the cops, kids and black community leaders who orbit or inhabit the deprived neighborhood where Victor Hugo was said to have written his most successful novel (hence that cheeky title). Conflict arises. Tensions boil over. Disaster strikes. We have seen this kind of story before but the in-your-face filmmaking makes it decidedly necessary. Director Ladj Ly doesn’t exactly favour a subtle touch but crucially, he doesn’t pull his punches either. Any contrivances in the second act are forgiven by that brutal, unsparing denouement. Lady Ly is out to remind us that a community will take justice into its own hands when anger from injustice is foolishly expected to simmer. Egalité? I think not. Mark Conroy
11. Calm with Horses
Nick Rowland’s crime drama Calm with Horses is a mean and lean Irish gangland tale, depicting cruel events with an added refreshing rawness. A modern western set in rural Ireland, it follows ex-boxer Arm (Cosmo Jarvis), now in the employ of the youngest in a powerful local drug-dealing family – played by excellent character actor and national treasure Barry Keoghan.
Forced into becoming a feared enforcer for Keoghan’s Dympna, while also trying to be a good dad to his young autistic son, Arm is torn between criminal dealings and family obligations when asked to kill for the first time. What follows is a visceral and violent story given extra power thanks to Jarvis and Keoghan’s live wire chemistry and the main character’s moral conflict. Charline Fernandez