79 Films From The 2020/21 Awards Season – Ranked.

The 2020 awards season was a strange one because of Covid-19, but for many of us who can’t get out to the cinema as much as we’d like to, it was a more accessible year to watch new films as they often went to streaming services a lot quicker than The Before Times. Around about the middle of 2021, I committed to watching the nominees at the Oscars, Baftas, Independent Spirit and British Independent Film Awards, which I thought would give me a good cross-section of choices. It did, but of course I probably saw fewer non-English language films than I would have liked to. As ever though, distribution in the UK was poor and there still remain two films that have not been made available in the UK to streaming (The Man Who Sold His Skin and Herself). Nevertheless, it’s impressive how low-cost this hobby is and (to me) quite cheeky (to say the least) that people still expect to access films online – independent or otherwise – for free given how we know that a film’s crew is an artistic workforce threatened by global shutdown as much as any other.

Some notes on the following list:
> Only the top 40 have been properly ranked, the rest are just randomly ordered. Life’s too short.
> There was only one film I switched off before finishing or fast-forwarded through, and that’s the bottom film.
> You may note I’ve put some very well-liked films low down. I’ve explained why and I am happy to hear your views about why I am right 😉
> There are films near the top you haven’t seen. See them. That’s the point of the list. I go to the effort so you can see interesting, emotionally resonant and powerful films (plus, I also get to watch lots of films).
> Thanks for reading even this far. Enjoy the list!

79 Over The Moon
Disney’s attempt to make a film that crosses over to China or something. Just so absolutely cheesy and dreadful. 4

78 Da 5 Bloods
BlackKklansman this ain’t. It’s sloppy, all-over-the-place, has a tremendous performance from Delroy Lindo but it’s not an enjoyable experience and it’s supposed profundity is much over-egged. 5

77 Host
This Shudder low-budget horror flick is not scary in the slightest. Like the majority of horror films, it just made me laugh. 5

76 She Dies Tomorrow
I really really wanted to like this, and although there are some odd/creepy moments, it’s a complete waste of a brilliant premise on a thoroughly undercooked script. There’s just so much more they could have done with this concept. 5

75 Notturno
I can’t even quite remember what this was about, but I remember it was really dull. 5

74 Hillbilly Elegy
In which serious actors try to win Oscars for playing rednecks really badly. They failed! 5

73 The United States vs. Billie Holiday
The central performance from Andra Day should arguably have won her Best Actress at the Oscars, but the reason it didn’t is obvious – the film it exists within is just badly put together and sadly uncompelling. 5

72 Mank
The most over-hyped and overrated Oscar contender of recent memory? I can barely remember what happens except Gary Oldman getting drunk in almost every scene. 6

71 The Trial Of The Chicago 7
Sorkin gonna Sorkin. I liked Sacha Baron Cohen and some of the dilemmas around revolution v reform were well-rehearsed but he just needs to stick to the writing, not-so-much the direction – and learn how to underplay to create more compelling drama. 6

70 Onward
Meh. Name a single scene from memory. They try and get across some ravine with some mind trick or something? Lucky old Pixar to put their dud out just as the virus hit. 6

69 Time
I’m probably being too harsh on this stylish black and white documentary about a woman advocating for her husband’s release from prison. It just didn’t seem to connect with me in quite the way it seemed to want to. 6

68 Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
It’s funny in parts, and just annoying/unfunny/obvious in others. We do have it to thank for THAT Rudy Giuliani bedroom scene, though. 6

67 David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet
How dare you! But then how dare David Attenborough make a documentary about the climate emergency without once mentioning capitalism. Pretty straightforward hagiography, I thought. 6

66 Saint Maud
I know, I know. I can see why people rate this. I just don’t get why the interplay between religion and poor mental health are such a profound thing to muse on. The shocks aren’t that shocking. The final short is memorable but what for? 6

65 Moffie
This could have been lower. It’s about a boy who goes into the South African military during Apartheid and the lack of acceptance of gay people. It’s not bad if you’re interested in those themes. 6

64 Being A Human Person
Roy Andersson is a great Swedish melancholic/darkly comic filmmaker, but I think I would prefer to watch one of his films rather than a documentary about him. (I only found that out afterwards, of course.) 6

63 The Assistant
This was good as far as it went (#metoo in a directors’ New York casting office) but didn’t have any massive spark. 6

62 The Half Of It
Sweet little film about learning to accept yourself and others but pretty slight. 6

61 Bull
Well-observed and acted but just not that into the storytelling style. Watch if you like rodeos. 6

60 Perfect 10
Young woman gets better at gymnastics despite messed up family. 6

59 Rising Phoenix
Netflix documentary about Paralympians. Struggling to remember much specific now. 6

58 Miss Juneteenth
You can read what the ending of this is going to be from the very start but it’s not bad. I’d like to visit the bar in it! 6

57 White Riot
A short history of Rock Against Racism. It’s an OK doc. 6

56 One Man And His Shoes
This is about Air Jordans. You can make compelling documentaries about lots of things but this is done quite averagely. 6

55 Mogul Mowgli
I really like the rich tapestry of mental images drawn out of a character whose body and future are disintegrating. The hyper-real however drew attention away from more empathetic considerations. 6

54 His House
It all goes a bit magical realist for my tastes, but the audio-visual rendering of the refugee experience should be seen by more people. 6

53 The Mole Agent
Old guy pretends to be nursing home resident to check the staff aren’t abusing someone. Doesn’t really get to the bottom of it, but a load of older women fancy him instead. This is about the sum of it, but you might find it mildly amusing. 6

52 One Night In Miami…
Famous American black men from the 20th century all go to one place and chat about religion, politics and their lives. Sounds great, but I didn’t think there was much to write home about. 6

51 The White Tiger
Just very hmmm. Some good bits. Some longueurs. Some bad bits. Just very hmmm. 6

50 News Of The World
I wish the whole film had just been Tom Hanks reading the news to slightly aggressive people and them being won over. Those were the best scenes. 6

49 Justine
I watched another film called Justine thinking it was this one. I can remember more about that one than I can this one, which I think was about an addict who falls in love with another woman and it all ends in tears? Clearly left an impression. It’s set in Brighton. 6

48 The Mauritanian
This should probably be lower. It was the very definition of post-9/11 political drama by numbers, with few redeeming features. 6

47 The Father
It’s based on a play, but why did they have to film it like one? I found the final scene quite moving but otherwise I was pretty underwhelmed even with all the clever timey-wimey stuff. 6

46 Better Days
Bullied student in Hong Kong finds solace in a bad boy. Better than it sounds, weirdly. 6

45 My Octopus Teacher
I still don’t know what the hell to make of this. The guy is creepy, I find creepy-crawly creatures icky, and yet it’s well-made and engagingly told. It robbed Collective (see later) of the Best Documentary Oscar. 6

44 Straight Up
Very talky LGBTIQA+ film. Funny in parts. Mostly a bit too quick and smart for its own good. 6

43 The Disciple
Very interesting for getting a sense of a specific style of traditional music. In a film-watching sense, I found it tepid at best. 6

42 Night Of The Kings
Much to appreciate – not least the adlib dance/play choreography from the prisoners. Some really ropey CGI and it’s all a bit mythological and unexplained. 6

41 The Reason I Jump
Decent doc about autism but I don’t really feel just taking short excerpts from the book worked very well in making clear the nature of autism, not least because it isn’t one uniform thing. 6

40 Clemency
This is the archetypal 6/7 marginal rating call. Great performance from Alfre Woodard as the death row prison warden but it did feel like quite well-worn material. 6

39 Rose: A Love Story
Surprisingly good indie horror film. A couple lives a secretive life in a cabin in the woods. It becomes clearer and clearer why, but the journey there is interesting, I think. 7

38 Kindred
The screenwriter really must hate the main character, as what they face in this is pretty unrelenting. It’s a well-studied portrait of psychological torment and abuse with a wicked (in the old sense of the word) ending. 7

37 Dear Comrades!
A loyal party members’ daughter gets involved in the first strike they’ve had for a very long time. And you can sort of imagine what has to happen next. 7

36 Pieces Of A Woman
Very hard to watch at times, this is about infant loss and the effect it has on a couple. It felt like a true story. 7

35 Dick Johnson Is Dead
This is an odd film about a film director who realises her father won’t be around for much longer, so ropes him into performing various deaths for her to film. I think the concept is better than the film itself. 7

34 The Social Dilemma
Mark Zuckerberg told me to write this. 7

33 The Courier
Good old-fashioned spy thriller with Benedict Cumberbatch. Perfectly entertaining and surprisingly moving, I found. 7

32 A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon
Aardman can do no wrong in my eyes! This cribbed from all the best sci-fi reference points. 7

31 Preparations To Be Together For An Unknown Period Of Time
You meet someone at a conference, come home, see them in the street and they deny having met you. It’s hard to string this premise out for an entire film (and personally I found the conclusions unsatisfying) but it’s definitely well told. 7

30 Soul
I didn’t like the “becoming a cat” part at all but I very much did like the emotional coda. 7

29 Minari
The power of this film is its denouement about, er, celery. 7

28 The Dig
I liked this, it has some starry-eyed wonder moments and some lemon drizzle cake. I loved Ralph Fiennes’ Suffolk accent too. 7

27 Looted
This is a British film worth seeing, not least as it has Thomas Turgoose (from This Is England) who is always worth watching. It’s about looting cars and dying relatives. 7

26 Bad Education
This was surprisingly good, although Allison Janney is unsurprisingly excellent of course. The half-way twist is well-telegraphed and does shift the emphasis of the story in an interesting way. 7

25 I Carry You With Me
Gay Mexican restaurateurs! They are incredible. I love how this plays for the vast majority of its runtime as a narrative drama and then breaks into a documentary at the end. More films should tell their story this way. 7

24 Babyteeth
This is probably number one this year for “quirky indie” but is no worse for that. It’s set in Australia and the feel of it is summery, even though the background theme is terminal illness. 7

23 Calm With Horses
Heartfelt but also brutal Irish gangster film. The supporting performance from Niamh Algar is particularly good, as the world-weary mother of a special needs child. 7

22 Limbo
Asylum seekers are sent to a Scottish island while their claims are assessed. Lots of space for heavy metaphors and social commentary but it all hits home, frankly – and the final scene is beautiful after all the build-up to it. 7

21 County Lines
Young lad gets sucked into drug-dealing. Convincing drama ensues. The supporting performance from Ashley Madekwe is phenomenal. 7

20 The Australian Dream
Follows the most famous indigenous Aussie rules footballer, Adam Goodes, as he becomes the star of the sport at the same time as facing down institutional racism. 7

19 The Dissident
The murder of Jamal Khashoggi is forensically examined in this powerful documentary. 7

18 Nomadland
Overhyped, but it would be difficult not to hype this purely for the cinematography, which is breathtaking throughout. The scene where Frances McDormand goes on a walk through the rocks to play hard to get is worth the price of admission on its own. 7

17 Crip Camp
I felt the film was let down slightly by a dawdling ending, but the central section of direct action for disability rights is an inspiring and teachable moment for anyone who has lost hope that change is possible and the early scenes of the camp are just wonderful too. 7

16 Promising Young Woman
Would you like to be hit over the head repeatedly by a totally on-the-nose #MeToo parable? Here you go, then. There are some tremendously played scenes by Carey Mulligan and the message really does hit home by the final scenes. 7

15 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
There are films where a performance elevates a so-so screenplay to a higher plane and Chadwick Boseman’s does this. It’s still mind-boggling that the Academy could be so tone-deaf as to miss the chance to honour his legacy with a post-humous award. 7

14 Palm Springs
Good fun, laughed a lot, enjoyed the timey-wimey twists, would watch again. 7

13 Bacurau
This is a mind-lingerer. The real-life Hunger Games it portrays is so matter-of-factly introduced, as if the participants are just going paintballing. The town itself is a near-utopia before its prelapsarian bubble is burst. 8

12 Lapsis
Brilliant satirical commentary on zero hours contracts and the invisibility of the people who keep the cogs turning on worker servitude. It explores its themes and then ends abruptly on an image to mull over. More films should do this. 8

11 Rocks
It’s so refreshing to watch a young, female-led cast in a story about finding your feet in the world even amidst hardship. 8

10 Les Miserables
Another film where the final shot is a graceful interrogation, this is a French social realist crime thriller where the cops are no good and the squabbles in the tower blocks are petty, but have great consequence. 8

9 Collective
Documentary about Romanian journalists’ struggle to get the truth about the medical treatment of victims of a nightclub fire, this goes far deeper into how politics attempts to reform itself when found completely corrupt, and the incredibly murky waters idealistic politicians have to wade through to get anywhere to this end. This might sound boring to you, but watch it anyway and (hopefully) be surprised. 8

8 Wolfwalkers
Cromwell’s in Ireland but there’s no giving up centuries of mythology and folklore. Sublime animation and storytelling. 8

7 Another Round
Trainspotting showed the euphoria and the horror of drug-taking in intimate detail. This sort of does the same, but for drinking alcohol. The final shot asks us to question ourselves about what WE believe the overall effect of the substance is. On the way, this is a riot and a sombre meditation in equal measure (pun intended). 8

6 Sound Of Metal
The title refers to three different things: the protagonist’s musical style, the ability for deaf people to ‘hear’ metal by vibration, and the metallic sound of artificially rendered sound through a hearing aid. It’s a profound meditation on dreams, expectations and human (in)ability to adapt to dramatically changed circumstances. 8

5 First Cow
The first ever cow arrives in the Pacific Northwest and two acquaintances team up to (ahem) milk it for all its worth. A lovely buddy film, it is simply and charmingly told and impeccably shot. 8

4 Quo Vadis, Aida?
Anger-inducing, harrowing but essential account of the Srebrenica massacre in 1995. 8

3 The 40-Year-Old Version
This was so so enjoyable and funny. The message: it’s not too late to reinvent yourself. 8

2 Judas and the Black Messiah
It’s got a good amount of competition, but this will surely be seen as the key film to represent the Black Lives Matter movement era and the call for racial justice. It should have won Best Picture at the Oscars. The screenplay grips like a vice and all of the performances are fantastic, but I particularly rated LaKeith Stanfield as William O’Neal. 8

1 Never Rarely Sometimes Always
A near-documentary account of what it’s like to access an abortion when your state requires a parent’s permission to get one. Yes, this really was the best film I watched. It is stunning from start to finish. 9

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