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20 Years of Film - 2020


22nd December 2020
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Posted in: Articles

Exploring our favourite films in the year 2020

In this blog series, George and Matt from the Monitor Audio team explore their favourite movies from the last 20 years.

Our selection of films may not be critically acclaimed or box office hits, but have stood the test of time as our favourite movies.

Do you agree with our list? Let us know your favourite movies from the year 2020 on Facebook and Twitter!

 

The Trial of the Chicago 7 - George's Top Pick

Dir: Aaron Sorkin | Netflix

Director Aaron Sorkin is at the helm for the story of the Chicago Seven, as seven defendants dispute their involvement in the 1968 riots.

During a year of violence, political turbulence and civil unrest, the 1968 Democratic National Convention is due to begin. As we see Tom Hayden (Eddie Redmayne), Rennie Davis (Alex Sharp), David Dellinger (John Carroll Lynch), Lee Weiner (Noah Robbins), John Froines (Daniel Flaherty), Bobby Seale (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), Abbie Hoffman (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Jerry Rubin (Jeremy Strong) prepare to protest, the anti–Vietnam War protesters, five months on, are now facing trial.

A number of charges are brought upon the group, including crossing state lines with intent to incite a riot and conspiracy, with criminal defence lawyers William Kunstler and Leonard Weinglass representing all, apart from Seale. Due to illness, Seale's attorney is unable to attend, but judge Julius Hoffman (Frank Langella) wrongly assumes the support received by Kunstler means he is legally defending him. After being told multiple times during the trial, leading to multiple counts of contempt of court, Seale's case is finally announced as a mistrial. Whilst witness statements are read out, judge Hoffman not only dismisses jurors, but also crucial evidence. During flashbacks of the group’s actions; we see police brutality towards peaceful protests that culminated in the riots. When former government official Ramsey Clark is called, judge Hoffman, upholding a Government objection, rejects his damning testimony.

Abbie Hoffman, founding member of the Yippies, takes the stand to defend an audio recording, taken the day of the riots, which implicates Hayden. At the time, Hayden was the president of the SDS and was giving a speech, when police began to attack Davis. The jurors are told that Hayden was taken out of context and as Hayden takes the stand, despite judge Hoffman’s protests, reads out the names of the 4,752 soldiers who had been killed in the Vietnam War since the trial began.

As expected, Sorkin’s powerful storytelling features quick and witty dialogue. With a standout cast, this engaging and gripping drama presents a look back at the complex nature of the conspiracy trial.

 

His House - Matt's Top Pick

Dir: Remi Weekes | Netflix

An evil lurks beneath the surface, in this horror by director Remi Weekes, as a refugee couple struggle to settle in their new home.

After a trek through the Sudanese desert, a large group from war-torn South Sudan climb into an overcrowded boat, to flee the country, on route to the United Kingdom. During the stormy weather, Bol (Sope Dirisu) and Rial (Wunmi Mosaku) survive the treacherous journey, but lose their daughter Nyagak.

Upon arriving in the UK, they are temporarily placed in a British detention centre, whilst their case is heard. It's then decided that the couple are to be granted temporary permission to stay, until their asylum is granted. In a run down house in London, their case worker, Mark (Matt Smith), tells the couple they have nicer accommodation than most, as he shows them around. As part of the restrictions, they have to survive on benefits from the state and cannot take any paid employment. As Bol attempts to fix up their dilapidated new home, Rial ventures out to visit the doctor. She quickly loses her bearings, believing that she sees the same young boy on two occasions, but puts it down to déjà vu. As each of them begin to experience night terrors and start to see visions of Nyagak, Rial believes a ghostly being, which exists in South Sudanese Dinka folklore, is haunting them. Despite burning their possessions, Bol then starts to tear holes in the wall to capture the spirits taunting them. When Mark visits the property, he informs them that it could affect their chance of staying in the country. The apeth reveals itself, accusing Bol of stealing a life, but Bol refuses to give his life for Nyagak’s. A flashback reveals a massacre, which claimed the lives of all of Rial’s friends back in Sudan and led to them fleeing the country. As Rial escapes, we see Bol abduct Nyagak and claim he is her daughter, in order to gain entry to a bus leaving the area.

As the apeth starts to take over Bol’s body, Rial kills it, choosing him over Nyagak. Together, they rebuild their home, but now they must live their lives alongside the ghosts of their past, including Nyagak.

This deeply unsettling film offers far more than jump scares, with a dark twist and some poignant moments. His House cleverly covers justice, morality, and the dehumanisation of refugees in this smart indie horror.

 

First Cow

Dir: Kelly Reichardt | A24

Based on the novel The Half Life, director Kelly Reichardt brings us this story of an unlikely bond between two drifters in 19th century Oregon.

The film starts in the present day, as a woman discovers two skeletons, side by side. As the story unfolds in the past, fur trappers scavenge for food in Oregon Country, 1820, whilst a softly spoken cook named Otis (John Magaro) tags along. On the run for murder, is Chinese immigrant King-Lu (Orion Lee), who Otis offers temporary shelter to. Lu repays the favour, allowing Otis to stay in his shack, as the two discuss their stories.

Both want to be entrepreneurs, whilst Lu has ambitions to own a farm, Otis was once a baker’s assistance and wants to open his own bakery. Upon discovering that a wealthy English man, by the name of Chief Factor (Toby Jones), has the regions first milk cow, Otis convinces Lu to help him steal some of the milk. With Lu the lookout, Otis sneaks in and manages to extract enough milk to bake a batch of oily cake, which Lu suggests they sell. The cake is extremely popular, selling out almost instantly, as word reaches Factor, who also wants a batch for an upcoming meeting he is attending. During the meeting, Factor remarks to the pair that his own cow is producing very little milk, unaware that Otis and Lu are the culprits. Factor introduces the pair to the cow; leading Otis to believe it’s only a matter of time before they get caught. That evening, after agreeing to take one final batch of milk, they are seen by a member of Factor’s estate and spill the milk during their escape. As Factor and his men chase after the pair, Lu manages to swim down a river, but Otis falls down a hill and sustains a serious head injury, falling unconscious. The next day, he wakes and sets out to meet with Lu, who is hiding outside his shack, as Factor’s men start to tear it down.

Whilst Otis is being closely tracked, Lu manages to retrieve the money the pair had previously earned and they both set off towards the river. Before reaching the boat, Otis begins to succumb to his injuries and as he lies down, Lu lays beside him, in the same position the skeletons are found at the beginning of the film.

First Cow is a magnificent film, with rich characters and a subtle tale of friendship. Reichardt’s story of two men’s journey for prosperity offers an intriguing look at the harsh frontier life and is truly evocative.

 

Sound of Metal

Dir: Darius Marder | Amazon Studios

As a heavy metal drummer begins to lose his hearing, he must either choose to continue or adapt, in this drama from director Darius Marder.

Ruben (Riz Ahmed) and girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) tour the country in an RV, as part of the punk metal band Blackgammon. With Lou singing, Ruben, a recovering drug addict, is the drummer. Upon experiencing problems with his hearing, Ruben now struggles to play. With the feedback of their amps and shouts of the crowd turning into heavy vibrations, Ruben realises something is seriously wrong.

His doctor suggests cochlear implants, which may correct his hearing, but in the meantime, is advised to stop playing for a prolonged period of time, so they can carry out further testing. Despite the advice, Ruben decides to keep the information to himself and continues to play. Lou eventually finds out, as Ruben explains that the implants are not covered by his insurance and he doesn’t have the money to pay for them. Ruben is accepted into a rural community supporting deaf recovering addicts, run by a man who lost his own hearing during the Vietnam War. Despite temporarily leaving, Lou convinces Ruben to return, and as he comes to terms and slowly adapts, he learns sign language. Although sober for four years, Ruben’s addictive personality initially makes him believe that his hearing will return, but over time, starts to understand that he must become comfortable with the silence. As well as meditating peacefully, he integrates with the youth program, teaching the children how to play the drums. Whilst Lou tours Europe, realising he cannot return to his old life, he sells his RV and possessions, including his drumming equipment. After purchasing the implants, he needs time for them to take effect, but as it’s the community’s belief that deafness is not a handicap, Ruben is forced to move on.

Ruben flies to meet Lou in Belgium, where her family are situated and at first discuss touring together again. However, as they start to spend more time together, they realise that they have grown apart and it’s unlikely that they will ever perform together again.

Sound of Metal is deeply humane, providing a powerful message. Alongside some astounding performances, this raw and compelling story from Marder is impactful and provides a real sense of empathy.

 

Onward

Dir: Dan Scanlon | Walt Disney Pictures

Pixar Animation Studios brought us a fantasy adventure about brothers who set out on a journey to see their deceased father one last time.

In a flashback to a world of elves, gnomes, trolls, unicorns and sprites, we are shown a magical human-less universe. In the present day, now a suburban world, magic is obsolete and the mythical creatures that once roamed the land are no longer part of day-to-day life.

In the city of New Mushroomton, we are introduced to the elven Lightfoot family; mother Laurel and brothers Ian and Barley. Before Ian was born, their father Wilden passed away, so he never got the chance to meet him. Now in high school, Ian is the opposite of his loud older brother, and struggles with self-confidence. On his sixteenth birthday, a magical staff, with a rare gem, is gifted to him by his late father. A spell, which allows him to resurrect their father for a single day, eventually works, but only the bottom half of Wilden’s body regenerates. The brothers set out on a journey to acquire a gem to regenerate the top half, before the day is up. Attempting to locate a map, the brothers meet Corey, a manticore and former adventurer, who now runs a restaurant. Missing her old way of life, Corey burns down her restaurant to seek a new adventure, as a clue leads the brothers toward a nearby mountain, called Raven's Point. After finding the house in a mess, Laurel finds herself at the crumbled restaurant as Corey agrees to help her find Ian and Barley. Not realising that they make awake a curse, the brothers manage to evade the police and a gang of pixies, but find themselves back at Ian’s school. After briefly falling out, Ian comes to realise that Barley has not only been his big brother, but also a father figure in his life. The curse is triggered upon the removal of the gem, as a dragon descends upon them. During an intense battle, with time running out, Ian sends Barley ahead to finally say goodbye to Wilden, before he slowly disappears.

After Laurel destroys the dragon, Barley tells Ian that their father is proud of him, and as they embrace, they agree to go on a new quest.

Another heart-warming animated story from Pixar, this time focusing on the theme of loss. Despite its emotional message, this sweet tale is still just as invigorating as you would hope for, with a refreshing change of pace.

 

The Invisible Man

Dir: Leigh Whannell | Universal Pictures

Director Leigh Whannell tells the story of a woman, who escapes an abusive relationship, only to be stalked by a man she believes is dead.

Appearing to be psychologically manipulated and trapped in his highly secured home, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) is desperate to escape the home of boyfriend Adrian. One evening, Cecilia’s sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) waits on a nearby road, as Cecilia drugs Adrian and manages to escape his clutches, dropping a bottle of diazepam on the way to her.

Cecilia moves in with childhood friend James (Aldis Hodge), now a San Francisco police detective, along with his daughter Sydney (Storm Reid). After news reaches Cecilia that Adrian has committed suicide, she is left $5 million in his trust, with his brother Tom (Michael Dorman) making the arrangements. Believing she is struggling to come to terms with his death, James assures Cecilia that paranormal events she starts to experience are her way of coping. After feinting at a job interview, diazepam is found in her system, but Cecilia finds the bottle she previously dropped, suspecting that Adrian faked his death. After meeting with Tom, he dismisses her, but after Sydney is struck, both her and James believe she is the attacker, leading Cecilia to attempt to catch Adrian. After a tussle with an unseen force, Cecilia comes across his optical bodysuit, before arranging to meet with Emily to tell her. When Emily is killed, Cecilia is framed and is taken to a mental hospital. Tom implies he is helping Adrian and after realising she is pregnant, tells her that Adrian tampered with her birth control. That evening, the invisible figure attacks her, but when she fights back, the bodysuit malfunctions and the security video catches the mysterious figure killing security guards.

Cecilia kills Tom in front of James and Sydney, who is found to be wearing the suit. Back at Adrian’s home, Cecilia wears a wire to meet with him and get his confession, before using the suit to kill him, making it look like a suicide. As James acts as Cecilia’s alibi, corroborating the confession to police, Cecilia quietly leaves, holding the suit.

As we witness deterioration, this empowering, but chilling story, leaves us on the edge of our seat. This reboot of the original provides a similar tone, but introduces more relevant themes, providing a modern-twist.

 

The Devil All The Time

Dir: Antonio Campos | Netflix

This thriller from director Antonio Campos follows a town in Ohio, post-World War II, full of corruption and sinister characters.

We are first introduced to Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), serving as a Marine on the Solomon Islands during World War II. After witnessing a fellow soldier skinned and crucified by the Japanese, Willard ends the soldiers suffering, but upon leaving active duty, carries the horrific torment home with him. In Meade, Ohio, Willard meets future wife Charlotte and soon have a son, named Arvin.

Years later, a peculiar man, named Roy Laferty (Harry Melling), demonstrates his faith to God, as an evangelical preacher, by putting venomous spiders over his head. After being bitten, he believes he has the ability to resurrect the dead, but when he kills his wife to demonstrate, he finally realises that he lost his grip on reality. Carl (Jason Clarke) and Sandy (Riley Keough) Henderson are serial killers, picking up hitchhikers, forcing them to have sex, before disposing of their bodies. Despite heading home to see his daughter Lenora, Roy is picked up by the Henderson’s and murdered. In 1957, Arvin becomes an orphan when his mother Charlotte dies from cancer, with his father Willard then committing suicide. Upon moving in with his grandmother, he meets fellow orphan Lenora. Eight years later, on his eighteenth birthday, Arvin (Tom Holland) attends church with his family and finds out that Lenora has become pregnant with the new preacher, Reverend Preston Teagarden (Robert Pattinson). When Preston dismisses her, Lenora commits suicide, as Arvin watches Preston seducing a young girl just days later. After killing Preston, Arvin flees and is picked up by the Henderson’s. Realising they plan to murder him, he manages to kill both Carl and Sandy and comes across roles of film, of their past victims.

In order to protect himself, Sheriff Bodecker, Sandy’s brother, destroys evidence, before a confrontation with Arvin results in Bodecker losing his life. Arvin reveals the Henderson’s many victims, by leaving the film with Bodecker’s body, fleeing before police arrive on the scene.

This captivating story from Campos is both ambitious and extremely distressing. With multiple stories, each as grim as the last, there are twists and turns until the gripping finale, in this psychological tale.

 

The Assistant

Dir: Kitty Green | Bleecker Street

Director Kitty Green highlights working life and sexual harassment within an office environment, in this cruel and nerve-wracking drama.

We are introduced to an office at a film production company in New York City, where we see junior assistant Jane (Julia Garner) carrying out her daily tasks. As an aspiring film producer, Jane has landed her dream job, but has spent the past five weeks carrying out fairly mundane tasks, whilst becoming increasingly disillusioned in her new role.

The junior of three assistants, Jane spends her days taking phone messages, arranging travel accommodations, ordering lunch and making coffee for her boss, as well as looking after the boss’s children when his executive assistant brings them into the office. The stress of the role takes its toll, as Jane speaks to her mother on the phone, who tells her that she has forgotten to call her father on his birthday. Jane feels invisible to her co-workers and in order to get her attention, the other assistants throw balled-up paper in her direction. It soon becomes apparent to her that her boss is going through a separation, when his wife calls, demanding to know why her credit cards have been cut off. After overhearing some male executives talking, Jane is aware of inappropriate behaviour between her boss and many young women around the office, also listening in to some female executives talking about moving departments. When Sienna (Kristine Froseth), a new junior assistant is hired, Jane files a complaint to HR, after dropping her off at a hotel. Wilcock (Matthew Macfadyen), the head of HR, initially takes the complaint seriously, before berating her and passing it off as jealously. Jane fears for her job and career and decides not to leave a formal complaint, but word soon reaches her boss. During a heated phone call, she is asked to send an apology email, after which, she begins to train Sienna, as the day draws to a close.

As everyone leaves at the end of day, an aspiring actress meets with Jane’s boss and Jane is soon asked to leave. Whilst making a belated call to her father, she appears to see her boss having sex.

Taking place over the course of a single day, we see someone becoming desensitised to the degradation of women in a toxic office environment, in this powerful story, which in many cases paints a stark reality.

 

She Dies Tomorrow

Dir: Amy Seimetz | Neon

This haunting drama, from director Amy Seimetz, focuses on a troubled woman whose despair goes viral, as anxiety and fear quickly spreads.

With empty boxes surrounded her in her new home, Amy’s (Kate Lyn Sheil) fear of living alone quickly turns to distress, when she suddenly believes that tomorrow, she will certainly die. She picks up the phone in a panic, to call her friend Jane (Jane Adams), who is unable to calm her down; believing alcohol may be the cause. However, once the phone call ends, Jane convinces herself that she will also die tomorrow.

After unsuccessfully trying to call Amy back, Jane arrives at a dinner party held at her brother Jason’s home, for his wife Susan’s birthday. After distressing other guests with her prediction, Jason and Susan initially dismiss her. However, it doesn’t take long for the fear to spread, when a couple named Tilly and Brian leave the party and slowly come to the realisation that they too have become infected. It isn’t long before we see Jason and Susan in the same state. At the hospital, whilst visiting Brian’s terminally ill father, Tilly tells Brian that the only reason they are still together was the guilt of leaving him, whilst his father was sick. Brian then turns off his fathers life support. During a flashback, we see Amy with her boyfriend Craig at a beach house eating pizza, as Craig suggests that the pizza has infected them. In the present, upon revisiting the beach house, Craig is found to have taken his own life. Jane sees a doctor, who believes she is showing signs of mental illness. Despite referring her to a psychologist, he then has a breakdown, believing he too will pass the following day. The next morning Jane wanders the streets, as we see Jason and Susan preparing for the end.

Covered in blood, Jane spots a swimming pool to wash off in, so enters the home of two young women, who themselves are discussing their final hours, not at all concerned by Jane. Hoping to be turned into a leather jacket after she dies, Amy visits a leather shop, but mid way through a conversation, she wakes from a dream and begins to contemplate whether or not she will be ok.

This unique psychological film looks at how paranoia can spread like a disease. This eerie and disturbing story from Seimetz about our morality is anything but comforting, but does stay with you long after the credits.

 

The Vast of Night

Dir: Andrew Patterson | Amazon Studios

This sci-fi indie film from director Andrew Patterson explores the extra-terrestrial, when a disc jockey discovers a mysterious audio frequency.

Set in New Mexico in 1950, we are introduced to students Everett (Jake Horowitz) and Fay (Sierra McCormick), who attend a school basketball game. Everett works evenings at a radio station and Fay works as a switchboard operator, which is where she first experiences connection issues, when a strange wind-like phenomenon is reported in the sky.

Fay requests that Everett ask his listeners for information, leading to an ex-military soldier called Billy calling to tell them about a classified project in the desert. He explains that back when he was serving, upon leaving the secret bunker, he heard the same signal being reported and many other squadrons experienced hearing it. The signal was recorded and believed to have been transmitting higher than any man-made object could fly. In Billy’s opinion, the reason personnel from minority ethnic backgrounds were chosen to work on the projects, is if the information was leaked, it would be far less likely they would be viewed as a credible source. Fay visits the library to retrieve the tapes, which have the recorded signal Billie had mentioned. Upon receiving them, Everett begins to broadcast the tapes, until his power trips. Meanwhile, Fay starts to receive reports of an object in the sky and receives a tip from an elderly woman, named Mabel, who claims to know its origins. When Everett decides to record the meeting; Mabel begins to speak in an unknown language. She tells them that aliens are abducting humans and this is the message they use to subdue them. Mabel believes that the aliens have always threatened humanities existence.

With Everett, Faye collects her baby sister Maddie, as friends Gerald and Bertsie, who had been driving around the area following the UFO in the sky, pick them up. When Everett plays back Mabel’s message, Gerald and Bertsie freeze, causing them to crash in the woods. As the aliens move in, Everett, Fay, and Maddie are abducted, with their tape recorder the only trace left of them.

The Vast of Night is an ingenious retro science fiction story, full of suspense, imagination and style. Patterson distinctly captures the mood and atmosphere, in this low budget thriller, bringing the 50’s back to life.


 

Honorable Mentions:

Tenet
Dir: Christopher Nolan | Warner Bros. Pictures

Hamilton
Dir: Thomas Kail | Walt Disney Pictures

Rewind
Dir: Sasha Neulinger | Cedar Creek Productions

Rocks
Dir: Olivia Wilde | United Artists Releasing

Bad Education
Dir: Cory Finley | HBO Films

 


 

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