Please welcome, then, our Winter 2020 double issue, leading on the presentation of our 50 best films of the year poll – and our 100 contributors really have found a great movie for almost every week of the year, despite all the shutters and postponements – but digging in much further, with assessments of the year in Black, LGBTQ+, British and Irish, American, South and East Asian cinema, arthouse, documentary, animation and archive films across nearly 50 pages. (It’s our largest issue ever.) And then we turn to the best television, Blu-rays and DVDs, podcasts and video essays… and on a more sombre note again, our annual obituaries roll-call of the filmmakers we lost in 2020, from Chadwick Boseman to Lucia Bosè.
We also continue our #MyDreamPalace tribute to the cinemas we’ve been missing: filmmakers from Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater to Lynne Ramsay and Tsai Ming-liang pay tribute to the picture palaces that formed them, while Nick Pinkerton surveys the cinema experiences themselves immortalised in the movies. We interview cult directors Don Hertzfeldt and Brandon Cronenberg, sound out Brian Eno’s thoughts on film music, profile the poetic film activist Ayo Akingbade, revisit Jean-Luc Godard’s 1968 tour of American campuses… and close out on the ending of The Elephant Man.
The 50 best films of 2020
Like everything else over the past year, the film world has been knocked for six by the pandemic, which spelled catastrophe for cinemas and left the industry facing a threat to its very existence. But amid the grim realities, there remained reasons to be positive, and much to celebrate in the films themselves – the best of which were as innovative, risk-taking and vital as any in recent times. Introduced by Kieron Corless.
Timeline of a year like no other
+ The year in British and Irish cinema
Despite the havoc wreaked by Covid-19, 2020 was a vintage year for contemporary British and Irish cinema, painting a distinctive portrait of modern life in the British Isles, writes Will Massa.
The year in animation
While some have overstated the pandemic-related boost to the sector, it’s undeniable that animation has been well-positioned to weather the crisis, writes Alex Dudok de Wit
The year in documentary films
A devastating year for cinema has hit nonfiction film particularly hard, uprooting the festival infrastructure on which the health of the sector depends, writes Eric Hynes.
The year in arthouse cinema
Niche foreign-language and art films found a lifeline online, but if the year taught us anything it is that these works need the big screen to fully work their magic, writes Jonathan Romney.
The year in East Asian cinema
In spite of the inevitable disruptions in the region this year, there were still a number of gems to be found, both old and new, from Wong Kar Wai to Hong Sangsoo, writes Tony Rayns.
The year in archive cinema
It’s been a great year for digital restorations and technical ingenuity, with archive film lovers making the most of lockdown viewing opportunities, writes Pamela Hutchinson.
The year in Black cinema
Black film and filmmakers were to the fore as never before in 2020, but too often their reception has been filtered through a white sensibility or to assuage white guilt, writes Nicholas Russell.
The year in American cinema
Several smart indies found a fittingly surreal context in our dread-ridden times, while the big digital platforms continued to tighten their grip on our viewing habits, writes Devika Girish.
The year in LGBTQ+ cinema
It’s been a rich 12 months for queer cinema, with a typically strong Berlin selection and a host of superb documentaries outclassing a mixed bag of queer British films, writes Alex Davidson.
The year in South Asian cinema
It was a year of sad losses for the industry in the region, but resilience and innovation kept things moving forward and a number of films still burned bright, writes Naman Ramachandran.
Television of the year
In a year when many of us were glued to our screens for longer than was strictly healthy, what was most striking was the daring nature of many new TV series, recalibrating our sense of what we could expect from the small screen. James Bell introduces our poll of the year’s best TV dramas.
The year in TV documentary
With many of us stuck indoors – the real world out of reach and little to distract us – in 2020 nonfiction television became more important than ever before, writes Scott Bryan.
+ Books of the year
+ Blu-ray / DVD of the year
+ Podcasts of the year
+ Video essays of the year
Obituaries and tributes to those who died in 2020
Our annual roll call to honour figures from the worlds of film and TV who have died includes beloved talents, from Spartacus himself to the original Bond, and from Antonioni’s first muse to an actor who was a superhero for many, both on and off the screen.
+ new obituaries of
Lights in the dark
The lockdowns of the past year have made the very survival of cinemas more uncertain than ever. And while we can still watch films at home, the shared experience is crucial to what we take from them – something the movies themselves have long celebrated. Nick Pinkerton takes a seat in the stalls to survey cinema’s many odes to its own dream palaces.
+ Ten ‘great at the movies’ scenes
Sticks and clones
The films of Texas-based indie animator Don Hertzfeldt are instantly recognisable not only for their ever-present stick figures, but for their warm humour and sense of wonder. As the third entry in his World of Tomorrow triptych is released, he talks to Nick Bradshaw about how his work has developed over a 25-year career.
Brandon Cronenberg’s thrilling second feature Possessor stars Andrea Riseborough as an assassin who occupies other people’s bodies. He talks to Anne Billson about the disorienting effects of creating our public personas, experimental technology, and how the body-swapping film genre chimes anew with our identity-driven times.
From the archive: Godard and the USA
To tie in with the US release of La Chinoise, Jean-Luc Godard embarked on a tour of US universities. In this piece from our Summer 1968 issue, reprinted to mark the director’s 90th birthday, Claire Clouzot – granddaughter of director Henri-Georges Clouzot – reports on the director’s encounters with students eager for political change
Plus all our great regular features