The 10 best films of 2020: 'Host', 'Tenet' and the other hit releases in a quiet year for cinema

We pick the best films, released in an exceptionally difficult year, that kept us glued to our (sofa) seats

Im Thinking Of Ending Things. Courtesy Netflix
Powered by automated translation

In the wider context of the year that was 2020, it seems churlish to bemoan the terrible 12 months that cinema had, but there’s no denying that it was a uniquely challenging time for the industry, as it was for many others.

With cinemas closed worldwide for much of the year, productions forced to shut down and audiences confined to their sofas as restrictions on movement were imposed for prolonged periods, it’s unsurprising that there’d be a lack of blockbusters on an end-of-year rundown of the best films.

Nonetheless, although the postponement of eagerly awaited tent poles such as new James Bond film No Time to Die, plus Black Widow, Dune and Top Gun: Maverick may hint at a poor year for movies, scratch beneath the surface and there has been a lot to celebrate.

From the handful of films that sneaked into cinemas at the start of the year, just in time to trouble the Oscars in February, to the way that streaming platforms and video-on-demand services stepped up to the plate to satisfy the cravings of a housebound global population, there have been some great movie moments this year. Here are The National's top 10.


When Christopher Nolan’s latest was heralded on its August release as “the film that will save cinema”, it seemed a tall order. Firstly, it was being released mid-pandemic, with audiences cautious about returning to cinemas of which many were still closed. Secondly, expecting a Nolan film to save mainstream cinema after a shuttered summer is akin to expecting Radiohead’s new album to save Europop after a quiet period for children’s parties.

Sure, this multilayered spy thriller gives us bombastic stunts and big action set pieces, but we’re also treated to Nolan’s usual time / space obsessions that lead to scenes taking place backwards, stretching of the norms of logic and, of course, alternate possible realities. It’s a thrilling ride, a bit like waking up in an incomprehensibly action-packed quantum physics lecture, but it’s not popcorn fodder.

Conveniently, the film has recently been released on to VOD, which means we can all now watch it a second, third or 15th, until it makes sense.

The film is available to buy on VOD.


Frances McDormand's performance in Chloe Zhao's Nomadland is already generating Oscars buzz. The film, which won the Gold Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival, is based on a book by Jessica Bruder. It follows the story of Fern (McDormand), a widow in her sixties, who after losing everything during the economic recession lives the life of a modern-day nomad by embarking on a journey through the American West. Since its world premiere, the film has won numerous awards at festivals around the world.

The film will be released in UAE cinemas in 2021.

'The Invisible Man'

Leigh Whannell's remarkable horror story follows Cecilia, played by Emmy winner Elisabeth Moss (The Handmaid's Tale), who starts to experience strange events following the death of her abusive ex-boyfriend. Cecilia's rationality is challenged when she desperately tries to prove that she is being hunted by someone that no one can see. The film is an adaptation of HG Wells's 1897 novel The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance.

The film is available to buy on VOD.


While many of the films on this year’s list were completed and distributed despite the restrictions brought about by Covid-19, Rob Savage’s ultra-lo-fi Brit horror couldn’t exist without them.

The found-footage piece follows the events of an online seance taking place over a single Zoom call during lockdown. The film was, in fact, produced during the UK’s lockdown, with the actors setting up their own lights and cameras, and learning how to make the special effects through online workshops.

Like The Blair Witch Project, which set this genre rolling more than two decades ago, Savage's film proves that sometimes less is more. Unlike many films that have tried to replicate the formula since, Host is an unqualified success, and possibly the scariest film you'll see this year. You may never open Zoom again.

The film is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

'Lovers Rock'

Most directors would consider themselves to have a fairly successful career if they manage to release a feature film every year. 12 Years a Slave Oscar-winner Steve McQueen, on the other hand, has treated us to one a week since mid-November, courtesy of his five-part Small Axe anthology.

The films tell tales of life as an immigrant in the UK, and any one of the five could deservedly find itself on this list. Lovers Rock, however, is a highlight. Taking place over the course of one night in the buzzing reggae house party scene of 1970s London, the film doesn't so much tell a story as put on an event that we're invited (and central) to.

It's interactive cinema without any of the hi-tech novelty usually associated with the term, as perfectly evidenced by the standout scene in which the party guests join together in a rousing chorus of Janet Kay's Silly Games. It's pulsating, and we truly feel like we're there with them. This is a film that leaves a mark on the soul, not just the mind.

The film is available for streaming on Amazon Prime.


Hollywood loves films about Hollywood, so Gary Oldman seems a dead cert for an Oscar nod for his performance in this biopic of Herman Mankiewicz, screenwriter of Citizen Kane. The film is expected to be a contender during awards season. It has been described as an immersive, lovingly crafted, bittersweet dive into late-1930s Hollywood, and the circumstances that gave birth to the Oscar-winning original film.

The film is available on Netflix.

'I'm Thinking of Ending Things'

The film’s protagonist, Young Woman, is already thinking of calling things off with her new partner, Jake, at the very beginning of I’m Thinking of Ending Things. And if an evening with his strange parents at their isolated farmhouse isn’t enough to convince her, then nothing will. This dark psychological thriller comes from the mind of Being John Malkovich writer and Anomalisa and Synecdoche, New York director Charlie Kaufman, so don’t be surprised that it eschews any sense of narrative logic or traditional cinematic structure. Characters inexplicably grow older or younger, backstories change at will, and the film skips from mundane dialogue to ballet set pieces at the drop of a hat. It’s a mind-bending exercise in symbolic surrealism, yet succeeds in being as enthralling as it is challenging for the length of its gloriously bizarre 134 minutes.

The film is available for streaming on Netflix.

'Beastie Boys Story'

An unexpected side effect of having to stay at home this year could be that we’re all forced to question what makes a good film, or indeed a film at all.

With cinemas closed and blockbusters lying largely dormant, Disney+ found huge success with Hamilton, a filmed version of a Broadway musical. Then Apple TV+ achieved similar results with Beastie Boys Story, essentially a filmed version of a spoken-word show, interspersed with archive footage courtesy of Her director Spike Jonze, from the two remaining members of hip-hop greats the Beastie Boys. Few but diehard fans would venture to cinemas to watch the pair tell their life stories, but at home, it's a great way to spend a couple of hours on the sofa.

Surviving Beasties Mike Diamond and Adam Horowitz (Adam Yauch died of cancer in 2012) come across as intelligent, humorous and impeccably mannered storytellers, and it’s hard to imagine how these likeable chaps from New York were once the nemesis of every right-thinking parent and tabloid news editor.

The film is available for streaming on Apple TV+.


The latest animated tale from Pixar follows a music teacher and would-be jazz legend, whose soul has to reunite with his body following an accidental separation. It was widely hailed as the studio's best film in years following its world premiere at October's London Film Festival. Since its release, it has been received with rave reviews.

The film is cinemas and available on Disney+.

'Wonder Woman 1984'

As the year draws to a close, finally a superhero has entered the fray to save us all. Wonder Woman won't save cinema, just like Tenet didn't before her. She will, however, give us some eyeball-bulging, speaker-busting, big-screen throwaway fun of the kind we haven't seen since last year – at least she will if you live in a market where cinemas have reopened. Patty Jenkins and Gal Gadot reunite to show Covid-19 that, even if James Bond and Black Widow were too scared to take the virus on in cinemas this year, Wonder Woman has no such qualms.

Although it has left audiences divided, this is perhaps just the kind of overblown, positive-­message-soaked, big-screen catharsis we need to herald the return of the blockbuster next year, and help see in 2021 with a bang, not a whimper.

The film is in cinemas now.

Other films that are worth a mention as they debuted to UAE audiences, either in cinemas or streaming/VOD, in 2020, are:

'The Lighthouse'

The Lighthouse marks the second film in this round-up for former Twilight heart-throb Robert Pattinson (the British actor also co-starred in Tenet). He has made something of a habit of proving he's more than simply a teen pin-up since his Twilight stint ended in 2012, and this outing in a two-man show alongside veteran Willem Dafoe is no exception.

The second feature film from The Witch director Robert Eggers, The Lighthouse is a masterclass in claustrophobic suspense and creeping insanity, telling the story of two lighthouse keepers stranded on a remote island by bad weather. Shot entirely in black and white with early 20th-century lenses, and using a cleverly cramped narrow aspect ratio that evokes TV from the same period, The Lighthouse is a visual treat as well as a vehicle for two actors at the top of their game.

The film is available to buy on VOD.

'Jojo Rabbit'

In Jojo Rabbit, Taika Waititi hilariously applies the same sense of farcical satire to Nazi history as he did to vampire legend in his 2014 international breakout What We Do in the Shadows.

A young Johannes (Jojo) is a loyal and committed member of Hitler's Nazi Youth, so he's understandably conflicted when he learns that his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in a secret room in their Berlin home. This conflict is only intensified by the fact that Jojo's imaginary friend is none other than Adolf Hitler himself. This was another film that managed to creep into cinemas just before the world ground to a halt and, like fellow January release Parasite, it found itself rewarded come February's Oscars, with a statue for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The film is available to buy on VOD.


Part-family drama, part-­Hitchcockian thriller, part-black comedy and part-social polemic, Bong Joon-ho's Palme d'Or-winning masterpiece landed in cinemas in January and went on to make history as the first foreign language film to win the Oscar for Best Picture a month later – the film picked up a further three Oscars, too, for Best International Feature, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

The Kim family live in poverty in Seoul’s slums, with nothing to their names but their initiative and will to survive. When a lucky break leads to son Ki-Woo landing a job as an English tutor to a young girl from a wealthy family, the family-­sized class war becomes hilarious and sinister in equal measure.

The film is available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video.