Certain film critic purists will look on aghast at ole Father Gore’s list of favourite 2020 films. Yes, some of these are festival films that haven’t yet received distribution, and one of them appeared at festivals in late 2019 but didn’t get released widely around the world until early 2020. So, if you have an issue with any of this, kindly collect your belongings and find some other list to browse elsewhere: this one is not for you! I like to feature films that appeared in festivals because this helps give people a few titles to look for in 2021, when the majority of them will get distribution and hit digital, VOD, and streaming platforms. Not to mention so many year-end lists wind up having a bunch of the same titles on them anyway

And so here they are, Father Gore’s Year-End Favourites: 2020 Edition!

[The list is in no particular order. I couldn’t even honestly rank a top five because while 2020’s been a burning dumpster fire filled with death, fires, racists, and poverty, it’s also been a fantastic year for film in spite of theatres largely being closed.]

Fried Barry

Fried Barry POSTER

Ryan Kruger previously directed a short film called Fried Barry, then expanded it greatly into this full-length feature that’s a bonkers mix of horror, sci-fi, and social realism. The short was a much more basic concept, whereas the feature is an expanded adventure taking a junkie named Barry (Gary Green) on a mad trip around Cape Town. Barry’s a bit of a deadbeat dad and all-around greaser, except his body’s been hijacked by an extraterrestrial being that’s looking to get an inside perspective on human life, and their time together might just prove beneficial for them both. A stunner of a film.

Kruger’s sci-fi and horror blend is kicked up ten notches by his kinetic style of film making. The story’s strong core of realism is conveyed through Green’s quietly enigmatic performance as THE fried Barry himself.

Read a full review here.

Sanzaru

Sanzaru POSTER

There’s no better way I can say it: Sanzaru rocked my world. I was lucky enough to see this during Fantasia 2020, and I also got to have a chat with director-writer Xia Magnus, whose insight was incredible (read the interview here). The screenplay mashes together Filipino culture and the American South in a way that never feels forced; Magnus combines them as if they were meant to go together as a pair. The story’s themes are deep and dark, though there’s also a ray of light shining through everything, emanating from the film’s leads, Evelyn (Aina Dumlao) and Clem (Justin Arnold), whose stories are tragic, and in a certain way similar. One powerful piece of dramatic horror with tons of Southern Gothic style. Spooky with a beating, beautiful heart.

Read a full review here.

The Stylist

The Stylist POSTER

Despite the above poster being the one from Jill Gevargizian’s short film of the same title, The Stylist is an impressive genre film and it’ll soon have a brand new poster of its own. Arrow will be streaming the film in March for U.S./U.K. audiences, and it’ll then make its way to Blu ray and various other VOD platforms. Gevargizian focuses on the relationships between women in her film, at the same time exploring a somewhat sympathetic murderer. The eponymous stylist is Claire (Najarra Townsend). She’s lonely and desperate for connection. Her life and mind go completely off the rails once she meets bride-to-be Olivia (Brea Grant), and she develops an obsession with her new friend that culminates in horror. Part psychological horror, part outright slasher, Gevargizian’s film is a must-see with lots of heart, a few laughs, and lots of blood.

Read a full review here.

Vivarium

Vivarium POSTER

Capitalist horror is a thing, and Vivarium is at the peak of the sub-genre. Lorcan Finnegan hit my radar with his 2011 short film Foxes, a fascinating little story. His 2016 feature Without Name truly hooked me to his style. Once Vivarium rolled around this year it was another clear indication that Finnegan is a filmmaker with a singular style. The film depicts a young couple—Gemma (Imogen Poots) and Tom (Jesse Eisenberg)—searching for their dream home, only to get themselves lost in a mysterious, terrifying neighbourhood where every house and every family is exactly the same. Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley take their audience on an unsettling ride through a materialist Utopia that proves to be much more a consumer’s hell than heaven.

Read a full review here.

True History of the Kelly Gang

True History of the Kelly Gang POSTER

I’d already read Peter Carey’s book True History of the Kelly Gang years prior to Justin Kurzel adapting it for the screen, and I was a huge fan. The way Carey blends fact and fiction while all the time questioning gender, masculinity, nationalism, and sexuality is the mark of an expert storyteller. Kurzel’s directing translates the story pretty well onto film, never really losing much of what made the book important; at least in my humble opinion. George MacKay’s turn as the infamous Ned Kelly is a spectacular one—MacKay seems to chew on all those quiet moments just as much, if not more, than he does the intense scenes. Essie Davis leans hard into her performance as Ned’s rough-and-tumble mother, Ellen Kelly. Again, like Carey’s novel, it’s the story that ultimately matters most. Kurzel’s film is a timely exploration in 2020 of what Australian masculinity has done to its land, its women, and, yes, indeed, the men; what it still continues to do today.

Read a full review here.

Blood Quantum

Blood Quantum POSTER

The world needs more artists like Jeff Barnaby. Horror is a great vessel for social commentary, which Blood Quantum has in spades. What happens when a zombie virus only affects white people and an Indigenous reservation in Canada becomes the last stronghold against the undead? Well, the white people suddenly want onto the reservation. Brilliant premise. Particularly when Canada gets by decade after decade on the fabricated reputation of being the nicest country ever, and in reality our country has a long, long history of colonialism and racism. Indigenous artists like Barnaby are putting their resistance into the stories they tell, regardless of whether white people can handle the rightful criticism, and is it any wonder? Miꞌkmaq lobster fisherman have been attacked on the East Coast by white fisherman just this year while being left to fend for themselves by the government and the RCMP alike, and it hasn’t actually stopped. A Canadian politician told people a few weeks ago there were good things about the residential schools, where Indigenous kids were taken after being stolen from their homes then systematically, forcibly assimilated into white Christian culture; one of those schools is infamous for having used a makeshift electric chair on the children. Films like Blood Quantum won’t magically make white people understand the plight of Indigenous peoples, the majority of white people probably won’t even get this one’s message(s). Nevertheless, films like these are necessary, and stories like these should only ever be told by Indigenous voices.

Read a full review here.

Time of Moulting

Time of Moulting POSTER

Have you ever seen a film that’s not graphic yet manages to disturb you to the core? Time of Moulting, the debut feature film from Sabrina Mertens, did such things to me without ever needing any graphic displays of horror. Everything in this story is psychological, burrowing so deep it feels like Mertens is right inside your psyche, poking and prodding in places few dare to tread. Mertens tells the story of Stephanie (Zelda Espenschied / Miriam Schiweck), a young girl in Germany growing up during the 1970s. She lives with her unstable mother (Freya Kreutzkam) and father Reinhardt (Bernd Wolf) in a semi-dilapidated home brimming with books, old papers, clothes, and other clutter. The father hits his daughter and taunts her emotionally. The mother may be committing worse sins. In the house’s repressive silence, Stephanie’s intellectual and sexual development goes terribly wrong.

Trust me when I say this is an unforgettable cinematic experience. Like a grim painting brought to life. Fitting that Mertens shot this in 57 tableaux-esque shots, as if painting on a canvas rather than shooting on film.

Read a full review here.

Unearth

Unearth POSTER

Unearth is not subtle, whatsoever, and this doesn’t hurt the film one bit. A shocking horror that starts off as a UK-style working class drama set in rural America. Kathryn Dolan (Adrienne Barbeau) is the hard-headed matriarch of a farming family she feels is coming apart at the seams, and George Lomack (Marc Blucas) is a single dad whose wife left him with two daughters, the youngest of whom has just become a single parent herself. The families aren’t best friends, though they get along. Until George decides his economic hardships are too much to bear, selling his land to a natural gas company. Kathryn and George really start butting heads after the deal’s done, but it has nothing on the tragic, horrific effects the fracking causes.

The performances are great, particularly Adrienne Barbeau and Marc Blucas, whose central roles anchor everything else that’s going on in the plot. If you’re looking for wild horror with sickening effects? You found it. One scene literally dropped my jaw, and I hesitate to say a word about what’s involved; so, I won’t! Recommend checking this one out for the socially relevant drama and staying for the gnarly horror that emerges halfway through the film.

Read a full review here.

You Cannot Kill David Arquette

You Cannot Kill David Arquette POSTER

I fucking love professional wrestling! I’m currently working on a new Patreon-exclusive column about the historical connections between wrestling and the world of theatre. I fell off watching pro wrestling for a few years because I didn’t have cable, so I stuck to indie promotions. But years back I returned to my love for the squared circle on the grandest stage. I’d actually stopped watching both WWF and WCW around the time David Arquette became WCW champion, though that had nothing to do with me not watching for a long while. However, I remember watching Arquette clinch the title, and I remember the fallout. So it’s great to see Arquette, who I’ve always enjoyed as an actor, make a return of his own to wrestling, learning the real ropes—pun intended—and genuinely trying to make a name for himself in the ring rather than let his legacy be one that other wrestlers scoff at angrily. The documentary has a lot of soul, it even has a bit of ‘working’ in it (you’ll have to check your lingo, non-fans!). Most of all, it’s nice to see Arquette working at the craft of wrestling while giving the business respect, and paying his dues along the way. He achieves what he wanted and then some. Riveting to watch his energy on this journey. You may even shed a tear or two; I did.

Read a full review here.

Violation

Violation POSTER

Not generally a fan of rape-revenge, aside from a few choice films. Mostly it’s traumatising for me, as a victim of childhood abuse. Usually it’s only women writers/filmmakers who seem to make them palatable, even if they’re still brutal regardless. A film making duo—Dusty Mancinelli and Madeleine Sims-Fewer—co-direct/wrote Violation, a story that manages not to be overly graphic in regards to rape, while still being capable of tackling the subject. And, well, there’s definitely other graphic stuff.

Miriam (Sims-Fewer) and Caleb (Obi Abili) are having relationship troubles. They head out to the picturesque house belonging to Miriam’s sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and her husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe). It’s evident the sisters are quite different from one another, as are the men they’re with, but they all try to have a nice time together. This turns to devastation when Dylan betrays Miriam in the most heinous way. Suddenly, Miriam’s world and trust are torn apart violently.

Can’t say much more without spoiling the plot. Go in knowing nothing but the basics.
Be prepared. Be warned.

Read a full review here.

Relic

Relic POSTER

If you want to be scared and horribly depressed at once, Relic is your best bet for 2020. Not saying anything bad about the film, it’s actually a compliment; this one goes hard. Natalie Erika James co-writer Christian White’s screenplay depicts a family dealing with death and psychological decay. Edna (Robyn Nevin) is beginning to deteriorate mentally since the death of her husband. She goes missing, but after her daughter Kay (Emily Mortimer) and granddaughter Sam (Bella Heathcote) rush to the old family home, she returns. They can’t get any answers out of Edna about where she’s been, nor what she was doing. When Edna starts acting stranger, a sinister presence fills the house.

The film never lets up with the dread, slowly crawling over you until it’s seeping into your skin like a cold wind. Relic is a compelling exploration of how we treat mental illness and the elderly, as well as both simultaneously. A haunting masterpiece. One of my favourite horrors of the 21st century.

Read a full review here.

The Block Island Sound

The Block Island Sound POSTER

It’s tough to say a lot about The Block Island Sound without spoiling anything, so I’ll lay out the bare bones. Harry Lynch (Chris Sheffield) is a young man stuck at home going nowhere. Now he’s watching his father (Neville Archambault) go senile. Or, maybe something stranger’s going on. When his sister Audrey (Michaela McManus) comes home with her daughter, their father disappears one night out in his boat. While Audrey and the rest of the town figure it was an inevitable conclusion for an alcoholic who often went boating while drunk, Harry’s not so sure. He starts to investigate strange phenomena happening on the island, convinced it’s related to his father’s disappearance. What he uncovers is more horrifying than most conspiracy theories.

The Block Island Sound is intriguing, creepy, and existential in the best sort of ways. Take a trip into the unknown, you will love it, or you’ll at the very least find it fresh and inventive genre film making.

Read a full review here.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

I'm Thinking of Ending Things POSTER

Charlie Kaufman is, indeed, one of a kind; no cliche. His mind doesn’t operate like other storytellers’ minds, and that’s a gift unto us all. Like him or not, Kaufman’s style is singular, he’s a definite auteur. I’m Thinking of Ending Things feels like total Kaufman, though it likewise feels as if the director-writer was consuming a steady diet of nothing but David Lynch films while working on this one. Jessie Buckley’s protagonist, whose name shifts throughout, is a character who gradually becomes lost in the story of another, her significant other Jake (Jesse Plemons). They go on a road trip together to visit his parents (Toni Collette and David Thewlis), and it’s there time, space, and sanity seem to unravel. There are multiple ways to read the film, which is why I’ve always loved absurdism and surrealism so much. Kaufman creates a uniquely psychological horror vibe that unnerved me for days after I watched.

Dinner in America

Dinner in America POSTER

Adam Rehmeier impressed me with Dinner in America, most of all considering he’d previously directed The Bunny Game which I fiercely loathed. His latest film is a mix of punk rock anarchy and heartfelt comedy that I found infectious. Kyle Gallner plays the leader of a punk band who’s on the run from cops, Emily Skeggs plays a unique young woman still living at home and dying to escape from under her parents’ thumbs. They wind up together inadvertently on a strange semi-road trip. After the initial awkwardness they start to see they have so much to teach one another. The screenplay is one of my favourites of 2020. The performances of both Gallner and Skeggs make this movie a whole lot of fun. Twice as awesome for those who grew up on punk music, you’ll recognise the music’s spirit in more than the soundtrack.

Read a full review here.

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