With the end of the year comes a great deal of list-making and heated debate about the best films of the previous 12 months. Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has done nothing to minimise the quality of the best movies of 2020.
However, the world of list-making inevitably means that some of the best movies have to just miss out. Sometimes it’s because they’re not quite as exciting and as splashy as the absolute standout entries of the year, but it’s also often because they just weren’t widely seen enough.
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With that in mind, here are 10 under-appreciated gems from 2020 that are well worth your time.
Bombshell earned Oscar nominations aplenty back at the beginning of the year as one of the first films to explicitly draw from the implications of the Me Too movement. Much more nuance, however, is on offer in writer-director Kitty Green’s powerfully understated drama The Assistant. Julia Garner plays the office helper of a high-powered Hollywood mogul, clearly inspired in part by Harvey Weinstein.
Read more: Kitty Green discusses Me Too
The movie doesn’t shout its message from the rooftops, instead positioning the audience right in the world of Garner’s character as she navigates her own experiences of sexism and feelings of complicity in her boss’s actions. In a just world, Garner would be competing for an Oscar of her own next year.
The Assistant is streaming on NOW TV with a Sky Cinema Pass.
Weathering With You
Makoto Shinkai delivered one of the most acclaimed anime movies in years with the heart-wrenching 2016 body swap romance Your Name. His follow-up, released way back in January, is a powerful eco fable that feels like the perfect movie for an era in which the younger generation are being asked to take the lead ahead of their apathetic parents in the fight against climate change.
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The movie follows the romance between a teenage runaway and a fast food worker who is a “sunshine girl”, with the power to control the weather. It’s about the clash between optimism and reality, powered by Shinkai’s love of a pulsating pop soundtrack and his aptitude for heart-breaking magical realism.
Weathering With You is available on DVD/Blu-ray and via VOD platforms.
Yes God Yes
Teen movies dealing with the repression and strict environment of Catholic schooling have proven popular in recent years, not least with Greta Gerwig’s Oscar-nommed Lady Bird. This year, it was the turn of Stranger Things actor Natalia Dyer to play a sexually inexperienced teen exploring her own desires in the hilarious Yes, God, Yes.
She plays Alice, who is being plagued at school by rumours that she carried out a graphic sex act on a classmate. In order to counter the suggestion she’s not sexually pure, she volunteers for a residential retreat program, where she learns that just about everybody is breaking the rules in some way. It’s smart, funny and compelling in the way it takes apart outdated attitudes surrounding sex and the ways in which they bump against modern society’s increasingly liberal outlook.
Yes God Yes is streaming on Netflix.
Valley Girl very much sneaked out into the world earlier this year. A remake of the 1980s cult hit starring Nicolas Cage and Deborah Foreman, this candy-coloured jukebox musical was shot way back in 2017 and subsequently delayed when one of its stars — YouTuber Logan Paul — became embroiled in a controversy after a video filmed at a “suicide forest” in Japan.
This year, though, it exploded on to screens in an avalanche of glitter and peppy covers of 80s pop hits, with an opposites-attract romance at its heart. Happy Death Day lead Jessica Rothe is typically luminous in the lead role, with Josh Whitehouse and Mae Whitman delivering memorable supporting turns. It’s colourful, conventional and a great slice of escapism from the doomy world outside.
Valley Girl is available on DVD/Blu-ray and via VOD platforms.
When Disney+ first arrived in the UK in the early weeks of the initial coronavirus lockdown, fans unsurprisingly flocked to The Mandalorian and, of course, the hundreds of Simpsons episodes on offer. Very little time was given to Togo despite the presence of a super-craggy Willem Dafoe and at least a dozen adorable sled dogs. The story follows Dafoe’s “musher” as he plays a crucial role in the famous 1925 serum run.
It’s an ultra-tense race against time tale, helped by director Ericson Core’s decision to do as much practically as possible, shooting in the snowy wilderness of Canada. The Disney+ catalogue is enormous and packed with amazing classic movies and shows, but Togo is well worth a look.
Togo is streaming on Disney+.
Lynn + Lucy
This has been a terrific year for British independent cinema, and Fyzal Boulifa’s exceptional Lynn + Lucy is right up there with the likes of Rocks amid the best UK indies of 2020. It tells the story of two childhood friends who still live across the road from each other on an Essex estate. When one of them is accused of a terrible crime, the other must decide where her loyalties lie amid a toxic maelstrom of local gossip and social media slander.
Read more: How Rocks found its non-professional cast
Roxanne Scrimshaw was street-cast to play protagonist Lynn and her chemistry with co-star Nichola Burley is believable and heartfelt. The movie is deeply relevant in its dissection of online shaming and the moral absolutes expressed around just about every issue. It recently aired as part of a series of British indies on the BBC and, along with the likes of Perfect 10 and Make Up, it’s essential viewing.
Lynn + Lucy is streaming on BBC iPlayer (until 21 December) and BFI Player.
Irish animation house Cartoon Saloon is on an enormous hot streak in the wake of movies like Song of the Sea and The Breadwinner. Their latest outing will do nothing to halt that momentum. Wolfwalkers tells the tale of a 17th century Ireland being shorn of its character by the ruling class of England, who have mandated in particular that wolves around Kilkenny be culled by Sean Bean’s character.
His daughter Robyn, though, bonds with young girl Maeve in the woods who has a very specific bond with her lupine forest buddies. She is a “wolfwalker” — human by day, wolf by night — and soon Robyn is one too. What follows is an animated tale produced with love, affection and palpable magic. Its inventive and beautiful visions of the world through the eyes of a wolf are worth the price of admission alone.
Wolfwalkers is streaming on Apple TV+.
A Christmas Gift from Bob
The most recent movie on this list is a genuinely adorable festive treat, with enough warmth to raise a smile even on a Christmas Day which might lack the togetherness of previous years. In this sequel to the Brit hit A Street Cat Named Bob, Luke Treadaway reprises the role of real-life Big Issue seller and homelessness campaigner James Bowen as he navigates a difficult Christmas for himself and stray cat Bob.
It would be wrong to attempt to classify A Christmas Gift from Bob as future Oscar-winning material or even a particularly adventurous piece of work, but it exudes affection and optimism from every frame in a decidedly un-2020 way. There’s also an added element of emotion given the passing of Bob earlier this year. The film is the perfect tribute.
A Christmas Gift from Bob is available on DVD and streaming via Amazon Prime Video.
And Then We Danced
How much do you know about traditional Georgian dancing? Well, that’s the backdrop for Levan Akin’s terrific romantic drama, which features the taboo same-sex attraction between two members of a dance ensemble. Their specific form of dance is about displays of masculinity and aggression, with any sense of sexuality — let alone between two men — very much forbidden. Levan Gelbakhiani is tremendous in the central role.
The movie sparked protests in Georgia when it first screened, with its portrayal of LGBT+ characters seen to be at odds with traditional Christian values in the country. Away from that silly controversy, though, it’s a tale told with understated beauty and aching longing. It’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire... with dance.
And Then We Danced is streaming on Curzon Home Cinema and BFI Player.
A Guide to Second Date Sex
George MacKay has had a terrific year, appearing in major Oscar contender 1917 as well as portraying legendary outlaw Ned Kelly in The True History of the Kelly Gang. His most overlooked performance of the year, though, is in the delightfully cringe-worthy romcom A Guide to Second Date Sex. He plays insecure dude Ryan, who has asked Laura (Alexandra Roach) round to his house for a second date — with sex very much on the table.
Read more: MacKay discusses playing Ned Kelly
Writer-director Rachel Hirons largely confines the action to Ryan’s pokey house — shared with a comically loathsome Michael Socha and the uber-weird Tom Bell — and the result is a powder keg of nervousness and tension. It’s sweet when it needs to be, but the major take-away is that MacKay and Roach have awkward chemistry for days. The movie is a little-seen delight.
A Guide to Second Date Sex is streaming on NOW TV with a Sky Cinema Pass.
Watch: The best films coming to NOW TV in December 2020