PSA: Unlike with this year’s roundup on the Movie Robcast, I’ve decided not to include any films that were eligible for the previous Oscars; even if they were only released in the UK in 2020.
That means no Parasite for Best Picture, or Céline Sciamma for Best Director (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), no Scarlett Johansson for Best Supporting Actress (Jojo Rabbit), or Roger Deakins for Best Cinematography (1917).
Instead, I’ve chosen to look ahead to next year’s contenders. As such, this list may include more films that most people haven’t yet had a chance to see, but I feel will better reflect the global state of film.¹
I’ve also chosen to split Drama and Comedy into separate categories, as they do in the Golden Globes, in order to highlight the broadest range of films, with up to 10 films per category.²
¹ Any films with an asterisk aren’t due to be released in the UK till 2021. ² I’ve included links to full reviews where available or else just to IMDb.
WINNER: Nomadland* – Chloé Zhao’s profoundly empathetic depiction of modern-day nomads travelling the American West in search of seasonal employment features an astonishingly subtle performance from Frances McDormand amid a remarkable cast of non-actors.
WINNER: Palm Springs* – A time-loop rom-com that starts like a sunnier, more profane Groundhog Day about disaffected thirty-somethings and develops into a genuinely moving study of what it means to be stuck in a rut.
Runners-up: An American Pickle, Bill & Ted Face the Music, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Emma, The Hunt, The King of Staten Island, The Lovebirds, On the Rocks, The Personal History of David Copperfield
WINNER: Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods – Like The Deer Hunter meets Three Kings, by way of Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee’s latest is a sprawling, reflective war epic that grapples with the ongoing impact of the Vietnam War and the role of African-American soldiers in it.
Runners-up: Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods; Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Lee Isaac Chung, Minari; Sean Durkin, The Nest*; Chloé Zhao, Nomadland*; Regina King, One Night in Miami; Max Barbakow, Palm Springs*; Rose Glass, Saint Maud; Josephine Decker, Shirley; Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
WINNER: Hugh Jackman, Bad Education – As Superintendent Frank Tassone, Jackman masterfully peels away layers of contradiction and hypocrisy as a public servant whose perfectly-preened veneer begins to deteriorate under the pressure of public scrutiny.
Runners-up: Delroy Lindo, Da 5 Bloods; Jessie Plemons, I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Chadwick Boseman, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Jude Law, The Nest*; Shaun Parkes,Small Axe (Mangrove); Gary Oldman, Mank; Kingsley Ben-Adir, One Night in Miami; Andy Samberg,Palm Springs*s; Riz Ahmed, Sound of Metal
WINNER: Morfydd Clark, Saint Maud – Clark is a revelation… this is a raw, powerhouse performance. Whether attempting to be normal on a nightmare night out, self-flagellating or contorting her body and face in religious ecstasy, it is impossible to look away from what she has created.
Runners-up: Julia Garner, The Assistant; Anya Taylor-Joy, Emma; Jessie Buckley, I’m Thinking of Ending Things; Viola Davis, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom; Carrie Coon, The Nest; Sidney Flanagan, Never Rarely Sometimes Always; Frances McDormand, Nomadland*; Cristin Milioti, Palm Springs* Elizabeth Moss,Shirley
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
WINNER: Chadwick Boseman, Da 5 Bloods – It’s hard to separate Boseman’s penultimate role from his tragic passing, but his performance here is astonishing by any standards. As doomed GI “Stormin'” Norman, Boseman is Da 5 Blood’s fervent soul.
Runners-up: Ewan McGregor, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn); Johnny Flynn, Emma; David Strathairn, Nomadland*; Leslie Odom, Jr., One Night in Miami; Bill Murray, On the Rocks; J.K. Simmons, Palm Springs; Michael Stuhlbarg, Shirley; Paul Raci, Sound of Metal; Sacha Baron Cohen,The Trial of the Chicago 7
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
WINNER: Odessa Young, Shirley – As the young housewife drawn under Shirley’s sway grows and the line between them blurs, Young’s performance grows in complexity and stature; offering a multi-faceted portrayal of a wallflower unexpectedly coming into her power.
Runners-up: Saoirse Ronan, Ammonite; Allison Janney, Bad Education; Maria Bakalova, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm; Glenn Close, Hillbilly Elegy; Betty Gilpin, The Hunt; Amanda Seyfried, Mank; Yuh-jung Youn, Minari; Swankie, Nomadland*;Kristin Scott Thomas, RebeccaB
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
WINNER: Minari³ – Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical film is a gentle, wistful portrayal of a South Korean family’s pursuit of the American dream in 1980s Arkansas; deftly handling themes such as assimilation and tradition.
³ There’s been some controversy around Minari not being eligible for Best Picture at the Golden Globes due to the largely Korean dialogue. However, I’ve seen so few films in languages other than English this year, this seemed the best category to highlight it.
WINNER: Soul – As in 2015’s Inside Out, a high concept reveals deep emotional truth. Music teacher-jazz pianist Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) gets a lucky break, only to mistakenly end up in the Great Before; charged with helping pre-birth soul 22 (Tina Fey) discover her passion.
WINNER: Time – Garrett Bradley’s documentary takes the home-movie footage of Sibil Fox Richardson and turns it into a meditation on love, loss, and and what it means to spend your life waiting on the American justice system to say, “Enough”.
BEST BRITISH FILM
WINNER: Steve McQueen, Small Axe – Small Axe is technically an anthology miniseries, but McQueen’s work here is undeniably cinematic; regardless of the size of screen. Five unique films, each documenting a different aspect of the British-Caribbean experience – and all available on BBC iPlayer.
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
WINNER: Emerald Fennell,Promising Young Woman – A revenge thriller from a former show runner on Killing Eve, Promising Young Woman is every bit as stylish and unique as that pedigree suggests… like a gaze-flipped Neon Demon by way of Autumn de Wilde’s Emma.
Runner-up: Kitty Green, The Assistant;Danny Bilson, Paul De Meo, Kevin Willmott, Spike Lee, Da 5 Bloods; Leigh Whannel, The Invisible Man;Jack Fincher, Mank; Sean Durkin, The Nest*; Andy Siara, Palm Springs*; Amy Seimetz, She Dies Tomorrow;Pete Docter, Mike Jones, Kemp Powers, Soul; Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
WINNER: Charlie Kaufman, I’m Thinking of Ending Things (based on the novel by Iain Reid) – A couple’s journey to visit the boyfriend’s parents becomes as existentially knotty as any film you’ll see this year as Kaufman delves headlong into insecurity, free will, and the fear of failure.
Runners-up: Simon Rich, An American Pickle (based on the short story); Peter Baynham, Sacha Baron Cohen, Jena Friedman, Anthony Hines, Lee Kern, Dan Mazer, Erica Rivinoja, Dan Swimer, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (based on Borat Sagdiyev by Sacha Baron Cohen); Eleanor Catton,Emma (based on the book by Jane Austen); Kelly Reichardt, Jonathan Raymond, First Cow (based on the book The Half Life by Jonathan Raymond); Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (based on the play by August Wilson); Chloé Zhao, Nomadland* (based on the book by Jessica Bruder); Kemp Powers, One Night in Miami (based on his play); Sarah Gibbons, Shirley (based on the book by Susan Scarf Merrell); Simon Blackwell, Armando Ianucci, The Personal History of David Copperfield (based on the book by Charles Dickens); Shaun Grant, True History of the Kelly Gang (based on the book by Peter Carey)
WINNER: Ari Wegner, True History of the Kelly Gang – The film is full of opportunities for stunning visuals, from the stark, varied landscape of the Outback to its culmination in a rave-like shootout sequence that literally punches bullet holes in the curtain of night.
Runners-up: Newton Thomas Sigel, Da 5 Bloods; Erik Messerschmidt,Mank; Joshua James Richards,Nomadland*; Tami Reiker, One Night in Miami; Benjamin Kračun, Promising Young Woman; Sturla Brandth Grevien, Shirley; Shabier Kirchner, Small Axe; Hoyte van Hoytema, Tenet; M. I. Littin-Menz, The Vast of Night
WINNER: Alan Baumgarten, The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Sorkin’s zingy approach to dialogue has never been showcased better than in an ingenious sequence of crosscutting that introduces not only the world of the film, but all the defendants and their contradictory ideologies.
Runners-up: Adam Gough, Da 5 Bloods; Andy Canny, The Invisible Man; Kirk Baxter, Mank; Chloé Zhao, Nomadland*; Sarah Flack, On the Rocks; Andrew Dickler, Matt Friedman,Palm Springs*s; Frédéric Thoraval, Promising Young Woman; Mikkel E.G. Nielsen,Sound of Metal; Jennifer Lame, Tenet
WINNERS: Terence Blanchard, One Night in Miami – Four larger-than-life personalities largely confined to one hotel room could easily eat up the oxygen, but… Terence Blanchard’s jazzy score keeps things cool, even when emotions heat up.
Runners-up: Terence Blanchard, Da 5 Bloods; Benjamin Wallfisch,The Invisible Man; Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross, Mank; Emile Mosseri, Minari; Tamar-kali, Shirley; Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Soul ; Ludwig Göransson, Tenet; Daniel Pemberton, The Trial of the Chicago 7; Bruno Coulais, Kíla, Wolfwalkers
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
WINNER: Mank – Period dramas tend to have the edge when it comes to this category; let alone period dramas about the Golden Age of Hollywood that get to recreate Hearst Castle, including a scaled-down version of that ludicrous fireplace from Citizen Kane.
Runners-up: Ammonite, Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), Emma, The Midnight Sky, News of the World, One Night in Miami, The Personal History of David Copperfield, Promising Young Woman, The Trial of the Chicago 7
WINNER: Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) – With Margot Robbie clearly having a blast as the newly-emancipated Harley and the best DC villain since Nolan left the franchise, it’s everything Suicide Squad should have been.
⁴ Due to COVID, this one actually never made to the cinema, so I’m working by directorial intent.
FILM I MOST WISH I’D SEEN IN CINEMAS
WINNER: Small Axe (Lovers Rock) – This film made a lot of top of the year lists, but I was left strangely unmoved by it. Given the talent involved, though, and the fact it definitely seems like my vibe, I’m wondering if that’s due to the size of screen and lack of surround sound.
MOST DISAPPOINTING FILM
WINNER: Tenet – WB put all their theatrical eggs in one basket when they chose this as their one major release of the summer. But out of the eleven films Nolan has directed so far, this is the only one I haven’t loved on first viewing. It’s a timepiece of a film, technically impressive but hollow.
WINNERS: Artemis Fowl – As a fan of the books from childhood this one stung. By turning its junior-Bond-villain protagonist into a straightforward hero and a hostage situation into the League of Fairy Friends, Branagh’s adaptation bowdlerises its source material in the worst way.
MOST EAGERLY AWAITED
WINNER: No Time to Die – No way this is coming out in April.
MAD AS ARSEHOLES AWARD
WINNER: Shadow in the Cloud – I’m not even going to include the trailer for this one, due to spoilers, but trust me, you’re in for a treat…