The Best of 2020

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David Byrne's American Utopia

Usually at this time of year, we like to look back on our favourite films released during the past 12 months. 2020 has been unexpected on so many levels, and we've had far fewer opportunities to enjoy fresh new films on the big screen than we would like. Nonetheless, there have been some incredible new releases in 2020 and lockdown has provided ample opportunity to rediscover some old favourites too. We are firm believers in the power of film to help us through difficult times, and so we'd like to share the films that have brought us escapism, comfort and joy this year, with you.

We would love to hear about your standout films of 2020 too, so get in touch with us on Twitter @glasgowfilm and let us know your favourites.

Days Of The Bagnold Summer

Stating the obvious, 2020 has not been kind to us BUT there have been a lot of amazing films to come out this year (some of them feel like a lifetime ago to be honest!) One film that keeps coming back to me though has to be Simon Bird’s wonderful debut, Days of the Bagnold Summer. As a former teenage goth, I couldn’t help but laugh throughout whilst nodding my head at everything that unfolds between Earl Cave and Monica Dolan’s characters. Not only do they have such amazing chemistry, but the story just awakens so much nostalgia from my teenage years. After the year we have had, it’s also a film that is a lovely reminder of the importance of family and I can’t wait to watch it again with my Mum and share a slice of cake. As long as she doesn’t take a bit with icing of course…

Honourable Mentions: The Lighthouse, Saint Maud, The Invisible Man, Les Misérables.

- Chris Kumar, GFF Programme Coordinator

Les Misérables

'Do you hear the people sing?'

Yes? Then you're watching the wrong version. Ladj Ly's Les Misérables is set in a suburb of present-day Paris. Montfermeil is Victor Hugo's home neighbourhood, where he is said to have wrote the epic 19th century eponymous novel.

This is a slow-burner. Spanning the course of two days, it follows three police officers as they patrol the Paris suburb and the characters they meet along the way. From community leaders to the lion tamer, to the young boys from the local housing estates. Tensions are simmering away throughout and what starts off as a fairly pedestrian film, quickly becomes one you won't be able to shake. 

I missed this at Glasgow Film Festival back in March, and it was a long wait for cinemas to re-open in September so I could finally watch this. It was definitely worth the wait, and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since.

- Sarah Emery, GFF Festival Coordinator

A Christmas Gift From Bob

I have a confession to make. I LOVE Christmas movies. The cheesier the better. Lay on the schmaltz and good cheer, cover it in fairy lights and dip it in hot chocolate. I am a sucker for them all. It’s the eternal optimism and guarantee that Santa is real, people are good at heart and all will be right with the world that gets me. Usually, I am a pessimistic woman, so this is my one chance in the year to let my inner elf out to play. As such, in a year full of uncertainty and far too much reality, a Christmas film is my film of the year.

A Christmas Gift from Bob is a sequel to A Street Cat Named Bob. It tells the true story of a man down on his luck who a cat called Bob chooses as his new owner and together they save each other. This festive sequel sees the progression of that friendship. It is not an overly sunny film and isn’t full of fairies and wishes. With the cheer often spectacularly ruined by a big downfall. This only serves to make the payoff that much sweeter. I won’t spoil it but it melted my Ice Queen heart. What could be better than Christmas cheer in the guise of a streetwise cat? If you want to feel the festive glow without wandering too far down the candy cane from real-world issues, and you want an adorable cat in a Santa hat, this is the film for you.

- Karlean Bourne, Front of House Manager

I'm Thinking Of Ending Things

Charlie Kauffman’s labyrinthine nightmare is the film that stuck with me the most. The script is dense, and the imagery obtuse, but Jessie Buckley’s performance is one of the best of the year. It is also a deliciously devious puzzle box.

Kauffman uses cinematic language to portray psychological conditions in a way that can feel shockingly close to the bone. This is made more palatable with flashes of dark, absurdist humour. I have seen some claim the last hour is too indulgent, but taken as a study of self-destructive introspection I think it works. A film that left me shaken.

- Andrew Campbell, GFF Delegate Services Assistant

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

This film absolutely blew me away. I love seeing dramatic or remote geographies on the big screen and the bleak island setting off the coast of Brittany immediately ticked that box. However, the bleakness of the landscape is in stark contrast to the rich, painterly way the film has been shot and the gripping story of erotic and creative passion. The film is set in the 18th century and depicts the constraints on the lives of the two female leads. There is so much to think about in the story which explores issues like women’s rights, the female gaze and freedom. It had me on the edge of my seat until the powerful and emotional ending.

- Seonaid Daly, Executive Director

David Byrne's American Utopia

In a year where we’ve been deprived of our ability to experience live performance, David Byrne's American Utopia hit all the right notes for me. A film which on the surface looks like a David Byrne greatest hits stage show unfolds as so much more. His untethered troupe of musicians take the stage with weird and wonderful instruments aplenty, each individual brimming with an infectious amount of passion and excitement. The choreography is on point and the stripped-back staging serves to highlight the talent on display. Between the euphoria of the musical numbers, there’s also poignant social messaging which gives a real thoughtful base to the film. Loved it.

- Max Campbell, GFF Marketing Coordinator 


In a year of far too many Skype sessions, Teams meetings, and video calls, it may seem the perfect choice to go for a Zoom horror movie. Told in a tight 50 minutes, Host was everything I wanted from a Corona horror movie: low-budget physical effects, a crazy Scottish psychic and even an elbow bump when two characters are finally in the same room. I'm a huge fan of the special effects in the film and it's the simplest ones that are the best - the spooky mask filter floating mid-air, the seeing things in the corner of the room and the blanket trick gave me chills. Best watched on whatever you would normally have a video chat on (for me it was on my iPad), it was conceived and produced entirely during lockdown, making it all the more inventive. Definitely worth picking up a free trial of Shudder for (and then keep the subscription for all the other brilliant horror films and documentaries on there).

And who knew a selfie stick would give me one of the best on-screen scares I've had in ages!

- Emma McDonald, Youth Programme Officer

Local Hero

I can’t imagine anyone not loving this movie, but this is a particularly essential watch if you’re Scottish! It tells the story of a jaded Houston oil exec who is sent to a remote Scottish village to buy out the townsfolk, in order to make way for a new refinery. However, as he becomes more enchanted by their way of life, he begins to question his job as well as his whole approach to life. I’ve never seen a film that so perfectly captures why Scotland is such an amazing place: the laconic but relentlessly friendly villagers juxtaposed with the stunning natural landscape that at times just seems utterly other-worldly. There is so much to love here, from Mark Knopfler’s anthemic score to a baby-faced Peter Capaldi in his first major role. I watched this at the start of lockdown and, like many people, I was moping about cancelled plans and feeling like my life had been put on hold. Local Hero reminded me how lucky I really am to live where I do and that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

- Ewan Shand, GFF Press Assistant


I was asked to name my top five films of the year for The Skinny – you can see my list here.

Rather than repeating any of those picks here, I’ll mention a brilliant 2020 release that just missed my top five: Wolfwalkers. A captivating animated tale from Cartoon Saloon (Song of the SeaThe Breadwinner), it’s a magical adventure about a young English girl brought to Kilkenny by her soldier father in the late 17th century. He’s tasked with clearing the wolves from the local woods as the Lord Protector moves in to cut down the forest and tame the land. But the girl, Robyn, enters the forest and befriends Mebh – a mythical Wolfwalker, a human who lives with the wolves. The story is both exciting and emotionally complex, and the animation and design is utterly stunning, with a Ghibli-like feel for evoking nature.

- Paul Gallagher, Programme Manager

La Casa Lobo 

La Casa Lobo is the first film that I watched remotely, with a group of friends, when the pandemic first hit and it has stuck with me for many reasons. It has visual and narrative similarities to something like Jan Svankmajer Alice or the Quay Brothers, and is an animated dark story of a young woman taking refuge in a strange house. It has a special place in my heart this year because of the specific time that I watched it. Obviously, I wasn't being chased by eyeballs or paintings of crying blood, but I was (as we all were/are) turtling up in a house hiding from monstrosities outside. The film is actually an allegory for Chile's repression under Pinochet but, being the centre of my own universe, I made it about me. 

It has been jumping around different VOD services since 2019 and it's a must watch if you're a fan of surrealist animation. 

- Tom Summers, Technical Officer


I tried to pick another film, I really did, but in the end it was always Parasite.  

When talking about Parasite I must thank my colleague Charlotte. Initially I had no interest in seeing the film, thinking it was going to be a run-of-the-mill thriller/horror that had no appeal to me, until I was firmly marched into the screen by Charlotte who told me under no circumstances could I work in the cinema industry and not see the film everyone was talking about. I’m so glad she did.  

Watching Parasite I was reminded of the power of film, films that make you feel, think and in this case, crave a made-up noodle dish. The success of Parasite though is not in the twists and turns, of which there are many and all are satisfying, but in the subtle exchanges between the characters and their environments which speak to larger conversations on wealth and social class. The film itself became an epicentre of dividing political forces at the Oscars, where its lauded Best Film win was derided by Donald Trump.  

But why is it my favourite film of the year, above all else? Because it was a reminder of the power of cinema. I saw the film three times in the cinema and each time there was a particular scene in which the audience’s peals of laughter turn to a sickening gasp without missing a beat. Audiences who saw the film early carefully held the spoilers in their hands, in the unspoken trust of cinema goers, urging their loved ones to see it 'without giving too much away.'

What was an incredible film-watching experience has now become symbolic of a moment in time - we didn’t know how fragile that moment was, and how precious it would be to have it back again. 

- Rebecca McSheaffrey, Children and Young People Coordinator

All Monday to Friday shows before 5pm have capacity capped at 50% (unless otherwise stated). All other screenings have full unlimited seating capacity (unless otherwise stated).

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