2020, as well as being an all-round garbage fire, is likely to go down as a strange year for film. Almost all of year’s biggest titles remain in limbo, waiting for cinemas to be able to safely reopen. That said, more than half way through the year, we have now seen a lot of excellent films getting released. Some managed to sneak in to cinemas in ‘the time before’, but many have made their debuts via streaming or paid VOD.
Even with a much reduced slate, there are still great films out there that have either got lost in the shuffle or might not have had the mainstream appeal to connect with an audience as wide as they deserve. Here, we’ve got several of the Hey U Guys staff together to pick some of their favourites of 2020 so far that you might not have caught up with yet.
Alex Clement Recommends
Infamous isn’t a big Hollywood blockbuster. It hasn’t been given the big budget and doesn’t necessarily feature hot-shot A-list actors, but it’s definitely a film worth watching and to be honest, it needs to be seen. What first had me hooked with this film was how it automatically resonated with me, (being on the cusp of Gen-Y & Gen-Z). It stood out not by my obsession with social media, but with my keen interest to see how far a person can go for something as mundane as ‘likes’ and ‘followers’. In this case, it’s through reckless violence and theft.
Being dubbed “the modern day Bonnie & Clyde”, it’s fascinating to see the outcome of the story and to see where Bella Thorne’s character, Arielle, ends up. Does she get her 15 minutes of fame? Infamous is intense, gripping and at times, groundbreaking. It’s refreshing to see a different intake on the use of social media, with infamous going against the grain instead of towards it.
Available on VOD platforms now.
Sarah Cook Recommends
Julia Garner puts in a quietly powerful performance in Kitty Green’s The Assistant. The movie is a chilling expose on a young girls PA role to a demanding producer. The film progresses in a silent disturbing way, bit by bit unravelling the insidious nature of working in the film industry and the unseemly practices of the unseen producer. As Garner’s character is belittled, over-worked, and belittled, all for this “great opportunity,” the true manipulation of the industry becomes apparent. It is an exceptional piece of moving filmmaking.
Available on VOD platforms and UK DVD now.
The True History of the Kelly Gang
Justin Kurzel’s adaptation of Peter Carey’s novel is a highly fictionalised account of Australian outlaw Ned Kelly. Though the narrative is largely false, Kurzel crafts a visual masterpiece that is rife with depth and high emotion. George McKay puts in his best performance as the eponymous Ned as he deals with his over-bearing mother, violent gang members, and British colonists (the most vicious played by Nicolas Hoult.)
Captivating cinematography and a brilliant score, Kurzel passionately commands the story. It feels like a modern Gothic tale that leaves you questioning the legacy of our legends.
Available on VOD platforms and UK Blu-Ray and DVD now.
Freda Cooper Recommends
The Vast Of Night
The shadow of the atomic bomb, reds under the bed, alien spaceships in the night sky. 1950s America was riddled with a paranoia which found its way onto contemporary TV screens in The Twilight Zone. And it’s from there that debut director, Andrew Patterson, takes his inspiration for The Vast Of Night, a sci-fi thriller that turns a low budget into a glowing virtue.
Presented as an episode from a fictional TV series, it centres on night sky sightings in a small New Mexico town, investigated on air by two youngsters from the local radio station. That it tips its hat to The Twilight Zone is immediately apparent, but there’s another, more notorious, reference lurking in the shadows. Orson Welles’ radio dramatization of War Of The Worlds didn’t just cause a sensation but genuine panic. People believed what they were hearing. Such is the power of radio. In this case, a station called WOTW. Neat.
For all its heritage, Patterson has taken a genre which usually depends on spectacle and high-spec visual effects and given them neither. He concentrates instead on the characters and creating an almost tangibly paranoid atmosphere with minimal lighting and grainy textures. And, to take our disorientation to new heights, the simplest of techniques. A blank screen. Masterful.
Available on Amazon Prime now.
Euan Franklin Recommends
The Days of the Bagnold Summer
Suburban life in southern England can be an endless slog, and I speak from experience. This small, funny debut from Inbetweeners star Simon Bird captures that beige boredom, as 15-year-old heavy metal fanatic Daniel (Earl Cave) is forced to spend the summer holidays with his soft, anxious mother Sue (Monica Dolan), a divorced librarian. Daniel was about to fly to Florida to see his dad, but plans change and now he’s housebound with his mum instead.
Although parent-child bonding movies tend to be restricted by gender (father-son, mother-daughter), Bagnold Summer’s emphasis on the mother-son relationship offers something new, with even more embarrassing conflicts attached. Daniel can’t even fathom his mother’s romantic or sexual needs as she starts going out with his old history teacher, played with brilliant repugnance by Rob Brydon. Equally, Sue can’t find a safe way into her son’s hormonally defensive and metallized mindset. His jet-black attire and shoulder-length hair contradict his mundane surroundings, and Sue clearly just wants to blend in. But both discover their common awkwardness and, slowly, their love and liking for each other grows. Once they break through that seemingly impossible communication barrier, their tentative relationship blooms into a lovely bond.
Available on VOD platforms now.
Daniel Goodwin Recommends
Jesus Shows You the Way to the Highway
Former film/philosophy student turned writer/director Llanso’s second feature is a conspiracy comedy sci-fi that tells the tale of CIA agents Palmer (Agustin Mateo) and Gagano (Daniel Tadesse), who enter a virtual reality world to destroy a computer virus called “Soviet Union”, only to find their mission sabotaged by infamous religious/political figures and deadly insects shooting lasers from their eyes.
This deliriously exhilarating Afro-futuristic sub-genre fusion is fronted by a stunning performance by Daniel Tadesse and crafted with glaring passion for 60s/70s exploitation cinema, cyberpunk, Kung-Fu, retro gaming and Mexican wrestling. It’s scintillating, surreal and unapologetically batshit but as much of a beautiful work of art as it is a bonkers one.
Partly coloured by a coke addled superhero supporting character called Batfro, Cold War nostalgia and unforgettable VR/avatar sequences during which characters wear masks of famous actors from 70s/80s cinema; this part stop-motion, satirical trash classic was shot in Latvia, Spain, Ethiopia and Estonia. These locations enrich JSYTWTTH with a magical multi-cultural air and make Llanso’s second feature, after 2015’s post-apocalyptic Afro-futurist debut Crumbs, a twisted cult in the making which art freaks, weird film aficionados and general oddballs should track down and treasure.
Available on Arrow Video Channel now and on Arrow BR in September.
Sam Inglis Recommends
Soundtrack to Sixteen
I’ve been singing the praises of Anna and Hillary Shakespeare’s charming feature debut since I saw it at its London Independent Film Festival premiere in 2019. Sadly, the film had its legs cut out from under it, with the Q&A tour only able to complete one or two dates before cinemas closed under COVID restrictions.
Soundtrack to Sixteen is a light teen romantic comedy, pairing Maisy (Scarlett Marshall) and Ben (Gino Wilson). Beyond a solid cast of largely non-professional actors, it has a couple of things going for it. The first is a real sense of time and place; it feels specific both to London and to its early ’00s setting and has a great affection for both, without losing the universality of the story. That is the other exceptional element; the Shakespeare sisters’ screenplay is full of scenes—particularly the sweet awkwardness of Maisy and Ben’s meeting on a night bus—that zero in on teenage experience with a specificity that is both funny and occasionally cringe inducing.
Available on ITunes now.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
When teenager Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) discovers that she is pregnant she decides that she wants an abortion. Eliza Hittman’s third film follows Autumn and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) on a trip from their rural Pennsylvania homes to New York, where they are forced to spend several days in order to jump through the hoops required by the US’ abortion laws. Never Rarely Sometimes Alway takes an intimately realist look at the challenging realities of that decision. From the deceptions of the first place she is able to turn, to the emotional toll of the bureaucracy of getting the procedure done, everything here is observed with a detail and dedication to realism that recalls the best of the Dardenne brothers films.
The standout scene involves a questionnaire that an abortion counsellor goes through with Autumn, detailing everything she knows about her pregnancy and getting her sexual history. The questions and answers are stark, but also matter of fact. The scene hits like an emotional hammer. It reminded me, both in style and in the way I would imagine the questionnaire can be administered, of the ‘list of sins’ scene in Beyond the Hills.
A beautifully drawn film, with nuanced performances that communicate as much in looks and silences as in dialogue, Never Rarely Sometimes Always has a lot to say about the politics of abortion and the way women are treated by the system, but first and foremost it’s one of the year’s finest dramas.
Available on VOD platforms now.
Adam Solomons Recommends
(Josh Safide / Benny Safdie)
If you doubted Adam Sandler before Uncut Gems, doubt no more. The star of countless crude comedies gave a stunningly mature performance in the Safdie brothers’ poignant crime epic opposite an ensemble of Jewish acting royalty including Judd Hirsch and Idina Menzel. As the charismatic yet tragically flawed jeweller Howard Ratner, Sandler has what is comfortably his most interesting role yet. Also impressive are perpetual rising star Lakeith Stanfield and former Celtics centre and NBA champion Kevin Garnett, whose outsized interest in Ratner’s precious black opal fuels a city-wide chase.
Containing everything that made Good Time such a treat, Uncut Gems takes the Safdies’ formula further, with an enviable spiritual heft and a consistent tension to rival Parasite. And with brief appearances from The Weeknd, The Fat Jew and Mike Francesca, Uncut Gems is grounded in our not-so-glamorous celebrity culture as much as New York’s Diamond District. Don’t miss it.
Available on Netflix now.
The King of Staten Island
Judd Apatow’s first feature work since 2015’s underrated rom-com Trainwreck, the influential comedy director turned to an unlikely new collaborator – Pete Davidson – for a sincere coming-of-age film that subverted many of Apatow’s old instincts. Largely based on Davidson’s own upbringing, and specifically the comedian’s relationship with paternal figures, The King of Staten Island primarily follows Davidson as he negotiates his mother’s new relationship with another firefighter, Ray (Bill Burr). More earnest than most of the films that made Apatow’s name, though no less lengthy, his latest is a disarmingly simple portrait of a young and talented comedian lacking direction.
Available on VOD platforms now.