The Best Films and Albums of 2020, As Chosen by Sound + Vision

by Xandega TahajuansyaJan 27, 2021

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The Five Best Films of 2020, and the Playlists to Suit Them

2020 was devoid of blockbusters yet full of quality independently released films. With cinemas around the world shut down, those who actively seek a good watch are presented with a greater opportunity to stumble upon a myriad of smaller gems online, from the comfort of their homes. 

Listed below are five films that left the biggest impression for me in 2020, along with a fitting playlist I made in response to these films. I hope that you enjoy the film and music picks, and also hope I can add to your collection.

1. Martin Eden (dir. Pietro Marcello)

It’s been awhile since I saw a film that took me to another time and space. The ambitions of its main character (played dashingly by Luca Marinelli) resonates heavily on screen, which is supported by the staggering 16mm cinematography and shots from documentaries made in the early 20th century. Martin Eden is one of the most complete period dramas I’ve ever seen.

2. Kajillionaire (dir. Miranda July)

In her third feature film, Miranda July finds the perfect balance between the weirdness of her otherworldly characters and the film’s cheerful pacing which fits the ADD generation of today. I was always excited and curious about what will happen next and always found myself surprised at where July takes her audience. Kajillionaire definitely has the best film ending of 2020, and is also the funniest film of 2020, while also boasting the best film character in 2020 (Old Dolio, played hilariously and sincerely by Evan Rachel Wood).

3. Small Axe: Lovers Rock (dir. Steve McQueen)

This film — part of Small Axe, an anthology series by Steve McQueen — presents itself as a house party that you wish you can go to. McQueen successfully presents a wholesome and cohesive portrayal of the best house party ever, with its highs and lows, the slow jams and the bangers, and the ever-present threat outside the oasis of joy that encapsulates its attendees. Lovers Rock is so good at giving you the house party experience and it can help satisfy your longing (or maybe increase it) for attending an actual one, at a time where pandemic quarantine rules prevent you from doing so. When we can start throwing house parties again, you can simply play this film in the background and people will dance to it for sure.

4. Nomadland (dir. Chloé Zhao)

This film is for everyone that often think that their lives will crumble down soon and they will perish at a snap of the fingers. Nomadland opens us up to a new way of life that’s simpler and pure through the eyes of Fern (played by Frances McDormand). With her signature style of seamlessly blending fictional stories with real people, Chloé Zhao’s sophomore feature is probably the most genuine film of the year.

5. I’m Thinking of Ending Things (dir. Charlie Kaufman)

Favourite cast of 2020. Favourite horror/non-horror film of 2020. In my opinion, this is Kaufman’s best film to date and it is a wonderful adaptation of the Iain Reid novel. The suspense, the puzzle, the emotions are really well-knitted together. And I’m really happy that Kaufman chose to implement a kind of Lynchian dread in this film, which he hasn’t done before in his previous works. Confusing in the best way possible — this is what watching Tenet should feel like!

Honourable mentions:
Collectiv (dir. Alexander Nanau)
Ema (dir. Pablo Larrain)
Babyteeth (dir. Shannon Murphy)
Sound of Metal (dir. Darius Marder)
Another Round (dir. Thomas Vinterberg)

The Five Best Albums of 2020, and the Films That Go Well with Them

These are Sound + Vision’s favourite albums that was released in 2020 with some of my favourite films of all time that complements the atmosphere and the essence of the music.

1. Sault – Untitled (Black Is) & Untitled (Rise) x BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee, 2018)

The mysterious collective Sault have released four albums since the start of 2019 but it feels like they’ve been around for a decade, evolving their sound on each album like seasoned veterans. Both Untitled albums were released in 2020 and they are the albums that we crucially need. Both Black Is and Rise articulately convey the trials and tribulations of Black people around the world, from their struggles for justice to their jeopardised identity as global citizens.

The two albums feel like the perfect companion piece to Spike Lee’s 2018 epic BlacKkKlansman, which itself depicts the difficulty of African-American struggles. These works project a sincere pride towards black culture and identity.

2. Fleet Foxes – Shore x Old Joy (Kelly Reichardt, 2006)

This album is a beam of joy; a ray of light that penetrated the darkness of 2020. Rarely can a band release an album which manages to add and fill the holes of their previous release, Crack-Up. It’s a joy to see one of my favourite bands from the prime indie heydays of the late 2000s still manage to be successful without veering far from what they do best. 

The only film that comes to mind, which fits the cheerful tone of the album, is Kelly Reichardt’s arguably best film Old Joy. It’s a back-to-nature bromance road movie that feels ok with being quiet and taking things slow.

3. Perfume Genius – Set My Heart on Fire Immediately x And Then We Danced (Levan Akin, 2019)

Emotional, beautiful, and absurd. This is Perfume Genius when he’s at his creative best. Michael Alden Hadreas sounds more assured and more mature, and still retains his magnificent level of expression and instrumentation in the process. For me, this album has the best sound design of any other release in 2020.

The album’s titillating arrangements and his beautifully faltering vocals remind me of the restrained love story between the two characters from Levan Akin’s And Then We Danced. Both characters express their feelings for each other only through their subtle movements and stealing looks.

4. Yves Tumor – Heaven to a Tortured Mind x Only Lovers Left Alive (Jim Jarmusch, 2013)

Yves Tumor come to terms with his rockstar potential on this album and presents themselves as the rockstar the underground truly deserves. Through this album, we are able to see him as the rightful successor to icons as Prince and David Bowie, with their eccentricity and experimental explorations on rock and pop.

I can imagine Yves Tumor, with his outstanding style and presentation, hang out with Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston’s characters in Only Lovers Left Alive, as they are all mysterious, cultured and dangerous.

5. Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia x Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968)

Future Nostalgia seems to have helped save mainstream pop. This is a record that has fulfilled all of its potential. It rocketed through the charts through its masterful playfulness of disco and ’80s pop.

Judging by its title and album cover, I am reminded of the retro-futurist image that Jane Fonda exudes in Barbarella. In both pieces, Dua Lipa and Jane Fonda radiate the aura of contentment, sexiness and intelligence, while armed to save the world.

Honourable mentions:
– Adrianne Lenker – songs / instrumentals
– Zebra Katz – Less is Moor 
– Ana Roxanne – Because of a Flower
– Mary Lattimore – Silver Ladders
– Taylor Swift – Folklore & Evermore

About the Author

Xandega Tahajuansya
A member of the band Polka Wars and the founder of several companies dedicated to environmental issues. Possesses a great interest in watching and making films since his Mom told him that little Xandega never liked any kind of stories except for the films that he watched.
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