With multiplexes either closed or viewed with suspicion by cinemagoers for most of the year and little for them to show anyway, the small screen in the corner of the living room – or, more likely, the duvet-sized one hanging on the wall – assumed even greater importance as a super-abundance of films and television series were streamed, beamed and piped into our homes. Here’s our list of the best of them.


Bong Joon-ho’s film about a poor South Korean family who inveigle their way into the lives of a wealthy one made history as the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Oscar. Pleasingly bizarre and sharply satirical, there’s also a luscious black and white version and regular Joon-ho watchers will enjoy the presence of regular Song Kang-ho, who also features in the director’s dystopian English language sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer and his South Korean-set Memories Of Murder.


Directed by Brazilian duo Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles this politically charged black comedy throws everything from Westerns to dystopian sci-fi into the mix in a story about a band of rogue American ‘tourists’ who have paid to wipe out a rural village and its inhabitants some time in the near future. It still manages to add up to more than the sum of its parts and is quite unlike anything else you’ll ever see. Winer of the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival it stars Bárbara Colen and Thomas Aquino alongside Sonia Braga and Werner Herzog regular Udo Kier.

Uncut Gems

Director brothers Josh and Benny Safdie have been turning out top-notch low budget indie films for a few years now, but they hit the critical big time with this tale set in their native New York. They also managed to squeeze a career-best performance out of Adam Sandler as fast-talking Howard Ratner, a jeweller and gambling addict having the bad day (and night) from hell.

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm

Just when we needed him most, Sacha Baron Cohen’s Kazakhstani journalist Borat returned for another tour round America, this time with daughter Tutar in tow. Played by Bulgarian actress Maria Bakalova, she steals the show. If even the departure of Donald Trump and the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine hasn’t put a smile on your face, this should definitely do the trick. Jaw-droppingly outrageous and side-splittingly funny.


With too many of the sure-fire blockbusters cinemas rely on delaying release this year – see Dune, No Time To Die etc. – it fell to Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi puzzler to bolster popcorn sales in the country’s multiplexes. Time travel, sharp suits, massively-complex plots, Robert Pattinson – they were all key ingredients in the year’s only proper cinematic event.

Enola Holmes

Take Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, throw in Fleabag director Harry Bradbeer, give Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes a resourceful younger sister called Enola and shake vigorously. What could go wrong? Not too much, as this made-for-Netflix film proved. Expect a sequel.

Portrait Of A Lady On Fire

French director Céline Sciamma cast former partner Adèle Haenel alongside Noémie Merlant in this engrossing tale about forbidden love in pre-Revolutionary France. Haenel plays Héloïse, a painter charged with executing a portrait of the haughty Marianne (Merlant) in an all-but-deserted chateau on the rugged Brittany coast. Powerful, atmospheric and exquisitely shot and acted, it’s no surprise it wowed the Cannes film festival.

The Vast Of Night

Odd, funny, exciting, fast-talking and visually audacious, this Amazon release flew in under the radar but is well worth discovering. Directed by newcomer Andrew Patterson it’s set over the course of an evening in a small town in 1950s New Mexico and follows high school girl and radio nerd Fay (Sierra McCormick) and disc jockey Everett (Jake Horowitz) as they deal with what looks (and sounds) like an alien invasion.


Inspired in part by her grandmother’s dementia, Australian director Natalie Erika James turned out a stylish low budget horror that blended serious jump-scares with House Of Leaves-style architectural weirdness in the backwoods of Victoria. Emily Mortimer, Robyn Nevin and Bella Heathcote star.

Beastie Boys Story

How do you tell the saga of excess that is the Beastie Boys story and who do you charge with the task? Director Spike Jonze was there for a good chunk of it, so to him fell the honour. He doesn’t disappoint, putting surviving members Ad-Rock and Mike D on a theatre stage, manning the control booth himself – cue regular off-stage hollers and weird audio-visual interruptions – and letting the chaos and laughter unspool. Sad, joyous and inspiring.


David Tennant was barely off our TV screens this year but the pick of his outings was this gripping three-parter for ITV about the arrest and trial of Scottish serial killer Dennis Nilsen, convicted of six murders and imprisoned for life in 1983. Based on Brian Masters’s book Killing For Company, it also featured Jason Watkins as Masters and Daniel Mays as arresting officer DCI Peter Jay. It was Tennant’s show, though, and he was eerily convincing as Nilson.


Screenwriting dream team Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat kicked the year off in style on BBC One with this rock’n’roll adaptation of Bram Stoker’s famous novel. Danish actor Claes Bang’s Dracula was a sarcastic count and he was ably supported by Morfydd Clark as Mina Murray.

I May Destroy You

If Phoebe Waller-Bridge has an heir presumptive it’s Michaela Coel, creator, director, producer, writer and star of this much-discussed 12-part comedy-drama for the BBC. Based on her own experience of sexual assault, Coel plays Londoner Arabella, a Zeitgeisty novelist with a strong social media presence who is drugged and raped on night out with friends and then has to reassess and re-build everything about her life. Big, chewy subjects treated with flair and daring.


The eighth and final season of Channel 4’s near-flawless spy thriller didn’t disappoint, thanks to its continuing ability to mirror real political events and the brilliance of its charismatic leads: Claire Danes as maverick CIA agent Carrie Matheson, and Mandy Patinkin as her mentor, Saul Berenson. Carrie’s Russian nemesis/lover Yevgeny Gromov (Costa Ronin) returned for another outing and the writers even managed to work in one final twist. Great stuff.

Normal People

Along with I May Destroy you, the hottest TV property of the year was the BBC’s adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel about the ongoing relationship between two Irish teenagers as they navigate school, sex (lots of it: the production required an ‘intimacy co-ordinator’), friendships and their university years. Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal played leads Marianne and Connell, with Dublin Murders star Sarah Greene as Connell’s mother.

Deadwater Fell

David Tennant starred in this Channel 4 thriller set in a small Scottish village and was at his creepy best playing GP Tom Kendrick, whose family is tragically killed in a fire in the opening episode. Written by Grantchester creator Daisy Coulam and told partly in flashbacks, it also starred Maureen Beattie as Tom’s mother, and Cush Jumbo as the neighbour who knows Tom isn’t the Mr Nice he appears to be.

Noughts + Crosses

Adapted from the first of Malorie Blackman’s hugely popular series of YA novels, Noughts + Crosses dropped viewers into an alternate London colonised centuries previously by an African empire in which black Crosses rule over white Noughts. Essentially a Romeo And Juliet set-up involving Cross Sephy (Masali Baduza) and Nought Callum (Jack Rowan), the slick BBC production was part-funded by Jay-Z’s Roc Nation outfit and more than did justice to its source material.


Another year, another attempt to fill the country estate-size hole left by Downton Abbey. Adapting his own novel, Downton creator Julian Fellowes turned to Regency London and offered viewers a colourful birl through the lives, loves and costume changes of a series of upper-class families. Screened on ITV just as lockdown started, it proved the perfect distraction.

Good Omens

David Tennant – him again – looked like he was having the time of his life playing the demon Crowley alongside Michael Sheen’s good angel Aziraphale in this likeable, big budget adaptation of the 1990 novel by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. A stunning supporting cast included John Hamm as the Archangel Gabriel and Anna Maxwell Martin as an eternally peed-off Beelzebub alongside Frances McDormand and Benedict Cumberbatch as (respectively) the voices of God and Satan.

Small Axe

Persuading a history-making and Oscar-winning director to shoot a slate of five films for a publicly-funded television network is quite an achievement, but then Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series for the BBC was as much a labour of love as anything else. His subject? Nothing less than the history of black Britain during his lifetime, a story which encompasses every aspect of life, from music to education to policing to racism. An epoch-making televisual event in this year of Black Lives Matter, made by one of the most important film directors working anywhere today.