Fionnuala Halligan is Screen’s chief film critic and reviews editor. Read our other critics’ top tens here.

Lovers Rock SMALL AXE

Top ten

1. Lovers Rock
Steve McQueen
An eruption of a house party: made for TV, as part of McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ series, but with a big-screen soul. The doors to a 1980 Brixton front-room dancefloor are thrown open, revealing an entire life in 68 minutes. It is a heady, musical, sensual place lit by joy and freedom with glinting flashes of danger — the inside world of the outsiders. The two show­stoppers are the ‘Silly Games’ and ‘Kunta Kinte’ sequences, but there’s also an almost audible pop when the doors open and the lovers are thrown back outside — it captures McQueen at his most eloquent, without ever stating the obvious. Enduring cinema that should have played at Cannes; won the opening slot at New York Film Festival; stole my heart. Contact: BBC/Amazon Studios
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2. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Dir. Eliza Hittman
Here is a picture that tells a thousand words, delivering a sucker punch to any woman who has known a part of 17-year-old Autumn’s path, from the shock of an unwanted pregnancy to the perilous road to termination. This is an important story about female vulnerability, which turns an issue into flesh and blood without ever stooping to lecture or hector. Contact: Focus Features
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3. The Nest
Dir. Sean Durkin
It is hard to shake off this sinister, challenging film. The Nest always threatens more but pulls back abruptly, leaving the viewer to turn it over and over again. Jude Law’s slippery paterfamilias is a queasy personification of the 1980s’ ‘greed is good’ ethos, while Carrie Coon delivers a superb performance as his tough but vulnerable partner who may be emptier and more aligned with his restlessness than is immediately apparent. Contact: FilmNation Entertainment
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4 - Wolfwalkers
Dirs. Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart
Beautifully entertaining: follow the thrills and spills and defiant derring-do of wolfwalker Mebh, a flame-haired tempest in Celtic Ireland who is also charming and funny and oddly real. Cartoon Saloon, a staple in the best animated feature categories despite being a small-scale set-up based in Kilkenny, has delivered an exuberant pot of gold with the final film in a trilogy featuring The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The SeaContact: Apple TV+
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5. Limbo
Dir. Ben Sharrock
If you think you know what to expect from a story about asylum seekers on a remote Scottish island, think again. There is a dignified, deadpan attitude here that is thoughtful and offbeat as Sharrock tells the story of a friendship between two outcasts. The visual economy and delightful humour never cloud over the truth of the piece. Best British independent film of 2020. Contact: Protagonist Pictures
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6. Nomadland
Dir. Chloé Zhao
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7. Quo Vadis, Aida?
Dir. Jasmila Zbanic
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8. Another Round
Dir. Thomas Vinterberg
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9. New Order
Dir. Michel Franco
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10. Sweat
Dir. Magnus von Horn
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Best documentaries 

American Utopia
Dir. Spike Lee
David Byrne, Spike Lee and that concert tour: what a team. Both giants are light on their feet here as they swerve, sway and douse the viewer in joy, plus a few urgent political messages that are a nice reminder of music’s primal passion to provoke. Contact: Universal Pictures
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The Reason I Jump
Dir. Jerry Rothwell
Through a delicately balanced meld of visual, sensory and auditory methods, Rothwell’s formally daring film about autism from the inside is a special experience. Contact: MetFilm Sales
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Saudi Runaway
Dir. Susanne Regina Meures
This starts with jerky phone footage from Mecca and ends up as a breathtaking docu-thriller about a brave young girl who tries to change her life against the odds. Contact: Rise And Shine World Sales

Performance of the year

Frances McDormand in Nomadland (dir. Chloé Zhao)
The challenge of modulating such a huge central performance against a cast of non-actors (excepting David Strathairn) cannot be overestimated. McDormand carries this film for a dazzling director who has not worked before with professional actors. There isn’t an off-note or a single concession to vanity here, whether that be personal or the unknowing urge to dominate a scene. McDormand also optioned this project and produced it all the way to best film at Venice. Contact: Searchlight Pictures