A longtime contributor, Romney also writes for Film CommentSight & Sound and The Observer, and teaches at NFTS. Read our other critics’ top tens here.

The Disciple

Source: New Europe Film Sales

‘The Disciple’

Top ten

1. The Disciple
Dir. Chaitanya Tamhane
This drama about the struggles of an Indian classical musician is one of the most elegant, formally polished films of the year, and one of the most artistically mature. A highlight of a very strong Venice Film Festival, The Disciple consolidated the reputation of writer/director Tamhane, following his acclaimed 2014 debut feature Court. With a superb lead performance by real-life musician Aditya Modak, The Disciple feels determinedly out on a limb, with its pensive, novelistic musing on the passing of tradition, the cost of perfectionism, and the need to come to terms with the changing realities of a globalised world. Something like the modern Mumbai equivalent in film of a Henry James story, The Disciple is as certain as any 2020 offering to reward repeat viewing in 2021. Contact: New Europe Film Sales
Read Screen’s review

2. New Order
Dir. Michel Franco
With its terrifying scenario of a wealthy milieu torn apart by street-level protests, Franco was ostensibly talking about Mexico but New Order could just as easily have been set in Beverly Hills or Kensington. More authentically apocalyptic than any science-fiction fantasia, it could be read as a warning, a prophecy or an expression of bourgeois paranoia, but was surely the most boldly confrontational film in a year of crisis. Contact: The Match Factory
Read Screen’s review

3. Lovers Rock
Dir. Steve McQueen
Part of McQueen’s ‘Small Axe’ TV series, the Lovers Rock episode was a celebration of music, community, love and sensuality, set at a blues party in the 1980s and reaching an apogee of both carnality and spirituality in the sequences built around Janet Kay’s track ‘Silly Games’ — with McQueen mesmerisingly back in touch with the formal adventure of his gallery work. Contact: BBC/Amazon Studios
Read Screen’s review

4. The Trouble With Being Born
Dir. Sandra Wollner
Few films invent their own filmic and narrative language quite as boldly as this Austrian drama, which muses on artificial intelligence, exploitation and the search for identity. In a modern philosophical recasting of the Pinocchio myth, Lena Watson plays an android in the form of a pre-teen girl, who leaves her seemingly paedophilic ‘Daddy’ to embark on a quest for self. Contact: Cercamon
Read Screen’s review

5. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things
Dir. Charlie Kaufman
The strangest mind in US film creates an inspired nightmare mix of chamber drama and road movie, as a young couple take a snowbound journey into dream, or imagination, or their pasts — it’s up to us to decide, or not. Contact: Netflix
Read Screen’s review

6. Days
Dir. Tsai Ming-Liang
Read Screen’s review

7. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Eliza Hittman
Read Screen’s review

8. The World To Come
Mona Fastvold
Read Screen’s review

9. Possessor
Dir. Brandon Cronenberg 
Read Screen’s review

10 Genus Pan
Lav Diaz
Read Screen’s review

Best documentaries

Dir. Victor Kossakovsky
The latest from the veteran documentarist is ‘just’ a beautifully made study of a sow and her piglets (plus a few inquisitive chickens). But it is also a deeply empathetic statement on the condition of being an animal and, by extension, a musing on what constitutes humanity, and how we identify ourselves in relation to the natural world we often domesticate cruelly.
Contact: Cinephil
Read Screen’s review

Radiograph Of A Family
Dir. Firouzeh Khosrovani
Iranian documentarist Khosrovani offers a sort of pre-autobiography — using family photos to tell the story of her parents, their differences exacerbated by seismic disruptions of their nation’s history. Contact: Taskovski Films
Read Screen’s review

City Hall
Dir. Frederick Wiseman
Wiseman’s latest is a panoramic study of Boston but, with Democrat mayor Marty Walsh at its centre, it’s also an expression of faith in the enduring possibility of civic ideals. Contact: The Party Film Sales
Read Screen’s review

Performance of the year

Jessie Buckley in I’m Thinking Of Ending Things (dir. Charlie Kaufman) 
The discovery of Beast and Wild Rose ventures into uncharted territory and dares us to follow, as the subtly but mercurially protean protagonist of a drama without maps — whether she is playing the ingenue, the rebel, the poet or offering a mesmerising machine-gun rendition of a Pauline Kael review. Contact: Netflix
Read Screen’s review