The 50 Best Movies of 2020

The 50 Best Movies of 2020

February 19, 2024

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Coming off of the industry milestones of 2019, the first year of the new ’20s was a peculiar one. Due to the onset of the COVID-19 virus, dozens of high-profile releases were shelved for the time being, and just as many local and international film festivals were postponed—leaving the 2020 release calendar looking seemingly uneventful. But don’t let that fool you: smaller independent films and international gems continued to hold the fort for an industry still trying to regain its footing. Below are 50 films that reminded us that cinema will never stay down.

21. Queen and Slim

best

8.1

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Female director, Melina Matsoukas

Actors

Andre De'Sean Shanks, Andy Dylan, Benito Martinez, Bokeem Woodbine

Moods

Action-packed, Thrilling

On their drive back from a Tinder date that was only average, a couple are pulled over by a racist police officer. Things escalate unexpectedly and the couple, one of whom is a lawyer aware of the corruptedness of the system, start a life on the run together. This thrilling set-up mixing social commentary and romance is a movie that’s actually many movies in one. And almost as if to cut in-between the different tonalities, there are so many quiet and beautiful shots of the couple: silent, still or dancing – these moments are true cinematic magic. 

22. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

8.1

Country

India, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Aaron Sorkin

Actors

Alan Metoskie, Alex Henderson, Alex Sharp, Alice Kremelberg

From Aaron Sorkin, the creator of every liberal’s favorite 2000s political drama, The West Wing, The Social Network, and the master of the “walk and talk”, comes the dramatization of a sadly true American story from the mid-last century. In 1968, different groups from all over the country travelled to Chicago to protest the Vietnam War at the Democratic National Convention. The Chicago police greeted them in full riot gear, purposely attacking the peaceful protesters. Five months later, eight of them (charges against Black Panther leader Bobby Seale were dismissed) were arrested for inciting riot. As the title suggests, the film details the trials that followed, which highlight the still ongoing battles within American society and politics: racism, ineptness, corruption, complacency, you name it. On a lighter note, while you wouldn’t necessarily call this an ensemble cast, the number of unlikely familiar faces in this film is off the charts: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Sascha Baron Cohen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Eddie Redmayne. It also features some of the greatest supporting actors in American TV history like John Carrol Lynch, Frank Langella, and the amazing John Doman aka Bill Rawls from The Wire.

23. So Late So Soon (2020)

best

8.1

Director

Daniel Hymanson

Moods

Emotional, Heart-warming, Inspiring

“Youth is a state of mind,” a poet once said — but, young in spirit though they are, the elderly artist couple at the center of this fly-on-the-wall documentary must confront the harsh reality that aging isn’t something the body can avoid. Jackie and Don Seiden — a yin-and-yang pair who describe themselves as “a mouse and a crocodile” — still argue and make up with all the fierce vitality of a couple half their age. They haven’t yet lapsed into living life through the rear-view mirror: both still actively make art, Don his sketches and Jackie her slideshows and found-object arrangements. They live in a creaking yet beautiful home, decorated exclusively in pastel colors; as Don puts it, they’ve “made a life that’s really unusual […] a life only [they] could’ve made.”

As his health issues — and the weakening of her ability to care for them — threaten the end of that 50-year-long chapter in their lives, the couple confront mortality and find it brings them holding ever tighter to one another. Their abiding mutual affection makes this documentary a moving portrait of enduring love, while their fiery intellectual verve gives it a sharp honesty that prevents it from ever lapsing into sentimentality.

24. Other Music (2020)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Puloma Basu, Rob Hatch-Miller

Actors

Benicio Del Toro, Bill Callahan, Brian Chase, Chris Pappas

Moods

Smart

This immersive documentary is about a beloved independent record store that opened in front of a major music chain in Manhattan in 1995. Its founders called it Other Music, a jab at the chain and a reference to the music it would carry.

Other Music would go on to become a mecca that welcomes music fanatics from around the world. Its clerks would become legendary for their shaman-like knowledge, many famous bands would have their start at shows in the store, and Other Music would even re-issue artists who were forgotten.

But in today’s hostile world towards independent cultural institutions, can anything, however influential or successful it may be, live?

25. The Social Dilemma (2020)

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeff Orlowski

Actors

Catalina Garayoa, Chase Penny, Chris Grundy, Gavin White

This new documentary is about the exact scale to which social media is harming us, as testified to by people from the industry: ex-executives at Google, Instagram, Facebook, and even the ex-President of Pinterest. All have left their companies for (incredibly valid) ethical concerns that they share here.

It’s a blend of interview footage and a fiction film that follows a family who feels more distant because of social media. This allows to see the implications of what the interviewees are saying in real life but quite frankly it also serves as a welcome break from the intensity of their words. How intense? One of them predicts civil war within 20 years.

26. The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, Cyprus, France

Director

Female director, Kaouther Ben Hania

Actors

Adrienne Mei Irving, Anissa Daoud, Christian Vadim, Darina Al Joundi

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Sunday, Thought-provoking

Tunisian director Kaouther Ben Hania’s new movie is about an arrogant European artist who tattoos a Syrian man’s back, essentially turning the man’s body into artwork. 

The man, as a commodity, is able to travel the world freely to be in art galleries, something as a simple human with a Syrian passport he couldn’t do. Seems unlikely? It’s based on a true story.

But Ben Hania is not really interested in the political statement aspect of this unlikely stunt. Instead, she looks at what this would do to a human-being, to the man’s self-esteem, his relationships, and the turns his life takes. It’s a fascinating movie.

27. Mayor (2020)

best

8.0

Country

Palestinian Territory, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

David Osit

Mayor follows Musa Hadid, the mayor of the de-facto capital of Palestine, Ramallah, over two years as he tries to make his constituents’ lives better under occupation. With shootings, sieges, and a wide array of life-threatening situations taking place, his focus remains on cheesy Christmas decorations and funny city-branding attempts.

The director follows the mayor everywhere, including in his home and with his family, examining the toll of the unique job. Ramallah is portrayed like it were any other capital—except for the daily reminders that it’s very far from that.

28. The Father (2020)

best

8.0

Country

France, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Florian Zeller

Actors

Anthony Hopkins, Ayesha Dharker, Brian Rodger, Evie Wray

Moods

Depressing, Tear-jerker, Thought-provoking

The Father is a compelling inner look at the ways dementia distorts memories. By occupying the unstable headspace of 80-year-old Anthony (Anthony Hopkins), the film allows us to experience his frustration and confusion firsthand. We, too, are unsure about the ever-shifting details we’re presented with. Conversations are circular and time seems inexistent. The faces we know are swapped with names we don’t know. Even the tiniest elements, such as the wall tiles and door handles, are constantly changing in the background. We grasp for the slippery truth with Anthony but always come up empty and unsure.

In a thoughtful move by director Florian Zeller, we also get a glimpse of the lives surrounding Anthony. The daughter Anne (Olivia Colman), in particular, is often the victim of her father’s tirades, but she takes care of him still, conflicted as to where to draw the line between his needs and hers. 

With its fluid editing, subtle detail-swaps, and empathic portrayal of characters, The Father is just as technically impressive as it is movingly kind.

29. Another Round (2020)

best

8.0

Country

Denmark, Netherlands, Sweden

Director

Thomas Vinterberg

Actors

Albert Rudbeck Lindhardt, Christiane Gjellerup Koch, Diêm Camille G., Dorte Højsted

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Grown-up Comedy

Director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) reunites with Mads Mikkelsen to tell the story of four teachers going through a mid-life crisis. They’re not sad, exactly—they have homes and jobs and are good friends with each other—but they’re not happy either. Unlike the ebullient youth they teach, they seem to have lost their lust for life, and it’s silently eating away at them, rendering them glassy-eyed and mechanic in their everyday lives. 

Enter an experiment: what if, as one scholar suggests, humans were meant to fulfill a certain alcohol concentration in order to live as fully and present as possible? The teachers use themselves as the subjects and the tide slowly starts to turn to mixed effects. Are they actually getting better or worse?

With an always-satisfying performance by Mikkelsen and an instant classic of an ender, it’s no surprise Another Round took home the award for Best Foreign Film in the 2020 Academy Awards.

30. Herself (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Ireland, Ireland United Kingdom, United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Phyllida Lloyd

Actors

Anita Petry, Cathy Belton, Clare Dunne, Conleth Hill

Moods

Character-driven, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Herself tells the story of Sandra (Clare Dunne), a single mother who runs away from her abusive husband to start a new life with her children. When welfare and charity prove to be insufficient with their help, she takes things into her hands by building a house of her own.

This Irish movie, co-written by star Clare Dunne, may be small in scale and budget, but it is affecting in big and powerful ways. Despite what girlbosses might tell you, chasing full independence isn’t always as easy or even empowering as it looks, especially when you’re stuck in the lower rungs of society like Sandra; Herself takes the honest approach by showing us the unglamorous side of making it on your own. It also has meaningful things to say about marriage and divorce, so if you were moved by Marriage Story or Kramer vs Kramer, you may feel the same about Herself, which references the latter two’s iconic courtroom scenes.

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