The 50 Best Movies of 2020

The 50 Best Movies of 2020

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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.

30. A White, White Day (2020)

7.8

Country

Denmark, Iceland, Sweden

Director

Hlynur Palmason

Actors

Arnmundur Ernst Björnsson, Björn Ingi Hilmarsson, Elma Stefanía Ágústsdóttir, Haraldur Ari Stefánsson

Moods

Dramatic, Slow, Suspenseful

A man is struggling to mourn his passing wife in this slow-burning Icelandic drama. The story starts with him converting an abandoned electricity station into a house, in an effort to find peace. Soon, however, questions about a possible extramarital affair that his wife disturb this peace and make it seem unattainable. 

The way A White, White Day’s brilliant story unfolds might catch you off-guard a couple of times. Still, it’s slow and requires a little bit of patience. Make sure you’re in the mood for that to be rewarded with unmatched insight on how differently people process grief.

29. Les Misérables (2020)

7.8

Country

France

Director

Ladj Ly

Actors

Alexis Manenti, Almamy Kanoute, Bonnie Duvauchelle, Damien Bonnard

Moods

Action-packed, Suspenseful, Thrilling

This Oscar-nominated French movie is set in Montfermeil, the Paris suburb where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables but which today is a rough neighborhood.

Inspired by instances of police violence that happened in 2008, the movie follows a squad of police officers who try to keep the neighborhood under control. Their methods, or lack thereof, inevitably cause things to explode. This is a thriller with a message, one which sometimes feels forced; but the payoff at the end will make you forget all of that.

28. Limbo (2020)

7.9

Country

United Kingdom, United States

Director

Ben Sharrock

Actors

Amir El-Masry, Cameron Fulton, Grace Chilton, Kais Nashif

Moods

Character-driven, Funny, Lighthearted

This offbeat drama is about a Syrian refugee who gets sent to a remote island in northern Scotland. “There was a better signal in the middle of the Mediterranean,” another refugee tells him when he arrives. Omar is as the title suggests stuck: until his asylum request is processed he can’t work or continue his journey onwards. His situation is frustrating and difficult, but it’s also full of absurdities, as Omar is stuck around some very weird people.

Limbo perfectly portrays the duality between sad and nonsensical in the refugee experience. In the entrance to the isolated and rundown facility that houses Omar, a handmade sign said “refugees welcome”. The next day a “not” is added between “refugees” and “welcome”, in the exact same paint. 

If you like Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki’s work, this has a similar brand of dark humor to his also refugee-themed 2017 drama The Other Side of Hope.

27. Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Kirsten Johnson

Actors

Ira Sachs, Kirsten Johnson, Mary Page Nance, Michael Hilow

Moods

Funny, Grown-up Comedy, Mind-blowing

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

26. Uncle Frank (2020)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Alan Ball

Actors

Banks Repeta, Britt Rentschler, Burgess Jenkins, Caity Brewer

Moods

Easy, Emotional, Feel-Good

You’ll recognize more than a few faces in Uncle Frank. There are no mega-stars but the caliber of acting in this 70s story is truly impressive.

Beth is an 18-year-old in rural South Carolina who grew up admiring the family member she could relate to the most: her uncle, a college professor living in New York.

When she finishes high-school, she makes the move to the city her beloved uncle told her so much about. Once there, she discovers that he has been living a double life which he kept a secret from the family.

This is the perfect holiday movie for those looking for a story that’s not about the actual holidays. It’s sweet, often funny, and packs a heartfelt and genuine story without being too predictable.

25. Palm Springs (2020)

7.9

Country

United States Hong Kong, United States of America

Director

Max Barbakow

Actors

Andy Samberg, Brian Duffy, Camila Mendes, Chris Pang

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Funny

Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti (Modern Love, Black Mirror), and J.K. Simmons star in this easy but original rom-com that takes place in a wedding time loop. Nyles (Samberg) finds himself living the same day over and over again, so he gives in to the monotony and the fact that there is no way to escape it. 

When he is about to hook up with one of the guests, Sarah (Milioti), he is attacked by a mysterious character. The routine of his time-loop is broken. 

Palm Springs is often surreal and philosophical, which are not adjectives usually used to describe rom-coms. It offers just enough twists to be original without jeopardizing the things that make it a good rom-com.

24. Time (2020)

7.9

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Garrett Bradley

Actors

Fox Rich, Freedom Rich, Laurence M. Rich, Rob Rich II

This intimate and personal film is about Sibil Fox Rich, an entrepreneur and mother of six. Fox is driven by an unparalleled, contagious determination to succeed — so present in the mix of video diaries and present-day footage of her in Time.

For the past 20 years, Rich has channeled that tenacity towards the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence.

Through the video diaries and family footage, Time feels almost too personal. It’s like stepping into a person’s most intimate moments for 81 minutes, with all their ups and downs.

It could be seen as a commentary on the deeply flawed American justice system, but at its core Time is an uplifting portrayal of resilience, true, long-lasting love (she and her husband were high-school sweethearts), and boundless hope.

23. Herself (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Ireland, United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Phyllida Lloyd

Actors

Cathy Belton, Clare Dunne, Conleth Hill, Ericka Roe

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.

22. 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.

21. The Father (2020)

best

8.0

Country

France, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Florian Zeller

Actors

Anthony Hopkins, Ayesha Dharker, Evie Wray, Imogen Poots

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.

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