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. 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.

29. Marona’s Fantastic Tale (2019)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, France, Romania

Director

Anca Damian, Female director

Actors

Annie Mercier, Bruno Salomone, Georges Claisse, Isabelle Vitari

Moods

Heart-warming, Lovely, Original

Marona’s Fantastic Tale is a rich story about life and death and everything in between, told entirely through the eyes of a dog. With breathtaking visuals and unmatched empathy, the film implores us to think about what might count as joyous and heartbreaking for our four-legged friends. Told normally and in any other way, we might not care as much, but in a story as artful and compassionate as this, we can’t help but listen. 

Unlike other films about pets, Marona’s Fantastic Tale isn’t cutesy—its art is dizzying and demanding, but beautiful nonetheless. And isn’t afraid to confront tragedy (in fact, it begins with it). But it buoys reality with dreamy art sequences and even finds humor along the way. All in all, it’s a mature film that poses big existential questions that will intrigue adults as well as kids.

28. Rewind (2020)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Actors

Sasha Joseph Neulinger

Moods

Dark, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

Mystery, domestic horror, and urgent true crime investigation rolled into one, Rewind sees filmmaker Sasha Joseph Neulinger revisiting his own abuse at the hands of a family member while remembering to let his case amplify into a call to action to protect children everywhere. His personal testimony would have been powerful enough, but he dares to put numerous members of his family in front of the camera, too, who begin to unravel a history of neglect and trauma rotting the core of this family over generations. Innocent home video footage turns sinister and seemingly inconsequential memories become warning signs that every adult should be on the lookout for, no excuses.

27. Herself (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Ireland, Ireland United Kingdom, 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.

26. 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.

25. 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.

24. 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.

23. The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, Cyprus, France

Director

Female director, Kaouther Ben Hania

Actors

Anissa Daoud, Christian Vadim, Darina Al Joundi, Husam Chadat

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.

22. The Social Dilemma (2020)

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeff Orlowski

Actors

Catalina Garayoa, Chris Grundy, Gavin White, Kara Hayward

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.

21. Other Music (2020)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Puloma Basu, Rob Hatch-Miller

Actors

Benicio Del Toro, Dean Wareham, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Schwartzman

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?

Curated by humans, not algorithms.

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