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.

10. One Night in Miami (2020)

best

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Regina King

Actors

Aaron D. Alexander, Alan Wells, Aldis Hodge, Ashley LeConte Campbell

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Slice-of-Life, Smart

This stagelike historical drama is about a meeting between Malcolm X, Jim Brown, Sam Cooke, and Muhammad Ali, the night Ali became world champion and announced he became Muslim.

And here is the thing: Malcolm X and Muhammed Ali have been portrayed many times in film, but never with this much nuance. Their relationship with each other is often frictional and their relationship to their faith is recognizable: they’re not always sure about it, and they take breaks.

Ali smuggles alcohol without Malcolm knowing, Malcolm is accused of being obsessed with celebrity (and later of colorism), Jim Brown is insecure about being an actor, and Sam Cooke wishes he wrote a Bob Dylan song.

9. Athlete A

8.4

Country

United States of America

Director

Bonni Cohen, Female director

Actors

Géza Poszar, Gina Nichols, Jen Sey, John Nichols

Moods

Discussion-sparking, True-crime

This groundbreaking documentary follows the USA Olympics sexual abuse case that made headlines in 2015. Through interviews with Olympians, their families, and investigative reporters, it’s also a documentary on the overall culture of abuse in gymnastics: sexual, physical, and emotional.

In one scene from the 1996 Olympics, gold medalist Kerri Strug has to run, vault, and land – all with a severe foot injury that was covered up by her coaches. She does this twice, limping between attempts and crawling off the mat on the second, crying. Meanwhile, her family, her coaches, the spectators – the World – is celebrating.

When she’s carried off, it’s Larry Nassar, the pedophile at the center of the documentary, who carries her.

Athlete A is groundbreaking exactly because it illustrates that the problem is not only with one doctor, or the 54 coaches who were also found guilty of sexual abuse, or the morally bankrupt leadership of USA Gymastics; it’s also about what went so wrong with society to see the abuse of young girls as cause for celebration.

8. Wolfwalkers (2020)

best

8.5

Country

France, Ireland, Luxembourg

Director

Ross Stewart, Tomm Moore

Actors

Eva Whittaker, Honor Kneafsey, John Morton, Jon Kenny

Moods

Character-driven, Easy, Emotional

Set in 1650 against the backdrop of the English colonization of Ireland, Wolfwalkers follows the story of Robyn, a young apprentice hunter who arrives in Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. Completing the “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” Tomm Moore’s film is a tale of sisterhood, friendship, and acceptance told with phenomenal artistry. Beautifully animated, with warm autumn colors and refined attention to detail, the film is beyond pleasing to the eye. The outstanding voice work from Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker, along with a well-written and emotionally compelling story, make Wolfwalkers a unique animation experience for young viewers and adults alike. 

7. And Then We Danced (2020)

best

8.6

Country

France, Georgia, Sweden

Director

Levan Akin

Actors

Aleko Begalishvili, Ana Javakishvili, Bachi Valishvili, Giorgi Tsereteli

Moods

Feel-Good, Heart-warming, Romantic

Georgian dance has cut-throat competition: the art form is dying even within Gerogia, and to make it, dancers compete to join the one duo that represents the country. The chance finally comes and the spot opens up, igniting the hopes of performers from around the country. Mervan is one of them, a young dancer from a poor background who takes food from his restaurant job to feed his family. His main competition is a newcomer, Irakli, who also comes from a difficult background and hopes to secure the spot to provide for his ill father.

When their lives hang on them competing against one another, Mervan and Irakli fall for each other.

And Then We Danced is full of incredible dance sequences that add to the beauty of the romance at its center; but it’s also a heartbreaking exploration of unfulfilled ambition.

6. Boys State (2020)

best

8.7

Country

United States of America

Director

Amanda McBaine, Female director

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

What starts out as as a summer camp of teenage boys not taking anything seriously grows into a rousing portrait of their hopes and dreams for the future. You wouldn’t expect a documentary like this—shot like a reality TV show—to carry so much weight, but Boys State knows how to unearth the values that drive each of its incredibly well-rounded characters. So by the time these young men have assembled their mock governments and are casting their votes, it feels like the spirit of an entire generation is on the line. This is powerful, entertaining, and ultimately tear-jerking filmmaking that shows us how much work we still have to do and how much hope there still is.

5. Corpus Christi (2020)

best

9.0

Country

France, Poland, Poland France

Director

Jan Komasa

Actors

Łukasz Simlat, Aleksandra Konieczna, Anna Biernacik, Barbara Kurzaj

Poland’s nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2020 Academy Awards may have lost to Parasite, but director Jan Komasa’s film is still utterly compelling. The crazy sounding premise is inspired by true events: after having had a transformative experience in jail, an ex-convict, played by the wiry, blue-eyed Bartosz Bielenia, decides he wants to become a priest. When he is told that his criminal history prohibits it, he goes down the path that got him into trouble in the first place and just pretends he is. Apparently, he does so quite convincingly—and serves the community well, which is collectively grieving for the victims of a tragic accident. For all his charisma, there’s no way not to root for the crooked clergyman conning his way to the top. The complex character at the heart of Corpus Christi is refreshing and three-dimensional, and the smart writing of the film excels at exploring they grey areas of truth and religion. The ending, too, circumvents the soppy and the melodramatic. Thought-provoking European drama.

4. System Crasher (2019)

best

9.0

Country

Germany

Director

Female director, Nora Fingscheidt

Actors

Albrecht Schuch, Axel Werner, Barbara Philipp, Cederic Mardon

Moods

Intense, Thought-provoking

While quite testing for viewers, this is one of the craziest, most high-energy movies you’ll ever watch. In this incredible German drama, child actor Helena Zengel plays Bernadette aka Benni, a traumatized 9-year-old child who tends to lash out and has been repeatedly suspended from every school she went to. Benni is a so-called “Systemsprenger” (which is the original German title). A system crasher is a child so uncontrollable and aggressive that, over time, she falls through the grid of special schools, foster care, and social work facilities. Despite the best efforts of her designated social worker, Frau Bafané, played by Gabriela Maria Schmeide, she is turned down by everyone, testing the patience of her surroundings, wherever she goes. A trip with Micha (Albrecht Schuch), a tough boxer and anger-management trainer, turns out to be the last resort. Directed by Nora Fingscheidt, System Crasher is intense, punky, and wild with an almost eerie sense of authenticity. Its devastating effect is helped along by its unique, hyperactive camerawork. Much like the social workers themselves, you might have a hard time keeping professional distance to all this. This intense drama will stay with you for a long time.

3. Sound of Metal (2020)

best

9.1

Country

Belgium, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Darius Marder

Actors

Alan Resnic, Bill Thorpe, Chelsea Lee, Chris Perfetti

Moods

Challenging, Emotional, Gripping

Ahmed plays Ruben Stone, a heavy metal drummer, who plays in a band and lives in a tour bus with his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke). Quickly after meeting the couple, we witness the touring musician drastically losing his hearing. As recovering addicts with little financial means, they soon run out of options. Lou desperately wants to prevent Ruben’s relapse into addiction and so she helps him retreat to a deaf community group home, run by the illustrious Joe, a truly amazing character played by the equally amazing Paul Raci, himself the hearing son of deaf parents. There is something deeper going on though: the question of what disability is, and how, despite how it drastically changes Ruben’s life, it might not be his biggest problem. In addition to the stellar acting and delicate writing, we experience his condition through the incredible sound design used by director Darius Marder, complete with muffled conversations, garbled noises, and piercing silence. This is a movie to be taken in completely. Above all, it’s about Riz Ahmed’s performance. He learned to play drums, sign language, and studied deafness ahead of the shooting, and he does not strike a wrong note.

2. The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

9.1

Country

India, UK, United Kingdom

Director

Aaron Sorkin

Actors

Alex Sharp, Alice Kremelberg, Ben Shenkman, Blair Lewin

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.

1. Sorry We Missed You (2020)

best

9.1

Country

Belgium, France, United Kingdom

Director

Ken Loach

Actors

Charlie Richmond, Debbie Honeywood, Katie Proctor, Kris Hitchen

The British social-critical director of I, Daniel Blake and The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach, delivers another scathing indictment of our economic system, the slashing of worker protection, and the gig economy. While these are indeed the themes of this affecting drama, Loach always makes it about the people. In this case, a struggling family man who tries to turn his life around by working in package delivery. Gig economy workers are usually freelancers who own their trucks and are made fully responsible for packages until they reach their respective recipients. From peeing in a bottle to save time to seamless monitoring by an overlord hand-held device, Sorry We Missed You manages to capture the indignity and gives you an intimate introduction to the human cost of having everything delivered to your doorstep at a moment’s notice. Thanks to Loach’s use of amateur actors, it has a raw and real feel to it without being melodramatic. Sorry We Missed You makes sure that the habitually unseen take center stage.

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