The Best Movies of the 2020s So Far

The Best Movies of the 2020s So Far

June 7, 2024

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Saying that 2020 came with a bang just might be the understatement of the century. The year ushered in a global pandemic that upended all of what we knew in the modern world, forcing us to reconsider what we deemed as valuable and even good. 

With more content than ever before, both filmmaker and filmgoer have seen a growth in discernment, and with that, a boost in standards. So far, this has meant more solid techniques, diverse perspectives, and empathetic takes. Below, we list the most notable titles that uphold these qualities—in other words, the very best movies of the 2020s.

11. Drive My Car (2021)

best

8.9

Country

Germany, Japan

Director

Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Actors

Ahn Hwi-tae, Ahn Hwitae, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Hiroko Matsuda

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Slow

In Drive My Car, a widowed artist travels to Hiroshima for his latest production. There he meets a young woman enlisted to drive him around the area. They forge an unexpected bond and soon share pithy observations and long-buried secrets, which culminate in a touching scene of catharsis and forgiveness.

Not a lot is said in this three-hour film, but when words (and signals) are shared, they are always underlaid with simple but transcendent truths. Drive My Car is a gripping film that explores love and loss in its own quiet way, at once intense and intimate.

12. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)

best

8.9

Country

Japan

Director

Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Actors

Aoba Kawai, Aoba Kawai 河井清叶, Ayumu Nakajima, Fusako Urabe

Moods

Character-driven, Emotional, Lovely

From Drive My Car director Ryusuke Hamaguchi comes another film featuring long drives, thoughtful talks, and unexpected twists. An anthology of three short stories, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy ponders over ideas of love, fate, and the all-too-vexing question, “what if?” 

What if you didn’t run away from the one you love? What if you didn’t give in to lust that fateful day? What if, right then and there, you decide to finally forgive?

Big questions, but without sacrificing depth, Hamaguchi does the incredible task of making every single second feel light and meaningful. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy will leave you with mixed emotions: excited, startled, dejected, hopeful. But one thing you won’t feel is regret over watching this instant classic of a film.

13. Nothing Compares (2022)

best

8.9

Country

Ireland, United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Female director, Kathryn Ferguson

Actors

Ariana Grande, Billie Eilish, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Thought-provoking

Nothing Compares weaves a poignant story about one of the most misunderstood artists of our time, Sinéad O’Connor. The iconoclast first made waves in the ’80s with her catchy music, but she quickly reclaimed the reins of her own fame and used her platform to champion marginalized causes, long before pop stars were expected to do so. 

The documentary zeroes in on this part of O’Connor’s life: what prompted her to music and how she used it as a tool of activism. The answers are multi-faceted and handled here with extreme grace. Like the many from her generation, O’Connor struggled with religion and abuse, such was the Catholic Church’s hold on Ireland at the time time. 

The film contextualizes her once-shocking moments and reveals how they were all grounded on things she cared about. It’s a beautiful piece of work that reassesses and redeems a wronged artist who was ahead of her time.

14. Licorice Pizza (2021)

best

8.9

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Paul Thomas Anderson

Actors

Adam Somner, AJ Carr, Alana Haim, Alex Canter

Moods

Character-driven, Emotional, Funny

Poignant, delightful, and simply gorgeous, Licorice Pizza just might be Paul Thomas Anderson’s best work to date. The period dramedy follows two young people, one in her 20s and one in his teens, as they strike an unlikely but lovely friendship and try to find their place in the world. They may be 10 years apart, but they’re stuck in the same swirl of rejection and confusion that trap a lot of ambitious people like them. The premise is far from original, but Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman turn in captivating performances (made even more impressive by the fact that this is both their film debut). There is an ease and naturalism to both their chemistry and onscreen performances that’s hard not to love.

The thick and wistful patina of the ‘70s, the comedic asides, and the colorful supporting cast all also help paint an overall charming picture that shouldn’t be missed.

15. Petite Maman (2022)

best

8.8

Country

France, United States of America

Director

Céline Sciamma, Female director

Actors

Joséphine Sanz, Margot Abascal, Nina Meurisse, Stéphane Varupenne

Many films have tried to decipher the indecipherable bond between mothers and daughters. Lady Bird, Everything Everywhere All at Once, and Turning Red, to name a few, center on this particular relationship, which to outsiders may seem strange at best and dysfunctional at worst. How can mothers yell at their daughters one second and coddle them the next? How can daughters treat mothers like their best friend and enemy all at once? 

One of the best films to explore this complexity is Petite Maman, a fantasy-like film that brings together mother and daughter in a unique situation, forcing them both to regard the other in otherwise impossible ways. It succeeds where others haven’t precisely because it accepts that this relationship is beyond dissecting, and the only way to honor it is in the poignant, poetic, and otherworldly way that it does. It’s a quiet film that manages to say a lot, not least of which is that it’s okay to feel and love and hurt as much as one does.

16. After Love (2020)

best

8.8

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Aleem Khan

Actors

Aaron Chawla, Adam Karim, Elijah Braik, Jabeen Butt

Moods

Character-driven, Dramatic, Heart-warming

After Love is a beautifully powerful and quietly moving outing by emerging British filmmaker Aleem Khan. It follows Mary (Joanna Scanlan), a white Muslim convert who discovers a life-changing secret her husband has managed to keep from her all these years.

Without spoiling anything, I will say that After Love is charged with the sort of deep-seated emotion we sometimes don’t know how to express. It’s also a powerful reminder that there’s no one way to love or grieve or celebrate the people around us; sometimes, there’s just feeling. And Scanlan does a wonderful job of restraining then conveying all of that in devastating and commanding moments throughout the film, a feat that earned her the much-deserved best actress award at the 2021 BAFTAs. 

17. Joyland (2022)

best

8.8

Country

Pakistan, United States of America

Director

Saim Sadiq

Actors

Ramiz Law, Rasti Farooq, Salmaan Peerzada, Sania Saeed

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Emotional

Joyland is groundbreaking on nearly all accounts. It’s the first Pakistani film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and to be shortlisted for an Oscar. Its forthright depiction of trans life and gender identity provoked the ire of local authorities, but it also inspired a nationwide movement (#ReleaseJoyland) that fought against censorship. It’s understandable, then, if the film is remembered for these disruptive achievements alone, but it should be noted that Joyland, as it is, is simply a stunning piece of cinema. 

Every scene is beautifully blocked and vibrantly lit, like a painting come to life, and every one of them is rich with meaning; there’s not a second we’re not diving deeper into the wonderfully complex lives of these people, all of whom are exploring sexuality and independence as best they can in a restricted environment. And sure, Biba and Haider’s relationship takes center stage as it reveals the nuances of queer love, but Joyland just as deftly tackles toxic masculinity (and how it’s a specter that haunts Haider’s household), domestic labor (and how it largely goes unnoticed), and female solidarity (and how it can literally save a girl’s life). Heartbreaking and lovely, this a family saga in that it’s as much about Haider’s family as it is about him, and it’s a shame if it weren’t remembered as such. 

18. The Teachers’ Lounge (2023)

best

8.8

Country

Germany

Director

İlker Çatak

Actors

Anne-Kathrin Gummich, Antonia Luise Krämer, Eva Löbau, Katharina M. Schubert

Moods

Gripping, Suspenseful, Well-acted

The Teacher’s Lounge is one of those movies where a simple misunderstanding is blown out of proportion, so much so that it causes the fabric of a community to unravel into chaos. Aided by a precise score, it ticks like a timebomb, with every second filled with so much dread and anxiety you have to remind yourself to breathe. It’s an impeccable and taut thriller, but it also works as an allegory about modern-day surveillance and authority. Director İlker Çatak gives the Gen-Z students and their much older teachers a level field where they struggle for control, and the result is both bleak and funny. It’s often said that schools are a microcosm of the real world, but nowhere is that more apparent than here. 

19. All of Us Strangers (2023)

best

8.8

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Andrew Haigh

Actors

Ami Tredrea, Andrew Scott, Carter John Grout, Claire Foy

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Lovely

As in his previous films, Director Andrew Haigh explores the delicate nature of loneliness, grief, and love in All of Us Strangers, except this time he does so through a supernatural lens. The result is mesmerizing: amid the tenderness the film draws from its characters, there’s a swirl of mystery too: how is it possible that Adam is conversing with his dead parents? Who, exactly, is Harry? The intrigue is there, and Haigh builds to a satisfying climax that answers all these questions. The mystery also lends the film an ethereal style that makes it visually resemble a horror or thriller more than it does a romance or drama. But as superb as it looks and as compelling as the ambiguity is, they never distract from the film’s central goal, which is to bring us into the complex emotional journey Adam goes through as he simultaneously develops a relationship with Harry and parses his childhood trauma with his parents. It’s a hefty film, filled with big emotional moments that will have you crying, smiling, longing, and healing all at the same time. And like any good film, it will haunt you for days on end.

20. 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.

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