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.

31. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande (2022)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Sophie Hyde

Actors

Daryl McCormack, Emma Thompson, Isabella Laughland, Lennie Beare

Moods

A-list actors, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

There are only two main characters in Good Luck to You, Leo Grande: Nancy, a retired teacher who was recently widowed, and Leo, an adept sex worker with a mysterious past. They’re almost always in one place and work on a single goal: pleasure. But despite the seeming monotony, the movie is crackling with wit and sensuality every step of the way. It doesn’t waste any time getting to the heart of the matter. Nancy and Leo go back and forth about their past, with Nancy divulging much about the stigma of aging and Leo about the stigma of sex work. They also dive into the shame attached to pleasure, ultimately revealing more than just their naked bodies to each other and to the audience.

32. Wolfwalkers (2020)

best

8.5

Country

China, France, Ireland

Director

Ross Stewart, Tomm Moore

Actors

Aoibhin Murphy, Ben Andrews, Eva Whittaker, Honor Kneafsey

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. 

33. Mass (2021)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Fran Kranz

Actors

Ann Dowd, Breeda Wool, Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Depressing

In the first few minutes of Mass, hushed tones, solemn movements, and awkwardly averted eyes hint at an unspoken tragedy that haunts everyone in the film. The four main characters discuss it during a sit-down, but even then it remains unspeakable; such is the dedication of first-time full-length director Fran Kranz in depicting the reality of tragic events. Not much is done in the way of plot twists and shocks, but in place of those, Mass makes clever use of close-up shots and unmoving settings to portray the privacy and paralysis of grief. For this reason, Mass often feels like a masterful play brought to life, but also more than that, a brilliant portrait of healing—or at the very least, coping with the everlasting aftermath of loss. 

34. To Leslie (2022)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Michael Morris

Actors

Alan Trong, Alan Wells, Allison Janney, Andre Royo

Moods

Challenging, Character-driven, Dark

To Leslie follows the eponymous Leslie (Andrea Riseborough), a Southern woman who finds herself at the bottom of the barrel after finally using up every penny of her $190k lottery win. Out of work, friends, and family, she drowns herself in alcohol—that is until a kind soul in the form of motel owner Sweeney (Marc Maron) takes her in and gives her a shot.

To Leslie starts off a bit slow, and its premise may seem like it’ll give way to weepiness, but it’s worth sticking by till the end. The film only gets better, especially with the arrival of Maron, whose presence lends the film a much-needed buoyancy. It’s also worth noting that unlike many of its kind, To Leslie avoids the poverty porn trap by depicting issues like addiction and indigence with nuance, honesty, and humanity.

35. Girl Picture (2022)

best

8.5

Country

Finland

Director

Alli Haapasalo, Female director

Actors

Aamu Milonoff, Amos Brotherus, Bruno Baer, Cécile Orblin

Moods

Character-driven, Emotional, Lovely

Understandably, Mimmi, Rönkkö, and Emma, the teenage girls who lead this Finnish coming-of-age drama, are bursting with emotional urgency. On the cusp of adulthood, they plunge into house parties and romantic affairs in the hope that exploring love, sex, and adventure leads them closer to being self-aware adults. 

Of course, that’s a lifelong process, but they don’t need to know that just yet. For now, they’re explosive and ecstatic and awkward and angry. They’re at a point in their lives where falling head over heels is still an endearingly fresh experience and not a frustratingly repeated mistake. 

The film is intense in this way, but it’s leavened by a beautiful naturalism that’s seen in the young cast’s performances, the setting’s soft lighting, and the camera’s boxy ratio and grainy finish, the latter of which recall a disposable camera capturing the indiscriminate moments shared between teens. Girl Picture is an intimate and authentic portrait of girlhood—see it if you can.

36. The Stroll (2023)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Kristen Parker Lovell

Actors

Laverne Cox, Michael Bloomberg, Rudolph Giuliani, RuPaul

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Thought-provoking

At one point in the documentary, director Kristen Lovell says, “I wanted to archive the movement that was building between transwomen and sex workers,” and that’s exactly what she achieves with The Stroll, a well-researched, creatively edited, and deeply moving account of the trans-sex-work experience that defined New York for a good chunk of the 20th century. It’s both historical and personal, touching and rousing, as it recounts a history that’s often been forgotten even among the LGBTQ+ community. To do this, Lovell digs up archival footage, brings to life long-buried data, and strikes up heartfelt conversations with survivors of The Stroll, that street in New York where Lovell and her fellow homeless escorts used to pick customers up. Thanks to Lovell’s hard work in telling this extraordinary story of struggle and success, there isn’t a moment in this film where you’re not shocked, frustrated, or exhilarated along with them.

37. Once Upon a Star (2023)

best

8.5

Country

Thailand

Director

Nonzee Nimibutr

Actors

Jirayu La-ongmani, Kongkiat Khomsiri, Nat Sakdatorn, Nuengthida Sophon

Moods

Easy, Emotional, Feel-Good

When reminiscing about the film industry, most period films focus on the big names – the stars, the directors, and the producers that back them – as they’re more likely to have plenty of source material. Once Upon a Star is interested in the little people, the small town distributors that bring the movie magic to the locals. Centered on a cinema projection troupe, the film celebrates the old way of distribution, who, unlike today’s streaming, travel from place to place to set up outdoor cinemas with live dubbing. And through each projection of classic Thai masterpieces, the connection they have with each other, between both the troupe and the audience, recalls the intimate nostalgia of watching a movie together. It’s a unique take from director Nonzee Nimibutr, one that’s a stunning love letter to the film industry he hails from.

38. American Symphony (2023)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Matthew Heineman

Actors

Anna Wintour, Billie Eilish, James Taylor, Jon Batiste

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Emotional

Art is a hobby for most people, but for musician Jon Batiste and writer Suleika Jaouad, art is part and parcel of this thing called life. Of course, it’s part of their work, and it’s how they make a livelihood, but it’s more than that– it’s almost a spiritual ritual they cling to, especially when Jaouad finds out that her leukemia has returned. American Symphony mainly depicts the creation of said orchestral work, but director Matthew Heineman translates the symphony into cinematic form, culminating in a performance played over the intimate moments between Batiste and Jaouad. It’s not just a documentary of a performance, but a documentary about art, about creation despite life’s pains, perhaps to survive life’s pains. It’s a powerful work that makes it easy to believe in art as imperative for life, and vice versa.

39. The Iron Claw (2023)

best

8.5

Country

United Kingdom, United States of America

Director

Sean Durkin

Actors

Aaron Dean Eisenberg, Brian Hite, Cazzey Louis Cereghino, Chad Governale

Moods

Action-packed, Dark, Depressing

The story of the Von Erich family is excruciatingly sad, but Iron Claw doesn’t dive right into the tragedy. Instead, it takes care to paint a picture of a close-knit family that’s filled with just as much warmth, jealousy, affection, and resentment as the next bunch. Durkin masterfully draws you into their circle so that everything that happens next is sure to cut deep. The choreography, chemistry, color—everything is carefully and beautifully set up, but the casting is what stands out the most. This wouldn’t have worked as well if it weren’t for the inspired move to pair Zac Efron, Jeremy Allen White, Harris Dickinson, and Stanley Simons as brothers and partners. On the internet, people have been dubbing The Iron Claw as “Little Women and The Virgin Suicides for men” and it’s not hard to see why. Apart from the sibling bond over glory and growing pains, all these films are also powerful explorations of gender. Iron Claw is a vicious takedown of toxic masculinity, while also being a searing family drama and an incredible showcase for Efron and company.

40. Angle (2023)

best

8.5

Country

United States of America

Director

Alex Perry

Actors

Brock Lesnar, Dwayne Johnson, Giovanna Yannotti, Jerry Brisco

Moods

Emotional, Inspiring, Intense

Angle is very open about his ups and downs in this documentary. It takes us through the biggest chapters of his life as a freestyle wrestler: from his intense “exhaust training” regimen that would make you guilty about your workouts; to the infamous tournament where he would break his neck and go on to win an olympic gold medal anyway; to making the transition to pro wrestling where his intensity would reward him—as well as cost him—the prime of his career. It’s an inspiring, well-produced sports documentary, and a lot of it can be attributed to Angle’s detailed memory and willingness to tackle stories head on.

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