The Best Movies of the 2020s So Far

The Best Movies of the 2020s So Far

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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.

40. Descendant (2022)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Margaret Brown

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Instructive, Smart

Although Descendant is built around the finding of the Clotilda—the last ship to bring African slaves to the United States—this documentary knows that there’s so much more potent drama in the stories of the ordinary people of Africatown, Alabama. As this painful reminder of the roots of their community is salvaged from the water, their view of history itself begins to change. Now they face the responsibility of making sure that the Clotilda doesn’t just become a tourist attraction, and that their call for reparations unites the Mobile region of Alabama more than anything else. Its a gripping, complex documentary that feels like reading a great novel.

39. 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.

38. 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.

37. The Falls (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Taiwan

Director

Chung Mong-hong

Actors

Alyssa Chia, Chen Yiwen, Gingle Wang, Guan-Ting Liu

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Slow

All the synopses going around the internet won’t fail to let you know that The Falls takes place at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. The film is certainly marketed that way, with commercial posters featuring the leads in ubiquitous face masks, socially distanced from the blurred crowd. 

But interestingly, The Falls is not just a situational, pandemic-era story. More than anything else, it tells the story of Pin-wen and Xiao Jing, mother and daughter who, despite previously living a life of comfort, are now dealt with unfavorable circumstances (exacerbated but not entirely caused by the pandemic). Now, they are forced to navigate life with only each other, and it’s in the isolation they instate from the rest of the world do they forge a genuine and heartwrenching bond any and all family members will immediately recognize and perhaps even sympathize with. 

36. 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.

35. The Hand of God (2021)

8.0

Country

Italy

Director

Paolo Sorrentino

Actors

Alessandro Bressanello, Betti Pedrazzi, Birte Berg, Cristiana Dell'Anna

Moods

Grown-up Comedy, Lovely, Slice-of-Life

The Hand of God is the autobiographical movie from Paolo Sarrantino, the director of the 2013 masterpiece The Great Beauty. He recently also directed The Young Pope with Jude Law and Youth Paul Dano, both in English. He is back to his home Italy with this one. 

More precisely, he’s in his hometown Naples, in the 1980s, where awkward teenager Fabietto Schisa’s life is about to change: his city’s soccer team Napoli is buying the biggest footballer at the time, Diego Maradona.

Sarrantino, who is also from Naples, made this movie that is half a tribute to the city and half to what it meant growing up around the legend of Maradona.

The Hand of God is to Sarrantino what Roma was to Alfonso Cuarón, except it’s more vulgar, fun, and excessive. It is equally as personal though, and it goes from comedy to tragedy and back with unmatched ease.

34. 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.

33. 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.

32. The Social Dilemma (2020)

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeff Orlowski

Actors

Catalina Garayoa, Chris Grundy, Kara Hayward, Laura Obiols

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.

31. 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?

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