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.

51. Fallen Leaves (2023)

best

8.3

Country

Finland, Germany

Director

Aki Kaurismäki

Actors

Alina Tomnikov, Alma Pöysti, Anna Karjalainen, Eero Ritala

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Lovely

Simple but lovely movies like Fallen Leaves are hard to come by these days. While others rely on complicated dialogue or overly ambitious premises to be deemed deep or important, Director Aki Kaurismäki trusts that his material is strong enough. After all, its silence speaks volumes; the characters don’t say much but when they do, you can be sure it’s something hard-hitting or funny. The plot doesn’t contain a lot of surprises, but when it makes a turn, it moves you instantly. And the leads, Ansa (Alma Pöysti) and Holappa (Jussi Vatanen) barely move their features, but their eyes convey more emotion, more longing and ache and joy, than one can hope for. Some movies can be challenging, exhilarating, or exhausting to watch. This one is simply delightful. 

52. Perfect Days (2023)

best

8.3

Country

Germany, Japan

Director

Wim Wenders

Actors

Aki Kobayashi, Aoi Iwasaki, Aoi Yamada, Arisa Nakano

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Lovely

For public toilet cleaner Hirayama, “enjoy the little things in life” is more than just an adage: it’s a philosophy. Every day, he follows a strict routine of watering his plants, going to work, taking a break at a nearby shrine, and having dinner at his favorite stalls. It seems unexceptional, and yet Hirayama manages to find small, meaningful joys in between (and at) those very moments. A tree branch dancing in the breeze and shadows making funny shapes are enough to make him chuckle, while it seems like a good book and a trusty cassette are all he needs to be at peace. Hirayama’s mundane miracles are life-affirming, but make no mistake: this isn’t one of those cheesy films that push you to be happy no matter what. Director Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas, Wings of Desire) infuses the film with a certain gloom so that the overall tone is one of deep, poignant melancholy. Through vague clues about Hirayama’s past, we learn that his attempts at capturing joy might also be bids to escape a traumatic life. All this builds to a powerful ending that speaks to the complexity of human emotion. We can be happy and sad, peaceful and troubled, lonely and content all at the same time, and it’s okay. At the end of the day, we’ll still have our favorite book passage, our favorite singer, a great artwork, or a beautiful park to return to, and sometimes that’s all the reminder you need that life can be worth living.

53. To Kill a Tiger (2022)

best

8.3

Country

Canada, India, United States of America

Director

Female director, Nisha Pahuja

Moods

Dark, Inspiring, Touching

To Kill a Tiger should not be an easy watch. It’s about the gang rape of 13-year-old Kiran, a girl whose small village has shunned and blamed her for “not knowing better,” and who is being forced by community leaders to marry her abuser to “erase the stain” on herself. But instead of leaning on sensationalism, Director Nisha Pahuja tells Kiran’s story with so much care and sensitivity that it feels refreshing and ultimately inspiring to watch. Pahuja hones in on Kiran’s relationship with her father, Ranjit, who stands by her daughter despite the pressure imposed by his community to do otherwise. The filmmakers note that he’s the rare man to pursue justice for his wronged daughter, and we can see through intimate conversations among the villagers, lawmakers, and social workers how brave and novel Kiran and Ranjit’s journey is. To Kill a Tiger is not an easy watch, but under Pahuja’s deft direction, the discomfort feels necessary, and the relationships heart-aching but uplifting.

54. Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Actors

Adam Carolla, Al Unser Jr., Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Unser

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Instructive

“They called me uppity. Uppity n*****. And I loved it”. That’s how this excellent documentary, about the first professional black racing driver Willy T. Ribbs, starts. It summarizes the strong personality of a champion who excelled in tracks that were filled with confederate flags.

The documentary explains the details of the difficulties that Ribbs went through in the 70s and 80s, but also the people who supported him and recognized his talent. It’s by no way a sad movie, on the contrary, even when Ribbs is talking about people spitting wherever he walks or about the death threats escalating, his unharmed determination is at the center of the story.

This is an inspiring documentary about a character who never got his worth in the history books. I was full of shivers by the first half-hour mark.

55. The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Female director, Radha Blank

Actors

Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis

Moods

Feel-Good, Funny, Uplifting

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

56. Quo Vadis Aida? (2020)

best

8.2

Country

Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, France

Director

Female director, Jasmila Žbanić

Actors

Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

This Oscar-nominated drama tells the story of the events leading up to the Srebrenica massacre, in which 8372 Bosnian Muslims were killed. It focuses on one U.N. worker who was caught between trying to protect her family, herself, and helping people in need.

The film is as horrific as it is relevant: up until the actual killing starts, people are constantly being assured that everything is under control and that there is no reason to panic. This gives an eerie feeling of resemblance to the tone many minorities in distress receive nowadays.

Still, Quo Vadis, Aida? stops at depicting any of the acts that were committed that day. Instead, it focuses on Aida’s unrelenting race against the clock to save whatever she can.

57. Gather (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States, United States of America

Director

Sanjay Rawal

Moods

Inspiring, Instructive, Mind-blowing

This insightful and uplifting documentary is about a growing movement within indigenous communities: obtaining food sovereignty by going back to pre-genocide ways of cultivating food.

The violent changes that have affected indigenous communities don’t impact just the people, but also the animals, the fish, and the land. All of these are now bearing the brunt of climate change.

Historically, North American governments forbid Native people from fishing and cultivating their foods as a way to repress them and create dependency. Gather is as much a recognition of the damage that was done as it is a forward-looking vision about how these communities are taking control of their faiths.

58. Mars One (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Brazil

Director

Gabriel Martins

Actors

Camilla Damião, Carlos Francisco, Cícero Lucas, Dircinha Macêdo

Moods

Dramatic, Emotional, Heart-warming

Mars One is a tender, wholesome drama that centers on The Martins, a family of four living on the fringes of a major Brazilian city. Their lower-middle-class status puts them in an odd position—they’re settled enough to have big dreams and occasionally lead lavish lives (the mother and the daughter like to party) but they barely have the means to pursue that kind of lifestyle. As a result, they’re always searching and wanting, aiming high but almost always falling flat on the ground.

There is no actual plot in Mars One. Instead, it studies its characters in a leisurely and almost offhand manner. The approach is so naturalistic, you’ll almost forget you’re watching a movie. But it’s still gorgeously shot and staged, Brazil being an inevitably striking background. At once gentle and vibrant, this big-hearted film is a must for those who are suckers for well-made family dramas.

59. Rohan at the Louvre (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Japan

Director

Kazutaka Watanabe

Actors

Fumino Kimura, Issey Takahashi, Katia Tchenko, Kayoko Shiraishi

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Intense

As an adaptation of a story written to commemorate the Louvre’s comics-focused exhibit, Rohan at the Louvre expands the short story into a riveting, nearly two-hour supernatural mystery film that contemplates Japanese art in context with the world. The original story is a spin-off of the popular manga Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, so this film adaptation may shock fans expecting the same plot points and the vibrant, colorful style of the manga. However, the shadow-heavy cinematography, alongside Issey Takahashi’s performance, casts the eeriness needed to make this story work on film. It’s a change that fits a story all about art as a depiction of pain and desire, severing the self from the past, and escapism through stories.

60. Third World Romance (2023)

best

8.2

Country

Philippines

Director

Dwein Ruedas Baltazar, Female director

Actors

Ana Abad-Santos, Archie Adamos, Carlo Aquino, Charlie Dizon

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Heart-warming

Third World Romance is what it says in the tin– it’s a love story that blooms in the rundown side of the capital of a developing country. The plot is familiar, especially for people familiar with Filipino rom coms, but writer-director Dwein Baltazar approaches this with a grounded approach. With fancy dinner dates substituted with shared packed rice meals and emotional apologies interrupted by their shifts in the grocery, Bree and Alvin carve out a love that still feels passionate, perhaps made even more so, as they navigate a city where they are disenfranchised. Charlie Dizon and Carlo Aquino’s excellent performances keep their characters’ struggles real, but also make their love feel joyful in spite of that.

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