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.

30. This Much I Know to Be True (2022)

best

8.1

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Andrew Dominik

Actors

Andrew Dominik, Earl Cave, Marianne Faithfull, Nick Cave

Moods

Emotional, Inspiring, Original

Whether or not you’re a fan of Nick Cave’s contemplative, idiosyncratic style of music, This Much I Know to Be True still works on a purely experiential level. There’s confusion, then a rush of euphoria, then an overwhelming sense of peace when listening to Cave’s (and musical collaborator Warren Ellis’s) cryptic lyrics and delicate compositions—shot with breathtaking use of studio lights by director Andrew Dominik and cinematographer Robbie Ryan.

And things only get more emotional when you consider how far Cave has come, that these performances are happening several rough years from the untimely death of his son. And suddenly even all the unrelated B-roll footage included in the film—of Cave talking about his sculptures, talking to Ellis, answering profound fan emails—takes on a greater urgency. This sounds like music for mourning, but in its own way it’s music for celebration, too, and gratitude despite everything.

29. Belfast (2021)

best

8.1

Country

United Kingdom

Director

Kenneth Branagh

Actors

Bríd Brennan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds, Colin Morgan

Moods

Emotional, Heart-warming, Slice-of-Life

Belfast stars Outlander’s Caitríona Balfe as the mother of a working-class Northern Irish family during The Troubles. Religious tension and the lack of opportunities put the family in a difficult position: they’re the first in many generations to think about leaving the city of Belfast. They all have to navigate so many difficult questions on belonging, religion, and identity.

The story,  based on the director’s own childhood, is packaged in a noise-canceling black and white format. Also stars Judi Dench.

28. In the Same Breath (2021)

best

8.1

Country

China, United States of America

Director

Female director, Nanfu Wang

Moods

Instructive, Thought-provoking

The culture of propaganda and cover-ups that kicked off the pandemic is the subject of this compelling documentary by award-winning director Nanfu Wang (One Child Nation). Wang, who traveled with her family to China in January 2020, saw and filmed the pandemic firsthand, and wrote to major newspapers like The New York Times to convince them to write about it. They never did. 

Media and government in both China and the U.S. played down the threat, and this documentary asks how different everything would have gone otherwise. More dauntingly, it’s an examination of how the Communist Party in China managed to use the event to its advantage. 

27. Gather (2020)

best

8.2

Country

United States

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.

26. 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, Emina Muftić

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.

25. 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.

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

best

8.2

Country

United States of America

Director

Adam Carolla, Nate Adams

Actors

Adam Carolla, Bernie Ecclestone, Bobby Unser, Chase Austin

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.

23. On the Record (2020)

best

8.3

Country

United States of America

Director

Amy Ziering, Female director

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Instructive

This searing allegation of sexual abuse against Def Jam Recordings’ Russell Simmons unfolds with the intelligence and tenacity of a world-class prosecution. But more importantly, On the Record remembers to fight for a justice that’s restorative, too—paying proper tribute to Drew Dixon and many other equally creative and talented women behind the scenes in the American hip hop industry. With every new argument it introduces, this documentary encourages us not only to be open to new information, but to rewire our very way of thinking about race, intersectional feminism, and the music business. It may be a bit of a cliché, but On the Record really does leave you smarter than when you started, with a heightened awareness of how the present moment is inseparable from our history.

22. Fire of Love (2022)

best

8.4

Country

Canada, United States of America

Director

Female director, Sara Dosa

Actors

Miranda July

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Inspiring, Lovely

Fire of Love is a documentary that follows Maurice and Katia Krafft, a scientist couple who’ve dedicated their entire professional lives to studying (and marveling at) volcanoes. The two met at university and have been inseparable ever since, chasing explosions around the world until their death at the Mount Unzen eruption in 1991. 

The fiery passion the title refers to is as much about Maurice and Katia as it is about their dedication to volcanoes. Like any love story, it tracks how they were first wonderstruck by the formation and how that awe shaped their lives and led them to each other, as well as how they came to discover hard truths about it and dealt with the heartbreak that soon followed. 

Combining the breathtaking footage the couple left behind with lovely writing and artful animation, director Sara Dosa creates a moving documentary about passion, adventure, and the world itself. 

21. 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.

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