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.

81. The Swimmers (2022)

best

8.0

Country

Turkey, United Kingdom

Director

Female director, Sally El Hosaini

Actors

Ahmed Malek, Alfredo Tavares, Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman

Moods

Character-driven, Discussion-sparking, Dramatic

The Swimmers tells the true story of sisters Yusra and Sara Mardini (played by fellow sisters Nathalie and Manal Issa), Syrian swimmers trained to compete at the Olympics. When their athletic goals and overall safety are threatened by the increasing presence of war, the girls decide to take a chance and migrate to Europe, where they hope to live out their dreams and reunite with their family someday.

The Swimmers is a touching family drama that does right to center on the love and tension between the siblings. Yusra and Sara’s relationship perfectly encapsulates the envy and resentment but also the deep love and loyalty that are present in every sister bond. It’s tender in these moments, but it can also be equally searing—as a refugee drama, it chillingly tracks the complicated and inhumane processes of fleeing one’s country for a safer future.

82. Holy Spider (2022)

best

8.0

Country

Denmark, France, Germany

Director

Ali Abbasi

Actors

Alice Rahimi, Arash Ashtiani, Ariane Naziri, Majd Eid

Moods

Challenging, Depressing, Discussion-sparking

As a crime thriller, Holy Spider is taut and terrifying, a modern noir that manages to unnerve despite the familiar moves it employs. The cat and mouse chase between serial killer and investigative reporter, for instance, is a classic tale, but that doesn’t make Holy Spider any less gripping. The film benefits from artful camerawork, considered acting (as the daring journalist Rahimi, Zar Amir Ebrahimi nabbed the Best Actress award at Cannes), and most of all a nuanced take on the situation in Iran. 

Despite having a clear stance against violence and corruption, nothing in Holy Spider is black and white. Contradictions abound, and even when presented with brief moments of justice, we’re left scratching our heads looking for more. Such is the case when the system, and not just an individual, is the true pest. 

83. Alcarràs (2023)

best

8.0

Country

Spain

Director

Carla Simón, Female director

Actors

Ainet Jounou, Berta Pipó, Jordi Pujol Dolcet, Josep Abad

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Dramatic, Easy

On one level, Alcarràs is a story about land, about how inextricable it is to livelihood, about how ownership of it has bred conflict since time immemorial. Director Carla Simón emphasizes this even more by hiring actual Catalan farmers as the leads. We’re not just watching the Solés sing and fight for their land, but Alcarràs natives who are also very much at risk of losing what’s theirs in real life. The acting comes off as natural because it is. 

But on another level, Alcarràs is also a story about family, in particular about how family ties run so deep, they’re bound to coil around each other under the ground they’re rooted in. Like a family portrait come to life, Alcarràs shows us the beauty and the peril of loving your family and the legacy they leave behind as much as the Solés do. 

84. How to Blow Up a Pipeline (2023)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Daniel Goldhaber

Actors

Ariela Barer, Brian Landis Folkins, Calhoun Koenig, Christopher Hagen

Moods

Discussion-sparking, Gripping, Intense

On the one hand, How to Blow Up a Pipeline is a tense thriller—an excellently set-up heist that makes you wonder, until the end, whether the low-budget operation succeeds or not. On the other hand, it’s a thoughtful rumination on the evil and influence of Big Oil, which despite its relentless destruction of environments and communities, continues to run scot-free. 

Together, these parts make for a powerful, nerve-racking film about both the danger and necessity of eco-terrorism—a radical act that is impressively humanized and spared from caricature here. How to Blow Up a Pipeline’s themes may be big and its means explosive, but its rich characterizations of the young activists ground it into a relatable reality. One is dying due to toxins released by the nearby plant, another is forced to give up his property to make way for the construction of a pipeline. All are tired of the fruitlessness of government promises and peaceful protests. Rousing and relevant, there’s never been a more timelier film than this. 

85. Farha (2021)

best

8.0

Country

Jordan, Sweden

Director

Darin J. Sallam, Female director

Actors

Ali Soliman, Ali Suliman, Ashraf Barhom, Sultan Alkhail

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Depressing

Based on a true story, Darin J. Sallam’s controversial debut feature Farha is, at heart, a brutal coming-of-age film. Set in 1948, the film is about a girl who gets locked into her family’s storeroom at the start of the Nakba, the Palestinian Catastrophe. Sallam’s choice to limit most of the film’s perspective to that small storeroom is brilliant – in some ways, it echoes the surrounding discussion about the conflict. Most of what the world knows of Palestine is limited due to having to deal with censorship, lost records, and only hearing word-of-mouth stories from ancestors who just barely survived. But what we see is already too horrific to begin with. And what the film knows is the tragedy of losing your home – having to leave childhood, leave your dreams, and leave a vibrant and living culture in order to survive.

86. R.M.N. (2022)

best

8.0

Moods

Challenging, Dark, Discussion-sparking

Set in a small town in Romania, R.M.N. is a challenging slow-burn that explores what happens to an insular community upon the arrival of immigrants from South Asia. Initially, the discrimination thrown at them seems tame; at the very least, it’s how you’d expect a homogenous and tight-knit group to react to outsiders. But more and more, the prejudice takes on cruel forms. Stakes are raised until it becomes life or death for the people involved. 

It’s a chilling examination of society, of the lengths people are willing to go to to avoid change and prolong their ignorance. But while there are few things scarier than the violence brought on by racism, the phantom elements in this film come close. Director Cristian Mungiu does an impressive job of painting his picture with a haunting tone; there are streaks of the supernatural in this film, making it a biting horror in more ways than one. 

As is often the case in great filmmaking, it’s hard to pin R.M.N. down to one genre, but thanks to its eerie perceptiveness, it goes down in history as one of the best films about xenophobia made. 

87. The Blue Caftan (2022)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, Denmark, France

Director

Female director, Maryam Touzani

Actors

Lubna Azabal, Saleh Bakri, Zakaria Atifi

Moods

Dramatic, Romantic, Touching

Set in one of Morocco’s oldest medinas, Blue Caftan is a tender portrayal of pure love and the different forms it takes. It follows traditional tailor Halim (Saleh Bakri) and his wife Mina (Lubna Azabal) who, despite their imperfect marriage, prove their affection in small but moving ways. He peels tangerines for her and washes her hair, she preps his meals and defends his craft from demanding customers. When a third person, Youssef (Ayoub Missioui), enters the picture, even more manifestations of passion (and the lack and longing and excess of it) emerge. 

It’s a dramatic film, but never overly so. Like the silky fabric Halim handles with expert care, it’s rich but soft, detailed but delicate. In the face of poverty, sickness, and discrimination, the film mines moments of joy, friendship, and pleasure, subverting the expectation that tragic circumstances must mean tragic outcomes. 

Blue Caftan, even in its saddest moments—and there are plenty—is a film full of love, made even more memorable by the deft performances and palpable chemistry of its three leads.

88. The Eight Mountains (2022)

best

8.0

Country

Belgium, France, Italy

Director

Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix Van Groeningen

Actors

Alessandro Borghi, Elena Lietti, Filippo Timi, Gualtiero Burzi

Moods

Emotional, Slow, Tear-jerker

Spanning over decades and continents, The Eight Mountains depicts the kind of childhood friendship that remains central to one’s whole world. While city boy Pietro (Luca Marinelli) treks from the Alps to the Himalayas, the mountain pasture of Grana remains special as his father’s old refuge and as the hometown of childhood best friend Bruno (Alessandro Borghi). When they were younger, the two struck a summer friendship as the only two boys in the small town. However, their friendship isn’t the kind formed through day-to-day, routine interactions. Instead, each moment they share is fleeting, cut short by circumstances, but therefore, all the more precious. Co-directors Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch slowly and patiently craft intermittent moments that form a lifelong friendship. And at the end, when they last bring us back to Grana, these moments are all we have left of this profound, meaningful connection.

89. The Saint of Second Chances (2023)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Jeff Malmberg, Morgan Neville

Actors

Agnes Albright, Bill Veeck, Charley Rossman, Charlie Day

Moods

Easy, Feel-Good, Heart-warming

You don’t need to know a lot about baseball to appreciate The Saint of Second Chances. It has enough going on to keep you hooked from start to end, beginning with Jeff Daniels’ inimitable voice as the narrator and Charlie Day’s inspired casting as the younger Veeck, all the way down to the Veecks’ fascinating ties with American sports history and Mike’s inspiring and heartwarming second-chance philosophy. It all gets a bit too much at times, as if the filmmakers themselves were overwhelmed with their abundant material and creative decisions, but it’s executed with so much care and love that it seems as if this is the only way it could’ve come out: a wonderful mess. 

90. Stamped from the Beginning (2023)

best

8.0

Country

United States of America

Director

Roger Ross Williams

Actors

Alexa Rachelle Jennings, Angela Davis, Honorée Fanonne Jeffers, Ibram X. Kendi

Moods

Challenging, Discussion-sparking, Instructive

There’s no easy way to talk about racism – it’s a nebulous set of ideas that shift and change and manifests in numerous ways that many people can’t even identify as racism because of how prevalent it is. But Dr. Ibram X. Kendi has been able to write down a fairly comprehensive narrative that outlines key historical moments that shaped the world’s concept of race and Blackness, and this narrative is brought to the screen through vivid animations and strategic sequencing by director Roger Ross Williams in new Netflix release Stamped from the Beginning. It’s a provocative, passionate investigation, and it’s one that should be required viewing.

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