The 20 Most Underrated Movies of 2020

Updated January 2, 2022 • Staff

I know every list with "2020" in the title has to start with "it hasn't been an easy year", I know about that law, but truth be told, it's been a great year for film. Many 2019 festival favorites made it to streaming and they did so quicker than usual.  

Here are the 20 best ones that you've missed. 

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20.

Dick Johnson Is Dead (2020)

Dick Johnson Is Dead is a heartfelt and unconventional portrait of how one can live life to the fullest even in their darkest days. Kristen Johnson’s follow-up to the highly acclaimed documentary Cameraperson, Johnson shows that her skills are no fluke as she crafts a witty film where she masterfully balances surreal tonal shifts to create a compelling experience. While it does have a repetitive nature, the final thirty minutes are heartbreakingly comedic, and make this one worth a watch!

Genre: Documentary
Actor: Mary Page Nance
Director: Kirsten Johnson
Rating: PG-13
19.

Limbo (2020)

This offbeat drama is about a Syrian refugee who gets sent to a remote island in northern Scotland. “There was a better signal in the middle of the Mediterranean,” another refugee tells him when he arrives. Omar is as the title suggests stuck: until his asylum request is processed he can't work or continue his journey onwards. His situation is frustrating and difficult, but it's also full of absurdities, as Omar is stuck around some very weird people.

Limbo perfectly portrays the duality between sad and nonsensical in the refugee experience. In the entrance to the isolated and rundown facility that houses Omar, a handmade sign said "refugees welcome". The next day a "not" is added between "refugees" and "welcome", in the exact same paint. 

If you like Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki's work, this has a similar brand of dark humor to his also refugee-themed 2017 drama The Other Side of Hope.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Amir El-Masry, Cameron Fulton, Grace Chilton, Kais Nashif, Kenneth Collard, Kwabena Ansah, Lewis Gribben, Ola Orebiyi, Sanjeev Kohli, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Sodienye Ojewuyi, Vikash Bhai
Director: Ben Sharrock
Rating: R
18.

Other Music (2020)

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?

Genre: Documentary
Actor: Benicio Del Toro, Janeane Garofalo, Jason Schwartzman, Jocelyn Samson, Tunde Adebimpe
Director: Puloma Basu, Rob Hatch-Miller
17.

The Social Dilemma (2020)

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.

Genre: Documentary, Drama
Actor: Kara Hayward, Skyler Gisondo, Sophia Hammons, Tristan Harris, Vincent Kartheiser
Director: Jeff Orlowski
Rating: PG-13
16.

The Man Who Sold His Skin (2020)

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.

Genre: Drama
Actor: Christian Vadim, Darina Al Joundi, Husam Chadat, Koen De Bouw, Monica Bellucci
Director: Kaouther Ben Hania
15.

Mayor (2020)

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.

Genre: Documentary, Drama
Director: David Osit
14.

Queen and Slim

On their drive back from a Tinder date that was only average, a couple are pulled over by a racist police officer. Things escalate unexpectedly and the couple, one of whom is a lawyer aware of the corruptedness of the system, start a life on the run together. This thrilling set-up mixing social commentary and romance is a movie that's actually many movies in one. And almost as if to cut in-between the different tonalities, there are so many quiet and beautiful shots of the couple: silent, still or dancing - these moments are true cinematic magic. 

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Romance
Actor: Benito Martinez, Bokeem Woodbine, Bryant Tardy, Chloe Sevigny, Daniel Kaluuya, Flea, Gralen Bryant Banks, Indya Moore, Jahi Di'Allo Winston, Jodie Turner-Smith, Robert Walker Branchaud, Soledad O'Brien, Thom Gossom Jr.
Director: Melina Matsoukas
Rating: R
13.

Uppity: The Willy T. Ribbs Story (2020)

“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.

Genre: Documentary
Actor: Adam Carolla, Bernie Ecclestone, Chase Austin, Doug Boles, Ian Brown, Nate Adams, Paul Newman, Willy T. Ribbs
Director: Adam Carolla, Nate Adams
Rating: Not Rated
12.

The Forty-Year-Old Version (2020)

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.

Genre: Comedy, Drama
Actor: Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Jacob Ming-Trent, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, T.J. Atoms, Welker White
Director: Radha Blank
Rating: R
11.

Quo Vadis Aida? (2020)

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.

Genre: Drama, War
Actor: Alban Ukaj, Boris Isaković, Boris Ler, Emina Muftić, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Ermin Sijamija, Izudin Bajrović, Jasna Đuričić, Joes Brauers, Johan Heldenbergh, Juda Goslinga, Raymond Thiry, Reinout Bussemaker, Rijad Gvozden, Sanne den Hartogh, Sol Vinken
Director: Jasmila Žbanić

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