The 35 Best Films Of 2020 (so far)
2020 will be remembered as the year where we never went to the movies. Plagued by the Cornovirus threat, the entire world has been forced to watch movies on their home screens. While this has taken away the cinematic ecstasy that cinephiles crave, it has allowed some of the least accessible films from yesteryears to finally land a place online. For instance some of the festival films I saw back in 2018 that never saw the light of the day have now either come on VOD or some streaming services. It has kicked off a whole new market for indie filmmakers who wanted some much-needed attention towards their smaller films. The following list (which will be updated regularly [Last updated on 16th January]) consists of some of the best films of 2020 so far:
35. Lovers Rock (Small Axe)
A part of Steven McQueen’s 5 part BBC anthology ‘Small Axe,’ ‘Lovers Rock’ is essentially a 70-minute long house party set in 1980s West London. However, this unconventional McQueen narrative is filled with simmering tension – as if the Jukebox can shutoff anytime and a protest would emerge out of this seamlessly ordinary situation.
Baring the incredible 10 minutes long, unrehearsed and unscripted a cappella scene set to “Silly Games,” Lovers Rock is essential a celebration of pure Black Joy on screen. Everything including the music, romance, and violence sets as a background score for the film that sets itself apart for just how less it speaks but just how loud it is heard.
Watch Lovers Rock on BBC One
34. The Forty-Year-Old Version
Facts and fiction find an extremely funny twist in Radha Blank’s self-referential black-and-white film The Forty-Year-Old Version. It is an incredibly charming, 4th-wall-breaking character study of a sort of washed-up playwriter who has not written anything substantial in the last decade. Radha plays a version of herself as she tries to redefine her life by following her ambition of becoming a freestyle rapper.
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This is a really light film that uses the all-round powers of Blank’s sharp eye to figure out a wholesome and original tone in an otherwise crowded subgenre of semi-autographical sketches. It is a cathartic experiment for her as she comes to terms with her mother’s passing and her life-long dream of making art that stands the test of time.
Watch The Forty-Year-Old Version Online on Netflix
33. Dick Johnson is Dead
How can one prepare themselves for the death of a parent? It is an inevitable event in a person’s life and yet most of us are never ready for it. In Kristen Johnson’s inventive documentary ‘Dick Johnson is Dead‘ we see her confronting the hardest thing a child could endure – i.e watching their parents die.
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The flipside being, her dementia induced, retired psychiatrist father is not dead yet. Following a fantasy narrative where she kills her father off with violent, staged accidents, the documentary questions the heaviness of having to see the people we love to take the route to heaven and beyond. It is sweet, sensitive, and meditative in its examination of acceptance of the last battle of life.
Watch Dick Johnson is Dead Online on Netflix
32. Straight Up
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31. The Social Dilemma
The biggest irony of contemporary society is that you would probably stumble onto this piece of information through social media. This Netflix film is as alarming, urgent, and defining as Climate change, and yet, the cycle it purposely critics is so deeply ingrained in each one of us that there’s nothing much we can do other than facing the eventual doom.
Filled with clips of experts (along with a bland fictional narrative to follow up) who use analytical data and personal experiences to explain the terrifying realities of using social media, The Social Dilemma brings some truly unsettling insights into a topic that we have all familiarized with.
Watch The Social Dilemma online on Netflix
30. Lucky Chan-sil
Kim Choo-hee’s film revels in true indie spirit. This is why when Chan-sil (Gang Mal-geum) completely disregards a Christopher Nolan fan who calls Ozu’s film as movie pieces where nothing much happens, you smile inwardly. The fact that she was herself a producer and short film director before she made this film gives it a charming meta relevance in the independent cinema circuit.
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A deadpan tone and leisurely pace also ensure that its existential angst is never down poured on the viewers who are always looking for happy resolution and perfectly bowed-in endings. With ‘Lucky Chan-sil’ the director probably witnesses a self-catharsis of sorts and makes an agreeably beautiful ode to the love of cinema and trying to make your own place in it.
29. The Wild Goose Lake
Diao Yinan’s return to filmmaking after the much-lauded Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014) is a neon-colored neo-noir that slowly builds up walls of tense socio-political allegories about a gangster on the run. For what it’s worth the film can be seen as a long chase where leads and teams patch up to nail down Zhou Zenong.
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It’s an incredibly immersive experience that Yinan puts his viewers in. It is as if the viewer is in close proximity to all the happenings and the grittiness of the entire thing can be felt directly. Director Yinan uses his thriller tropes yet again to investigate the remorse of China’s poverty-ridden side.
28. C u Soon
Making a screen-thriller can be such a tricky gamble. If you don’t have a good writer on board, no matter how great the casting is, your film will slip out of your hand in no time. With writer/director Mahesh Narayanan’s ‘C u Soon’ that qualm goes out the window pretty soon. He knows exactly how to plot his steps, when to tread back and when to let the emotions do the talking.
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The fact that he even manages to rope in a very urgent theme into the narrative only wins this sleek, engaging thriller a sharpening edge. There’s not a second wasted here and all props go out to co-star Fahadh Faasil for taking contemporary Malayalam films to the next level.
Watch/Stream C u Soon on Amazon Prime
For a mainstream Bollywood drama, Thappad accomplishes the unspeakable. In quietly subtle moments of silence, it single-handedly points fingers at the collective patriarchy that seeps into every household and the men inside them. Anubhav Sinha’s film uses a simple hook of a slap triggering years and months of unrealized rage and oppression and then goes a step ahead to carefully unravel the truths that hide behind closed doors.
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Featuring an ensemble cast that really gets behind the idea that floats throughout the narrative, the film becomes a plea and a wake-up call for all the wrong that the society has been sweeping under the rug for such a long time. With a few minor missteps, Thappad becomes one of the most important and best Bollywood movies of 2020.
Watch Thappad Online on Amazon Prime
26. Bad Education
After his superb Black Comedic stint in the brilliant ‘Thoroughbreds (2017),’ Corey Finley returns with a true crime story. Featuring a superlative performance from Hugh Jackman as the central character of years of fraud unweaving itself, Bad Education is about the cracks in the American education system.
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Constantly balancing good and evil actions with some superbly staged scenes Finley’s film doesn’t allow the audience’s to take a moral stand. In doing so he devises a crime brimmed out of necessity, then greed and then pleasure. Bad Education is a fine example of how systematic lying, in turn, alters the truth if carried on for a long time.
Watch Bad Education online on Disney + Hotstar
You either get used to Miranda July’s weirdly peculiar ways of life or you don’t. There’s no middle ground. 9 years after her sophomore film, July is back with an eccentric, introverted tale about a family of con artists. Focusing her weird energy on Old Dolio (played by a never-better Evan Rachel Wood) – a 26-year-old who has never lived her life according to her terms, this cute little film traces a catharsis that is both incredibly personal and relatable.
Devised as a heist film and a dysfunctional family drama within a coming-of-age arc, Kajillionaire is a film about empathy and the need for love in one’s life. Beautifully filmed and put together, this is one of the most engaging and constantly fun outings from 2020.
Rajat Kapoor’s deliciously macabre tale of a dead body, hidden secrets, and the snaring ideals of privilege find their way into the Diwali party of a couple who are about to discover the cracks in their relationship and the behavior of the people around them.
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Sharply written and brimming with tension, this self-proclaimed amoral tale with a deceptively simplistic story investigates the oddity of human behavior. Boasting an ensemble cast of indie favorites from the country, Kadakh is one of the most unusually satisfying watches of 2020.
Watch Kadakh Online on SonyLIV
“Desperate people do desperate things,” says Fox Rich – A lady who has been waiting for the last two decades for the release of her husband from prison. She is referring to the robbery both of them committed in the late 90s while narrating these incidences as we walk past intimate moments of her life. These moments are captured on camera as memories for her husbands’ release. Apart from being an entrepreneur, she is also a mother of 6 boys as she leads a fight against America’s prison complex.
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Director Garrett Bradley must have come to the picture much later when as we see a transition from the old quality footage with a digital one, but ‘Time’ captures a singularly moving portrayal of resilence. One that encompasses years and years of patience with an incredibly touching human core.
Watch Time on Amazon Prime
With ‘Wolfwalkers’ filmmakers, Moore and Stewart harken to medieval times and develop a tale with Ireland and Mythology as the backdrop. Cleverly weaving a folktale around urgent and contemporary themes, the film becomes a wise coming-of-age tale about a girl breaking off the restriction imposed upon her to truly embrace her wild mysticism.
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The film is drenched in cultural history. It takes it’s mystical and imaginative worldbuilding to a deeper, more personal level by just reveling in the folktales it is surrounded by. Moreover, the themes of love and loss have both a personal edge and a poignant foreground that ably handles it’s character’s traits and their motifs. It’s only a huge plus that the animation is absolutely drop-dead gorgeous and the voice acting is superior to anything else you might have seen all year.
Watch Wolfwalkers Online on Apple TV+
21. Black Bear
The narrative structure of Lawrence Michael Levine’s Black Bear is unlike anything you would see all year. It’s a surprisingly peculiar and piercing look at the process of filmmaking and how it affects the people involved around it. Following a female filmmaker Allison (played superbly by Aubrey Plaza) who takes some time off to write her new film at a rural retreat, the film takes an unexpected meta-turn into something truly unsettling and devious.
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The three principal characters in the film can be seen as representations of both a juggled up relationship and an incomplete cinematic oddity and Levine throws in just the right number of bones for the audience to fetch into it’s whirling premise. Describing what it stands for would only ruin the strange pleasure that is to be had with this one. So, there’s that!
20. Take me Somewhere Nice
Ena Sendijarević’s stylish debut feature Take Me Somewhere Nice, follows Alma and her aimless journey from the Netherlands to Bosnia in the lure of meeting her once estranged father for one last time. The best way to describe this Jim Jarmusch homage is to call it an unexcited, aimless symphony of escapism and rebellion.
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Sendijarević’s film revels in Alma’s blooming sexuality with deadpan expressionism. In doing so, she finds a cohesive balance between a borrowed tone and a tone that is mighty original.
19. Blow the Man Down
Who doesn’t enjoy a good murder mystery? Moreover, a mystery that ropes in an ensemble that is clearly having the time of their life is a big plus. Danielle Krudy & Bridget Savage Cole are first time directors who take their Fargo-Esque inspiration to a level that holds no boundaries.
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Set in a town run by women, Blow the Man Down is a cunning, conniving little film that uses its setting, humor, and macabre characters to build an ambitious dark comedy about trying to go up the ladder.
Watch Blow the man Down on Amazon Prime
Set in a not-so-distant future, Noah Hutton’s ‘Lapsis’ is a fascinating look at the burden of everyday people. With an incredible eye for world-building, Hutton’s film explores a world where the highest-paid job and an ulterior for the gig economy is pulling miles and miles long cable lines so as to tangle up the world in a web that is controlled by companies.
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A thinking man’s film Lapsis serves as a scathing satire on corporate greed & the didactic allure of capitalism. Filled with elements that one-up the narrative when it gets self-cornered, the film is constantly fascinating. It also works as a comment on workplace slavery and how going up the ladder feels like a fight for survival.
17. Summer White
In Rodrigo Ruiz Patterson’s debut feature film Summer White, a young boy is so attached to her mother that it fumes him to see her trying to grow away from him. In this searing, visually rich, and complex portrayal of a young mind trying to make sense of the changes in his life, Patterson showcases an unearthly look at volatile teenage behavior.
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The film investigates the toxicity in a mother-son relationship when the mother has never made her offspring understand that letting go is sometimes more important than being together. Summer White shows maternal affection and the bounds through a visibly new lense.
16. Gaza Mon Amour
Arab and Tarzan Nasser are twin brother filmmakers from Gaza. Their sophomore film is a sweet-natured romance within a conservative regime. Funny, charming, and above all quietly tender and simplistic in its representation of yearning for love, ‘Gaza Mon Amour’ is a captivating romantic comedy set in a turbulent time in Palestine.
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Gaza’s current political climate serves only as a backdrop to this truly human story about finding love and true connection. The film works mostly because of two fantastic performances at its center. Veteran actors Salim Dau and Hiam Abbass are more than up for the task of presenting their vulnerabilities through the viewpoint of the directors. This is an off-beat comedy and a truly unconventional romance that is humanized by the fact that no tragedy and repression can stop people from loving each other.
15. The Nest
Sean Durkin is back after a span of 9 years. His unsettling sophomore film Martha Marcy May Marlene was about a woman trying hard to manage life after being in contact with a cult for years. In ‘The Nest’, Durkin uses his ability to carefully calibrates his characters and their emotional triggers into a seamless ground before finally pulling the rug right underneath them.
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In doing so, he drenches the family at the center of the film in a deeply unnerving reality that can put the scariest of horror films to shame. Featuring incredible performances from the ever-dependable Carrie Coon and Jude Law, this is a moody drama that never ceases to amaze.
14. Identifying Features
Debut director Fernanda Valadez’s ‘Identifying Features’ purposely skims over the sentimentality associated with migrant dramas. The Mexican film is so assured about the steps it takes that you are left baffled at just how convincing yet otherworldly it feels.
Following the journey of a mother in search of a lost son who is supposed and announced dead by the authority whilst he tried to cross the border over to the US, the film seamlessly joins its narrative with a recently deported young man desperately in search of a lost identity. Scored to perfection and framed with meticulous precision, Valadez is an exciting voice to look forward to.
13. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
I think Charlie Kaufman is one of the very few writers out there who truly understands human nature. His films (Anomalisa and Synecdoche, New York) are as much about loneliness and existential crisis as it is about the need for human connection. So, it is only right to suppose that most of his latest film ‘I’m Thinking of Ending Things’ happens inside his male viewpoint’s head.
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The surprising thing here is Kaufman’s trajectory to show the proceedings through the Young Woman’s (a fantastic Jessie Buckley) point of view. While he ends up being a little too self-indulgent, I’m Thinking of Ending things’ bizarre narrative turn shows just how audacious and awkward his mind can look forth. There’s a scintillating middle act in this emotionally distraught feature that is nothing short of a masterstroke. Kaufman’s latest is one of the best movies of 2020 currently playing on Netflix.
You can Watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things on Netflix
There are a few things that make Cooper Raiff’s DIY debut feature stand out from the typical and traditional coming-of-age college comedies. Firstly, it oozes with a charming rhythm that can only be compared to the genuine, heartfelt conversations of the Before Series. Secondly, it doesn’t shy away from putting a gentle, tender, and wholly believable man as the protagonist. Raiff who plays Alex warmly defies the hyper-masculine male type that has plagued these films for so long.
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Thirdly, it balances its comic troupes with a very real counterbalance between a lack of love and an abundance of it to really understand what growing up feels like in the real space. Above all, Shithouse is just the kind of film that I resonate with and I am thankful that it exists.
11. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Featuring a powerhouse debut performance by Sidney Flanigan, Eliza Hittman’s abortion drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always feels like a chapter out of a teenage girl’s notebook. It is not only realistic to a fault but also heartfelt and deeply moving.
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Motioning through Autumn’s life as she soaks in the horrors of having to withstand unplanned pregnancy, Hittman’s drama seeks refuge in a slight investigating of the advent of a totalitarian and overtly sexist society. One that judges you with each passing second and where having control of your own body becomes an experience that changes you. Hittman uses minimalistic dialogues and small conflicts to offer us one of the best films of 2020.
You can Rent/Buy Never Rarely Sometimes Always on Vudu
After the deeply unsettling and truly breathtaking Neruda and The Club, Pablo Larraín deep dives into a psychological introspection of Ema’s life. She is a young, enigmatic woman dealing with trauma, masochistic oppression, and a chaotic chance for resurrection.
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Fueled by a pulsating score by Nicolas Jaar and eye-popping visuals by Sergio Armstrong, Ema is a scathing character study of a woman dancing to the unmatched rhythm of her own chaos. Featuring a star-making turn by Mariana Di Girolamo and a heavy-handed approach by Larraín, Ema is one of the best films of 2020.
Watch Ema online on MUBI
9. The Woman Who Ran
The South Korean master of minimalist cinema kicks off 2020 with a smart and charming nod to the female gaze. In The Woman Who Ran, Hong Sangsoo follows Gamhee over a weekend as she arrives on the outskirts of Seoul. Starring Kim Min-hee yet again as a quiet, distant young woman trying to make sense of the things around her, the film features an all-woman cast.
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Truly investigating how these women operate and function in a world full of vile, unhinged men, The Woman Who Ran is funny, wise, and features Hong Sangsoo self-criticizing his repetitiveness by making us understand the extreme and different meaning that art holds for everyone consuming it. Also, look out for the cameo of the cat.
8. Nine Days
‘Nine Days’ is a deeply moving and human tale about what it means to be a human. It is also, in some ways about accepting life as it is. The twists and turns that it brings are part and parcel of existence and for Will (a brilliant Winston Duke) to understand them, there’s more than rebirth that can help him with it.
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So, in some ways, the film becomes an oddity about the meaning of life and what makes and breaks a person. The whole ordeal about who deserves to live a life and who doesn’t is used to question more pertinent questions about life, its many hardships and how a human has to deal with their demons in their own ways.
With Shirley, Josephine Decker (who broke out with the brilliant Madeline’s Madeline in 2018) rewrites the rules of a traditional biopic. Starring Elisabeth Moss as the titular Shirley Jackson – A renowned horror writer living with her professor husband whose toxicity is superseded with intrusive manipulation, the film is a classic example of storytelling at it’s most ‘thrillingly horrible.’
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Filled with a macabre and dreamlike narrative vision, Decker’s Shirley pays homage to the great writer’s vision whilst becoming a feminist fable of subjugated desires and the creative freedom that darkness brings to the forefront. It’s a slippery slope that Decker transverses in. What makes Shirley a great film is her audacity to truly revel in it.
Watch Shirley Online on Hulu
6. The Disciple
Tamhane’s film is actually a multi-layered, multi-faceted character study that uses its strong sense of place to tell an essential tale about having to live with one’s own mediocrity. The shades of melancholy that travel through the ambitious foresight of Tamhane’s narrative are incredibly well-realized and thought of. As a filmmaker who is only two films old, the Marathi director shows an extraordinary flair for telling stories.
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The grounded reality that the film explores has been explored in numerous other films. However, this film – which spans around three decades of Sharad’s life revels in the profound philosophy that all of us eventually grow out of our self-made bubbles and dreamy ambitions to embrace the realities of life. A life that keeps going no matter what.
5. The Assistant
Kitty Green’s claustrophobic drama is set within the tightly packed spaces of a film production office. Jane – our titular character is a junior assistant to a big shot producer (references to Harvey Weinstein are obvious) who is harassing multiple young women right behind the walls aligned to Jane’s work desk.
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The Assistant is such a bone-chilling experience to sit through. Unfolding in real-time, the film doesn’t even show the face of the said proprietor and yet you see the shadow of his repressive, awful, and perversive nature and like clockwork worry for Jane’s day to get over. This is definitely one of the strongest and most powerful debut films of the year and it is only an added bonus that Julia Garner is so good in it.
You Can Stream The Assitant on Hulu
Carlo Mirabella-Davis’ brilliant first feature is a genre film that well-abound it’s confinements somehow becomes a haunting parable of a woman trying to regain control of her life and her body. Skimming through multiple themes such as loneliness, trauma, patriarchy with extreme elegance, the resounding power of this breathtakingly shot film lies in a unified credit sequence that somehow magnifies the shared tragedy of womanhood.
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Following the life of Hunter (played by a superb Haley Bennett) – a trophy wife forced with a languorous lifestyle of playing keep-up with her overbearingly fake husband, the film uses a medical condition to unravel a life that is housed-in on her. Touching upon mental health and the dire need for empathy, Mirabella-Davis’ Swallow is the best film of 2020 so far.
You can Rent/Buy Swallow on Vudu
3. The Metamorphosis of Birds
Spawning through three generations of her own life, Catarina Vasconcelos’s The Metamorphosis of Birds plays out like an art installation in its truly experimental sense. A singular, sensory experience that is as personal as it is poetic. Using up details that conjure up an original, extremely potent metaphor for memories, Vasconcelos follows part of her life as figments.
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It’s almost like she pieces together disjointed elements of her journey to date with voiceovers that hearken back to an era she must have heard of; giving it a visual flair of how they would be seen through a lens in posterity. Watching the film is like rummaging through a very personal family album. It makes you emotional, makes you happy, and eventually, helps you grown and get used to the sadness that comes with time.
2. First Cow
Kelly Reichardt’s ‘First Cow‘ is not just an ode to the American dream but also an incredibly charming, understated, and funny tale about friendship. Looking back again at the 19th Century ways of life, Richardt focuses her lens on two people who come together in an unmatched collaboration. John Magaro stars as Cookie – a lonesome cook finding the path for some fur trappers in Oregon. He meets a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) and slowly initiates a business that gives both of them fortunes in uncharted land.
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First Cow is not a radical film that subdues itself in shades of grey. It doesn’t necessarily want to show the true colors of life where some people have too much and some – too little. It just wishes to tell a simple tale of friendship that organically touches upon those urgent topics without urging the viewers to sit up and take notice. The real power of First Cow lies in it’s gentle, unhurried approach, making it one of the best films of 2020.
When I saw Chloé Zhao’s excellent ‘The Rider‘ back in 2017 I remeber thinking to myself that she will never be able to top that. I was wrong. ‘Nomadland’ is in equal measures a deeply immersive potrait of woman and a heartwarming and empathatic ode to the human spirit.
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Following the life of Fern (played by a phenominal Frances McDormand) who decides to live the life on the road having lost everything she possesed to the recession in the American west, Zhao expertly crafts a fictional narrative arround the life of real people. This makes her screenplay more absorbing, poetic and quitely powerful. Taking one person’s grief and turning it into an extraordinary study of an urge to have a sense of belonging, makes Nomadland one of the most important films of 2020.