The 20 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 20th October]) consists of some of the best films of 2020 so far:
20. Last and First Men
The first and last cinematic project conceived by the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson is an oral history of human species and it’s eventual doom. From where I see it, it’s a sharply conceived, metaphorical oddity about climate change and how, we, as a human ‘species’ have been leading towards our gradual pitfall for years.
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In many ways, it’s a bleak vision of a world we are going to leave for our future generation. A world, so full of vast nothingness that it’s mere existence would feel futile. Narrated by the commendable voice of Tilda Swinton, this sci-fi document formulates a distinct meaning for someone who sees it as a last testament, a final warning, a sign for death and destruction. It is an incomprehensible essay for now, but I am sure it will form different meanings once we see it a decade later.
19. 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.
18. 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 films of 2020.
Watch Thappad Online on Amazon Prime
16. 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
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
14. 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.
13. 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.
11. 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.
10. 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.
9. 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.
You can Watch I’m Thinking of Ending Things on Netflix
8. 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
6. 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.
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
4. 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.
3. 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
1. 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.