2020 is one of those years that’ll be remembered for centuries. This is when the world paused working, confining people to their rooms. Our favorite cinemas were shut and blockbuster-y movies were pushed by one year. The movie viewing experience has been transformed for the near future. But there’s a plus side to this, this gave us ample time to explore the underrated cinema, the arthouse movies, the independent and the experimental work. Here’s a collection of 20 releases from 2020 that in my opinion, are not to be missed.
20. Da Five Bloods
(Dir. Spike Lee)
This joint from Spike Lee after a masterpiece Blackkklansman had a lot of hype around it and it did a great amount of justice to it. It’s filled with heart, fun, and thrill. It raises several questions about racial discrimination in the US military and systemic oppression surrounding it. Coming out amidst the BLM protests added relevance and fire to this. What stood out from this movie was how Lee reached his proposed climax midway through the movie and everything from then was a roller coaster ride. The rapid shifts in the tone work perfectly with Delroy Lindo giving his career-best performance. Casting Chadwick Boseman as the god-like-superior officer was such a daring choice yet an amazing one.
19. The half of it
(Dir. Alice Wu)
The half of it is a warm-hearted, subtle devotion to love. It reminds you of the charm of your traditional rom-com while also questioning your meaning of love. It’s a quirky coming-of-age story with adorable characters that bring realism to the table and also feels genuine.
18. I’m thinking of ending things
(Dir. Charlie Kaufman)
I’m thinking of ending things celebrates abstractness to the point where it’s just astonishing. With its relatable dialogues, this film follows Lucy (Jessie Buckley), a young woman who travels with her new boyfriend to meet his parents in the isolated countryside. Centered at her existential dread, the artistic theme of this movie is both captivating and spine-chilling. It is only Kaufman who can deep dive into human psychological chaos so effortlessly.
(Dir. Christopher Nolan)
TIME. Oh, the things Nolan has done to butcher the concept of time. This time, he takes us back (pun intended) to his complicated storylines, bold screenplay, and crispy editing choices. It is almost unbelievable to witness the amount of attention to detail in this bond-style espionage thriller. Tenet also marks an end to the long-time collaboration of Nolan and Zimmer, the golden duo of Hollywood. He teams with the recent oscar winning Ludwig Goransson (Black Panther) for fresh, loud, and dauntless music. Even though it’s hard to grasp everything in the first viewing, the rewatch value of this is almost surreal, there’s something for every viewing. Plus, Robert Pattinson makes it a must-watch.
16. The Devil All The Time
(Dir. Antonio Campos)
Antonio Campos’s take on religious fanaticism and its hand-in-hand relation with violence over generations is beautifully structured and well-crafted. This slow-burn psychological thriller is filled with an incredible cast including Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgard, Robert Pattinson, Eliza Scanlen, Jason Clarke to name a few. Robert Pattinson (stan alert) stands out and steals the show whenever he’s on-screen. The interwoven storylines, the dark score, and the intense performances draw you more into this movie as you watch it.
15. One night in Miami
(Dir. Regina King)
Four Legends. One Night. Regina King’s directorial debut aims to inspire and educate on one eventful night in Miami. Four African-American icons discuss their opinions on the idea of Black empowerment, and their take on the civil rights movement. If you’re into dialogue-driven movies (like The Two Popes), this one’s for you. The clash of personalities and the dialogue exchange between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke are not only thought-provoking but also question your idea of empowerment.
(Dir. Miranda July)
Kajillionaire is easily one of the most bizarre movies I have come across this year. The very-simple plot revolves around a twenty-odd-year-old woman who has been denied human-touch by her parents since birth, trying to find her purpose and love for life. Evan Rachel Wood’s portrayal of a deep-voiced Old Dolio who moves from one petty theft to another along with her equally bizarre parents makes it an exciting watch. What stands out with this movie is the gradual transition from a character comedy to a heartbreak to a love story, everything with a truly haunting score playing in the background.
(Dir. Lee Isaac Chung)
Minari is wonderful, Minari is wonderful! Minari tells a very American story of family, marriage, and the hardships of achieving your dreams from an Asian standpoint. Filled with intense performances, this film follows the moving story of an immigrant family seeking a piece of the American Dream. It’s a tender, heartwarming, and adorable take on “Even if I fail, I have to finish what I started”.
12. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
(Dir. George C. Wolfe)
Ah one, ah two, ah you know what to do! Chadwick Boseman leaves behind with this movie, an ever-lasting legacy. Besides what is going to be the most talked-about powerhouse of a performance from 2020, this movie has much more greatness to offer. The dynamism of filmmaking, the effortless cinematography, and the incredible support from the rest of the ensemble truly make this play-to-screen adaptation incredible. Set in a recording studio covering the span of just one afternoon on a sunny day in 1927, this movie might make you feel a little claustrophobic, but Davis and Boseman got you covered.
11. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
(Dir. Eliza Hittman)
Never Rarely Sometimes Always discusses abortion without speeches, complaints, and apologies. This revolves around the first-hand experience of Autumn, a teenager faced with an unintended pregnancy, and her do-everything-together cousin Skylar’s journey to New York because a minor doesn’t need her parent’s consent for abortion there. This work of Hittman finds its strength in understated realism and very gritty visuals. The performances of both Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder stand out in this film that chose to focus on pain, uncertainty, and anger.
(Dir. Pete Docter)
Monsters, Inc., Up, Inside Out, Soul. Pixar returns to form with Pete Docter’s newest work centered at an African-American character (about time!) going through a midlife crisis (about time!) about his passion for Jazz. This movie has something for every age group. It is aesthetically vibrant, extremely funny, and thought-provoking. It tears you up, makes you laugh your heart out, and leaves you with a strong message. The extraordinary score and the visuals make it a must-watch. Go, find your spark!
9. Judas And The Black Messiah
(Dir. Shaka King)
Fred Hampton was murdered. This is not a spoiler. It’s not fiction. This bold take on the events of betrayal surrounding the Black Panthers chairman Fred Hampton and a petty car thief William O’Neil is very powerful. Daniel Kaluuya outperforms every actor who has played Fred Hampton by a mile or more. He shines with his mighty presence and is supported by the brilliant LaKeith Stanfield and Dominique Fishback. This historical drama screams Revolution in the face of injustice and establishes itself as a necessary movie for this generation.
(Dir. Shannon Murphy)
Babyteeth offers so much more than the classic terminally ill sub-genre. Fifteen-year-old Mila (Eliza Scanlen), who is diagnosed with last-stage cancer falls for Moses, a drug dealer (and a junkie) after she meets him at a subway station. This bizarre-blossoming romance disrupts the family dynamics but the parents can’t say no to this. The highly energetic colors, the hand-held camera movements coupled with an intelligent segmentation of the movie into diary notes make you cling onto this, and the ending makes you weep.
7. Another Round
(Dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
Another Round is based on how four high school teachers who take up the challenge of drinking every day to maintain a constant level of alcohol in their body, with the hope that they can regain the craze they had for their lives, end up. Something so beautiful about this movie keeps haunting me even after months. The unique alcohol culture of Denmark is certainly a surprise. But Another Round is not just about alcoholism or celebrating alcohol, it’s in the lines of embracing your own existence and being thankful to who you are. Not to mention this has one of the best cinematic moments I have ever seen.
6. Bad Education
(Dir. Cory Finley)
Accelerate! Bad education isn’t just a great true story, but also an excellently crafted movie. This crime drama follows the less-known scandals of an ambitious superintendent of Roslyn High, (a school that takes pride in its high ivy league admit rate) and his embezzlement of millions from the school district that is uncovered only by a junior reporter. Witnessing Hugh Jackman’s career-best performance has a different adrenaline rush to it. Coupled with Allison Janney’s powerhouse and the top-notch cinematography, this is an exciting ride you don’t want to miss.
(Dir. Chloé Zhao)
Someone once told me that looking at Frances McDormand’s face is like looking at a beautiful landscape and I couldn’t relate more. And Nomadland here has both. Filled with breathtaking visuals and captivating performances, this work from Chloe Zhao (whose name will be everywhere hereafter) deals with escapism and the lives of modern nomads. This character study of Fern merges the documentary-like everyday scenes of her encounters and the rich cinematic moments perfectly.
4. Sound of metal
(Dir. Darius Marder)
Sound of metal aims to show nothing but the physical and the mental reality of its subject, a lead drummer who begins to lose his sense of hearing. This debut work by Darius Marder focuses solely on delivering the first-person experience of Ruben. The film emphasizes how silence is the new reality for the deaf using extraordinary sound engineering. As someone who is battling both loss and recovery, Riz Ahmed’s performance is one of the best to come out of this decade.
3. Trial of the Chicago 7
(Dir. Aaron Sorkin)
THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING while Aaron Sorkin hits this one out of the park once again. Filled with an incredible ensemble, this courtroom drama surrounding the real-life infamous trial delivers exactly what it promised, a loud crowd-pleaser. With one of the best prologues I have seen, this movie starts with a peak and there’s no falling back. The layered screenplay and the rich score keep pulling you further into the narrative for a good two hours to end it with a powerful and emotional climax.
(Dir. Thomas Kail & Lin-Manuel Miranda)
The first thing I did after Hamilton ended was restarted it again. This incredible Broadway-musical-recorded movie contributes the most to your playlist and your heart. Lin Manuel Miranda is nothing but a genius with his words and a legend with his expressions. With the incredible ensemble support from Daveed Diggs, Leslie Odom Jr, Philipa Soo, and Renee Goldsberry, this is one of the most memorable experiences of my year. Just go watch it.
Honorable mention: The Assistant
(Dir. Kitty Green)
This film has been on my #1 spot for almost 8 months and I refuse to believe that it needs to be pushed to #2, so here we go. The Assistant paints a portrait of the power dynamics of a Weinstein-like Hollywood producer without actually showing him. This movie follows a day of a two-week-old Assistant’s work-life where she realizes the normalized abuse of power and complicity. Based on hundreds of interviews with real-life assistants, this is more than just a movie.
1. Promising Young Woman
(Dir. Emerald Fennell)
Promising Young Woman doesn’t tap you on your shoulder with its message, it hits you in your face with a hammer. Here’s my best movie from 2020. Arguably the strongest debut that I have seen, ever. This is one of the most artistically designed movies, from production values to beautiful compositions to incredible performances. This dark, twisted revenge tale follows a woman traumatized by a tragic event in her past, who leads a secret double life by the night. The movie prides itself on its layered screenplay and how it unveils the plot only in parts. Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Cassie is one of the finest performances I have seen this year.
So that’s it. That’s the list of my top 20 movies of 2020. It is to note that by the time of writing this article, I am yet to watch The Father which I believe (and hope) will make into the top 5. Let me know what you think about this order and the collection. Thanks for reading. :)