50 best movies of 2020 so far

Written by:
August 27, 2020
Screen Australia

50 best movies of 2020 so far

This year has been turbulent for the movie industry, as much of the world has been at a standstill since March due to COVID-19. Movies haven't really been released in theaters since then, but luckily we have other ways of watching them in this day and age. Streaming services have provided a much-needed way for new movies to be released while theaters have been closed. This is somewhat ironic considering that the movie industry, Hollywood especially, has looked down upon releasing movies on streaming services until the past couple of years.

With the wealth of movies both new and old on streaming services, it’s sometimes hard to find what has been worth watching from this year’s releases. We’ve created this list to help you save time sifting through the options and find the very best, according to critics.

Since the beginning of this year, interesting documentaries, last year’s festival favorites, and independent gems have come out either in theaters or online. There are films that give insight into the past, and some that explicitly deal with current issues. As it’s difficult to find experiences that enlighten us without venturing out, watching movies and documentaries is a welcome outlet. There are movies for every mood, some silly and some tragic, but regardless of their subject matter, the following films are entertaining in their own ways.

To create this list, Stacker compiled data on the top movies from 2020 and ranked them according to Metacritic data, with ties being broken by IMDb user ratings. Only films that have been released to the public, whether virtually or in theaters, were considered. With something for everyone on this diverse list, hopefully you’ll be able to find your new favorite film of the year as we wait until theaters can open again and movie-watching can resume as normally as possible.

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1 / 50
Sailor Bear

#50. Miss Juneteenth

- Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
- Metascore: 73
- IMDb user rating: 5.9
- Runtime: 99 min

In one of the most relevant films of the year so far, Turquoise (Nicole Beharie) is a former pageant queen, Miss Juneteenth, who is navigating a life she hadn’t planned for. She tries to guide her daughter to become the next Miss Juneteenth, even if she wants something else for herself. Channing Godfrey Peoples creates a sweet tale that is unafraid to address issues Black women live with everyday in this country.

2 / 50
General Film Corporation

#49. Capital in the Twenty-First Century

- Director: Justin Pemberton
- Metascore: 73
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 103 min

Today’s grappling with inequality is explored in this documentary based on the book of the same name by Thomas Piketty. The myths that have long dominated our way of viewing economics and wealth are dismantled in breathtaking fashion. This enlightenment may challenge everything you’ve been taught about money, but it’s for the better.

3 / 50
Baked Studios

#48. The Infiltrators

- Directors: Cristina Ibarra, Alex Rivera
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 5.8
- Runtime: 95 min

A group of radical activists purposefully get themselves thrown into a border detention center in order to stop unjust deportations. The men then try to pull off an escape, but their plan is harder to execute than they thought. This semi-documentary, semi-thriller film defies genre to make for a truly inventive and moving viewing experience.

4 / 50
Maison 4:3

#47. Ghost Town Anthology

- Director: Denis Côté
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 6.5
- Runtime: 97 min

A car accident kills Simon Dubé (Philippe Charrette) in a desolate French town. His death shakes the small town, and what unfolds explores the emotional journey of a mystery that cannot be fully understood.

5 / 50
Likely Story

#46. The Half of It

- Director: Alice Wu
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 104 min

Teen romance is turned on its head when Ellie, tasked with helping Paul win over popular girl Aster, develops feelings for Aster as well. This charming film stands out among a wealth of available original content as an undoubtedly enjoyable movie with more heart than expected.

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6 / 50

#45. Circus of Books

- Director: Rachel Mason
- Metascore: 74
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 92 min

The last people you’d expect to own and operate a adult film store in the heart of Los Angeles would be a straight couple with three kids. However, the story of how Karen and Barry Mason cultivated the perfect place for LA’s LGBT community to flourish is too strange not to be true, as told by their very own daughter.

7 / 50
My New Pictures

#44. Zombi Child

- Director: Bertrand Bonello
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 6.0
- Runtime: 103 min

A young Haitian girl befriends a fellow student at her ritzy Parisian boarding school. She begins to share her family’s past, including a tale about a dead man coming back to life. Deviating from cinema conventions to create a truly fascinating look at Voodoo and Haitian culture, Bertrand Bonello has made a masterpiece.

8 / 50
Porchlight Films

#43. True History of the Kelly Gang

- Director: Justin Kurzel
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 6.1
- Runtime: 124 min

This film begins by telling you that everything in the movie is true, but it is meant to actively make you question everything that follows. The violent and volatile times of outlaw Ned Kelly (played by George MacKay) give life to Australia’s troubled past in the most unsettling story possible. Everything you love from the grittiest and angstiest westerns is cranked up to the max in this unconventional, artistic crime drama.

9 / 50
YQstudio LLC

#42. José

- Director: Li Cheng
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Runtime: 85 min

In Guatemala City, José and his mother live a modest life amid the constant turmoil of the city. José’s life is thwarted by a forbidden romance with Luis, a Caribbean immigrant of whom his devoutly religious mother would never approve. José experiences the kind of love and pain that can shape a young person’s life, especially one so previously sheltered.

10 / 50
Greenwich Entertainment

#41. Diana Kennedy: Nothing Fancy

- Director: Elizabeth Carroll
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 75 min

Diana Kennedy has lived quite a life as a cookbook author and activist. In this documentary, she looks back on her experiences cultivating an understanding of Mexican cuisine from all over the country. This film won the Excellence in Storytelling Award at 2019’s SXSW Film Festival, thanks no doubt to its charismatic subject.

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11 / 50
Ma.Ja.De Filmproduktion

#40. Heimat Is a Space in Time

- Director: Thomas Heise
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 218 min

Director Thomas Heise explores the history of Germany through the past four generations of his family. Using archival footage of his relatives, he tells a deeply personal story that also speaks to a much larger experience than his own. This essay on film is a unique yet touching exploration of family.

12 / 50
Rosetta Productions

#39. Beats

- Director: Brian Welsh
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 101 min

In 1994, unlicensed raves were banned throughout the UK, making an entire community’s culture illegal. Two best friends try to have one last night out together before their lives diverge down different paths, but the illegal party they’re after makes for one wild finale to their friendship.

13 / 50
Berserk FIlms

#38. End of Sentence

- Director: Elfar Adalsteins
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 96 min

Frank’s wife’s dying wish was to have her ashes spread in a lake in her native Ireland. He plans to embark on the journey to fulfill it but wants to bring along his estranged son, who just got out of jail. The two battle their rocky relationship and come to terms with their past in an emotional adventure.

14 / 50
Fresh Bread

#37. Beastie Boys Story

- Director: Spike Jonze
- Metascore: 75
- IMDb user rating: 7.9
- Runtime: 119 min

Surviving Beastie Boys Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz explore their lifelong friendship in this documentary by their friend Spike Jonze. The catch is that this is no ordinary documentary—as if the Beastie Boys would do anything of the sort. Jonze documents a live show where Diamond and Horovitz tell anecdotes from their legendary career in music to create something for fans both young and old.

15 / 50

#36. Shirley

- Director: Josephine Decker
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 6.1
- Runtime: 107 min

Elisabeth Moss absolutely devours the role of Shirley Jackson, portraying the famous horror writer as she works on her latest novel in the 1950s. Her husband (Michael Stuhlberg) invites a newlywed couple to live with them, and the four descend into a fragmented and demented relationship that is impossible to explain. Josephine Decker expertly shows the draining artistic process through memorable images and masterful storytelling.

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16 / 50
42 Km Film

#35. The Whistlers

- Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 6.4
- Runtime: 97 min

This Romanian crime comedy follows a police inspector as he and a beautiful woman travel to the Canary Islands to free a controversial businessman from prison. While there, they have to learn a secret language in order to get the man they’re after. With action galore, this film is also a whole lot of fun.

17 / 50
Arte France Cinéma

#34. The Wild Goose Lake

- Director: Yi'nan Diao
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Runtime: 113 min

Yi'nan Diao directs an impeccable neo-noir thriller that contains the kind of beauty and excitement most films of the subgenre could only hope to achieve. In striking colors, the movie shows a gangster on the run as he meets an innocent woman with her own secrets.

18 / 50
Screen Australia

#33. Babyteeth

- Director: Shannon Murphy
- Metascore: 76
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 118 min

This coming-of-age story is far from the average, lighthearted take on adolescence. Milla’s first love is everything her parents are afraid of, a small-time drug dealer who shows Milla the excitement of a recklessness she’s never experienced before. The impeccable cast and the director’s commitment to creating a unique narrative take this story to another level.

19 / 50
Metro Communications

#32. Incitement

- Director: Yaron Zilberman
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 123 min

A young Orthodox Jewish man turns to extremism following the unveiling of the Oslo Accords during the unrest between Israelis and Palenstinians in 1993. His continued isolation and separation from everyone in his life leads him down a dark path that highlights a devastating moment in history that continues to resonate today.

20 / 50
Aparte Film

#31. Marona's Fantastic Tale

- Director: Anca Damian
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 92 min

A mixed-breed labrador recalls her experiences in all the homes she’s lived in until her accident. The animation in this French children’s movie is whimsical and beautiful, contrasting with a lot of the mainstream animation we usually see. For any animal lover young or old, this story will warm your heart and wet your eyes.

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21 / 50
Aurum Film

#30. Corpus Christi

- Director: Jan Komasa
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 115 min

Twenty-year-old Daniel wants to become a priest after he serves time in a Youth Detention Center, but his criminal past makes that impossible in Poland. However, he fools a parish by dressing up as a priest and takes over. He aims for redemption and helps the parishioners heal from a tragedy in the process.

22 / 50
Sandbox Films (II)

#29. Human Nature

- Director: Adam Bolt
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 7.7
- Runtime: 95 min

The implications of medical breakthrough CRISPR are explored in this accessible documentary. It examines the effect the new technology has on human life and nature in general in an engaging and enlightening way.

23 / 50
Beech Hill Films

#28. A Secret Love

- Director: Chris Bolan
- Metascore: 77
- IMDb user rating: 8.0
- Runtime: 81 min

For over 70 years, two women kept their relationship from their friends and family. They tell their story in this documentary produced by Ryan Murphy. The world has changed quite a bit since the couple first fell in love in 1947, but without the stories of women like them who came out late in life, the LGBT community would’ve lost a rich and inspiring part of their history.

24 / 50
Srab Films

#27. Les Misérables

- Director: Ladj Ly
- Metascore: 78
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 104 min

Last year, to some surprise, France entered this drama over “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” for Best International Feature Film at the Oscars. A cop moves to Paris to work in the Anti-Crime Brigade in the poor Paris neighborhood where Victor Hugo wrote his novel “Les Misérables”. As the hunt for a thief unfolds, the cops end up inciting violence worse than they imagined.

25 / 50

#26. The Painter and the Thief

- Director: Benjamin Ree
- Metascore: 78
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 102 min

In this inspiring documentary, a painter befriends the man who stole her paintings years ago. As she paints a portrait of him, he opens up about his life, and the two form an unusual but beautiful bond.

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26 / 50
Element Twenty Two

#25. My Darling Vivian

- Director: Matt Riddlehoover
- Metascore: 78
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 90 min

Many people associate June Carter with Johnny Cash when they think of the latter’s personal life, but this documentary tells the story of his first wife, Vivian Liberto. Her daughters honor her memory and offer archival home videos to show she was more than just Cash’s stepping stone to the love of his life.

27 / 50
3311 Productions

#24. The Assistant

- Director: Kitty Green
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 6.0
- Runtime: 87 min

Jane accepts an assistant position working for a film producer after she graduates film school, but the longer she works for him, the more obvious it becomes that her boss abuses his power. This drama has been praised for its honest depiction of workplace harassment and the difficulty of reporting it in the film industry.

28 / 50
Aardman Animations

#23. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

- Directors: Will Becher, Richard Phelan
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 86 min

The goofy antics of Shaun the Sheep get an extraterrestrial twist in the newest movie in the franchise. He has to save an alien who lands on his farm from being taken by a corporation that wants to use her for profit. It’s the kind of light and silly movie that you’d expect from Aardman Animation.

29 / 50
Static Prods.

#22. Fourteen

- Director: Dan Sallitt
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 94 min

Mara and Jo’s friendship remains even as they both try to navigate young adult life in this Uruguayan drama. It’s an understated and realistic look at love, life, and how relationships evolve as we get older.

30 / 50
HBO Films

#21. Bad Education

- Director: Cory Finley
- Metascore: 79
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 108 min

An embezzlement scandal breaks the facade of a perfect Long Island school district, but Frank (Hugh Jackman) and Pam (Allison Janney) refuse to go down without a fight. As wild as the story gets, it is based on a true story.

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31 / 50
House of Numa

#20. Jezebel

- Director: Numa Perrier
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 5.8
- Runtime: 88 min

A young woman has to crash with relatives and gets introduced to the world of cam-girl work in order to make ends meet. Unlike a lot of past movies about this topic, this movie depicts the industry in a more empathetic light, which makes for a much better story.

32 / 50

#19. Cane River

- Director: Horace B. Jenkins
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 104 min

This movie was filmed decades ago with an entirely African American cast and crew, but the death of director Horace B. Jenkins kept it from audiences until now. It is about a forbidden love between two Black communities in Louisiana. The historical impact this movie could have made if released in the 1980s makes it a must-watch right now.

33 / 50
Danish Film Institute

#18. A White, White Day

- Director: Hlynur Palmason
- Metascore: 80
- IMDb user rating: 6.9
- Runtime: 109 min

An off-duty cop embarks on an obsessive search for the truth about his late wife’s potential affair. As beautiful as this Icelandic drama looks, it’s about as dark a story as could be, dealing with horrific grief and heartbreak.

34 / 50
Mi Alma Films

#17. Premature

- Director: Rashaad Ernesto Green
- Metascore: 81
- IMDb user rating: 6.0
- Runtime: 90 min

At first, Ayanna and Isaiah experience the kind of passionate summer romance we all wish we had in the summer before college. However, the realities of life quickly influence their relationship, and what transpires between them could change Ayanna’s life forever.

35 / 50
40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks

#16. Da 5 Bloods

- Director: Spike Lee
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 6.6
- Runtime: 154 min

In Spike Lee’s latest joint, he shows the return of four Vietnam veterans to where they were stationed during the war. They are in search of a lost fortune they found, but they have to reconcile with the death of their friend years ago and the mistakes made along the way.

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36 / 50

#15. Bacurau

- Directors: Juliano Dornelles, Kleber Mendonça Filho
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 131 min

A small village in Brazil undergoes a serious change after their matriarch dies and a group of outsiders arrive. The story combines genres and defies assumptions for a truly exciting and astonishing film.

37 / 50
Sixteen Films

#14. Sorry We Missed You

- Director: Ken Loach
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 101 min

A family from Newcastle, England, has been struggling to get along ever since the 2008 financial disaster. Ricky and his wife Abbie make sacrifices to keep the family afloat, but their efforts begin to tear them apart. This poignant drama pushes towards gut-wrenching tragedy, but the kind we love to watch for catharsis.

38 / 50

#13. Disclosure

- Director: Sam Feder
- Metascore: 82
- IMDb user rating: 8.4
- Runtime: 100 min

This Netflix documentary highlights the often-ignored topic of how transgender people are depicted on screen. The importance of representation by trans actors, not just trans characters, is discussed by trans members of the entertainment industry. A documentary like this has been long overdue, but the creators hope it will spark conversations.

39 / 50
Easy Open Productions

#12. Saint Frances

- Director: Alex Thompson
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 6.8
- Runtime: 106 min

Bridget accepts a job as a nanny just as she finds out she’s pregnant with a child she doesn’t want. The relationship between Bridget and the young girl she looks after is the kind of endearing and affecting relationship that thrives in an insightful independent film like this one.

40 / 50

#11. Driveways

- Director: Andrew Ahn
- Metascore: 83
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 83 min

As his mother goes through her late sister’s belongings, Cody becomes friends with an older Korean War veteran when he visits for the summer. The two spark a friendship that provides them with a perspective each of them lack, and their lives change forever.

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41 / 50
GED Cinema

#10. The Vast of Night

- Director: Andrew Patterson
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 6.7
- Runtime: 91 min

In a small 1950s New Mexican town, two teenagers discover a supernatural frequency on the radio. Everyone else in town is watching a basketball game, leaving the teenagers the responsibility to keep the town safe from possible aliens. In the vein of the sci-fi shows that inspired it, this debut by Andrew Patterson is delightfully suspenseful and creepy.

42 / 50
AR Content

#9. Beanpole

- Director: Kantemir Balagov
- Metascore: 84
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 130 min

After the deadly siege of 1945, two women struggle to survive in ruined Leningrad. The tragedy and pain they live through makes for a hellish viewing experience, but one that is expertly and effectively rendered.

43 / 50
Artemis Rising Productions

#8. On the Record

- Directors: Kirby Dick, Amy Ziering
- Metascore: 85
- IMDb user rating: 7.0
- Runtime: 95 min

Drew Dixon shows viewers what it was like to be one of the first women of color to speak out within the #MeToo movement in this documentary. She publicly talks about her alleged assault at the hands of music mogul Russell Simmons, and the trauma of acknowledging assault in the public eye is examined through her story.

44 / 50

#7. Vitalina Varela

- Director: Pedro Costa
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 124 min

After her husband dies, a Cape Verdean woman visits Lisbon, where her husband had lived a life she didn’t know about until now. The title character is played by the non-professional actor who inspired the character, allowing this film to blur the line between documentary and fiction.

45 / 50

#6. The Wolf House

- Directors: Joaquín Cociña, Cristóbal León
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.6
- Runtime: 75 min

In a German colony nestled in Chile and run by former Nazis, Maria escapes to a house where only two pigs live. The house begins to take on Maria’s feelings and becomes a surrealist nightmare. The incredible stop-motion animation creates a whimsical and terrifying tale inspired by the real case of Colonia Dignidad.

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46 / 50
Higher Ground Productions

#5. Crip Camp

- Directors: James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham
- Metascore: 86
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 106 min

In the 1970s, Camp Jened was one of the few places where teenagers with disabilities could enjoy their summers among their peers. Through the story of the camp and its campers, this documentary executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama shows how life for those with disabilities has changed in the last 50 years.

47 / 50
Cedar Creek Productions

#4. Rewind

- Director: Sasha Joseph Neulinger
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 7.8
- Runtime: 86 min

Director Sasha Joseph Neulinger goes through his family’s archive of home videos to reconcile with the abuse he and his sister experienced at the hands of family members. Devastating and hard to take in, this documentary is a film that will affect you for a long time after the credits roll.

48 / 50
BBC Storyville

#3. Welcome to Chechnya

- Director: David France
- Metascore: 87
- IMDb user rating: 8.6
- Runtime: 107 min

This HBO documentary highlights the work of LGBTQ activists confronting the oppression happening in Russia. Filmmakers have to keep the identities of activists hidden all while giving a never-before-seen inside look at the activism that puts their lives in danger.

49 / 50
Film Science

#2. First Cow

- Director: Kelly Reichardt
- Metascore: 90
- IMDb user rating: 7.1
- Runtime: 122 min

Kelly Reichardt nails her depictions of American life, and her latest film, about two men in the Oregon territory trying to gain success, is no different. Even before America’s capitalistic society was fully realized, the odds were stacked against these two underdogs. Reichardt delivers a delightful and insightful story of friendship unlike anything she’s explored before.

50 / 50
BBC Films

#1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

- Director: Eliza Hittman
- Metascore: 91
- IMDb user rating: 7.2
- Runtime: 101 min

Autumn and her cousin Skylar venture into New York City after Autumn unexpectedly gets pregnant and has nowhere to turn in their small Pennsylvanian town. As they try to find a way for Autumn to get an abortion, they struggle to stay safe in the chaos of the city. Eliza Hittman delivers a deeply compassionate portrait of what young women have to brave in order to survive.

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