Depending where you live, the movie-going experience became either impossible or highly dangerous in 2020. That resulted in studios holding on to the good stuff and dumping everything else on streaming services. Interestingly, genre films fared a little better due to the resurgence of drive-ins, but even that couldn’t offset catastrophic box office returns. While doomsayers predict the end of theaters, I’m more optimistic. The convenience of streaming will never match the near-religious experience of sharing a great film with hundreds of strangers in a dark room. For me, it’s as simple as that.
Despite output falling significantly, 2020 was still a decent year for film. You just had to scrounge around to find the real gems. Arthouse filmmakers and international auteurs did most of the heavy-lifting, providing us with a constant stream of must-see material. That is reflected in my top 30 films of 2020, which includes titles from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain and the UK. It should be noted that I included films that were previewed for critics in 2019, but officially released in the US in 2020. Just take the rankings with a grain of salt. All 30 films are excellent and very highly recommended.
30. Time To Hunt
A dystopian action thriller from South Korea with a surprising amount of heart. Stream Time To Hunt on Netflix.
29. Two Of Us (my review)
This deeply affecting lesbian love/horror story packs one hell of a punch. Previewed, but yet to be released in the US.
28. The Assistant
Timely and triggering for anyone who has survived an entry-level job in “the industry.” Available to buy/rent.
27. The Way Back
One of the year’s genuine surprises. I really didn’t expect to like this, but here we are. Available to buy/rent.
26. Let Him Go (my review)
An understated and deceptively modern western that deserved a much bigger audience. Available to buy/rent.
25. The Audition
Nina Hoss is fast becoming one of the great actors of world cinema. Her performance elevates The Audition from polished melodrama to spine-chilling psychological thriller. Available to buy/rent.
24. Tiger Tail
This exquisite family drama exudes quality from every stunningly-shot frame. Stream Tiger Tail on Netflix.
23. Calm With Horses
Also know as The Shadow Of Violence, this gritty Irish thriller is an absolute knockout. Available to buy/rent.
22. The Hater
This lengthy, terrifyingly believable Polish film about an unhinged outsider has one of the more shocking twists of 2020. Stream The Hater on Netflix.
21. Sputnik (my review)
A cosmonaut returns home harboring an alien within. What more do you need to know? Available to buy/rent.
20. The Wild Goose Lake
Beautifully shot and oddly romantic. The Wild Goose Lake is an unforgettable Chinese crime drama about a gangster on the run. Available to buy/rent.
19. The Platform
A Spanish romp that combines gory action with biting social commentary. Stream The Platform on Netflix.
18. Young Ahmed
Belgian masters Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne at their very best. Available to buy/rent.
Falling somewhere between farce and genre oddity, Deerskin is about a jacket that transforms a man into a serial killer. Yes, you read that correctly. God bless the twisted mind of Quentin Dupieux. Available to buy/rent.
16. A Good Woman Is Hard To Find (my review)
A hard-as-nails revenge thriller that ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree before things get really fucked up. Available to buy/rent.
15. The Swerve
A genuinely harrowing depiction of mental illness. In a perfect world, Azura Skye would be in the awards mix for her star turn. Available to buy/rent.
14. The Painted Bird
The most depressing film of 2020. I’m glad I saw it, but I never want to see it again. Available to buy/rent.
13. Promising Young Woman
Timely, important and thoroughly entertaining. Which is no easy combination to full off. In theaters now.
12. The Nest (my review)
A raw, refreshingly honest family drama with a career-best performance by Carrie Coon. Available to buy/rent.
Bonkers, infuriating and exceptionally beautiful, Brazil’s Bacurau is as obtuse as it is epic. Bravura filmmaking. Available to buy/rent.
10. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (my review)
Gritty and understated, Never Rarely Sometimes Always should be shown in high schools across the United States. Available to buy/rent.
9. Relic (my review)
An eerie, atmospheric Australian film about the horrors of aging. Available to buy/rent.
8. The Truth
Japanese auteur Hirokazu Kore-eda makes a witty, touching and occasionally profound French film about an emotionally-stunted actress (Catherine Deneuve in fine form) and her middle-aged daughter. Available to buy/rent.
7. Corpus Christi
Beware of false prophets. That’s the general gist of this staggeringly great Polish film. Available to buy/rent.
6. Babyteeth (my review)
Another gem from Australia. Babyteeth is a whimsical drama about a dying girl and her crumbling family. Available to buy/rent.
Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms won the Golden Bear at the 2019 Berlin Festival for good reason. This absurdist tale of a young Israeli man who reinvents himself in France is defiantly, electrifyingly original. Available to buy/rent.
4. First Cow (my review)
Glacially paced, yet never less than riveting. Kelly Reichardt’s inversion of the western is an absolute must-see. Available to buy/rent.
3. Possessor (my review)
The best genre film of 2020. Brandon Cronenberg’s twisted sci-fi tale is mind-melting in every possible way. Available to buy/rent.
An exceptionally tall woman with a speech impediment falls in love with her best friend and things spiral out of control from there. Beanpole is mesmerizing from the first frame to the last. Available to buy/rent.
1. The True History Of The Kelly Gang
Ned Kelly has fascinated filmmakers for more than a century, but no one has depicted Australia’s most notorious outlaw with as much subversion and flair as Justin Kurzel. Cinema at its most audacious. Available to buy/rent.