The 50 best films of 2020 in the UK: the full list – The Guardian

It’s number one time, and it’s a picture from the beginning of the year that nothing else has quite eclipsed for wit, thrills and sheer watchability
This eye-opening film looks at a role-play event to teach kids how politics works, organised by the American Legion. Here the Texas version is scrutinised, with debates and power struggles reaching a crescendo in a mock election. Read the full review.
Documentary about the groundbreaking Rock Against Racism movement that helped to stem the rising tide of far-right support in 1970s Britain, with its benefit gigs featuring the likes of the Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. Read the full review.
This is an ingenious, witty thriller from the French director Dominik Moll (Harry, He’s Here to Help), one involving interconnected stories of six disparate people and stretching from the south of France to Ivory Coast. Read the full review.
There’s a harsh Icelandic backdrop to this tough corruption drama: Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir plays Inga, a farmer who takes on the mafia who run the local co-op, trying to circumvent the monopoly by selling produce on the internet. Read the full review.
The fourth feature by Wadjda director Haifaa al-Mansour sees the Saudi film-maker return home for a politically inflected drama that interrogates the country’s supposed new liberalism, following a female doctor’s attempt to run for office after she is denied a permit to travel abroad. Read the full review.
A Brazilian horror-western with an exceptionally disquieting tone, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. A woman returns to a remote outback town – the fictional settlement of Bacurau – which appears to have fallen off the map, as a violent group of foreigners assemble nearby. Read the full review.
Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss stars as celebrated horror writer Shirley Jackson (best known for The Lottery) in a fictionalised biopic that speculates on what happens when a younger couple interrupts her tepid domestic life with husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg). Read the full review.
Individual films don’t often change the course of history, but by humiliating Donald Trump acolyte Rudy Giuliani, this follow-up to Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 hit comedy may have done just that. This time around, the Kazakhstani journalist tries to offload his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Read the full review.
An enterprising adaptation of the HG Wells classic, reconfigured for the #MeToo era by horror specialists Blumhouse. Elisabeth Moss is a woman who believes she is being stalked by her controlling boyfriend, who was thought to have killed himself. Read the full review.
Nicely observed US indie written by and starring Kelly O’Sullivan, who plays a woman in her mid-30s whose unexpected pregnancy coincides with her getting a job as a nanny for a kid called Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). Read the full review.
Formally ambitious drama about an African American high-school sports star whose life goes into meltdown, with a parallel narrative involving his sister. One-time Terrence Malick intern Trey Edward Shults directs. Read the full review.
Adaptation of Jerzy Kosiński’s second world war novel, following a young Jewish boy’s attempts to survive in Poland after his parents are taken to a concentration camp, filmed in gruesome, harrowing detail. Read the full review.
This moving documentary looks at two Iranian refugees trying to get by in Turkey as they wait for official UN status – having fled from their home country because of their punishable-by-death extramarital affair and the son produced from it. Read the full review.
Impressive horror about a husband and wife from South Sudan seeking asylum who try to settle in a nondescript British neighbourhood, only to find their living quarters appear to be haunted by a spirit from their past lives. Read the full review.
Netflix adaptation of Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 stage hit about gay men gathering for a birthday party; Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto and Matt Bomer are among the cast. Read the full review.
Amy Seimetz delivers an oddball US indie about a woman who is suddenly convinced she will die in 24 hours – and whose obsessive paranoia about impending death infects her friends with a pandemic-style contagion. Read the full review.
Ilse Salas is outstanding in an 1980s-set study of Mexico’s financial meltdown, playing a rich, status-obsessed woman whose privileged life starts to collapse. Read the full review.
This sci-fi thriller from Brandon Cronenberg is just as creepy as his father David’s work. It stars Andrea Riseborough as a future assassin who invades hapless victims’ minds and uses them to assassinate targets. Read the full review.
This hard-hitting British drama takes its cue from the grim news stories of cross-country drug courier gangs. Conrad Khan stars as the 14-year-old who becomes entangled in crime after a dysfunctional childhood and unhappy schooling. Read the full review.
Icelandic thriller about a policeman (played by Ingvar Sigurðsson) who discovers his recently deceased wife may have been having an affair with his friend; his grief and rage builds until violence appears inevitable. Read the full review.
Unsettling Austrian study of an ambitious corporate executive-type whose life begins to unravel after her mentally ill sister attempts to kill herself, resulting in a plethora of threatening phone calls. Read the full review.
German drama about an out-of-control child, featuring an astounding performance by then-nine-year-old Helena Zengel as a violent, rowdy kid with whom the established social-work systems simply cannot cope. Read the full review.
Austere, compelling film from Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, following the Cape Verdean immigrant of the title as she makes her way to Lisbon to try and find her errant husband. Read the full review.
Judd Apatow hooks up with Saturday Night Live star Pete Davidson to create funny, idiosyncratic comedy: Davidson plays a slacker tattooist whose life has been overshadowed by his firefighter dad’s death. Read the full review.
Intense, winning romance about two male performers who spark a secret relationship in the ultra-conservative world of traditional Georgian dance. Read the full review.
This is the sixth and reportedly final feature by the idiosyncratic Swedish auteur Roy Andersson, a meditation on the human condition filmed with an utterly distinctive combination of colour palette and vividly detailed tableaux. Read the full review.
In this award-winning French drama that alludes to the celebrated Victor Hugo novel, tough, cynical police try to keep the peace on tinderbox streets in the Paris suburbs. Read the full review.
An eye-opening eco-documentary about the Biosphere 2 experiment in the 1990s, in which a commune of like-minded people built a closed ecosystem in Arizona to try to improve humans’ relationship with the natural world. Read the full review.
Film-maker Kirsten Johnson’s startlingly creative response to her former psychiatrist father’s dementia, in which she stages a string of hypothetical death scenes and afterlife fantasies. Read the full review.
Shame’s Nicole Beharie stars as a former beauty queen hoping that her daughter can repeat her triumph – primarily to gain the prize of a potentially life-changing college scholarship. Read the full review.
This two-and-a-half-hour feature, focusing on a canteen worker, carved out of the enormous 15-year DAU project, in which an entire community recreated the day to day life of a Soviet-era research institute. Read the full review.
Emotional documentary about the battle by Sibil Fox Richardson to get her husband released from a 60-year sentence for armed robbery, and her torment over raising a family that never had a father. Read the full review.
Slice of intense British social realism, with Roxanne Scrimshaw and Nichola Burley as childhood friends whose relationship with each other means more than their marriages and children. Read the full review.
This documentary profile of the celebrated African American author was completed shortly before her death in 2019. Oprah Winfrey, Walter Mosley and Angela Davis are among the heavyweights paying tribute. Read the full review.
Biopic of popular American TV presenter Fred Rogers, beloved to generations of kids for his kindly mien and homely cardigans showcased in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Tom Hanks, naturally, is a perfect fit for the role. Read the full review.
Documentary about the pioneering female film-maker, narrated by Jodie Foster, which seeks to restore Guy-Blaché to her place as a titan of early cinema, and most likely the first director ever of a feature-length film. Read the full review.
Spike Lee’s lacerating Vietnam war movie, about a squad of African American soldiers who return to the battlefield decades later to remember their dead leader (played by Chadwick Boseman) as well as hunting treasure. Read the full review.
This film was the late Chadwick Boseman’s final performance, as an ambitious trumpeter in the backing band for blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davies), in an adaptation of August Wilson’s hit stage play. Read the full review.
Charlie Kaufman’s third film as director, and yet another superbly disquieting essay on human frailty and alienation, here with Jessie Buckley as the woman dissatisfied with boyfriend Jesse Plemons. Read the full review.
Adam Sandler turns in a brilliant performance as fast-talking diamond dealer Howard Ratner trying to fend off debt collectors in the Safdie brothers’ hyperactive, stress-inducing crime flick. Read the full review.
Lightning-rod drama about the thorny subject of teenage abortion, with a title alluding to the sexual-behaviour questionnaire which has become one of the many obstacles to obtaining one in the US. Sidney Flanigan plays the 17-year-old who heads to a New York clinic; Eliza Hittman directs. Read more.
David Fincher directs this act of film-industry ancestor worship, taking as his subject Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J Mankiewicz, played by Gary Oldman. A beautifully polished film that is both a tribute to Hollywood’s golden era and an acute document of the power struggles contained therein. Read more.
Drama that directly tackles the asymmetric employment power structure at the heart of the Weinstein scandal and the MeToo movement, with Julia Garner as the young woman who is the unconscious enabler of her abusive boss. Read more.
Chilling horror-drama from director Rose Glass, featuring Morfydd Clark as a palliative care nurse who is looking after a former dancer, played by Jennifer Ehle – and whose intense religious yearnings eventually play out in a deeply strange and terrifying way. Read more.
A terrific British feature about kids at secondary school that wears its multiculturalism on its sleeve. Bukky Bakray gives a tremendous performance as a teenager (nicknamed “Rocks”) who has to look after her brother when her single mother finds herself increasingly unable to. Read more.
Period romance that became a banner for lesbian representation on film, and the apotheosis of the “female gaze”. An artist and her subject – a noblewoman about to get married – develop an intensely erotic connection in a film that discusses art, desire and obsession. Read more.
Enraging documentary from Romania, following a journalist’s investigation into hospital deaths after a 2015 nightclub fire – which revealed pervasive corruption that contributed to scores of fatalities through poorly maintained medical facilities. Read more.
Few films this year have been as blunt in their impact as this drama examining the US’s execution system. Alfre Woodard delivers a towering performance as a prison warden deeply troubled by the death row procedures she has to oversee, and whose personal life is increasingly affected by the psychic fallout. Read more.
Pixar’s latest animation, in which Jamie Foxx voices the central character, a jazz musician whose body becomes separated from his soul. Directed by Pete Docter, who was previously behind Up and Inside Out, this returns Pixar to the emotionally intelligent brilliance that has been its special hallmark. Read more.
Bong Joon-ho’s class-war masterwork has been top of most people’s lists from the moment it premiered at the Cannes film festival in 2019; it’s since won the Palme d’Or and the best picture Oscar. Release calendar differences means it won our US poll last year, and it now tops the UK list having hit UK cinemas in February 2020. Thrilling, horrible, dramatic, articulate – it covers every base. Read more.

Placings were calculated by a weighted average score from critics’ votes. Voters are: Peter Bradshaw, Cath Clarke, Ellen E Jones, Leslie Felperin, Phil Hoad, Mike McCahill, Benjamin Lee, Catherine Shoard, Andrew Pulver, Steve Rose


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