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By Lily Rose
/ CBS NEWS
Despite movie theaters shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic, there were film releases this year. There have even been good movies; maybe you remember watching “Les Misérables” in a movie theater with a bucket of popcorn, or you’ve streamed “Hamilton” on Disney+ from the comfort of your couch at home.
2020 has been huge for movies from streaming sites. Critics raved about Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti in Hulu’s “Palm Springs.” Spike Lee’s Netflix movie “Da 5 Bloods,” starring the late Chadwick Boseman, was hailed by one critics as “one of the greatest Spike Lee films ever made.”
It’s also been a major year for international films, with several Asian-language movies in the mix, including “House of Hummingbird,” “Yourself and Yours,” “We Are Little Zombies” and more.
These movies were rated the highest among all of the films released in 2020, according to the movie review aggregator Metacritic. We’ve narrowed the list to focus on films with at least 10 critic reviews, to arrive at the best of the year.
Catherine Deneuve, Juliette Binoche and Ethan Hawke star in this Hirokazu Kore-eda-directed family drama that exposes a complicated relationship between an A-list movie legend and her daughter.
“Using compassion and the slightest touch of syrup, Kore-eda brings his characters to a place where they realize with shock that they’re finally on the same page,” said Boston Globe critic Ty Burr.
The Sang-soo Hong-directed comedy, starring Kim Joo-hyuk and Lee Yoo-young, “makes a case that perhaps it’s better not to know everything about the person you love,” said Wendy Ide from Screen Daily.
The movie can be streamed via Film at Lincoln Center.
While you might not know who Howard Ashman is (yet), you know his music. Ashman wrote lyrics for “Little Shop of Horrors,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Tragically, the lyricist died during the height of the AIDS crisis. This Disney+ documentary was called a “fitting celebration” of his life and career by CNN.
Murder AND hockey? Yep.
You don’t want to miss this Gabe Polsky documentary, which takes you into a world of Russian hockey, Russian politics and American marketing schemes.
Roger Moore of Movie Nation said the sports doc “takes us on quite the sleigh ride, from the sunny silliness of gambling on Russian hockey, and then marketing it, to the grim reality that sets in — threats, intimidation and even murders.”
If you love gangster stories, and love stories, check this out.
“The film’s masterstroke is that its fugitive antiheroes are framed by an environment that reflects their criminal lives back at them,” Slant critic Sam C. Mac said about this Chinese flick set in Wuhan province.
You’ll learn all about the life and career of famously private and world-renowned Puerto Rican astrologer Walter Mercado in Cristina Costantini and Kareem Tabsch’s Netflix documentary.
The Wrap calls the doc, which features a touching moment with life-long fan Lin-Manuel Miranda, “A tribute as inspired and jubilant as its majestic subject, a true original, who ‘used to be a star and now is a constellation.'”
Crime comedy fans, this one’s for you.
“‘The Whistlers’ is an oversized, deliciously twisted ride that runs on an endless supply of black humor and a sizable body count. You won’t laugh much while you’re watching it, but it’s a hoot nonetheless,” The Wrap’s Steve Pond writes.
The Makoto Nagahisa film, about a group of orphans who start a band, was called “gleefully its own thing,” by The New York Times.
Yes, there are horror films on this list, too.
Emily Mortimer and Bella Heathcote play a mother and daughter dealing with a family member’s dementia, and a potentially supernatural force, in this horror drama.
“Relic marks an auspicious debut for Japanese-Australian director Natalie Erika James, who wants her slow-building thriller to seep into your bones rather than pound you with cheap scares,” said Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers.
Elisabeth Moss portrays horror writer Shirley Jackson in this Josephine Decker-directed biographical drama.
“There are few more daring actors around right now than Moss, and ‘Shirley’ may be her best performance yet. She’s brutally cutting but the pain of every slight ripples across her face,” writes AP reviewer Jake Coyle, of her performance.
The Australian indie, written by Rita Kalnejais, is based on her 2012 play of the same name. The film follows Milla, a terminally ill high schooler who falls in love with a small-time drug dealer.
The Washington Post called it “emotionally sprawling, untidy yet big-hearted, and brimming with genuine, if at times sloppy, feeling … It is a lovely, eccentric little film.”
The re-imagined Charles Dickens film adaptation starring Dev Patel, Tilda Swinton, Hugh Laurie and Peter Capaldi, “comes across as a bright and jaunty corrective to the dour and stuffy Dickens adaptations that have come before,” said Variety critic Peter Debruge.
Who doesn’t love an imposter movie?
“A quite interesting and irresistible movie, a sort of cross between Paul Schrader’s recent film of spiritual crisis, ‘First Reformed,’ and Steven Spielberg’s ‘Catch Me If You Can.’ An impostor as anguished priest,” writes San Francisco Chronicle’s G. Allen Johnson of the Jan Komasa drama.
Fans of “A League Of Their Own” may take particular interest in this documentary, which tells the story of Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel.
Donahue played in the women’s professional baseball league that inspired the film. This documentary details the couple’s lengthy love story, from its baseball beginnings all the way forward to a little old house in the Chicago suburbs.
“There is a strong emotional connection to Victor Hugo’s giant novel,” writes New York Post critic Johnny Oleksinski about the French film of the same name.
“This version remains a tale of downtrodden Parisians and dogged policemen who hound them. Only now we get 21st-century twists: teens with drone cameras, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and a Romani circus,” adds Oleksinski.
Now this is a story.
In this documentary, Czech artist Barbora Kysilkova asks Karl-Bertil Nordland, who previously stole two of her paintings from an Oslo museum, to sit for her so she may paint him. The film won a creative storytelling award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Looking for something that you can watch with kids, but will also keep you entertained?
This Netflix animated feature was called “an absolute joy” by The Guardian as well as “relentlessly endearing and funny” by The Telegraph.
Kitty Green’s drama — about the daily life of an entertainment assistant who becomes increasingly aware of her daily abuse — was called, “one of the best, most gripping, and smartest films of 2020,” by Vox.
Not to be confused with the film “The Curse of La Llorona” (2019), this Jayro Bustamante thriller — named for the Latin American legend — focuses on a retired general who is on trail for genocide, and his family, which becomes targets of the supernatural.
“The most unsettling aspect of ‘La Llorona’ is that history doesn’t simply shape the movie. It also haunts and finally overwhelms it with terrors far more unspeakable than any impressively manufactured shock, said New York Times critic Manohla Dargis.
This story about a lifelong friendship was called “rich with scenes of affection and reconciliation” by Patrick Gamble of Cinevue.
The Playlist critic Asher Luberto describes the Dan Sallitt drama as leaving its audience with “important insights on time, mental illness and relationships.”
Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney and Geraldine Viswanathan star in this semi-biographical HBO film about a school superintendent and his assistant, who embezzle school funds and are foiled in their attempts to cover it up by a student reporter.
“The film’s true power is elemental, rooted in weather conditions that all but erase the distinction between land and sky, and in the inky darkness of a tunnel traversed by one haggard, trudging figure whose weary body intermittently blocks a sliver of light barely visible at its far end,” describes AV Club reviewer Mike D’Angelo about the Icelandic drama.
The Sam Feder-directed Netflix documentary dives deep into Hollywood’s depiction of what it means to be transgender, as told through movies and TV. Laverne Cox, Lilly Wachowski, Yance Ford, MJ Rodriguez, Jamie Clayton and Chaz Bono are featured.
This political documentary centers around the 1953 reinstallation of the controversial shah of Iran.
“As enlightening as ‘Coup 53’ is as a secret history, it’s even more satisfying as an aesthetic exercise, treating viewers to one of cleverest workarounds in cinematic problem-solving in recent memory,” writes The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday.
This is one tense story.
“You feel a hurricane of emotions watching Barbara Kopple’s brilliant and searing documentary ‘Desert One,'” writes esteemed film critic Richard Roeper about the war documentary centered on the mission to free hostages captured during the 1979 Iranian revolution.
Debra Winger, Richard Jenkins and Evan Rachel Wood play a family of con artists who enlist the help of a stranger, played by Gina Rodriguez, for their next heist. The Hollywood Reporter’s John DeForce called the Miranda July film, “A prickly little gem by a singular artist.”
Kate Lyn Sheil stars as Amy, a woman who thinks she is going to die tomorrow. However, her fear becomes, literally, contagious.
“It’s intensely disturbing and hilarious in equal measure, as if somebody decided to let David Lynch remake ‘Contagion,’ writes Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri about this scary movie.
A pioneering pop group finally gets its due.
“The doc’s goal: Don’t think of the Go-Go’s as a bit of Reagan-era nostalgia, the musical equivalent of a Rubik’s cube. Think of them as a first-tier, kick-ass rock group, period, full stop, the end. Mission accomplished,” writes Rolling Stone critic David Fear.
The coming-of-age love story stars Zora Howard as 17-year-old poet Ayanna, who falls for an older music producer. The romance throws college-bound Ayanna into the world of adult relationships.
This sci-fi film was called “part siege movie, part rural drama, part gore-soaked freak-out,” by The Globe and Mail critic Barry Hertz. The film is for rent or purchase on Amazon Prime Video.
This drama might make you angry.
“Well-researched and highly detailed in how it lays bare the empty promises of the gig economy and the ruthless techno-feudalism of e-commerce, ‘Sorry We Missed You’ is a movie that will infuriate you,” write’s Vulture critic Bilge Ebiri. “But what makes it one of Loach’s best isn’t just its rage (which is plentiful) but its compassion (which is overwhelming).”
The Spike Lee-directed Netflix drama follows old military buddies returning to Vietnam to bring home the remains of a fallen friend. The film features an all-star cast: Delroy Lindo, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Isiah Whitlock Jr. and the late Chadwick Boseman. Vulture called the piece, “one of the greatest films Spike Lee has ever made.”
The Ross Brothers’ documentary about the last days of ailing Las Vegas dive bar The Roaring Twenties, was called “as real as it gets … It’s a masterpiece,” by The Austin Chronicle critic Marc Savlov.
Bora Kim’s debut film won the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival award for best international narrative feature.
According to RogerEbert.com critic Peter Sobczynski, the movie “deserves a place alongside the likes of ‘The Virgin Suicides,’ ‘The Ocean of Helena Lee’ and ‘Eighth Grade’ as one of the most knowing and intelligent cinematic takes on the pains and occasional pleasures of female adolescence of recent years.”
In this tearjerker, Golden Globe nominee Hong Chau plays a single mother traveling with her son to clean up and sell what remains of her newly-deceased sister’s life.
“It’s dumb to measure the worth of anything by its ability to make you cry, but by the end of ‘Driveways,’ the feelings of the characters spill over into your own experience of watching a small, very quiet, very powerful 83-minute short story of a movie,” writes Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti star in this “Groundhog Day”-esque rom-com, set inside a never-ending wedding in Palm Springs.
“Samberg is predictably charming and funny here. But it’s Milioti, who may be best known at this point as ‘The Mother’ from ‘How I Met Your Mother,’ or ‘that girl who was in that one ‘Black Mirror’ episode,’ who is the big revelation, finally getting the spotlight which has been a long time coming,” writes AP critic Lindsey Bahr.
The Kelly O’Sullivan-led coming of age comedy is for rent and purchase on Amazon Prime, and is being compared to an Amy Schumer hit.
“This exceptionally frank, refreshingly nonjudgmental indie was written by O’Sullivan, a ‘girl next door’ type whose no-nonsense approach to issues facing both her gender and her generation leaves ample room for laughter — à la Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck,’ writes Variety’s Peter Debruge.
“Beyoncé’s new film takes you on a journey of Black art, music, history and fashion as the superstar transports you to Africa to tell the story of a young man in search of his crown, matched to epic songs she created while inspired by ‘The Lion King,'” writes the AP’s Mesfin Fekadu, who also called the film “supreme Black art.”
Here it is: The rare sci-fi movie on a best-of list.
“To watch it is to get excited about the billions of different ways you can combine sound and moving images to tell a story,” said Slate’s Matthew Dessem, about this film, set in 1950s New Mexico.
Music executive Drew Dixon leads this documentary, which profiles Black women who have accused record executive Russell Simmons of sexual assault.
“It does what so little of the dialogue has managed to do: implore audiences to embrace Black female survivors and to understand the cultural and painful dilemmas they continue to endure along their avid fight to heal the wounds of the entire Black race,” writes The Wrap’s Candice Frederick.
“The brilliance of ‘Beanpole‘ is that it begins as the story of a collective horror, then becomes utterly, fascinatingly specific,” writes LA Times‘ critic Justin Chang, of the Kantemir Balagov-directed drama. This film is for rent and purchase on Amazon, YouTube and iTunes.
This documentary follows the annual week-long Texas high school seniors program, where students build their own mock state government.
Why you need to watch this: “The point is that these are the sort of kids who, should their dreams come true, will be running the show in the future,” writes the New Yorker’s Anthony Lane.
This documentary is a deep dive into the 2016 USA Gymnastics scandal.
“‘Athlete A‘ gives us the story behind the story. It’s a terrific journalism movie, but it’s also a story of young women who persevered and found justice against the odds,” writes San Francisco Chronicle’s G. Allen Johnson about the Netflix crime documentary.
An upstate New York summer camp for the disabled is the star of this documentary, which was was called “funny and heartwarming, but more than anything, eye opening,” by CNN’s Brian Lowry.
“‘Crip Camp’ offers a portrait of the progress made over the last 50 years and the dogged persistence that achieved it, told by the people — now mostly senior citizens — who simply refused to settle for second-class-citizen status.”
Former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama are credited as executive producers.
The Pedro Costa drama, which follows a widow who uncovers truths about her husband, was called “hypnotic” and an “emotional investment with rich returns” by the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Morgenstern. While you won’t find it on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu, the film is streamable from various independent theaters’ virtual screening rooms.
This documentary uncovers the horrific acts against LGBTQ+ people in the Russian republic, and follows a group of activists risking everything to help the community escape.
Sasha Joseph Neulinger uses home-video footage to piece together the history of his childhood abuse, and how his abusers were (or weren’t) brought to justice.
“The film sets up a mystery to be solved, and the fact that it doesn’t state the answer outright is part of the dramatic texture. We can’t help but imagine the worst. Yet what would the worst be?” writes Variety’s Owen Gleiberman.
“A picture that’s both tranquil and dazzling, two qualities that should be at odds with one another yet somehow bloom,” writes Time’s Stephanie Zacharek of the drama about a fur trapper and a Chinese immigrant.
Didn’t score “Hamilton” tickets? Don’t worry, you won’t miss out.
“Hamilton” fans and first-timers only gain from streaming the Lin-Manuel Miranda stage musical on Disney+, according to reviewers. Mark Kennedy of The Associated Press writes, “[The] camera captures actors’ intimate faces during key moments in a way impossible for theater-goers and incorporates audience reaction to create an electric filmed version.”
The Eliza Hittman-directed drama stars Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder as cousins venturing to New York City from their small town after an unplanned pregnancy.
The film “handles a tricky topic with so much persuasively unadorned compassion that it has the genuine potential to change hearts and minds about one of the country’s most contentious battles,” writes Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson.
First published on September 1, 2020 / 6:00 PM
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The best movies of 2020, so far, ranked – CBS News
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