2020 Best Movies: While the normal premiere schedule has been derailed by the Coronavirus—films like No Time to Die, F9, and A Quiet Place have been delayed—the year has still offered some powerhouse early releases. From Kelly Reichardt’s fantastic frontier-life drama, to a trio of horror films that illustrate the genre’s power to derive thrills from timely topics, to a Brazilian political allegory that’s as sharp as it is weird, 2020 is off to a phenomenal, although strange, start. With new works from Christopher Nolan and Steven Spielberg still on the horizon for now, not to mention an avalanche of installments in beloved franchises (Wonder Woman 1984, Top Gun: Maverick), moviegoers have much to look forward to in the next few months once the threat of Coronavirus passes hopefully soon. These are the 2020 Best Movies so far.
2020 Best Movies Top Rated:
10) The Invisible Man
Gaslighting gets the monster movie treatment in The Invisible Man, a 21st-century take on Universal’s classic unseen specter. Helmed with playful menace by Leigh Whannell, whose camerawork and compositions constantly tease subtle action in the corners of the frame, this slick genre effort finds Elisabeth Moss trying to convince anyone who’ll listen that she’s not crazy, and really is being hunted by her supposedly dead abusive boyfriend. Since said predator isn’t visible to the human eye, however, that’s not an easy task. Hot-button issues emerge naturally out of this basic premise, thereby letting Whannell sidestep overt preaching in favor of orchestrating a series of finely tuned set pieces in which lethal danger might materialize at any moment, from any direction. Avoiding unnecessary diversions or italicized politics, the filmmaker streamlines his tale into a ferocious game of cat-and-mouse, with Moss commanding the spotlight as a woman tormented both physically and psychologically, and determined to fight back against her misogynistic victimization.
9) Young Ahmed
Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne gaze into the dark heart of religious fanaticism in Young Ahmed, a drama that’s all the more chilling for proffering no easy answers. By the time the filmmakers’ story begins, urban 13-year-old Ahmed (newcomer Idir Ben Addi) has already been indoctrinated by a jihad-encouraging imam (Othmane Moumen). No amount of adult counter-programming can affect the kid, and when he attacks a female teacher (Myriem Akheddiou) for her modernist Islamic teachings, he winds up in a juvenile detention center and, then, at a farm where the affections of Louise (Victoria Bluck) complicate his worldview.
With a stony countenance and dark eyes that mask his interior thoughts, Ahmed is a chilling protagonist in thrall to a rigid ideology that preaches violence against all heretics. Their handheld camerawork trailing him as he embarks on his cataclysmic rise-and-fall journey, the directors’ aesthetics are as formally rigorous and evocative as ever, capturing the unyielding nature of zealotry, as well as the difficulty of loosening extremism’s terrible grip on individuals’ hearts and minds.
Dramas don’t come much bleaker than Beanpole, director Kantemir Balagov’s wrenching story about the damage caused by war, and the exceedingly high cost of survival. In a 1945 Leningrad still recovering from the end of WWII, lanky Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), aka “Beanpole,” works as a nurse even though her military service has left her with a condition in which she becomes temporarily frozen. Iya cares for Pashka (Timofey Glazkov), the young son of her frontlines friend Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), and when Masha appears to reclaim her child—only to learn of an unthinkable tragedy—their relationship buckles under the weight of grief, guilt, regret, resentment and need.
Cruel blackmail soon proves to be Masha’s means of coping with loss, but healing is in short supply in this ravaged milieu. Shot in alternately tremulous and composed handheld, director Balagov’s long takes place a premium on close-ups, the better to convey the dizzying anguish of his subjects, who are as decimated as their environment. Overpoweringly desolate and moving, it’s a vision of paralyzing individual, and national, PTSD—and, ultimately, of women banding together to forge a new future.
7) Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Putting a poignant face on a contentious social topic, Never Rarely Sometimes Always tells the story of pregnant Pennsylvania 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), who with her loyal cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) by her side, travels to New York to procure an abortion. As envisioned by writer/director Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats), Autumn’s with-child circumstance leads to a harrowing ordeal of uncomfortable doctor visits, financial anxieties, and incessant indignities suffered at the hands of men, be it sexually harassing classmates, her drunk and uncaring father (Ryan Eggold), or a boy (Théodore Pellerin) she and Skylar meet on the bus to Manhattan. 2020 Best Movies
Forced to navigate a chauvinistic world that treats them as disposable sexual playthings, denigrates them as whores when they attempt to fulfill that role, and then thwarts their desire for agency—and independence—at every turn, Autumn’s saga is all the more heartbreaking for being so ordinary. Drenched in silence that conveys the loneliness of its heroine, and speaks volumes about the tacit understanding and compassion shared by women, it’s a sobering study of perseverance in the face of individual, and systemic, oppression.
In the fictional northeast Brazilian town of Bacurau, residents are puzzled to discover that their home has disappeared from all GPS maps, and their cell service has ceased. 2020 Best Movies, Stranger still is the 1950s-style UFO zooming around the sky—perhaps the byproduct of the psychotropic drugs the townsfolk have ingested? Or is it a tool of other sinister forces preparing to strike? Teaming with his former production designer Juliano Dornelles, director Kleber Mendonça Filho (Neighboring Sounds, Aquarius) delivers an allegory of zonked-out weirdness with Bacurau, which quickly has locals engaging in a do-or-die battle with a pair of interloping São Paulo bikers and a group of murderous Western tourists (led by a hilariously peculiar Udo Kier) who’ve traveled to South America to partake in a variation of The Most Dangerous Game. Stylistically indebted to both the Westerns of Sergio Leone and the thrillers of John Carpenter, and yet imbued with an out-there spirit all its own, Filho and Dornelles’ film takes a gonzo scalpel to geopolitical dynamics.
5) Saint Maud
Hell hath no fury like a religious zealot scorned, as demonstrated by writer/director Rose Glass’ feature debut. A Young hospice nurse named Maud (Morfydd Clark) comes to believe that her mission from God—with whom she speaks, and feels inside her body—is to save the soul of her terminally ill new patient, famous dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). What begins as a noble attempt to share pious belief and provide comfort for the sick swiftly turns deranged, as Maud is possessed by a mania impervious to reason, and enflamed by both the slights she receives from Amanda and others, and her own mortal failings. The sacred and the profane are knotted up inside this young woman, whom Clark embodies with a scary intensity that’s matched by Glass’ unsettling aesthetics, marked by topsy-turvy imagery and pulsating, crashing soundtrack strings. A horrorshow about the relationship between devoutness and insanity, it’s a nerve-rattling thriller that doubles as a sharp critique, culminating with an incendiary final edit that won’t soon be forgotten.
4) Gretel & Hansel
2020 Best Movies, Oz Perkins is a horror lyricist fixated on grief and female agency, and both factor heavily into his atmospheric reimagining of the classic fairy tale. In a countryside beset by an unknown plague, teenage Gretel (It’s Sophia Lillis) refuses to work as an old creepy man’s housekeeper, and is thus thrown out by her mother, forced to take her young brother Hansel (Sam Leakey) on a journey through the dark woods to a convent she has no interest in joining. Beset by hunger, the two come upon the home of a witch (Alice Krige), whose feasts are as mouth-watering as her magic lessons for Gretel are simultaneously empowering and unnerving. Perkins sticks relatively closely to his source material’s narrative while nonetheless reshaping it into a story about feminine power and autonomy, and the potential cost of acquiring both. Drenched in ageless, evil imagery (full of triangular pagan symbols, pointy-hatted silhouettes, and nocturnal mist), and boasting a trippiness that becomes hilariously literal at one point, Gretel & Hansel casts a spell that feels at once ancient and new.
3) The Assistant
2020 Best Movies, Kitty Green’s The Assistant is the first great #MeToo film, a scathing look at the mundane day-to-day ways in which gender-imbalanced abuse and unfairness are built into workplace systems. Though you won’t hear Harvey Weinstein’s name uttered once, his presence is palpable throughout this clinical story about Jane (a sterling Julia Garner), whose position as the low woman on the totem pole at a film production company necessitates enduring mistreatment of both a subtle and overt sort. Whether being chastised by her boss (who’s only heard in hushed phone calls), or sharing quiet, pointed glances with her female colleagues, Jane is a victim of both exploitative men and, just as severely, a corrupt institutional structure that perpetuates itself by fostering cutthroat ruthlessness and alienating silence. Epitomized by Jane’s meeting with a cruelly calculating human resources rep (Succession’s Matthew Macfadyen), whose threats are all the more harrowing for being both implied and logical, it’s a portrait of sexism’s many insidious forms.
2) The Wild Goose Lake
As with his prior Black Coal, Thin Ice, Chinese director Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake has a coiled intensity that amplifies its romantic fatalism. Diao’s neo-noir follows a gangster named Zhou Zenong (Hu Ge) who, after killing a cop in a criminal enterprise gone awry, partners with a “bathing beauty” prostitute named Lu Aiai (Gwei Lun Mei) in order to reunite with his estranged wife Yang Shujun (Wan Qian), all so she might collect the reward on his head. Rife with betrayals, manhunts and shootouts, the auteur’s narrative is constantly taking sharp, unexpected turns, and the same is true of his breathtaking direction, which reveals unseen figures, and twists, via precise camerawork and expressionistic flourishes that are married to a realistic depiction of rain-soaked Wuhan and its lawless lakeside communities. Hunted by police captain Liu (Liao Fan), Diao’s protagonists are engaged in a deadly game that’s played in silence because they all inherently know the rules, and their sense of purpose is echoed by the film itself, which orchestrates its underworld conflicts with bracing precision. Plus, it boasts 2020’s most gruesomely inventive use of an umbrella.
1) First Cow
Few directors are as attentive to the rhythms of nature—human and otherwise—as Kelly Reichardt, and the filmmaker’s formidable skill at evoking a sense of place, thought, emotion and motivation is on breathtaking display in First Cow. Adapted from Jonathan Raymond’s novel The Half Life, Reichardt’s slow-burn drama focuses on a nomadic 1820s chef named Cookie (John Magaro) who, after arriving at a Pacific Northwest fort, befriends and goes into business with on-the-run Chinese loner King Lu (Orion Lee), baking and selling popular “oily cakes” made with milk stolen from a dairy cow owned by wealthy Chief Factor (Toby Jones). 2020 Best Movies Cookie and King Lu’s attempt to rise above their socio-economic station through a criminal scheme, and the potential disaster that awaits them, is the suspenseful heart of this tranquil quasi-thriller, which—awash in redolent faces, gestures and customs—imparts an understated impression of the forces propelling its characters, and the pioneering nation, forward. Framing characters amidst forest greenery or through constricting cabin windows, and setting its action to the serene sounds of its rural environment—snapping twigs, chirping birds, running water, human breath—it’s an empathetic vision of profound male friendship and perilous capitalist enterprise.
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