Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far)

With no red carpets, Hollywood has been leaning hard on our living room rugs

Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far)
Artwork by Ben Kaye

As our Mid-Year Report continues, today we reveal the Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far). If you missed it, be sure to revisit our Top 25 Albums and Songs So Far.

We had no idea.

When theaters shuttered their doors across the world, an integral part of our everyday lives shut down with them. Who knew how abrupt that loss would feel, and who knew how long it would take to get it back. Again, we had no idea.

All too often we don’t appreciate things until they’re gone — hey, that’s pretty much the human way — and the moviegoing experience is certainly one of them. In an age of streaming, we’re so inclined to sit back and stay home.

Look, we all have our reasons: Tickets are sky high, concessions break our wallets, and those cell phones! But, as we’ve learned these past few months amidst quarantine, nothing can replace the feeling of watching a new story with strangers.

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And yet nothing can stop a great story from being told, either. This list is a testament to that truth, especially since the majority of the selections you’re going to read about bypassed the red carpet and went straight to our living room rugs.

Six months into 2020, and the world looks much different than it did in January, that much we can all agree upon. Whether we’re still talking about these movies come December is anyone’s guess, but we’re willing to bet they stick around.

Of course, we have no idea.

–Michael Roffman

10. Bad Education

HBO's Bad Education

HBO’s Bad Education

Release Date: April 25th via HBO

Who’s In It? Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan, Alex Wolff, Rafael Casal, Stephen Spinella, Annaleigh Ashford, Ray Romano

You Gotta See This: Bad Education was like the writing of one of its main characters, Rachel Bhargava (Geraldine Viswanathan). Bhagvara, when tasked with doing some puff piece on a new construction project, managed to spend weeks and months uncovering years and millions of dollars’ worth of secrets. Embezzlement and false identities and bad publicity, oh my; the price of higher education. Bad Education went way deeper with more research, insight, and analysis of the education system than most imagined, offering a tidy and rich deep dive on the shallow side of why we send kids to school. It’s not just about grades, but what high walking schools and brand-name acceptance letters can buy in the long run. Come for the scandal, stay for the career-best work from Hugh Jackman, operating on multiple levels. Jackman’s superintendent Tassone carries the film’s repulsive, heartbreaking, and exasperating tone. –Blake Goble

Extra! Extra! Read Matt Melis’ full review here.

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09. Capone

Capone Film Review

Capone (Vertical)

Release Date: May 12th via Vertical Entertainment

Who’s In It? Tom Hardy, Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, and Matt Dillon

You Gotta See This: Of all the people you expect to throw a comeback and succeed, very few would have bet on Josh Trank. Trank somehow drew the short straw of superhero mania, crafting two of the most interesting films in the canon and being lambasted for trying to subvert expectations. Detractors evidently needed to read any comic books because you never just assume a supervillain is dead and so here comes Trank roaring back to life with the most upsetting and atypically gorgeous character study of the year. His subject is a dying and miserable Al Capone (Tom Hardy). He’s lost control of his bladder, he can barely talk, and ghosts show up to haunt him just as pieces of his brain start failing him. Fact becomes fiction and myth in his syphilitic mind. Trank crafts a stately hall of mirrors out of a century of crime pulp and never once takes a moral position. Everyone here is guilty, everyone is doomed. We’ll only be remembered in dreams and movies. –Scout Tafoya

Extra! Extra! Read Scout Tafoya’s full review here.

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08. The Trip to Greece

The Trip to Greece

The Trip to Greece (IFC Films)

Release Date: May 22nd via IFC Films

Who’s In It? Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon

You Gotta See This: All things come to an end, be it life, stories, or trips. Such is the fate for Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan, who make their final sojourn together in The Trip to Greece. Given their proclivity for history — not just for pop culture, but the very land they travel — it’s only fitting that their last hurrah would spiritually revolve around Homer’s The Odyssey. While some may argue the allusions are a tad on the nose, the parallels pack an emotional punch. Granted, the two have always meditated on themes of mortality, but they’ve traditionally kept their tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. That’s not exactly the case here as the two speculate on their respective futures with an undulating sense of grief. The film’s final moments cement those feelings as Max Richter adds funereal harmony to the sobering truths of friendship and bonding. It’s a beautiful coda to what’s been a very rewarding journey — for them and for us. Alas, we’ll have the memories. –Michael Roffman

Extra! Extra! Read Matt Melis’ full review here.

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07. Shirley

Hulu's Shirley

Shirley (Hulu)

Release Date: June 5th via Hulu

Who’s In It? Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Logan Lerman, Odessa Young

You Gotta See This: Shirley Jackson is one of the great writers of the 20th century, and like many writers, her messy life led to inspiring some of her greatest work. The unnerving new film Shirley, based on the novel of the same name, takes its cue from history but takes Jackson and her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman down a psychosexual route akin to that of the older couple in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Elisabeth Moss plays Shirley as a mix of frayed edges and dry, cutting wit, trying to balance her mental shakiness with caustic humor as she deals with Fred and Rose Nemser (Logan Lerman and Odessa Young), a younger couple living with her and Stanley. As Shirley and Rose build out a disturbing friendship that inspires the writer to tackle one of her darkest novels, Hangsaman, the writer’s grip on reality loosens further. Though Michael Stuhlbarg, as Stanley, handles his role with appropriate menace, it’s Moss and director Josephine Decker who make Shirley stand out from a crowd of uninspired biopics. –Josh Spiegel

Extra! Extra! Read Jenn Adams’ full review here.

hulu Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far)

06. Emma

Emma Movie Review

Emma (Focus Features)

Release Date: February 21st via Focus Features

Who’s In It? Anya Taylor-Joy, Bill Nighy, Johnny Flynn, Mia Goth, Josh O’Connor, Rupert Graves, Miranda Hart, Callum Turner

You Gotta See This: Like Shakespeare and Dickens, there’s no shortage of onscreen adaptations (let alone British ones) of Jane Austen’s work, and yet first-time director Autumn de Wilde’s take on Emma feels delightfully fresh and wickedly funny even in its utter faithfulness to the source material. Anya Taylor-Joy sparkles as the popular, rich, and infinitely poised twenty-something Emma Woodhouse who would rather meddle in the love lives of her family and friends than take responsibility for her own—including her neurotic father (played by a cutting Bill Nighy) and handsome but frustrating brother-in-law Mr. Knightley (a charming Johnny Flynn). Sparks fly, hearts get broken, egos are bruised, and love triumphs over all in a surprisingly brisk 2 hours and 12 minutes with an emphasis on the comedy in this comedy of manners. While Clueless remains the best and most inspired adaptation of Austen’s last and cheekiest novel, de Wilde’s candy-colored vision of Emma is no doubt as irresistible and precocious as its titular heroine. –Emmy Potter

Extra! Extra! Read Irene Monokandilos’ full review here.

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05. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street

Shudder in June

Scream, Queen! (Shudder)

Release Date: June 5th via Shudder

Who’s In It? Mark Patton, Cecil Baldwin, Robert Englund, Jack Sholder, David Chaskin

You Gotta See This: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge has long been considered an outlier in the franchise. Dismissed as “gay”, it all but destroyed the career of its star Mark Patton, whose queerness was blamed for the movie’s failure. Scream, Queen! My Nightmare on Elm Street is his attempt to rewrite the narrative and tell his story in his own words. Patton describes his early life and career, recounting his experiences during the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic and the pressures of being a closeted gay man in Hollywood. We follow him as he reunites with the cast of Freddy’s Revenge and confronts screenwriter David Chaskin over hurtful comments about the way the film was written and received. Presented as a tell-all reckoning with the tongue in cheek tag-line, “The Claws Are Out,” Scream, Queen! becomes a poignant but uplifting journey to forgiveness and self-acceptance. It’s a love letter to an important film in the horror genre and its all-but forgotten star that beautifully shows the empowerment and reassurance on-screen representation can bring. –Jenn Adams

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.

shudder Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far)

04. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Birds of Prey Review

Birds of Prey (Warner Bros.)

Release Date: February 7th via Warner Bros.

Who’s In It? Margot Robbie, Ewan McGregor, Rosie Perez, Jurmee Smollett, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Chris Messina

You Gotta See This: Birds of Prey is a funny, violent, pulpy action movie that includes a hunt for a missing breakfast sandwich, and Ewan McGregor wearing pajamas with his own face on them. But at its core, it’s a story about how powerful men take control over women and everyone around them. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), fresh off her liberating break-up with the Joker — whom we thankfully only see in animated form and not Jared Leto form — quickly realizes she can thrive and operate as a criminal independently. (The other female characters in the story have their own journeys along this theme as well.) Even if the film industry was having a normal year in terms of releases. McGregor should still be a genuine contender for Best Supporting Actor at the 2021 Oscars. His ability to be both relentlessly likeable and absolutely terrifying in one beat was not easy, and out of anyone in the film, he absolutely did the most. It’s not the same without him. The film’s playfulness and quick pace demonstrates the simple and frequent ways women are constantly affected by men who have more power than them. And when the film ultimately gets to the moment when women hold the cards, its deserved and focuses on brisk little moments between the characters — such as Harley Quinn handing Black Canary a hair tie — instead of reminding the audience of the concept of women in a movie ad nauseum. –Carrie Wittmer

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.

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03. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Focus Features)

Release Date: March 13th via Focus Features

Who’s In It? Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ruder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten

You Gotta See This: Few films at Sundance 2020 operated with the level of authenticity and empathy as Eliza Hittman’s immersive drama Never Rarely Sometimes Always. An issues-driven film working equally efficient as a character study, Hittman’s sparse but impactful narrative follows Autumn (Sindey Flanigan)—a girl as imperiled by her toxic family household as her pro-life small-town Pennsylvannia community—traveling to New York City with her best friend Skylar (Talia Ruder) to have an abortion. Along the way, in her fight for autonomy, she encounters greater hurdles than she initially predicted: predatorial men, lack of funds, and a corrupted urban setting. The pair can only depend upon each other, making the drama into a girls against the world story. This point is further punctuated by Hittman’s exploration and normalization of the abortion process, populating her film with women characters: doctors and nurses, who extend the film’s empathy beyond the lens into the very touch of the frame. Both Flanigan and Ruder provide startlingly mature and sincere performances in a powerful narrative that parses through quietness and the meaning behind autonomy, while emotionally redefining the prompt “Never. Rarely. Sometimes. Always” for greater importance and resonance. –Robert Daniels

Extra! Extra! Read Clint Worthington’s full review here.

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02. Da 5 Bloods

Da 5 Bloods Film Review

Da 5 Bloods (Netflix)

Release Date: June 12th via Netflix

Who’s In It? Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis, Jean Reno, Melanie Thierry, Paul Walter Hauser

You Gotta See This! Spike Lee has long been a bold reclaimer of historical and cinematic modes; as one of the most prominent (and long-lasting) Black filmmakers in American cinema, he’s consistently preoccupied with not just highlighting the shameful corners of American racism throughout history but telling Black stories in film genres that has so often excluded them. In Da 5 Bloods, one of his most ambitious works yet, he tackles the Vietnam war epic, with the tale of four Black Vietnam vets (including a show-stopping Delroy Lindo) returning to the country to dig up some buried gold they left there during the war. But in classic Spike Lee fashion, he throws in so much more: American warfare as another arm of Black disenfranchisement, the complicated fissures between fathers and sons, and the loaded political contradictions of Trumpism. And in all that, cinematic odes to everything from Apocalypse Now to Treasure of the Sierra Madre. It’s shaggy and unsubtle in all the ways you expect of the filmmaker, but in those bold choices, you see a veteran filmmaker in the middle of a thrilling second wind. –Clint Worthington

Extra! Extra! Read Blake Goble’s full review here.

netflix logo Top 10 Films of 2020 (So Far)

01. The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man Op-Ed

The Invisible Man (Universal)

Release Date: February 28th via Universal

Who’s In It? Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Michael Dorman, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Benedict Hardie

You Gotta See This: It treads in the waters of science-fiction, horror, thriller and drama, but The Invisible Man swims as a portrait of the mind through and through. It’s how the film translates its central story of psychological unrest that creates its lingering effect. Leigh Whannell’s H.G. Wells spin shifts the crux of its dramatic weight on to Elisabeth Moss’ lead as she navigates figurative and literal remnants of an abusive past. Thankfully, not only does Moss deliver with a remarkably sympathetic performance, but she serves a perfect centerpiece for the film to build its language of emotional subjectivity. The audiovisual arsenal is extensive — sleek camerawork, a slithering pace, sound design wrought with anxious rumbles and ringing — and the end result is an atmosphere that tunes and taints the audience’s perception to a nerve-shredding degree. Toss in a story geared to take some wild turns, and the film cooks up an indelible interplay of slow-burn dread and high-octane thrills. —Sam Mwakasisi

Extra! Extra! Read Allison Shoemaker’s full review here.

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