The Best Movies From 2020, Because It's Still Been a Great Year for Film

Olivia Ovenden
·10-min read
Photo credit: A24
Photo credit: A24

From Esquire

It's been a bad year for cinema, with the industry losing billions due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic, meaning big releases are being shifted back and there's little to show in your local multiplex. That said, it's still been a very good year for film, with the releases that have been able to make it out into the world offering a respite from, or in some cases a dire warning about, the real world.

Whether it's Oscar-winning releases which are finally available to rent or more recent movies that have made their way straight to on-demand, the best new films releases of 2020 include a coming of age story that delivers an emotional sucker-punch, a horror story about a young Catholic girl in a seaside town, and a dark comedy about class warfare in South Korea.

Whatever you fancy, all of these films will keep you so entertained you might just forget what's going on outside your front door. Wishful thinking? Watch these anyway.

Dick Johnson Is Dead

Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson grapples with the death of her dad, an event she is trying to prepare for as her father Dick suffers from advanced dementia. Unlike so many films about dementia which focus on a narrow kind of forgetfulness, this is something different entirely, with Johnson staging her dad's death in increasingly inventive ways. This ranges from violent endings to strange accidents to help the pair face the bridge they will eventually have to cross. What might sound extremely morbid is in fact a reminder of our reticence to look death in the eye and the freedom which confronting it can offer.


Saint Maud

StudioCanal and A24, the film studio behind recent celebrated horror films including Heredity and Midsommar, have teamed up with British writer-director Rose Glass for this story of a young nurse caring for a celebrated former dancer. Maud becomes obsessed with the idea of saving her soul and her descent into madness results in a gruesome ending. The story makes for a truly horrific sensory experience, with the sound of ripping flesh and baked beans bubbling making up the soundtrack of this escape to a sickly seaside town.

In cinemas now

On The Rocks

Lost in Translation duo Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray reunite for this New York caper about Laura (Rashida Jones), a writer who feels sapped of inspiration as she runs after her two children and amidst fears that her husband is cheating. Enter her playboy father (a rare, sleazy Murray) who encourages her to spy on her husband to catch him in the act, leading the pair on a wild adventure across the city, complete with a sports car chase with caviar snacks for the stake out. Coppola conjures an alluring snapshot of Manhattan, from the heigh-ceilinged Soho apartments to the lavish homes with a Monet lurking in a hidden corridor. It's a New York which feels like a relic of another time, but one that makes for enticing escapism.

In cinemas now

The Trial of Chicago 7

The power of protest is the loud message of this new feature from Aaron Sorkin, which boasts an impressive cast including Mark Rylance, Eddie Redmayne, Joseph Gordon Levitt Sacha Baron Cohen, Jeremy Strong, Kelvin Harrison Jr and more. The film focuses on the fallout from the protests at the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in which different factions of the left came together to protest the Vietnam War, an incident which ended in a riot. In Sorkin's courtroom drama we see how Nixon's government attempted to frame the group donned The Chicago 7 despite flimsy evidence, a film which brings his talent for sharp and explosive dialogue to life. At a time when America has been overrun by protests, it's a reminder of the importance of resistance against a corrupt system.

In cinemas now

The Boys in the Band

The supremely influential 1968 off-Broadway play by Mart Crowley has lost none of its bite in this revival by director Joe Mantello, The story focuses on one intense evening in which a visitor interrupts a gathering of gay men in Sixties New York City. With a cast made up of exclusively openly gay actors, including Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto, Matt Bomer, Andrew Rannells, Charlie Carver and Robin de Jesús, this Netflix adaptation feels, as with its source material, like an important moment of representation in gay culture, showing the many facets of sexuality and the prejudices which remain.



Christopher Nolan's latest head-scratcher makes his "dream within a dream" Inception look like quantum physics for children. The blockbuster action film is a Bond-esque espionage drama in which the world is under threat from the enemy of time inversion, a weapon which comes from the future armed with the experience of the past and is being manipulated by the elite 1%. It's heady, confusing stuff, but a cinematic experience which is worth going along with for the ride.

In cinemas now

The Devil all the Time

This Southern Gothic adapted from Donald Ray Pollock's 2011 novel and directed by Antonio Campos is a story of generational trauma, revenge and redemption. The noir thriller assembles a rogue's gallery of ne'er-do-wells, including Bill Skarsgård as PTSD-suffering vet Willard, Tom Holland as his solitary son Arvin, and the most compelling of all, Robert Pattinson's honey-tongued preacher Reverend Teagardin. In this dark, bloody thriller we see how their paths cross in dead-end town of Knockemstiff, Ohio, a place where it's hard to outrun your past for long.


Boys State

This Sundance-winning documentary from Apple and A24 is a terrifying yet inspiring look at partisan politics, offering a microcosm of America's future through a competition in which young boys vie against each other to form an elected government. In Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss's film we follow the Texas chapter of the competition run by the American Legion each year, the footage captured showing a melting pot of adolescent angst, male posturing and political point-scoring.



With one of Brian Dennehy's last performances before he died earlier this year, this moving film is a fitting farewell to the actor as well as a timely reminder of the bonds that connect us. The film focuses on a retiring young boy who accompanies his mother to clean out his late aunt's house and strikes up a friendship with the elderly Korean War veteran next door. Driveways goes beyond being a saccharine story about intergenerational friendship by creating fully realised characters whose connection you truly believe in.


Palm Springs

The story of two strangers doomed to repeat the same wedding over and over again is not a horror story, but in fact a charming indie movie which gives the Groundhog Day format a fun refresh. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are brilliant as the aforementioned duo, and the film also features a very enjoyable performance from J. K Simmons. As with TV like Russian Doll and I May Destroy You, Palm Springs cleverly uses time-loops as a way of dealing with trauma and pain through repetition, as well as mirroring our current stalled reality in a fairly freaky way.


The King of Staten Island

The story of Pete Davidson, and how he lost his firefighter father on 9/11, will make you see the comedian in a different light after watching this black comedy from director Judd Apatow. Davidson plays Scott, a character who is essentially himself and must deal with the rest of his family moving on with their lives as he feels stuck at the age he was when he lost his father. The fusing of grief and humour, as well as Davidson's emotional performance, make for a film which is some of Apatow's most personal and moving work yet.


The Assistant

The first wave of films trying to grapple with the #MeToo movement and its abusers have taken different tacts in their focus on the abusers, with Bombshell pulling no punches in portraying Fox News CEO Roger Ailes as an odious monster. In The Assistant, Jane is an aspiring film producer who begins working as the assistant to an entertainment mogul she discovers is a monster with a culture of silence protecting him. The power Harvey Weinstein exerted over his employees is chilling despite us only hearing from the character meant to represent him during phone calls


The Invisible Man

The boom in horror has meant cinema has been rich with smart horror films looking at complicated ideas like prejudice, grief and trauma under the deceiving cloak of a scary story. Here, horror stalwart Leigh Whannell (Insidious, Saw) loosely adapts H. G. Wells’s 1897 novel of the same name to tell the story how a man terrorises his ex-girlfriend Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) after staging his suicide, touching on themes of gaslighting, anxiety and abuse.


The Lighthouse

Robert Eggers follows his brilliant film, The Witch, with this startling black and white fever dream about 19th century lighthouse keepers Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson). The pair descend into madness as they go about their tasks on the rain-soaked rock, which forces them to confront their personal guilt and shame in a series of arresting and increasingly bizarre scenes.


Queen & Slim

A young couple go on the run after an altercation with a police officer in this modern remix of Bonnie and Clyde. When a video of the incident goes viral, the protagonists become symbols of the grief and pain people have suffered at the hands of the police. Both Get Out star Daniel Kaluuya, and his on-screen partner Jodie Turner-Smith, give arresting performances in this story about police brutality and a divided America that is most devastating in its quietest moments.



Korean director Bong Joon-Ho has made history earlier this year by becoming the first foreign-language film to win the 'best picture' Oscar. Parasite is a darkly comic story which weaves in ever-weirder directions as it progresses. In Parasite, teenage boy Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi) cons Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo) the wife of rich business man Mr Park (Sun-kyun Lee) into becoming their daughter's English tutor. Ki-woo then lines up jobs for his whole family to infiltrate their beautiful house: his sister Ki-jung (So-dam Park) becomes an art teacher, his dad Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song) a driver, and his mom Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang) takes over as housekeeper until their greed takes a dark turn. A biting social commentary about wealth inequality, Parasite is a world of horrors that is already in front of us.



"Charming, handsome and clever", the eponymous heroine of Jane Austen's classic novel is brought to life by Anna Taylor-Joy in this whimsical adaptation from director Autumn de Wilde. If you weren't paying attention in GCSE English, the plot focuses on Emma's attempts at match-making and how their disastrous consequences reveal her stubbornness and vanity. De Wilde's Emma is a great addition to the long list of adaptations, with Wes Anderson colour palettes, twee costumes, a sharp script and brilliant performances from the likes of Bill Nighy and Josh O'Connor.



The story of a black middle-class family living in South Florida shows how a fraught relationship between father and son can have devastating consequences. Breakthrough actor Kelvin Harrison Jr is electric as Tyler, a wrestler unable to accept what it means for his life when he sustains a serious injury. With a stirring soundtrack, vivid cinematography and compelling performances, Waves will knock you off your feet.


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