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17 Best Films Of 2020: ‘Hamilton’ To ‘First Cow’

17 Best Films Of 2020: ‘Hamilton’ To ‘First Cow’

best movies of 2020

From Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland to Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, women filmmakers were at the forefront of the cinematic conversation this year. Here are some of the best movies of 2020, each a masterly work of art and deeply rewarding:


1. Hamilton

Director: Thomas Kail

Hamilton is unlike any musical that I have seen and it is truly electrifying, in more ways than one. A sharp hip-hop, rap musical, it weaves the sheer brilliance and intensity of its prose-poetry in an ensemble that’s exhilarating and replete with unexpected delights. The showrunner deploys essentially a Black and Hispanic cast, an experiment and a statement of sorts, and pulls it off with remarkable elan.

Hamilton is played to perfection by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is also the creator, scriptwriter, lyricist and music composer of this spellbinding musical, a modern day polymath himself. (Read Hamilton review here)

Where to Watch: Hotstar


2. Blow the Man Down

Directors: Bridget Savage Cole, Danielle Krudy

A noir film that immerses viewers in the drama of a small fishing town, Blow the Man Down follows the story of two sisters who have just lost their mother and discover seedy secrets about their family, their town and themselves in the middle of a gritty murder investigation. The humor is ironic, dark even and reminiscent of Woody Allen and the Coen brothers but with female protagonists at the film’s center. 

Watch Blow The Man Down on Amazon Prime


3. Da 5 Bloods

Director: Spike Lee

Spike Lee tells a layered and complex story of four African American vets who return to Vietnam in search of the remains of a fallen comrade and a secret treasure they hid. Hailed as one of Lee’s most impactful films, Da 5 Bloods goes beyond a regular war film to encompass racial injustices and the sacrifices of war through the prism of black experiences. 

Where to Watch: Netflix


4. Minari

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

A Sundance winner, Minari follows a Korean American family in 1980s America who move from California to an Arkansas farm in search of their American dreams. A classic immigrant story but with unique details and characters, Minari is an autobiographical drama by Lee Isaac Chung portraying cultural decisions that the family must make to assimilate while staying true to their own culture. [Related: 31 Best Korean Movies Of The 21st Century]


5. Tigertail

Director: Alan Yang

Another film that depicts the immigrant experience in America, Tigertail is a heartfelt drama of one man’s struggle to come to terms with his childhood memories and everything he has lost in order to grasp an understanding of his current situation. The film sways between the past and present to effectively convey comparisons between his hopes as a child and hardships as an adult, standing out with delicate performances and sensitive details. 

Where to Watch: Netflix


6. Nomadland

Director: Chloé Zhao

Based on the non fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the twenty-first century, the film tells the story of a woman who sells all her belongings to live and travel in a van across the American west while searching for work. Unassuming and unhurried in its pace, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland captures the beauty of America while grinding us in the real life struggles of its character without making melodramatic attempts at feeling sorry for her. Ranked as the best film of 2020 amongst many indie critics, the moving score by Ludovico Einaudi adds to the poetic composition of many of its frames. 

Where to Watch: Hulu (February 19, 2021)


7. Another Round

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Four high school teachers embark on a quest to find out how the daily consumption of alcohol affects their life. Selected as the Denmark’s entry to the 93rd Academy Awards for the best international feature film, Another Round goes deeper than just being a film about ensuing incidents from an enjoyable social experiment, to hold up a mirror to an existing binge drinking culture that is often encouraged under the pretext of fun. As the characters push their experiment to it and their limits, underlying tensions simmer leading them to make a choice between continuing down the same path or dealing with their actions. 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime US


8. The Trial of the Chicago 7

Director: Aaron Sorkin

In 1969, seven conscientious objectors to America’s depredations in Vietnam were picked up by Chicago cops on trumped up charges of inciting riots and conspiracy. What followed was a mockery of justice in the land of the free and the brave, the judge being brazenly biased and incompetent. It was an amoral political trial. And the world watched in rage. What began as countercultural protests in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention turned into a spooky trial that showed a mirror to the American justice system and the paranoia of the then US government.

Academy award winner, Aaron Sorkin, scripts and directs the story of the infamous trial of The Chicago 7 in this thrilling film. Eddie Redmayne and Sacha Baron Cohen shine like beacons of hope in a bleak world.

Where to Watch: Netflix


9. First Cow

Director: Kelly Reichardt

The critically acclaimed American indie filmmaker Kelly Reichardt’s latest film is a superbly nuanced anti-western. Set in the 1800s, the mournful tale narrates the friendship and survival of two sensitive males. One is Cookie Figowitz (John Magaro) and the other is a Chinese immigrant, King-Lu (Orion Lee). Adapted from Jonathan Raymond’s novel The Half-Life, First Cow subtly challenges the white America’s myth about its founding fathers. Overall, it’s a stark yet a dreamlike portrayal of the Old West.

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime US


10. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Director: Eliza Hittman

Eliza Hittman’s indie movie is a somber depiction of teen pregnancy that’s entirely free of melodramatic excess and didacticism. The protagonist is a 17-year-old named Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanigan), hailing from rural Pennsylvania.  After learning that she is pregnant, Autumn makes the journey to New York City with her cousin to get an abortion. However, it’s more than a narrative on abortion experience. It’s also a powerful character study, a poignant tale of friendship and resilience.

Where to Watch: HBOMax


11. The Assistant

Director: Kitty Green

The Assistant covers a single day in the life of Jane, a junior assistant to a Weinstein inspired media mogul in New York. Unsettling and intimate, it’s one of the first of few movies that address the #MeToo movement in an honest manner. Perhaps deliberately understated to show how the Harvey Weinstens of the world operate in the everyday humdrum of the workplace, the film relies largely on a strong performance and storytelling while shining a clear spotlight on power dynamics in the workplace and how they can act as a handicap in such situations. 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime US, Hulu


12. Small Axe

Director: Steve McQueen

Steve McQueen’s five film anthology tells the little known but powerful stories of Black pride and heroism from West Indian immigrants residing against a racist backdrop of London from the 1960s to 1980s. Portrayed with impressive nuance and stirring performances, the anthology serves as a gentle reminder of how far we still have to go in terms of racial equality. The series is named after the Jamaican proverb “If you are the big tree, we are the small axe.”

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime US, BBC

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13. Mank

Director: David Fincher

Fincher returns to the big screen after 6 years with his late father’s screenplay based on a real life controversy surrounding the screenplay credits for Citizen Kane. Reflective of the sleazy over handedness of film studios in a  bygone era of Hollywood, Fincher is less interested in the integrity of credit attribution and steers more into an absorbing character study of ‘Mank,’ the self-destructive protagonist played by Gary Oldman right from his 30s all the way to his 60s. Originally shot in black and white instead of using post, and with a stellar recreation of costumes from that period, Mank is as indulgent as it is departed from some of Fincher’s previous work. 

Where to Watch: Netflix


14. Shirley

Director: Josephine Decker

A psychological drama, Shirley combines fictitious elements of a young couple’s decision to move in with Shirley Jackson and her husband, with known details about the reclusive horror writer’s personality giving us an unsettling dynamic that serves as inspiration for the writer’s next book. Elisabeth Moss delivers a compelling performance, almost too scary and does justice to the material she is handed. 

Where to Watch: Amazon Prime US


15. The Woman Who Ran 

Director: Hong Sang Soo

Nothing like you’ve quite seen before, Korean director Hong Sang-soo’s style is deceptively low key, often lying beneath generally accepted depictions of cinema. The story revolves around Gamhee, a young woman who finds herself away from her husband for the first time in 5 years and uses this rare opportunity to meet some old friends. As the film gathers pace, Gamhee finds herself evaluating the world with a new perspective she had not given herself a chance to consider. Unhurried but cumulative in its story, the film acts as a restrained piece of wisdom that we can all appreciate. 

Where to Watch: Curzon Home Cinema


16. Wolfwalkers

Directors: Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart

Our only animated film on this list, Wolfwalkers is the third in director Tomm Moore’s Irish Folklore trilogy. A young apprentice hunter befriends a mysterious girl whose origins conflict with the mission of the protagonist. Layered with several themes including anti-establishment and even ecological ethics, the film took 7 years to make and has been lauded for the beauty and technical ability of its unique animation. Combined with a storybook-like mythical plot, it was eventually snapped up by Apple TV and earned the company a first Oscar nomination.  

Where to Watch: Apple TV+


17. The Metamorphosis of Birds

Director: Catarina Vasconcelos

The film is told entirely in narration accompanied by scenes playing out against the emotional canvas of a father and daughter relationship who have just lost their wife and mother. Obscure yet alluring, this is a film like nothing you’ve seen before; a recreated documentary, it borrows from the director’s own experiences with her family traveling through her entire lineage starting with her grandparents. 


Your turn? Which are best movies you’ve seen this year? What did we miss? Let’s talk in the comments below.


By Arun Kumar, Sanjay Trehan, Mansi Dutta


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