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Our screens got us through a lot this year.

By Isabel Jones
Dec 16, 2020 @ 7:47 am
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Best of 2020: Movies
Credit: Courtesy/Erin Glover/InStyle.com

Everyone’s taken a hit (or two, or nine) this year, and the movie industry is no exception. Theaters closed, big premieres were moved to streaming, and dozens of release dates were so far it feels like we'll never see the films.

Among the ones that did manage to eke out a 2020 release date, however, these were our favorite 20. 

This indie marvel is the perfect antidote to a year bookended by division. Sometimes people are kind, and Driveways serves as a touching reminder of just that. 

Da 5 Bloods

Spike Lee’s Vietnam-set action film, which features one of Chadwick Boseman’s final performances, is as much a high-stakes adventure as it is an emotional study. 

Babyteeth

Eliza Scanlen delivers yet another stunning performance in this quirky indie coming-of-age film. 

Palm Springs

Groundhog Day meets wedding season rom-com with a dark 2020-appropriate twist … Now that’s worth the shame of asking around for a Hulu password.. 

Uncle Frank

This sensitive ‘70s time capsule about a gay man confronting his past (and his conservative southern family) is an understated gem.

Promising Young Woman
Credit: Courtesy of Focus Features

Promising Young Woman (in theaters Dec. 25)

The pandemic-induced wait was worth it. Carey Mulligan stars as the #MeToo-era superhero we’ve needed for decades. Overwhelmingly dark as it is drily funny, you won’t soon forget this film. 

Sound of Metal

This powerful film about a musician losing his hearing proves that star Riz Ahmed is even more talented than we thought (and the bar was already high). 

Strong performances bolster this wry drama about an early aughts embezzlement scandal that rocked Long Island’s Roslyn school district. 

Let Them All Talk

Meryl Streep, on a cruise ship, with a secret … If nothing else, Steven Soderbergh’s latest is the best conceptual game of Clue we’ve ever played.

This quiet look at a day in the life of an assistant to a faceless Harvey Weinstein-like executive is, for all of its restraint and subtlety, somehow more unnerving than reading a predator’s rap sheet. 

The Half of It
Credit: Netflix / KC Bailey

The Half of It

Though this teen rom-com takes a page from Cyrano de Bergerac, it still feels more original than any work of its genre I’ve seen in years. Ah, the power of strong writing!

On the Rocks

Sofia Coppola showcases N.Y.C. in this story of a father and daughter who bond over an unconventional quest.

Small but mighty, Miss Juneteenth tells a compelling (if not unpredictable) story of mothers and daughters. Nicole Beharie’s subtle performance is worth the Prime Video price of admission ($3.99) alone.  

Blow the Man Down

This dark offbeat comedy is captivating from beginning to end, but a memorable supporting performance from Margo Martinadale elevates it to greatness.  

Plagued by an enemy no one can see … How 2020 indeed. This of-the-moment horror film is more feminist (and, in my opinion, engaging) than most. 

The 40-Year-Old Version
Credit: JEONG PARK/NETFLIX ©2020

The Forty-Year-Old Version

Radha Blank writes, directs, produces, and stars in this wonderful comedy-drama about a playwright on the verge of 40, still awaiting her big break. But maybe she just hasn’t found the right field? Funny and honest, this is a must-see in any year. 

Allow yourself to be swept back in time in David Fincher’s black-and-white ode to the writing of Citizen Kane's script. 

Just Mercy

This isn’t the first time Hollywood has co-opted a story of a Black person’s hardships for a box office payout, but it is one of the first times that this story hasn’t been told through the eyes of a righteous white savior. Jamie Foxx gives one of the year’s most affecting performances as Walter "Johnny D." McMillian, a man wrongfully convicted of a white woman’s 1986 murder.

I Used to Go Here

Gillian Jacobs stars in this sweet and funny film about a writer who finds herself inadvertently reliving her college years after returning to her alma mater for a reading. 

Pete Davidson earns his leading man status in Judd Apatow’s sprawling, sensitive comedy (co-written by Davidson himself).