Entertainment

The Best Movies of 2020 (So Far)

You might not catch them in theaters, but there are still plenty of movies to check out!

the way back
'The Way Back' | Warner Brothers Pictures
'The Way Back' | Warner Brothers Pictures

Choosing a movie to watch isn't a fraught decision if you know who to trust. That's the simple idea driving this list, which will be consistently updated and meticulously rearranged throughout the year. With some films getting their release days moved and others premiering early on VOD because of the ongoing global pandemic, this is already a strange, challenging year for the movie industry. But, like last year, we'll still do our best to keep you in the loop on the explosion-filled blockbusters you can't miss and the more intimate smaller films you must seek out. If it's good, we want it on here.

From skin-crawling horror movies to hard-hitting documentaries, there should be something on this list to satisfy your highly specialized cinematic cravings as the year goes on. We recognize that you're busy and there's a lot of forces fighting for your attention at the moment, so we pledge not to waste your time. These are the best movies of 2020.

For more movies and shows to watch, check out our rankings of Best Horror Movies of 2020.

the vast of night movie
Amazon Studios

17. The Vast of Night

Release date: May 29
Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz, Gail Cronauer, Bruce Davis
Director: Andrew Patterson
Why it’s great: This low-budget debut feature is a UFO movie that takes time to achieve lift off. In addition to saddling the story with a mostly unnecessary framing device, which underlines the already obvious echoes of The Twilight Zone, director Andrew Patterson and the film's writers open the 1950s New Mexico-set story with a handful of overly precious exchanges featuring the two main characters, chatty DJ Everett (Horowitz) and young switchboard operator Fay (McCormick). In the beginning, these two might get on your nerves. But once the movie locks them in place, tampering down the acrobatic camerawork and letting the sound design take control, the material finds a more natural rhythm, drawing on the hushed intimacy of old-fashioned radio drama. Like many of the best UFO yarns, The Vast of Night taps into a deep sense of yearning. Wanting to believe is half the battle. 
Where to watch: Stream on Amazon Prime (Watch the trailer)

bad boys for life
Columbia Pictures

16. Bad Boys For Life

Release date: January 17
Cast: Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Vanessa Hudgens, Paola Núñez 
Director: Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Black)
Why it’s worth watching: In what hasn't exactly been a great year for action movies so far, Bad Boys for Life has to be the biggest surprise. Given its lengthy production history, its January release date, and the departure of series director Michael Bay -- the action auteur gets a winking cameo here, perhaps taking a break from shooting Netflix's 6 Underground -- this movie could've been a disaster. Instead, Smith and Lawrence easily slip back into the roles that made them action movie icons in the '90s and the writers find a way to update the garish, over-the-top aesthetic of the series for the franchise era. In a wise decision, directors Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah don't even bother trying to top the excess and mayhem of Bay's Bad Boys II.Bad Boys For Life is a gentler, sillier movie than its predecessor, less interested in moments of vulgarity than in scenes of sitcom-like human connection and familial melodrama. There are explosions and car chases through the streets of Miami and jokes about getting too old for this shit, but the material is given a light touch that lets the two stars do what they do best. 
Where to watch: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

palm springs movie
Hulu

15. Palm Springs

Release date: July 10 
Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J. K. Simmons, Camila Mendes 
Director: Max Barbakow
Why it’s great: Arriving on streaming in the middle of a pandemic, a time when many lives have fallen into unceasing loops of quarantine-related repetition and tedium, the Lonely Island produced comedy Palm Springs perhaps resonated differently than when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Jokes about doing the same shit over and over just hit harder now. Tracking a romance between a goofball wedding guest (Andy Samberg) and the bride's self-destructive sister (Cristin Milioti), writer Andy Siara's clever script combines Groundhog Day existentialism with a quippy take on quantum physics, doling out inspirational life lessons and math cram sessions at a clipped pace. In the same way Tom Cruise had to battle aliens in Edge of Tomorrow, the two must relive a wedding over and over, struggling to escape from an Instagram-ready, celebratory hell. It might not be as purely funny as Samberg's other big screen adventures Hot Rod and Popstar, but Palm Springs finds its own winning spin on a surprisingly robust micro-genre.
Where to watch: Stream on Hulu (Watch the trailer)

the way back
Warner Brothers

14. The Way Back

Release date: March 6
Cast: Ben Affleck, Al Madrigal, Michaela Watkins, Janina Gavankar
Director: Gavin O'Connor (The Accountant
Why it’s great: Disciplined in its approach and unapologetic about its contrivances, Ben Affleck's basketball coach in crisis drama The Way Back is a sports movie that understands the fundamentals. What it lacks in flashiness or ingenuity -- the underdog narrative of a crappy team hitting its stride under the leadership of a gruff coach hits all the requisite Hoosiers notes -- it makes up for with an oddly enthralling downbeat craftsmanship. Little details, like the freeze-frame when the scores of games pop up on screen or the click-clack percussion-heavy music, accumulate emotional power over the film's brisk runtime. Playing a washed-up ex-athlete with an immediately apparent drinking problem and a number of strategically hidden personal demons, Affleck delivers a weary performance that resonates with his off-screen persona (and his recent tabloid headlines) in ways both obvious and surprising. In brief stretches, director Gavin O'Connor, who helmed the similarly intense melodramas Miracle and Warrior, pulls off the ultimate sports movie trick of making you believe the character's redemption isn't inevitable. Every win is a battle -- even if you know the results going in.
Where to watch: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

the assistant
Bleecker Street

13. The Assistant

Release date: January 31
Cast: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Kristine Froseth, Makenzie Leigh 
Director: Kitty Green (Casting JonBenet)
Why it’s great: The systemic culture of indifference and cruelty that often forms around a powerful serial abuser gets put under the microscope in this studiously observed New York office drama, which draws inspiration from the behavior of Harvey Weinstein while intentionally blurring some of the details. We never learn the name of the tyrannical boss in the story and the exact nature of his crimes are never fully revealed; instead, Julia Garner's assistant Jane, a Northwestern grad fresh off a handful of internships, provides our entryway into the narrative. The movie tracks her duties, tasks, and indignities over the course of a single day: She makes copies, coordinates air travel, picks up lunch orders, answers phone calls, and cleans suspicious stains off the couch. At one point, a young woman from Idaho appears at the reception desk, claims to have been flown in to start as a new assistant, and gets whisked away to a room in an expensive hotel. Jane raises the issue with an HR rep, played with smarmy menace by Succession's Matthew Macfadyen, but her concerns are quickly battered away and turned against her. Rejecting cheap catharsis and dramatic twists, The Assistant builds its claustrophobic world through a steady accumulation of information. While some of the writing can feel too imprecise and opaque by design, Garner, who consistently steals scenes on Netflix's Ozark, invests every hushed phone call and carefully worded email with real trepidation. She locates the terror in the drudgery of the work. 
Where to watch: Stream on Hulu; rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

bad education
HBO

12. Bad Education

Release date: April 25
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Ray Romano, Geraldine Viswanathan 
Director: Cory Finley (Thoroughbreads)
Why it’s great: A chronicle of greed, status, and vanity, Bad Education shares more than a few qualities with Martin Scorsese's financial crimes epic The Wolf of Wall Street, the story of another Long Island striver with slicked-back hair. Trading the stock market for the public education system, director Cory Finley's wry docudrama, which takes its inspiration from a wild New York Magazinefeature from 2004, charts the tragi-comic downfall of Roslyn School District superintendent Frank Tassone (Hugh Jackman), a charming and beloved administrator in a rising wealthy area. When his assistant superintendent Pam Gluckin (Allison Janey) gets caught allowing family members to make personal charges using the school's credit cards, Frank's world of healthy smoothies, expensive suits, and gleeful deception begins to unravel. Using a high school newspaper reporter as an audience surrogate (Geraldine Viswanathan), the script withholds key details of Frank's life for large sections of the runtime, allowing Jackman to give a performance that gradually reveals new layers of emotional complexity and moral emptiness. Like the tweezers Frank uses to dutifully pluck his nose hairs, the movie takes a surgical approach to its subject.
Where to watch: Stream on HBO/HBO Max (Watch the trailer)

im thinking of ending things
Netflix

11. I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Release date: September 4
Cast: Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette, David Thewlis 
Director:Charlie Kaufman (Anomalisa
Why it’s great: A snowy road trip, which finds a young woman (Buckley) traveling with her new boyfriend (Plemons) to the remote farm owned by his eccentric parents (Collette and Thewlis), turns into a journey into the hard problem of consciousness in the latest movie from Charlie Kaufman, the filmmaker who first emerged as the screenwriter behind brain-teasing comedies like Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Older and gentler in some respects, Kaufman remains plagued by life's biggest questions and tickled by occasional bursts of the surreal. Like the previous features he's directed, the stunning Synecdoche, NY and the puzzling Anomalisa, this new one, adapted from a novel by Iain Reid, is a less outwardly comic affair. Riddled with references and quotations, including bits of Pauline Kael and William Wordsworth, the movie resists a single reading or an elegant interpretation, embracing neurosis as a subject and a style. As the characters think and talk themselves in circles, the ideas pile up like mounds of fresh powder. Best to bring your brain's tire chains.
Where to watch: Stream via Netflix (Watch the trailer)

sorry we missed you
Zeitgeist Films

10. Sorry We Missed You

Release date: March 6
Cast: Kris Hitchen, Debbie Honeywood, Rhys Stone, Katie Proctor
Director: Ken Loach (I, Daniel Blake)
Why it’s great: The modern gig economy is set up so that the customer rarely has to think very much about the person delivering a package to their door. Sorry We Missed You, the latest working class social drama from 83-year-old English filmmaker Ken Loach, is a harsh reminder that those piles of cardboard Amazon boxes have a human cost. The film follows married couple Ricky (Kris Hitchen) and Abbi (Debbie Honeywood) as they attempt to raise their two kids, keep their humble home in Newcastle, and and hold down jobs stripped of conventional protections. As Ricky's domineering boss tells him at the beginning of the movie, he's not an "employee." No, he's his own small business owner and independent contractor. Loach finds dark laughs and absurdity in the the convoluted language of precarity, particularly the way management attempts to sell poor working conditions as a form of empowerment, but he also captures the tender, intimate moments that occur in even the most soul-sucking jobs. Ricky and his daughter find joy in knocking on doors and leaving notes; Abbi, who works as a nurse, genuinely cares for her patients like her own family even if the company she works for refuses to pay for her transportation. Though the script leans too hard on melodrama in its final stretch, setting up scenes that don't always deliver on their dramatic potential, Loach never loses his moral grasp on the material.
Where to watch: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer

the nest
IFC Films

9. The Nest

Release date: September 18
Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche
Director: Sean Durkin (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
Why it's great: "This was our fresh start," says Carrie Coon's Allison to her husband Rory (Jude Law) early on in The Nest, Sean Durkin's severe drama of marriage and money. The way Coon delivers the line hints at a shared history, a series of broken promises and a desire to salvage a relationship through drastic change. The couple moves to London from America with their children so that Rory can secure a financial windfall: It's the '80s and regulations in the English markets are loosening. But the plan doesn't work and soon Rory is spending money he doesn't have to maintain a lifestyle Allison doesn't even necessarily want. His reckless financial risk-taking feeds her natural cautiousness, which slowly turns into resentment and anger. Interrogating the way class anxieties forged in childhood can determine patterns of behavior, Durkin's movie is as perceptive as it is tense.
Where to watch: In theaters; available On Demand on November 17 (Watch the trailer)

shirley movie
NEON

8. Shirley

Release date: June 5
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Michael Stuhlbarg, Odessa Young, Logan Lerman
Director: Josephine Decker (Madeline's Madeline)
Why it’s great: In short stories like The Lottery and novels like The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson conjured unease, tension, and queasy strangeness that made them difficult to put down. Fittingly, Shirley, an adaptation of a novel by Susan Scarf Merrell, examines a highly pressurized moment in the author's life that makes for occasionally nerve-rattling viewing. As played by Elisabeth Moss, Jackson can be temperamental, brilliant, and cruel, especially to Rose (Odessa Young) and Fred (Logan Lerman), the newlywed couple that move into the paper-strewn house she shares with her controlling professor husband (Michael Stuhlbarg). Where Decker's previous exploration of the creative process, the dizzying Madeline's Madeline, took an often nonlinear, combustible approach, Shirley retains some of the stuffy mechanics of the writerly biopic, particularly in the scenes of Jackson typing away at what will become her novel Hangsaman. (That book, which was partially inspired by the real-life disappearance of college student Paula Jean Welden, was written earlier in Jackson's life than the movie portrays.) But Moss's mischievous performance, the subtle interplay between the two women, and the feeling that the movie could tilt over the edge into chaos, chasing darker impulses and rolling around in the mud with Decker's roaming camera, keeps it from falling into many of the traps set by the often worshipful "great artist" micro-genre.
Where to watch: Stream on Hulu; rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

color out of space
RLJE Films

7. Color Out of Space

Release date: January 24
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer
Director: Richard Stanley (Hardware)
Why it’s great: For a certain type of moviegoer, any film where Nicolas Cage says the word "alpacas" multiple times is worth seeking out. Luckily, Color Out of Space, a psychedelic adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story from 1927, offers more than just furry animals and unhinged Cage theatrics. Mixing hints of science-fiction intrigue and bursts horror movie excess, along with a couple splashes of stoner-friendly comedy, Richard Stanley's proudly weird B-movie vibrates on its own peculiar frequency. Cage's Nathan, a chatty farmer with a loving wife (Joely Richardson) and a pair of mildly rebellious kids, must contend with a meteoroid that crashes in his front yard, shooting purple light all over his property and infecting the local water supply. Is it some space invader? A demonic spirit? A biological force indiscriminately wreaking havoc on the fabric of reality itself? The squishy unknowability of the evil is precisely the point, and Stanley melds Evil Dead-like gore showdowns with Pink Floyd laser light freak-outs to thrilling effect, achieving a moving and disquieting type of genre alchemy that should appeal to fans of Cage's out-there turn in the similarly odd hybrid Mandy. Again, you'll know if this is in your wheelhouse or not. 
Where to watch it: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

she dies tomorrow
Neon

6. She Dies Tomorrow

Release date: July 31
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Kentucker Audley, Chris Messina 
Director: Amy Seimetz (Sun Don't Shine)
Why it’s great: The strobing lights and shifting colors that flash across the at crucial points in She Dies Tomorrow signal a psychological shift that can't be fully explained or articulated by any of the characters. They all know something is wrong -- unavoidable death is approaching, soon -- but they can't exactly put a name to it or make others empathize with their anxiety until the reaction spreads. And this condition spreads fast: starting with Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), who just moved into a sleek new house, and jumping to her obsessive friend, and then that friend's family and on and on. Is this a medical thriller stripped of jargon or a dark social comedy of manners stylized into a more abstract register? Quibbles about genre feel less urgent as the movie builds its peculiar world of dune buggies, leather shops, and swimming pools. Director Amy Seimetz scrutinizes behavior with a careful eye, and she brings joy out of the performers even in dire circumstances, but the movie's big questions are metaphysical. Surrendering to the void or stepping into the light can only do so much.
Where to watch it: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

bloody nose empty pockets
Utopia

5. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets

Release date: July 10
Directors: Bill and Turner Ross (Western)
Why it’s great: The theme song from Cheers succinctly summed up the communal appeal of the local bar: "Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name." On the surface, this genre-bending documentary from brother filmmaking team Bill and Turner Ross is a straightforward celebration of that concept, one that explores depths of feeling, patterns of behavior, and types of language you wouldn't see on a network sitcom. Chronicling the closing night of a Las Vegas dive called Roaring '20s in November 2016, in the the shadow of Donald Trump's election victory, Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets introduces a series of bartenders and barflys, observing them in verité style as they watch Jeopardy! on TV, sing songs, and get in arguments. An Australian regular takes acid; a cake gets smashed. Just another night out. The setup is simple and the hangout vibe is a pleasure, but the story of how the the film was made, which goes mostly unacknowledged on screen, blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction in a way that gives the events a woozy texture. It's a sentiment most bar-goers can relate to: Why let the truth get in the way of a great story?
Where to watch it: Stream via Virtual Cinemas (Watch the trailer)

da 5 bloods
Netflix

4. Da 5 Bloods

Release date: June 12 
Cast: Delroy Lindo, Jonathan Majors, Clarke Peters, Norm Lewis
Director: Spike Lee (BlackKklansman)
Why it’s great: Exploding with historical references, directorial flourishes, and flashes of combat action, Spike Lee's war epic Da 5 Bloods is a movie that embraces the inherent messiness of its subject matter. At first, the story sounds simple enough: four elderly Black veterans regroup and travel to Vietnam to recover the remains of their squad leader Norman (Chadwick Boseman) and search for a shipment of gold they buried in the jungle decades ago. But Lee, pushing the movie in sharply funny and emotionally fraught directions depending on the demands of the scenes, refuses to approach the Treasure of Sierra Madre-like set-up in a straight-forward manner. Instead, the movie pings between the MAGA-hat speckled present and the bullet-ridden past, using his older actors in the flashbacks as their younger selves to underline the strangeness of time's passage. While some of the detours might test your patience, particularly once the men discover the gold and start arguing over what to do with it, the powerful ending, which becomes a moving showcase for the great Delroy Lindo, makes this a long journey worth embarking on.
Where to watch it: Stream via Netflix (Watch the trailer)

never rarely sometimes always
Focus Features

3. Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Release date: March 13
Cast: Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold
Director: Eliza Hittman (Beach Rats)
Why it’s great: The Port Authority bus terminal provides the backdrop for a good deal of the drama and the waiting in Eliza Hittman's powerful portrait of a teenager traveling from Pennsylvania to New York to have an abortion, a procedure she can't receive in her home state. Quiet and watchful, Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) observes the world around her from benches, bus seats, and doctor's office chairs, dragging an enormous suitcase through the drab interiors of various midtown locations. She doesn't tell her parents about her pregnancy or her trip. She's joined by her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder), who wants to be a supportive friend and sounding board. Still, the two don't talk much. The movie's most striking image shows the two holding hands in a moment of shared vulnerability, like their bond transcends language. As a filmmaker, Hittman is most interested in behavior and gesture, approaching her story with the type of careful rigor that allows for poetic moments to emerge in unexpected places. It's a style that's especially suited to the challenging emotional terrain of the material. 
Where to watch: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

bacurau
Kino Lorber

2. Bacurau 

Release date: March 6
Cast: Sônia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino
Directors: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles
Why it’s great: When a movie tells a story about a community joining together to fight off outside invaders, there are certain shots, moments, and heroics you want to see. Bloodshed, vengeance, and justice all have a place in Bacurau, a feverish, quasi-dystopian genre mash-up centered around a fictional Brazilian city in the country's Northwestern region, but the film doles out its cathartic showdowns in an inventive, dizzying manner. After a stretch exploring the geography, political realities, and daily routines of the city, a scheming American villain arrives and, in an inspired bit of casting, he's played by B-movie staple Udo Kier, reveling in the cruelty and complexity of the role. He's leading a team of aspiring would-be commandos, the type of people who view killing as a novel thrill. (The movie would make for a revealing double-feature with its more outright silly American counterpart The Hunt.) Exposition gets tucked in odd narrative corners; the tactical demands of the situation shift; scenes play out in tense, curious confrontations. Eventually, the movie explodes like a volcano, bursts of stylized gore and righteous indignation flying everywhere. Both visually hallucinatory and morally centered, Bacurau excites and inspires in equal measure.
Where to watch: Stream via Criterion Channel; rent on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

first cow movie
A24

1. First Cow

Release date: March 6
Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, René Auberjonois, Toby Jones
Director:Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women)
Why it’s great: First Cow, Kelly Reichardt's evocative and wise tale of frontier life, begins with the discovery of two skeletons in the woods. An unnamed young woman (Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat) and her dog -- echoing the human-and-canine pair at the center of Reichardt's 2008 road story Wendy and Lucy -- come upon the bones in the modern day Pacific Northwest. Then we flash back to a time when the Oregon territory was far less developed, an era of perilous opportunity and rampant exploitation, and meet Cookie (John Magaro), a bashful and unassuming cook for a team of unruly fur trappers. Eventually, he befriends the wandering King-Lu (Orion Lee), a Chinese immigrant who claims to be fleeing some Russians. The two stumble on an opportunity to make some money: a wealthy landowner (Toby Jones) brings the first cow to the region. Cookie and King-Lu decide to steal the cow's milk at night and use it to bake sweet honey biscuits, which they sell at the local market. The story has an allegorical quality, gently pulling at classic American notions of hope, ambition, and deception. Reichardt, who chronicled a similar historical period in 2010's neo-Western Meek's Cutoff and an equally rich male friendship in 2006's buddy comedy Old Joy, has a gentle human touch that never veers into sentimentality. On a literal and metaphoric level, she knows where the bodies are buried.
Where to watch: Rent on AmazoniTunesVudu, and YouTube (Watch the trailer)

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Dan Jackson is a senior staff writer at Thrillist Entertainment. He's on Twitter @danielvjackson.