The 50 best films of 2020 in the US: 50-1 – The Guardian

Our pick of the finest movies released in a topsy-turvy year climaxes with a moving drama about a woman, played by Frances McDormand, who becomes a nomad
One of Netflix’s many eye-opening documentaries of the year takes a look at a freewheeling camp for disabled people which turned into a revolutionary group of activists with rousing results. Read the full review.
A bracing, bleak little horror movie from the creators of the equally dour Goodnight Mommy which has Riley Keough stuck in a remote cabin with the children of her new boyfriend, a situation that goes from bad to worse to scary very fast. Read the full review.
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are heavy-drinking wedding guests who find themselves stuck in a Groundhog Day-style time-loop in a fun twist on a traditional romantic comedy. Read the full review.
A lightweight yet charming LA-set comedy about the relationship between a diva-ish singer, played by Tracee Ellis Ross channeling her mother Diana, and her ambitious assistant, played by a never-better Dakota Johnson. Read the full review.
A loving tribute to both Hollywood romances and so-called “women’s pictures” of the 50s and 60s starring a luminous Tessa Thompson trying to juggle marriage, a career in TV and a slow-burning on and off romance with a sweetheart from her past, played by Nnamdi Asomugha. Read the full review.
Eye-opening film about the governmental role play event organised by the American Legion to teach kids how politics works. Here the Texas version is scrutinised, with debates and power struggles reaching a crescendo in a mock election. Read the full review.
Documentary about the groundbreaking Rock Against Racism movement that helped to stem the rising tide of far right support in 1970s Britain, with its benefit gigs featuring the likes of the Clash and the Tom Robinson Band. Read the full review.
The fourth feature from Wajdja director Haifaa al-Mansour sees the Saudi film-maker return home for a politically inflected drama that seeks to interrogate the country’s supposed new liberalism, following a female doctor’s attempt to run for office after she is denied a permit to travel abroad. Read the full review.
A Brazilian horror-western with an exceptionally disquieting tone, directed by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles. A woman returns to a remote outback town – the fictional settlement of Bacurau – which appears to have fallen off the map, as a violent group of foreigners assemble nearby. Read the full review.
Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss stars as celebrated horror writer Shirley Jackson (best known for The Lottery) in a fictionalised biopic that speculates on what happens when a younger couple interrupt her tepid domestic life with husband Stanley (Michael Stuhlbarg). Read the full review.
Individual films don’t often change the course of history, but by humiliating Trump acolyte Rudy Guliani this follow up to Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2006 hit comedy may have done just that. This time around, the Kazakh journalist is trying to offload his daughter Tutar (Maria Bakalova). Read the full review.
An enterprising adaptation of the HG Wells classic, reconfigured for the MeToo era by horror specialists Blumhouse. Elisabeth Moss is the woman who believes she is being stalked by her controlling boyfriend, who was thought to have killed himself. Read the full review.
Nicely observed US indie written by and starring Kelly O’Sullivan, as a mid-30s woman whose unexpected pregnancy coincides with her getting a job as a nanny for a kid called Frances (Ramona Edith Williams). Read the full review.
Adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s second world war novel, following a young boy’s attempts to survive in Poland after his parents are taken to a concentration camp, filmed in gruesome, harrowing detail. Read the full review.
Impressive horror about husband-and-wife refugees from South Sudan who try and settle in a nondescript British neighbourhood, only to find their living quarters appear to be haunted by a spirit from their past lives. Read the full review.
Netflix adaptation of Mart Crowley’s groundbreaking 1968 stage hit about a group of gay men gathering for a birthday party; Jim Parsons, Zachary Qunto and Matt Bomer are among the cast. Read the full review.
Oddball US indie from Amy Seimetz, about a woman who is suddenly convinced she will die in 24 hours – and whose obsessive paranoia about impending death infects her friends with pandemic-style contagion. Read the full review.
Sundance-wowing comedy created by Radha Blank, who acts as writer, director and star in a semi-autobiographical tale of a playwright in New York who decided to become a rapper. Read the full review.
Sci-fi thriller from Brandon Cronenberg that is just as creepy as his father David’s; it stars Andrea Riseborough as a future-assassin who invades hapless victims’ minds and uses them to assassinate targets. Read the full review.
Icelandic thriller about a policeman (played by Ingvar Sigurdsson) who discovers his recently-deceased wife may have been having an affair with a friend of his; his grief and rage builds until violence appears inevitable. Read the full review.
German drama about an out-of-control child featuring an astounding performance from nine year old Helena Zengel, as a violent, rowdy kid with whom the established social-work systems simply cannot cope. Read the full review.
Austere, compelling film from Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, following the Cape Verdean immigrant of the title as she makes her way to Lisbon to try and find her errant husband. Read the full review
Judd Apatow hooks up with SNL star Pete Davidson to create funny, idiosyncratic comedy: Davidson plays a slacker-tattooist whose life has been overshadowed by his firefighter dad’s death. Read the full review.
Intense, winning romance about two male performers who spark a secret relationship in the ultra conservative world of traditional Georgian dance. Read the full review.
The OC’s Adam Brody comes of age in this deceptively sunny indie about an outgrown “kid detective” who uncovers something dark in his hometown while slowly wrestling with his own demons. Read the full review.
Sixth and apparently final feature from the idiosyncratic Swedish auteur Roy Andersson, a meditation on the human condition filmed with an utterly distinctive combination of colour palette and vividly detailed tableaux. Read the full review.
Award-winning French drama that alludes to the celebrated Victor Hugo novel, following a tough, cynical police patrol as they try to keep the peace on tinder-box streets in the Paris suburbs. Read the full review.
Eye-opening eco-documentary the Biosphere 2 experiment in the 1990s, in which a commune of likeminded people built a closed eco-system in Arizona to try and improve humans’ relationship with the natural world. Read the full review.
Film-maker Kristin Johnson’s startlingly creative response to her former psychiatrist father’s dementia, in which she stages a string of hypothetical death scenes and afterlife fantasies. Read the full review.
Riz Ahmed gives a bravura performance performance in a sensitive drama about a drummer who starts to rapidly lose his hearing sending him on a quest to understand a world without sound. Review coming soon.
A rare comedy horror that feels like a true successor to Scream, this wildly entertaining body swap romp has a teenage girl switch with a bloodthirsty killer, played by a standout Vince Vaughn. Read the full review.
Shame’s Nicole Beharie stars as a former beauty queen hoping that her daughter can repeat her triumph – primarily to gain the prize of a potentially life-changing college scholarship. Read the full review.
Emotional documentary about the battle by Sibil Fox Richardson to get her husband released from a 60-year sentence for armed robbery, and her torment over raising a family that never had a father. Read the full review.
Carey Mulligan delivers the performance of her career in a darkly comic thriller from Killing Eve show-runner Emerald Fennell about a woman tearing down toxic masculinity, one creepy guy at a time. Read the full review.
Armando Iannucci delivered one of the most satisfying Charles Dickens adaptations for years with this imaginative take on the classic anchored by a never-better Dev Patel. Read the full review.
Steven Soderbergh reunited with his Laundromat star Meryl Streep for a far more successful comedy, a fizzy, funny and melancholic film about an author taking old friends on a cruise. Read the full review.
Spike Lee’s lacerating Vietnam war movie, about a squad of African American soldiers who return to the battlefield decades later to remember their dead leader (played by Chadwick Boseman) as well as hunting treasure. Read the full review.
The late Chadwick Boseman’s final performance, as an ambitious trumpeter in the backing band for blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davies), in an adaptation of August Wilson’s hit stage play. Read the full review.
A commanding turn from Luca Marinelli, who won best actor at the Venice film festival, is one of many pleasures within an ambitious adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 novel. Review coming soon.
Charlie Kaufman’s third film as director, and yet another superbly disquieting essay on human frailty and alienation, here with Jessie Buckley as the woman dissatisfied with boyfriend Jesse Plemons. Read the full review.
Jude Law and Carrie Coon give exquisite performances in a chilly and unnerving 80s-set drama about a family struggling to stay together in a remote house in the English countryside. Read more.
Eliza Hittman’s Lightning-rod drama about the thorny subject of teenage abortion, with a title alluding to the sexual-behaviour questionnaire which has become one of the many obstacles to obtaining one in the US. Read more.
David Fincher directs this act of film-industry ancestor worship, taking as his subject Citizen Kane co-writer Herman J Mankiewicz, played by Gary Oldman. Read more.
Drama that directly tackles the asymmetric employment power structure at the heart of the Weinstein scandal and the MeToo movement, with Julia Garner as the young woman who is the unconscious enabler of her abusive boss. Read more.
Kelly Reichardt’s warm and charming 19th century-set fable about an unlikely friendship became her most acclaimed film to date while also providing us with some seductive food porn. Read more.
Anthony Hopkins gives a tour de force performance as a man losing his grip on reality in a devastating, difficult adaptation of Florian Zeller’s acclaimed play about dementia. Read more.
Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung warm and empathetic drama follows the ups and downs of a Korean-American family trying to start a farm in rural Arkansas and find their own slice of the American dream. Read more.
Enraging documentary from Romania, following a journalist’s investigation into hospital deaths after a 2015 nightclub fire – which revealed pervasive corruption that contributed to scores of fatalities through poorly maintained medical facilities. Read more.
Pixar’s latest animation, in which Jamie Foxx voices the central character, a jazz musician whose body becomes separated from his soul, returns Pixar to the emotionally intelligent brilliance that has been its special hallmark. Read more.
A remarkable Frances McDormand goes on the road in Chloé Zhao’s soulful and generous look at those pushed to the outskirts of American society who are “houseless but not homeless”. Read more.

Check back in the coming days and weeks as we update this list and unveil our picks for top film of the year.


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