Movie-watching in 2020 wasn’t what any of us thought it would be. At the start of the year, a host of big and exciting films was ahead of us. Of course, one by one many of these movies were either delayed and pushed into 2021 or dumped onto digital and streaming platforms. And despite the wealth of cinema still to be released, what happens in 2021 is still hugely uncertain.
However, the Hollywood blockbusters were only part of the story, and the fact that hardly any came out this year meant that there was more focus on smaller films. There were some great dramas, comedies, documentaries, and concert films released in 2020, all of which can now be streamed and watched On Demand.
Taking a look at GameSpot’s sister site, Metacritic–which collects and averages out critic movie ratings–we found the best reviewed movies of the year and are presenting the top 20 to you. And once you’ve read this, here’s our rundown of the worst reviewed films.
For more looking back at 2020, check out the best movies and TV shows you might have missed and the biggest disappointments. Looking forward to 2021, check out our lists for the biggest movies, TV shows, horror movies, and anime.
20. Welcome to Chechnya
Every year throws up some incredible documentaries, and Welcome to Chechnya was perhaps 2020’s most powerful. It focuses on the anti-gay purges in Chechnya in the 2010s and shows the experiences of those affected, from LGBTQ refugees who escaped the country to activists who risked their lives to bring the brutality to the attention of the world.
19. The Wolf House
This animated horror movie takes place in Chili. It follows Maria, a woman who escapes from German religious fanatics, and finds a house that two pigs live in. The house itself is haunted and reacts to what Maria is feeling, as it transforms into a nightmarish landscape. The stop-motion animation makes the tale so much more haunting for viewers.
18. What the Constitution Means to Me
The Amazon Prime Video movie is actually a live production of the Broadway play of the same name. Heidi Schreck delves into her personal experiences with the United States Constitution. When Schreck was 15, she won a Constitutional debate competition, earning her college tuition. The play is funny, insightful, and intriguing as Schreck connects to her teenage self.
This documentary has a lot of buzz, as director Sasha Neulinger dives into his past to uncover something horrifying. Through the use of his family’s home videos and interviews, Neulinger reconstructs his childhood uncovering years of sexual abuse he and his sister suffered at the hands of extended family members.
16. To the Ends of the Earth
Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s story follows Yoko, a variety show host who travels the globe. She goes on a journey to Uzbekistan where she meets the locals and envelops herself in their culture, recording all of her experiences.
One of the year’s best family movies, Wolfwalkers is a stunningly animated film based on Irish legends about mythical people who can transform into wolves. This enchanting film mixes magical fantasy with a more realistic portrayal of life for ordinary folks in 17th Century rural Ireland.
Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Okja) stars in this film from director and writer Lee Isaac Chung. Minari follows a Korean family who embark on a journey to Arkansas to start a farm during the 1980s.
13. Small Axe: Education
Education is the fifth and final film in director Steve McQueen’s acclaimed series of films that focus on West Indian immigrant life in London during the ’60s and ’70s. The powerful movie follows the experiences of a 12-year-old boy and the fight against the unofficial segregation that existed within the school system at that time.
12. City Hall
City Hall may be the longest film of the year. Coming in at, no joke, four hours and 32 minutes, director Frederick Wiseman’s documentary takes a very deep dive into the city of Boston. More specifically, into the city’s government structure, which further explores racial justice, housing issues, and more.
11. Dick Johnson Is Dead
On paper this Netflix documentary sounds tasteless, but it actually turns out to be one of the funniest and most compassionate films you’ll see all year. It’s a love letter from director Kirsten Johnson to her dad Richard, who is suffering from dementia. The pair create a series of fictional deaths for him, allowing them to explore grief, mortality, and love, but without anyone actually dying.
10. First Cow
Kelly Reichardt’s latest film is a typically low key but perfectly-told story set in 19th century America. Two mismatched travellers hatch a scheme to steal the milk from a cow owned by a wealthy man, and use it to make cakes they sell back to the townsfolk. A beautifully acted and affecting drama about friendship and sacrifice.
9. Small Axe: Mangrove
McQueen’s Small Axe series kicked off with the gripping real-life story the Mangrove Nine, a group of civil rights campaigners who were based at London’s Mangrove restaurant and were arrested and tried for inciting a riot in 1971. It’s an angry and impassioned film with a standout performance from Black Panther star Letitia Wright.
This filmed version of the mega-successful musical, featuring the original Broadway cast, was bought by Disney for an incredible amount of money and originally set for a theatrical release in October 2021. But the pandemic and the need for Disney+ content meant the studio surprise released it in July. It’s Hamilton–what more is there to say?
As much an experimental art piece as a movie, Gunda is a surprisingly profound black-and-white document of the day in the life of a pig, two cows, and a one-legged chicken on a farm, produced by Joaquin Phoenix.
6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
An unflinching and realistic drama about a pregnant teen’s decision to have an abortion. The film tackles a difficult subject with great compassion for its characters and features a stand-out performance from first-time actor Sidney Flanigan.
Time is a moving documentary about Sibil Richardson, a woman who has spent two decades trying to get her husband released from jail, after he was incarcerated for 60 years for a reckless attempted robbery. It’s a deeply moving, beautifully-made film.
4. David Byrne’s American Utopia
When the former Talking Heads frontman moved his inventive American Utopia tour to Broadway for a four-month residency in 2019, he got Spike Lee to film the show. The result is an exhilarating and dynamic concert movie, packed with amazing songs and dazzling choreography, and is a much-needed dose of joy and positivity.
Another of the year’s great documentaries, Collective deals with the aftermath of a tragic nightclub fire in Romania in 2015, which left 64 people dead. The following cover-up by the government led to protests and resignations, and the movie follows the journalists who set out to expose corruption within the system.
2. Small Axe: Lovers Rock
The second Small Axe movie is set over a single night at a house party in West London in the 1970s. Lovers Rock might be a lighter, more upbeat film than the others, but McQueen’s uplifting celebration of music, romance, and the power of community was the best of the lot.
The year’s best reviewed movie was the road movie Nomadland. Frances McDormand plays a woman who embarks on an epic trek across America after losing everything in the recession of the late 2000s. It’s a compassionate character study as well as a stark portrayal of the decline of the American Dream. In a complete change of pace, director Chloé Zhao’s next movie will be the upcoming Marvel movie Eternals.