Need it be said that 2020 has been an especially odd year for film?
The coronavirus threw the entire spring and summer movie calendar into disarray. Blockbusters we’d been looking forward to for years were delayed. Indies saw their carefully planned rollouts cut short. Crowdpleasers pivoted from traditional theatrical rollouts to VOD-only ones. Theaters were shuttered, while drive-ins made a comeback. And even now that cinemas are starting to open back up again, it’s unclear when things will return to “normal,” or what “normal” might look like.
But amid all that chaos, great movies continued to grab our attention. These films came from storied franchises and first-time directors, featured big-name talents and total unknowns. They reflected our times or provided a welcome distraction from them, shocked us into awareness or comforted us with their familiarity. They did, in short, what cinema has always done and always will, no matter what else is happening in the world.
So here are the 10 best films of 2020 so far, as compiled by the Mashable entertainment team — and where you can watch each and every single one right now.
10. Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey is a pop-punk adventure about Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) and her girl gang taking on Gotham City’s criminal underworld. It’s also a story about healing after a toxic relationship, and a quest for the perfect egg sandwich. There’s a lot going on. But it all comes together brilliantly thanks to an artfully paced story and top-notch performances from Robbie and Ewan McGregor, who plays a refreshingly queered up version of the famed DC Comics villain Black Mask. — Adam Rosenberg, Senior Entertainment Reporter
9. Miss Americana
Taylor Swift is one of the most famous people in the world, but longtime fans will still find something new in Lana Wilson’s thoughtful, inspiring documentary Miss Americana, which follows the singer through the last few years as she rethinks how she wants to live her life under a massive spotlight. The bits filming her in the recording studio feature cute reveals (Taylor hadn’t ever tried a burrito until a few years ago!), but the documentary is most fascinating when it focuses in on a woman trying to deprogram the misogynistic messaging she received her whole life.
It’s there she’s less a superstar and more just another young woman realizing she was sold a shitty bag of goods in a patriarchal society. Swift speaks candidly about disordered eating, her political awakening, and her relationship to the attention and media in a refreshing way, and by the time she’s once again taking to the stage guitar in hand, it’s all you can do not to stand up and cheer alongside the massive crowd. — Erin Strecker, Entertainment Editor
Where to watch: Miss Americana is available to stream on Netflix.
8. Bad Education
Director Cory Finley sleekly retells the story of Long Island superintendent Frank Tassone, who embezzled millions of dollars from his school district while charming every colleague and parent who came in contact with him. Hugh Jackman relishes the wickedness of the lead role, as does Alison Janney as Tassone’s right-hand woman, as they play off of each other and off of Mike Makowsky’s sharp script. (Geraldine Viswanathan also puts in a solid turn as the student journalist who exposes the whole scandal.)
The case seems almost quaint compared to things like obstruction of justice and hacking national elections, but watching the school district of Roslyn rocked by Tassone’s selfishness speaks to how much we depend on the systems that are supposed to support us, and on authority figures who make us feel secure. Some people are just in it for adoration and shiny things, and with a little work, they can convince themselves that none of it is wrong. Bad Education captures that superbly. — Proma Khosla, Entertainment Reporter
Where to watch: Bad Education is available to stream on HBO.
7. The Assistant
Harvey Weinstein is the obvious inspiration for the boss in The Assistant, which follows a day in the life of a beleaguered junior assistant named Jane (a remarkably restrained Julia Garner). But his fictional counterpart is never identified by name, or even seen onscreen. He could be anyone — which is exactly the film’s point.
Writer-director Kitty Green sifts through the wreckage left behind by all those #MeToo bombshells to reconstruct the culture that made such predatory behavior possible in the first place, methodically mapping out a power structure that encourages complicity and silences any objection. By the time she’s done, the truth is plain to see: The problem was never one guy. It was the whole damn system.
Writer-director Carlo Mirabella-Davis blends domestic monotony and body horror in Swallow, a sleek yet disquieting portrait of marital obedience. Haley Bennett stars as a young housewife with a case of pica, a psychological disorder that creates an appetite for inedible objects. As our hero ingests marbles, thumbtacks, batteries, and more, we witness a feminist metamorphosis unlike any other. Heartbreaking, provocative, and of the moment, Swallow may very well go on to claim the title of best in 2020 horror. — Alison Foreman, Entertainment Reporter
5. Crip Camp
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is a vital documentary about the generation of disability activists who first learned to organize while attending the now defunct Camp Jened. Camp Jened was a summer program for children and teens with a wide range of disabilities, and the documentary uses archival footage from the camp’s’ heyday in the 1960s to show the impact its progressive and accessible space had on its campers.
Some of the same people shown as children in the camp footage went on to lead life-changing demonstrations that improved the social status of people with disabilities in the United States, but Crip Camp’s greatest strength as a film is in showing how early access to inclusive spaces gives marginalized community members the opportunity to dream of and create a better world. — Alexis Nedd, Senior Entertainment Reporter
Where to watch: Crip Camp is available to stream on Netflix.
The romantic period piece industry was almost overdue for another Jane Austen adaptation when 2020’s Emma came along, but though the film is one of many interpretations of Austen’s work, it is also one of the best. Emma is a largely faithful interpretation of the text that expertly teases out the book’s romance, conflict, and humor while maintaining the period delights of exquisite costuming and a stiff upper lip.
It feels surprisingly modern to watch, as its characters quickly establish the rules of conduct, break them continuously, and then allow the audience to witness their forbidden moments of fury, upset, and triumph. Emma reminds viewers that though Austen’s novels take place in the early 1800s and were meant as comedies of their time, the social comedy can never feel old or unfunny in the hands of the right director. — A.N.
You don’t expect biopics of famous gothic horror novelists to be particularly fun or sexy, and yet Josephine Decker’s Shirley remains some of the most entertaining on-demand viewing out this year. Elisabeth Moss dazzles as iconic author Shirley Jackson alongside Michael Stuhlbarg as Jackson’s literary critic-turned-professor husband Stanley Edgar Hyman. When a young couple (played by Logan Lerman and Odessa Young) comes to visit the aging academics, a treacherous game of cat and mouse begins.
Somewhere between Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley offers an unashamed exploration of feminist rebellion as chilling as it is hysterical. — A.F.
2. Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee did what Spike Lee does in Da 5 Bloods: He delivered a work of cinema that’s both timely and timeless, marked by stellar performances and a camera lens that tells a story even if you ignore the script. The plot follows four Black Vietnam vets as they return to the former war zone in search of their dead squad leader’s remains…and the millions in CIA gold they plundered and buried before their tour ended. Political differences between the men foster mistrust and complicate their journey, leading to a powerful finale that’s not-so-strangely resonant — this is Spike Lee — for our current moment in history. — A.R.
Where to watch: Da 5 Bloods is available to stream on Netflix.
1. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always is candid about the harsh realities facing girls like Autumn (Sidney Flanigan), a teenager on a two-day trek to New York City for an abortion she can’t get in her Pennsylvania hometown. But just as powerful are all the things the film doesn’t say, because it doesn’t need to.
You don’t need Autumn and her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to point out predatory men to see them leering from the edges of the frame. You don’t need Autumn to explain the circumstances of her pregnancy to realize the horrors she’s suffered. You don’t need the girls to discuss their friendship to understand how fierce it is, and how much it means to each of them. You just need to experience this journey with them, to see how it’s changed them forever — and how it might change you, too.