By Nadia Dalimonte
The year is coming to an end, and winter is around the corner. While theaters remain closed in many areas across the country, films still have a home in quarantine thanks to digital and streaming releases. A cozy night at home with a good story or two? Yes please. It’s time to revisit the best films of 2020, most of which are directed by women. Here are 30 gems curated by Nadia for Earth to Films.
Nomadland is a beautiful gem that got under my skin within minutes. Chloé Zhao explores a nomad character study and the cycle of human life in a gorgeous, natural landscape that sets the story like poetry. Zhao stirringly captures feelings of rootlessness and togetherness within the margins of society, in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
Written and directed by Kitty Green, The Assistant needs to be heard loud and clear. This is an urgent post-Me Too depiction of human conflict and complicity, featuring incredible exposition and a stunning lead performance by Julia Garner.
Emma Seligman’s stunning debut feature Shiva Baby is a funny, invigorating, fully realized pressure cooker. Rachel Sennott is magnificent in the lead role; she’s surrounded by a pitch perfect ensemble cast who each play off one another so well. The sense of humour is a delight, providing constant laughs and lines so great you must keep up because you won’t want to miss them.
How enchanting! Wolfwalkers is a magical Irish saga of love, friendship, and women empowerment. Mature and dedicated storytelling bring environmental and philosophical themes to a beautiful fairytale adventure. The delicate watercolour animation and intricate swirling lines are gorgeous. Characters flow into and out of frames like magic.
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Often times it’s the smallest interactions between people, and feelings left unsaid, that leave the greatest impact. Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always is a masterpiece, featuring a show stopping debut performance by Sidney Flanigan.
The Forty-Year-Old Version
Radha Blank’s funny and passionate directorial debut feature, The Forty-Year-Old Version, is by far one of the best films of the year. Blank, who stars in the film and wrote the screenplay, is an incredible storyteller with a clear vision about artistic expression. At the heart of this story, beautifully directed in black and white, is an authentic voice who needs to be heard.
Written and directed by Channing Godfrey Peoples, Miss Juneteenth is a beautifully made story with strong character building and a fantastic cast. Nicole Beharie is absolutely incredible in the film as she exudes an understated and magnetic screen presence that you’ll want to watch more of.
Another Round leaves a lasting impression about the lengths that people dare go in order to pull themselves out of a midlife crisis and feel something again. Mads Mikkelsen gives a remarkable lead performance in a thoughtful film that follows four high school teachers who start a drinking experiment to liven up their lives
The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man is a fantastic combination of horror, thriller, and sci-fi. Stunning direction and a fully committed performance by Elisabeth Moss create an anxiety-inducing experience from start to finish.
Yes, God, Yes
Karen Maine’s delicious debut feature is a charming and funny snapshot of an awkward time in a person’s life that is not reflected often on screen. Natalia Dyer is brilliant in the lead role.
Tracey Deer’s incredible debut feature, Beans, completely elevates the coming-of-age genre with a refreshing point of view and a standout performance from Kiawentiio Tarbell as a girl grappling with newfound adulthood.
One Night in Miami
The love and care that Regina King brings to her feature directorial debut, One Night in Miami..., is riveting to watch. The film is an outstanding stage-to-screen adaptation led by vulnerable, brilliant performances that take a leap of imagination. Screenwriter Kemp Powers brings his original stage play to the screen with depth, humour, and urgency.
Jasmine Batchelor delivers an absolute tour de force in The Surrogate. This film is heartfelt, complex, funny, deeply honest, and opens the door to many conversations. Writer and director Jeremy Hersh has a committed, thoughtful, and confident voice in his storytelling.
Writer, producer, and director Sujata Day tells an incredibly charming story in her debut feature film Definition Please. Her debut excels as a comedic and dramatic character study that comes from a place of authenticity. Day, who also stars in the film as Monica Chowdry, flexes her many talents both in front of and behind the screen. With love, she highlights family ties and bottled up conflicts that arise, which gives all the characters a sense of urgency.
This beautifully potent film is written, directed, produced, edited, and starring Isabel Sandoval. A wonderful feat from a gifted storyteller who brings a trans, migrant love story onto the screen with passion and care.
First Cow is mesmerizing from the first shot. Director and writer Kelly Reichardt captures tenderness and simplicity so beautifully. She lingers on empty spaces, long after her characters disappear from the frame.
Autumn de Wilde’s Emma is a gorgeously made delight, filled to the brim with performances that indulge in charm and conviction. Anya Taylor-Joy, Mia Goth, and Miranda Hart shine in this comedic adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel of the same name.
The Life Ahead
Sophia Loren returns to the screen with a spellbinding performance in The Life Ahead, a resonating film about trauma, acceptance, and the need for formative teachers in life. The film is a powerful exploration of two people carrying a lot of emotional weight and, through a strongly shared kinship, learn to open their hearts.
She Dies Tomorrow
Could the release date of this film have been any more perceptive? Amy Seimetz’s existential horror, She Dies Tomorrow, centers on the universal fear of imminent death as an unexpected plague sweeps through a group of people. We are all going to die at some point, but if we knew exactly when, how would we live out the rest of our time? Seimetz, who also wrote the film, tackles this question in a way unlike anything I’ve seen.
Merawi Gerima’s directorial debut Residue, which premiered from Array on Netflix, is a stunning achievement not to be missed. A poetic blend of past and present, with seamless transitioning between imagery and sound, depicts the stirring headspace of gentrification.
Clocking in at 56 minutes, and made with a tiny budget during the COVID pandemic, Host is a fully realized nightmarish séance story that never loses tension. The direction is wicked and succeeds at leaving behind an on-edge afterthought, made more effective when watching on a computer screen.
The horror of His House, the directorial debut feature by Remi Weekes, is deeply embedded in reality. Weekes directs and writes a story so utterly terrifying in its humanity and in the notion that the ghosts residing within the Majurs are far more destructive than any haunted house could be.
Shannon Murphy’s beautiful debut feature is a heartbreaker. What begins as an absolute whirlwind unravels into a story with such strong character development. Eliza Scanlen is a star.
From writer/director Miranda July, Kajillionaire is a wonderfully offbeat story of unexpected human connections and bonds. July’s comedic drama paints a moving picture of con artists, reparenting, romance, and rebirth.
Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)
Cathy Yan’s kaleidoscope direction and empathetic storytelling bring a super fun, resonating quality to Birds of Prey. This is a manic rollercoaster led by a totally game Margot Robbie and featuring a standout performance by Jurnee Smollett as Black Canary.
Shirley is a delirious puzzle that asks more than it can answer. The film interrogates what it means to be a muse, what types of behaviors are accepted by geniuses, and the many expectations on women living in a man’s world. Elisabeth Moss knows how to put on a show. She brilliantly captures the blurred lines between her character’s fiction and reality.
The Old Guard
From acclaimed director Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard is an entertaining ride that leaves much anticipation for a sequel. It’s the perfect blend of action, humour, drama, and superhero dynamics. The performances, particularly by Kiki Layne and Charlize Theron, give the film plenty of staying power.
Over the Moon
Over the Moon is a magical, moving adventure where the importance of Chinese tradition, family, and irreplaceable memories shine. The songs are beautifully written and performed, covering genres from emotional ballads to fun EDM pop.
I’m Thinking of Ending Things
There is something about Charlie Kaufman’s latest creation that pulls me in with a desire to rewatch and repeat the experience. There’s so much going on in this blend of fiction and non-fiction, of live action and animation. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is an intriguing, head scratching, fill-in-the-blanks mind trip.
Borat Subsequent Movie Film
Maria Bakalova is a star. Going toe-to-toe with Sacha Baron Cohen’s return to the screen as Borat, she gives one of the funniest performances of the decade. This sequel works as a mind-blowing satire that speaks a terrifying truth.