A rundown of the best films released in the first half of 2020

A rundown of the best films released in the first half of 2020
Portrait of a Lady on Fire

We're already heading into the second half of 2020, though the last six months have felt like a decade. We haven't been able to congregate in movie theaters since March, but that doesn't mean there haven't been some great cinematic options out there. You just had to dig a little deeper.

Here are the best movies 2020 has offered thus far, all of them available to stream or rent.

In the Eurasian country of Georgia, an unlikely friendship develops between two male dancers competing for a spot in the national ensemble, a sure bet for escaping an impoverished environment. As passing glances turn into outright affection, they realize they're harboring secrets from a deeply traditional society. This film inspired controversy in its native country, which will seem surprising to the U.S. audiences who discover this gentle, bittersweet coming-of-age gem. Available to rent through the Magic Lantern.

It's impossible to pigeonhole this bizarre Brazilian thriller into a single genre: It begins as a slice-of-life drama about the denizens of a remote village, turns into mystery after the appearance of flying saucer-shaped drones, and ends with the blunt brutality of your average grindhouse movie. Despite that stylistic juggling, the film is most obviously an off-kilter allegory about colonialism, appropriation and subjugation. Rent through the Magic Lantern.

Deep in the Catskills of the 1970s, Camp Jened was a summertime safe haven for teenagers with disabilities, a place where they could escape the scrutiny of the outside world. Using archival footage and current interviews, directors Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht (the latter of whom was actually a Jened camper) have crafted a deeply moving documentary that's not only a snapshot of an idyllic place but a history lesson of a civil rights movement that's too often overlooked. Streaming on Netflix.

Spike Lee's latest joint is a tour through recent history and a wild genre deconstruction, as four black Vietnam veterans return to the country to both retrieve their dead friend's remains and a buried cache of Viet Cong gold. Like the Hughes brothers' overlooked epic Dead Presidents, it's a slick thriller and a melancholy reflection on black men fighting and dying for a country that sees them as expendable. Streaming on Netflix.

One of the few 2020 films to play in theaters nationwide, this is an uncommonly elegant mainstream thriller that finds fresh, contemporary angles in a seemingly exhausted premise. If you think about the plot for more than a couple seconds, it falls apart, but it works in the moment as a slick exercise in suspense, as a scary allegory of abuse and gaslighting, and as a showcase for Elisabeth Moss's terrific performance. Rent on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

The latest film from director Eliza Hittman, whose unvarnished, documentary-like aesthetic brings an authenticity to this story of two teenage girls who travel from rural Pennsylvania to New York City so one of them can get an abortion. Although it's about a hot-button issue, this isn't a polemic, but rather a carefully observed, beautifully acted portrait of young women. Rent on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

Celine Sciamma's aching romance was the last movie I saw in theaters before the world shut down, and I'm grateful that I was able to see its beautiful, sweeping images on a big screen. It's a love story between two women in the late 1700s — a young woman fighting against her impending marriage, and the artist who has been commissioned to paint her portrait — and its romantic confessions are spoken on wind-whipped cliff sides, ocean shores and by the light of lonely candles. Streaming on Hulu.

A warning in advance: This movie contains disturbing descriptions of sexual violence, but if you can handle this sort of thing, it's a harrowing and unbelievably moving experience. Director Sasha Joseph Neulinger reflects on his own childhood through home movie footage, and what he's crafted is a haunting journal of abuse that, hidden in plain sight, had plagued his family for generations. Rent on iTunes and Amazon Prime.

You could argue there's no better filmmaker to tackle our current economic climate than British director Ken Loach. His quotidian style and blue-collar politics are out in full force in this gritty kitchen-sink drama about the daily struggles of a working-class family — dad's a driver for an Amazon-type company, mom's an in-home caregiver — and how one bad decision creates a ripple effect of devastation. Rent through the Magic Lantern.

An appropriate title for a film set in rural Iceland, great performance by Ingvar Sigurdsson as a former police chief who, in repressing every emotion he's ever felt besides brute anger, becomes obsessed with an affair that his recently deceased wife may have had. It vacillates between arthouse meditation and macho revenge thriller, with visual studies of nature and inanimate objects interrupted by bursts of violence. Rent through the Magic Lantern.

A Movie Night of Remembrance: The Woman King @ Magic Lantern Theatre

Thu., Dec. 1, 7:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Nathan Weinbender

Nathan Weinbender is the Inlander's Music & Film editor. He is also a film critic for Spokane Public Radio, where he has co-hosted the weekly film review show Movies 101 since 2011.