20. Dogs Don’t Wear Pants
Stylish and sadistic, this Finnish BDSM drama takes on grief in all its messiness and whips it into one of the most bewildering, torturous, and hopeful films in recent years. Dogs Don’t Wear Pants follows a widower who stumbles into a dominatrix’s den and discovers that, after years of a numb emotional state, he prefers feeling pain over not feeling anything. As this realization begins to change his life, his relationship with his daughter, and his dental records, the film fully embraces the toe-curling and heartwarming potential of a story so deeply invested in grief and recovery. With a gnarly nail removal that the French extremity genre would be proud of and a final scene that calls to mind the work of Claire Denis, it’s safe to say that this is a film best experienced first hand rather than through a narrative summary. So go forth and watch — just don’t say we didn’t warn you. (Anna Swanson)
19. Da 5 Bloods
Spike Lee has never been more vibrant or urgent. Da 5 Bloods shreds into our current political landscape with an absolutely explosive heist film. Five friends return to the scene of the crime, Vietnam, to uncover a boodle of gold they left buried when they were young soldiers. As they scour the country for their stash, they dig up numerous old wounds and one particular ghost. Hanging over everything is the brother they left in the dirt, Stormin’ Norman (Chadwick Boseman).
Lee playfully interrupts the narrative with flashbacks and an agitated mix of documentary footage. The timelines jerkily splice together until they crescendo in one mesmerizing sequence that beautifully, painfully ties everything together. Da 5 Bloods contains all the anger and frustration you would expect from its director, but it’s in these quiet moments of recognition, where one character truly sees another character, that the sorrow of our present is fully appreciated. (Brad Gullickson)
18. Lingua Franca
Written, directed by, and starring Isabel Sandoval, Lingua Franca is a searingly personal baring of the soul with a savvy political sentiment. Sandoval’s Olivia is an undocumented Filipina immigrant and trans woman working as a caregiver in Brooklyn. As she navigates a landscape where threats — those coming from both institutional and individual levels — lurk at every corner, the film instills palpable anxiety while maintaining a meditative tone.
The film inherits a symbolic baton from Chantal Akerman’s News From Home in its deft and touching depiction of a woman almost entirely separated from her roots, tethered only by the words of her mother. In contrast to Akerman’s documentary, Sandoval includes a narrative that is technically fictional, but powerfully honest. Olivia’s experiences speak to timely issues, but she’s far from a flat catch-all for the film’s politics. She’s wonderfully realized, with a depth of vulnerability and perseverance that is made admirable without placing her on a pedestal. Her rich characterization is the greatest strength of this film, which, considering the overall quality of the movie, is one hell of an accomplishment. (Anna Swanson)
17. She Dies Tomorrow
While Amy Seimetz didn’t intend for She Dies Tomorrow to be released in the midst of a pandemic, it is still painfully relevant to the current cultural context. Instead of a disease, a thought is spread like a virus: the thought that you will die tomorrow. The thought is implanted when someone shares the thought, and it quickly spreads. At the center of this “pandemic” is Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), who is plagued with the thought of her impending death. She mopes around her house, playing Mozart’s “Requiem” and contemplating her existence. Then she spreads the idea to her friend Jane (Jane Adams), and it spirals from there.
While She Dies Tomorrow is a deeply melancholic film, Seimetz is able to sneak her pitch-black humor into moments such as when Amy decides she would like to be turned into a leather jacket. It’s bleak but also so incredibly funny that someone, on the cusp of their supposed death, would be strongly considering using their dead body to make a piece of clothing. Seimetz puts a dash of comedy in her film to poke fun at death; it is a serious topic but it is also ridiculous. Drenched in neon lighting, psychedelic sequences, and a deep existential dread, She Dies Tomorrow is a quintessential 2020 movie. (Mary Beth McAndrews)
16. The Hunt
Sure, The Hunt‘s got bite. Its jaws are unhinged like a snake, ready to clamp down on this stupid country and rip us a new one. We deserve it. We’re so damn angry at each other, we can’t look past our red hot rage, and The Hunt makes easy work of our aggression.
Now, let’s step back from the surface level political fervor fueling this script. We’re an easy nation to mock right now. Points for the jokes, but The Hunt‘s bite is no match for its simple wham-bam energy. Craig Zobel sets the film’s speed on fast forward, propelling his characters like bullets shot out of a gun. They smash, bash, and crash upon one another, leaving their bodies beaten, pulpy, and bloody. The runtime acting as one glorious meat grinder. It’s a mess, but a slop we’re eager to swim in. (Brad Gullickson)