The 50 best movies of the year, according to critics

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  • Despite the pandemic, 2020 was a standout year for movies, with films such as "Palm Springs," "First Cow," and "Black Is King" delighting both audiences and critics. 
  • And documentaries such as "Boys State," "Athlete A," and "Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution" also made waves upon their releases this year. 
  • Insider analyzed data from critical aggregator Metacritic to find which films critics loved the most in 2020.
  • Here are the top 50 movies from this year, according to critics.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

With the coronavirus pandemic delaying the release of numerous big titles, including "Dune," "Candyman," and "Black Widow," 2020 was definitely an roller coaster year for movies. 

But plenty of standout titles still made it to the big screen, or to streaming services, with films such as "Black Is King," "First Cow," and "Da 5 Bloods" entertaining audiences and critics alike. 

And documentaries were big, too — titles such as "Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution" and "Athlete A" challenged viewers' perceptions of the world in 2020. 

We used Metacritic data to find the films that critics loved the most in 2020. Keep reading for the top 50 movies that were beloved by reviewers this year.

50. "The Go-Go's" traces the '80s girl band's rise to fame.

Metacritic score: 81/100

Known for their songs like "We Got The Beat," "Our Lips Are Sealed," and "Head Over Heels," the Go-Go's defined the 80s music scene. But before they were new wave darlings, the women got their start in LA's punk scene, eventually breaking into the mainstream.

"The Go-Go's" chronicles the band's rise to fame, as well as all of the struggles that came along with it. 

49. The pitfalls of young love are portrayed in the coming-of-age film "Premature."

Metacritic score: 81/100

When poet Ayanna meets music producer Isaiah one steamy summer night in Harlem, they form an instant, intense connection. But as Ayanna — who's getting ready to leave for college come fall — soon learns, young love isn't all it's cracked up to be.

"Premature" follows Ayanna and Isaiah as they navigate the difficulties of a new relationship, and all of the wrenching emotions that come along with it. 

48. "The Truffle Hunters" is set in the forests of Northern Italy.

Metacritic score: 81/100

The secretive and often competitive world of truffle-hunting is portrayed in this charming, feel-good film.

In Northern Italy, a group of aging Italian men all set out to find the rare white Alba truffle, relying only on their instincts and their trusted, highly-trained dogs. 

As the men hunt for the coveted truffle, viewers are drawn into their simple yet fulfilling way of life. 

47. "Make Up" is set in a terrifyingly remote part of Cornwall, England.

Metacritic score: 81/100

Bleak, haunting, and anxiety-provoking, "Make Up" isn't a typical coming-of-age film.

Focusing on a young girl named Ruth who travels to a remote coastal village to join her boyfriend, the film takes an ominous turn after Ruth makes a shocking discovery. 

As Ruth spirals further and further into paranoia, her grasp on reality grows tenuous, and the films ends with a disorienting (yet brilliant) conclusion. 

46. Riz Ahmed stars in "Sound of Metal."

Metacritic score: 81/100 

When heavy metal drummer (and recovering drug addict) Ruben begins to lose his hearing, he's initially despondent and desperate for a solution. But when he arrives at a rehab facility for deaf addicts, his worldview begins to change — thanks to the influence of the facility's leader, Joe. 

"Sound of Metal" follows Ruben as he grows to accept his loss of hearing, and finds inspiration in Joe along the way. 

45. "A Thousand Cuts" is a documentary that sheds light on dangerous regime of the Philippine's president, Rodrigo Duterte.

Metacritic score: 81/100

Criticizing an authoritarian regime like Duterte's is definitely not without risk, but for journalist Maria Ressa, it's all part of a day's work.

"A Thousand Cuts" follows Ressa as she risks her freedom to call out Duterte's oppressive policies in the Philippines, including his regime's "War on Drugs."

And while the documentary purports to show the steady erosion of the Philippines, it's Ressa's valiant efforts to draw attention to the issues at hand that make "A Thousand Cuts" so powerful. 

44. "The Climb" focuses on a decades-long friendship between two men.

Metacritic score: 82/100

When Mike admits to his friend Kyle that he's sleeping with Kyle's fiancée Ava, it seems like the two men's friendship is over.

But Mike's affair with Ava sets off a chain of events that ultimately bring the two closer together, despite some serious pitfalls along the way. 

Funny, awkward, and endearing all at once, "The Climb" follows Mike and Kyle's ever-volatile relationship, and the lasting impact it has on both of their lives. 

43. "Bacurau" takes place in a small Brazilian village.

Metacritic score: 82/100

After a matriarch of the small, fictional village Bacurau dies, strange events begin unfolding in the town, including UFO sightings, strange new visitors, and loss of telephone signals. There's also an ongoing dispute over the rights to water from a recent river. 

As tensions in the town rise, so does the violence against its residents, and the film ends with a bizarre and truly shocking twist. 

42. "Sorry We Missed You" focuses on a family's financial struggles.

Metacritic score: 82/100

After struggling financially since the 2008 crash, father of two Ricky decides to take a new job as a self-employed delivery man. But the family's affairs quickly go from bad to worse, as Ricky's job places new stress on his wife, Abbie, and their two children, Seb and Liza. 

"Sorry We Missed You" takes a compassionate look at the family's money troubles while also offering a larger critique of the gig economy.  

41. Spike Lee directed "Da 5 Bloods."

Metacritic score: 82/100

Spike Lee's ode to wartime friendships follows four aging Vietnam vets as they return to Asia in search of the remains of their fallen comrade, squad leader Norman. But the group encounter ex-lovers and unforeseen obstacles upon reuniting in Vietnam. 

Ultimately, though, the veterans are able to overcome their differences, and fulfill the original promise they made to Norman. 

40. "House of Hummingbird" follows a young, misunderstood girl in 1994.

Metacritic score: 82/100

Quiet, restrained, but full of life, "House of Hummingbird" focuses on young Eun-hee as she grows her relationships and learns more about herself and the world around her.

There are, of course, plenty of conflicts — Eun-hee struggles to connect with her family and do well in school — but overall, the film is a tranquil exploration of one girl's growing self-awareness. 

39. "Residue" portrays the dangers of gentrification.

Metacritic score: 82/100

Based on filmmaker's Merawi Germia's real-life experiences with gentrification, "Residue" follows a failed screenwriter who returns home in search of inspiration, only to find his neighborhood utterly transformed. 

The film doesn't shy away from portraying the lingering effects gentrification, racism, and appropriation can have on a group of people in a historic location — in this case, Black residents of a storied Washington, DC neighborhood. 

38. "Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets" blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Metacritic score: 82/100

This documentary aims to show the last day of business for a bar called the Roaring '20s, which appears to be located somewhere in Las Vegas. But the film actually employed actors to play bar patrons, and the Roaring '20s is located in New Orleans, not Nevada. 

"Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets" cleverly blends documentary and drama up until the very end. 

37. "Driveways" focuses on an unlikely friendship between a young boy and a Korean War veteran.

Metacritic score: 83/100

Cody is a solitary young boy with few friends. When he travels with his mother Kathy to a rural New York town to help clean out her deceased sister's house, Cody strikes up an expected friendship with an older man next door. 

As the film progresses, Cody and Del's friendship grows stronger, and Kathy finds that there's lots she didn't know about her reclusive and mysterious sister. 

36. Andy Samberg stars in "Palm Springs."

Metacritic score: 83/100

After traveling to Palm Springs for a wedding, Nyles (Samberg) becomes trapped in a time loop along with Sarah (Milioti), the sister of the bride. As they're forced to relive the same day over and over again, they develop feelings for one another, despite (or perhaps because of) the logistics of their situation. 

Eventually, Nyles and Sarah are able to admit their attraction to one another, and make the most of their time together. 

35. "76 Days" focuses on the beginnings of the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, China.

Metacritic score: 83/100

The coronavirus pandemic seems like it's been going on for years, but documentary "76 Days" takes an intimate look at the beginnings of the pandemic in Wuhan, China earlier this year. 

Following medical professionals, coronavirus patients, and concerned family members, the documentary is a stark reminder of just how devastating this disease can be. 

34. "Saint Frances" focuses on a struggling 30-something who lands a choice nannying job.

Metacritic score: 83/100

Bridget (O'Sullivan) finally gets it together after she lands a job nannying the difficult Frances (Williams), but things don't go quite as planned.

In between dealing with an unwanted pregnancy and trying to diffuse a growing resentment between Frances' parents, Bridget strikes up an unlikely friendship with her charge — leading to even more hilarity and awkwardness. 

33. "I Wish I Knew" details the rich history of one of China's major cities.

Metacritic score: 83/100

Shanghai is one of the world's most culturally significant cities, and in "I Wish I Knew," the city is portrayed in a whole new light.

In interviews with 18 locals, filmmaker Zhangke constructs a rich, complex portrait of Shanghai, and doesn't shy away from exploring the city's darker corners of history. 

32. The devastating effects of Alzheimer's are explored in "Our Time Machine."

Metacritic score: 84/100

The son of two artists in their own right, photographer and puppeteer Ma Liang (also known as Maleonn) is well known throughout China.

But when his father is diagnosed with Alzheimer's, Maleonn decides to involve him and his mother in a grandiose art project designed to preserve his father's memories. This project, as well as Maleonn's relationship with his parents, is the focus of "Our Time Machine." 

31. "The Vast of the Night" is set in the late 1950s.

Metacritic score: 84/100

After a young switchboard operator and a radio DJ make a strange discovery late one night, they're led on an increasingly mysterious scavenger hunt through their small New Mexico town, and eventually arrive a terrifying conclusion.

Blending "Twilight Zone"-esque tendencies with real-life horror, "The Vast of Night" is a refreshing addition to the sci-fi genre. 

30. "On the Record" focuses on the sexual assault accusations against music mogul Russell Simmons.

Metacritic score: 84/100

Record executive Drew Dixon, along with several other women, form the heart of this moving documentary, which focuses on the women's alleged abuse at the hands of Simmons. 

In addition to the accusations against Simmons, "On the Record" also examines the way in which Black women's pain and trauma is treated, in addition to the societal pressures that often force them into silence. 

29. "Beanpole" is set in post-WWII Russia.

Metacritic score: 84/100

Two women in 1945 Russia form a connection and attempt to overcome their shared trauma from the war in this moving and devastating period piece. 

Iya (Miroschnichenko), nicknamed "Beanpole" because of her tall stature, is a nurse at a hospital for recovering soldiers. But when she meets Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina) after a horrible tragedy, the two grow increasingly close. 

28. Documentary "Boys State" offers commentary on American politics and ideas of masculinity.

Metacritic score: 84/100

In rural Texas, thousands of politically-minded teenage boys gather each year to develop a mock state government. And even though the boys' government isn't real, they can't escape the pitfalls of real-life American politics. 

"Boys State" follows the aforementioned teenage boys at their Texas retreat, and explores the effects of their ideas about politics and gender. 

27. "Small Axe: Red, White and Blue" is the third in a series of five films by Steve McQueen.

Metacritic score: 84/100

Featuring "Star Wars" leading man John Boyega, the third installment in McQueen's series follows a young Black man who decides to join the police force after he saw his father assaulted by officers as a child. 

Grappling with issues of race and police brutality, "Small Axe: Red, White and Blue" isn't afraid to tackle difficult subjects head on. 

26. Beyoncé's "Black Is King" was loved by critics and fans alike.

Metacritic score: 84/100

The hour-long film loosely follows a "Lion King"-inspired plot. It stars Beyoncé alongside a young African prince, who must explore his own culture and history in order to grow up and reclaim his proverbial throne.

And "Black Is King" was designed as a companion piece to "The Gift," a soundtrack that Beyoncé curated to correspond with her role as Nala in Disney's 2019 "The Lion King" remake.

25. The memory of a deceased friend informs much of "Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin."

Metacritic score: 85/100

Focusing on acclaimed film director Werner Herzog as he journeys across the world in memory of a friend lost to AIDS, "Nomad" is both an adventure film and a deeply personal tribute to a friendship. 

The film also sheds light on Herzog's approach to filmmaking and life in general — with a few surprising revelations along the way. 

24. "Athlete A" focuses on the fiercely competitive world of gymnastics, and the abuse hidden beneath the surface.

Metacritic score: 85/100

Former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar's abuse of numerous young female gymnasts made headlines when it came to light a few years ago, and "Athlete A" picks up where the coverage left off. 

In the documentary, filmmakers interview numerous gymnasts who experienced abuse while also exploring the long-terms effects on the competitive gymnastics world as a whole. 

23. A forgotten facility for teenagers with disabilities is the focus of "Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution."

Metacritic score: 86/100

Located down the road from the famous upstate New York town of Woodstock, Camp Jened was a revolutionary camp for kids with disabilities.

But as "Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution" shows, the camp was more than just a place for kids to feel at ease — it also led some campers to take up the fight for disability rights. 

22. "Minari" follows a Korean family who moves to a rural community in Arkansas.

Metacritic score: 86/100

Korean immigrants Jacob (Yeun) and Monica Yi (Han Ye-ri) uproot their family from their tranquil life in California to try their hand at farming in Arkansas.

But upon arriving in their new, rural hometown, things don't go exactly as planned. And when Monica's foul-mouthed grandmother travels from South Korea to live with them, the situation with the Yi family only gets more complicated. 

21. In "Vitalina Varela," an unsuspecting widow arrives in a strange new country.

Metacritic score: 86/100

The opening of "Vitalina Varela" begins with a funeral procession in Portugal. Viewers soon find out that the ceremony is for the recently deceased husband of the title character — who's recently arrived in the country, and has no idea her estranged husband is now dead. 

The Cape Verde native Vitalina struggles to adjust to life in Portugal, and offers a moving tribute to her husband as the film progresses. 

20. "Divine Love" is set in Brazil in the near future.

Metacritic score: 86/100

Focusing on a young woman who uses her day job to help separated couples preserve their marriage, "Divine Love" is set in the near future where evangelical Christianity and passionate orgies coexist in one dreamy, sensual space. 

In addition to Joana's work as a marriage counselor, she also desperately wants to become pregnant — causing her to make some pretty unorthodox choices. 

19. "Welcome to Chechnya" follows a group of LGBTQ activists in an extremely conservative country.

Metacritic score: 86/100

The abuse that LGBTQ people face in Russia's Chechnya region is brutally recorded in this documentary, filmed between 2017 and 2019.

Following numerous LGBTQ individuals attempting to flee the country, "Welcome to Chechnya" isn't an easy watch, but an important one nonetheless. 

18. "The Wolf House" is a surreal animated fairy tale.

Metacritic score: 86/100

When a young woman named Maria flees a German colony and finds refuge in a house in southern Chile, she gets more than she bargained for once the inhabitants of the house — two pigs — welcome her with open arms. 

As Maria settles in, things grow increasingly terrifying, and the two pigs slowly morph into unnatural humans. 

17. "What the Constitution Means to Me" is a live production of a Broadway play.

Metacritic score: 87/100

Filmed during the eponymous play's final weeks in 2019, "What the Constitution Means To Me" focuses on a singular narrator who recounts her political experiences as a teenage girl, and later, as an adult woman. 

Playwright and star Heidi Schreck deftly captures our current political climate while also providing thought-provoking analysis about the history of this country. 

16. In "Rewind," a decades-long pattern of abuse is recounted through home video footage.

Metacritic score: 87/100

Director Sasha Joseph Neulinger painstakingly stitches together a vivid and horrifying portrait of the abuse he endured at the hands of his male relatives in this documentary— and the lengths he went to to bring it to light. 

While it's not always an easy watch, "Rewind" is undoubtedly an important film, for both Neulinger and audiences alike. 

15. "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" is set in 1920s Chicago.

Metacritic score: 87/100

This period film, which also features the late Chadwick Boseman, is based on August Wilson's play of the same name. 

The film focuses on legendary blues singer Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her band, as they struggle through a recording session one steamy afternoon in Chicago. As the day progresses, tensions rise, and a number of truths come to light. 

14. Municipal government is the focus of documentary "City Hall."

Metacritic score: 88/100

While most citizens tend to take for granted city services like trash collection and public transport, as "City Hall" shows, there's actually quite a bit more that goes into maintaining these services. 

The Boston municipal government is the focus of this documentary, but anyone who lives in an urban area would do well to watch it. 

13. In "Dick Johnson Is Dead," a daughter takes an irreverent and unconventional approach to her father's death.

Metacritic score: 89/100

Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson's father isn't dead yet — but in the darkly humorous documentary named after him, the director explores the various ways (some more violent than others) in which her father could die. 

Adding a poignant element is the fact that Johnson's father suffers from dementia. While he gamely plays along with his daughter's schemes, the underlying emotion in their relationship is still present. 

12. "Small Axe: Education" is another installment in director Steve McQueen's timely film series.

Metacritic score: 89/100

Pulled from his traditional school and shunted into a program for children with "special needs," protagonist Kingsley (Sandy) soon becomes all too familiar with the racist policies governing education in the UK. 

Moving and infuriating all at once, "Education" highlights systemic inequality while suggesting the possibility of a better way forward. 

11. Stolen milk and an unlikely friendship form the basis of "First Cow."

Metacritic score: 89/100

In Kelly Reichardt's excellent film "First Cow," set in 1820, aspiring chef Cookie (John Magaro) travels to Oregon with a group of fur trappers. He only makes a connection, though, with the savvy, business-minded Chinese immigrant named King Lu (Orion Lee).

Together, the unlikely friends create a treat that causes quite a stir in their small frontier town. And while they both believe they're destined for a better life, numerous complications (some of the bovine variety) get in their way. 

10. "Soul" is a fantastical animated adventure from Pixar.

Metacritic score: 89/100

After getting a rare chance to play at a storied jazz club, musician and band teacher Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx) suffers a freak accident and his soul is separated from his body. 

Luckily though, his disembodied soul escapes to the "Great Before" — a place where souls get their traits before they're born on Earth.

As he struggles to reunite with his dying body, Joe's soul grows to have a greater appreciation for the human experience. 

9. "Small Axe: Mangrove" follows a restaurant owner in London's Notting Hill neighborhood.

Metacritic score: 90/100

Based on the true story of London's Mangrove Nine — a group of Black activists who were accused of inciting a riot in 1970's Notting Hill — this installment in Steve McQueen's film series is as powerful as it is infuriating. 

Part courtroom drama, part call to action, "Small Axe: Mangrove" is set in the past, but feels just as timely in today's world. 

8. "Hamilton" was filmed during a live Broadway production of the hit musical.

Metacritic score: 90/100

"Hamilton" takes an unorthodox look at the life of one of America's Founding Fathers, Alexander Hamilton, as he grows his political career and personal relationships.

The musical notably features rap, hip-hop, and R&B songs, in addition to the requisite show tunes, and has been nominated for numerous Tony Awards throughout its run. 

7. "Gunda" follows a pig, a flock of chickens, and a herd of cows.

Metacritic score: 90/100

A slyly pro-vegan documentary that's not too fervent in its message, "Gunda" is shot in black and white, and features no dialogue.

But despite its spare settings, the film paints a moving portrait of the lives of farm animals —and raises important questions about animal consciousness. 

6. An unwanted pregnancy is the catalyst for the events of "Never Rarely Sometimes Always."

Metacritic score: 91/100

After 17-year-old Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) finds out she's pregnant, she enlists the help of her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to help her get an abortion.

Unfortunately for the teenagers, Autumn isn't able to get the procedure in her small Pennsylvania town, so the two travel to New York City in search of a clinic. 

Upon arriving in the city, Autumn and Skylar deepen their friendship and encounter some unexpected roadblocks in their efforts to end Autumn's pregnancy. 

5. Documentary "Time" focuses on one woman's struggle to get her husband released from prison.

Metacritic score: 91/100

Combining snippets from home videos with present day footage, "Time" follows Sibil Fox Richardson as she fights to free her husband, Rob, from a Louisiana prison, where he's serving a 60-year sentence for a robbery.  Sibil was also involved in the robbery, but only served a few years for her participation.

The heartbreaking documentary examines the effects of mass incarceration with a light hand, but it still packs an emotional punch. 

4. "David Byrne's American Utopia" is another recording of a Broadway production.

Metacritic score: 93/100

Spike Lee directs this rendition of Byrne's Broadway production, which was itself based on the musician's 2018 album and accompanying tour. 

As beautiful and utopian as the title would suggest, the theatrical concert features an inspiring message of hope and unity through its songs. 

3. A group of Romanian journalists trying to uncover a massive political scandal is the focus of "Collective."

Metacritic score: 95/100

After a Bucharest nightclub called Colectiv burned down in 2015, killing 64 young people, questions arose about the circumstances that caused the tragedy.

Compounding the outcry was the fact that numerous burn victims later died at the hospital, despite assurances from public officials that they were receiving top-notch medical care. 

The tragedy causes a group of journalists, led by Catalin Tolontan, to investigate Romania's corrupt public health system and the political atmosphere that fostered it. 

2. "Small Axe: Lovers Rock" takes place at a house party in 1980s London.

Metacritic score: 95/100

While not as outwardly political as some of the other films in McQueen's "Small Axe" series, "Lovers Rock" still tackles the issues faced by Black British people — only this time, through music at a house party. 

A burgeoning romantic relationship, in addition to discussions about race, identity, and immigration, is ostensibly the focus of this film. But despite the romantic trappings, McQueen still manages to deftly explore the rich history of Black people and Black music in the UK. 

1. The highest-rated film of 2020 was "Nomadland."

Metacritic score: 97/100

After losing her home and her husband in the Great Recession, an older woman named Fern (McDormand) sets out for a new life on the road, with little in way of direction or destination. 

Along the way, she solidifies her nomadic philosophy, and meets numerous people (equally as down-and-out, in some cases) who share her way of life. 

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