Like everything in 2020, new movie releases were severely disrupted by the pandemic. But just because many movie theaters were closed doesn’t mean there weren’t great movies released throughout the year in a variety of formats.
With the end of 2020, almost all of the most critically acclaimed movies of the year are available to watch at home. Here’s how you can stream the best-reviewed movies of 2020, according to review aggregation site Metacritic.
Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave) released five feature films in 2020 under the Small Axe banner, all focused on a West Indian immigrant community in London from the 1960s through the 1980s. All five received near-universal acclaim, although Lovers Rock has emerged as the clear favorite, with its low-key, music-infused romance about a couple (played by Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn and Micheal Ward) who meet at a house party and spend a momentous evening together.
Lovers Rock is streaming on Amazon Prime ($119 per year after a 30-day free trial).
This supreme bummer of a documentary chronicles the corruption and neglect endemic in the Romanian healthcare system and the government agencies that oversee it. A scandal arising from deaths in a horrific nightclub fire grows to encompass multiple aspects of hospital management and governmental oversight, and the film takes a you-are-there approach to observing this nightmarish situation unfold step by step.
Collective is available for digital rental ($6.99+) at Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and other outlets.
More than 30 years after the release of Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense, which is widely considered to be the greatest concert movie of all time, former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne returns with another acclaimed concert movie. Director Spike Lee documented Byrne’s most recent Broadway show, combining music from throughout Byrne’s career with Byrne’s observations about life. It’s all presented on a shifting, enveloping stage that Lee captures with his roving cameras.
American Utopia is streaming on HBO Max ($14.99 per month).
Director Garrett Bradley follows activist Fox Rich in this documentary detailing Rich’s tireless efforts on behalf of her husband, who’s serving a 60-year prison sentence for robbery. Drawing on footage that Rich created over the course of many years, the movie is a combination of personal storytelling and advocacy filmmaking, focusing on one family’s struggle to be reunited while also demonstrating the deep injustices in America’s prison system as a whole.
Time is streaming on Amazon Prime ($119 per year after a 30-day free trial).
The biggest Broadway sensation of the past two decades reached a whole new audience thanks to this film, which captures performances by the musical’s original cast, including playwright/composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. Original stage director Thomas Kail filmed three shows at Broadway’s Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2016, augmented by additional footage filmed without a live audience.
The dynamic musical about early American politician Alexander Hamilton reimagines American history through the lens of hip-hop, with actors of color filling every major role.
Hamilton is streaming on Disney+ ($6.99 per month or $69.99 per year after a seven-day free trial).
The second of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films to make the list, Mangrove is probably the collection’s most conventional historical drama, telling the true-life story of nine Black activists who were arrested at a protest outside the Mangrove restaurant and put on trial in 1971 for inciting a riot.
The first half of the movie immerses the viewer in the vibrant culture surrounding the Mangrove, while the second half is a rousing courtroom drama that highlights the deep (and ongoing) racial inequities in the British justice system.
Mangrove is streaming on Amazon Prime ($119 per year after a 30-day free trial).
Kelly Reichardt’s drama of the American frontier follows two unlikely friends (played by John Magaro and Orion Lee) as they start a makeshift business selling “oily cakes” to pioneers starved for any kind of food with actual flavor and flair. Reichardt’s slow, methodical approach allows for plenty of time to develop the central friendship while also steadily building suspense over the pair’s secretive theft of milk from the only cow in the Oregon territory, owned by a wealthy Englishman (Toby Jones).
First Cow is streaming on Showtime ($8.99 per month after a 30-day free trial) and is available for digital purchase ($7.99+) and rental ($3.99+) at Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, and other outlets.
Dick Johnson Is Dead
Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson puts her own father in the spotlight in this deeply personal documentary, in which the younger Johnson confronts her father’s mortality (He’s been diagnosed with dementia.) by imagining and enacting absurd scenarios for his potential death. The elder Johnson, a retired psychiatrist, gamely participates in his daughter’s elaborate fantasies, which serve as an emotionally cathartic coping mechanism for both father and child (and, by extension, the audience).
Dick Johnson Is Dead is streaming on Netflix ($8.99+ per month).
Frederick Wiseman has been making straightforward, unadorned documentaries about American institutions since 1967, and his latest is a four-and-a-half-hour documentary about Boston’s city government. By depicting the inner workings of bureaucracy in careful detail, Wiseman gives his audience a glimpse into how municipalities function on a daily basis, from long, monotonous meetings to impassioned arguments at public comment sessions.
City Hall is streaming for free through January 19, 2021 on the PBS website and is available in virtual theatrical release ($12) via Eventive.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The late Chadwick Boseman gives his final performance in this music-focused drama based on the August Wilson play. The movie takes place over the course of a single day in 1927 when renowned blues singer (and ornery diva) Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) is recording a few songs with her band. Boseman plays an ambitious trumpeter who clashes with Ma, in a showcase for two powerhouse performances that serves as a rumination on pride and regret.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is streaming on Netflix ($8.99+ per month).