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12 Best Movies of 2020 So Far

From a war epic from one of the greatest living filmmakers to a doc on hip-hop legends — the halftime highlights of a highly unusual moviegoing year

Elizabeth Moss in 'The Invisible Man', Pete Davidson in 'The King of Staten Island' and Stephen Odubola in 'Blue Story.'

Universal Pictures; Mary Cybulski/Universal Pictures; Nick Wall/Paramount Pictures

Yes, the coronavirus stacked the deck against new movies finding their way to us during the first half of 2020 — but quality still won out. Maybe not in theaters, which are still inching their way toward opening depending on what phase of re-launch your state is in. But even after multiplexes were shut down when the pandemic struck hard in mid-March, audiences found other ways to get their movie fix, thanks to video on demand and such streaming services as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO, Disney Plus. And there were a handful of films who made it into theaters just under the quarantine wire that, months later, we still can’t get out of head.

At the year’s halftime point, the fighting spirit of movies is alive and well — as these winners defiantly attest. From a war epic from one of our greatest living filmmakers to a documentary on hip-hop legends, a horror-movie classic tailored for our current moment to a cutting contemporary political satire, here are the 12 best movies of 2020 so far.

Mark Rogers/Universal Pictures

‘The Invisible Man’

Elisabeth Moss and film-maker Leigh Whannell raise the bar on the 1897 H.G. Wells classic by making the smart and timely decision to shift focus from the title character — a wealthy optics innovator (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) — to his architect girlfriend (Moss), whom he keeps controlling and abusing even after his alleged death. The spotlight is now on the empowered woman who decides she’s not going to take a minute more of his toxic masculinity. It’s a work of socially conscious horror that doubles as a #MeToo revenge story.

Mary Cybulski/Universal Pictur

‘The King of Staten Island’

SNL favorite and Staten Island native Pete Davidson had a firefighter dad who died on 9/11. Davidson — the film calls him Scott (his dad’s name) — was just seven when tragedy struck. With invaluable input from director and co-writer Judd Apatow, the comedian uses just enough of his own story to play Scott as a twentysomething train wreck. Still living at home with his nurse mom (Marisa Tomei), he’s more into smoking weed than pursuing his career — not as a comic, but a tattoo artist. It’s challenging to build a raucous fun house tinged with grief and depression, but Davidson shows subtle acting chops as he shapes his life into something funny, touching, and vital.

Angal Field/Focus Features

‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always’

There were bigger, showier movies in the first half of 2020, but none took a more direct path to the heart than Eliza Hittman’s quiet stunner about a Pennsylvania teen named Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) and her trip to Manhattan for an abortion. With only her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to lean on, Autumn faces harrowing obstacles. But it’s less an issue film than an intimate profile in courage. Hittman stays so close to her heroine that we can practically feel her nerve endings.

‘True History of the Kelly Gang’

Director Justin Kurzel’s revisionist Western about Aussie outlaw Ned Kelly (a stellar George McKay) is looking for a deeper truth about the legendary rock-star bank robber and his 19th-century gang of cross-dressing bandits, who fought against British colonial rule in the name of the rural poor. Trained by bushranger Harry Power (Russell Crowe, fully deranged), Ned becomes Australia’s Robin Hood. It’s a transgressive take on history — and a blast.

Amazon Studios

‘The Vast of Night’

First-time director Andrew Patterson’s low-budget, wildly inventive take on vintage “look to the sky” science fiction is just the mind bender we need for the virus-fed paranoia of our troubled times. A small town in 1950s New Mexico may or may not be the first stop of an alien invasion. Who says a teen radio DJ (Jake Horowitz) and a switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) can’t save the world? Getting lost in the vastness of Patterson’s vision would be a highlight in any year.