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The 25 Best Movies of 2020 (So Far)

There’s a great sight gag in Robert Altman’s Hollywood satire The Player, a building on a studio lot emblazoned with a phony but wholly accurate showbiz motto: “Movies … now more than ever.” In the context of a movie made in the early ’90s, this epigram criticized both the nascent direct-to-VHS market and the escalating spectacle of the most expensive blockbusters, literal and spiritual sequels to the special-effects-driven shlock that demolished Altman’s New Hollywood glory days. But the words also perfectly parody the kind of glib, pandering mantras people use to reassure themselves in times of crisis about the enduring importance of their practices and pastimes—in our current case, that the steady stream of VOD offerings we’re watching while waiting out a global pandemic constitute some form of film culture, and that, by extension, the movies still matter now … more than ever.

Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Or maybe they never will again, at least not in the same way as when moviegoing was a fundamentally collective phenomenon, although we’ve arguably been heading in that direction for a while anyway. The question of whether cobbling together lists of the “best movies of the year” was ever more than an arbitrary inventory juxtaposing A-list titles from big studios with smallers films whose theatrical release dates come months or years after festival premieres is actually not all that different in 2020 than it was in 2019 or 2018. It seems increasingly common that smaller distributors will cut their losses by putting potential niche hits on demand rather than further biding their time for arthouses to re-open (Exhibit A: A24 putting First Cow online this month rather than rereleasing into theaters at a later date). The feeling of a “lost year” has begun to subside … at least

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