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The 25 Best Movies of 2020 (So Far)

In a year in which cinema has been seemingly shut down, there has still been plenty of great work to see—if you know where to look

Harrison Freeman

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 for those positioned, savvy, or privileged enough to access (and subsidize) the network of “virtual cinemas” operating in the shadow of Netflix, iTunes, and Disney+.

For those with the desire and the time, the year to date has yielded a strong, diverse slate of movies, and most of what’s on this list can be found fairly easily at this point. Consider our top 25 an opportunity to play catch-up before we find out whether Christopher Nolan’s Tenet will even be released in time to round out 2020’s roll call. —Adam Nayman

To read the rest of The Ringer’s Best of 2020 (So Far) lists, click here.


Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Directed by Eliza Hittman (Focus)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

An experiential, almost methodological look at a young woman’s quest to get an abortion, Hittman’s third feature film never takes it eyes off Autumn (newcomer Sidney Flanigan), a protagonist with a deep reserve of unspoken pain, anxiety, and confusion. This is a movie increasingly rare in mainstream independent cinema—issue-driven but not preachy, empathetic but deeply unsentimental, riveting and disinterested in eventizing its circumstances. Hittman is already known for a patient gaze and what can sometimes seem like ambivalence about plotting. A bus ride from Pennsylvania to New York City plays like the slowest burn second act imaginable. But Never Rarely Sometimes Always takes that impressionistic style and subsumes it in a journey toward freedom, or at least finality, and all the complexities of coping with the end. This film, maybe the best movie released in 2020, feels like a turning point for a major American filmmaker. —Sean Fennessey

The Assistant

Dir. by Kitty Green (Bleecker Street)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

The stringent, rhythmic minimalism of Kitty Green’s workplace horror movie is the year’s most adroit and agile exercise in film direction; while not a lot happens in The Assistant, the film’s vision of silent, head-down professionalism as a form of complicity (consider the chilling implications of the title) is indelible, turning what might have otherwise been pegged as a #MeToo fable into something more effectively existential. As the immaculately dressed and styled drone trying to decide whether to tell on her sexually predatory boss, Julia Garner locates the intersection of self-effacement and self-negation; as the company’s concern-trolling HR gatekeeper, Matthew Macfadyen distills his sickly funny brilliance on Succession into a single, insidious sequence. —Nayman

Birds of Prey

Dir. by Cathy Yan (Warner Bros.)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

Or: The Fantabulous Emancipation of One Margot Robbie, freed from the leering, shaky gaze of Suicide Squad (you can keep the #AyerCut) and relocated before the focused directorial crosshairs of Cathy Yan, the Chinese-American director whose foray into the DCEU represents one of the brand’s only productive personnel decisions to date. Yan’s robust, precisely visualized fight scenes and capable comic-book storytelling—think Deadpool’s fourth wall breaking minus most of the Cards Against Humanity–style obnoxiousness—give Robbie a framework to deliver an affectionate, even lovable movie-star performance. Where in Suicide Squad she was clearly straining to break out from the grim grotesquerie, here she’s relaxed, funny, and surrounded by a group of equally game actresses (Rosie Perez, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and a hilariously stone-faced Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and given a worthily wormy male adversary in Ewan McGregor’s narcissistic beta-male crime lord, Black Mask. With what can only be called a sense of the moment, McGregor plays his character as the kind of guy you’d like to see get punched in the face, over and over. Luckily, Yan and Robbie oblige. —Nayman

The King of Staten Island

Dir. by Judd Apatow (Universal)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

For years, Apatow has been citing the work of John Cassavetes and Hal Ashby in his work. This was the first time I felt it. Maybe it was the outerboro blue collar milieu, dotted with firefighters and nurses and their aspirational seeds. Maybe it was cinematographer Robert Elswit’s dependence on natural lighting. Maybe it was Pete Davidson, Apatow’s latest Russian doll of comic tragedy who just happens to have more in common with a New Hollywood anti-hero than, say, Paul Rudd. Either way, this worked on me, a quarantine dramedy heavy on character actors doing their best bids in a long while (Steve Buscemi, Marisa Tomei) and a classic “Whoa, this funnyman is one helluva an actor” turn from Bill Burr. Apatow’s shadow is longer than his filmography, but it’s exciting to see him inch away from gags and lean into influence. For his next act, might I suggest a remake of Husbands starring Dave Chappelle, Marc Maron, Rob Delaney, and Jason Segel? OK, maybe that’s a bad idea. —Fennessey

Da 5 Bloods

Dir. by Spike Lee
Where to Watch: Netflix

At a certain point, Spike Lee’s riff on The Treasure of the Sierra Madre narrows from a banter-driven ensemble piece about a group of reunited servicemen into a showcase for Delroy Lindo—not that there’s anything wrong with that. There may be five Bloods, but the one who really counts is the anguished mountain of pent-up guilt and resentment in the battered MAGA cap. Tasked with embodying the contradictions of an embittered, politically dissident African American veteran for whom reparations, vengeance, and redemption have become inseparable, Lindo commits to an expansive, more-is-more performance whose biggest and most jaw-dropping moments—a veritable cocktail of blood, sweat, and tears—belie a master actor’s gift for control. Da 5 Bloods is an uneven movie—perhaps inevitably, given its intended scope and blistering intensity—but Lindo is extraordinary. —Nayman

Bacurau

Dir. by Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles (Kino Lorber)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

An absolutely wild treat from Brazil, colliding grindhouse storytelling and anti-colonialist allegory into a stew of hyperviolent, unpredictable entertainment. Kleber Mendonça Filho’s last film, 2016’s far more elegiac Aquarius, drew on his country’s incursion of political quagmires for a story about encroaching gentrification and one woman’s act of opposition. But Bacurau amplifies the ideas into something more mythological, integrating UFO imagery, Rambo-esque hunt sequences, and tribal warfare. Once again he casts Sônia Braga as his matriarch de résistance, and she leads the titular besieged settlement with ferocious and deadly resolve. This movie is truly one of a kind; seek it out if you’re feeling defiant. —Fennessey

First Cow

Dir. by Kelly Reichardt (A24)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD on July 10

An early distribution casualty of COVID-19, Kelly Reichardt’s beautifully written and acted period piece will hopefully get resurrected theatrically by A24 when the time is right. Even if seeing major movies on streaming platforms is now the new normal, any film this meticulously shot and sound-designed deserves the chance to work its magic in the dark. Essentially a parable of capitalist ingenuity and ambition set against the formation of American society—specifically a muddy, ethnically mixed outpost just off the Oregon Trail in the early 19th century—First Cow finds Reichardt revising the Western genre more subtly and powerfully than in Meek’s Cutoff; it’s like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid without outlaws or pistols, and an even more pronounced sense of tragedy for its doomed best-buddy heroes. Few American filmmakers this millennium can match Reichardt’s unbroken winning streak, and as usual, her casting choices are on point: In a perfect world, Orion Lee’s charismatic work as a Chinese immigrant turned small-scale pastry entrepreneur would be a star-maker. —Nayman

Bad Education

Dir. by Cory Finley
Where to Watch: HBO

A nifty little true-story morality play with provenance in my neck of the woods, the fiercely competitive domain of Long Island public schooling. Hugh Jackman stars as an eerily genuine high school administrator with the right glad-handing compliment for every school board booster and the right note of confidence for every student who stumbles into his office doubting their future. Things are not what they seem and unravel, obviously: He’s a bad … educator. Director Cory Finley, a playwright by trade, has a knack for uneasy confrontations and claustrophobic Kubrickian staging. (Lotta low angles and ominous dolly shots here!) His last movie, the underrated Thoroughbreds, peered through the lens of a couple of bored and devious teen girls. This time around, it’s the adults who are up to no damn good. It’s pat to yearn for this kind of arch talk-a-thon, but I love them. Thirty years ago, taut dramas like this competed for awards and were the subject of dinner party conversation fodder for my parents; now they’re just one more cotton ball in the medicinal jar of streaming video queues. But if there’s a reason to watch this above all, it’s Jackman. He’s such a marvelous song-and-dance ham that he rarely shifts into this gear, no less mesmerizing but far less razzle-dazzle. His outsized presence and natural beauty never overwhelms the character’s vanity and warped sense of morality. When things go belly up, he’s bursting to say something meaningful as a means to fight back. If only he had an original thought. —Fennessey

The Whistlers

Dir. by Corneliu Porumboiu
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

Corneliu Porumboiu made the most thoughtful cop movie of the millennium in 2009 with Police, Adjective, about a detective surveilling hapless teenage drug dealers in Bucharest. With The Whistlers, this wonderfully poker-faced filmmaker nods more overtly toward genre conventions while still subverting our expectations. On assignment in the Canary Islands, where he’s travelled to learn an obscure, whistling-based dialect that will help unlock a case on the homefront, Cristi (the great Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov) gets involved in local mob intrigue made incongruously glamorous by the exotic backdrop. Porumboiu’s deadpan sensibility is in evidence, cross-bred with a more accessible storytelling that almost suggests a kind of mainstream sellout … except that in the end, his deep fascination with intractable procedure, ethical crisis, and the vagaries of communication remains unchanged. —Nayman

The Invisible Man

Dir. by Leigh Whannell (Blumhouse)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

A showcase for Elisabeth Moss, perhaps the best American actress breathing, or at least the one who most effectively embodies trauma, rage, wit, and vengeance. Ostensibly a modernized remake of the Claude Rains horror classic, this Blumhouse reboot—itself a revamp after the disastrous “Dark Universe” experiment of … wait, that was only 2017?—is the best of the scrappy-and-bragging-about-it horror house. Leigh Whannell proved with 2018’s Cameron-esque Upgrade that tension and action are best served as a duo. What could have been a crass take on a survivor’s tale of abuse and stalking turns into something more visceral and intellectually realized, in part because of the filmmaker’s sense of staging, unusual robo-set pieces, and Moss’s astonishing embodiment of a paranoid woman on the brink. A great popcorn movie that’s even better if you give it a second thought. —Fennessey

Tommaso

Dir. by Abel Ferrara
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema

Willem Dafoe can play anybody, including, it would seem, noted lunatic Abel Ferrara. As in the Ferrara-directed Pasolini, Dafoe shrinks a larger-than-life-auteur down to human dimensions while effacing his own celebrity; somehow, this most recognizable of art-house stars disappears. Because Tommaso surrounds its star with Ferrara’s real-life wife and daughter—placing them mostly on their domestic routine in a sunlit, top-floor Rome apartment—it’s tempting to read the film as a self-portrait of a New Yorker in exile. On that level, the material’s balance between self-aggrandizement and self-loathing is fascinating. But strip away the art-imitates-life gamesmanship and there are affecting universals here as well, about the mix of yearning and insecurity that comes with being an American abroad, and the struggle to reconcile destructive addictions (drugs and alcohol) with the obsessive, almost narcotic fixation required to create art. Bonus points for a Scorsese-homage finale that yields the year’s most hilariously over-the-top symbolism before an impossibly tender, personal coda; not only can Ferrara do strident and private, he doesn’t ask us to choose between the two. —Nayman

The Trip to Greece

Dir. by Michael Winterbottom
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

The quadrilogy no one asked for—and, for those of us who even know of its existence, are grateful to have—Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon’s travelogue series comes to a gentle, mournful conclusion. The celebrity impressions abound once more (Arnold! Begets! Werner!) as does the delicately arranged international coastal cuisine. But the two stars and its stalwart director have wrought a surprisingly tender series of films about male competition, insecurity, and reckoning. The finale is perhaps too maudlin, but never unnecessary. —Fennessey

Cane River

Dir. by Horace B. Jenkins (Oscilloscope)
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

Not technically a new movie, but still technically the freshest independent release of 2020. Produced and abandoned in 1982, Horace B. Jenkins’s Cane River was rediscovered and restored in 2014 by a crowd-funded preservation collective. Because Jenkins died shortly after finishing his debut, the film, which was made with an all-Black crew and cast and impressed Richard Pryor so much that he lobbied Warner Bros. to distribute it, has gradually taken on a mysterious, near-mythic status. Rereleased on Criterion this year, Cane River vindicates the hype, albeit in a disarmingly modest way. Jenkins’s story of a college football star who declines the NFL draft to return to his rural Louisiana community—where family business, tricky real estate deals, and romance await—unfolds with a gentle, music-drenched lyricism that feels more effortless than overtly masterful. —Nayman

Babyteeth

Dir. by Shannon Murphy (IFC)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

Australian director Shannon Murphy’s portrait of a young woman with a terminal illness (played by the frequently afflicted Eliza Scanlen) has a post-manic pixie dream girl anxiety—a rebuke to the oversimplified tales of whimsical love told from the perspective of a tragically perfect young woman. It reminded me a lot of Penelope Spheeris’s early films like Suburbia and The Decline of Western Civilization—intimate portraits of wastrels teens bound up by the contradictions of their own sincerity and cynicism. But despite its grave frame, it attempts to do something hopeful and puckishly optimistic. Bonus points for returning the undefeated Ben Mendelsohn to his native Australia for the first feature production since 2010’s Animal Kingdom. —Fennessey

The Last Dance

Dir. by Jason Hehir
Where to Watch: ESPN

Remember when we had five Sunday nights booked solid at the beginning of quarantine? Simpler, terrible times. With His Airness’s producorial participation, this wide-ranging documentary—both like a movie and a TV series—about the saga of Michael Jordan was not a wholly objective portrayal. If you can get over that existential necessity, The Last Dance blended nostalgia and monomania in a way that recalled Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator—in other words, glamour, success, iconography, and extraordinary wealth do not a happy man make. The pettiness and axe-grinding on display from MJ may have been decades in the making, but there hasn’t been an energy that more accurately reflects 2020. —Fennessey

Fourteen

Dir. by Dan Sallitt (Grasshopper)
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema

The New York–based writer-director Dan Sallitt makes movies that force you to meet them halfway, if not all the way across the street. The Unspeakable Act dramatized tortured incestuous yearning between a sister and her brother, and while there’s nothing so taboo in Fourteen, it’s still profoundly uncomfortable to watch wannabe writer Mara (Tallie Medel) drift away from her extroverted best friend Jo (Norma Kuhling), a bundle of raw, exposed nerves and fractured good intentions whose erratic lifestyle starts taking on the contours of a cautionary tale. Essentially a film about the ways in which we lose people—whether by accident, or an unconscious lack of hanging on, or both—Fourteen’s elliptical, time-jumping structure manifests a challenge to get on Sallitt’s impulsive, melancholy emotional wavelength. Climb aboard—the film is a bumpy, propulsive ride toward and through real pain. —Nayman

Blood Quantum

Dir. by Jeff Barnaby (Prospector Films)
Where to Watch: Shudder

I’ve seen a lot of zombie movies in my day, but I’d never seen a zombie fish before—until the astonishing opening sequence of Jeff Barnaby’s latest, a rip-roaring undead story told from the perspective of an Indigenous tribe in Canada battling a horde of white zombies. The sociopolitical commentary isn’t hard to parse and this one is in the fine tradition of George Romero and David Cronenberg’s Rabid—white people are mindlessly killing and they must be destroyed. The Indigenous citizens of the Red River reserve are immune to the plague and must be God’s executioner. Barnaby bifurcates the movie into a prologue about the early days of the outbreak and the final days of the siege, effectively telling a family’s story in 96 minutes. The kills and tension are as effective as any big-budget horror flick (it took the filmmakers 12 years to raise the funds for this movie) and the ideas are deeper than the average. I can’t wait to see what Barnaby does next. —Fennessey

The Vast of Night

Dir. by Andrew Patterson
Where to Watch: Amazon

Here’s cause for celebration: a smart, genre-savvy, legitimately innovative low-budget thriller that plunges into the post–World War II past not simply to nostalgically celebrate its paranoid black-and-white sci-fi fantasies but to examine them. In a small town filling up with evidence of close encounters, a nerdy switchboard operator and an even geekier DJ team up, Scooby-Doo–style, to investigate, kicking off a ticking-clock, borderline-real-time story line that never lets us get too far ahead of the characters while playing on our Spielberg-sized expectations about where it’s going. In technical terms, from its roaming camerawork to its charming, precise production design, The Vast of Night is basically perfect. It’s a certainty that director Andrew Patterson will be getting offers to level up from studios and prestige TV networks; that’d be a case of virtue rewarded, and yet his debut has such real, plucky underdog appeal that it’d be nice to see him do a few more movies where less manages, almost heroically, to be more. —Nayman

Color Out of Space

Dir. by Richard Stanley (RLJE)
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

Stuart Gordon died on March 24, 2020. He was one of my favorite filmmakers—a clever technician, hilarious synthesist, and master of low-budget horror ingenuity. Gordon’s best movies were his first two, Re-Animator and From Beyond, both H.P. Lovecraft adaptations. Gordon had an affinity for Lovecraft’s glandular prose, cosmic poetry, and sense of comic doom. Lovecraftian horror can be found everywhere—from the Alien franchise to John Carpenter’s The Thing to Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin—but the real deal is hard to come by. Nearly 10 years ago, when Guillermo del Toro’s long-threatened At the Mountains of Madness adaptation starring Tom Cruise died due to the filmmaker’s unwillingness to make a PG-13 version, my dream of Lovecraft on screen died, too. Lovecraft’s work is simultaneously evocative, ethereal, and, well, gross; it’s hard to make manifest. But the dream is resurrected in Color Out of Space, the first feature from Richard Stanley since he ignominiously vanished into the woods midway through the cursed production of the 1996 remake of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Stanley, like Gordon, is a physicalist, preferring practical effects and hardware to digital animation. This story of a family slowly becoming unglued after a bolt of light from space crashes into their backyard has all the paranoia and gooey discomfort that a Lovecraft promises. It also features Nicolas Cage yelling a lot. If this is your sort of thing, Color Out of Space is definitely your sort of thing. —Fennessey

I Was at Home, But…

Dir. by Angela Schanelec (Cinema Guild)
Where to Watch: Not yet available at home

One afternoon, a hungry dog chases and catches a rabbit, and then … The way the title of German director Angela Schanelec’s latest trails off into infinity mirrors the style of a film that keeps introducing intriguing images and situations while delaying (or maybe abandoning?) traditional payoffs. The animal narrative disappears, replaced by a bizarre, unsettling story of a teenaged boy who returns balefully to his widowed mother after an unexplained absence. As a woman who may or not be broken before the film even begins, Maren Eggert is tense, inscrutable, and fully compelling; like the movie around her, she reveals by withholding. As Schanelec keeps bending her erratic protagonist’s life and choices into the shape of a question mark, Eggert’s nervy acting provides its own answer: If Astrid doesn’t know what she’s doing—or why—then why should we? For those who require closure and conventional coherence, I Was at Home, But… may resemble a nightmare; adventurous and attentive viewers, however, will feel right at home. —Nayman

Selah and the Spades

Dir. by Tayarisha Poe
Where to Watch: Amazon

I can still remember the first time I saw Bottle Rocket and tried to wrap my adolescent brain around what Wes Anderson was up to—a circadian rhythm I’d never experienced, patterns that were foreign but confident in their specificity. Was it good? Smart? Authentic? I dunno, but it worked on me. Poe’s debut is much the same, an insular but inviting look at a boarding school terrarium and its queen who warily rules the roost. Much like Rushmore, this is one of those films that, when Poe’s next project reaches a wider audience and greater acclaim, Selah fans will eagerly point to and say, “See, I told you …” So: I told you. —Fennessey

Vitalina Varela

Dir. by Pedro Costa (Grasshopper)
Where to Watch: Virtual Cinema

Art-house titans don’t come much more intimidating than the Portuguese auteur Pedro Costa, whose stark, monolithic movies wear their austerity as a badge of honor. But if Costa’s aesthetic—all long, static takes and ominous silences—can seem forbidding, his curiosity in and collaboration with his nonprofessional actors demonstrates a genuine tenderness. Vitalina Varela’s eponymous protagonist is a Cape Verdean woman playing herself in the midst of a homecoming to a Lisbon slum after the death of her estranged husband that doubles as our entry point into a cloistered, crumbling community. This subcultural portraiture is Costa’s stock in trade, and on some level, Vitalina Verela is a sequel-slash-companion to his earlier work. Yet for newcomers, its ardent, loving focus on its namesake as she wanders through dilapidated backdrops in search of catharsis could prove fully mesmerizing on its own terms. In literal terms, movies don’t get darker than this—the color palette is all slate greys and inky blacks—which is why its trajectory toward illumination, including the year’s most beautiful final shot, feels so potent. —Nayman

Shirley

Dir. by Josephine Decker
Where to Watch: Hulu

I saw this movie in a very hot, very packed theater at the Sundance Film Festival in January. (Remember movie theaters?) I sat in the front row, neck craned back for 107 uncomfortable minutes. I hated it. I needed a second viewing. Josephine Decker’s movies have a boundless, antiformal vitality, and this story of a young couple who come to live with the author Shirley Jackson and her husband, the literary critic and professor Stanley Edgar Hyman, is all nerves and sweat and bad juju. Not ideal for the way I saw it. But what Decker made me feel is sort of the point of Shirley, once again a stage for Elisabeth Moss to flex her skills, and to highlight the paradox of female creativity. Jackson was both the genius and the supplicant in her household, and Decker weaves a beguiling tale of power, sex, and what it means to be worthy of the artist’s lifestyle. I’m glad I watched it again. —Fennessey

Zombi Child

Dir. by Bertrand Bonello
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel

As in his maddening, astonishing teen-terrorist drama Nocturama, Bertrand Bonello delights in pushing our collective buttons. Zombi Child centers the friendship of a bougie white French teenager with a Haitian-born classmate whose family history is steeped in Voodoo mythology. That the myth turns out to encompass apparently supernatural reality threatens to turn Zombi Child into a genre film, but Bonello is playing a different game; he’s fascinated by the dynamics of interracial friendship—the dance of presumption, curiosity, and discovery—and by the juxtaposition of the younger characters’ very contemporary (and economically high-end) coming of age with a flashback plot evoking the history of colonial subjugation and slavery. The mixing of tones between mystery, adolescent camaraderie, and national allegory is bold, and the results are imperfect—interestingly and maybe even admirably so. —Nayman

The Way Back

Dir. by Gavin O’Connor
Where to Watch: Streaming VOD

What once was conventional now seems antiquated. Such is the case for the latest act of self-conscious self-immolation from Ben Affleck. The actor has been encased in unspoken emotional terror for the better part of five years, constantly lampooned and memed for his own seeming midlife crisis, dotted with Dunkin’ Donuts Coolattas, back tats of ill repute, youngish girlfriends, and far-off gazes into the ocean. After laying down Bruce Wayne’s cape and cowl, he seemed to be an actor without a home. But Affleck is a scrupulous student of movie star power, and he softly paws at the Robert Redford playbook in The Way Back—weathered, regretful, taciturn. As a washed-out, alcoholic ex-college hoops phenom, Affleck seeks redemption when he takes over a head coaching gig for his alma mater’s ragtag basketball team. Think Bad News Bears meets The Lost Weekend.

Only, with O’Connor’s deeply sincere guiding style, he makes this straight-ahead movie something deeper and sadder. Affleck is one of the key American movie faces of the century, someone who has embodied every stage of fame and success, and backslid into all of its valleys right before our eyes. The male protagonists in O’Connor’s sports melodramas (Warrior; Miracle) are often physically imposing but repressed lost souls. Affleck’s Jack Cunningham—burly, dead-eyed, unmoored—is more than lost. There is, naturally, some redemption in this story, but not much by Hollywood standards. Is it a little self-indulgent and maudlin? Maybe so. Old-fashioned? Perhaps. But it’s also unafraid of being those things, and better for that, too. —Fennessey

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