10 Underrated Films From 2020 That You Can Watch on Netflix Right Now

It’s no secret that 2020 has not been a great year for the film industry, with the coronavirus significantly impacting theaters, film distributors, and film producers. Without theaters to open in or audiences to show to, films were forced to flee from their release dates, either being significantly pushed back or pulled from the release schedule completely. Some distributors experimented with PVOD solutions, charging a premium price for digital rentals of their films, a tactic that had varying success. Others are still patiently waiting for the pandemic to end so they can release their films properly in cinemas. Either way, it’s easy to believe that because 2020 has been a poor year for the film industry in general that the films of 2020 are also poor. But this is not the appropriate mindset. While this has been a year relatively free of blockbusters (there hasn’t been a Marvel movie released this year), and there seem to be fewer traditional Oscar contenders, there have been a lot of great movies released this year. So to help combat that mentality, I will recommend a few movies that I believe have been overlooked this year. For the sake of accessibility, the main list is going to focus on films that can be found on Netflix, while honorable mentions at the end will include other streaming services.

10. The Half of It

While the trailers may give off a traditional Netflix rom-com tone, “The Half of It” is sweeter, more emotional, and more complex than one may expect. To a degree, the film seems to be stuck between being a classic high-school dramedy and being a genuine and heartfelt coming-of-age story. It’s at its best when it’s attempting the latter. Its inclusion on this list is primarily to say: Don’t discount the film because of its marketing or because of Netflix’s track record with films targeting the same demographic. It might fall into the same tropes occasionally, but it’s a good one.

9. Nobody Knows I’m Here

With a title like that, “Nobody Knows I’m Here” might as well be referencing itself, sitting hidden on Netflix among hundreds of other films. The film follows a man with a beautiful singing voice who is hiding away on a remote farm after a failed childhood attempt at stardom. Often serene, the film employs gorgeous aerial cinematography that makes it feel like a grand experience. The story itself isn’t the most original, but the film serves well as a contemplative character study.

8. 37 Seconds

A light and slightly melodramatic film about a young woman who yearns for independence that she has never been granted, “37 Seconds” is easily a crowd-pleaser. Some bizarre twists occur throughout, but ultimately it’s a sweet coming-of-age (or, rather, “coming-of-independence”) story that helps shed a light on the struggles that people with physical disabilities face in a nuanced and fairly in-depth way.

7. Tigertail

A relatively short and simple film, “Tigertail” is genuine and visually beautiful. Some may find it too fast-paced as it attempts to tell an epic story in 90 minutes, but it’s nevertheless an important film. Lee Hong-chi (who also stars in the intriguing “Cities of Last Things,” also available on Netflix, and the masterpiece “Long Day’s Journey into Night”) gives a standout performance. It serves as a good double feature with the brilliant “Minari,” as the films offer different perspectives on the lives of immigrant families in the United States.

6. The Platform

“The Platform” is a clever and entertaining dystopian horror film that serves as a clever extended allegory. It’s similar to films like Bong Joon Ho’s “Snowpiercer.” There isn’t much explanation as to how the film’s situation came to be, but there doesn’t need to be. I can highly recommend this film to anyone who is a fan of gruesome, yet thought-provoking, cinema.

5. The Forty-Year-Old Version

The title of “The Forty-Year-Old Version” surely reminds one of Judd Apatow’s 2005 comedy film, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” This is of course an intentional choice, but don’t expect Apatow’s brand of comedy in this semi-autobiographical dramedy written, directed, and starring Radha Blank. The film follows a struggling playwright who tries to reinvent herself in the middle of her life. It’s a film brimming with authenticity, with commentary on gentrification, culture, art, and more. It’s also endlessly entertaining, with its delightful comedy carrying it through the over 2 hour long runtime.

4. The Book of Sun

Saudi Arabia doesn’t exactly have a massive film industry. The first film to ever be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia with a fully Saudi cast released in 2012, and the country only lifted its bans on cinemas 2 years ago. Even now, cinemas and the film industry are working against Arab cultural norms. Nevertheless, some filmmakers are challenging those norms. “The Book of Sun” is a comedy about a teen who would much rather pursue a career making films than study for his exams and become a doctor. The film delivers plenty of great laughs while also serving as a sweet ode to cinema and coming-of-age.

3. Bulbbul

“Bulbull” is a dark and twisted fairytale full of brilliant stylistic visuals and a compellingly mysterious story. It mixes genre effortlessly. At one point it appears to be a horror, and in the next it’s a romance. But where it all concludes is something else altogether, and it’s a relentlessly satisfying film. While many will realize the secrets of the film far before the end (perhaps even from the very beginning), the point isn’t necessarily to be surprised. Fans of films like “Pan’s Labyrinth” should certainly check this one out.

2. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Okay, I will admit that the inclusion of Charlie Kaufman’s latest film, “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” in this list isn’t really in the spirit of the list. After all, it’s a Charlie Kaufman film. It received sufficient marketing, it’ll probably get a decent awards push this winter, and it has more big stars in its cast than the rest of this list combined. However, nearly two months after the film’s release, it seems like the general opinion of the film is lower than it should be. The film is a brilliant subversion of its source material that both honors and outdoes what came before it. With an incredible screenplay, smart cinematography, and Oscar-worthy performances all around, this is a movie worth seeing.

1. Residue

A breathtaking, poetic film that is both commentary on gentrification as well as a very genuine story about memories and reflecting on the past. Those looking for a strict plot should look elsewhere, as “Residue” takes a more surreal, dream-like approach to telling its story, shifting from present day to memory and back again in a fluid fashion, and not so much driving the plot forward through dramatic events but through quiet revelations. One of the very best of the year, “Residue” is an incredible achievement that a wide audience deserves to see.

Honorable Mentions

Available on: Amazon Prime

An urgent commentary on the prison system as well as a meditation on the concept of time that rivals that of fiction films, this is one of the most important films of the year.

“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”
Available on: HBO Max
A tender, delicate, and empathetic film with some of the best performances of the year. It’s a fairly simple film, but it’s quietly heartbreaking and among my favorite films of 2020.

Available on: VOD

A surprisingly excellent film about a young woman who has been exploited by her parents since childhood and at age 26 is just beginning to break away from her parents’ ways and learn of true human connection.

Opinions about movies, television, and whatever else might come to my mind.

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