10. “Minari” (Lee Isaac Chung)
The reality of the American Dream is evaluated, dissected, and graciously witnessed in the tender-hearted “Minari,” directed by Lee Isaac Chung. Following a Korean-American family led by the stubborn, prideful patriarch (Steven Yeun), the film is an exercise in restraint with an astute understanding of when to allow silence to tell a story. Immersed in the Arkansas farmland, Chung’s film is visual poetry – aided by the work of cinematographer Lachlan Milne – with the rural backdrop serving as a reminder of all that the earth grants and can take away, no matter the work you do, or the breaks you wish, and perhaps deserve, to be given. Despite the melancholy atmosphere, there’s humor and warmth, especially in the playfully antagonistic relationship between grandmother and grandson, (Youn Yuh-jung and Alan S. Kim), who create the heart of this family drama with their evolving dynamic. The emotional stakes are deeply felt, making the family’s every triumph and hardship resound all the more strongly long after the credits roll. – Allyson Johnson

9. “Dick Johnson is Dead” (Kirsten Johnson)
Mortality is not an uncommon theme in cinema, but it’s rarely been dealt with as much vitality as it is in Kirsten Johnson’s genre-defying documentary. In “Dick Johnson Is Dead,” the “Cameraperson” filmmaker works with her aging father — one of the most lovable characters in any 2020 movie — to stage his demise in often comical ways. Meanwhile, his memory deteriorates and his actual death seems ever more imminent. Johnson’s approach somehow both comforts the family and confronts reality, causing both the director and her father to actively dwell on the impending loss. “Dick Johnson is Dead” is overwhelmingly sweet and hilariously funny (much like Dick himself), but it is also tinged with the sadness of both the present and the future. Johnson has crafted a movie that is at once specific to her own experience and nearly universal for the audience, resulting in a mournful, yet uplifting and moving work that gets to the very essence of the human experience. – Kimber Myers

8. “Lovers Rock” (Steve McQueen)
Of all the (terrific) entries in Steve McQueen’s ambitious, multi-part film project “Small Axe,” “Lovers Rock” might be the most outstanding. Not necessarily because of its subject matter – a blues party in 1980s West London – but because of its intimate focus on the sensations and texture of this enclosed, exclusive space, in a drifting mood piece that dances seductively through a series of detailed biographical dramas. Courttia Newland and McQueen’s script (the accuracy of which has been challenged by a number of aunties and uncles) is so deceptively light and simple that despite airing on television, the film feels completely unbeholden to the constraints of that medium, never hurrying to the next track, content to simply rest in the moment. Or even to prolong it: the stand-out set-piece being that singalong of “Silly Games,” which continues well past the point of the song ending. It’s an enrapturing and visually rich mood piece, a rare vision of joyful respite from the oppression of white institutions. – Kambole Campbell

7. “Da 5 Bloods” (Spike Lee)
With one of the most ambitious films of his masterful career, Spike Lee gives Netflix subscribers a highly entertaining treasure hunt flick heavily inspired by “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” but he does so through a deeply nuanced exploration of two wars that never really ended–Vietnam and Civil Rights. Delroy Lindo leads an incredible ensemble with arguably the best performance of his career, but history has made Chadwick Boseman’s performance as the soldier who never made it home all the more poignant. Most of all, this is an incredible showcase for Lee’s robust filmmaking, weaving blatant cinematic influences through world history and into something that only he could make. Every frame pulses with Lee’s passion, and the shocking violence and high body count amplify the intensity of an unforgettable experience. As these men navigate the tricky landscape of an unwelcoming country, their own trauma, and the history of race relations in this world, there are landmines everywhere. – Brian Tallerico

6. “Sound of Metal” (Darius Marder)
Riz Ahmed’s stare doesn’t leave you alone. It snares you and silences you, forcing you to consider the anger, regret, and longing dueling with each other under that expressive gaze. In “Sound of Metal,” those eyes compel us to pay attention to a transformation that not only manifests in Ahmed’s physicality (he’s leaner, more tightly wound) but in a performance that is more introspective than any of the actor/rapper’s previous works. As Ruben Stone, a drummer who loses the majority of his hearing while on tour with girlfriend and bandmate Lou (Olivia Cooke), Ahmed effectively embodies a man whose entire identity is endangered by this one change. Director and writer Darius Marder surrounds Ahmed with experiments with sound, and its absence, that are simultaneously bold and inclusive. The result is a film that carefully asks what we abandon in a gamble for a better future; the last minute or so of “Sound of Metal,” with its singular focus on Ahmed, grips you tight in the pain and beauty of its answer. – Roxana Hadadi