Earlier this summer, Taste of Cinema released a list of 2020 movies that the average reader may have missed. Given the decline of theatrical releases, this kind of list seemed like a necessity. Passionate film-lovers couldn’t just give up their hobby because the world was crumbling. On the contrary, the rise of social distancing meant that people had plenty of time to sit at home and sift through a large library of movies.
Well, it turns out that the world will continue to crumble for the foreseeable future. Numerous streaming services are available to help you get through your backlog, but new releases shouldn’t be ignored. So many talented filmmakers have been given platforms to release their projects, so why not give them your extra time?
Below, you’ll find ten more lesser-known movies that have come out this year. All of the entries listed below are available on some sort of streaming platform. Please understand that this list is not limited to any specific genre, so read carefully as you decide what you want to watch. Everything on this list has merit, but some entries fall into a specific niche. That being said, there should be something for everybody.
1. House of Hummingbird
Directors often have a hard time understanding adolescence. Teenagers are often portrayed as too naive or too perfect. Luckily, House of Hummingbird gets what it’s like to be a frustrated juvenile navigating through puberty. Even with its South Korean origins, the themes and motifs are universal. This is a narrative that practically anyone can relate to.
Eun-hee, the protagonist, tries her best to understand love, morality, and her future while dealing with a dysfunctional family. Regardless of how often these struggles have made their way to the big screen, House of Hummingbird finds a way to make them stand out. It doesn’t sugarcoat things, and because of that, it feels undeniably authentic. Considering how often directors struggle to understand the teenage psyche, this feels like a massive success.
Innumerable artistic decisions were made to create the best coming-of-age movie since Eighth Grade. Like Bo Burnham’s quirky dramedy, House of Hummingbird has an intelligent screenplay with a cast of performers who know what they’re doing. More importantly, everything feels genuine.
2. Marona’s Fantastic Tale
Marona’s Fantastic Tale uses beautiful visuals to tell a story that will have you crying into a pillow by the time the credits roll. It’s a classic “sad dog” story, but this time, the heart-wrenching doggy death happens in the beginning. From there, the clock rewinds and we get to experience the titular K9’s life from one owner to the next. It’s adorable, it’s visually stunning, and it’s occasionally devastating.
Romanian director Anca Damian clearly knows a thing or two about creating entertainment with universal appeal. Marona’s Fantastic Tale is both mature enough for adults and simple enough for children. It doesn’t talk down to the audience, but it rarely overcomplicates things. It covers topics like neglect, death, but it doesn’t do so in a way that could go over anybody’s head. Unlike so many other animated films, it strikes a necessary balance.
It also helps that it’s gorgeous to look at and pleasurable to watch. It’s not necessarily a fun family movie akin to the latest Dreamworks release, but it captivates in other ways. Impactful storytelling coupled with gorgeous animation results in something one-of-a-kind.
At first glance, Babyteeth appears to tread familiar territory. The synopsis makes it sound like plenty of other coming-of-age teen dramas: a young female outcast falls for the local bad boy. She has a heart of gold, but that’s not all she has. She also has a terminal illness that makes her life expectancy one big question mark. The premise makes it seem like a schlocky spin on material we’ve seen before, but there’s a surprising amount of depth and originality on display.
Structurally, it feels very much like an indie movie. Babyteeth forgoes any sort of three-act structure in favor of something a little messier. Though the plot is presented linearly, title cards are used to introduce scenes that are more akin to vignettes than interconnected pieces of larger puzzle. This lends itself well to something that could have been, but thankfully wasn’t, far more traditional.
At the end of the day, it’s still a simple coming-of-age narrative, but the narrative is enhanced by daring decisions made by everyone involved. Rita Kalnejais’s screenplay carefully ignores dramatic pitfalls, while director Shannon Murphy sensitively tackles complex topics. At any given opportunity, Babyteeth could’ve taken the easy way out, but it never does.
4. Blow the Man Down
Blow the Man Down is the feminist regional noir you didn’t know you wanted. This quick-witted thriller immediately grabs you with its intricate premise, but unlike so many similar movies, it manages to remain engrossing throughout its 91-minute runtime. Even if it never reaches the heights of Fargo, this is a memorable crime story that is sure to stick with fans of the genre.
The central mystery involves a missing girl and a suspicious brothel run by the enigmatic town matriarch, but that’s only a fraction of the densely packed storyline. There is a lot to unravel in such a short runtime, and although none of it is necessarily shocking, it is consistently amusing.
The entertainment value mostly comes from a whip-smart screenplay written by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy. The two manage to create a world that feels very much alive. Characters all have distinct personalities and the rural town should resonate with viewers who understand this kind of setting. The two clearly had an artistic vision, and luckily, everything comes together.
In theory, the praise could end there. Seriously, the top-notch writing is enough to warrant recommendation. However, that wouldn’t be fair to everyone else involved. Blow the Man Down also benefits from an exceptional cast, a skilled editor, and a pair of composers who know how to set the scene. It’d be easy enough to single out one strong element, but that simply isn’t enough.
5. Extra Ordinary
In Extra Ordinary, Will Forte plays a washed-up rock musician who decides to sacrifice a virgin in an effort to become famous once again. You may be surprised to hear that this premise is even weirder than it sounds. Extra Ordinary is one of the wildest horror comedies in recent memory, and although it doesn’t always stick the landing, it never fails to charm.
Will Forte’s bubbly performance certainly helps elevate things, but let’s not undersell this gem. Extra Ordinary is more than just a former SNL cast member having the time of his life. It’s a wide variety of people having a blast, and they want you to have a blast with them. Even if there are some problems with the script here and there, this is well worth the time commitment. Invite a few friends over and enjoy this eccentric roller coaster.