The list of narrative films that wowed our critics this year — garnering three or more stars out of four — ought to silence anyone who claims that because of the pandemic, there was little worth watching this year. Some of these titles, of course, opened just before theaters shut down nine months ago, but a few didn’t hit the multiplex or art house until recently, as bricks-and-mortar cinemas started to reopen. Most, as you might expect, went straight to streaming services.

For the purpose of this list, we eliminated documentaries — although we dearly love them — and stuck to movies that are available to stream from home. (If you want to see “News of the World,” “Promising Young Woman” or “One Night in Miami” — all opening in theaters Christmas Day, and all earning three or more stars — you’ll have to leave the house for now. But perhaps not for long: The window between theatrical release and streaming availability has shortened dramatically.)

There’s lots to like here — and, hopefully, to discover for the first time: action, animation, drama and comedy.

The 40-Year-Old Version (R)

“It’s a foregone conclusion that ‘The Forty-Year-Old Version’ will be compared to films by Woody Allen, Spike Lee and Judd Apatow, the latter of whom is referenced in the title and the steady stream of vulgar humor that courses through [writer-director-star Radha] Blank’s dialogue. But even with those obvious references, she’s crafted something all her own.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

7500 (R)

“As the co-pilot of a hijacked commercial airliner dealing with an injured arm and moral dilemmas after his captain (Carlo Kitzlinger) is killed, Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a commanding performance in ‘7500,’ a lean, admirably tense thriller that, over the course of a nail-biting hour and a half, takes place almost entirely behind the locked door of the cockpit.” (Amazon Prime) — Michael O’Sullivan

The Assistant (R)

“Somewhere between a joke-free version of ‘Horrible Bosses’ and a horror story lies ‘The Assistant,’ an icky yet highly watchable workplace drama centering on a young woman who toils in the New York office of the chairman of a Miramax-like film production company that is haunted by an unseen presence.” (Various platforms) — Michael O’Sullivan

Babyteeth (Unrated)

“Of the actresses who played the four March sisters in last year’s Oscar-winning adaptation of ‘Little Women,’ Eliza Scanlen, as Beth, was the least well-known — and sadly, the least raved-over for her performance. Now the Australian actress has a second chance to win your attention, in ‘Babyteeth.’ ” (Various platforms) — Michael O’Sullivan

Blow the Man Down (R)

“Writing-directing team Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy make a smashing feature debut with a film that obeys the most cherished crime-thriller conventions while infusing them with just the right amount of stylization and personal commentary.” (Amazon Prime) — Ann Hornaday

Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (R)

“As he did in his comedy show ‘Who Is America?,’ [Sacha Baron] Cohen, assisted by his stable of co-screenwriters, has a genius for leveraging the vanity of his non-actor victims to entice them to step, willingly, onto his cleverly camouflaged comedy land mines.’ (Amazon Prime) — Michael O’Sullivan

The Boys in the Band (R)

“The 1968 play ‘The Boys in the Band’ — both pioneering and polarizing for its simultaneously honest and stagy depiction of pre-Stonewall-era male homosexuality — gets a handsome, impeccably acted Netflix film adaptation by director Joe Mantello, based on Mantello’s own 50th-anniversary Broadway revival in 2018.” (Netflix) — Michael O’Sullivan

Come Away (PG)

“Echoing such recent films as ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’ and ‘Enola Holmes,’ ‘Come Away’ takes place in a bracingly pluralistic 19th-century England, giving the story added verve and resonance.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

Da 5 Bloods (R)

“ ‘Da 5 Bloods’ is most invigorating when [director Spike] Lee is most sharply polemical, whether it’s during that vibrant prologue, or when he stops to drop some knowledge in interstitial flashes of history, wisdom and exuberant wit.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

Emma (PG)

“Love may or may not make the world go round, but [Jane] Austen’s trick — repeated here by [director Autumn] de Wilde — is in making us believe, for a minute, that matters of the heart matter more than anything else on Earth.” (Various platforms) — Michael O’Sullivan

Enola Holmes (PG-13)

“Millie Bobby Brown makes a high-spirited leading-role movie debut in ‘Enola Holmes,’ which on paper might sound like a starchy exercise in feminist revisionism, but winds up executing that agenda with wit, pacey storytelling and an overarching mood of cracking good fun.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

First Cow (PG-13)

“On its face, this simple tale, set in the Oregon territory in the early 19th century, couldn’t be more fable-like, up to and including the majestic, if not literally magical bovine creature at its center. But, like most of [director Kelly] Reichardt’s films, this one contains multitudes.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

The Half of It (PG-13)

“Written and directed with tart intelligence by Alice Wu, and featuring some dazzling breakout performances, this breezy, self-aware and utterly adorable coming-of-age tale keeps one eye on literary and cinematic classics, and the other firmly on a future full of exploration, self-expression and buoyant expectation.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

How to Build a Girl (R)

“ ‘How to Build a Girl’ is adapted by British essayist Caitlin Moran from her semi-autobiographical novel of the same name, and has been directed with a quippy lightness and madcap dashes of magical realism by Coky Giedroyc.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

I Used to Go Here (Unrated)

“Bolstered by an ensemble of game young actors including Josh Wiggins, Forrest Goodluck, Brandon Daley and Rammel Chan, [Gillian] Jacobs delivers a winning portrait of a young woman trapped between two worlds, both inside and out; there’s a wonderful shot of her posing with her friends at a baby shower, holding her new book in front of her like her own baby bump.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

I'm Your Woman (R)

“ ‘I’m Your Woman’ isn’t so much off-kilter as it is ballasted by a different, perhaps lower center of gravity. The title sounds exploitative — perhaps even silly — but the tale it spins is one of power and, ultimately, of coming unexpectedly, satisfyingly, into one’s own.” (Amazon Prime) — Michael O’Sullivan

Kajillionaire (R)

“But what appears to be a wry portrayal of eccentric off-the-gridders becomes something much weirder, deeper and more unsettling as ‘Kajillionaire’s’ true subject matter emerges. The film is spiked with amusing touches, especially the off-kilter physical comedy at which [writer-director Miranda] July excels.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

The King of Staten Island (R)

“On its face, ‘The King of Staten Island’ may look like a thwarted, entitled young man getting his act together, but it gains momentum to become a portrait of trauma and unresolved grief.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

Let Him Go (R)

“The faces of Kevin Costner and Diane Lane are given equal prominence on the poster for ‘Let Him Go’ — next to the long barrel of a gun and a house on fire — but it’s Lane who gets top billing, deservedly, in this surprisingly gripping and moving modern western about two mothers, at odds over the fate of a small boy.” (Various platforms) — Michael O’Sullivan

The Life Ahead (PG-13)

“ ‘The Life Ahead’ might be a familiar story, but as a showcase for [Sophia] Loren’s sensuality, star power and unfailing instincts, it feels both classic and exhilaratingly new.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (R)

“In George C. Wolfe’s captivating adaptation of August Wilson’s play, [Viola Davis] exerts the primary centrifugal pull on a production that obeys the confines of Wilson’s tight staging — the story takes place in a Chicago recording studio over the course of one day — but never feels cramped or limited.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

The Midnight Sky (PG-13)

“As director, [George] Clooney juggles the interconnecting stories adroitly, never giving away the tricks he’s playing on the audience while spinning the yarn, much of which, at least on the [spaceship] Aether, has explicitly to do with hope and longing.” (Netflix) — Michael O’Sullivan

Mulan (PG-13)

Yifei Liu is perfectly cast as the title character, a girl living in Han Dynasty China who disguises herself as a boy to fight northern invaders, throwing herself into the film’s martial arts sequences, trick riding and gravity-defying action with serene confidence and athleticism. (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

Never Rarely Sometimes Always (PG-13)

“With ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always,’ [writer-director Eliza] Hittman does an excruciatingly accurate job of conveying the complexities of the abortion debate. But perhaps even more valuably, she portrays the misogynistic social space it takes place in.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

The Old Guard (R)

“Although [KiKi] Layne and [Charlize] Theron form the beating heart of what could have been a disposable diversion, [director Gina] Prince-Bythewood provides ample support by way of an ensemble that includes Matthias Schoenaerts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Marwan Kenzari and Luca Marinelli.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

Onward (PG)

“ ‘Onward’s’ biggest handicap may, ironically, be its [Pixar] pedigree, which means that it will inevitably be compared with some of the greatest animated films — some of the greatest films, period — of modern cinema. And yet, even though it starts with hesitant steps and hits some roadblocks along the way, ‘Onward’ is ultimately a trip worth taking.” (Various platforms) — Kristen Page-Kirby

Ordinary Love (R)

“[Lesley] Manville plays Joan, and [Liam] Neeson her husband Tom, in a moving story that is bookended by two Christmases, taking us through 12 months of medical tests, surgeries, therapeutic treatments and their side effects, and the aftermath.” (Various platforms) — Michael O’Sullivan

The Outpost (R)

“Skillfully directed by Rod Lurie, this engrossing and deeply wrenching thriller dances the same fine line as most latter-day movies that want to honor service and sacrifice, without lapsing into empty triumphalism.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

The Personal History of David Copperfield (PG)

“[Armando] Iannucci captures the meaning and the music of the classic tale — about a young man defining and redefining himself through comfort and cruelty, penury and privilege — by way of a gifted and bracingly pluralistic cast.” (Various platforms.) — Ann Hornaday

Premature (Unrated)

“Drenched in tenderness and sensuality, ‘Premature’ is brimming with life, with director Rashaad Ernesto Green brilliantly capturing the picnics, house parties and street scenes of Harlem that burst with teasing, talky energy.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

The Prom (PG-13)

“Directed by Ryan Murphy with a ‘Glee’-tastic affinity for big numbers staged in school corridors, ‘The Prom’ streams to your home at an ideal moment. I’m not talking about the holidays; I refer instead to the nine-month-long drought in being able to sit in a theater and watch a show in which stories unfold with actors improbably bursting into song.” (Netflix) — Peter Marks

Residue (TV-MA)

“To the degree that this film reflects [writer-director Merawi] Gerima’s own journey — he grew up in Northeast, the son of filmmaker and Howard University film professor Haile Gerima — it is a poignant, deeply personal statement of a filmmaker wrestling with art’s proper place in a troubled and unjust world.” (Netflix) — Ann Hornaday

Saint Frances (Unrated)

“[Director Alex] Thompson and [writer/star Kelly] O’Sullivan bring sensitivity and an observant touch to the weighty proceedings: There’s no overwrought hand-wringing when Bridget decides to get an abortion, simply an assurance that she is in control of her life.” (Various platforms) — Hau Chu

Selah and the Spades (R)

“In this teen comedy presented as highly ritualized political theater, [writer-director Tayarisha] Poe reframes an entire cinematic canon of mean-girl cliques, Tracy Flicks and adolescent shticks to come up with a language — and salient points about female authority, autonomy and self-worth — all her own.” (Amazon Prime) — Ann Hornaday

Shirley (R)

“As she did in 2018’s ‘Her Smell,’ [Elisabeth] Moss delivers a ferocious star turn in a film that functions primarily as a showcase for her tough, uncompromising talents.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

Small Axe (Unrated)

(“Small Axe” is an anthology film series consisting of five individual films: “Mangrove,” “Lovers Rock,” “Red, White and Blue,” “Alex Wheatle” and “Education.”)

“Since making his astonishing feature debut in 2008 with ‘Hunger,’ [filmmaker Steve] McQueen — whose 2013 film ‘12 Years a Slave’ won best picture — has developed a cinematic language all his own. It’s a vernacular that’s simultaneously expansive and microscopically detailed; ruthless, and filled with tenderness and compassion.” (Amazon Prime) — Ann Hornaday

Sonic the Hedgehog (PG)

“ ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ may have one moment of flatulence, but this hybrid of live-action and CGI animation gets away with it, otherwise bypassing the all-too-common cheap laughs for a story that’s loaded with smart humor, snappy dialogue and the big blue heart beating at its center.” (Various platforms) — Kristen Page-Kirby

Sorry We Missed You (Unrated)

“With its depiction of razor-thin margins (commercial and personal), this absorbing and ultimately shattering portrayal of the costs of a late-capitalist system obsessed with convenience, efficiency and nanosecond precision couldn’t be more timely.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

Sound of Metal (R)

“ ‘Sound of Metal’ opens and closes with tight close-ups on Riz Ahmed, the actor whose performance carries this story of a drummer going deaf. It’s a small film made larger by Ahmed’s ability to take something so interior — hearing loss — and make it so visible, so palpable.” (Amazon Prime) — Michael O’Sullivan

Swallow (R)

“In ‘Swallow,’ [Haley] Bennett finally comes into her own as the kind of leading lady who is more than just a pretty face, and can occupy the screen and hold it, with commanding authority. In a supremely canny move, Bennett produced this unnerving, creepily atmospheric thriller, in which she plays a wealthy, somewhat abstracted housewife making a perverse bid for self-determination.’ (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (R)

“Intercutting moments from the speaking gigs [Abbie] Hoffman performed on campuses throughout the trial, [writer-director Aaron] Sorkin reveals someone far more thoughtful and widely read than the somewhat frightening frizzy-haired enfant terrible of public memory.” (Netflix)— Ann Hornaday

The Trip to Greece (Unrated)

“One of the chief pleasures of the ‘Trip’ movies are their unapologetic worship of pleasure itself: [Director Michael] Winterbottom photographs ‘The Trip to Greece’ with sparkling, sun-kissed luxuriance, keeping things at a pacey but unhurried clip and using Michael Nyman’s lilting and meditative music to its fullest advantage.” (Various platforms) — Ann Hornaday