What came out this year, anyway? I pulled all the data I could dig up on films released during the year that changed everything, including movie-watching. The result is both a new release wall, of sorts, and some insight into the streaming services themselves.
As cinemas were handed their asses all across the USA, COVID-19 paved the way for the great streaming takeover – and with it, a whole pile of confusion. We understand Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime – HBOMax is murky but we’re starting to get it. And now there’s this+ and that+ and Shudder and Starz and where can I rent movies online and does YouTube have its own pay service and what the hell is Peacock even.
With movies popping up in all sorts of places now, how do we keep track what’s new and interesting anymore? Will we allow ourselves to submit to the corporate hype-jockeys and algorithms, blindly watching whatever happens to be in front of us? There has to be more new stuff out there. Right?
YES. You’re right! There’s so much more out there. And the Midnight Data Team is here to help. We compiled a bunch of data on 250 films released during the year of sofa cinema and applied a custom-built, detailed selection model to identify the 50 most culturally significant new movies released in all sorts of different ways between March 2020 and March 2021. It’s the post-COVID version of a New Release wall, y’all! Films were scored in 3 dimensions:
- Popularity – 1) Streaming Data: Based on data from surveys and streaming services – the movies folks streamed the most, 2) Internet ratings: the number of ratings the film received on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, and 3) Nerd Attention: the number of ratings the film received on Letterboxd (a social platform for film buffs)
- Quality – 1) Critics: The film’s Metascore , 2) Fanatics: the percentage of Letterboxd nerds who rated the film 4 stars or higher, and 3) People (in general): the aggregate audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
- Influence – 1) Permutation: the extent to which a film has permeated our culture – measured through both google search returns and presence at festivals. 2) Diversity: the extent to which a film elevates marginalized stories through its representation (race, gender, sexuality, ability, language) and filmmaker (race, gender), and 3) Prestige: the number of awards won and presence on folks’ “Best of 2020/21” lists.
To skip ahead to the top 50, click here. But for the curious, a quick tutorial on streaming services based on what I’ve learned from examining the data – and THEN, I’ve got the 50 most significant (popular + good + important) new releases in tight formation for you.
For new movies, online release happens in one of basically four ways: a major player, premium service, niche service, or rental service. Based on the data gathered about new releases over the last year, I have some wisdom to drop on you about all four:
Of the major players, newbie HBOMax gets my ALL AROUND BEST recommendation for new releases. They have the most culturally significant new films overall, the most influential new films, and the highest quality/best new films.
Certainly the major with the most new content by far, Netflix also has the most new films that elevate marginalized stories through its representation/filmmaker, so earns the STRONGEST DIVERSITY recommendation from the Midnights.
Hulu gets the most new films from smaller studios (Neon, Searchlight, IFC Films, Lionsgate, etc.). It earns our PRESTIGE AND INDIE CRED recommendation, since it has the most new films that were award winners or favorites at film fests.
Although of course they have that epic back catalogue, Amazon Prime didn’t stand out related to new films – though they did have the BEST ORIGINAL CONTENT of the big four.
Although their catalogue can’t shake a stick at the majors, premium services have their own thing going on. Disney+ is clearly the strongest for new releases of this group. They have the most culturally significant new films overall, as well as the most popular and influential films. The content on Disney+ is all original.
Showtime is the dark horse #2. They have no original content – all of their new films are purchased from other studios/distributors – and, of the premiums, they had the highest quality, most prestigious, and most diverse new films. AppleTV+ comes up short; about half original content, half purchased from other studios. Although it does have exclusive rights to a couple new films I’m interested in, the only way its new films stood out is that they’re remarkably more cis/male/white than the other premiums. Not a real exciting claim to fame.
Niche and Rentals
There are of course tons of niche streaming services, but only a few consistently feature new films: the Criterion Channel for the artsy and international new films; Shudder for horror; and Starz for crappy blockbusters like Bloodshot and The Craft Legacy. Cinemax didn’t really register, although they are the only place you can currently watch The Hunt, if that interests you.
This year, virtual cinemas really took off too, as a way for documentarians and other independent filmmakers to get their films seen by a wider audience. Purchasing a ticket through a virtual theater sends a part of the revenue to a local arthouse cinema you choose to support. Respected arthouse distributors like Kino Lorber, Film Movement, and Music Box Films are all in on this – learn more here. And of course, MANY new releases are only available to rent. Which services carry which films varies; this site is a good place to check where the new movie you’d like to watch is available. I find Vudu to be pretty reliable.
OK, it’s top 50 time!
Disney was the first studio to break the lockdown freeze on big summer blockbusters by releasing Mulan – which had been planned as a major theatrical box office banger – through its streaming platform, Disney+. And it worked! A whole bunch of people, starved for new entertainment, watched it. And they all thought it was… fine. (I wish there was a word in English that translates into “unimpressed shoulder shrug.”)
49. Pieces of a Woman
A drama with a capital “D,” Pieces of a Woman is an intimate portrait of of a couple struggling through the grief of losing a child written and directed by a couple who lost a child. Netflix picked this one up after it earned some festival chatter and released it exclusively on their platform in early 2021, probably banking on some awards season buzz. Vanessa Kirby, in the lead role, was nominated for all the Best Actress awards and is, apparently, outstanding in a super challenging role.
One of our Midnight family pandemic traditions from last summer was “camping out in the TV room,” an activity in which you move all the blankets and pillows into the TV room, make popcorn, and rent a new movie while you convince yourselves the world isn’t about to end. Emma was the first movie we did this with and it is a stylish, funny, cupcake delight of a movie that won a bunch of awards and was celebrated as one of the best comedies of last year. Unfortunately, it was released in theaters JUST as the pandemic was descending and got caught up in our collective “WTF is happening” moment. Emma is worth checking out if you missed it – now available on HBOMax.
47. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
I still kind of can’t believe this movie is real. Studio suits actually shelled out another $80 million dollars to facelift a $300 million dollar movie that came out 4 years ago. 4 years ago! People really love Zack Snyder I guess. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of Ben Affleck’s puffyface Batman, but even when I put that aside, I just think this is so weird. Right? It’s weird that this exists!
Hulu / Rental
Especially because of the way the pandemic, the 2020 election, and recent uprisings on behalf of racial justice have laid bare our American struggle to reconcile reality with the story we tell ourselves about it, Sam Pollard’s examination of the FBI’s harassment of Rev. King in the 1960s – based on casefiles newly released to the public – is riveting. Hulu just recently snagged this IFC Films release, though you may need to dig around to find it.
45. Shiva Baby
The feature debut from writer/director Emma Seligman, Shiva Baby delivers a darkly comedic feast of sexual awkwardness and family tension in the most Jewish of ways. The film is hot off the fest circuit and JUST became available to rent from most platforms. It’s on my watchlist!
44. The Vast of Night
The debut from writer/director Andrew Patterson, this microbudget sci-fi is often warmly compared to an old episode of The Twilight Zone but with surprisingly beautiful, mature filmmaking. The Amazon original was a hit at film festivals, won a handful of awards, and was celebrated on many “best of 2020” lists last year – definitely worth checking out!
Not currently available
Folks who have been fortunate enough to see Days, the new film from internationally celebrated Malaysian director Ming-Liang Tsai, have described it as both incredibly slow and/or cathartic, even sometimes transcendent. Which makes sense, since the characters that make up the film’s title translate into something closer to “the day to day hardships and joys of living” than just “days.” The film is still playing festivals internationally – and though it was available on and off in the U.S. throughout 2020, Days is not currently available to stream stateside. Watch for its return this summer or fall.
42. The Dig
The most British of films, about an archeological find on a private estate during the days before Britain entered WWII, The Dig surprised me. Maybe it’s the fascism in the air, but the feeling of living through the spasms of a world in transition, teetering on the precipice of disaster, struck a deep chord. The thread drawn between a looming war and the long spiral of human history – sometimes buried just beneath our feet – is fascinating. Plus it’s beautiful to look at. Team Midnight recommended!
41. David Byrne’s American Utopia
HBOMax / Rent
David Byrne is a treasure, his entourage is super talented – and of course, with Spike Lee at the helm, this filmed presentation of the 2019-2020 Broadway show looks fantastic. It didn’t knock my socks off, but American Utopia is groovy and was a welcome live music-esque experience during this year when our venues all went dark. If you don’t have HBOMax access, you can rent this now too!
Hulu / Rent
The first feature from Aussie up-and-comer Shannon Murphy, Babyteeth‘s teenage cancer love story bones may be cliche, but the film itself is warm and triumphantly fresh, a healthy wake-up slap for your heart. I really loved it. Like many small-budget festival faves of its kind, this IFC Films release is available on Hulu, though their algorithm is probably not recommending it to you, so go look for it!
39. Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution
The respect, teamwork, and camaraderie a group of young people found at Camp Jened, a Woodstock-adjacent hippie summer camp for disabled teenagers, fueled a revolutionary movement for U.S. policy change led by and on behalf of disabled people. Although the film doesn’t break the documentary mold, it is a reverent, personal, and passionate artifact of a seldom-told story that changed the lives of millions of Americans. Essential viewing, according to many. I’m going to watch it tonight! (Note: I watched it! It’s great.)
38. Lovers Rock
From part 2 of 5 in Steve McQueen’s anthology film series for the BBC, the party scene in Lovers Rock almost makes up for all the dancing, closeness, and human intimacy we missed during this pandemic year. Soulful and sexy, rebellious and sweet, filled with rage and thick with healing, Lovers Rock is mesmerizing cinema that will get your heart pumping to the rhythm of its groove before it is done with you. Probably my personal favorite film of the year, this film is a special experience – do not miss it.
37. Identifying Features
The Sundance award-winner from Mexican filmmaker Fernanda Valadez is a harrowing story of missing sons and lost mothers at the U.S.-Mexico border. Although I haven’t seen it yet, Kino Lorber pretty much only releases films that are so good they have the power to fundamentally change you in some important way – so good lord, seek out Identifying Features and let the rest of your life begin right now.
36. News of the World
A Western road movie starring Tom Hanks as a weary civil war vet rescuing a little white girl is exactly the film for someone during this strange and tumultuous year. It’s not the film for ME. But hey, knock yourself out.
Tracing the arc of trans-representation and transphobia in film and media culture, Sam Feder’s documentary is more of an educational opportunity for cis people about past crimes than a rallying call for a more promising future. But for cis folks working to dismantle their programming about the lives and experiences of trans people, check this out! It could be a great place to start.
34. Dick Johnson is Dead
Kirsten Johnson’s inventive love letter of a film celebrates the particular bittersweetness of loving one another in life while confronting the inevitable end that awaits us all. With her Dad. Funny, smart, and generous, with so much to say about immortality and cinema and documentary filmmaking itself, Johnson is following the beat of her own peculiar and captivating drum. Thank goodness.
33. Saint Maud
Hulu / Amazon
Taut, exhilarating body horror executed with the restraint of a nun and the intensity of a serial killer, Saint Maud is the astounding first at-bat from young Brit, Rose Glass. Freshly available on either Hulu or Amazon Prime.
32. The Old Guard
Midway through the weirdest summer of our lives, we were all starving for some good escapist big-budget action, and along came Netflix with The Old Guard, a low-key epic fantasy about a crew of noble, immortal mercenaries caught up in a desperate globe-trotting scheme to protect their secret from evil scientists. Starring my favorite new action goddess, Charlize Theron, with an appearance from my Belgian boyfriend, Matthias Schoenaerts, this movie is just weird enough to be right up my alley and I liked it so much! Not everyone agrees with me, but boy did it scratch that itch.
Filmed over 20 years, Garrett Bradley’s film follows Fox Rich, a modern-day abolitionist who has been fighting for the release of her incarcerated husband for so much of their lives while raising 6 children on her own. It played the Fests and won a bunch of awards – and given the conversation we’re all having about the value of Black life in the cruel, racist system of American policing and criminal justice, Time may be the most important film of a revolutionary year.
30. His House
Sometimes Indiewire’s David Ehrlich just puts it better than I ever could: “One of the best debuts of the year, Remi Weekes’ shrewd, tender, and sometimes terrifying His House begins with a clever premise — the immigrant experience as a horror movie — and expands on that idea in knowing and unexpected ways. Whereas a lesser film might have condescended to these characters and mined easy scares from the indignities of the assimilation process, Weekes’ dingy chiller implicitly recognizes that life would be difficult for a grieving Black couple who show up in England with nothing but each other and a few trinkets to their names, and it never stops using its genre as a torch to illuminate the specific forms those shadowed difficulties might take.”
29. The Dissident
From Bryan Fogel, Director of the Academy-award winning film, Icarus, The Dissident is a troubling feature-length piece of investigative journalism about the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which was ordered by the crown Prince of Saudi Arabia in 2018 with the full cooperation of multiple international peace agencies and governments, including our own. This is the kind of gonzo shit they make thrillers about – but it really happened and I didn’t even know Khashoggi’s name until I read the synopsis of this movie. Ours is a topsy-turvy world.
28. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
You gotta admire Sacha Baron Cohen’s cajones. Humiliating Rudy Giuliani – with a side of potential blackmail – for the public’s amusement during the most politically hostile and important election year of our lives. This movie came out less than 2 weeks before election day! That’s wild, y’all. The whole Borat thing is a little too… I don’t know, something, for me, so I don’t have any desire to watch this movie. But I genuinely appreciate Cohen’s audacity and I hear his latest satire is genuinely provocative.
27. The Forty-Year-Old Version
Radha Blank is a goddamn one-woman REVOLUTION. Her film – and it truly is hers in every way – is a brilliant portrait of a creative person who has something real to say growing into her middle-aged self with grace, humor, and courage. It won all sorts of awards and buzz and was celebrated by all the movie people – but none of that really matters. This film speaks for itself and has something special to say to you too. Add it to your list. FYOV!
26. Wonder Woman 1984
HBO Max / Rental
The trailer for this movie is fantastic. Seriously, check it out. Unfortunately, the film itself doesn’t feature a single New Order song and though it may be hard to believe, that’s the least of its problems. There are likable parts – Gal Gadot is stunning, Prince Charming Chris Pine has great comedic timing, and Kristen Wiig’s Cheetah is my new style icon. But the movie is uneven and has too many ideas and kind of loses its mind and implodes on itself at some point. It was popular though! Delayed a full 6 months from its intended summertime theatrical release date, WW84 was the first tentpole to be released in theaters and online (for HBOMax subscribers only) on the same day. And it worked! I’m curious to see if this release strategy continues once theaters reopen.
A film about the guy who wrote the screenplay for Citizen Kane and all his opinions and eccentricities is definitely for a specific kind of person. Even IF it has a great cast and even IF it looks great and even IF Trent Reznor did the score and even IF David Fincher obsessed about every shade of grey in every corner of each frame… This movie is really only for that one white guy with the scarf who was a programming director for a small-town film festival once that attracted a lot of good filmmakers actually and who hates superhero movies and regularly obsesses about the future of “cinemah.” And let’s be honest, no one really likes that guy that much, even if his opinions are well-researched and thoughtfully argued. I haven’t seen Mank.
24. The Half of It
A genuinely sweet high school story of unlikely friendship, teenage romance, and embracing who you really are, The Half of It miraculously avoids the tropes and cliches that define its genre. And even though I wouldn’t go so far as to say the film is a revolution in the teenage rom-com genre or anything like that, the characters are so likable that it’s a delight to hang out with. It’s just nice! We need movies like this.
Hulu / Rental
An incendiary documentary about dead civilians, fearless journalists, and widespread corruption in public systems, Romania’s submission for this year’s Academy Awards is possibly – as the Washington Post claims – the most relevant film about contemporary America released this year. Although the film’s precise investigative lens is focused on Romanian politics, the horrifying pustule of disease growing at the intersection of government and capitalism in Romania is so clearly one expression of a toxin that festers in the shadows of all capitalist nations. Exposing the sickness and fragility in the systems we live our lives within, Collective is a sharp rallying cry for public accountability – don’t let it get lost in the noise.
Director Sarah Gavron and her crew made this film in a nontraditional way – dismantling the on-set hierarchy and centering the Black and Brown teenage girls who starred in the film as the ones forming and performing the story they wanted to tell. At times devastating in its realistic portrayal of struggle, Rocks captures the tender resilience that comes with being young, and the superhuman strength that grows from real friendship. Plus the film has a shockingly high 96 Metascore – woah! Track this one down on Netflix (it’s there, they’re just not advertising it to you!).
The stunning hand-drawn animation of Cartoon Saloon (The Secret of Kells) finally gets a story with the heart and complexity it deserves. The beautiful imagery, infused with the warmth of human creators, is only one of many ways the film pushes against the shopping mall culture of animated films – it also includes the painful legacy of English Imperialism, the ways powerful people use religion to manipulate people to harm one another, and of course a natural world crying out for respect. And also, it’s about two girls who become the best of friends, and spend their nights running wild with a pack of wolves! Only downside: you have to have an Apple ID to see this gem – it is available to stream exclusively on AppleTV+.
The first film in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe Anthology, Mangrove tells the story of the Mangrove Nine, a group of Black activists arrested on charges of inciting a riot after a sustained protest of police harassment and brutality in London in the late 1960s. Their legal case was the first time the British court admitted to racial prejudice in the Metropolitan police, and opened the British legal system up for critical reforms and new civil rights cases that would redefine the relationship between the government and Black citizens in the U.K. One of the films most celebrated on folks’ “best of 2020” lists. Thank you, Steve McQueen!
19. First Cow
Showtime / Rental
Man, milk is so much more powerful than I realized! This movie is surprising. It’s about a baker and his friend and how their pathway out of poverty might be some really tasty fresh doughnuts that bring a sliver of joy into the cold, dirty lives of frontierspeople in the American northwest. It sounds sweet, and it is sweet, but First Cow is also a Western, plagued around its edges with the chaos and danger typical to the genre.
The Criterion Channel / Rental
Bacurau is the wildest experience to be had in 2020 cinema. It’s got drones, ghosts, a vicious crew of thrill-seeking murderers, surprising haircuts, conspiracy, mysticism, secret dungeons, matriarchs, gangsters, a whole town wielding firearms while on psychedelic drugs, and the most amazing pants I’ve seen on screen in a very long time. Show me better pants than this in a movie, I dare you. Despite the bloody colonialist violence at its center, Bacurau is surprisingly sparse and serene, with memorable rustic visuals and an unshakeable pastoral softness. From Brazilian Director Kleber Mendonça Filho, the unclassifiable film was a huge success internationally while prompting backlash from the far-right government that is cracking down on education and the arts across the country as I write. Brazil is a wild scene right now, y’all. The fact that this film was made in that political context makes it even more badass.
17. Da 5 Bloods
Da 5 Bloods came out just a few weeks after George Floyd’s murder and the film itself somehow crackles with the electricity that was pulsing through the world in that moment, even though its core story looks back, not forward. Following a group of Black Vietnam vets returning to southeast Asia to search for the remains of a friend, and for buried treasure, they left behind, Lee uses this central story to activate contemporary politics and the continuing struggle for humanization and equality for Black Americans.
16. Another Round
Hulu / Rental
Mads and his friends challenge themselves to drink to maintain a constant buzz, an experiment see if it improves their lives. At first, it works! Mads gets better at his job, his marriage improves, he’s having fun again, smelling the roses, all that. But the good times can’t last – and they don’t. Another Round goes to dark places, but isn’t preachy or heavy-handed, and ends up being much more about the importance of friendship and how difficult it is to stay alive through the challenging years of middle age than something so simple as a nasty hangover, no matter how epic.
15. The Trial of the Chicago 7
Mangrove, but white people and without all that racism! I’m being cheeky and I haven’t seen this movie – but I don’t think I’m too far off. Just look at all those white guys at the top of the poster. A strong cast and Sorkin’s snappy dialogue shine up a 2-hour-long courtroom drama based on the real 1968 case, which from this vantage point in history, reads like a piece of performance art itself. Despite its potential given the subject matter, this film doesn’t speak to our moment very well unfortunately. Sorkin is just too satisfied with the promise of America and it gets in the way of making any meaningful point with this movie. He doesn’t seem to understand the revolutionary politics of its subjects, over-simplifying their calls for a just and equal America into hollow, centrist soundbites. Abbie Hoffman deserved better.
14. Palm Springs
A fresh, fun take on the Groundhog Day problem of the one-day-long infinite time loop, Palm Springs goes down smooth and frisky, like an ice cold beer on a hot day in the desert. If there ever was a year for another breakout time-loop comedy about the pointless mundanity of existence, it was 2020 baby (and we got 2! See also: The Map of Tiny Perfect Things). The destination desert wedding setting on repeat is rich with opportunities for fun to be had – and Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti are so charming, they are certain to have you rooting for them by the end.
13. The Father
Similar to Pieces of a Woman, it is clear that writer/director Florian Zeller has had his own deeply personal, intimately painful experience loving someone with dementia. The acrobatic portrayal he pulls off here – of that experience as well as the experience of the person who is losing trust in the world around them and their own mind – is devastating and super intense. Also, Anthony Hopkins scooped that Best Actor trophy! His performance is really something.
12. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The film adaptation of August Wilson’s play is a perfectly fine bluesy container for Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman to do their thing, two stars at the top of their game. But the film truly belongs to Boseman – a magnetic, captivating force of a man in the last role he played before his tragic death last year.
Thanks for everything, King – we miss you.
11. Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Although another movie about the ladies’ experience became the center of gravity in “me too”-era cinema this year (it’s coming up!), this quietly raging film by Eliza Hittman captures one story of a young woman traveling from rural Pennsylvania to New York in order to get an abortion with such translucence and tenderness that it activates the stories of millions of women just by existing. Thank goodness for this film!
10. The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man came out right before lockdown began for many of us. Its time in theaters cut short, apparently as we were starting to seriously freak out, we decided to take breaks from wiping down our groceries with Clorox wipes to indulge in some domestic paranoia. Leigh Wannell’s horror film stuck with many of us, though, and was not only a top streamer this year, it was also featured on many folks’ best of 2020 lists.
9. Judas and the Black Messiah
The FBI/Chicago Police Department’s 1969 harassment and assassination of Fred Hampton, the 21-year-old socialist revolutionary and chairman of the Illinois Black Panthers, is confidently unraveled by writer/director Shaka King (writer/director, most recently for episodes of HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and High Maintenance). Daniela Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield are both incredible, though it was Stanfield’s portrayal of police informant Bill O’Neal that really stuck with me. Stanfield serves car thief-level jumpiness with the opportunistic arrogance of a con man, but never quite abandons O’Neal’s yearning, just beneath the surface, to be on the right side of things in the end. It’s heartbreaking to watch.
HBOMax / Rental
In the late summer COVID downswing, Tenet was the only major release that attempted a run in U.S. theaters – at least those willing and able to open their doors. Although it did end up making over $350M, the theatrical release experiment must not have gone very well by big studio standards, since the rest of the major fall/winter releases decided to either delay a year (Dune) or completely switch strategies and release online and in theaters at the same time (WW84). Even with all this mess, It was hard to stop the power of Tenet, which blew down the doors of online rentals and lit up the cinema conversation this summer. Although the palindrome puzzler wasn’t for everyone, the film is great looking and fun to hang out with. I enjoyed it, though I fully admit that I still don’t really understand how it works.
7. Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman is a pissed off women’s revenge tragedy battle cry wrapped in a candy coated crime thriller skin. The film’s core concept and wink-and-a-smile aesthetic are somewhat heavy-handed, but unfortunately the world deserves to be talked down to sometimes, especially when it comes to sexual assault. Carey Mulligan is wonderful: so complex and confident within her character’s sadness and rage. And the film is making waves – winning awards all over the place. Still available as a rental only!
Finally, folks who aren’t organized enough to get tickets in advance and actually leave the house to experience things in real life got to see Hamilton. It turns out, it didn’t win all those awards for nothing – this musical is for real legit awesome. It’s SO THRILLING to get to see the original cast in these roles and the unobtrusive filmmaking is perfect. Top marks for quality across the board!
5. Sound of Metal
Perhaps the most emotionally healthy film for us to hang out with during this difficult year, Sound of Metal is a heavy lesson in accepting reality no matter how much it sucks. A soulful exploration of grief and humans’ extraordinary ability to adapt, Riz Ahmed shines as a drummer losing his sense of hearing. An experienced writer and editor, this is Darius Marder’s first attempt at directing a narrative feature, and it’s a force. The film wowed both audiences and critics and is still racking up the awards.
4. One Night in Miami
Regina King’s film about the infamous night four titans of American Blackness hung out in a hotel room in Miami, each at a crossroads in their lives. Based on a fictionalized account of the historical meeting in February 1964, One Night is heavy on character and dialogue, light on action – but the writing and performances are spectacular, and King’s direction is deft and deliberate. Lots of folks have been streaming this one – you should join them!
Pixar delivers another fun, clever, visually dynamic high-concept existential wonder that oozes with talent and big ideas. Soul was a burst of light in such a difficult December, therapy for everyone without a therapist, and a good hangout with a Trent Reznor soundtrack with which it’s totally ok to have a nice, long cry.
The story of a young Korean family trying to make their own life in rural Arkansas, Minari isn’t a complicated film stylistically or structurally, but it has its own special thing going on and really sings. Steven Yeun is such a treasure, too rarely celebrated. He’s incredible in this film, as is Yuh-Jung Youn who won an Oscar for her performance… though 8-year-old Alan Kim just eclipses everyone in his baby cowboy boots. Goodness gracious – just check out his acceptance speech from this year’s Critics’ Choice Awards and try not to fall in love with this kid!
Chloe Zhao’s film has been all the buzz this year – winning more than twice as many awards as its nearest competitor, topping all the folks’ best of the year lists, playing all the festivals. And I gotta say, the film is deserving of the hype – Nomadland is extraordinary. Fern’s journey through the wide open spaces of rural America tracks with the slowly unfolding transformation in her identity; the softness of solitude and the grandeur of wide open vistas wrapping themselves around her grief. Frances McDormand inhabits the film completely, and something about this whole thing feels prescient – like we’re getting a glimpse of a country in the middle of a tectonic shift, changing, under our noses, into something completely different than the stories we tell about what America is.
That’s it! I may keep up this new release wall thing – might post a quarterly update or something to keep y’all in fresh new movie recommendations. Would that be helpful? Let me know friends!