With arthouses closed, AMC promising $0.15 tickets, and the never-ending discourse around the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, it can feel like independent or unconventional cinema has been drowned out during the pandemic. Thankfully, there’s been no shortage of good movies coming at us from unexpected channels, and the scattering of the release process has made it all the more important to stay up to date. Here’s a handful of worthy new films wide-released since the COVID-19 outbreak, sure to excite and inform you, and keep you entertained at home.
John Lewis: Good Trouble
A stellar documentary of a life in politics, Good Trouble features the late congressman John Lewis recounting much of his history himself, addressing the camera and narrating over footage of his own life. Director Dawn Porter pays tribute to his life and his legacy by allowing Lewis himself to take the spotlight, avoiding what could have been a boilerplate documentary by eschewing any extraneous narratives in favor of the ideas and events that motivated Lewis’ career. Like many of the films released during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has a quality of unintentional timeliness, with both Lewis’ recent passing and the upcoming election casting the film’s contents in a different light.
Writer-director Kelly Reichardt is no stranger to the relationship between humans and animals, and much like her 2008 film Wendy and Lucy, her newest film understands the economic tension that exists in the relationships with our four-legged friends. First Cow centers on an unlikely pair of friends toughing it out on the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, and the film offers a forgiving glance at the men as they must smuggle a cow’s milk in order to stay alive. The naturalistic style and understated performances put you in a place much earthier and less stuffy than your typical period piece, and it’s all the better for it.
The debut film from Channing Godfey Peoples is a Texas-set story of family tension and broken dreams during the leadup to a local pageant. The premise might sound familiar, but Peoples flips it on its head, refusing any cloying twee charm in favor of studying three-dimensional characters who are sweaty, honest and barely making rent. Nichole Beharie’s central performance is stellar, bringing to life a mother whose good heart and flaws pop out in equal measure.
Aimless scrolling, drones flying, digital learning, relationship breakdown—it’s all right there in the opening minutes of Homemade, a daring Netflix anthology film created during (and centered around) COVID-related quarantines. These short films come courtesy of low-budget equipment and either international or first-time directors. Shorts like the opening one from Ladj Ly, director of last year’s Les Misérables, aim to capture the people who are often forgotten in times of crisis, while a contribution from actress Kristen Stewart depicts the horrors of isolation. Stewart’s short is bleached, hazy and claustrophobic, and it sums up much of the central malady afflicting everyone in Homemade—too much time online or spent in the throes of worry.
She Dies Tomorrow
Drawing on a clever premise, a thick mood and a Lynchian sense of dark humor, polymath director Amy Seimetz creates a one-of-a-kind minimalist thriller out of a small handful of elements. When the protagonist becomes fixated on her own impending doom, she begins to infect other people with this worry, spreading death ideations like a virus. The film features a fascinating vision of mortal terror, emotional barriers breaking down and traumatic memories playing on loop. While it risks veering into being repetitive or one-note, Seimetz builds a sufficient amount of dread and intrigue to keep you guessing the whole way through.
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