In this 2021 preview, our editors pick the 30 best films that are going to be released in 2020 that they’ve already seen.
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The year has only just begun, but our team has already previewed a bunch of great 2021 movies at festivals throughout last year. Here, we’ve pick out the best 30 to keep your eyes on over the next 12 months. Some of them have already secured distribution, some are still seeking acquisition, and a few were even released today.
180° Rule (Farnoosh Samadi)
From our interview with Farnoosh Samadi: “When I saw 180° Rule at TIFF, I knew I had to get in touch with writer-director Farnoosh Samadi and pick her brain about what I’d just watched. The film is a meticulously-crafted drama that devolves into a psychological thriller when tragedy strikes partway through. It’s a provocative film, and it’s already polarising critics, but I admire its boldness. I appreciated the film even more after I saw Michel Franco’s New Order at the festival, a film that tries to be provocative by showing grizzly violence, but only comes off as excessive and insulting. Take note, Franco: the complex and harrowing moral choices the protagonist in 180° Rule faces are far more provocative than any of the violence in New Order.”… Read the full interview.
180° Rule is still seeking distribution.
Anne at 13,000 ft (Kazik Radwanski)
From our interview with Kazik Radwanski: “In Anne at 13,000 ft, Anne (Deragh Campbell) suffers from an unspecified mental illness (likely along the lines of bipolar disorder), and she’s reassimilating into everyday Toronto life after being institutionalised. Work, responsibilities, and socialising can be quite overwhelming for Anne. The choppiness of the cutting and the speed at which we whirl through her life is fitting for such an unstable character.”… Read the full interview.
Anne at 13,000 ft will be released across Canada on February 19th and in the US at some point in 2021. It is still seeking distribution in the UK.
Antoinette dans les Cévennes (Caroline Vignal)
From our review: “We first meet Antoinette (Laure Calamy) in her classroom, where she has her elementary school students, counting, heads down on their desks, while she changes into a silver dress at the back of the class. It’s for a class concert where she starts belting out a tune with such fervor that she starts to eclipse her dressed-in-black students as the centre of attention. It’s also the first sign that Antoinette falls somewhere on the bananas scale from zero to Sibyl (who, of course, is 100% bananas), and that the film is going to be a gentle comedy slightly at the expense of Antoinette’s shenanigans.”… Read the full review.
Antoinette dans les Cévennes will be released in Canada in early 2021. It is still seeking distribution in the US and UK.
Beans (Tracey Deer)
From our review: “Tracey Deer’s feature debut, Beans, is a prime example of how a deeply flawed film can still be incredibly moving and powerful. Despite being weighed down by stilted dialogue and editing, often underdeveloped characters, and traumatic subplots that are raised and dropped far too quickly, I can’t stop thinking about Beans. Set during the Oka crisis, it’s the story of 12-year-old Beans (Kiawentiio) as she realises the sheer amount of hate directed at Indigenous people by settlers. As a Mohawk girl living on a Mohawk reserve, she is directly affected by the crisis, dealing with the anger and violence of settlers toward her, which in turn, makes her angry — at herself, the world, and her family.”… Read the full review.
Beans will be released in Canada on March 30th. It is still seeking distribution in the US and UK.
Charlatan (Agnieszka Holland)
From our review: “Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (The Secret Garden) has followed up her biopic of Gareth Jones and his discovery of the 1930s Ukrainian famine, Mr Jones, with Charlatan, a post-war biopic about Czech herbalist and healer Jan Mikolášek (1889-1973). While Mr Jones was about revealing an untold harrowing part of history and how one foolhardy man brought this story to light, Charlatan uses Mikolášek as a sort of metaphor for post-war communism in order to ask whether the new regime is really a form of liberation or just a variation on a fascist theme.”… Read the full review.
Charlatan will be released in the UK and Australia in 2021 and is still seeking distribution in Canada and US.
Charter (Amanda Kernell)
From our review: “Amanda Kernell’s second feature, Charter, opens on a black screen, as we listen to a phone call: Vincent (Troy Lundkvist) is in distress, and has called his mother, Alice (Ane Dahl Torp), to tell her he doesn’t want to live with his father anymore. He hangs up before she can find out why. She starts to panic, and heads north to check on him. But does she really believe him to be in danger? Or is she merely looking for an excuse to make contact with her son, to prove to herself that he needs her?”… Read the full review.
Charter is still seeking distribution.
Hope (Maria Sødahl)
From our interview with Maria Sødahl, Andrea Bræin Hovig, and Stellan Skarsgård: “The week between Christmas and New Year’s proves a crucible for a married couple’s relationship in Maria Sødahl’s smart and sensitive drama, Hope. Unlike most dramas about cancer (including Ordinary Love also at TIFF19), the film is not about the initial diagnosis and treatment; instead Anja (Andrea Bræin Hovig) has already survived lung cancer, but just before Christmas, she discovers the cancer has spread, and surviving this is unlikely. The first bout of cancer is what kept the marriage together after a rough patch; the second diagnosis threatens to split them apart, as Anja starts to unleash all of her pent up anger — not helped by the medication the steroids she’s on, which alter her behaviour.”… Read the full interview.
Hope will be released in Canada, the US, and the UK in 2021.
I Blame Society (Gillian Wallace Horvat)
From our review: “Gillian Wallace Horvat’s hilarious mockumentary, I Blame Society, is a bizarre film that will polarise audiences, but its wry, disjointed humour worked for me. Horvat stars as a fictionalised version of herself: a filmmaker who copes with her quarter-life crisis in an unexpected and violent way. After being told that the screenplay she’s put years of work into can’t be produced because it’s too political and the female lead is unlikeable, Gillian decides to make a low-to-no budget documentary about how she’d make a really good serial killer. Inevitably, her research into hypothetical ways to murder people turns into her attempting actual murder, and she realises she’s quite good at it, and even finds it fun.”… Read the full review.
I Blame Society is currently in virtual cinemas in the US and will arrive on VOD on February 12th in Canada and the US. It is still seeking distribution in the UK.
Identifying Features (Fernanda Valadez)
Fernanda Valadez announces herself as an exciting filmmaker with a captivating visual style with her debut, Identifying Features. The film follows a mother, Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández), who travels across Mexico in search of her son, whom authorities say died while trying to cross the border to the US. It’s a harrowing journey that highlights a real issue plaguing Mexico today, shot with startling precision by cinematographer Claudia Becerril Bulos. Orla Smith
Identifying Features was released today in virtual cinemas in the US and Canada. It is still seeking distribution in the UK.
John Ware Reclaimed (Cheryl Foggo)
From our interview with Cheryl Foggo: “It’s one of Canada’s best kept secrets that there’s a rich history of the Black diaspora in the Alberta prairies dating back over a century ago. What little is known about that history has been condensed in the popular consciousness to the story of cowboy John Ware, an enslaved American who moved to Canada and became a successful rancher. But even the historical accounts of him are limited to a single book, John Ware’s Cow Country by Grant MacEwan, published in 1960, written by a white man, and full of racist stereotypes about Black masculinity. Cheryl Foggo’s moving, enlightening, and appropriately infuriating new documentary, John Ware Reclaimed, attempts to reclaim not just John Ware’s story from the biased history books but the history of Black Canadians in the prairies.”… Read the full interview.
John Ware Reclaimed will be available to stream for free in Canada on nfb.ca on February 8th. It is still seeking distribution in the US and Canada.
Limbo (Ben Sharrock)
The hilarious opening scene of Limbo immediately sold me on this odd, unique story about a Syrian asylum seeker stuck in limbo on a remote Scottish island. Borrowing stylistically from Yorgos Lanthimos and Aki Kaurismäki, director Ben Sharrock shoots Scotland like it’s a strange, alien world, at times inflected with surreal horror. He presents vast, deserted landscapes in a locked down, 4:3 frame, like a window into a cold and empty world, accompanied by the sound of harsh, swirling winds. The baffling opening scene alone, in which two condescending instructors perform a stilted dance in order to teach the refugees ‘Cultural Assimilation 101’, drops you right into a world that’s equal parts amusing and confusing. Sharrock’s visual style forces us to share in protagonist Omar’s alienation, so we feel closer to him, aided by a moving performance by Amir El-Masry. OS
Limbo is scheduled to hit UK cinemas in April, and will be distributed by Mubi. It is still seeking distribution in Canada and the US.
Lucky (Natasha Kermani)
From our interview with Natasha Kermani and Brea Grant: “When May (Brea Grant) is awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of someone breaking into her house, she wakes up her husband (Dhruv Uday Singh). When he tells her, with bored seriousness (and great deadpan from Singh) that, of course, it’s the man who breaks into their house every night to try to kill them, she’s not sure she heard him right — or that she’s even awake. Neither are we, and this moment was my first big laugh of the film, feeling equal parts extremely amused and absolutely terrified that someone would make light of something that horrifying. With a score that occasionally evokes the shower scene from Psycho, we’re primed to expect a straightforward slasher film, though the humour tips us off that there may be more going on beneath the surface.”… Read the full interview.
Lucky will be released by Shudder in 2021.
A Mermaid in Paris (Mathias Malzieu)
From our review: “What do you do when you spot an injured mermaid in the street? If you’re roller-blading musician Gaspard (Nicholas Duvauchelle), it’s simple: take her to the hospital for medical attention, and then take her home to your bathtub. Little does he know that the mermaid’s song has killed every man who has ever heard it. Despite repeatedly singing at him, the mermaid fails to kill Gaspard, who is much too preoccupied with disinfecting and then bandaging her wound. When she realises he may be the first man to be immune, she introduces herself as Lula (Marilyn Lima).”… Read the full review.
A Mermaid in Paris is still seeking distribution.
No Ordinary Man (Aisling Chin-yee, Chase Joynt)
From our interview: “In Aisling Chin-Yee and Chase Joynt’s hands, No Ordinary Man is no ordinary biographical documentary. They go way beyond the standard archival footage and talking head interview approach to tell trans jazz musician Billy Tipton’s story. Joynt explained that “understanding that there was no moving image footage of Tipton was both a restriction and an opportunity for us to immediately start thinking creatively beyond the bounds of reenactment and other ways that biopics tend to be created.” The film features photos and audio recordings of Tipton, as well as his music, and his life story is told through the words of talking-head experts, most of whom are trans. But another huge part of the film are “auditions” where the filmmakers invite a whole host of diverse transmasculine actors to act out and then dissect scripted scenes from Tipton’s life.”… Read the full interview.
No Ordinary Man will be released in Canada in 2021. It is still seeking distribution in the US and UK.
The Perfect Candidate (Haifaa Al-Mansour)
From our interview with Haifaa Al-Mansour: “‘I needed to go home,’ Haifaa Al-Mansour told me. ‘I wanted to tell stories about people that I know inside out.’ The Perfect Candidate sees the filmmaker in her element, working with non-professional actors, and telling a story rooted in home. It’s a highly political film: small-town doctor Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) almost accidentally applies to run for local office. It’s extremely rare to see a women in politics in Saudi, so Maryam initially has drawbacks. She goes ahead only because winning would mean she can fix the road in front of the hospital, which is currently so damaged that ambulances aren’t able to reach the entrance. Through the process of her campaign, Maryam finds there’s more and more she’d like to change about the way her community is run, and she becomes excited at the idea of gaining power and having her voice heard.”… Read the full interview.
The Perfect Candidate is available on Amazon Prime in the UK. It will be released by Music Box Films in the US in 2021. It is still seeking distribution in Canada.
Québexit (Joshua Demers)
From our interview with Joshua Demers: “Canadian satire on film is still very much in its infancy, with Philippe Falardeau’s brilliant 2015 film, My Internship in Canada, essentially hailing its birth. Both My Internship and Joshua Demers’s Québexit share an interest in the culture clash between anglophones, Québécois Francophones, and Indigenous people. But Demers’s film takes the important next step of actually involving all three groups in the screenwriting process: he co-wrote the film with bilingual Québécois francophone actor Xavier Yuvens and Cree actress-director-writer Gail Maurice (recently seen on CBC’s Trickster as Georgina). The collaborative process really pays off because you feel like you’re getting an insider perspective on each of the characters, which ensures all of them are three-dimensional and the humour feels very, very specific.”… Read the full interview.
Québexit is still seeking distribution.
Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić)
From our review: “This is 1995, in the heat of the war between the Serbian and Bosnian populations, and the Serbs are encroaching on Srebrenica in increasingly violent ways. Writer-director Jasmila Žbanic, who lived through the war, drops us straight into the action with a scene of negotiation between the mayor, who is concerned for the safety of his townspeople, and the UN soldiers, who assure him that the Serbs ‘have been issued an ultimatum’ that will keep Srebrenica safe. Through translator Aida’s (Jasna Ðuricic) panicked eyes, we watch this hopeless conversation unfold as the soldiers naively reason that the Serbs won’t attack because the UN has warned that they will face ‘serious consequences’ if they do.”… Read the full review.
Quo Vadis, Aida? was released today in the UK by Curzon. It is still seeking distribution in Canada and the US.
Rose: A Love Story (Jennifer Sheridan)
Jennifer Sheridan’s Rose: A Love Story is a soulful horror film, more sad than scary, bolstered by sensitive performances from Sophie Rundle and Matt Stokoe as a couple living in a secluded part of the woods. They seem sweet and mostly normal, although some odd rituals hint that there’s something sinister going on here. Part of the fun of the film is working out what secrets they hide, as Sheridan leaves a breadcrumb trail of clues and lets us figure it out for ourselves. While the answer ultimately isn’t that surprising, the characters are compelling enough to keep you watching, including Amber (Olive Gray), a young girl who stumbles across the cabin and very quickly regrets it. OS
Rose: A Love Story is still seeking distribution.
Rurangi (Oliver Page)
From our review: “The New Zealand drama Rurangi just picked up Frameline’s Audience Award, and I can understand why: it’s an emotionally involving film about the ways that shame rules our lives, hurting ourselves and the people we care about. The film centres around Caz (Elz Carrad), a trans man who returns home for the first time in a decade, having left his small community, Rurangi, for the big city of Auckland where he could more freely transition. In the intervening years, his mother got sick and died, and he missed her funeral. Caz is white-passing and he has left behind his Maori roots in the move to Auckland.”… Read the full review.
Rurangi is still seeking distribution but upcoming screening information is available on the film’s website.
Saint Maud (Rose Glass)
From our interview with Rose Glass: “One of the best surprises at TIFF 2019, Rose Glass’ Saint Maud is an effective thrill-ride of a horror film that is as funny as it is terrifying. The feature debut centres on the young, extremely pious nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark), as she moves into the mansion of celebrated retired dancer Amanda (Jennifer Ehle) to take care of her. Maud is good at her job, but soon cannot help judging the liberal ways of her mistress; the dancer — much more of a social animal than the shy Maud is — can immediately tell. Amanda initially takes great pleasure in poking fun at the extremely conservative behaviour of her young employee, and it’s easy to laugh with her. But the film thankfully does not go down that predictable route; Amanda’s mockery soon turns into genuine concern.”… Read the full interview.
Saint Maud was released in UK cinemas last year. It will be released on digital and On Demand in Canada and the US on February 12th.
Saint-Narcisse (Bruce LaBruce)
From our interview with Bruce LaBruce: “What if Narcissus looked into the pond and his reflection walked out of it so that they could bang each other? In Saint-Narcisse, Bruce LaBruce updates the Narcissus myth to 1972 Quebec, where a leather-clad motorcycle-riding Montrealer, Dominic (Félix-Antoine Duval), suddenly finds himself face to face with not just his image in a lake, but his identical twin, a monk named Daniel (also Félix-Antoine Duval). Twincest ensues, but that’s just one of the many bonkers and hilarious plotlines in this film that’s part camp, part melodrama, about biological and metaphorical families, in the home and the church.”… Read the full interview.
Saint-Narcisse will be released in Canada and the US in 2021.
Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman)
Emma Seligman’s debut, Shiva Baby, is a wince-inducing comedy following Danielle (Rachel Sennot), a deeply flawed college student who encounters both her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon) and her sugar daddy, Max (Danny Deferrari), at a Jewish funeral. Well-judged performances, pithy editing, and Ariel Marx’s spiky score intensify the squirming tension as Danielle struggles to avoid her lovers, her responsibilities, and the pressure of traditional expectations. This assured film marks Seligman as a director to watch. Milly Gribben
Shiva Baby will be released by Mubi in the UK in 2021 and released by Utopia in US and Canada.
Slalom (Charlène Favier)
From our review: “Charlène Favier’s Cannes-labelled directorial debut, Slalom, is a tense pas-de-deux between a 15-year-old professional skiing star, Lyz (Noée Abita), and her coach, Fred (Jérémie Renier). Like Una, the film is a complex exploration of the dynamics of an abusive relationship between a man in power and a child in his charge. Though it deals with sexual abuse, the film is most interested in Lyz’s perspective, avoiding judgement or sensationalism, while making Fred human if reprehensible.”… Read the full review.
Slalom will be released in the UK on February 12th. It will be released in 2021 in Canada, and will be released by Kino Lorber in the US in Spring 2021.
Souterrain (Sophie Dupuis)
From our review: “Between Chien du garde and Souterrain, Québécois writer-director Sophie Dupuis has proved herself an adept observer of the inner lives of men confined to misogynistic or patriarchal spaces. While Chien du garde followed a Montreal crime family through ridiculous antics, it was grounded by a sensitive performance from Jean-Simon Leduc as a reluctant enforcer, playing off a jittery, unhinged performance from Théodore Pellerin as his younger brother. In that world, brawn always trumped brains, and the ability to process and show emotion was discouraged. With her second feature, Souterrain, Dupuis delves even deeper into male relationship dynamics by looking at a group of gold miners in rural Quebec. With a more realistic premise, Dupuis’s knack with actors and for navigating how men perform masculinity — and are hindered by it — is on full display here.”… Read the full review.
Souterrain will be released in 2021 in Canada. It is still seeking distribution in the US and UK.
The Strong Ones (Omar Zúñiga Hidalgo)
From our review: “Omar Zúñiga’s The Strong Ones is like a Chilean Weekend, with less talking and more physical intimacy, set against the beautiful rural coastline of Chile. The Strong Ones screens at InsideOut after picking up the Audience Award at LA’s Outfest, and it’s a quiet, romantic, if bittersweet crowdpleaser. The gorgeous, bucolic setting — the rocky ocean beach, the greenery that surrounds them — and the film’s unhurried pace creates a tranquil space to watch two people fall in love who may not be best-suited outside of this idyllic bubble.”… Read the full review.
The Strong Ones was just released in Canada and the US on VOD. It is still seeking distribution in the UK.
Summer of 85 (François Ozon)
François Ozon’s ode to first love on the French seaside starts out absurd, and builds to something darker and deeper. Set in 1985, with the love story itself told in flashback in the aftermath of an unspecified tragedy, the candy-coloured Summer of 85 is almost aggressively of the era, with exquisite costumes by Pascaline Chavanne. After his sailboat capsizes, Alex (Félix Lefebvre) is rescued by David (Benjamin Voisin), and quickly becomes swept up in his orbit. Their romance unfolds with high emotion and intensity, with Alex imagining David as a perfect object of desire, but whose affections are capricious. David is a few years older, and Alex is still naive, not able to see his paramour clearly beyond what he wants to see. Lefebre is excellent as an emotional teen recovering from heartbreak and Voisin brings pathos to a character who only exists in the memory of someone intent on creating an idealised projection of him. Alex Heeney
Summer of 85 was released last year in the UK and Canada. It will be released in the US by Music Box Films in 2021.
Sweat (Magnus von Horn)
From our review: “Few films have portrayed social media influencer culture as accurately and empathetically as Sweat. The easiest trap to fall into is characterising an influencer as shallow just because the content that they post is shallow; writer-director Magnus von Horn avoids this at every turn. Played beautifully by Magdalena Kolesnik, Instagram fitness influencer Sylwia feels three-dimensional, a woman who’s in over her head and desperate for intimacy amidst the alienation of online fame. She’s well meaning, and she’s also a very capable business owner — because as Sweat makes clear, being an influencer means being the head of your own mini-business. But just like so many of us, her lifestyle has become reliant on social media to a damaging extent.”… Read the full review.
Mubi will be releasing Sweat in the US in 2021. The film is still seeking distribution in Canada and UK.
‘Til Kingdom Come (Maya Zinshtein)
From our review: “The unlikely alliance between two groups of religious extremists — American Evangelical Christians and Israeli Jewish settlers — is the subject of Maya Zinshtein’s (director of the excellent Forever Pure) latest documentary about religious extremism. Zinshtein’s film explains that millions of American dollars have been funnelled into philanthropic efforts in Israel to help marginalized Jewish people, while the local American Evangelical Christian communities remain some of the poorest parts of the US. Most bizarrely, those Evangelical Christians are antisemitic, both self-proclaimed or obviously so from the speeches Zinshtein captures — one minister talks about how the holocaust happened because God allowed it to. Their interest in Israel is not to help the Jews, really, so much as to ensure they have a smooth path to Jerusalem should armageddon happen, which they expect will kill off two thirds of the Jewish population, while causing the other one third to convert.”… Read the full review.
‘Til Kingdom Come will be released by Abramorama in North America. It is still seeking distribution in the UK.
True Mothers (Naomi Kawase)
From our review: “True Mothers is the rare story of an adoption told from two perspectives and in two parts: first, the adoptive mother, Satoko (Hiromi Nagasaku), and then, the birth mother, Hikari (Aju Makita). Both women’s stories start before their son was born, and both women’s stories continue well after, until they meet again. Because Hikari got pregnant too young, at 14, her family is ashamed of her, attempting to hide the pregnancy altogether, and then expecting her to get over the traumatic separation from her child immediately. By contrast, Atoko was unable to get pregnant due to her husband’s infertility, a source of such shame for him that he suggests she consider divorcing him on learning of his problem. Their inability to get pregnant is a source of shame for both of them. This is magnified for all parties involved because Japanese culture strongly emphasizes genetic bonds, something Hirokazu Koreeda explored less effectively in Like Father, Like Son.”… Read the full review.
True Mothers will be released in US and Canadian virtual cinemas on January 29th. It is still seeking distribution in the UK.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit (Caroline Link)
From our review: “Judith Kerr’s beloved children’s novel gets a worthy adaptation from German director Caroline Link in this film that balances the hardships and fear of being a refugee with the optimism of childhood. As the 1933 German election looms, Anna Kemper’s (Riva Krymalowski) father, Arthur (Oliver Masucci), a prominent Jewish intellectual, gets a warning that if Hitler wins, he’s at the top of the list to be rounded up for arrest. The next day, he flees the country, and Anna, her brother, Max, and their mother, Dorothea (Carla Juri), follow soon after, leaving behind their large family home and bourgeois lifestyle for an increasingly difficult life abroad as refugees.”… Read the full review.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit will be released in Canada, the US, and the UK in 2021.
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