We’ve now entered a new year, and one that will hopefully go better than the prior one. As we look towards the cinematic offerings of 2021, we’ll soon be publishing our comprehensive previews of the best films we’ve already seen on the festival circuit as well as most-anticipated new films, but first today brings a look at January.

While some high-profile December theatrical releases will make their digital debuts, such as Promising Young Woman, News of the World, One Night in Miami…, Pieces of a Woman, and more, this month also brings notable festival favorites finally arriving. Check out our roundup below.

11. Identifying Features (Fernanda Valadez; Jan. 22)

The winner of the Audience Award and Best Screenplay in the World Cinema (Dramatic) section at Sundance Film Festival last year, we recently caught up with Identifying Features at New Directors/New Films last month. Mark Asch said in our review, “The original Spanish-language title of Identifying Features is Sin Señas Particulares, or “No Particular Signs”—a reference to the individuating marks found, or not, on unclaimed corpses found near the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s an echo of Sin Nombre (“Nameless”), Cary Joji Fukunaga’s vivid immigration-thriller debut from 2009, and an apt title for a film that takes a fresh look at lives erased and distorted by migration and violence. Though Trump-era border policy is an implicit backdrop to the cartel activity and mass abductions she depicts, debuting director Fernanda Valadez’s zoomed-in perspective is on family trauma, not imperial culpability.”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

10. Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself (Frank Oz; Jan. 22)

After a notable year of capturing stage performances on film with American Utopia, Hamilton, and What the Constitution Means to Me, 2021 will kick off with another. “It’s a tough act for a critic to try and explain the joys and pleasures of Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself,” John Fink said in his review. “In short, it’s an evocative exploration of narrative and identity through magic and trickery, starting with a thesis statement: we are all our own unreliable narrators. While this premise could also be a trigger warning at the beginning of Rashômon, Shutter Island, and a few Fincher films, In & of Itself takes a fascinating turn, steeped in the kind of narrative that’s required at the heart of every magic show. Objects are given meaning, including a gold brick that appears on stage and around the city of New York, symbolizing a brick thrown into the window of his childhood home after his mom came out.”

Where to Watch: Hulu

9. Film About a Father Who (Lynne Sachs; Jan. 15)

From The Father to Dick Johnson Is Dead to Falling to Minari, 2020 has been an exemplary year for films exploring all facets of fatherhood. Premiering at Slamdance Film Festival was another poignant entry in this category, Lynne Sachs’ documentary Film About a Father Who. Featuring materials shot over a period of 35 years between 1984 and 2019 by Sachs herself, the film explores her father Ira Sachs Sr., a bon vivant and pioneering businessman from Park City, Utah, which leads to many unexpected discoveries. Jared Mobarak said in his review, “While director Lynne Sachs admits her latest documentary Film About a Father Who could be superficially construed as a portrait (the title alludes to and the content revolves around her father Ira), she labels it a reckoning instead.”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

8. Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream (Frank Beauvais; Jan. 29)

After watching over 400 films in the span of just around four months, director Frank Beauvais reflects on his life and what led to this cinematic hibernation in Just Don’t Think I’ll Scream, an impressive, rapidly-edited, and deeply personal cinematic essay. Created solely from clips of the films he watched, it’s far from the kind of video essays that dominate YouTube, rather selecting the briefest of moments, and usually the least-recognizable of shots, in crafting this self-exploration of a reflective, questioning mind.

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

7. The White Tiger (Ramin Bahrani; Jan. 22)

From his days since Man Push Cart and Chop Shop, Ramin Bahrani has had quite a rise in scope in his career, while still working in character-focused drama. His next film, The White Tiger, is an adaptation of Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize winner, which follows Adarsh Gourav as Balram, a driver who finds a job working for a rich couple (one of whom is played by Priyanka Chopra Jonas) as he aims to get out of his life of poverty. While it didn’t show up on the fall festival circuit, we’re curious what is in store for the director’s first Netflix production.

Where to Watch: Netflix and Select Theaters

6. Acasa, My Home (Radu Ciorniciuc; Jan. 15)

When encountering the societal and economic structures of everyday life, it’s not a rare dream for many to wonder what life may look like off the grid and out of the hands of a bureaucratic entity that doesn’t have your best interests in mind. For one family living in the vast water reservoir of the Bucharest Delta, they have made this their reality for the last eighteen years. The Enache family and their nine children call this abandoned area their home, sleeping in their homemade hut, fishing for food, and taking gentle care of this slice of nature directly outside the hectic Romanian capital. As outside interest in their homeland grows, Acasă, My Home director Radu Ciorniciuc captures the forces of civilization that cause an upheaval of their lives with a well-rounded eye, painting an empathetic, complex portrait of the costs of independence.

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas and Select Theaters

5. Supernova (Harry Macqueen; Jan. 29)

Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci as a couple may be the best bit of casting thus far in 2021, and thankfully Supernova delivers in the effective drama department. Logan Kenny said in his review, “Rather than being cruel or relentlessly depressing about the prospect of having to say goodbye to a significant other one has loved for as long as they can remember, Macqueen makes sure to focus on the brightness that can be found in times of pain. He emphasizes the beauty of the natural English countryside that Tusker adores so much, the big parties filled with old friends that bring a night of joy, and the love between these two men that has lasted for so many years and will continue after their mortal connection is over. “

Where to Watch: Theaters

4. The Reason I Jump (Jerry Rothwell; Jan. 8)

The Reason I Jump, which picked up an Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival, is based on the best-selling book by Naoki Higashida, translated into English by author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas). An immersive cinematic exploration of neurodiversity through the experiences of nonspeaking autistic people from around the world, John Fink said in our review, “While The Reason I Jump is a profound and moving experience, one that isn’t easy to forget, it’s most effective when operating as an experimental work, taking a unique and lyrical approach to a subject that has often focused on the relationships and social struggles its subjects feel. The internal struggles explored have never been captured so vividly as they are in this picture.”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

3. Atlantis (Valentyn Vasyanovych; Jan 22)

Valentyn Vasyanovych’s striking Venice award winner Atlantis hauntingly captures a post-war Ukraine five years from now. Leonardo Goi said in our review, “In Valentyn Vasyanovych’s post-apocalyptic Atlantis, the sky above Ukraine hangs like a sheet of steel, a uniform mass of clouds bucketing water onto the mud-covered wasteland down below. The year is 2025, and the country has just emerged victorious–if shattered–from a war with Russia. It’s a conflict all too steeped in the decade’s real-life skirmishes between Ukraine and its neighbor to come across as strictly fictional, and that’s the thing that makes Atlantis so disturbing. It’d be tempting to call Vasyanovych’s a dystopia, were it not for that fact that, all through its 108 minutes, everything about it feels almost unbearably vivid–closer to some news report or a post-conflict documentary than any artificial rendition thereof.”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

2. The Salt of Tears (Philippe Garrel; Jan. 20)

A director who certainly doesn’t reinvent himself with each new film, Philippe Garrel’s well-honed skill can often get overlooked. His latest intimate black-and-white tale of desire and romance The Salt of Tears may not reach the peaks of his last few, but it still contains carefully considered reflections on the flaws of young love, with one of the best dance sequences put on film. Ed Frankl said in his Berlinale review, “If anything, what Garrel’s film lacks in emotional connection it gains in reserved reflection. It’s a study in male chauvinism, and yet these characters–both men and women–are adults, in adult relationships, whose responsibility is theirs alone. There’s something generous in that type of filmmaking–no anger, just disappointment, with the lingering melancholy that nobody’s actions in life are perfect.”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas

1. MLK/FBI (Sam Pollard; Jan. 15)

Arriving just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day this month, MLK/FBI is one of the most essential documentaries of this new year. Joshua Encinias said in his NYFF review, “Sam Pollard’s concise new documentary wrestles with King’s legacy as a Black Christian-pacifict freedom fighter and philanderer. If the last noun makes you tense up, the documentary is doing its job. The FBI’s ruthless campaign to discredit MLK Jr. with dirt on his affairs is at the center of Pollard’s story. It poses two questions: do King’s affairs discredit his legacy? And was J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI acting outside the bounds of the law, or as an apparatus of the political order? Using research from David J. Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer of Dr. King, testimonials from King’s inner circle, and recently declassified FBI documents, MLK/FBI shows––despite the FBI’s best efforts––the substance of King’s legacy is not his affairs, but his righteous cause for equality.”

Where to Watch: VOD and Theaters

Honorable Mentions

Spoor (Jan 22.)
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time (Jan. 22)
You Will Die at 20 (Jan. 22)

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