With Sundance Film Festival now in the rearview, it’s time to look at the worthwhile new releases of February. Featuring the roll-out of Oscar hopefuls, imaginative sci-fi features, and more, it’s a compelling line-up. We’ll also note that French Exit, which was considered for the list, will only get a small NY/LA release this month before returning in April, so we’ll feature it then.

13. A Glitch in the Matrix (Rodney Ascher)

Room 237 director Rodney Ascher has returned, this time to explore the very fabric of reality, or lack thereof. John Fink said in his review of the recent Sundance premiere, “I often wonder what influential film theorist Andre Bazin would make of VR and simulations, especially when this year’s Sundance has virtualized the festival experience in a way that benefits from a longer runway than most cultural events pivoting likewise. It’s only fitting that Rodney Ascher’s mind-bending A Glitch in the Matrix would premiere alongside the festival’s virtual avatar party taking place in a computer-generated “space station” that lets us keep a healthy distance. Ascher’s film, which unfolds through a series of virtual interviews, edges towards and backs away from explaining what it could’t have predicted: a virtual end to American democracy during the final days of the Trump administration. If ever there was any point for an experiment to fail in chaos, we broached it while the movie’s virtual print was virtually wet––as the old expression goes.”

Where to Watch: VOD (Feb. 5)

12. Land (Robin Wright)

After getting some experience behind the camera on House of Cards, Robin Wright has now crafted her directorial debut with the impressive Land. Dan Mecca said in his Sundance review, “There is a scene about halfway through Land, directed and starring Robin Wright, in which Miguel (Demián Bichir) reveals a tragedy in his past. Edee (Wright), also grieving, reacts silently and subtlety, though we see so much happening on her face. Nothing said, only felt. It is, truly, a perfect moment captured on film. The kind of thing one will not easily forget. Often actors who step behind the camera will admit that they focused less on their own on-screen performances while directing, sometimes to the detriment of the picture they were making. This cannot be the case here, as Wright the filmmaker wrings out one of Wright the actor’s career-best performances.”

Where to Watch: Theaters (Feb. 12)

11. Lapsis (Noah Hutton)

One of the first essential sci-fi features to seek out in this early year is Lapsis, a selection at SXSW last year. Written and directed by Noah Hutton, with a cast featuring Dean Imperial, Crashing stand-out Madeline Wise, Babe Howard, and Arliss Howard, the film is set in an alternate present of NY where the quantum computing revolution has begun. The story centers on a Queens delivery man who becomes a “cabler” in this gig economy to connect miles of infrastructure needed to have the quantum trading market succeed. Read Jared Mobarak’s review from Nightstream here.

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas, VOD, and Digital (Feb. 12)

10. Little Fish (Chad Hartigan; Feb. 5)

Following his breakout film, the affecting character study This is Martin Bonner, and his follow-up, the vibrant fish out of water tale Morris In America, director Chad Hartigan had a prescient, ambitious vision for his next feature. Set during a global pandemic in which a growing portion of the population is affiliated with memory loss, Little Fish tenderly follows the relationship between a couple (Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell) as they must face this scary new world and the personal strife they are forced to reckon with. As Hartigan elegantly jumps between the past and the present to show all facets of the bond at the film’s center, he contends with the universal fear of having those closest to you drift away. Read my full review.

Where to Watch: VOD (Feb. 5)

9. Two of Us (Filippo Meneghetti)

A rarity when it comes to France’s Oscar entries, this year’s is a directorial debut. Jose Solís said in his review, “When Two of Us begins, we meet Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) a couple whose comfort with each other is palpable through their silences, a way of intimate communication only developed through years of relationship. As they discuss their plans to relocate from France to Rome while talking about children, we first assume they have always been together, and are finding a way to break the news to the kids. As Nina becomes a bit more impatient, reminding Madeleine she needs to take care of herself as well and that her children are adults, we wonder: is she their stepmom?”

Where to Watch: Virtual Cinemas (Feb. 5)

8. Dead Pigs (Cathy Yan)

Considering Dead Pigs was Cathy Yan’s calling card to enter the Hollywood shuffle with Birds of Prey, it’s surprising it’s taken this long for it to finally receive a U.S. release. Three years after its Sundance Film Festival premiere, Yan’s directorial debut will now be getting a debut on MUBI this month. A dark comedy exploring modern China through the lens of a handful of characters, we’ve been waiting to see this for some time and glad it’ll be getting such a wide U.S. debut.

Where to Watch: MUBI (Feb. 12)

7. The World to Come (Mona Fastvold)

The World to Come, Mona Fastvold’s long-awaited follow-up to her debut The Sleepwalker, finally arrives this month. Set in the 19th century in the American Northeast, the beautiful drama concerns a romance between Abigail (Katherine Waterston), a farmer’s wife, and her new neighbor Tallie (Vanessa Kirby). Rory O’Connor said in his Venice review, “Shot on location using 16mm film––with Romania filling in for the frontier, as it did in Jacques Audiard’s The Sisters Brothers––André Chemetov’s rural’s vistas are as painterly as they are naturalistic. In particular, the early snow-swept sequences nod pleasingly towards Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Daniel Blumberg’s score—his first for a feature––is gentle and unobtrusive but powerfully moving when it needs to be. The sets feel lived in, Waterston and Kirby are immaculate, and Affleck and Abbott find interesting angles on what might have otherwise been archetypal roles.”

Where to Watch: Theaters (Feb. 12) and VOD (March 2)

6. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)

Perhaps the most acclaimed film of 2020 is finally getting a release this month. While I was a bit more mixed on Chloé Zhao’s American odyssey than most, it’s still worth seeking out even if a non-theatrical setting will diminish the film’s most notable aspect: its cinematography. David Katz said in his review, “Chloé Zhao established herself across the past decade with The Rider and Songs My Brothers Taught Me, work that touched on these resonances; it was true American cinema telling grounded, lived-in stories of perseverance and family. For her latest project, Nomadland (and, we imagine, for her forthcoming Marvel film The Eternals), the director is now entering the modern Hollywood fold, and its more prosaic demands on story, pacing, and visual style.”

Where to Watch: Hulu (Feb. 19)

5. The Wanting Mare (Nicholas Bateman)

Shot almost entirely inside a New Jersey warehouse over the course of five years, Nicholas Ashe Bateman’s debut The Wanting Mare introduces the grand fantasy world of Anmaere that is “the first, intimate chapter in a long line of films about the people, places, and legends” of the imagined locale. Jake King-Schreifels said in his review, “Its scope expands broadly beyond the natural world, into mythology and the surreal. Its billing has compared it to The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones for its fantasy-building, lauded for its technical achievement on a shoestring budget and referenced as a darker fable akin to Pixar’s Onward. These analogies at once credit the movie’s ambitious aesthetics and exemplify its vague storytelling, bound with potential and challengingly little detail.”

Where to Watch: VOD (Feb. 5)

4. The Father (Florian Zeller)

A long journey to screens since its debut at Sundance Film Festival last year, Sony Pictures Classics has been delaying The Father in order to have a prime theatrical debut. Since that can’t happen in the current state of the country, it’ll now get a digital release about a month after it lands in theaters later this February. Matt Cipolla said in his review, “To say that The Father is a simple drama would be cutting it short. It’s something of a pressure cooker as Anthony’s perception of the world further unravels. Small things appear time and time again to give the story a studded, pointedly insignificant texture, like a lost mind trying to assign motifs to his passing days. Characters come and go like specters, their personalities bleed into one another. When the apartment seems to shift and scenes go from A to B and back to A, it can get quite unsettling.”

Where to Watch: Theaters (Feb. 26) and VOD (March 26)

3. The Killing of Two Lovers (Robert Machoian)

If you’re put off by the rather direct title, don’t let it cause you to miss out on one of the most impressive films of last year’s Sundance. John Fink said in his review, “Directed by Robert Machoian, who is known for working with frequent collaborator Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck on naturalistic portraits of parents and children–including When She Runs and absentee parents in God Bless The ChildThe Killing of Two Lovers is an evocative character study with notes of vintage Terrence Malick. Arriving in the Sundance Next category, the picture also recalls the festival’s glory days as it feels dated but, then again, David and Nikki have also peaked in high school.”

2. Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King)

Premiering at Sundance Film Festival before a release next week, there’s a great deal to admire about Shaka King’s breakout drama Judas and the Black Messiah. John Fink said in his review, “A film that is both timely and timeless, Judas the Black Messiah resists intertwining current events with historical figures––an approach that Spike Lee has excelled at in his work. Instead, director and co-writer Shaka King’s examination of the final moments of Fred Hampton’s short life is grounded firmly in the politics of the late 1960s. It goes without saying that little has changed and therefore it’s easy to connect the dots to recent struggles.”

Where to Watch: HBO Max and Theaters (Feb. 12)

1. Minari (Lee Isaac Chung)

There is no shortage of films that depict the pains of assimilation and the pursuit of the American Dream for a more promising future. It’s been customary for these stories to tell of journeys from another country to a metropolis somewhere across the land of the free. When it comes to the family of Minari, however, they’ve already been living the United States for some time, carving out a life for themselves on the West Coast. Yet Jacob (Steven Yeun) has dreams beyond separating chickens into male and female bins as a cog in industrialized farming and so he moves his Korean-American family to the rural outskirts of Arkansas where he and his wife Monica  (Yeri Han) continue the same job, all while attempting to build a more fruitful living with their own farm featuring Korean produce. All the joys and struggles of this journey are captured with a keen, warm tenderness by Lee Isaac Chung, whose carefully-considered drama deserves to be a breakthrough for the writer-director, who now has five features to his name. Continue reading my review.

Where to Watch: Theaters and Virtual Cinemas (Feb. 12) and VOD (Feb. 26)

Also Arriving

Falling (Feb. 5)
PVT Chat (Feb. 5)
Malcolm & Marie (Feb. 5)
Crestone (Feb. 16)
I Care A Lot (Feb. 19)
The Violent Heart (Feb. 19)
Test Pattern (Feb. 19)
Sin (Feb. 26)
The Vigil (Feb. 26)
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson (Feb. 26)
The United States Vs. Billie Holiday (Feb. 26)
Crisis (Feb. 26)

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