Entertainment

The 31 Most Underrated Movies of 2020

Don't sleep on these overlooked gems.

swallow
'Swallow' | IFC Films
'Swallow' | IFC Films

Every year there are movies everyone hears about. Those are your Marvel films and your Oscar players. But in a year where those movies have been few and far between, more great films than usual have flown under the radar—the foreign favorites that never crack the mainstream, the studio releases that get written off, the straight-to-VOD indies—that deserve your attention just as much as the more heavily marketed releases. Before you decry 2020 a year where "no movies have come out," read this list and think again.

Want even more movies? Read our list of the Best Movies of 2020.

another round
Samuel Goldwyn Films

Another Round 

Release date: December 4
Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Why it's worth seeing: Thomas Vinterberg's drama Another Round stars Mads Mikkelsen as Martin, a history teacher who is reserved and sober, quite literally. When out for a birthday celebration with his fellow instructors, he initially refuses to drink, but eventually gives in and an experiment starts. He and his buddies start to test a theory of psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that humans' blood alcohol content is, on average, too low. The idea is research, but as with anything involving alcohol, lines become blurred. Martin, at first, sees only the positive effects: He's a more exuberant presence in his classroom, and is reconnecting with his wife. Eventually, as it always does, the buzz wears off. Vinterberg crafts a tale of male ennui in a country where drinking is rampant, and captures an incredible performance from Mikkelsen. (Watch the trailer—Esther Zuckerman

the assistant
Bleecker Street

The Assistant

Release date: January 31
Cast: Julia Garner, Matthew Macfadyen, Kristine Froseeth 
Director: Kitty Green 
Why it's worth seeing: Nothing much happens in The Assistant. A young woman (played by Ozark's Julia Garner)—whose name is apparently Jane, although it's never said in the movie—goes to work at the office of a high-powered Hollywood executive before the crack of dawn. She performs menial tasks. She takes calls. When the day is over, long after the sun is set, she heads home. But Green has made a silent scream of a film, which is so quietly unsettling it becomes hard to shake. Of course, you're probably aware of some version of this story. Jane's unseen boss is quite evidently a stand-in for Harvey Weinstein, and over the course of her otherwise monotonous day, Jane starts to realize something is amiss. There's an earring on the carpet. A new, very pretty woman arrives from Idaho with no experience and is put up in a fancy hotel. A meeting with an actress extends late into the night. But this is not a story about triumph over the evil that men like Weinstein perpetrate. Instead, it is about the systems in place that have allowed his behavior to go on for so long. When Jane reaches out to a smarmy HR person played by Succession's Matthew Macfadyen, she quickly realizes that speaking out is futile. The Assistant is a tale of disillusionment, and Garner wears the exhaustion, stress, and pain of that on her face. Her performance is agonizing as is the movie that surrounds it. But that's the point. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

IFC Films

Babyteeth

Release date: June 19
Cast: Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Essie Davis, Ben Mendelsohn
Director: Shannon Murphy
Why it's worth seeing: There's a kind of movie you presume you're getting when you hear "teen cancer drama," but Babyteeth, an Australian production, is not that. The film stars Eliza Scanlen, best known from Little Women and Sharp Objects, as Milla, a young woman who is dying. Waiting on a train platform on the way to school, she meets Moses (Toby Wallace), a drug addict with whom she falls into hopeless obsession. Her parents (Ben Mendelsohn and Essie Davis) are initially wary of Moses' increased presence in their daughter's life, but come to rely on him more and more as they realize how happy he's making her. Babyteeth is a film about the lengths people will go to in order to appease their loved ones in times of crisis, painting a portrait of a family in the throes of impending grief, trying to mask that in any way possible. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

bacurau
Kino Lorber

Bacurau

Release date: March 6
Cast: Sônia Braga, Udo Keir, Bárbara Colen, Thomas Aquino
Directors: Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho
Why it's worth seeing: "What's going on in Bacurau?" holds dual meaning when discussing the new film by Brazilian directors Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho. The mystery as to just who or what is besieging the tiny isolated town is the driving force behind the movie's narrative, but the question posed above also applies to the experience of watching Bacurau. You sit, hypnotized by the film while at the same time you wonder: What the hell is even happening? Is something supernatural or alien occurring? What about the hallucinogens that characters keep taking? Or is this just reality spun on its head? The quasi-western seems to exist in a world that is not quite our own, even as it offers an allegory for messy present-day Brazilian politics. To say too much about what is actually going on in Bacurau would ruin the experience of watching it. Dornelles and Mendonça Filho give the film a fuzzy B-movie feel that's only enhanced by the presence of B-movie hero Udo Kier as a threatening military figure. Bacurau holds its cards close to its chest, all building to an exuberantly bloody finale that's angry and hysterical. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

bad education
HBO

Bad Education

Release date: April 25
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Allison Janney, Geraldine Viswanathan
Director: Cory Finley
Why it's worth seeing: Based on what has been called the largest public school embezzlement scandal in history, HBO's Bad Education is a lean, mean indictment of those in the school system who stole taxpayer money to fund their jetsetting lives. Hugh Jackman is riveting as district superintendent Frank Tassone, obsessed with getting his Long Island high school to #1 in the rankings, coming up with fabulist, flashy schemes like a "skywalk" between buildings to get it there. When a student working for the school newspaper starts snooping around the archives, she uncovers more than a few discrepancies in the school's business expense logs, as if someone in the administration (or all of the people in the administration) has been systematically stealing money for nearly a decade. (Watch the trailer) — Emma Stefansky

beanpole
Kino Lorber

Beanpole 

Release date: January 19
Cast: Viktoria Miroshnichenko, Vasilisa Perelygina
Director: Kantemir Balagov
Why it's great: Beanpole opens with a woman frozen in place, twitching slightly. It's a disturbing image, but one that sets the tone for what's to follow: An unrelenting story about two women and their trauma in post-WWII Leningrad. Directed by the 28-year-old Kantemir Balagov, Beanpole is about the lasting effects of war and does so without varnish even as the cinematography pops with painterly composition. That woman unable to move is Iya Sergueeva, who is working as a nurse and taking care of a young child when the film opens. But old pains are further reignited when her friend Masha returns from service. It's a film that requires patience and endurance, but it's worth every second. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

birds of prey
Warner Bros. Pictures

Birds of Prey

Release date: February 7
Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ella Jay Basco
Director: Cathy Yan
Why it's worth seeing: We've had a string of pretty great DC Comics movies in the past few years—Wonder Woman and Aquaman both breathed new life in what looked like a dead franchise—but Birds of Prey, the Harley Quinn-centric girl gang team-up movie full of glitter and exploding sandbags, is the first one that seems to remember its characters' poppy, colorful origins. Oh, right, this movie seems to say, this is a comic book! It's a neon-lit zap in the pants, exactly the kind of thing we need in the dead of February with summer blockbuster season only a whisper on the horizon. Margot Robbie plays her motormouthed Quinn with even more manic panache than in the awful Suicide Squad; the new additions to the universe, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Rosie Perez, and Ella Jay Basco, provide endless fun; and the villainous duo of Ewan McGregor and bleach-blond Chris Messina are appropriately, unexpectedly terrifying. Plus, it also does everything it can to erase Suicide Squad from memory, which is something that we all wish we could do. If only more people went to see it. (Watch the trailer) — ES

blow the man down
Amazon Studios

Blow the Man Down 

Release date: March 20
Cast: Sophie Lowe, Morgan Saylor, Margo Martindale, June Squibb 
Directors: Bridget Savage Cole and and Danielle Krudy 
Why it's great: This indie is a sharp, pleasantly nasty tale about women and murder in a tiny Maine town. The movie, by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, opens with a chorus of burly fishermen singing the sea shanty that gives the film its title, but it quickly grows disinterested in any of the dudes. Sophie Lowe and Morgan Saylor, the latter of whom is best known as Dana Brody on Homeland, play the Connelly sisters. The day of their mother's funeral, Saylor's Mary Beth acts out, absconds to a bar, and takes up with a shady character who she ends up accidentally killing. That incident leads the siblings to discover a whole new seedy facet of their community. Blow the Man Down is constantly tense, and features wonderfully prickly performances from the likes of Margo Martindale, who plays the brothel owner next door. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

color out of space
RLJE Films

Color Out of Space

Release date: January 24
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong
Director: Richard Stanley
Why it's worth seeing: It's hard to know what Nicolas Cage movies are worth seeking out these days. The eye-bulging, voice-modulating thespian has a tendency to select projects that are either surprisingly compelling (like 2018's brutal genre hybrid Mandy) or disappointingly lame (most of his other recent work). Luckily, Color Out of Space, a psychedelic adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's short story from 1927, is one of the good recent Cage movies, mixing science-fiction intrigue and bursts horror movie excess to great effect. Cage's Nathan, a chatty farmer with a loving wife (Joely Richardson) and a pair of mildly rebellious kids, must contend with a meteoroid that crashes in his front yard, shooting purple light all over his property and infecting the local water supply. Inexplicably, alpacas are involved. Somehow, Cage makes it all work. (Watch the trailer) —Dan Jackson

emma.
Focus Features

EMMA.

Release date: February 21
Cast: Anya Taylor-Joy, Johnny Flynn, Bill Nighy, Mia Goth
Director: Autumn De Wilde
Why it's worth seeing: Autumn De Wilde's Emma—styled EMMA., period included—is not a radical reinvention of its source material, Jane Austen's 1815 novel. (Leave that to Clueless.) This new version is a faithful interpretation that's nevertheless very funny, meticulously styled in hues that give it a marzipan-like aesthetic, and relies on music in a Peter and the Wolf-like way, each character getting their own sounds and theme, that feels appropriate to De Wilde's long career as the "rock and roll Martha Stewart" as a respected photographer for musicians like Jenny Lewis, Elliott Smith, and Beck. Anya Taylor-Joy, of The Witch fame, is de Wilde's "handsome, clever, and rich" heroine, the vain Miss Woodhouse who adores getting involved in other people's affairs, but refuses to deal with her own feelings. Her Mr. Knightley—the tale's foil-slash-love interest—is Johnny Flynn, a folk musician and actor familiar to Netflix viewers as the lead of the rom-com Lovesick. Together, they provide all the intense, longing glances you expect from a repressed Regency romance, making this Emma sexy as well. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

the half of it
Netflix

The Half of It

Release date: May 1
Cast: Leah Lewis, Daniel Diemer, Alexxis Lemire
Director: Alice Wu
Why it's worth seeing: There's more to this Netflix rom-com than meets the eye. What initially seems like a Cyrano de Bergerac riff that would yield a saccharine conclusion is actually a tender exploration of isolation and loneliness for a queer teen of color. In The Half of It, Leah Lewis plays Ellie Chu, the only person of Chinese descent in a tiny town called Squahamish. Ellie helps her single father run the local train station, and, for cash on the side, she ghostwrites her fellow high schoolers' papers for a fee. One day, Ellie is followed home by the dopey sweet guy Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) who wants to employ her for a different kind of writing assignment: He wants her to write a love letter to Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), the prettiest girl in school and daughter of the town pastor. Ellie, who is not out, secretly has a crush on Aster too. Wu weaves the setting's religious conservatism into the backdrop of the narrative, opting for a story that's not upsetting but is deeply melancholy. (Watch the trailer) — EZ 

his house
Netflix

His House

Release date: October 30
Cast: Sope Dirisu, Wunmi Mosaku, Matt Smith
Director: Remi Weekes
Why it's worth seeing: Halfway through His House, the terrifying, sobering debut of director Remi Weekes, you realize that, on top of it being one of the scariest, most heartbreaking horror films of the year, it's also a mystery. The conflict, as it usually does in horror cinema, begins with a grave sin committed by one of the characters and is referenced over and over again before the film's conclusion. But in His House, you have no idea what the sin is until the dreamlike vision-quest ending, during which the movie's characters are forced to relive a trauma that is all too real for so many living in our world right now, in order to defeat a supernatural threat. (Watch the trailer) — ES

horse girl
Netflix

Horse Girl

Release date: February 7
Cast: Alison Brie, Molly Shannon, John Reynolds, Dylan Gelula
Director: Jeff Baena
Why it's worth seeing: The Netflix movie co-written by star Alison Brie defies the twee expectations set out by its title. Yes, Brie's protagonist is a woman who loves horses. No, she's not about to embark on some cutesy rom com and teach a man the meaning of life or whatever. Inspired by Brie's own family history of mental illness, Horse Girl is a surprising, surreal take on a woman's breakdown. Brie is excellent as Sarah, who works in a craft store and spends her nights watching a TV procedural and making lanyards. She's a lonely, solitary figure, who has a tenuous support system. But that all starts to slip away when her strange dreams intensify and she starts to believe she might have been abducted by aliens. There are certainly debates to be had as to just how well Horse Girl handles the balance between reality and fantasy with which it toys, but it's an engaging and disorienting ride nonetheless, anchored by some great acting. (Watch the trailer) — EZ 

I'm your woman
Amazon Studios

I'm Your Woman

Release date: December 4
Cast: Rachel Brosnahan, Arinzé Kene, Marsha Stephanie Blake
Director: Julia Hart
Why it's worth watching: The latest from director Julia Hart, who made the underrated Fast Color last year, is a '70s gangster story that defies all of the tropes of what you expect when you read "'70s gangster story." The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Rachel Brosnahan plays Jean, a new mother and wife of a mobster. When she's told that her husband in in trouble and she needs to disappear in the middle of the night, Jean is forced into a life of isolation that forces her to reckon with her own ignorance. There's a deliberate slowness to the narrative—an almost carefulness, like someone tiptoeing around a room so as not to be heard—even as it is punctuated by bursts of action. (Watch the trailer— EZ 

la llorona
Shudder

La Llorona

Release date: August 6
Cast: María Mercedes Coroy, Julio Diaz, Sabrina De La Hoz
Director: Jayro Bustamante 
Why it's worth seeing: It should be noted right off the bat that this film has nothing to do with last year's big studio frightfest The Curse of La Llorona, even though they both riff on the same myth. In Bustamante's much subtler film, there are no jump scares; it's the legacy of the Guatemalan genocide that's doing the haunting. The narrative centers on the wealthy family of a retired general who is on trial for his role in the massacre of the Maya people. After being declared guilty, he and his family remain essentially trapped in their mansion with protestors surrounding the walls. The sound of calls for justice are constant, except when another noise creeps through in the middle of the night: that of a crying woman, aka La Llorona. Bustamante creates images that damn the central characters in their desire to turn a blind eye to the pain they have caused, either directly or indirectly. The eeriness of the scenario grows with the arrival of a new young maid (María Mercedes Coroy), who seems to have lived longer than her appearance might imply. The scares in La Llorona come from waiting to see who will get his or her comeuppance, and when that finally does arrive, it's both thrilling and somehow doesn't cut as deep as one would have hoped. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

miss juneteenth
Vertical Entertainment

Miss Juneteenth 

Release date: June 19 
Cast: Nichole Beharie, Alexis Chikaeze, Kendrick Sampson
Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Channing Godfrey Peoples' Miss Juneteenth is a different kind of pageant story than the ones Hollywood traditionally produces. The drama, which premiered at Sundance and was released on this year's Juneteenth, is named for a competition for young Black girls celebrating the holiday, which marks the date that enslaved people in Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, more than two years after it was issued. It follows Turquoise Jones, played by the incredible and underrated performer Nicole Beharie, who was crowned Miss Juneteenth in her youth and now wants the same for her daughter Kai (Alexis Chikaeze). Winners are promised bright futures with scholarships to historically Black colleges and universities, but Turquoise's life didn't turn out as planned. She now works multiple jobs, and has placed all of her own ambitions onto Kai, who regards the pageant with skepticism. Beharie does remarkable work as Turquoise, whose strictness blends with exhaustion and love, and Peoples crafts a film which celebrates the bond between generations of Black women with a delicate, moving sweetness. In a year where Juneteenth is finally being recognized across the country, this is a must-watch. (Watch the trailer) — EZ 

never rarely sometimes always
Focus Features

Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always

Release date: March 13
Cast: Sidney Flanagan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Sharon Van Etten
Director: Eliza Hittman 
Why it's worth seeing: There's a scene in Eliza Hittman's drama Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always that is near impossible to shake. Teen Autumn (Flanagan) has traveled to New York with her cousin Skylar (Ryder) in order to have an abortion, prohibited in her home state of Pennsylvania. She sits in an office in a Manhattan Planned Parenthood as a counselor cycles through a series of mandatory questions. The camera holds on Autumn's face as the questions grow more and more personal. The young woman doesn't reveal much in her answers, but you can read the pain in the cracking of her voice and the glistening in her eyes. A lot goes unsaid in Hittman's follow-up to her 2017 story of burgeoning sexuality, Beach Rats. We never hear Autumn and Skylar hatch a plan to go to the city. They just pack an unnecessarily large suitcase and leave. Autumn never talks about her feelings with regards to terminating her pregnancy and Skylar never asks. But nothing ever seems missing in this silence. Hittman has made a film about the grim pacts women make with each other in a world that is hostile to them set in an unromantic vision of New York. Much of the action takes place in and around Port Authority, where Autumn and Skylar would otherwise be faceless commuters in pallid surroundings. Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always is an unforgiving movie, and it's nevertheless stunning. (Watch the trailer) — EZ 

the nest
IFC Films

The Nest

Release date: September 18
Cast: Jude Law, Carrie Coon, Charlie Shotwell, Oona Roche
Director: Sean Durkin 
Why it's worth seeing: "This was our fresh start," says Carrie Coon's Allison to her husband Rory (Jude Law) early on in The Nest, Sean Durkin's severe drama of marriage and money. The way Coon delivers the line hints at a shared history, a series of broken promises and a desire to salvage a relationship through drastic change. The couple moves to London from America with their children so that Rory can secure a financial windfall: It's the '80s and regulations in the English markets are loosening. But the plan doesn't work and soon Rory is spending money he doesn't have to maintain a lifestyle Allison doesn't even necessarily want. His reckless financial risk-taking feeds her natural cautiousness, which slowly turns into resentment and anger. Interrogating the way class anxieties forged in childhood can determine patterns of behavior, Durkin's movie is as perceptive as it is tense. (Watch the trailer) — DJ

the other lamb
IFC Films

The Other Lamb

Release date: April 3
Cast: Raffey Cassidy, Denise Gough, Michiel Huisman
Director: Malgorzata Szumowska
Why it's worth seeing: Even on a smaller screen, which is frankly how you'll be watching most things in 2020, The Other Lamb is absolutely extraordinary to behold. Malgorzata Szumowska's cult film with notes of horror is as gorgeous as it is deeply creepy. Raffey Cassidy, known for her work in Vox Lux and The Killing of a Sacred Deer, plays a teen named Selah who has spent her entire life under the control of a man who goes by Shepherd (Huisman). Selah and her "sisters" are devoted followers of this man, unaware of the maliciousness that lurks in his belief system and the society he's created. But over the course of the film, Selah slowly wakes up, no thanks to any intervention from the outside world, but as a result of her own emerging power. Her dreams are plagued with violent visions, which she begins to embrace instead of shun. Szumowska and cinematographer Michal Englert encase her story in strikingly beautiful landscapes, and Cassidy makes the case that she's one of the most adventurous young actors out there. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

the photograph
Universal Pictures

The Photograph

Release date: February 14
Cast: Issa Rae, Lakeith Stanfield, Y'lan Noel, Rob Morgan, Chanté Adams 
Director: Stella Meghie
Why it's worth seeing: The Photograph, writer and director Stella Meghie's time-shifting romance starring Issa Rae and Lakeith Stanfield, is the type of movie that smolders like an old Al Green song for its entire runtime. Whenever its plot, which follows the daughter of a famous photographer named Mae (Rae) falling in love with a commitment-phobic journalist (Stanfield), threatens to intensify or boil over, the movie finds a way to dial back the conflict. Occasionally, particularly in the flashback sections about Mae's mother, that skittishness towards melodrama can be frustrating. But in the scenes between Rae and Stanfield, who share a low-key chemistry, the film achieves a sweet balance between indie-movie naturalism and rom com sweetness that's all too rare on screen these days. (Watch the trailer) — DJ

ride your wave
GKIDS

Ride Your Wave

Release date: February 19
Cast: Ryota Katayose, Rina Kawaei, Kentaro Ito, Honoka Matsumoto
Director: Masaaki Yuasa
Why it's great: Masaaki Yuasa has been a prolific force of trippy anime since the late '90s, but 2020 has the potential to be the director's breakout year in the United States with a huge slate of projects coming out, starting with the series Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! in the winter anime season, followed by Ride Your Wave, a saccharine seaside love story that will break and rebuild your heart. Surfer Hinako Mukaimizu and firefighter Minato Hinageshi have a meet-cute on the roof of Hinako's burning apartment building, and after developing a deep, resonating affection for each other over the course of a year, Minato suddenly and tragically drowns. Hinako, left behind in shock, realizes that she can conjure Minato in water by singing a song (recorded by voice actor Ryota Katayose's band, Generations from Exile Tribe) they both loved. Of course, everyone thinks she's insane for talking to a water bottle and carrying around a water-filled blow-up finless porpoise, but Hinako holds firm until her hallucinations are validated in an explosive final act. Yuasa's dramatic perspective-shifting animation style is beautiful in this water world, and the narrative seeds planted at the beginning come shooting up for an emotionally devastating end. (Watch the trailer) — Leanne Butkovic

shaun the sheep farmageddon
Netflix

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon 

Release date: February 14
Cast: Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale, Kate Harbour 
Directors: Will Becher and Richard Phelan 
Why it's worth seeing: While it may not generate the same type of praise as the slightly droller Wallace and Gromit or a stop-motion blockbuster like Chicken Run, the kid-friendly Shaun the Sheep series, which chronicles the life of mischief-loving sheep named Shaun, is a reliable source of belly laughs. This sequel to 2015's equally charming Shaun the Sheep Movie has a science-fiction bent courtesy of an alien spacecraft that travels to the town of Mossingham, where Shaun and his animal friends live on a quiet farm with their buffoonish owner. (Obviously, Shaun is the real boss of the establishment.) The UFO plot allows the crack animation team at Aardman to deliver a number of referential sight-gags to genre classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and The X-Files. Still, the emphasis is rightfully on the type of playful slapstick comedy that all ages can enjoy, especially if you like cute clay farm animals. And, honestly, who doesn't? (Watch the trailer) — DJ

she dies tomorrow
NEON

She Dies Tomorrow

Release date: August 7
Cast: Kate Lyn Sheil, Jane Adams, Chris Messina, Katie Aselton
Director: Amy Seimetz 
Why it's worth seeing: Read anything about She Dies Tomorrow and you'll find some mention of how it's eerily perfect for the current moment. It's a movie ostensibly about mortality, but more accurately about fear and how it's its own sort of virus. The plot is relatively simple: Amy, for reasons she never fully explains, is convinced she's going to die. She calls her friend Jane (Jane Adams) and describes her premonition. Jane attributes Amy's paranoia to an alcoholic relapse, and writes it off, but then, alone in her basement, huddled over a microscope, Jane starts to experience the same fear. It's contagious. Through flashbacks, we see where Amy contracted her horror, but it's never defined as any specific monster. It's just an airborne terror, seeping into willing minds. The world Seimetz creates is one that turns progressively more surreal. It's an echo of our own that slowly grows more foreign. It's also often absurdly funny, like a Tim & Eric sketch with an operatic bent. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

swallow
IFC Films

Swallow 

Release date: March 6
Cast: Haley Bennett, Austin Stowell, Elizabeth Marvel, Denis O'Hare 
Director: Carlo Mirabella-Davis
Why it's worth seeing: Carlo Mirabella-Davis' directorial debut will easily go down as one of the queasiest films of the year, but it's far more than its most upsetting moments. Swallow stars Haley Bennett as Hunter, a housewife tasked with maintaining a perfectly manicured life for her businessman husband. But Hunter suffers from pica, a rare condition which means she consumes items that are not food. When she learns she's pregnant, her eating disorder intensifies, and she starts putting everything from marbles to push pins in her mouth. Mirabella-Davis never shies away from the the gruesome reality of the effect Hunter's actions have on her body, but he pairs it with gorgeous visuals that look like something out of a 1950s Vogue editorial. It's a deeply unsettling marriage, enhanced by Bennett's astounding performance, and just when you think that Swallow might veer into more horror chaos, it swerves to a realistic, tender zone. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

synchronic
Well Go USA

Synchronic 

Release date: October 23
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Why it's worth seeing: Four features in, directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a very distinct style: weird stuff in the sky, complicated brotherly relationships between men, new and fascinating conceptions of the nature of time. Synchronic is another dive into the depths of what the fabric of the universe is woven from, spinning a wild tale of death, drugs, and time travel amidst the dim, sinister backdrop of nighttime New Orleans. Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie play a pair of EMTs cruising the NOLA nights responding to emergency distress calls. On a few of these calls, they come across a number of people who have either mysteriously disappeared or somehow wound up dead, each incident having to do with a new drug called "Synchronic." When Dornan's daughter goes missing, his friend must figure out how to use the killer drug to find her. (Watch the trailer) — ES

tigertail
Netflix

Tigertail

Release date: April 10
Cast: Tzi Ma, Christine Ko, Hong-Chi Lee
Director: Alan Yang
Why it's worth watching: Master of None co-creator Alan Yang makes his directorial feature debut with Tigertail, in which he loosely adapts his own father's life. It's a tight film that's nonetheless epic in scale as it follows a man named Pin-Jui from his childhood as a young boy in Taiwan into his middle age in America. Yang jumps back and forth in time, as the present-day Pin-Jui (played in a wonderful, understated performance by Tzi Ma) reflects on his past. It's a tricky balancing act. The scenes of his life as a young adult as he bonds with his first love are flush with color, which fades as he settles into the rhythms of a passionless marriage in New York. At times Tigertail can feel like a condensed version of a much longer saga, and indeed that was sort of the case as Yang whittled down an over 200 page draft. Still, Yang has crafted a vivid tale about the immigrant experience, regret, and the bonds between generations. (Watch the trailer) — EZ

time to hunt
Netflix

Time to Hunt

Release date: April 23
Cast: Lee Je-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong, Choi Woo-shik, Park Jung-min 
Director: Yoon Sung-hyun
Why it’s worth watching: Unrelenting in its pursuit of scenarios where guys point big guns at each other in sparsely lit empty hallways and streets, the Netflix original Time to Hunt is a South Korean thriller that knows exactly what stylistic register it's playing in. A group of four friends (one of them is played by Parasite and Train to Busan break-out Choi Woo-shik) knock over a gambling house, stealing a hefty bag of money and a set of even more valuable hard-drives, which results in them being targeted by a ruthless contract killer (Park Hae-soo) who moves like the T-1000 and shoots like a henchmen in a Michael Mann movie. Dystopian flourishes—such as protests playing out in the streets and police waging a tech-savvy war on citizens while criminals operate largely unchecked—serve the simmering tension and elevate the pounding set-pieces instead of feeling like unnecessary allegorical padding. Time to Hunt uses its elongated runtime to build sequences in a meticulous, considerate way that should appeal to viewers who have seen Heat, Collateral, and Miami Vice too many times to count. (Watch the trailer—DJ

underwater, kristen stewart
20th Century Fox

Underwater

Release date: January 10
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick
Director: William Eubank
Why it's worth seeing: One of the few action blockbusters to be lucky enough to actually come out in theaters this year, Underwater is a lean, mean, monster flick with shades of Alien, The Abyss, and Pacific Rim all rolled into one. When their deep-sea drilling complex spontaneously ruptures, killing most of the miners and engineers onboard, a small band of survivors crawl through the wreckage and don pressurized diving suits to survive in the deepest part of the ocean long enough to reach the surface. They soon find out, however, that they're not alone down in the dark, as bloodthirsty creatures pursue them through the murk. It's great fun, with some really sickening deaths, terrifying beasts, and outfits like something out of a mecha anime. (Watch the trailer) — ES

the vast of night
Amazon Studios

The Vast of Night

Release date: May 29
Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz
Director: Andrew Patterson
Why it's worth seeing: Equal parts would-be Twilight Zone episode and old-fashioned sci-fi radio drama, Andrew Patterson's debut feature The Vast of Night takes us back in time to Cayuga, New Mexico in the late 1950s, when technology promised us a future Space Age and the rascally Soviets could be hiding around every corner. Two high school youngsters, switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and late-night radio host Everett (Jake Horowitz), stumble upon a strange interference one night that doesn't seem to be coming from any known source. When Everett asks his listeners to call in if they recognize the sound, the two uncover a global conspiracy involving the military, disappearances, and what some might call alien abduction. The film is such fun to watch, the two leads constantly bickering back and forth in a choppy, mid-'50s cadence, and the mystery at the center of it all is a thrilling, playful return to a cozy, antique way of storytelling when the nighttime was full of endless possibilities. (Watch the trailer) — ES

weathering with you
GKIDS

Weathering With You

Release date: January 17
Cast: Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Chieko Baishô 
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Why it's worth seeing: Shinkai's follow-up to his devastating body-switching, time-bending romance Your Name. is no less gorgeous to look at, with a beautiful story about love and sacrifice underneath its magical realist wrappings. Young runaway Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo), trying to find steady work in Tokyo, befriends a mysterious "sunshine girl," Hina (Nana Mori), who can change the weather just by praying. But the forces that give Hina her abilities are bound by an ancient power, and she learns she must make a decision if she wants to save the world and everyone she loves who lives in it. Full of glittering cityscapes and lovingly animated raindrops, Weathering With You is a beautiful, mesmerizing fantasy of young love. (Watch the trailer) — ES

zombi child
Ad Vitam

Zombi Child

Release date: January 24
Cast: Louise Labeque, Wislanda Louimat, Adile David, Mathilde Ru
Director: Bertrand Bonello
Why it's worth seeing: If The Craft was set in a prestigious French school for girls and had an anti-colonialism subtext practically oozing from its pores, you'd have something like Zombi Child. Bouncing between 1960s Haiti and a clique of present-day schoolgirls who form their own sorority, the French film connects the two timelines via Mélissa, a new student and one of few Black girls in the school for children whose parents received the Legion of Honour, a national award created by Napoleon. A survivor of the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, she moved to France to live with her aunt, a practitioner of voodoo, called a mambo. When one of her new friends gets dumped, she, in a very selfishly teenaged fashion, seeks out Mélissa's aunt and begs her to exorcise her heartbreak. From then on, Zombi Child goes from somewhat controversial—a reaction Bertrand Bonello tends to elicit from his other movies (The Pornographer featured unsimulated sex, and Nocturama was accused of glamorizing terrorism, for example)—and incisive social commentary to politically charged horror. (Watch the trailer) — LB

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