The below are a brief reviews of new releases I feel are worthy of recommendation. These films were all reviewed from digital screeners. Screen and Stage encourages its readers to follow safety precautions outlined by health authorities.
Mangrove (Dir. Steve McQueen, 2020, available to stream on Amazon) - Part of filmmaker Steve McQueen's new five-film Amazon anthology, SHORT AXE, MANGROVE is an ambitious, impassioned retelling of modern history that ranks as one of the director's finest works. When Frank Crichlow (Shaun Parkes, understated and powerful), a Trinidadian immigrant to London, opens up a restaurant, Mangrove, serving the cuisine of his home country, it quickly becomes a meeting place for the local community as well as a target for police to harass. As the harassment worsens, protests start, with many of the peaceful Black protestors ending up on trial fighting the institutional racism that plagued the British police and legal system. While the courtroom scenes are riveting, MAGROVE works so beautifully because its drama is grounded in humanity, and McQueen and his stellar ensemble have ensured that their characters are fully developed. MANGROVE is an essential film that speaks as much to today as to the time in which it is set. One of the year's best.
The Nest (Dir. Sean Durkin, 2020, available for rental and purchase everywhere) - There have been countless films made about marriages falling apart, but what makes Sean Durkin's latest stand out from most others of its kind are the two central performances from Carrie Coon and Jude Law. After Rory and Allison (Law and Coon, respectively) move from New York to England for Rory to pursue a new career opportunity, everything in their familial life slowly starts to spiral downward, and as brought to life by Coon and Law, that spiral is coldly mesmerizing. The two actors are well-supported by both Durkin, who takes a patient, calculated approach to his material (similar to his last feature, MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE), and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély (SON OF SAUL), whose dark, textured cinematography gives THE NEST an unsettling air.
Run (Dir. Aneesh Chaganty, 2020, available exclusively on Hulu) - Aneesh Chaganty announced himself as a filmmaker to watch with his clever and innovative 2018 thriller, SEARCHING, and he avoids the sophomore slump with his newest, RUN, about a wheelchair-bound girl (Kiera Allen, outstanding) who begins to suspect her overbearing mother (Sarah Paulson) has some dark secrets. Lean and ruthless, RUN makes maximum use out of its brief running time, never letting a second go to waste, and wrings suspense out of every possible situation. What sells even the more outrageous elements of this film, though, are the grounded performances of Allen and Paulson who make their two characters' relationship both believable and tragic.
The Twentieth Century (Dir. Matthew Rankin, 2020, available for rental on virtual cinema) - Every once in a while, a film comes along that's so unclassifiable, so deeply original that it feels destined for cult status, and Matthew Rankin's debut feature, THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, fits that description. Stylistically nestled somewhere between '50s or '60s hyperstylized Technicolor epic, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson, this highly fictionalized recounting of the early life of Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King is a true dazzler with a cast that's wonderfully on the same unique wavelength as its director. If a film featuring fascist dictators, boot festishes, an ejaculating cactus, and an obsession with maple walnut ice cream sounds appealing (and it certainly was for me), I highly recommend you seek this gem out.