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The entertainment world continues to be turned upside down by the pandemic. Though traditionally a big month for television, this February is seeing relatively few high-profile premieres. (It’s far from a complete desert, however, and includes the return of one of the FBI’s most famous fictional agents.)
Those looking for movies, however, will have plenty of intriguing options, both in theaters and at home. These include both some acclaimed films that only played briefly in theaters for awards-qualifying runs back in December, and the first films to emerge from this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Here are a few that look like good bets in the year’s shortest, and often coldest, month.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar (VOD, February 12th)
The last time Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo co-wrote a movie, we got Bridesmaids, a complicated look at female friendship that also featured one of the most memorable pooping sequences ever filmed. How heavily pooping will figure in this new team-up, in which Wiig and Mumolo co-star as a pair of Midwesterners vacationing in Florida, remains unknown. We do know, however, that the pair will get mixed up in an evil scheme and be joined by co-stars like Jamie Dornan, Damon Wayans Jr., and Vanessa Bayer.
Cherry (Theaters, February 26th)
As the directors of Captain America: Civil War, Joe and Anthony Russo helped introduce Tom Holland to much of the world by introducing him as the MCU’s Spider-Man. With Cherry they appear poised to help him shake up his boyish image via an adaptation of Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel about an opioid-addicted Army vet who turns to a life of crime.
Clarice (CBS, February 11th)
For three seasons in the mid-2010s, NBC’s Hannibal gave Thomas Harris’ serial killer Hannibal Lecter a series of his own. Now CBS is giving his favorite FBI agent, Claire Starling, a shot with Clarice, which picks up not long after the events of Silence of the Lambs. Australian actress Rebecca Breeds takes over the role made famous by Jodie Foster, but, thanks to copyright issues, don’t expect any references to Lecter. Stream here with free trial to CBS All-Access.
Falling (Theaters and VOD, February 5th)
Viggo Mortensen makes his debut as a writer and director with this story of a middle-aged gay man forced to deal with a conservative, unsupportive father (Lance Henriksen) as his father begins to descend into dementia. Laura Linney co-stars as a sister drawn into the drama of a film that met with a warm reception when it debuted at last year’s Sundance Film Festival.
The Father (Theaters, February 26th)
Anthony Hopkins is famous for marking up unchallenging scenes in his scripts with the letters “N.A.R.,” short for “no acting required.” He probably didn’t need that shorthand for playwright-turned-director Florian Zeller’s feature debut, an adaptation of his own play that casts Hopkins as a man succumbing to dementia and the daughter (Olivia Colman) doing her best to care for him as his condition worsens. The film won acclaim at this January’s Sundance and seems likely to challenge Hopkins in ways that, say, Transformers: The Last Knight probably did not.
Firefly Lane (Netflix, February 3rd)
Released in 2008, Kristin Hannah’s bestselling novel Firefly Lane traces the friendship between two women in the Pacific Northwest across several turbulent decades, following them from their teen years into adulthood. Readers fell for it, and Netflix hopes viewers will do the same with this new series starring Kathrine Heigl and Sarah Chalke playing characters whose lives take different paths but keep intersecting anyway. Watch on Netflix.
French Exit (Theaters, February 12th)
What does a woman who’s built a life around spending money do when the money disappears? If she’s Frances Price (Michelle Pfeiffer), she leaves Manhattan for Paris with her adult son (Lucas Hedges) and a cat who may be more than just a cat in tow. It’s based on a novel by Patrick deWitt, who previously provided source material for the great, if a bit overlooked, western, The Sisters Brothers.
A Glitch in the Matrix (Theaters and VOD, February 5th)
What if the world as we know it was actually a computer simulation and we were all just lines of code in a higher reality? That may sound like madness, but not to the true believers interviewed by Rodney Ascher, alongside philosophers and others who’ve explored the implications of the theory. The latest from the director of Room 237 explores simulation theory, the ways it’s been reflected in films like The Matrix and The Truman Show, and how those films and other pieces of pop culture have caused some to view the world differently.
The Investigation (HBO, February 1st)
The strange, tragic death of Kim Wall, a Swedish journalist murdered while aboard an inventor’s homemade submarine, serves as the subject of this six-part dramatization from Danish director Tobias Lindholm. It could have inspired a lurid approach, but Lindholm set out not to lean into true crime cliches by focusing on Wall’s life and the hard work of investigating a murder. Stream here on HBO Max.
Judas and the Black Messiah (Theaters and HBO Max, February 12th)
Best known for directing smart TV comedies like High Maintenance and Shrill, director Shaka King takes a hard left turn with this instantly acclaimed historical drama about Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya), the Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party who died at the hands of the Chicago police in 1969. Lakeith Stanfield stars as William O’Neal, the man who joined the Black Panthers as an informant for the FBI. (The “Judas” isn’t in the title by accident.) Stream here on HBO Max.
Land (Theaters, February 12th)
Spurred by an unspeakable loss and a mounting sense of alienation, Edee Holzer decides to pack it all up and leave it all behind for a life of isolation in the first film directed by Robin Wright (who also stars). Wright didn’t take the easy route for her directorial debut: the film required extensive outdoor shooting and placed her at the center of virtually every scene. She does have some on-screen support, however. Demian Bichir co-stars as a man who seems to have retreated from civilization for similar reasons.
The Mauritanian (Theaters, February 19th)
In this courtroom drama with real-world roots, Tahar Rahim plays Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a Mauritanian man who recounted his time being held without charge in the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in the book, Guantánamo Diary. Jodie Foster and Shailene Woodley co-star as a pair of attorneys who attempt to win his freedom, an attempt that requires them outmaneuver a military prosecutor played by Benedict Cumberbatch.
Minamata (Theaters and VOD, February 5th)
Johnny Depp makes a quiet return with this film drawn from the life of photojournalist William Eugene Smith, famed for his World War II work, contributions to Life magazine and — in the chapter that inspired the film — documenting the effects of pollution in the Japanese city of Minamata.
Minari (Theaters, February 12th)
For this story of a family of Korean-Americans who leave California behind to make new life in the heartland, director Lee Isaac Chung drew on his own experiences growing up in Arkansas in the Eighties. That personal connection might be why the film so artfully avoids clichés, capturing the possibilities of starting over in America without underselling the difficulties. As parents with sometimes contrasting visions, Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri star, joined by Will Patton as an eccentric, but helpful, neighbor and a scene-stealing Youn Yuh-jung as the grandmother who joins them.
Nomadland (Theaters, February 19th)
In another film about life on the American fringes that avoids cliche, Frances McDormand plays Fern, a Nevada widow whose economically precarious situation leads her to a life traveling the country in a van seeking seasonal employment where she can find it. Working from a non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder, Chloé Zhao captures the freedom and fear of living without connection in a film driven by a remarkable McDormand performance. (Also like Minari, it’s making its proper debut after a short awards-qualifying run in December.)
Punky Brewster (Peacock, February 25th)
Why revive a cutesy Eighties sitcom about a spunky foster kid? Well, why not? Soleil Moon Frye returns to the role that made her famous, only this time Punky’s the one taking in a foster daughter, bringing her into the already-bustling home she shares with her three children. Freddie Prinze Jr. co-stars as Punky’s ex-husband. Stream here with free trial to Peacock.
Saint Maud (Epix, February 12th)
Rose Glass’s religious-themed horror movie earned rave reviews last year only to disappear from the release calendar when the pandemic shut down theaters. In a better-late-than-never situation, it’s now making its debut on cable accompanied by a limited theatrical run. Morfydd Clark stars as a hospice nurse who develops a strange attachment to a terminally ill American dancer (Jennifer Ehle), an atheist whose soul she sets out to save.
Supernova (VOD, February 16th)
Tusker (Stanley Tucci) and Sam (Colin Firth) are longtime romantic partners traveling England’s Lake District, but their trip isn’t without purpose: Tusker is suffering from early-onset dementia and the pair are doing the best they can to savor the life they’ve built together before it falls apart. Written and directed by actor-turned-filmmaker Harry Macqueen, the film earned strong reviews when it played festivals last year (and with those great leads and that heartbreaking set-up, that should probably come as no surprise).
The United States Vs. Billie Holiday (Hulu, February 26)
Making her acting debut (not counting her work in Cars 3), singer Andra Day plays Billie Holiday in a biopic focusing on the singer’s harassment at the hands of the FBI. Trevante Rhodes co-stars as the agent with whom she develops a complicated relationship in a Lee Daniels-directed film that could be Hulu’s best hope to join the Oscars race. Watch with a free trial to Hulu.