Streamer's Guide to March 2020

(Welcome to The Streamer’s Guide, a new monthly feature recommending at-home viewing options from filmmakers with new movies arriving in theaters this month.)

March is when the movie year feels like it really kicks off in earnest. The studios start putting their best foot forward, not just taking out their trash. The indie labels put out some of prior year’s festival hits that weren’t quite built for an Oscar run – but are nonetheless incredibly impressive titles. Last year’s films finally start to surrender their screens at the multiplex and head to streaming, leaving audiences with many exciting new options.

This year, we’re getting two Cannes competition entries, a (potentially) bold reimagining of a Disney classic, a movie recently feared canceled, a sequel to one of 2018’s biggest original hits, a standout feature from an American indie legend and a movie about how a deerskin jacket turns a man on to crime. And that’s just what I covered here! Read on to find out not only what to see in March 2020 but also what you should be watching at home now to prepare for some of the month’s highest profile releases.

Sorry We Missed You (March 4, limited)

Struggling to understand the rise of Bernie Sanders and left-wing populism in America? Take a look at the filmmaking of Ken Loach, a socialist filmmaker from the United Kingdom who’s been making films on the tensions between capital and labor for over half a century. His latest, Sorry We Missed You, shows that the 83-year-old director still has vital commentary for our contemporary society. His look at how the gig economy dehumanizes workers and destroys families is an urgent look at how markets continue to stack the deck against the working class. Loach is no polemicist, mind you. The film makes its political case not through grandstanding but through deep, empathic connection with the characters who wither against a system that demands so much from them only to provide the bare minimum to survive in return.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: Sorry We Missed You has a nice companion piece in Loach’s last film, Palme d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake. The target is less the economy as it is the British government itself. The film’s titular character struggles to navigate a bureaucratic maze designed to back citizens into corners where they have few options and little access to government resources in their hour of greatest need. It’s a film as full of equal parts urgency and humanity. Loach never polemicizes about the conditions he observes, instead letting the characters’ struggle drive home the film’s cruel irony: a system designed to help people get better is itself contributing to their continuing misery. (Available to stream on Netflix)

Bacurau (March 6, limited)

Does the triumph of Parasite at the Oscars have you hungry for more genre fare where you can clear the one-inch hurdle of subtitles? Your next obsession is here: Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau. This neo-Western from the not-too-distant future of Brazil is an absolutely wild tale of how a small village bands together to defend their land from invading imperialist mercenaries. It’s absolutely wild to watch this film unfurl and blossom into what it is, a balls-to-the-wall allegory that had my entire screening room raucously cheering.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: Want a taste of what to expect from Filho’s class commentary in a slightly more mannered drama? Take a look at his debut feature, Neighboring Sounds. Filho proves himself a tremendous observer of how minute interactions can speak volumes as people jockey for space and power in their cramped urban environments. All it takes is the arrival of a private security firm in the town of Recife to uncover many startling fissures in a community. (Available for free to Kanopy and Fandor subscribers) 

First Cow (March 6, limited)

Kelly Reichardt hive, rise up! Reichhive? OK, maybe not every director needs a “hive.”

One of American independent cinema’s most quietly ingenious artists is finally starting to get her due in the cultural conversation. (Numerous retrospectives of her work are touring the country – if you live in a major metropolitan area, it’s worth looking into.) First Cow is only Reichardt’s seventh film in 25 years of working, and it simultaneously feels like a summation of her formidable body of work and huge bummer that we don’t have more films of hers. I saw the film at last year’s New York Film Festival and raved in my review, “In her own intricate, earnest way, Reichardt gives us a version of There Will Be Blood for her chosen swath of the country.” If you want to know what I mean by that, see this movie.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: It’s hard to go wrong with any choice among Reichardt’s work. For my NYFF streamers’ guide last year, I recommend Wendy and Lucy; now, if I can get one person to watch Meek’s Cutoff, this whole column is worth the effort and then some. This boldly feminist take on the western genre centers the female experience as settlers lose their way along the Oregon Trail in 1845. The way Reichardt withholds information from the audience, similar to how they keep women out of the loop on the trail, is merely the most memorable touch in a film full of compelling ideas. (Available to stream for free to Amazon Prime, Hulu and Hoopla subscribers)

The Hunt (March 13, wide)

When Universal pulled The Hunt from the release schedule last fall amidst political furor from both sides of the aisle, many pundits assumed we’d never see the film. I knew better, if only because I drew from my experience with 2014’s The Interview. No matter how controversial a film might be, it usually costs too much money to simply never see the light of day (the lone exception being if a prominent creative involved gets “canceled”). Now Craig Zobel’s triggering Blumhouse-core flick about a world where liberal elites hunt flyover country-dwellers for sport will see the light of day, and Universal is leaning into with the controversy with their marketing. Hopefully the content of film itself lives up to all the chatter around the idea of it in the first place.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: The Hunt is far from the first time Zobel has made a film about the nature of violence itself. His 2012 film Compliance, beyond launching Ann Dowd to the upper echelons of character actor stardom, examines just how far ordinary people can go in inflicting pain on another person. It’s like an illustration of the famous psychological study known as the “Milgram Experiment,” in which Stanley Milgram tested how far people would go in performing the tasks given to them in deference to authority – even if it meant hurting someone. The idea was to understand how Germans acceded to the authoritarianism of the Nazi party, but Milgram couldn’t even bring himself to go there after seeing how blindly Americans follow orders. Compliance provides a chilling example of just that. (Available for free to Kanopy subscribers and to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

Deerskin (March 20, limited)

Been waiting for Academy Award-winner Jean Dujardin to make a bigger splash after bursting onto the scene with The Artist and seldom resurfacing? (I have to assume this is a very small crowd, but perhaps you exist.) Deerskin might be just the movie you’ve been waiting for. Dujardin looks like he’s working in a register that’s miles away from the sincerity of his Oscar-winning turn as he embraces the distinct vision of Quentin Dupieux. The film looks like quite the send-up of toxic masculinity and commodity fetishism as Dujardin’s character becomes obsessed with possessing a jacket made of the titular material only to have it subsume him altogether. It’s exciting to see a premise on the horizon that looks like it could go in just about any direction.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: If you want a taste of the joyous, absurdist genre play Dupieux has done in the past, look no further than 2011’s bonkers Rubber. This hyper self-aware homage begins with a character monologuing directly to the camera about how many movies contain “an important element of no reason,” and that the film we’ll watch is a tribute to just that. The satirical movie then goes on to follow the exploits of a sentient car tire that can manipulate and kill things with psychokinetic powers … all while an on-screen audience looks on. You just need to see this movie to believe it’s more than a YouTube comedy sketch. (Available to watch for free on Hoopla and to rent on Amazon and iTunes)

A Quiet Place Part II (March 20, wide)

Was the smashing success of John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place back in spring 2018 an indicator that audiences wanted smart original horror … or more from that specific universe? Paramount assumed the latter because here we are with a sequel, and it even brings in noted apocalypse movie stalwart Cillian Murphy to join the silent squad. The whole cast is back, including Krasinski (somehow), Emily Blunt reprising her SAG Award winning role (yep, reminder that happened) as the family matriarch as well as Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds as the kids. It’s nice to have some level of comfort as the trailers and plot descriptions released so far give little indication as to what’s to come.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: All along the press tour for A Quiet Place, John Krasinski shouted out how his deaf co-star Millicent Simmonds gave the film authenticity, empathy and understanding when portraying the situations in the film. Simmonds really just has a kind of ethereal glow about her, almost like she’s some celestial being who dropped onto this planet endowed with a supernatural capacity for compassion. This is best on display in her debut screen performance, Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck. It slipped through the cracks both commercially and critically, but she – and the entire film – is a delight of child-like wonder and awe. Her wide-eyed innocence and unabashedly youthful outlook provide the film with much of its moving emotion. (Available for free to Amazon Prime subscribers)

Mulan (March 27, wide)

No Mushu, no Shang (at least not quite the same), no problem! Mulan looks like the first live-action remake of a Disney animated classic to break away from the prevailing trend of carbon copying a beloved original. Niki Caro’s film looks to operate in a completely different tonal register than the 1998 Mulan, moving the film away from comic sidekicks, cheerful musical numbers and light combat into a full-fledged action epic. The rating jumped from G to PG-13, even! But even with all these changes, the core of the story looks to stay intact – a girl disguising herself as a man to save her ailing father from being enlisted in the Chinese military. This promises to be one of the more interesting Disney films of late, no matter the result, given that it takes some actual risk.

Want to prep for release? Watch this at home: Disney has picked some interesting directors to helm their tentpoles recently, and they found quite the match of talent to content on Mulan with Niki Caro. She already has great experience making emotionally resonant films about young women who struggle for recognition and acceptance in a patriarchal society with her 2003 film Whale Rider. Beyond landing that shocking Best Actress nomination at the Oscars for its star, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Caro’s film immerses us in the indigenous Maori culture of New Zealand and makes us feel deeply for young protagonist Pai. She believes she lays the most obvious claim to be the leader of their tribe, but her grandfather sticks to tradition that the role belongs to a male – spurning his own spawn in the process. (Available to stream for free to subscribers of Hoopla and to watch with ads on IMDb TV)

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