Night of the Kings
Starring Bakary Koné, Isaka Sawadogo, Steve Tientcheu, and Denis Lavant, in “Night Of The Kings,” a young man is incarcerated in a prison in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, and must spend the whole night recounting a story if he hopes to survive. It all unfolds over one night, one transition of power and fraught with mesmerizing energy. By all accounts, director Philippe Lacôte’s latest is a restless, riveting and radiant tale, and a paean to the oral tradition and the narrative form of folklore. In his review from the New York Film Festival, Carlos Aguilar wrote, “A striking tribute to the power of storytelling, ‘Night of the Kings’ takes men deemed pariahs and presents them as so much more than their current circumstances.”
Release Date: “Night Of the Kings” just received a late 2020 Oscar-qualifying run by Neon, so it should probably arrive some time in the first quarter of 2021. – RP

“New Order”
If you watched last year’s Oscar winner “Parasite” and for some reason found yourself wondering what Bong Joon-ho’s class-warfare drama would look like from the perspective of the rich, then we have the film for you! Directed by divisive Mexican filmmaker Michel Franco, “New Order” begins in the near future where a wealthy family’s wedding celebration is quickly hijacked by a working-class uprising taking Mexico by storm. The bride, Marianne (Naian González Norvind) is abducted by members of the uprising posing as military, where she is held in what appears to be a concentration camp for the elite. From there, the film spirals into an ultra-violent tale of government corruption, blackmail, and class solidarity. Franco manages to build a considerable amount of tension in the first half, only to veer into Michael Haneke-lite territory by the third act, resulting in a faux-nihilistic third act that only reveals how out of touch the director is with the working class. A film that has already divided audiences in Mexico and critics worldwide, Franco clearly engineered the film to provoke post-viewing conversations and arguments. “New Order” is a frustrating experience – politically dubious, but also suspenseful and undeniably effective – but it’s one that we would never argue against seeking out when it releases domestically next year.
Release Date: TBD, via Neon. – MR

“Nine Days”
Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz are two actors we’d like to see more of in 2021; surely, there are better parts out there for them than the sidekick role Duke performed in Peter Berg’sSpenser Confidential,” or Beetz playing (**spoiler**) a literally imaginary character in 2019’s “Joker.” Thankfully, these two marvelous actors are center stage in “Nine Days,” an upcoming, fascinating-sounding supernatural oddity from Brazilian writer/director Edson Oda. “Nine Days” sounds like a refreshingly grounded take on the afterlife, and a co-sign from executive producer Spike Jonze should only boost the movie’s profile. It feels safe to say that Playlist vet Gregory Ellwood was a fan: he gave “Nine Days” an A- review out of last year’s Sundance Film Festival, praising Duke’s performance in particular as “phenomenal” and gushing that “‘Nine Days’ is the sort of original cinematic art that, these days, is few and far between.” Duke has stolen scenes in films ranging from “Black Panther” to “Us,” but if you ask us, it’s about damn time he got a lead part worthy of his talents, and he’ll be ably supported by an ensemble that includes Beetz, Benedict Wong, Bill Skarsgård and “Veep” standout/Forky himself, Tony Hale.
Release Date: Summer 2021 by Sony Pictures Classics– NL

Pink Skies Ahead” 
Films about mental health remain a tough sell for many: after all, who wants to spend ninety minutes mired in someone else’s turbulent headspace when 2020 offered us no shortage of reasons to be anxious all of the time? With that in mind, we hope there will be a substantial audience for “Pink Skies Ahead,” the remarkable filmmaking debut of writer/novelist/expert Tweeter Kelly Oxford. This is one of the most hilarious and unassumingly candid coming-of-age movies that we’ve seen in years; turns out that all “Booksmart” needed to solidify its status as a modern classic was more manic episodes, magic mushrooms, and “Cherub Rock” by The Smashing Pumpkins. “Pink Skies Ahead” offers a peerless tragicomic study of the insecurities and terrors that plague us all, and it’s also just an outright fun movie, filled with belly laughs, tons of style, and delightfully wacky set and production design that acts as a time-warp to the era of Furbies and “Total Request Live,” and an intoxicatingly light directorial touch. Our own Robert Daniel was a fan, calling Oxford’s film “a life-affirming coming-of-age story that’s as delightful as its irresistible subject.” In a perfect world, this confrontational, bittersweet comic gem would be a “Lady Bird”-style crossover hit.
Release Date: TBD. – NL

“Saint Maud”
As much as Blumhouse has dominated and changed the mainstream horror genre, the A24 stamp of approval has ushered in a new era of “arthouse horror.” Following in the footsteps of new genre titans like Ari Aster and Robert Eggers, UK-based filmmaker Rose Glass has crafted a haunting, darkly funny, and unforgettable vision of horror with her debut feature, “Saint Maud.” Following a reformed addict and party girl turned nurse, Maud (a brilliantly committed Morfydd Clark) as she cares for a wealthy artist dying of cancer (the ever-underrated Jennifer Ehle), “Saint Maud” can’t help but recall recent slow-burn debut features like “The Babadook” in its first act, but thankfully takes on a life of its own in the second half. Glass approaches the subject with a confident eye for detail and craftsmanship rarely seen in debuts like this, and thankfully knows that the worst way to spoil a great horror story, is to deprive it of humor – the film becomes increasingly surreal and wickedly funny as it ramps up. She also has two brilliant performers in Clark and Ehle to ground the film and elevate it – or levitate it – when called for. While Ehle is an actress who has continued to turn in stellar work over the course of her career, it’s Clark who truly walks away with the film. By no means is the role of Maud an easy task for a young performer, but Clark is simply revelatory here. It’s a fearless, gut-punch of a performance that can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up one minute and have you in a fit of nervous laughter the next. In short, it’s a performance that should cement her as one of the best young actresses in the game, and a sure-fire contender for one of the best performances of the early year.
Release Date: TBD via A24. – MR