Tragic Jungle
Mexican filmmaker Yulene Olaizola’s fifth feature film was put into competition at the New York Film Festival last year, and it’s the film that looks like it will firmly place her on the international map. A complex film about borders, trespasses, revenge, superstition, and more, “Tragic Jungle” is set in a deep Mayan tropical rainforest in the 1920s where a young woman (Indira Andrewin), is desperate to escape the white British landowner she doesn’t want to marry. She eventually becomes captured by a group of Mexican chicleros—gum tree workers—who also may be her salvation. But the jungle is immersive, dark, and holds secrets. In his NYFF review, Carlos Aguilar wrote, “It’s a gritty fable about borders: the one that separates two countries with distinct identities, the blurring frontier between the physical and the spiritual, and the divide that must exist between our voracious illusions of progress and untainted nature.” Can’t wait.
Release Date: TBD – RP

The Truffle Hunters
We know what you’re thinking: a languid arthouse documentary about a group of men committed to searching for the rare and elusive white Alba trouble off of the beaten and rustic paths of Piedmont, Italy doesn’t necessarily spell “four-quadrant appeal,” whatever that means anymore. Still, Michael Dweck and Gregory Kershaw’sThe Truffle Hunters,” which currently stands at a rare and impressive 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, is apparently much deeper and more engrossing than a cursory plot synopsis might suggest. For one, the film has a co-sign from none other than Luca Guadagnino, who is helping to get “The Truffle Hunters” off the ground through his Frenesy Film Company. What’s more, is that Playlist critic Joe Blessing absolutely loved the doc when he saw it at least year’s New York Film Festival: Blessing writes “‘The Truffle Hunters’ is a charming, life-affirming film, a look at an enduring folkway that brings fun and flavor to Italians every year.” Honestly, we could all use something charming and life-affirming right about now, and if there are streaming documentaries that exist for every sordid true crime case under the sun, why can’t we have one about truffles?
Release Date: March 5, via Sony Pictures Classics. – NL

Christian Petzold remains fascinated by the allure of liminal spaces, and how the power of love can offer a refuge from life’s tragedies. “Undine,” the German director’s latest, might read like a stylistic detour upon first glance, particularly when juxtaposed against his more traditional dramatic works. As it happens, “Undine” is a delicate, mythic, mildly fantastical contemporary romance imbued with the lightest touch of fairy-tale surrealism. “Undine’s” protagonists, like all of Petzold’s characters, treat their romantic consecration as a kind of spiritual sanctuary: they are damaged, fundamentally decent people working to liberate themselves from the debilitating loneliness of modern urban life as it is manifested in failed relationships, and soul-killing industrial labor. “Undine” is a more experimental, less conventional work than either “Phoenix” or “Transit”; if those films are portraits; this one is a beguiling doodle. Yet, there is something decidedly seductive about “Undine” and its many mysteries, which is to say nothing of the sheer joy we get out of seeing Franz Rogowski and the smoldering Paula Beer sharing a screen together (our own Jack King reviewed the film out of last year’s Berlin Film Festival, calling it a “fascinating and very gorgeously realized thing to behold”).
Release Date: TBD. – NL

The Woman Who Ran
The ultra-prolific South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo has released 24 feature-length films since 1996, released three films in 2017, and then two more in 2018. This feat of course makes 2020’s his latest, “The Woman Who Ran,” his first film since 2018’s “Hotel by the River,” positively lazy by comparison. Starring Kim Min-hee, Song Seon-mi, and Eun-mi Lee, ‘Woman Who Ran,’ centers on a woman whose husband is away on a business trip; she then visits two female friends, and has a chance meeting with another woman from her past. Described as a wisp and a minor-key sketch, and even more minimalistic and paired down than usual, even when his work feels slight, it can still be absorbing. And that seems key here. In her NYFF review, Beatrice Loayza wrote, “Hong examines the textures of female relationships and what independence might look and feel like for women entering a new, more mature stage of life—and how a short trip out of one’s comfort zone might generate bounties of food for thought.”
Release Date: New York boutique distributor Cinema Guild has picked up U.S. rights to the film and will release it TBD 2021. – RP

The World To Come” 
Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby are two actresses that we would watch in just about anything at this point (Kirby is currently receiving rave reviews for her uncompromising performance in “Pieces Of A Woman”), so the thought of the two of them paired in an atmospheric, LGBTQ-friendly frontier romance is more than enough to make this one of the films we’re most looking forward to this year. Queer, female-fronted love stories are, thankfully, very much in vogue at the moment, largely thanks to the success 2019’s “Portrait Of A Lady On Fire,” as well as last year’s “Ammonite.” If nothing else, “The World To Come” looks to be another stirring and soulful entry in that subgenre. Playlist critic Jessica Kiang saw the film at last year’s Venice Film Festival, where it played in competition, and she made time to praise André Chemetoffs gorgeously stark” cinematography, Daniel Blumberg’s original music, and the lead performances of the two lead actresses; Kiang described the film on a whole as a “beautiful and quiet, seasons-spanning tale of poetry and pining pioneer women” that is “delivered in careful, spare 16mm that echoes, in its artisanal, handcrafted loveliness.”
Release Date: February 12 via Bleecker Street Films. – NL

We’re always going to show up for Janicza Bravo, even if it means trying to forget about her terminally self-satisfied 2017 anti-comedy “Lemon.” Bravo is a brilliant, real-deal artist with her own unmistakable voice, and we’re hoping that the forthcoming, A24-distributed “Zola” is the film that makes her a household name. “Zola” takes its inspiration from a famously memorable Twitter thread, spinning a bizarro yarn about a sex worker, Zola (Taylour Paige), and her friend (Riley Keough) who embark on a chaotic road trip to Florida (if nothing else, we’re beyond excited to see co-star Nicholas Braun rap along to Migos’ “Hannah Montana” in close-up). Bravo’s provocative, somewhat mannered voice can be divisive, but our own Jessica Kiang was a fan of “Zola,” calling the film “a blast,” “sometimes surreal” and “often hilarious,” stylistically “[landing somewhere on the glitter-neon spectrum between ‘Spring Breakers’ and ‘Hustlers.’” The word is out as to whether or not “Zola” will get a theatrical release or head straight to streaming, but considering Bravo’s loyal fanbase and the backing of a company like A24, who appears to be a natural fit for her sensibilities, don’t be surprised if this one ends up being one of 2021’s surprise crossover hits.
Release Date: June 30, via A24 – NL

You could take a tour through our reviews of the New York Film Festival, San Sebastian Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, AFI Film Festival, and more, to look for more hidden gems that will likely find distribution and release in 2021. Happy New Year and here’s to looking at a brighter future.

Read all our Best of 2020 coverage and Most Anticipated 2021 coverage here and here.