Theaters closed in March because of the pandemic, and studios delayed the release of several much-anticipated films till the fall or even 2021. So you’d think there might not be much to recommend so far this year. But our chief critics, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott, are having none of that: they are championing several movies that hit theaters before the shutdown or were released online afterward. If you’re looking for new movies that will challenge you, here are their picks.
Both critics recommend …
The story: Set in Leningrad just after World War II, the freakishly tall nurse of the title tends to wounded soldiers in a hospital. But Beanpole fought in the war as well, and struggles, alongside her friend Masha, to overcome traumas of her own.
What we said: “This is only the second feature from the sensationally talented Russian director Kantemir Balagov (who was born in 1991), and it’s a gut punch,” Manohla Dargis wrote. “It’s also a brilliantly told, deeply moving story about love — in all its manifestations, perversity and obstinacy.”
A.O. Scott recommends …
1. ‘The Half of It’
The story: A riff on “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the movie stars Leah Lewis as high schooler Ellie Chu, an outsider several times over in her small town: she’s an Asian-American lesbian who’s also a gifted writer. She unexpectedly bonds with a star football player (Daniel Diemer) who has a crush on the same girl she does.
What we said: The film, directed by Alice Wu, “transcends the limitations that frequently serve as obstacles to ingenuity in young adult movies,” Kyle Turner wrote. “By exploring issues of race and queerness with emotional complexity, it treats teenagers with the sophistication they deserve.”
The story: The Swedish abstract painter Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) was a trailblazer whose reputation was eclipsed by that of male artists. But in 2018 a career survey that stopped at museums including the Guggenheim tried to rectify that, and so does this documentary by Halina Dyrschka.
What we said: “‘Beyond the Visible’ bristles with the excitement of discovery and also with the impatience that recognition has taken so long,” A.O. Scott wrote. “It refreshes the eyes and the mind.”
The story: Tommaso Buscetta was a real-life member of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra who turned on his partners in crime in the 1980s, ultimately testifying in open court. In Marco Bellocchio’s feature, he’s played by Pierfrancesco Favino as a not entirely admirable figure out for revenge.
What we said: “Bellocchio’s approach to the story is at once coolly objective — the movie is part biopic, part courtroom procedural — and almost feverishly intense,” Scott wrote. “He has a historian’s analytical detachment, a novelist’s compassion for his characters and a citizen’s outrage at the cruelty and corruption that have festered in his country for so long.”
The story: Spike Jonze directs a cinematic version of the 2018 “Beastie Boys Book,” the tale of how Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA morphed from punk rockers into best-selling rappers.
What we said: The film “has its own kind of beauty, even if the aesthetic is more dad rock than hip-hop,” Scott wrote, adding, “It’s a jaunt down memory lane and also a moving and generous elegy.”
The story: In near-future Brazil, a small town mourns the death of a matriarch. Then the town disappears from the map. The filmmakers Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles mix elements from westerns and science fiction to create a wholly new story.
What we said: “An exhilarating fusion of high and low, the movie takes a shopworn premise — townsfolk facing a violent threat — and bats it around until it all goes ka-boom,” Dargis wrote.
2. ‘Sorry We Missed You’
The story: Ricky Turner drives for a delivery company dropping off packages ordered online (the title refers to the note he leaves for absent owners), and his wife, Abby, works for a subcontractor providing home health care in Ken Loach’s moving British drama about the gig economy.
What we said: Loach is “almost without peer as a filmmaker formidably committed to exposing the sins of our wages,” Wesley Morris wrote, adding, “He knows you’re unlikely to cancel anything. But he damn sure wants you to think long and hard about that next one-click buy.”
The story: After Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) flees the abusive tech-pioneer Adrian, he turns up dead. But her troubles aren’t over: when she finds herself being menaced by an unseen presence, she becomes convinced it’s Adrian, only no one believes her.
What we said: The director, Leigh Whannell, “does a lot that’s smart here, including the way he uses bodies in rooms,” Dargis wrote, adding, “Moss’s full-bore performance — anchored by her extraordinarily supple face — gives the movie its emotional stakes.”
The story: An upstate New York summer camp welcomed disabled children at a time when they had few rights or champions. Some of those campers would go on to become leaders in the 1970s movement for accessibility, as chronicled in this documentary by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht, a former camper himself.
What we said: “Ultimately, ‘Crip Camp’ has a universal message: Inspirations that begin in youth can lead to radical, world-changing results,” Ben Kenigsberg wrote.