Skip to main content

In 2019, one studio ruled over the multiplex with a Thanos-like supremacy: Disney, which was responsible for 6½ of the year’s highest-grossing films (the half-mark is for the company’s sort-of- involvement in Spider-Man: Far from Home; by the time this article is published, the number could be up to 7½, thanks to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker). The upcoming 12 months should see a similar kind of domination, though on a lesser scale, given that there are no Star Wars films on the horizon, and only two Marvel entries: Black Widow and The Eternals, both of which are not nearly as anticipated as Avengers: Endgame.

Naturally, competitors will trot out their own Disney-killers, including Universal’s ninth Fast & Furious movie, Paramount’s Top Gun sequel, Warner’s Wonder Woman follow-up, etc. But for those who wish to escape the grinding gears of the franchise machine, there is hope. If you know where to look. Presenting 10 of 2020′s most intriguing, under-the-radar films. (All release dates subject to change)

Downhill

I sincerely love the manic energy and crazed genius of Will Ferrell. I truly do. But the man is asking for the most obvious kinds of insults by titling his new feature Downhill. As in, that’s the best word to describe his big-screen trajectory as of late, thanks to a string of misfires that includes Daddy’s Home, Zoolander 2, The House, Daddy’s Home 2 (c’mon, man), and Holmes & Watson. Downhill comes with a high pedigree, at least, being the English-language remake of Ruben Ostlund’s admired black comedy Force Majeur, which looked at one family man’s breakdown after an awkward incident in the Alps. Ferrell has also surrounded himself with a promising cast, including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Miranda Otto, Zach Woods and Kristofer Hivju, the latter of whom co-starred in the original. Plus co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (The Way, Way Back and The Descendants) should bring a different kind of neurotic idiosyncrasy to the remake. Let’s call this a cautiously uphill battle. (Feb. 14)

Disappearance at Clifton Hill

If ever there was a setting crying out for cinematic exploitation, it’s the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. A tacky tourist wonderland that barely masks the grit of a company town gone to seed, the current state of the area is an ideal staging ground for a nasty little neo-noir or tight psychological thriller. Fortunately, director Albert Shin has taken up the challenge, setting his delightfully twisty new mystery in the heart of the splashy-yet-trashy neighbourhood. Focusing on Abby (British actress Tuppence Middleton) as she returns to the Falls to settle family affairs, Shin’s film – which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival this past September under the more no-frills title Clifton Hill – has great fun with expectations, from subverting an early-on romance to painting his lead into extremely tight narrative corners. As Abby falls into a rabbit-hole conspiracy involving a missing boy, greedy developers, French-Canadian magicians and a local podcaster played by David Cronenberg (!), Disappearance at Clifton Hill becomes just as thrilling and disturbing as its titular strip of haunted houses and fading-fast motels. (Feb. 28)

Tuppence Middleton stars in Albert Shin’s psychological thriller, Disappearance at Clifton Hill, which follows a troubled young woman returning to her hometown of Niagara Falls, where the memory of a long-ago kidnapping quickly ensnares her.

Elevation Pictures

Wendy

It has been eight long years since director Benh Zeitlin made his feature debut with Beasts of the Southern Wild, scoring a surprise handful of Oscar nominations in the process. The filmmaker returns with his follow-up effort at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, where the world will get its first look at the long-in-gestation Wendy, a reworking of Peter Pan told from a different perspective. Judging from the trailer released in December, Zeitlin has kept his preference for an aesthetic best described as dark whimsy and ramped it to the Nth degree – as if your secretly favourite Pinterest user was handed a couple million dollars and told to go nuts. The director has called the slow process of making Wendy a “psychotic adventure,” which means that at the very least it will be more interesting to talk about than the past five Peter Pan adaptations combined (sorry, Hugh Jackman and the cast of 2015′s Pan, a movie I’m still not sure actually ever existed). (Feb. 28)

Devin France in the film Wendy.

Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp

Promising Young Woman

If you would like to get ahead of what’s surely destined to become a toxic discourse, best to start thinking about Promising Young Woman now. The thriller, which marks the directorial debut of Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell, focuses on a young woman named Cassie (Carey Mulligan) who spends her time enacting bloody revenge on would-be rapists. The trailer plays up the story’s darkly comic shock value, while also hinting at a more cathartic sort of drama lurking underneath. A crass elevator pitch might label the film Hard Candy for the #MeToo era. Crasser analysis will surely arrive once the film premieres at Sundance, ahead of a spring release. (April 17)

Story continues below advertisement

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman (2020), where a young woman, traumatized by a tragic event in her past, seeks out vengeance against men who cross her path.

Courtesy of Focus Features

After Yang

The single-monikered filmmaker Kogonada only has one feature to his name, 2017′s Columbus, but the strikingly shot and intimately felt drama about architecture and regret is acquiring new fans every day, thanks to healthy word-of-mouth and its availability on streaming platform Kanopy. The director is set to return this year with After Yang, and its story and cast immediately intrigue: Following a father (Colin Farrell) and daughter (Haley Lu Richardson) as they try to “save the life of their robotic family member,” the film promises to be a high-concept and uniquely stylized effort from one of the film industry’s most exciting voices. What’s more: After Yang is arriving from indie-film powerhouse A24, which means it will be a certified masterpiece in some corners of the film community before even a single frame has been screened for audiences. (Release TBD)

Benedetta

An irrefutable fact: the world needs more Paul Verhoeven. The Dutch filmmaker and master satirist has never met a controversial subject he couldn’t twist into something even more scandalous, and Benedetta should fit right into his giddily subversive wheelhouse. Based on Judith C. Brown’s 1986 book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy, Verhoeven is not so much in Starship Troopers or RoboCop mode as he is in Elle territory – erotic drama that threatens to spill into a dozen other directions and genres. Virginie Efira, who appeared in the director’s deliberately-problematic Elle, takes the leading role of a 17th-century nun who embarks on an illicit same-sex affair, while Charlotte Rampling and Lambert Wilson co-star. Expect the film to make a Cannes debut, where it will no doubt receive highly reasoned and thoughtfully measured analysis. (Release TBD)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Five years after his puppets-on-Prozac drama Anomalisa made everyone sad, writer-director-walking-head-trip Charlie Kaufman is back with an adaptation of Canadian author Iain Reid’s twisty 2016 thriller. What was once pegged as a vehicle for Brie Larson has evolved into what’s hopefully a breakout role for the very deserving Jessie Buckley (Wild Rose), who stars as a young woman re-evaluating her relationship with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) while on a backwoods drive. If you’ve read Reid’s propulsive novel, you already know how that preceding plot summary doesn’t do the work justice. But even those familiar with what’s in store should be surprised by however Kaufman has interpreted the work. The Netflix production, Kaufman’s first foray into the streaming world, is a good bet for the fall festival circuit, so we’ll probably have to wait until September to find out how he’s thinking of ending things this time around. (Release TBD)

The Last Thing He Wanted

Oops: This time last year, I had Dee Rees’s drama pegged as a 2019 release. The Netflix powers-that-be have decided otherwise, with this adaptation of a Joan Didion novel set to open some time in the next 12 months instead (hopefully, for my sake). Fulfilling the dream of every journalist working today, The Last Thing He Wanted stars Anne Hathaway as a newspaper reporter who becomes an international arms dealer. (Maybe that’s not every journalist’s dream, but I definitely know a few writers who fit the sociopathic pattern.) Co-stars Ben Affleck, Willem Dafoe and Rosie Perez should enliven the proceedings, while I will busy myself by jotting up a list of suspected reporters to send to the FBI. (Release TBD)

The Souvenir Part II

Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical drama The Souvenir was one of the best-but-least-buzzed-about films of 2019 – so it’s something of a surprise that she’s getting the opportunity to make a sequel. (Once again, thank the executives over at A24 for this gesture of cool-kid goodwill.) Honor Swinton Byrne returns as British film student Julie, desperate to make something of herself after crawling out of a disastrous relationship with drug addict Tony (Tom Burke) … and that’s about all I can tell you about the film, which like the first will be highly improvised. Richard Ayoade and Tilda Swinton (mother of Honor) return from the first film, while Charlie Heaton, Harris Dickinson and Joe Alwyn join the series. (Release TBD)

Zola

Riley Keough as Jessica and Taylour Paige as Zola in the film Zola.

Anna Kooris/Courtesy of A24

Finally, social-media proves its usefulness as Janicza Bravo’s dark comedy marks the first time in history a Twitter thread has resulted in a feature-film adaptation. Based loosely on the viral 148-tweet narrative doled out by Detroit waitress Aziah “Zola” Wells in 2015, Zola follows the exploits of the title character (Taylour Paige), a sex worker named Stefani (Riley Keough), Stefani’s boyfriend (Nicholas Braun), and a violent pimp (Colman Domingo) as they collide during a dramatic criminal-underworld adventure in Florida. Although Wells admitted to embellishing her online narrative here and there, a good deal of the tale turned out to be (mostly) true. If nothing else, the Twitter reaction to the film should be dramatic. (Release TBD)

Story continues below advertisement

Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies