Movies without major stars and big budgets rely heavily on media attention to get the word out. Promotion usually comes by way of movie premieres, press junkets and film festivals. None of these things, of course, have taken place during the coronavirus pandemic.
But even if these media events had happened, a news story about an indie film premiere likely wouldn’t have gotten much attention during the tensest months of the crisis.
Studios have pushed back the premiere dates of their most expensive and star-studded movies (such as the latest James Bond film). But smaller projects have continued to roll out on streaming services such as Netflix.
For example, the documentary “Crip Camp” was supposed to have a theatrical release, and the movie “Tigertail” was slated for a big premiere. Instead, both just kind of showed up on the service to little fanfare.
I’ve gone back through the Netflix releases of 2020 and picked out five movies I think could have credibly been a bigger deal if they had debuted at a different time. Read on, and give them another shot.
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Premise: In this drama written and directed by Alan Yang (“Master of None”), a man decides to give up his life in Taiwan to try his luck in the United States. Due to the circumstances of leaving Taiwan, he must say goodbye forever to a woman he falls in love with before the move. He ultimately marries another woman whom he likes far less as they have little in common.
Later in life, he shares his regrets about love lost with his daughter while the two spend time together in New York City. The man and his daughter share many traits, which becomes a rewarding circle-of-life moment for the protagonist.
Setting: Taiwan and New York City
Notable cast: Hong-Chi Lee, Christine Ko and Tzi Ma
Runtime: 1 hour, 31 minutes
Premise: In this comedic drama, a young man works for his family’s barbecue restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee. His father is proud that this restaurant is a family business.
The son wants to stay in the culinary world, but his dream is to become a sommelier. His decision to leave the restaurant to pursue sommelier studies creates a tension of competing desires within the family.
Setting: Contemporary Memphis
Notable cast: Mamoudou Athie, Matt McGorry, Niecy Nash and Courtney B. Vance
Runtime: 1 hour, 44 minutes
“All Day and a Night”
Premise: In this drama written and directed by Joe Robert Cole (“Black Panther,” “American Crime Story”), a man begins a life sentence in prison with his father. He looks back on his life to figure out how he got to this place and wonders if things could go differently for his own son.
Ashton Sanders stars in both this and the 2016 movie “Moonlight.” The use of bright, neon-esque lighting throughout the film also has similarities to “Moonlight.”
Setting: Oakland, California
Notable cast: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Ashton Sanders, Regina Taylor and Jeffrey Wright
Runtime: 2 hours, 1 minute
Premise: In this mystery thriller, a mother believes that her missing daughter was murdered. The police won’t help her investigate, so she starts looking for clues herself.
The mother discovers that her daughter worked in the sex industry and that many sex workers have gone missing in the area without police investigations. Her research reveals that a serial killer has been targeting these sex workers.
Setting: 2010s Long Island, New York
Notable cast: Lola Kirke, Oona Laurence, Thomasin McKenzie, Amy Ryan and Dean Winters.
Runtime: 1 hour, 35 minutes
Premise: This documentary focuses on Camp Jened, a summer camp for young people with disabilities in the Catskills of New York. Although the camp was around for decades, the documentary focuses on the 1970s, when this inclusive space became a launchpad for the disability rights movement.
Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground Productions produced the movie.
I’m including “Crip Camp” in this list, but Netflix has had multiple documentaries this year that have flown under the radar. I also recommend you check out “A Secret Love” and “Circus of Books.”
Setting: 1970s summer camp in New York and elsewhere in the country
Runtime: 1 hour, 46 minutes
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated that the actor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II had appeared in the movie “Moonlight.”
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