While Gehraiyaan dominated the discourse this month, as always, there were a handful of films that slipped under the radar. In the second edition of this new monthly series, the aim, as with the first, is to identify and highlight the best (and hopefully most diverse) films—and this time, one show, as well—that you can watch this month.
February’s picks include a festival standout from one of our brightest young filmmakers, a short from one of the GOATs; a debut documentary from an Academy Award-winning icon, and an unexpected triumph in a genre that has become increasingly inconsequential in recent years. In no particular order:
Dhuin — Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival (Online)
From Achal Mishra, the director of Ghamak Ghar, Dhuin is a splendid sophomore effort in which the talented filmmaker somehow captures the destruction of one man’s hopes and dreams in an effortless 50 minutes. Evocatively shot in the Academy Ratio, and elegantly performed by young actors whose unrefined techniques lend the film an air of authenticity, Dhuin is part parable about modern India, and part neo-realist ode to those who live on the fringes.
Cow — MUBI
Essentially a silent film that spans the length and breadth of existence, director Andrea Arnold’s documentary captures the lives of two cows in a Surrey farm with searing compassion. Without a single talking head—or really, much human presence at all—Arnold makes profound statements about life and death, and bookends the remarkable film with some of the most moving footage you’ll see this year.
Kimi — Amazon Prime Video
Another year, another Steven Soderbergh film that failed to get its due. But perhaps the filmmaker himself is to blame for raising the bar so dramatically. He’s so consistently excellent that even something that would have been a game-changer for a less-experienced director is simply acknowledged with a shrug when he’s calling the shots. It’s right there on Prime Video; go watch it.
I Want You Back — Amazon Prime Video
And while you’re there, how about you cleanse your palate with one of the most delightful American romantic comedies of the last 12 months? Starring Charlie Day and Jenny Slate as recently-dumped 30-somethings who join forces to exact revenge on their exes, I Want You Back makes up for its predictable plot with some sharp writing and excellent performances from not just the lead pair, but the entire cast.
Life is But a Dream — YouTube
A 20-minute short from the great Park Chan-wook (Oldboy) that begins as a horror film, turns into a romance, and concludes as a fantasy? Sign me up. Wait, there are musical interludes and psychedelic visuals? Take my money! It’s free, you say? Now you’re just having me on. And you’re telling me he shot the thing on an iPhone? Well, I’ll be damned.
Nightmare Alley — Hulu and HBO Max in the US
It feels odd to label a Guillermo del Toro film starring a host of A-listers as ‘underrated’, but there you have it. The filmmaker’s follow-up to his Best Picture-winning The Shape of Water doesn’t have his typical monsters, but don’t be fooled by Bradley Cooper’s good looks. The star leads a formidable ensemble in the lavish film noir, which is just as gorgeous to behold as it is difficult to dismiss.
Severance — Apple TV+
Simply by virtue of being an Apple TV+ original, every title on the streamer can qualify as ‘underseen’. But not every Apple TV+ title can qualify as being ‘underrated’. Severance, which debuted with one of the most pristine first seasons of television ever produced, is ambitious and engaging, coolly plotted but blessed with a heart of gold. Absolutely unmissable stuff.
Red Rocket — Available to rent and purchase in the US
Perhaps the biggest snub at this year’s Oscars, director Sean Baker’s Red Rocket features not one but two star-making turns. Simon Rex and Suzanna Son are brilliant as an outcast porn star and his teenage object of desire in this funny-but-slightly-inappropriate film about the forgotten ones—the sort of people Baker has always had a deep empathy for.
Pleasure — Available to rent and purchase in Sweden
In many ways, director Ninja Thyberg’s penetrative film about the American porn industry is a lot like Sean Baker’s movies—it features an ensemble of non-actors, tells a deeply empathetic story about characters that are typically underrepresented in films, and has a general slapdash appeal. It’s only a coincidence that Pleasure, like Red Rocket, is also set against the backdrop of the seedy adult entertainment industry, but there’s no doubt that star Sofia Kappel, like Simon Rex, has a bright future ahead of her, if she wants it.