New Movies to Watch This Week: ‘Nomadland,’ ‘I Care a Lot,’ ‘Test Pattern’

Peter Debruge
·9-min read

The treasures of an extended Oscar season just keep on giving, as Venice Film Festival winner and award season favorite “Nomadland” finds its way to theaters — and Hulu subscribers. It’s a special film, about a woman (played by two-time Oscar winner Frances McDormand) who pulls up stakes and travels the country by van, hitting theaters at a time when many people have been reexamining their own lives. So if there’s a safe way to see it, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option out there.

The week’s a bit thinner on conventional crowd pleasers. Channeling “The Wolf of Wall Street”-style energy on an indie scale, both “Silk Road” and “Body Brokers” offer cutting-edge takes on 21st-century crimes: a black market for illegal drugs in the former and a scheme to profit on recovering addicts in the latter. Also in the Scorsese vein, the Montreal-made “Mafia Inc” sheds light on the Canadian arm of the Sicilian mob. And Netflix original “I Care a Lot” looks at yet another a scam, this one with renewed relevance as Britney Spears fans push for her to be freed from a conservatorship.

More from Variety

Family audiences have a fresh option in Disney Plus’ “Flora & Ulysses,” one of those old-school live-action offerings (à la “The Cat From Outer Space”) in which humans bond with an incredible creature — in this case, a squirrel who just might be a superhero.

And for those with an appetite for social-justice stories, two of this week’s Variety Critic’s Picks offer compelling new angles on relevant issues. Washington, D.C.-set “17 Blocks” spent years observing a Black family living in the shadow of the nation’s Capitol, taking a tough look at the impact of drug use and gang violence on multiple generations. Indie drama “Test Pattern” looks at how both partners in a mixed-race couple react to a case of sexual assault.

Here’s a rundown of those films opening this week that Variety has reviewed, along with information on where you can watch them. Find more movies and TV shows to stream here.

New Releases on Demand and in Select Theaters

17 Blocks (Davy Rothbart) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: MTV Documentary Films
Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support
In “17 Blocks,” Cheryl Sanford, matriarch of a low-income African American household in southeast Washington, D.C., talks wistfully of a “parallel universe” where she and her family enjoy cookouts, vacations and gift-filled Christmas mornings. This melancholy confession comes moments after a closeup of her casually snorting cocaine. It’s a heartbreaking scene in a devastating film that stays entirely focused on a single family’s struggle to overcome the intractable problems of drug addiction and gun violence that have destroyed the future, and often claimed the lives, of too many African Americans in poor communities. — Mark Keizer
Read the full review

Blithe Spirit (Edward Hall)
Distributor: IFC Films
Where to Find It: In theaters, on demand and digital
Penning a good, short, pithy screenplay is no easy feat, even when working from solidly proven source material — and one need look no further than “Blithe Spirit,” a tin-eared, lumpen-footed, almost perversely unfunny new spin on Noël Coward’s breezy 1940s farce, for proof. Sputtering onto screens 75 years after David Lean’s original adaptation, TV director Edward Hall’s debut feature makes no compelling case for reviving this bauble, showing up the play’s most creakily dated elements whilst somehow eliding all of Coward’s suave verbal snap. — Guy Lodge
Read the full review

Body Brokers (John Swab)
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Where to Find It: In theaters, on demand and digital
Of all the dramas made about substance abuse, “Body Brokers” is perhaps the first about the “treatment industry” itself, that multi-billion-dollar sector dedicated to helping hard-drug users kick the habit, and its conclusion is startling: Addiction is a veritable money machine for doctors, therapists and pharmaceutical companies alike, a substantial number of whom thrive not on recovery but on repeat business. The shadier among them rely on low-level recruiters, or “body brokers,” to keep the system supplied with souls in need of saving — or else just some easy cash. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Days of the Bagnold Summer (Simon Bird)
Distributor: Greenwich Entertainment
Where to Find It: In theaters, virtual cinemas and digital platforms
Bird’s debut behind the camera, adapted from Joff Winterhart’s graphic novel, is about a teenage metalhead forced to spend the summer with his painfully square mother, and its influences come from small, genial American indies with a touch of minor — very minor — Mike Leigh. But even if the general ultra-clean cartoonishness of it all is deliberate, the film’s whisper-thin premise and sitcom-like characters are the cinema equivalent of Sweethearts candy: rather too sugared, and immediately forgotten. — Jay Weissberg
Read the full review

Mafia Inc (Podz)
Distributor: Film Movement
Where to Find It: In virtual cinemas, on demand and digital
Though there haven’t been a lot of movies about it, the tentacles of Italy-based organized crime duly reach above Scorsese territory to Canada. If not for the French dialogue, however, you wouldn’t necessarily know “Mafia Inc” was taking place in Quebec, so familiar and insular is the brutal syndicate business depicted here. Somewhat fictionalizing a few elements from that decades-spanning exposé, this solid mob drama isn’t the most stylistically flamboyant, violent or memorable specimen within its screen genre. But it does provide an engrossing thicket of criminal intrigue. — Dennis Harvey
Read the full review

Nomadland (Chloé Zhao) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Searchlight Pictures
Where to Find It: In theaters and on Hulu
Like Zhao’s previous film, micro-masterpiece “The Rider,” this rich and resonant celebration of the American West straddles the border between fact and fiction, enlisting real people to play poetically embellished versions of themselves in order to reach a deeper truth. It stars Frances McDormand as a 60-something Nevada widow who lost her house and now travels (and lives) in her run-down white van. Watching “Nomadland” feels like gazing out on one long, gorgeous sunset. If that’s not your thing, so be it, but for those on Zhao’s wavelength, the movie is a marvel of empathy and introspection. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Silk Road (Tiller Russell)
Distributor: Lionsgate
Where to Find It: In theaters, on demand and digital
When a dramatic feature film gets made out of an investigative magazine article, there’s usually some conventional heroic hook to it. But not always. “Silk Road” is a fervently topical, at times intriguing, but ultimately rather sketchy drama about the online black market that started up in 2011 as the first major capitalist enterprise on the dark web. The person who dreamed this all up was Ross Ulbricht, a 26-year-old libertarian gadfly who convinced himself that by creating an underground marketplace for illegal narcotics, he was striking a blow against the system. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

Sin (Andrei Konchalovsky)
Distributor: Corinth Films
Where to Find It: Select a virtual cinema to support
To say “Sin” is about Michelangelo is much too reductive. Rather than offering up a definitive portrait of the Italian artist, Konchalovsky has crafted instead a poetic meditation around the many contradictions that surround the “David” and “Pietà” sculpture artist: He’s divine. He’s a scoundrel. He’s a genius. He’s crazy. He’s all those things and yet defined by none of them. It’s telling that “Sin” doesn’t actually spend much time with Michelangelo creating, less interested as it is in what makes a great artist than in the material conditions that shape and inspire one. — Manuel Betancourt
Read the full review

Test Pattern (Tiller Russell) CRITIC’S PICK
Distributor: Kino Lorber
Where to Find It: In theaters, on demand and digital
Ford’s intelligent and engrossing feature debut packs an enormous amount into 82 minutes, while still finding room to let characters, moments and difficult, provocative issues breathe. The tiny yet urgent drama traces a couple of days in the aftermath of a sexual assault, using one interracial relationship as a microcosm in which to observe the invisible influence of enormous, malign societal forces. “Test Pattern” is like the tinkling of a warning bell that somehow signals the five-alarm fire of ingrained racism, sexism and the faulty American medical and judicial systems, that rages just outside the door. — Jessica Kiang
Read the full review

The Violent Heart (Kerem Sanga)
Distributor: Gravitas Ventures
Where to Find It: In select theaters and on demand
Sometimes, when a movie ends with a twist, it makes you want to rush back and rewatch the entire story to see how the filmmakers pulled it off. In other cases, it’s best just to accept the surprise and move on. In “The Violent Heart,” writer-director Sanga wants us to believe that we’re watching a sensitive post-racial romance about a goody-goody white Tennessee teen who challenges her family’s unexamined biases by hooking up with the local bad boy — who is Black and six years her senior — when in fact, the movie pulls a fast one in the final act. — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Exclusive to Disney Plus

Flora & Ulysses (Lena Khan)
Where to Find It: Disney Plus
In the rowdy new Disney Plus original “Flora & Ulysses,” Flora (Matilda Lawler) is a 10-year-old comic book savant, Ulysses is her unusually gifted CG squirrel and overzealous animal control officer Miller (Danny Pudi) is the only thing that stands between this beautiful friendship and a macabre fate for the cutie-patootie super-pet. “Flora & Ulysses” reinforces the idea that it’s OK to adopt feral creatures, for whom the pound represents the equivalent of that hellacious garbage incinerator at the end of “Toy Story 3.” — Peter Debruge
Read the full review

Exclusive to Netflix

I Care a Lot (J Blakeson) CRITIC’S PICK
Where to Find It: Netflix
“I Care a Lot” is a sleekly unnerving thriller. It’s built around a scam just plausible enough to give you pause, and a protagonist who’s so efficient in her diabolical ruthlessness that you can scarcely take your eyes off her vicious amoral glow. Rosamund Pike plays a conservator who’s really a con artist. She’ll stand up in court and argue that a senior citizen can no longer look after him or herself and should therefore be placed under her care. She then becomes their guardian — and sticks them in a rest home, so that she can slowly but surely suck away their assets. — Owen Gleiberman
Read the full review

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.