It’s the first Friday of the new year which means the first official releases of 2021, beginning with the female led action film from Simon Kingerg, The 355 out today.
As the pandemic goes so does the constantly evoloving slate of movie releases. Production delays, films getting bumped from their release schedule as theatre attendence continues to inspire more questions and concerns, the constant push and pull of streaming and experimental/unpredictable release patterns that continue to make personal investment a frustrating game of cat and mouse. As it was last year and the year before, attempting to weigh in on potential releases remains a roll of the die.
That said, at least a portion of 2021 saw a glutten- argubly too much if you ask me, which I say as someone who frequented the theater sometimes up to 3 times a week and still couldn’t keep up- of releases as studios started to pile their titles in on top of one of another after theaters re-opened. I have been basking in the glory of it all to say the least, as I don’t anticipate this lasting. Things will slow down, and the systems probematic addiction to box office numbers continues to turn every headline into a controversy and a matter of concern. The disruption of the pandemic which arguably perpetuated and fast tracked a problem that already existed continues to have a grip on the industry and the uncertain economics of theater and streaming continues to occupy the minds of studios, creatives, theaters and services. How they figure this mess out is a story yet to be told, with the only real certainty being that things will look different moving forward and, for the time being, will remain inconsistent.
As it stands though there remains much to anticipate and to wonder about in the coming year, beginning of course with the usual onslaught of entries into the superhero genre, including new D.C. entries with Batman, Flash and Aquaman 2, the second entry in the Spiderverse, and of course a return to Wakanda, Waititi’s return to the world of Thor, and a delving into the multiverse with Doctor Strange. Along with the quintessential holdovers from 2021 awaiting wide release- Drive My Car, Benediction, Cyrano, Flee, Worst Person in the World, A Hero, and Belle– Here are some of the titles that I am most excited about:
1. Peter Pan & Wendy (David Lowry)
I consider Lowry to be one of the best Directors working today, and given my affection for his adaptation of Pete’s Dragon his return to the realm of cherished childrens stories has me very excited. Sure, this story has been done many times before, not least of which was the recent Wendy by Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild), one of my favorite films of that year. That doesn’t bother me. With someone like Lowry re-imagining this classic for our modern day this has all of the potential to formulate into a bonafide modern classic.
2. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (Tom Gormcan)
In case you missed it this is where Nicholas Cage plays Nicholas Cage. Yep, you heard that right. If that isn’t enough to blow ones mind the fact that this appears to be telling the story of Cage attempting to live up to his own legendary status makes this the film I always knew I needed but never knew how to express. No need for words because we now have the film. Give it to me now.
3. Showing Up (Kelly Reichardt)
From the mind who brought us the brilliantly subversive and challenging indie First Cow comes a story about the relationship between art, articstic creation, and life. The synopsis contains shadows of The Truth, the captivating and intellecually centered drama by master Hirokazu Kore-eda, and given Reichardts eye for detail and penchant for context I find myself hopeful for a similarly thought provoking exercise.
4. Lightyear (Angus MacLane)
In my review for Toy Story 4 I referred to it as the ending to the story I never knew I needed but in some ways always knew I wanted. I unabashedly have noted it as my favorite of the series and I loved how it took some of the lingering questions of Toy Story 3 and formulated it into such a grand vision of hope and resloution. Early shots of this film appear not only to anchor it in a stunning sense of realism, but Lightyears backstory appears to be represented as a genuine character study. Given the humanity on display in Toy Story 4 this is a film that I remain as curious about as I am excited for.
5. Nope (Jordan Peele)
I’m actually not quite as high on Get Out as some others, but Peele’s Us is a film that continues to grow and evolve in my imagination the more I see it and ponder it. So much so that I consider it one of the greatest horror films ever made. Very little is known about Nope but Peele’s name and his track record for fusing horor with hard hitting social commentary has this one high up on my most anticipated list
6. The Killers of the Flowers Moon (Martin Scorsese)
I was public enough with my less than favorable response to Scorsese’s The Irishman, a film that I felt gave in to the trappings of the bloated budget and its unnecessary run time, both of which I felt betrayed real problems in the editing department. I felt like Scorsese put himself in to the story to a degree that made it feel self absorbed. The film represents a misstep in what has otherwise been a stellar career for someone who is undeniably one of the all time greats. What is curious to me about this next venture, which releases exclusively to Apple TV+, is not just the fact that once again we might not get to experience one of the true cinematic artists honing his craft for the big screen (I’m hoping Apple takes a more open approach than Netflix), but that once again the story surrounding this one is his stubborn allegiance to a bloated budget, something that feels all the more aware when you consider how sparse the source material is. I’ll be honest, I’m actually not the biggest fan of the source material either. It is a compelling and important story but told with too narrowed a focus. However, in Scorsese I continue to trust, and I imagine that his approach to this story is going to see him digging in deep and breaking open the historical context. If he can manage that and perhaps contain some of that budget by investing it in the practical set piece, this could formulate into a true historical epic.
7. Everything Everywhere All at Once (Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Kwan)
Sure, 2022 has Doctor Strange breaking open the multiverse for the MCU, but not to be undersold is this slightly less visible sci-fi hopeful about an aging Chinese immigrant who gets swept up into the infinite possibilities of the multiverse as she finds herself trying to save the world. Starring Michelle Yeoh this one definitely has my interest.
8. Asteroid City (Wes Anderson)
When we throw Ari Aster and Olivia Wilde in the mix it would seem all of the big name directors are in the game in 2022. The story behind the latest film by Wes Anderson is both that it represents the second of three films in three years and that this film was made and finished before the release of the French Dispatch, one of my favorites from 2021. It also reflects another opportunity to see him in theaters before he heads to Netflix in 2023. I know I will be there ready to celebrate his unique narrative style and soaking in his sharp eye for finding wonder in the quirky and unusual spaces of this world.
9.Strange World (Don Hall, Qui Nguyen)
With the release of Raya and the Last Dragon and Encanto this past year Disney is proving that their original fare can still shine well beyond the Pixar label. The premise, which includes an adventure into uncharted territory, a family of explorers, and fantastical creatures, feels like it has all the makings of a success story. This is a strange new world I’m excited to visit.
10. Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (David Yates)
Sure, I could have easily thrown Jurassic World: Dominion into the mix here. Call it a cautionary move given how much I enjoyed Fallen Kingdom and how much it got slammed. Even Trevorrows return after getting pulled from the series remains a question mark as his turn with The Book of Henry, another film I loved that got desperately slammed, seems to have this next in the series set up to succumb to some already well entrenched cynicism. To avoid all of that I figured I would give some love to an equally maligned franchise. I continue to quietly embrace the Fantastic Beasts series even as I remain shocked we are getting more. They’ve weathered the storm of naysayers, and for my money the previous entry, even with some serious issues on the editing front, represented some of the most exciting visuals and some of the most intriguing filmmaking of that year. I’m hopeful, even with all of the hoopla surrounding Depp, that this will return to the magic of the first while retaining the expansive visual flourish of the second.
Honorable Mention: Death on the Nile (Kenneth Branagh)
Throw this with Avatar 2 and Top Gun: Maverick into the “I’ll believe it when I see it released” pile. With Branagh’s lovely love letter to Ireland placing high on my list in 2021 and with his ability to turn Murder on the Orient Express into such a lovely, atmospheric mystery, this return to the mystery genre with its rich cast and contained setting has remained eagerly anticipated. The one saving grace of such a long delay is that it has resisted getting sold off to streaming. This is a film I desperately need (okay, maybe want is the better word) on the big screen.