So, that last year didn’t go as planned. Everything has changed since then. We live much different lives than we did only a year ago. The landscape of film, not only how they are released, but how they can be made, has drastically changed. An enormous bulk of work was saved for the economic recovery of the theaters and the return to work. And if 2020 was a frigid year of limited releases, 2021 is an absolute landslide, a raising of the dam, an outpouring of art from every corner of the world. Given the rapidly changing landscape, the list at present may contain an uncertain quantity of films releasing within the next calendar year. If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that humans are perfectly adaptable. We can create under any conditions. We can move and inspire one another, even in the worst of times. As such, 2021 seems to be a year of optimism and holistic recovery. The whole industry may be dramatically changing, but with that very change, comes exciting and experimental works, both from the directors we know, and the new directors who will shape the next generation of film. We’ll always have films.
The Green Knight
Who: Directed by David Lowery. Starring Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, and Joel Egerton.
What: Arthurian legend about King Arthur’s nephew who undertakes a quest to meet the giant Green Knight.
Why We’re Hyped: #A24ReleaseTheGreenKnightChallenge, Twitter has barked over the last year. After one of the greatest modern trailers, we’ve all been burning for the next premier A24 release. That trailer accomplished everything a marketing cycle could ever hope for, helping a broad audience buy into the aesthetic and mythos of a story and internalize its message as the must see artistic event of the coming year. As we suggested covering David Lowery’s latest — The Old Man and the Gun (2019) — he’s both on a hot streak and on the verge of creating a sublime and signature creation. That this one didn’t go to video-on-demand and A24 continues to push for its theatrical destiny seems to bode extremely well.
Who: Directed by Robert Eggers. Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Nicole Kidman, and Alexander Skarsgård.
What: An epic Viking revenge saga set in the 10th century.
Why We’re Hyped: Our staff cherished The Lighthouse (2019). Given our positive review and following Film of the Year award, and our collective love-in for The VVitch (2015), a film good enough that we’ll even allow its silly stylization, our enthusiasm couldn’t be higher. As it goes with directors, three makes a pattern, and if The Northman‘s another consensus knockout, we may have our generation’s great director on our hands. Dreams are running high with this one. Given Robert Eggers’ extreme passion and foretold sense of scope and scale, we expect his biggest film yet. And, of course, we need all of his films to succeed, so he might someday make his Nosferatu. Please. Someone give him all the money.
Who: Directed by Wong Kar-wai. Starring Hu Ge.
What: The legendary director pays homage to home city of Shanghai in decades-spanning television project.
Why We’re Hyped: 2021 is the year of Wong Kar-wai. The much sought-after boxset is finally coming to Criterion. He’s gone back and, controversially, restored his films to their original intentions. Meanwhile, he remains a fountain of new creative energy. In his first project for television, the master of film adapts a popular novel, one spanning generations. It will capture the Cultural Revolution of the mid-60s-to-mid-70s, while also bridging the gap between the 1980s and the start of the 21st century. What could be better than an auteur returning home and telling a multi-generational story that is sure to count for a whole hell of a lot? There is every reason to be excited, let’s celebrate his work this year, and build him a monument.
Who: Directed by Leos Carax. Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.
What: Leos Carax presents a film in song, about an opera singer, a standup comedian, and their gifted daughter.
Why We’re Hyped: Leos Carax. He’s a mad genius capable of creating the most insane films. His work has previously exploded into fantastical song numbers before. With Annette, the majority of the dialogue will be in song. Given the director and his actors, the stars seem to be aligning for a real artistic smash of a film. As his past work has indicated, we must expect the unexpected. All we know is that we’re already there.
The Stars at Noon
Who: Directed by Claire Denis. Starring Robert Pattinson and Margaret Qualley.
What: A passionate affair between an English businessman and an American journalist set against a South American hellscape.
Why We’re Hyped: In the mid-1980s, author Denis Johnson set out to Nicaragua and Costa Rica to tell the truth. He wanted to write a non-fiction. Instead, he wrote the downbeat travelogue, The Stars at Noon, which refigures South America as a hellscape where nameless figures intermingle in politically complicated affairs. It’s just the kind of spicy and poetic framing for director Claire Denis to make her mark with. Reuniting with High Life (2019) star Robert Pattinson, the film adds Margaret Qualley. We can already imagine the burning and strange chemistry of the pairing. It’ll be some piece of art.
Who: Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, and Tobey Maguire.
What: Set in Hollywood during the transition from silent films to talkies.
Why We’re Hyped: Damien Chazelle is due a big comeback film. While First Man (2019) may have dipped in some places, it still showed a strong effort for craftsmanship and care behind the camera. We cannot forget the high watermarks of Whiplash (2014) and La La Land (2016), two modern films where their images feel like they’ve become part of the public consciousness. Given the latter film’s interesting preoccupation with the Golden Age of the musical and the works of Jacques Demy, we’re ready and listening to whatever Chazelle has to say about one of the greatest transitionary periods of cinema history. Remember, 2021 may be a year where everything about distribution has changed, but cinema has always survived even the most radical changes to its form and function, and it always will. Films like Bablyon will ideally help prove why that is.
Who: Directed by Hiroshi Nagahma.
What: A town becomes obsessed with spirals, driving them to madness.
Why We’re Hyped: Marked for Adult Swim, Uzumaki is a miniseries adaptation of Junji Ito’s young adult horror manga. Going by the radical trailer, it looks primed to perfectly adapt the radical cross-hatched style of the artist and create a compelling visual experiment later this year. While details may be thin, and it’s not technically a film, it’s one of the more intriguing projects on the page. Hiroshi Nagahama has a beloved reputation, having directed many episodes of cult classic anime for the television and 2008’s wild Detroit Metal City.
Who: Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Ewan McGregor, Cate Blanchett, and Tilda Swinton.
What: A dark reimagining of the classic children’s story.
Why We’re Hyped: A project in flux for at least a decade, Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio is a constant source of interest. As these things tend to go, there are now several adaptations in the works, from different studios, and perspectives. What absolutely sets this one apart is its dark psychology. Based on the 2002 graphic novel by Carlo Collodi and illustrated by Gris Grimly, it will have an entirely different aesthetic than other approaches. Eventually, the project will be willed into existence out of pure necessity, is this the year?
Who: Directed by Paul Verhoevan. Starring Virginie Efira and Lambert Wilson.
What: The story of a 17th century nun who falls for another woman while joining her covenant.
Why We’re Hyped: Paul Verhoevan is a sneaky director. He’s able to insert social commentary into just about anything, deftly weaving even the seemingly innocuous story into a social parable that stands the test of time. He has done it again and again. When Benedetta‘s poster revealed, a nun with a breast hanging out, we thought, he has not retreated from the bold earmarks of his career whatsoever. The modern film may be trending toward sterilization and the rejection of formal nudity, but Paul Verhoevan is having nun of it.
Who: Directed by Terence Davies. Starring Peter Capaldi and Jack Lowden.
What: Biopic of the poet and soldier Siegfried Sassoon.
Why We’re Hyped: Trench warfare was a different kind of warfare. It makes World War I endlessly interesting to study. The conditions were so bad, it was a hellish state just to survive in those trenches, and it forever changed the context of battle. The need for vaster weaponry. War would never quite be the same. And neither would the people who fought in them. World War I returned to us soldiers with great mental fatigue. The changing scope and means of warfare caused a troubling mental outcome. Nobody captured the pure distilled fear and desperation of the war quite like Siegfried Sassoon. Having read a couple biographies and even alternate reality stories about his time in the service, there is so much to discuss, and make a picture about, that the odds for this are potentially very good.
Who: Directed by Scott Cooper. Starring Keri Russel and Jesse Plemons.
What: An ancient creatures awakens and devastates a small Oregon town.
Why We’re Hyped: First order of business: Antlers is based on a wonderful horror short called The Quiet Boy. You can read it online and that’s worth doing. Second order: Scott Cooper has done nearly enough to convince us of his direction, especially after his deeply felt 2017 Western Hostiles. If he brings the same knack to his now long-awaited horror picture, we may have something. Third order: Oregonian folk-horror ought to be exactly our niche as a website.
Ennio: The Maestro
Who: Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore.
What: Tornatore creates a loving homage to his great old friend and collaborator.
Why We’re Hyped: Morricone has more masterpiece compositions than other composers have composed movies. Everyone’s favorite composer, who scored our imaginations of the West and so many of our most vital modern films, sadly passed away last year, but left behind a legendary legacy few have ever matched. For this writer, his work with Giuseppe Tornatore stands out as immensely special. The score of Cinema Paradiso (1988) is as much a love letter to the cinema as the film was. It’s a gorgeous and richly textured score that brings images to life and tears to our eyes. Who better than Tornatore to create the living document of the master?
Judas and the Black Messiah
Who: Directed by Shaka King. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, and Jesse Plemons.
What: Profile of Illinois Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, betrayed by the FBI.
Why We’re Hyped: Cheating — because I’ve seen it, and it’s great — I greatly anticipate a wide release and the world getting to see this movie, which is full of strong performances and high value social currency.
Prisoners of the Ghostland
Who: Directed by Sion Sono. Starring Nicolas Cage, Bill Moseley, and Sofia Boutella.
What: What really isn’t the question, here.
Why We’re Hyped: Another cheat, as I viewed Prisoners of the Ghostland at this year’s Sundance. I promise it’s never boring and is so jam packed with ideas that should never combine, but they mesh together into an elaborate, hugely energetic mess of a movie. It’s Sion Sono’s first English production, and while it shows that the writing does not come from his own conception and has a hard time moving forward, it’s damn near the most interesting concept on the list, just for the absurd breadth of ideas presented.
Who: Produced by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (director unknown). Starring Ryan Reynolds.
What: Knight rescues princess from dragon.
Why We’re Hyped: The history of Dragon’s Lair (1983), is the story of an alternative history for videogames. A rare laserdisc release, it amplified hand-drawn cartoon graphics in the style of Don Bluth, when the standard of the day was still sprite work. It was a coin-eating arcade game that may have created the Quick Time Event mechanic, you would often choose a direction or singular action, and hopefully, the branching path would lead down a fortuitous direction, closer to the final bout with a dragon and rescuing Princess Daphne. It sounds hard to adapt and making it live action is a choice. Worth noting, Ryan Reynolds is going all-in on gamey material this year, also appealing in the comedy Free Guy (sigh). I’ve lost a bet with a fellow Editor and have to review that one. I’ll probably review this one too, but out of choice, and because in another life, I’ve reviewed a couple of the ill-fated ports of this game. Now, 1984’s Space Ace, that was a wild game, where are all my ports of that?
Last Night in Soho
Who: Directed by Edgar Wright. Starring Anya-Taylor Joy, Thomasin McKenzie
What: A young fashion designer time travels to the 1960s at the height of London’s fashion, with mysterious consequences.
Why We’re Hyped: Edgar Wright’s filmography is lively and full of interest. Getting a potentially straight horror-mystery from the stylist director sounds like an instant autumnal treat. While not very much is yet known, the ensemble cast is intriguing and, with the director’s credentials, confidence is running high. Just to see Wright make a non-comedic horror is reason enough, as we have learned from his contemporaries, the difference between comedy and horror is that of a punchline or punched up scare, and the transition between genres is often seamless, as his work has so often wonderfully illustrated.
Who: Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Anthony Michael Hall, Judy Greer.
What: The story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode continue in the second of three acts.
Why We’re Hyped: Halloween is the horror franchise. In astounding detail, Editor Jesse Sparks has covered every single entry in the long-running series. Suffice to say, we are supportive fans. We’re absolutely here for this. The scoop is that the same team is returning. John Carpenter is back on music, which is really all you need to know. Multiple characters return from the origins of the franchise, and the hopes are set on addressing many of the concerns from the first HalloGreen. Let’s just be honest: we want that sweet, formidable Carpenter score, and will do whatever it takes to hear it in theaters. Now that the film is responsible for rebirthing interests in horror remakes, a lot rests on its shoulders. Please be fantastic so everyone gets to make everything else.
Who: Directed by Christian Petzold. Starring Paula Beer, Jacob Matschenz, and Franz Rogowski.
What: Named after the mythological water Nymph of the same name, Undine transposes the story with a Berlin history graduate and guide who wishes to defy their fate.
Why We’re Hyped: 2019’s Transit cemented Petzold as a staff favorite. The great news about Undine is it’s all the same folks involved. The same actors, cinematographers, apparently instilling full faith in Petzold’s works, as we have. Between this and the extraordinary Phoenix (2014), the director continues to make a big name for himself, and we’ll engage his works with vested interest.
Who: Directed by Kogonaga. Starring Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, and Haley Lu Richardson.
What: A father and daughter story where a family tries to save their robotic family member.
Why We’re Hyped: Hot off the deep-seated indie credentials earned by Columbus (2017), After Yang presents an interesting follow-up for director Kogonaga. With an endearing eye for symmetrical architecture, Kogonaga found ways to build emotion through and beyond the frame. He knows how to set a fine shot. With a clever premise and sharp cast, there’s good reason to expect After Yang to be something of a sophomore feature breakout.
The French Dispatch
Who: Directed by Wes Anderson. Starring Timothée Chalamet, Saoirse Ronan, and Jason Schwartzman.
What: The story of an American newspaper in Paris. “Love letter to journalism.”
Why We’re Hyped: We have reached the point of Timothée Chalamet and Saoirse Ronan becoming a modern, iconic pairing (thanks especially to Little Women, 2019). When they double up, you have to see what the story is. The shooting has been real hush-hush, we just know a starry cast has been assembled and are making another dope Wes Anderson picture someplace in France. Really, it is good enough. For such a grand visual stylist, France, and the post-World War II print industry, provide such tangible aesthetic choices. Knowing very little, we still could not be surer.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Who: Directed by Joel Coen. Starring Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, and Brendan Gleeson.
What: One of the Coen Brothers adapts The Bard’s Macbeth.
Why We’re Hyped: On our fourth podcast, we ranked the collective work of the Coen Brothers. We did not know ahead of time they’d be divided for their next film. Clearly, they held divisions of tasks on their films and the mindshare of the projects was sourced between the brothers. It does not come as any slight to the potential of the project just to have one voice. On the contrary note, it is an object of fascination. Like when the singer of your favorite band does a solo record, you’re still supporting Thom Yorke, right? Now, having one of our generation’s greatest dramatists adapt the greatest dramatist of all-time? That makes the pot awfully sweet. With a great cast attached, it’s a sure-fire thing. It sure feels like we could use a really fantastic modern Shakespeare production on film. Who better to do the job? There have been many valiant attempts to create new experiences within the story of Macbeth, as our feature on three standout versions illustrates.
The Many Saints of Newark
Who: Directed by Alan Taylor. Starring Michael Gandolfini, Jon Bernthal, and Vera Farmiga.
What: Reliving the early days of Tony Soprano.
Why We’re Hyped: The Sopranos (1999-2007) may as well be The Godfather (1972) of television. It’s, by rights, the king of Peak TV. It is the show that changed it all. The way things would be done. Lately, there’s been a rash of comeback movies for some of our greatest shows. Just a couple years back, we had tremendous luck with them, as El Camino and Deadwood surprised audiences by doing right by their characters and stories and finding natural ways to tell new stories in old spaces. And a story so great as that of The Sopranos, so formative for its audience and TV culture as a whole, does not just end in our imaginations when it cuts to black. There is more to say. Written by David Chase and with the main role performed by James Gandolfini’s son (who has been very good in The Deuce, 2017-Present), there is a good possibility we have another worthy revival on the way.
Who: Directed by Denis Villeneuve. Starring Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, and Oscar Isaac.
What: The planned first half of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi opus, about the stewardship of the most prized material known to the universe.
Why We’re Hyped: A proper Dune adaptation has been the dream of cinephiles the world over. From the potential high-concept of Jodorowsky’s Dune to the book-literate but Hollywood-shy David Lynch adaptation, we have yet to receive the authentic article. Here, Villeneuve arrives as the best possible man for the job. He has enlisted a stunning, starry cast game for the work. The stars have truly aligned, and with Star Wars done and dusted at the movies, there is room for a new definitive Space Show. This seems like the big-ticket blockbuster of 2021 where the potential is as high as the capacity to meet such heights. Given the recent scuffle over HBO Max, it will be fascinating to see how Warner’s 2021 slate arrives, and this being the granddaddy of the bunch, what Dune determines about the future of the blockbuster.
No Time to Die
Who: Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga. Starring Daniel Craig
What: Five years out of service, Bond is pulled back in to stop a dangerous new enemy with destructive new technology.
Why We’re Hyped: Several of our Editors are longtime Bond aficionados. We all want the series to make it, every time. Editor Brogan Chattin has devoted significant time to cataloging every Bond film in retrospective, leading up to the new film’s release. That’s to say, we’ve put some stock into the project. For what may be the last series feature for the aging Daniel Craig, we want it all to go off well. What seemed to be a fraught production has indicated a recentering of the brand as the story of the film’s development has surfaced. The steady hand of Fukunaga, while not the high-stakes, genre-challenging Danny Boyle film we had anticipated, seems to have admirably found its footing. May we have a neat and tidy ending to Craig’s legacy.
The Zone of Interest
Who: Directed by Jonathan Glazer.
What: Long-gestating Holocaust drama from the maverick director of Under the Skin (2014).
Why We’re Hyped: Whether or not it finally shoots and comes within the year, there is realistically no film I could be anticipating more and will put more emotional stock into being worthwhile than Glazer’s yet-to-be-named adaptation of the 2014 book, The Zone of Interest. It’s been well-documented — Under the Skin is my favorite film of all-time. It is everything I ever wanted from cinema. The highlight of my last decade of movie-watching. It moves me and I’m always finding something new and beautiful inside it. Looking into the next decade, then, I’m moved by the idea of feeling the same way about Glazer’s Holocaust film. He’s said to be extremely interested in the ideas of bystanders, moved as a child seeing pictures of ordinary Germans standing by, and watching the greatest human atrocity known to man happen before them. Nothing could be higher interest than this, on a very personal level, but also culturally, it seems like the right time to get this out.