In Review

2021 films: new releases and what’s coming up

This year’s movies include Sound of Metal, Palm Springs, and Godzilla vs. Kong

New film releases in 2021

Sound of Metal

This “thoughtful, sombre” drama stars Riz Ahmed as Ruben Stone, a heavy-metal drummer who experiences sudden hearing loss while on tour in the US, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. A recovering heroin user with serious relationship problems, he lands up in a remote Missouri retreat for recovering deaf addicts. Its manager is a greying Vietnam vet called Joe (Paul Raci), who believes that hearing-impaired people need to find enough “stillness” inside themselves to accept their condition as a “valid alternative existence”. But Ruben is determined to have risky surgery that would restore some of his hearing – even if the cost of it might make it difficult for him to resume the career he’s desperate to save. Where to watch: Amazon Prime, and showing in cinemas from 17 May

Palm Springs

Palm Springs borrows its basic premise from Groundhog Day, but this romcom has a charm of its own, and it “fairly crackles with surprises”, said Tom Shone in The Sunday Times. Like Bill Murray’s character Phil in the earlier – and rather more family-friendly – film Nyles (Andy Samberg) is stuck in a temporal loop, reliving the same day repeatedly. He’s at a friend’s wedding in the eponymous resort and, having tried killing himself and sleeping with all the guests, he has already reached the “nihilistic-hedonism” phase of the Murray cycle. Where the film parts company with its predecessor is that another guest – Sarah (Cristin Milioti) – is in on the trick, repeating her day alongside his, a “goofy co-conspirator, sharing his godlike dominion over events”. Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Godzilla vs. Kong

The first three instalments in Warner Brothers’ Godzilla/King Kong franchise were “gloomy” and “incoherent”, said Kevin Maher in The Times. But “fourth time appears to be the charm”: the latest “giant beastie movie” is “suitably camp” and pretty exciting, too. The plot is silly, but does its main job – bringing King Kong and Godzilla face to face – well enough: the result is a series of “catastrophic city-levelling donnybrooks” between the two titular creatures. In the earlier films, both beasts had become protectors of humanity, but now Godzilla attacks the headquarters of a mysterious robotics company, Apex Industries – and Kong is recruited to help protect his human friends, initially by leading a mission to the centre of the Earth in order to tap into a formidable source of power. The film is “remarkably handsome”, and the human characters “propel things along” nicely, said Benjamin Lee in The Guardian. Most affecting is Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a little girl whose bond with Kong almost gives the film a “heart”. Where to watch: Apple, Google, Amazon and Sky Store

Minari

This “wonderfully absorbing and moving” family drama has been nominated for six Oscars, and “already has the look of a well-loved classic”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Set in the 1980s, and inspired by writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s own childhood, it stars Steven Yeun as Jacob, a Korean immigrant who gives up a dead-end job in California and moves his family to a trailer home set on five acres in Arkansas. His plan is to farm Korean produce and bring up his daughter Anne (Noel Cho) and son David (Alan Kim) in Edenic bliss. But his wife, Monica (Yeri Han) is sceptical, and as tornadoes and fires strike and crops fail, despite his backbreaking labour, their marriage hits the skids. Where to watch: Apple TV and Amazon

Ammonite

This “absorbing” drama about forbidden love in 1840s Dorset “brings together two superb performers”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Kate Winslet plays Mary Anning, the palaeontologist whose extraordinary fossil finds were “coolly appropriated” by the male scientific establishment, forcing her to run a curios shop in Lyme Regis to get by; and Saoirse Ronan is geologist Charlotte Murchison, a gentlewoman who is sent to lodge with Mary by her husband Roderick (James McArdle) in the hopes that “sea air and healthy scientific thoughts” will cure her melancholia. In fact, Charlotte’s problem is his “passionless dullness”. Joining Mary on windswept fossil hunting expeditions, she gradually comes alive and, though Mary is a tough woman, who wears “a look of perpetual wary resentment”, their friendship gives way to passion. Where to watch: Apple, Google, Sky Store and Amazon

Violation

Shot through with “blood-draining frights”, this rape revenge thriller has a pitch-dark mood that is not easy to shake or describe, said Tomris Laffly in Variety. Co-writer and co-director Madeleine Sims-Fewer plays Miriam, a young Londoner who visits her sister Greta (Anna Maguire) and Greta’s husband Dylan (Jesse LaVercombe) at their remote home in Quebec. Miriam’s own marriage to Caleb (Obi Abili) is on the rocks, and rivalries left over from childhood distance her from Greta, too. Only Dylan offers her warmth, and one night, Miriam kisses him beside a lake. Later, he enters her room and rapes her. Unable to confide in Caleb, and scorned by Greta, Miriam takes matters into her own hands. What follows is “possibly the most brutal woman-on-man ordeal since Audition”, said Phil Hoad in The Guardian. But it also “feels like something from the ancient world” – a “single, abject act of reprisal”, not a “fantasy spree”. Where to watch: Shudder

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Released in 2017, the original Justice League was “one of cinema’s great catastrophes”, said Kevin Maher in The Times. The DC superhero blockbuster’s first director, Zack Snyder, pulled out during post-production following a personal tragedy, and his replacement, Joss Whedon, then reshot large chunks. The result was a critical and box office disaster. But three years later, DC Films capitulated to a campaign by fans demanding that Snyder be allowed to finish his version, and gave him $70m to do it (on top of the original $300m budget). The gamble has paid off. His film runs for over four hours – twice the length of Whedon’s – but it is “an extraordinary cinematic landmark, and a comic-book epic like no other”. The plot holes have been eliminated, along with the “godawful banter”, and, crucially, he has given the film some much-needed emotional depth. Where to watch: Sky Cinema and Now TV

Creation Stories

This biopic of the founder of Creation Records is a “lairy, likeable” account of Alan McGee’s rise from musically talentless Glaswegian punk to self-described “President of Pop”, said Cath Clarke in The Guardian. Trainspotting alumnus Ewen Bremner brings just enough “working-class gobshite cheekiness” to the central role to “balance out the myth-making and megalo-mania”. McGee founded his label in London in 1982, having left Glasgow and his violent father behind, and signed the likes of Primal Scream, The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine. It’s a life of “inspired chaos”, and the film – adapted by Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh from McGee’s memoir – “hilariously downplays” his biggest discovery, of Oasis, in 1993. He’d only gone to the gig because he’d missed a train. But thus was Britpop born. Where to watch: Sky Cinema

Judas and the Black Messiah

Two “barnstorming” performances underpin this “fiercely watchable” thriller about the FBI’s assassination of the Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. Shot aged 21 while lying asleep in bed, Hampton was a charismatic figure, and the “muscular force” of his rhetoric and his “instinctive leadership” are brilliantly conveyed by Daniel Kaluuya. LaKeith Stanfield is similarly impressive as William O’Neal, the petty criminal who was strong-armed by the FBI’s Roy Mitchell (Jesse Plemons) into infiltrating the Black Panthers. Promoted through the ranks, he grows to like and admire Hampton; but he is also in thrall to Mitchell and the FBI. He is not exactly in denial, but nor does he quite face up to what he is doing: he is the Judas of the film’s title. Where to watch: Apple, Google, Sky and Amazon

Cherry

Having established their reputations with superhero blockbusters such as Avengers: Endgame, the Russo brothers have now turned to more “grown-up” material with this adaptation of an autobiographical novel by former US soldier Nico Walker, said John Nugent in Empire. Its protagonist, Cherry, is a quiet college student who joins up as a medic, serves in the Iraq War, and returns to the US with PTSD and a growing drug habit that he ends up funding through armed robbery. With its episodic structure, the film feels “like multiple movies in one”, and runs to “an Endgame-approaching two-and-a-half hours”. Some sections are “fuzzy or formulaic”, and the whole thing has “a fidgety, unfocused feel”. But it’s worth watching for Spider-Man actor Tom Holland’s central performance, in a “demanding, complex” role. Where to watch: Apple TV+

Raya and the Last Dragon

The heroine of this “sizzlingly enjoyable” animation is in many respects a traditional Disney princess, said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph – but hand her a sword and she’ll show you some moves that would make Rapunzel’s hair stand on end. Orphaned martial arts expert Raya has the task of restoring harmony to the kingdom of Kumandra, whose people have been divided by an ancient curse. To do this she enlists the help of a dragon called Sisu, among other animal allies. They’re charming enough, but it’s the Southeast Asian kingdom itself – a beautiful and “teemingly strange” world of temple cities and bamboo forests – that really bursts with personality and colour. Driving the plot is Raya’s rivalry with another princess, Namaari, who shifts from standard villain to something more enigmatic. This is “a feast of a film”. Where to watch: Disney+

My Donkey, My Lover & I

This easygoing comedy is one of “unparalleled Frenchness”, said Cath Clarke in The Guardian. Teacher Antoinette (Laure Calamy) is having an affair with a pupil’s father, but their plan for a week alone together is upended when his wife surprises him with a donkey-trekking holiday in the Cévennes. Impulsively, Antoinette books a place on the same trip – only to find herself in charge of a very stubborn animal, with her lover nowhere in sight. But as she and her donkey bond, the film switches from a gentle farce into a journey of emotional growth: “You might call it Eat Bray Love – except it’s European, so there’s less pseudo-spiritual self-discovery and more drunken snogging.” Calamy (Noémie in Call My Agent!) holds the film together with a funny, generous performance. Where to watch: Curzon Home Cinema

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday has always been “a monster of a role”, said Mark Kennedy in The Independent. Diana Ross and Audra McDonald have both tackled it; now singer Andra Day takes it on, in her acting debut – and she shines. In a remarkable performance, she portrays the great singer in her final years as “a haunted and crushed icon, an addict with terrible choices in men but the voice of an angel”. The film flashes back and forward in time, but centres on events in 1947, when the authorities were so alarmed by the impact of her anti-lynching song Strange Fruit, they apparently conspired to have her jailed for possessing heroin. Lee Daniels’s film is unfocused and meandering, but it’s interspersed with scenes that feel “like a punch in the gut”. Where to watch: Sky Cinema 

I Care a Lot

In this “exquisitely nasty”, blackly comic thriller, Rosamund Pike gives us “her most outrageous Hitchcock-blonde turn since Gone Girl”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. With a “sociopath haircut, shades and fashion-plate outfits”, she exudes “pure predatory wickedness” as Marla Grayson, a ruthless scammer who, aided by corrupt doctors, insinuates her way into the lives of wealthy but lonely elderly people in Boston. She becomes their legal guardian, has them committed to care homes, then fleeces them of their possessions. One day, she lands what she thinks is a particularly tame fish – sweet Mrs Peterson (a fabulous Dianne Wiest). She duly visits the old lady’s house, all “kindly, sorrowing smiles”, and entraps her during a scene of true emotional “horror”. But there’s something she hasn’t bargained for – Mrs Peterson’s connections in the Russian Mafia. Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

To Olivia

The biopic trend “trundles on, chewing up one children’s author after another – C.S. Lewis, J.M. Barrie, A.A. Milne, J.R.R. Tolkien”, said Tom Shone in The Sunday Times. Now it’s the turn of Roald Dahl – in a film that is especially weak and contrived. Based on Stephen Michael Shearer’s biography of Dahl’s first wife, the American actress Patricia Neal, To Olivia is set in the years leading up to the author’s first big success, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, in 1964. At home in Buckinghamshire, Dahl (Hugh Bonneville) is “all fun and games” with his three children, but bickers “horribly” with Neal (Keeley Hawes) before retreating to his writing shed to drink. The death of their seven-year-old daughter Olivia, from measles-related encephalitis, plunges Dahl into depression, and the increasingly lonely Neal heads to Hollywood to give her Oscar-winning performance opposite Paul Newman in HudWhere to watch: Sky Cinema

Slalom

The French writer-director Charlène Favier’s “astounding” debut starts out as a classic sports movie in the Rocky mould – then “morphs into something far more sinister”, said Kevin Maher in The Times. A promising but petulant 15-year-old skier Lyz (Noée Abita), neglected by her parents, is taken on by “no-nonsense” coach Fred (Jérémie Renier). Under his tutelage, the lonely girl’s talent blossoms, and there is talk of Olympic selection. Then, midway through the film, at an elite ski camp in the French Alps, Fred starts systematically to abuse his teenage charge. At this point, your stomach drops, said Jessica Kiang in Variety: you “realise that of course this was the story” this “difficult” film “was going to tell, and almost feel foolish for holding out the hope that” it would go any other way. The warning signs, after all, were all there. From early on, Fred “has been grooming Lyz, manipulating her insecurities, her gratitude and her naivety” to fuel her dependency, while slowly crossing the boundaries of physical intimacy. But the depressing familiarity of the film’s trajectory makes it no less compelling. Where to watch: Curzon Home Cinema

Dead Pigs

Chinese-American director Cathy Yan made her name internationally last year with the superhero blockbuster Birds of Prey. That was her second film; now her first, Dead Pigs, has been released in the UK, said Ella Kemp in Empire. Premiered at the Sundance festival in 2018, it’s a “fizzy” social satire inspired by a real-life event in 2013, when around 16,000 dead pigs floated down the Huangpu River through Shanghai, having been dumped by farmers upstream. Yan traces the effects of this bizarre event through the interlinked lives of five characters. At the heart of the web is Candy Wang – a beauty parlour owner, who is coming under pressure to sell her family’s old wooden house, owing to her pig-farmer brother’s financial plight – and Sean, a US architect who has wildly ambitious plans for the site. Where to watch: Mubi

News of the World

Tom Hanks is at his “twinkliest and crinkliest” in this old-fashioned Western, said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph. He plays Captain Jefferson Kidd, a veteran of the Civil War’s losing side who now makes a living by travelling around Texas reading news stories to the illiterate masses. On the trail he comes across an abandoned, mute white girl, Johanna (Helena Zengel). Her German parents had been killed years earlier, by the Kiowa tribe, who raised her – until they were themselves killed by white settlers. At this point, Kidd decides to take her on the road, in order to deliver her to her closest living relatives, an aunt and uncle on the far side of the state. Where to watch: Netflix 

Greenland

Greenland is the latest in a recent string of action movies starring the Scottish actor Gerard Butler, but this one is without the “jingoistic bombast” of predecessors such as Olympus Has Fallen, said Clarisse Loughrey in The Independent. Instead, this deliberately low-key disaster film is “laced with a palpable sense of fear”. Butler plays an Atlanta-based engineer, John Garrity, who – when asteroids start pounding Earth – must get himself and his family to a US government bunker near the North Pole. But with his estranged wife Allison (Morena Baccarin) and diabetic son, Nathan (Roger Dale Floyd), he gets caught up in the social chaos that inevitably unfolds: traffic jams, failing phone signals and trips to the chemist for Nathan’s medication all become panic-inducing matters of life and death. Where to watch: Amazon Prime 

Quo Vadis, Aida?

Serbian director Jasmila Žbanic’s “incendiary” new film is about the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 – the worst civilian atrocity in Europe since the end of the Second World War, said Kevin Maher in The Times. We see it through the eyes of Aida (Jasna Đuricic), a local teacher-turned-translator who scurries frantically between the representatives of the 20,000 terrified Bosnian Muslims who are gathered in and around the UN’s supposed “safe area” (a disused factory), and the commanders of the UN’s Dutch peacekeeping forces – “eviscerated here as weak and spineless” – while the Bosnian Serb leader Ratko Mladic (Boris Isakovic) and his paramilitary thugs “await the green light for mass extermination”. Where to watch: Curzon Home Cinema

The Dig

Based on the true story of the excavation at Sutton Hoo, and adapted from John Preston’s novel, The Dig is a “moving and beguiling” period piece that offers “a well-timed double dose of consolation and escape”, said Robbie Collin in The Daily Telegraph. In the summer of 1939, when the world was preparing for war, Suffolk landowner Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan) employed Basil Brown, a local self-taught archaeologist (Ralph Fiennes, sporting a broad Suffolk accent) to investigate the mysterious grassy mounds on her estate. The dig revealed them to be a ninth century Anglo-Saxon burial site, concealing, among other treasures, an 89ft-long ship; and so, “just as the nation’s future became obscured by shadow, a shaft of light was suddenly thrown on its distant past”. At first, we follow the relationship that develops between Brown and Pretty. But as excitement about the find intensifies, and the professionals descend on it, the film’s scope widens, to focus in particular on the romance between married archaeologist Peggy Piggott (Lily James) and Pretty’s nephew (Johnny Flynn), who is waiting to be called up. Where to watch: Netflix 

Dear Comrades! 

The massacre of around 80 unarmed protesters in the Russian city of Novocherkassk in 1962 – an atrocity kept secret for 30 years – is the subject of this riveting drama from veteran director Andrei Konchalovsky, said Kevin Maher in The Times. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival, it strikes a “wry”, satirical note at first, with “droll one liners about Soviet ineptitude” as workers at the city’s power plant go on strike over rising food prices. The subsequent massacre, however, is depicted “unsparingly”. The film’s protagonist, local Communist Party member Lyuda Syomina (Julia Vysotskaya), has a reputation for endorsing this kind of crackdown. But when her teenage daughter, Svetka – a worker at the plant – goes missing, she is torn between her loyalty to the party, and her personal anguish. Where to watch: Curzon Home Cinema

One Night in Miami

Oscar-winning actress Regina King’s directorial debut features both “big ideas and barnstorming turns”, said Kevin Maher in The Times. Based on the 2013 play by Kemp Powers, the film imagines the conversation that might have taken place during a real-life meeting between four black American icons – Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), as he was then, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr) and NFL star Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) – in Miami on the night of 25 February 1964, to celebrate Clay’s defeat of world champion boxer Sonny Liston. The dialogue is witty and fluid, but gradually their conversation homes in on a single weighty topic – what it means to be, in Clay’s words, “young, black, righteous, unapologetic, famous” in white America. The result is a “timely and serious commentary on American racial politics��. Where to watch: Amazon Prime

The White Tiger

Adapted from Aravind Adiga’s 2008 Booker Prize winner, The White Tiger is a darkly humorous rags-to-riches tale set in India in the economic boom of the late Noughties, said Owen Gleiberman in Variety. Its protagonist is Balram Halwai (Adarsh Gourav), a charming but dirt-poor peasant who talks his way into a job as a Delhi-based driver for a ruthless landlord, The Stork (Mahesh Manjrekar). Balram is grateful and obsequious at first, in awe of The Stork’s suave son (Rajkummar Rao) and his sophisticated, New-York-raised wife (Priyanka Chopra Jonas). But he comes to see his servile mentality as a curse when the family makes him the fall guy for a crash he didn’t cause. Learning to emulate their ruthlessness and cynicism, he turns the tables, lining his pockets and launching himself on a corrupt path to success. Where to watch: Netflix 

Ham on Rye

Writer-director Tyler Taormina’s debut feature is a surreal, “disquieting” take on the Hollywood coming of age genre, said Glenn Kenny in The New York Times. It’s spring in the suburbs, and teenagers wearing sundresses and jackets and ties are heading to a dance. The boys talk, crudely but naively, about sex; the girls about fashion and popularity. The dance is held at a local deli and has a strange, ritual air. The girls form one line, the boys another, music begins and, communicating with hand gestures, they pair off. The scene builds to a dreamy climax – but then the film turns to those who got passed over at the dance, or were too anxious to go, and things become stranger still. Where to watch: Mubi

Soul

From its first feature – 1995’s Toy Story – onwards, Pixar has never been shy of tackling the big questions. In Soul, the animation studio takes on the greatest of them of all – the meaning of life, said Clarisse Loughrey in The Independent, and it does so with all the “beauty”, “humour” and “heart” for which it has become known. Pixar’s first film with an African American protagonist is about a New York jazz pianist, Joe Gardner (Jamie Foxx), who is scraping a living as a high school teacher while longing for success as a performer. Then, moments after being booked for a potentially life-changing gig, he falls down a manhole. His soul ends up in The Great Beyond, a fuzzy pastel afterlife; but such is his desperation to realise his dream, he manages to slip back to Earth with another soul named 22 (a “delightfully irritating” Tina Fey), who has never occupied a physical body before. Where to watch: Disney+

 

Coming soon in 2021

Last Night in Soho

This psychological horror follows a young wannabe fashion designer who mysteriously travels back in time to 1960s London, where she encounters her singer idol, played by The Queen’s Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy. The late Diana Rigg and former Doctor Who star Matt Smith also feature in what Empire describes as an “unsettling time-hopping fright-fest”. Due for release in the UK on 23 April

Fast & Furious 9

Just when you thought they’d finally wrapped up the Fast & Furious film franchise, the cinematic gift that just keeps on giving is returning for a ninth instalment in 2021, with Vin Diesel reprising his role as street racer Dominic Toretto. So what does director Justin Lin have in store for fans this time round? Another thrilling ride, judging by what has become “one of the most-watched trailers of all time”, Esquire says. Among the revelations in the “mind-blowing scenes” is that Dom (Diesel) has a long lost brother named Jakob (John Cena). But sibling rivalry soon rears its ugly head. Due for release 28 May

Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun fans have “had to wait over 30 years for a sequel”, says Radio Times, but now Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer have returned to “don their aviator glasses once more” to take to the skies as rivals Maverick and Iceman. The Covid-delayed sequel also stars Ed Harris and Jon Hamm, while Jennifer Connelly plays a single mother and bar owner who becomes romantically entangled with Maverick. Due for release 8 July

Respect

Playing one of the most iconic voices of the 20th century is no easy task, but “Jennifer Hudson is known for her ability to give people instant goose-bumps”, Cosmopolitan says. The Oscar winner is a shrewd pick to take on the role of Aretha Franklin in the celebratory biopic, delivering a performance “as astoundingly brilliant as ever”. Indeed, another Academy Award win may “be on the horizon” for Hudson, the magazine predicts. Due for release 13 August 

The Beatles: Get Back

Originally scheduled for release back in September, The Beatles’ biopic is shaping up to be the “ultimate fly-on-the-wall experience” for fans of the band, says Sophie Smith on udsicovermusic. Director Peter Jackson also throws in iconic moments such as the Fab Four’s performance on the roof of Savile Row Studios, for added enjoyment. Due for release 27 August

James Bond: No Time to Die

One of the most highly anticipated film releases of 2020 was undoubtedly the 25th instalment of the James Bond franchise, which sees Daniel Craig return for his fifth and final appearance as the British spy 007. Originally scheduled for release in April then November, the new Bond movie, No Time to Die, will now hit UK cinemas in April 2021. True Detective director Cary Fukunaga calls the shots and Oscar winner Rami Malek plays the film’s villain, Safin. Due for release in October

Dune

This much-anticipated big-budget sci-fi blockbuster is based on Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel of the same name. Timothee Chalamet plays anti-hero Paul Atreides, who is charged with protecting the most treasured substance in the universe. Filmed in the “awe-inspiring” Wadi Rum desert, Dune is the “most ambitious release” of the year, according to NME’s Ella Kemp. Due for release 1 October 

The Last Duel

An epic offering from director Ridley Scott, starring big names including Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Killing Eve star Jodie Comer. The Last Duel “is set in 14th century France and is described as an epic tale of betrayal and justice”, Digital Spy reports. Based on a novel by US author Eric Jager, the film tells the true story of Jean de Carrouges (Damon), a knight who embarks on a fight to the death with former friend Jacques Le Gris (Driver) after accusing him of raping his wife (Comer). Due for release 15 October

The Matrix 4

Another long-awaited sequel, the fourth edition of The Matrix arrives almost two decades after the last instalment of the sci-fi action classic. Plot details are “under strict lock and key”, says Indiewire’s Zack Sharf. But the script has been described as  “beautiful” and “inspiring” by Keanu Reeves, who is reprising his role as Neo alongside Carrie-Anne Moss’ Trinity despite the pair having apparently died in the last film. Due for release 22 December

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