It was another difficult year for the film industry but theaters around the country slowly opened up as the year went on, which allowed Spider-Man: No Way Home to bring home over $500 million domestically last month alone. The future of theatrical releases remains unclear going into 2022 but there were plenty of worthwhile titles to see and stream through various avenues. I watched over 200 new releases in 2021. These are my 10 favorites:
- Riders of Justice (streaming on Hulu and available to rent/buy)
Mads Mikkelsen stars in this Danish oddity that subverts the traditional vigilante revenge tale while exploring the nature of coincidence and trauma with a bitingly humorous touch. Like Another Round, the Mikkelsen-starring dramedy that won Best International Feature Film last April, it explores middle-age men coping with their issues in unconventional ways but packs even more of an emotional payoff.
- The Velvet Underground (streaming exclusively on Apple TV+)
In the first documentary of his 30-year career, Todd Haynes brings an auteur’s touch to his look at the seminal rock and roll band which gives the film its title. Through archival footage and voiceover from members of the group, the doc also peels back the avant-garde art scene in 1960s New York City for added context. A must-see for VU fans but newcomers should also find it intoxicating and vital.
- The Mitchells vs. the Machines (streaming on Netflix and available to rent/buy)
This animated family comedy about a family staving off a robot apocalypse while on a college-bound road trip provided the most laugh-out-loud moments of any movie I saw last year. The voice cast, led by Abbi Jacobson and Danny McBride, lends plenty of heart and humor to the rapid-paced adventure but Olivia Colman steals the show as a vindictive, HAL 9000-like virtual assistant.
- Judas and the Black Messiah (streaming on HBO Max and available to buy)
Unfairly written off by many critics late last year due to its inclusion in the 2021 Oscars, this nervy and urgent look at Fred Hampton’s rise and fall in Chicago’s Black Panther Party has the scope and spirit of early Scorsese. Get Out co-stars Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield square off with a pair of electrifying and unforgettable performances. Writer/director Shaka King is a talent to watch.
- C’mon C’mon (available to rent)
Writer/director Mike Mills, one of the most empathetic filmmakers around right now, packs wit and wisdom to spare into this tale of a radio journalist looking after his nephew while also traveling across the country. Following up his incendiary Joker performance, Joaquin Phoenix taps into his contemplative and compassionate side with magnetic results. Shot in gorgeous black-and-white by Robbie Ryan, this is a salve for a wounded world.
- The Humans (streaming exclusively on Showtime)
Adapting his Tony Award-winning play, Stephen Karam depicts a fraught Thanksgiving meal between a dysfunctional family with some of the year’s most bruising yet illuminating dialogue. The top-tier ensemble cast, including Richard Jenkins and Beanie Feldstein, puts on a masterclass that probes the human condition with unflinching honesty. A singular and haunting work from a talent that I hope continues to bring his stories to the screen for years to come.
- Licorice Pizza (now playing only in theaters)
Paul Thomas Anderson returns to the 1970s California setting of his early masterpiece Boogie Nights for this charming and carefree coming-of-age comedy with two breakout performers in front of the camera. Cooper Hoffman (son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Haim (of the rock trio Haim) have a palpable chemistry upon which the film’s myriad vignettes bloom. A killer soundtrack with a score from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood fills out the sublime experience.
- Dune (available to rent/buy)
This may only be half of Frank Herbert’s landmark novel but Denis Villeneuve’s vision of this story so far is nothing short of magnificent and truly awe-inspiring. The fusion of state-of-the-art special effects and intricate production design make this world feel rich and vast, one I’m sad I’ll need to wait two years to revisit when Part Two arrives. This is intelligent sci-fi that proves not every blockbuster is braindead.
- CODA (streaming exclusively on Apple TV+)
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize out of Sundance early last year, this touching story of a teenage girl who is the only hearing member of her otherwise deaf family is a heartwarming triumph. Newcomer Emilia Jones is extraordinary in the lead role and the trio of deaf actors that portray the rest of the family are just as strong with exceedingly well-rendered and soulful characters. Bring tissues. Seriously.
- Pig (streaming on Hulu and available to rent/buy)
A midsummer surprise, this Nicolas Cage movie about a bearded loner on the search for his kidnapped truffle-finding pig has the logline of one of the thespian’s numerous straight-to-DVD misfires. Against all odds, Michael Sarnoski’s directorial debut expands beautifully from this jumping-off point and features Cage’s best performance this century. An existential drama about seeking passion and purpose in an increasingly hostile and indifferent world, this is a treasure waiting to be found.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup
Well, we made it. Every single columnist summing up the past 12 months will note just how challenging it was for us collectively and individually but I still feel the need to acknowledge and echo the sentiment. Even though theaters were closed, the movies were still open for business and thankfully, there was no shortage of superb entertainment to consume at home. I watched just over 170 films that were released in 2020; here are my 10 favorites:
- Boys State (streaming exclusively on Apple TV+)
Released in the middle of the most contentious election year in modern American history, this entrancing and supremely entertaining political documentary examines how we got here and embraces how we move forward together. No matter which side of the aisle you find yourself on, this look at Texas teens creating their own government from scratch will fascinate and surprise at every turn.
- Minari (coming to theaters February 12th)
After releasing the magnificent The Farewell last year, A24 follows up with another thoughtful and tender portrait of the Asian-American experience. Featuring a jaw-droppingly gorgeous musical score from Emile Mosseri, this autobiographical story from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung recounts his family’s search for the American Dream in 1980s Arkansas. The entire cast is terrific but Steven Yeun’s performance as the idealist father should garner Best Actor support.
- American Utopia (streaming exclusively on HBO Max)
Spike Lee released 2 great films in 2020 and while his Da 5 Bloods is likely to scoop up more awards, his filmed version of David Byrne’s Broadway concert is a joyous experience and proper companion to 1984’s Stop Making Sense. From both creative and technical perspectives, it’s an unbridled triumph of conviction, imagination and world-class wireless audio performance. The rousing rendition of Janelle Monáe’s “Hell You Talmbout” is a clear highlight.
- Nomadland (streaming on Hulu and coming to theaters February 19th)
The recent winner of Best Film by Indiana Film Journalists Association –with many more awards likely to follow– Chloé Zhao’s meditation on transience and trauma is captivating in every sense of the word. Frances McDormand is expectedly outstanding as a wayfarer looking to find herself amongst America’s heartland. I hope to see this in a theater when it’s safe again, mostly to fully take in the breathtaking, golden hour vistas by cinematographer Joshua James Richards once more.
- Sound of Metal (streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime)
This debut by director Darius Marder about a heavy metal drummer battling permanent hearing loss starts off rough around the edges but transitions into something more sensitive and soulful than what it appears to be at first. Riz Ahmed turns in his best work yet as the hearing-impaired protagonist and the sound design flawlessly immerses us into the changing inner world of the main character.
- Small Axe: Lovers Rock (streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime)
Amid the towering achievement that is Small Axe, Steve McQueen’s 5-film anthology series, his depiction of two lovers who meet at a West London reggae house party is a high point. The partygoers spontaneously belting out Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” in unison is cinema’s defining music moment in 2020, a year that took away our ability to sing joyously and off-key with other people in public spaces.
- The Nest (available to rent digitally)
Writer/director Sean Durkin emerges from a 9-year hiatus and delivers another excellent slow-burn of a not-quite horror movie. His agonizing depiction of an affluent family on the verge of financial tumult is dreadfully transfixing and brilliantly rendered. Carrie Coon and Jude Law both do career-best work as the feuding husband and wife dancing dangerously around a divorce.
- Palm Springs (streaming exclusively on Hulu)
In a year where the concept of time became fuzzy and days blurred together, this hilarious Groundhog Day variant benefited from the unexpectedly apt context of world events. Andy Siara’s remarkably clever script and Max Barbakow’s assured first-time direction are in perfect harmony with one another. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti sport world-class chemistry and J. K. Simmons is a hoot in his supporting role.
- The Assistant (streaming on Hulu and available to rent digitally)
It’s not exactly an easy watch but Kitty Green’s day-in-the-life tale of a young assistant at a film production company where dark secrets lurk is chillingly compelling and exceedingly well-observed. Ozark‘s Julia Garner is a revelation as the morally conflicted young professional at the story’s center. Aside from the scene that gives Never Rarely Sometimes Always its title, Garner’s visit to the HR director’s office may be 2020’s best stretch of film.
- Soul (streaming exclusively on Disney+)
Pixar delivers yet another life-affirming masterpiece about the passions that drive us and the preciousness of every moment of life that lies before us. Director Pete Docter and the entire crew behind him craft an existential fantasy that bursts at the seams with beauty and humor. The heartfelt jazz compositions by Jon Batiste and heady musical score from Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor compliment each other exquisitely.
Reprinted (with a couple list variations due to current film availability) by permission of Whatzup
2018 was an especially good year for film and fortunately, 2019 also looks to have plenty of good selections in store. Here are 20 titles to look out for this year:
- Opening on January 18th is Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s superhero sequel to Unbreakable and Split that once again pits Bruce Willis’ David Dunn against Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass while adding James McAvoy’s The Beast into the action as well.
- Opening on February 8th is The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which looks to build on the surprise success of its predecessor by bringing back Chris Pratt to not only voice Emmet but also Rex Dangervest, a parody of action heroes portrayed by Pratt in other films.
- Opening on February 22nd is How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World, the third and final installment in the series which finds a budding romance among Toothless and another dragon as our hero Hiccup looks to defend his tranquil village from an emerging enemy.
- Opening on March 8th is Captain Marvel, the latest in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that goes back to the mid-1990s to introduce us to Brie Larson as the title character, who discovers her origins as a member of the Kree alien race and joins them in battle against the Skrulls.
- Opening on March 15th is Us, a psychological horror film from Get Out writer/director Jordan Peele that centers around a family of four looking for rest and relaxation at their beach house but finding nothing of the sort as they’re stalked by a group of ominous strangers.
- Opening on April 5th is Shazam!, a new superhero comedy in DC’s Extended Universe centered around a troubled teenager who stumbles upon a magical realm that grants him the power to transform into a Superman-like hero, just by saying the magic word.
- Opening on April 26th is Avengers: Endgame, a direct sequel to last year’s Infinity War that will seemingly resolve the gambit presented during the previous film’s conclusion. Paul Rudd and Brie Larson will likely be added to the already massive cast.
- Opening on May 17th is John Wick 3: Parabellum, another high-stakes actioner with Keanu Reeves reprising his role as the unstoppable lead character who is now on the run from a league of skilled assassins lurking all throughout the streets of New York City.
- Opening on May 24th is Ad Astra, a science fiction thriller from director James Gray starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut in search for his missing father, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who disappeared twenty years earlier on a dangerous mission to Neptune.
- Opening on May 31st is Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the latest in Legendary’s MonsterVerse starring Stranger Things‘ Millie Bobby Brown that pits the everyone’s favorite gigantic lizard against other classic creatures like Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah.
- Opening on June 14th is Men in Black: International, a reboot of the sci-fi comedy series that re-teams Thor: Ragnarok stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson as they bust out the big guns and travel the globe in order to solve an intergalactic murder mystery.
- Opening on June 21st is Toy Story 4, another sequel from Pixar that brings back Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang as they’re introduced to the new toy named Forky on a road trip. Comedy duo Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele join the talented voice cast.
- Opening on July 5th is Spider-Man: Far from Home, another adventure for the Marvel superhero that finds Peter Parker on a summer vacation with his friends in Europe as he joins forces with Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio to do battle with creatures known as Elementals.
- Opening on July 19th is The Lion King, a photorealistic remake of the 1994 Disney film that once again follows the journey of the lion cub Simba as he becomes King of the Pride Lands. The stellar voice cast includes work from Donald Glover and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter.
- Opening on July 26th is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest from Quentin Tarantino that stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt as a TV actor and his stunt double as they look to make it big in the movie business in late-1960s Los Angeles.
- Opening on August 2nd is The New Mutants, a horror film based in the X-Men universe that finds five young mutants who are being held against their will in a secret facility. Originally slated for an April 2018 release timeframe, the delayed project looks to shake up the traditional superhero genre.
- Opening on September 6th is It: Chapter Two, the follow-up to the box office smash that picks up 27 years after the events of the first film as the demonic clown Pennywise continues to haunt the members of The Losers’ Club well into their adult lives.
- Opening on October 4th is Joker, a twist on the infamous Batman villain with Joaquin Phoenix as the title character. Set in the early 1980s, the movie centers around a failing stand-up comedian driven to psychosis and a life of crime by the uncaring citizens of Gotham City.
- Opening on November 27th is Knives Out, a mystery crime film from Brick and Looper writer/director Ryan Johnson described as “a modern take on the whodunit murder mystery”. A fantastic ensemble cast, including Chris Evans and Lakeith Stanfield, is led by Daniel Craig.
- Opening on December 20th is Star Wars: Episode IX, the conclusion to the Star Wars sequel trilogy that brings back The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams following the mixed fan reaction to The Last Jedi. Disney looks to put the franchise back on track after the financial failure of last year’s Solo.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup
It’s the most wonderful time of the year and if you’re not in the holiday spirit yet, Hollywood has you covered. Here are 5 major releases coming to theaters this upcoming holiday weekend:
Mary Poppins Returns, starring Emily Blunt and Lin-Manuel Miranda, is a direct sequel to the classic 1964 musical which finds the merry and mystical nanny reuniting with two of the children from the original, now grown with children of their own. Filling the shoes of a screen icon like Julie Andrews is no easy feat but it looks like Blunt may be a perfect fit to recapture the charm and whimsy that Andrews brought to the role all those years ago. The trailers so far have teased images that harken back to the hand-drawn animation from Disney’s heyday and with original music from Tony-winning composer Marc Shaiman, this film could be quite a delight. Expect it to clean up at the box office when it opens early on December 19th.
Aquaman, starring Jason Momoa and Amber Heard, is the latest installment in the DC Extended Universe which follows the titular superhero as he leads the people of Atlantis against the evil sea creature Orm. With last year’s Wonder Woman and Justice League representing the best and worst of what can be found in this Universe, Aquaman seems like it could wind up in between the two. I can’t say I’m a big fan of this version of Aquaman based on his two previous appearances but the digital effects in this entry at least seem markedly less murky than other recent DC films. This movie has already done almost $100 million in business since its opening in China and with early screenings already trickling out around the US, all signs point to this being another massively successful superhero stint for Warner Brothers.
Bumblebee, starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena, is a spin-off of the Transformers franchise (technically a prequel to the first film in the series) that focuses on the origin of the titular yellow robot. Set in the late 1980s, there’s a good chance this film will lean into pop cultural touchstones from the era to add a bit of personality to the sci-fi action thrills. It’s a bit odd to have a big budget blockbuster like this open in the heart of awards season, especially since the past four Transformers films have opened in June, but I doubt this will affect its financial success overall. With two likeable leads at its center and Kubo and the Two Strings director Travis Knight replacing Michael Bay in the director’s chair, there’s a good chance this could be a critical success in addition to being a hit at the box office.
Holmes and Watson, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, is yet another Sherlock Holmes adaptation brought to us by the same goofball team responsible for Step Brothers and Talladega Nights. The surplus of recent Holmes variations have generally played things straight, focusing on the detective’s almost supernatural deduction skills, but it’s clear that the strategy here is to play everything for laughs. I was initially excited for this film when I first caught wind of it but all the promotional material I have seen so far has made me markedly less eager to see what looks to be pretty flimsy fare. I’m sure there are plenty of laughs that could be wrung from the legendary literary figure but with gags involving killer bees and selfies present in the trailer, Sony obviously went with the broad approach with this comedy.
Welcome to Marwen, starring Steve Carell and Leslie Mann, tells the true story of a man desperately trying to reconnect his life after a violent assault leaves him with almost no memory of his previous life. In order to cope with his loss, he constructs a miniature village called Marwen in his backyard populated with dolls that represent his friends and family. Based on the 2010 documentary Marwencol, director Robert Zemeckis looks to blend pathos with technical wizardry together as he did with previous work like The Polar Express and The Walk. Carell has proven that he has the dramatic chops for this kind of material and those looking for an inspiring film around the holidays will likely find what they’re looking for here.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup
Thanksgiving is upon us and while that often means extra helpings at the dinner table, it also means extra options at the movie theater. Here are 5 big releases that will be out in time for Turkey Day:
Creed II, starring Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone, is the sequel to 2015’s Creed, which re-booted the Rocky franchise along with being a critical and commercial success. This time around, Creed is training to fight the son of Ivan Drago, the Russian heavyweight who killed Creed’s father in the ring during the events of Rocky IV. Stallone reprises his iconic role once again and is also credited as a co-screenwriter along with Juel Taylor. Steven Caple Jr. steps up to the director’s chair, replacing Ryan Coogler in the wake of his tremendous success with Black Panther. With its name recognition and a built-in audience, look for this one to replicate the financial (and possibly critical) success of its predecessor.
The Front Runner, starring Hugh Jackman and Vera Farmiga, follows the rise and fall of Gary Hart, a senator-turned-presidential hopeful whose political career crumbled after his extramarital affair was uncovered by the press. The true story of the 1988 scandal comes right around election time, although the film could instead be a victim of post-election fatigue. While the reviews have been favorable enough, particularly for Jackman’s performance as Hart, the box office numbers from its limited release have been far from promising ($56,000 in its opening weekend). The movie is directed by Jason Reitman, who has had his share of hits (Juno, Up in the Air) and flops (Labor Day, Men, Women & Children). Hopefully there’s enough left in the marketing budget to give this a push before its wider release.
Green Book, starring Viggo Mortensen and Mahershala Ali, tells the story of Jamaican-American classical pianist Don Shirley and his chauffeur Tony Lip as they tour the Deep South in the 1960s. While the two seem to have nothing in common during the start of their relationship, they begin to bond through shared experiences that erode the racial obstructions of the era. As one half of the Farrelly Brothers (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary), Peter Farrelly has typically excelled out gross-out comedies but he’s directing here for the first time on his own and the subject material is quite different than what he’s handled before. Positioned right in the heart of Oscar season, I could see this getting quite a few nominations and I could also see this being a runaway box office success along the lines of last year’s Hidden Figures.
Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2, starring John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman, looks to mirror the breakout success of its charming predecessor Wreck-It Ralph back in 2012. This installment follows the titular video game character along with his friend Vanellope as they break out of their arcade machine and find their way onto the World Wide Web. Based on the early advertising for this movie, it seems to rely much more heavily on pop culture references than the first film, integrating characters from loads of Disney properties from Star Wars to The Muppets. This could generate plenty of crossover appeal and translate to even bigger box office numbers than the original film but it could detract from the quality of the narrative if it goes too far with its cross-branding.
Robin Hood, starring Taron Egerton of the Kingsman films, is yet another re-telling of the classic tale of the hero in green who steals from the rich and gives to the poor. The supporting cast includes Jamie Foxx as Robin’s mentor Little John and Ben Mendelsohn as the treacherous Sheriff of Nottingham. With its over-the-top fight choreography, the trailer for the film makes it out to be a cross between last year’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and the video game adaptation Assassin’s Creed. Both of those movies performed quite poorly at the box office, at least in the United States, and I could see Robin Hood sharing a similar fate. There have been countless other renditions of this story, including one as recent as Ridley Scott’s from 2010, and there doesn’t seem to be enough in this 2018 entry to distinguish itself from the pack.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup