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Coming soon: Finishing out the film year - Previewing the best (and rest) yet to come in 2021

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Some of you might have been a little disappointed by the fact that we didn’t run a fall movie preview back in September. We certainly were.

And so, we’ve decided to give you one now.

Granted, we’re well into the fall, so this isn’t a “fall” movie preview, per se. Instead, we’re going to look ahead to the final two months of 2021 and check out of some of the films that will be coming to a theater near you as the theatrical experience continues to come back following the events of the past 18 months.

It’s a robust couple of months, to be sure. We’re going to be seeing a lot of awards favorites and works from dedicated auteurs. We’re going to get some family-friendly fare and sequels and remakes. We’ve even got not one, but two MCU movies coming our way.

Now, these are all movies that will be coming to theaters. However, many of them feature either day-and-date simultaneous releases onto streaming services or very brief theatrical turnarounds before becoming available in your homes. Those films and their streaming availability dates are included where applicable.

Let’s go to the movies.

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Eternals – Nov. 5

Let’s kick things off with “Eternals,” the latest installment in the ever-growing Marvel Cinematic Universe. This one focuses on a group of immortal aliens who have been living on Earth for centuries, sleeper agents of a sort intended to help prevent cosmic threats against mankind. The story focuses on the never-ending conflict between the Eternals and their evil counterparts, the Deviants (it’s a bit more complicated than that, at least in the comics, but we don’t have the space to have that conversation here). A lot of folks are watching this one with interest; pandemic delays have resulted in a bit of a glut of MCU movies – this is the third in just the past few months, with one more on the way in December (though literally no one is worried about that one). Has Marvel finally overstepped and dug too deeply? Or is this just another stepping stone on the path to cinematic domination? We’ll have to wait and see.

Clifford the Big Red Dog – Nov. 10

Judge me all you want, but I’m oddly looking forward to seeing this one. I’ll confess to being generally too-easily charmed by family-friendly fare aimed at children. And I’ll concede that this looks like it has a chance to be not very good. But it has an intriguing cast – Jack Whitehall stars, while we get appearances from the likes of Kenan Thompson and Tony Hale and John Cleese. I don’t have any real connection to the character, but I can already tell you that Clifford is going to teach some kids some lessons that will undoubtedly manipulate me emotionally. There will also be some ridiculous slapstick and the like; I’m betting on at least one fart joke. Like I said, I don’t expect this movie to be good, but I do expect to enjoy it. I’m not a snob, no matter how hard I try. Also worth noting: this will be a day-and-date simultaneous release on Paramount+.

Belfast – Nov. 12

Probably time to throw an awards contender into the mix here. “Belfast” is written and directed by Kenneth Branagh; it’s the semi-autobiographical story of a young boy and his working-class family during the time of The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Shot in black and white and featuring a cast starring notables like Jamie Dornan, Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench – not to mention what by all accounts is an incredible performance by young first-timer Jude Hill – it has been gathering gleaming accolades throughout the festival circuit in recent months. Branagh is an undeniable classic talent, but his filmmaking ventures have been a bit uneven; this film might be the most personal project he has undertaken, so we’ll see how that translates. It certainly looks like it might have a shot at gaining him some real recognition in terms of hardware; it’s the kind of film that often gets noticed when awards season rolls around.

The Power of the Dog – Nov. 17

This western – directed by Jane Campion and adapted by Campion from the 1967 Thomas Savage novel of the same name – has shown itself to be a bit of an early awards-season favorite. It’s the story of a powerful rancher (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) who turns his malevolent energies on his brother when the brother returns with a new wife and her son in tow. By all accounts, it is a powerful and unsettling work, featuring great performances from Cumberbatch and fellow castmates Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and Thomasin McKenzie, among others. Westerns appear to be making something of a comeback; both period and modern examples of the genre feel abundant right now … and this might well prove to be the best of the lot. Now, this is another example of the limited theatrical release leading to a quick streamer turnaround – “The Power of the Dog” will be available on Netflix beginning on December 1.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife – Nov. 19

I’m genuinely not sure how to feel about this one. The sequel – set 30 years after the events of the original two “Ghostbusters” films – takes us to Oklahoma, where a single mom and her kids have moved after inheriting a farm from her late father Egon Spengler. Yeah – that Egon. As you might expect, some unexplained phenomena crop up, which in turn leads the kids to start exploring their grandfather’s legacy. And then, one assumes, hijinks ensue. It’ll be interesting to see how Jason Reitman, whose father Ivan was the guy behind the original films, will treat this. For me, it doesn’t matter – even if it’s an exercise in pure nostalgia, I am here for it (and word is that original team members will be turning up). But as to whether it can be more than that, consider me a little skeptical. I can tell you with almost 100% certainty that I will enjoy this. As to whether it will be actually good? No idea.

King Richard – Nov. 19

It’s been a while since we saw Will Smith go into full-on Oscar pursuit mode, but here we are. In this biopic – which will be screening in theaters and on HBO Max simultaneously – Smith plays Richard Williams, father to tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. It’s the story of the man’s sheer determination as he pushes his daughters from the cracked courts of Compton to the grandest stages in tennis. All the pieces are there for Smith to finally get his statue – the Academy loves a biopic and especially loves a movie star in a biopic – and the trailers look pretty compelling, with Smith really going for it. There’s a nice sports movie energy surrounding this one as well. Richard Williams might seem like an odd choice for the biopic treatment, but as the man behind two of the greatest tennis players ever, it’s a story that warrants telling. Let’s see how well it gets told.

Encanto – Nov. 24

Oh, like I’m not going to look ahead to a Disney animated offering. “Encanto” is set in Colombia and tells the story of the Madrigals, a family living in an enchanted town in the mountains. Everyone who lives in their magical house is gifted with some sort of incredible powers. Everyone, that is, except Mirabel, who is the only ordinary member of the family. However, when something starts to go awry and the magic starts to fade, it may be that Mirabel is the only one who can save the day. It’s got a great cast and the early images certainly indicate that it’s got a wonderful look. And yes, for those of you who are wondering, walking animated movie Easter egg Alan Tudyk is present – he’s apparently giving voice to a toucan, because of course he is. Whether it scales to the heights of Disney’s best offerings remains to be seen, but let’s be real – when it comes to these folks, we’re looking at a high floor.

House of Gucci – Nov. 24

That’s right, folks – ANOTHER movie from octogenarian filmmaker Ridley Scott, following last month’s “The Last Duel.” There’s been buzz surrounding this one for quite some time – it’s got an absolutely incredible cast, led by Lady Gaga and Adam Driver alongside Al Pacino, Jared Leto, Jeremy Irons and more. It’s also the story of one of the more lurid tabloid tales to spring from the 1990s, with betrayal abounding amidst the infighting for control of the massive Gucci fashion empire. Oh, and there’s some murder in there as well, because why not? This movie has generated some early awards buzz, sure, but it also looks campy as hell. Which may well be a good thing. However, there’s also a chance we go too far in that direction, undermining the film’s narrative effectiveness. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s bad, but it seems almost impossible that “House of Gucci” won’t be fun. And hey – at least the costumes will be on point.

Licorice Pizza – Nov. 26

Paul Thomas Anderson heads back to the San Fernando Valley of the 1970s? Yes. This is what I want. The film – which takes its title from a chain of once-popular, now-defunct record stores – looks to be a coming-of-age film from PTA. It tells the story of a couple of young people – played by Alana Haim of the eponymous band Haim and Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman – as they wander around doing teenager stuff against a backdrop of 1973 California. It’s got the typically incredible PTA cast – Haim and Hoffman are joined by Sean Penn, Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, Maya Rudolph and more (including a reunion with John C. Reilly, who hasn’t appeared in a PTA film since 1999’s “Magnolia”). This is one of my most anticipated films of the year. Now, you and I might have to wait a while – this date is a bit of a cheat, as the film’s wide rollout won’t happen until late December – but I will be right there when the opportunity comes.

Being the Ricardos – Dec. 10

This is one of those movies for which I have almost no feel, a film that could be great or terrible and neither would surprise me. The conceit is simple: a crisis occurs one week during the filming of the classic sitcom “I Love Lucy.” My concern is also simple: Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball. On the surface, it’s a casting decision that’s a bit of a head-scratcher – Kidman’s undeniably talented, but is she the right fit for such an iconic role? Writer-director Aaron Sorkin certainly thinks so. That said, Javier Bardem as Desi Arnez feels like an exceptional choice, and holy hell can I not wait to see J.K. Simmons as William Frawley, the actor who played Fred Mertz. My affection for Sorkin and the source material leaves me hopeful, but it’ll all come down to how well Kidman occupies those iconic slapstick shoes. This is another quick turnaround offering – it lands on Amazon less than two weeks later, on December 21.

West Side Story – Dec. 10

Generally, I’m of the mind that you shouldn’t remake the classics. When a film is universally beloved and celebrated, there’s usually no reason to do it all again. “West Side Story” is one of those movies. And yet … it’s tough to look at this team and not see possibilities. I mean, Steven Spielberg is directing from a screenplay by Tony Kushner – if titans like that want to take a shot, who am I to tell them no? Of course, tackling such a revered property comes with plenty of pitfalls, any one of which can sufficiently turn the entire film into a perceived mistake. If I were to bet on such a pitfall, my money would be on the nigh-inexplicable casting of Ansel Elgort as Tony, who simply does not seem up to the task at hand (leaving aside other unsavory factors). Still, as a movie musical fan, I’m cautiously optimistic – I mean, hell, Rita Moreno is here, so it can’t be all bad.

Spider-Man: No Way Home – Dec. 17

Hell yeah. HELL YEAH. I am a Spider-Man stan (Spider-Stan?) from long before that was a thing, so I am always going to be fired up for a new movie. And while the MCU release from six weeks prior might run into some trouble, expect no such issues with “No Way Home.” This is easily the most widely-anticipated movie of the year and it isn’t close. Obviously, we don’t know much, but it sure does seem that we’re going to be seeing a blending of the various Spidey-centric franchises in a multiversal smorgasbord. There will be time travel shenanigans, one supposes, but all I can say is that I wish I could time travel back and let young comics-obsessed Allen that this was happening. Tom Holland is a great Spider-Man, an even better Peter Parker and appears poised to be the main man in the MCU. I can’t wait. Expect this to ultimately prove to be the biggest grossing film released in 2021.

Nightmare Alley (Theaters) – Dec. 17

I’m very much looking forward to this one, Guillermo del Toro’s first feature directorial outing since his Oscar-winning turn with 2017’s “The Shape of Water.” Adapted from William Lindsey Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name by del Toro and co-writer Kim Morgan, it’s a shadowy period piece set in the world of carnival sideshows, with big psychological thriller energy that hints at the possibility of something supernatural. Early trailers make it look like one hell of a mood, lousy with atmosphere. It’s got a great cast, too, with Bradley Cooper leading the way as a manipulative carny who finds himself in a situation that not even he will be able to talk himself out of. Cate Blanchett, Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins … the list goes on and on. It’s a typically excellent cast for this director. This return to the spooky side by del Toro looks awfully good; we’ll find out just how good come December.

The Matrix Resurrections – Dec. 22

Does the world need another “Matrix” movie? I can’t really say. What I can say is that I am stoked to be making a return to this world, nearly two decades after the last film was released. It’s the first in the series without both Wachowskis at the helm; Lana is doing this one solo. But most of the key players are back, including The One himself, Keanu Reeves. It remains unclear how the film will connect to the franchise’s previous installments, but I’m ready to find out. I’m fascinated to see how the return to the franchise addresses things like technological development and the passage of time, as well as what kind of bonkers action sequences we can expect. I’m also low-key excited about one of Wachowski’s co-writers on the screenplay, author David Mitchell. This film also marks the final day-and-date simultaneous release for Warner Brothers movies on HBO Max. Let’s find out how deep this rabbit hole goes, shall we?

The Tragedy of MacBeth – Dec. 25

So you’re telling me that Joel Coen – working solo without brother Ethan by his side – has written and directed an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” That’s really cool. Who’s in it? Wait – Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand are playing the leads? I’m going to need a minute. Seriously though – this is a staggering overlap of things that I absolutely love. I have exceedingly high expectations for this movie, to the point of unfairness. Don’t care. I am so ready to be blown away by this movie, a marriage of brilliant writer, brilliant filmmaker and brilliant performers. The few images I’ve seen have been stark and compelling and have I said yet how much I want to see this movie? Sure, this date marks the film’s limited release, so including it here is a bit of a cheat, but fear not – word is that it will land on Apple TV+ just a couple of weeks later, hitting your home screens on January 14.

Last modified on Saturday, 06 November 2021 11:44

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