Our editors pick their thirty most anticipated films of 2021, from Respect to Mothering Sunday to Benediction.
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Following on from last week’s feature on the best 2021 films we’ve already seen, we thought we’d look wistfully ahead at the exciting films that are (hopefully) premiering this year. These films are on our list for a myriad of reasons: they’re by one of our favourite directors, they star some of our favourite actors, or a mixture of the two. Some are films we’ve been looking forward to for a while now, but they were pushed a year due to the pandemic.
Before we get to our thirty picks, we wanted to give a special shoutout to Abderrahmane Sissako’s The Perfumed Hill. We’re huge fans of Sissako’s work, and we see that The Perfumed Hill has made several other most anticipated lists, but we haven’t seen enough evidence that it’s actually coming out this year to put it on ours. Consider this a wishful thinking honourable mention.
30. Respect (Liesl Tommy)
I first became aware of Liesl Tommy’s work when I caught her CalShakes production of Hamlet in 2012, which took inspiration from the Obamas when creating the central royal family. Using a derelict swimming pool as a set raised eyebrows, but Tommy creatively used it as both a stage and an abyss, impressively making it work. It was a great and innovative production, and to date, the only Hamlet I’ve seen directed by a woman of colour. She has since made a name for herself on and off Broadway, receiving a Tony nomination for directing Eclipse.
Tommy has worked as a director for hire on television with episodes of Insecure, Queen Sugar, and The Walking Dead, but Respect will be her big screen debut. I mention all this because Tommy’s already exciting resume might get lost in the hype around a biopic of Aretha Franklin starring Jennifer Hudson, Forest Witaker, and Audra McDonald — what a cast! With Tommy helming, Respect should be much more than just a lazy studio grab for money with a big-budget musical biopic. Alex Heeney
29. Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund)
We’re excited by the prospect of Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure, The Square) working with young star Harris Dickinson, who broke out with Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats. Dickinson recently proved himself an unexpected comedic genius in his cameo role in Matthias & Maxime (2019), so I’m sure he’ll do wonders with Östlund’s deadpan. The synopsis is sparse: “A pair of models find themselves at a crossroads in their careers.” Orla Smith
Read our interview with Östlund on The Square.
28. Cow (Andrea Arnold)
Andrea Arnold’s latest project is said to be “a close-up portrait of the daily lives of two cows.” It’s also the Fish Tank director’s first documentary. We’re curious to see what she’ll do with the form, since her American Honey editor, Joe Bini, told us that editing that sprawling film was already very similar to directing a documentary. It’s sure to give Elizabeth Lo’s Stray a run for its money as the best 2020 documentary that trades human subjects for animals. OS
27. The Mad Woman’s Ball (Mélanie Laurent)
As a writer-director, Mélanie Laurent can be hit or miss: her sophomore feature, Breathe, was a sensitive exploration of the power dynamics in a friendship between teenage girls; Plonger was more frustrating. Based on the novel The Mad Woman’s Ball, Laurent’s latest is set in 19th century Paris at the Salpêtrière hospital for hysterical women, run by Jean-Martin Charcot. Alice Winocour’s excellent and ahead-of-its-time Augustine was also about Charcot and his patients, and anyone would be hard-pressed to top Winocour here.
Still, the performances should be worth watching, as like so many actors-turned-directors, Laurent is always good with actors. Laurent actually stars in The Mad Woman’s Ball, marking the first time she’s appeared in one of her directorial projects, and she reteams with Lou de Laâge, who gave a breakout performance in Breathe, plus rising star Benjamin Voisin, who gave several great performances in 2020. AH
26. Candyman (Nia DaCosta)
We’ve been waiting almost a full year for Nia DaCosta’s Candyman: the trailer dropped in early 2020, and it was initially slated to be released last summer (COVID had other plans). Hopefully, Little Woods director DaCosta’s update of the classic horror film will be worth the wait. If all goes to plan, it will join the quality ranks of past thought-provoking and spooky horror films from Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions (Get Out, Us). OS
25. Red, White and Water (Lila Neugebauer)
It’s been three years since Jennifer Lawrence last acted in a film (if we ignore the existence of X-Men: Dark Phoenix, which Lawrence herself probably wants us to do). She took some time off acting, giving the world time to start to miss her, after many complained she was “overexposed.” Hopefully, Lawrence’s return to the spotlight as the star of Red, White and Water, directed by acclaimed theatre director Lila Neugebauer, will be a reminder of how talented she really is. In the film, she plays a soldier who returns from Afghanistan with a traumatic brain injury and struggles to readjust to living back home. OS
24. Mothering Sunday (Eva Husson)
We’re excited about pretty much everyone attached to this project except director Eva Husson, whose debut film, Bang Gang, was one of our most loathed films of the decade, and whose follow-up, Girls of the Sun, received mixed reviews. But with costumes by Sandy Powell (Carol), an adapted screenplay by Alice Birch (who killed it with Normal People last year), and a cast of the most exciting emerging actors (Odessa Young, Josh O’Connor, and Sope Dirisu) and established heavyweights (Olivia Colman, Colin Firth, and Glenda Jackson), how could we resist?
Set in 1924, the film “follows Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young), a maid in the wealthy Niven household, who has the day off to celebrate Mothering Sunday while Mr. and Mrs. Niven (Colin Firth and Olivia Colman) attend a lunch to mark the engagement of their neighbor’s only remaining son, Paul (Josh O’Connor).” We’ve been long-time fans of Odessa Young, who had her critical breakout last year with Shirley, so we’re excited to see her lead this stellar cast, including the equally talented Josh O’Connor. AH
Read our profile of Josh O’Connor.
23. Vanessa Kirby vehicles The Brutalist (Brady Corbet) and Italian Studies (Adam Leon)
Ever since seeing Vanessa Kirby as Stella in the National Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire and as Princess Margaret on The Crown, I’ve been ready to follow her anywhere. Last year, Kirby had her big big screen breakout at the Venice Film Festival where she premiered two dynamite performances — a supporting turn in The World to Come and leading role in Pieces of A Woman — and came home with Best Actress for Pieces. We named her Pieces performance one of the best of 2020. Little is known about Adam Leon’s Italian Studies other than it wrapped filming almost two years ago now. I was mixed on his most recent film, Tramps, but if Kirby is there, so am I. It’s disappointing that Kirby will have only a supporting role in Italian Studies, yet another film about a male artist, played by Joel Edgerton, whom we still haven’t forgiven for writing The King. But with a supporting cast featuring many of our favourites, including Marion Cotillard, Mark Rylance, and Alessandro Nivola, we have high hopes. AH
Read our appraisal of Kirby’s performance in Pieces of a Woman.
22. Les Olympiades (Jacques Audiard) & The Stars at Noon (Claire Denis)
We’re not huge fans of Jacques Audiard (Dheepan) and Claire Denis, even if there’s much to admire in Denis’s work in particular. However, the stellar writing teams on both films have caught our attention. Léa Mysius, whose stellar debut, Ava, left us intrigued, is a co-writer on both, and the great Céline Sciamma co-wrote Audiard’s film, too. Portrait of a Lady on Fire’s Noémie Merlant starring in Les Olympiades is just the icing on the cake. OS
Read our review of Mysius’s Ava.
21. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
Jane Campion can be hit or miss for us, but she’s a consistently interesting director, and the cast of The Power of the Dog is extremely promising. We’re excited to see her work with the always excellent Kirsten Dunst, rising star Thomasin McKenzie, Canadian legend Adam Beach, as well as Jesse Plemmons and Kodi Smit-McPhee. (Benedict Cumberbatch is also in the film.) The synopsis reads: “A pair of brothers who own a large ranch in Montana are pitted against each other when one of them gets married.” OS
Read our appraisal of Thomasin McKenzie’s performance in Leave No Trace.
20. No Sudden Move (Steven Soderbergh)
In the 2010s, Soderbergh directed two of the best heist movies ever (Out of Sight and Ocean’s 11) starring Don Cheadle and George Clooney. So we couldn’t be more excited to see Soderbergh reteam with these two great actors and collaborators in Detroit where Out of Sight was made. With a cast also featuring Jon Hamm, Kieran Culkin, and Amy Seimetz (Soderbergh was an early champion of her work as a director), it’s sure to be a delight. AH
Read about Soderbergh’s Unsane in our ebook case study of the film.
19. Spencer (Pablo Larraín)
When Kristen Stewart was cast as Princess Diana in Spencer, the internet wondered why when Elizabeth Debicki was right there; it turns out, Debicki was already tapped to play the role in The Crown. Spencer will be Larraín’s second English-language film, which like the insufferable, unwatchable Jackie, is also a biopic. Larraín’s Chilean Spanish-language work has produced some of the very best films of the last decade — No!, Neruda, and Ema — but his blackly comic sensibilities and bourgeois interests have yet to translate well to big-budget English-language productions. Here’s hoping that his collaboration with Stewart will be fruitful, and the script from British stalwart screenwriter Steven Knight will be more solid than Noah Oppenheim’s. AH
Read our essay on Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper.
18. Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven)
It’s been five years since Verhoeven’s excellent and controversial rape-revenge drama Elle was released. So we couldn’t be more excited to see him return with Benedetta, a film also co-written with David Birke (Elle), which sounds sure to stir the pot. According to IMDb, the film is about “A 17th-century nun in Italy [who] suffers from disturbing religious and erotic visions. She is assisted by a companion, and the relationship between the two women develops into a romantic love affair.” After playing a supporting role in Elle, the great Virginie Efira is now centre stage as the titular Benedetta, accompanied by Charlotte Rampling and Lambert Wilson. The film is also shot by Jeanne Lapoirie, offering the rare female gaze on camera, who previously worked with Efira on An Impossible Love, as well as shooting the exquisite BPM and Into the Forest. AH
Read our appraisal of Virginie Efira’s performance in Sibyl.
17. The Boardinghouse Reach (Geoff Marslett)
When we hosted a masterclass with actors Lily Gladstone and Frank Mosley last summer, they excitedly told us about a wild-sounding new film they had recently co-starred in. That film is The Boardinghouse Reach, a rotoscoped time travel western (as they described it). We’re excited just to see Gladstone and Mosley on screen together again, after their collaboration on Freeland and their great work in separate projects. But in a film this weird and original? Sign us up! OS
Watch our masterclass with Gladstone and Mosley.
16. Romeo & Juliet (Simon Godwin)
Originally slated as a stage production at London’s National Theatre in summer 2020, Simon Godwin’s production of Romeo & Juliet starring Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley has been reworked into a hybrid film, recorded both on stage and on location. O’Connor’s intense vulnerability should make for a modern Romeo while Buckley’s spunk should make for a strong Juliet to root for. I’ve never not fallen asleep during a Godwin production, Shakespeare (Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Antony and Cleopatra) or otherwise (Man + Superman), but perhaps with the help of an editor, his film will be an easier watch than his stage work. Regardless of how clunky I find his productions, he always elicits great performances from his casts, which should still make this sort of experimental Shakespeare adaptation worth a watch. AH
Read our career profile of Josh O’Connor.
15. Maria Chapdelaine (Sébastien Pilote)
Switching gears from his original screenplay for the coming-of-ager The Fireflies are Gone, one of the best Canadian films of recent years, Sébastien Pilote’s latest film is an adaptation of a Québecois classic set in 1913, though it’s still about young people finding their way. The film features a mix of Québécois heavyweights, both young (Antoine Olivier Pilon of Mommy) and old (Martin Dubreuil of The Great Darkened Days and Félix and Meira), and newcomers like first-time actress Sara Montpetit as Maria. If Pilote directs them to performances even half as good as Karelle Tremblay’s in Fireflies, that alone will make the film a must-see. Here’s the synopsis, from Letterboxd: “Maria Chapdelaine tells the story of a young woman having to choose between three suitors each promising a different life. Faced with events that jostle her, Maria must then take her destiny into her own hands and decide what her future will be.” AH
Read our interview with Pilote on The Fireflies are Gone.
14. After Yang (Kogonada)
If After Yang is as gentle, sweet, and soothing as Kogonada’s debut, Columbus, then we’re in for a treat. The video essayist-turned-filmmaker has an eye for beautiful, angular cinematography and a gentle touch when it comes to depicting relationships. After Yang sees him reunited with Columbus breakout Haley Lu Richardson in a supporting role; Colin Farrell, Jodie Turner-Smith, and Justin H. Min star. The synopsis reads: “In a near future, a family reckons with questions of love, connection, and loss after their A.I. helper unexpectedly breaks down.” OS
Read our appraisal of John Cho’s performance in Columbus.
13. To the Edge of Sorrow (Cristian Mungiu)
Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu is known for telling complex human stories with great technical precision, from the harrowing abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days to his drama about fatherhood and corruption, Graduation. His characters are often normal people getting tangled up in bureaucracy and corrupt systems of power, which makes him an interesting fit to tell a story about the Holocaust. We expect To the Edge of Sorrow to be a difficult watch, but Mungiu’s films always been insightful about power structures rather than just being torture porn. The film, which is based on a true story, is about “a Jewish teenager who manages to escape from the Nazis and find refuge in the mountains, where he takes part in an organized resistance movement along with other Jewish [people] of diverse backgrounds and generations.” OS
Read our interview with Mungiu on Graduation.
12. Ali & Ava (Clio Barnard)
Clio Barnard has long been one of the most exciting new British filmmakers, from her documentary The Arbor (2010) to her two features The Selfish Giant (2013) and Dark River (2017). We’re excited to see Claire Rushbrook (Secrets & Lies) in a major leading film role as Ava, a woman who is recovering from an abusive relationship and who lives on a “a predominantly white Bradford estate.” She falls for Ali (Adeel Akhtar), who is “still living with his estranged wife.” Barnard has assembled a great team of collaborators in production designer Stéphane Collonge (The Souvenir), cinematographer Ole Bratt Birkeland (The Little Stranger, A Date for Mad Mary), and editor Maya Maffioli (Beast). AH
Watch our masterclass with production designer Stéphane Collonge.
11. Untitled new film from Ashley McKenzie
We don’t know much about Ashley McKenzie’s second feature, but we’ve been hotly anticipating whatever she does next after her fantastic debut, Werewolf. The Cape Breton filmmaker’s intimate first film was about a drug-addicted couple whose relationship breaks down while they’re on a methadone program. Her next project seems to be called Queens of the Qing Dynasty, which was shot largely on location in a hospital pre-COVID-19, and we’ve heard word that it’s likely to be finished for a 2021 premiere, so watch this space. OS
Watch our masterclass with McKenzie.
10. The Tragedy of Macbeth (Joel Coen)
Back in 2016, Frances McDormand starred as Lady Macbeth — and also one of the weird sisters — in Macbeth at the Berkeley Rep Theatre. I saw the production, which was a directorial shambles with a bland co-star, made watchable only because of McDormand’s performance. So I’ve been hotly anticipating seeing her reprise this role with a great director, albeit one untested with the bard, and a supremely talented co-star in Denzel Washington whose Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing (1993) is still, to my mind, the definitive performance of that character. The black and white aesthetic sounds risky, and Macbeth is so rarely done well, but even if the experiment fails, I’m excited to see what it looks like. AH
9. Passing (Rebecca Hall)
We’re huge fans of Rebecca Hall as an actress, from charming early roles in Starter for 10 and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, to her heartbreaking leading turn in Christine, which we named one of the best performances of the 2010s. Actors turning to directing can often go stunningly wrong, but we’re cautiously optimistic for Hall, whose unique sensitivity and intelligence as a performer will hopefully translate to directing. She’s also put together maybe the best (and most attractive) cast of the year, with Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson leading, and André Holland and Alexander Skarsgård supporting. Passing is based on Nella Larsen’s acclaimed novel, which follows “the unexpected reunion of two high school friends, whose renewed acquaintance ignites a mutual obsession that threatens both of their carefully constructed realities.” It will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival next week, so stay tuned for our review. OS
Read our appraisal of Rebecca Hall’s performance in Christine.
8. Kímmapiiyipitssini (Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers)
Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers recently announced on Instagram that she had received post-production support from the Hot Docs Cross Currents Fund to finish her latest documentary, Kímmapiiyipitssini. She wrote: “This fund, along with support from Telefilm Canada, has allowed for me to become the majority co-producer with the NFB. For me, this is a form of narrative sovereignty. It means that I can care for my community’s story in a way that institutions cannot.” The multi-talented Tailfeathers (she’s an actor, writer, and director) is an exciting voice on the rise in Canada. Her recent fiction feature collaboration with Kathleen Hepburn, The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open, earned her international recognition.
Here’s the synopsis of Kímmapiiyipitssini from the HotDocs website: “In 2014, the synthetic opiate Fentanyl claimed over 20 lives on the Blood Reserve, leading tribal authorities to declare a state of emergency. Working alongside Dr. Esther Tailfeathers and community members committed to healing, Dr. Tailfeathers’ daughter, filmmaker Elle-Máijá Tailfeathers, documents this critical moment for the Blood Tribe.” OS
Watch our masterclass with Tailfeathers.
7. The Innocents (Eskil Vogt)
Norwegian writer-director Eskil Vogt is probably best known for his collaborations with director Joachim Trier, with whom he co-wrote Reprise, Oslo, August 31st, Louder Than Bombs, Thelma, and the forthcoming The Worst Person in the World. But his debut feature as a director and solo writer, Blind, proved he’s just as adept at directing as writing, sharing many of Trier’s sensibilities with a sly sense of humour and an interest in pushing genre elements to explore uncomfortable topics, like sexuality, disability, and the challenges of long-term relationships.
Back when The Innocents was just financed in 2017, Vogt told me his second film would be “also a little bit in the genre territory. It’s a movie about childhood. I have two kids now and that’s sparked a lot of thoughts. They kickstart some memories that lie dormant in you, some sensations of being a kid yourself. Childhood is such an uncertain time. Your perspective in the world is so limited. So everything might be possible. Kids don’t really have morals and empathy. There’s such a big possibility of transgressions and abuse of power. It’s this mixture of a poetic rendition of childhood with more like a horror story.” AH
Read our interview with Eskil Vogt on Thelma.
6. Bergman Island (Mia Hansen-Løve)
Mia Hansen-Løve has directed one of the very best films of the last decade (Things to Come), and one of my most loathed films (Eden), so I’m never quite sure what to expect, though she’s never boring. She also has an eye for great casts; Bergman Island stars Mia Wasikowska, Vicky Krieps, and Anders Danielsen Lie (Oslo, August 31st). According to Variety, Bergman Island, “follows a couple of American filmmakers who travel to the Swedish island of Faro, where filmmaking icon Ingmar Bergman lived, to write their respective films. The two get lost between fiction and reality amid the island’s mysterious landscapes.” I can’t wait to see what editor Marion Monnier (Personal Shopper, Things to Come) does with this blurring of fiction and reality. AH
Read our interview with Mia Hansen-Løve on Maya.
5. Titane (Julia Ducournau)
French filmmaker Julia Ducournau burst onto the scene in 2016 with her debut feature, Raw, a smart, soulful, and gory cannibalism film that injected new life into the genre. Her long awaited followup, Titane, will be distributed by Neon in 2021. The film co-stars Vincent Lindon and the synopsis reads: “A young man with a bruised face is discovered in an airport. He says his name is Adrien Legrand, a child who disappeared 10 years ago. As he’s finally reunited with his father, gruesome murders are piling up in the region.” OS
Read an excerpt from our ebook case study on Raw.
4. Benediction (Terence Davies)
Having named Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea one of the best films of the decade, each of his films is hotly anticipated. Benediction stars one of the most exciting young actors, Olivier Award and Scottish BAFTA winner Jack Lowden (previously aces in many films, including Denial, Dunkirk, The Long Song, and in 2020, Kindred), who has yet to get a meaty leading screen role with a great director. Lowden stars as WWI poet Sigfried Sassoon, with supporting work from an all-star cast including Simon Russell Beale (The Deep Blue Sea), Anton Lesser, and Gemma Jones. In the last decade, Davies has directed many actors in their career-best work — Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston in The Deep Blue Sea, Cynthia Nixon in A Quiet Passion, and turned Agyness Deyn into a star with Sunset Song — so I can’t wait to see what his collaboration with Lowden will yield for both the film and Lowden’s career. AH
Read our career profile of Jack Lowden.
3. The Souvenir: Part II (Joanna Hogg)
We left Julie (Honor Swinton-Byrne) at the end of The Souvenir grieving and ready to start a new chapter of her life, specifically as a filmmaker discovering her own creative voice. Not much is known about Part II of Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical duology, but it will delve more into Julie’s filmmaking than Part I did, and according to Hogg, it takes a lot of inspiration from musicals. Joining the cast will be Harris Dickinson, Joe Alwyn, Charlie Heaton, and Amber Anderson. Returning alongside Swinton-Byrne will be Ariane Labed, Richard Ayoade, and of course, Tilda Swinton. Even better news? We might see two Hogg films in 2020, since it was just announced that she secretly shot the long gestating The Eternal Daughter with Tilda Swinton last year. OS
Discover our ebook on Hogg and The Souvenir.
2. Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma)
We thought that Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which focused on a romance between two adult characters, marked a move away from the explorations of childhood Sciamma made a name for with her first three films (Water Lilies, Tomboy, Girlhood). So we were surprised to hear that her new film, Petite Maman, is a story about two eight-year-old friends. We’re curious to see what new ground Sciamma will cover in this film, which is once again shot by her Portrait collaborator Claire Mathon. OS
Discover our ebook on Sciamma and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
1. The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier)
Having named Joachim Trier’s 2011 film, Oslo, August 31st, the best film of the 2010s, any new Trier film is a major event. We wrote a Special Issue on his follow-up to Oslo, Louder Than Bombs, and a case study on its successor, the horror film Thelma, for our ebook Beyond empowertainment: Feminist horror and the struggle for female agency. For The Worst Person in the World, we’re especially excited to see Trier re-team with Anders Danielsen Lie, whose performance in Oslo was one of the best of the decade, for a film set in and about Oslo. This will be the first Trier film without cinematographer Jakob Ihre, but the rest of the central team is back, including co-writer Eskil Vogt and editor Olivier Bugge Coutté.
Here’s the logline for the film: “Julie (30 [played by Renate Reinsve]) lives with Aksel (early 40s [played by Anders Danielsen Lie]), a cult graphic novelist. Aksel is caring and their life in the Oslo art world is full of cocktails and events. But Julie feels she is mainly living Aksel’s life. Unable to bear the brunt of her family’s expectations or Aksel’s desire for a child, Julie keeps chasing ever-changing personal dreams. One evening, while desperately looking to rediscover a few lost sensations of her youth, Julie sneaks into a random wedding party, where she meets Eivind, a man her age.” AH
Read our guide to the films of Joachim Trier.
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