Welcome to 5 Favorites. Each week, I will put together a list of my 5 favorites (films, performances, whatever strikes my fancy) along with commentary on a given topic each week, usually in relation to a specific film releasing that week.
As we look back at the shambles of the American film scene for the year, it’s difficult not to be disappointed by all that has come to pass. Theaters largely shuttered after the first quarter and few major releases landed at the severely strained box office. On top of that, several prominent Oscar contenders went the streaming route or otherwise got delayed, leaving some of our most anticipated films of 2020 as our most anticipated films of 2021. Warner Bros. and Disney Plus seemingly going all in on streaming releases rather than theatrical ones makes it a difficult climate from which the film industry can emerge. There are still possibilities, though, and looking at what’s set to come out next year should lift our spirits a bit even if theaters don’t start exhibiting with gusto until the Summer.
When I looked at my most anticipated films of 2020 in this article from January 2, 2020, the possibilities were endless with Fantasy Island, In the Heights, Mulan, A Quiet Place: Part II, and Wonder Woman 1984 being my five selections. In addition to those five, I also listed five other films I was keenly anticipating: Birds of Prey, Emma, The New Mutants, Black Widow, and Tenet.
Of these features, Mulan went straight to Disney Plus, bypassing theaters while In the Heights, A Quiet Place: Part II, and Black Widow got pushed back to 2021. Fantasy Island released before the pandemic hit and was lambasted by critics while Birds of Prey and Emma. also made it to cinemas before the shut down and fared a bit better with critics. Tenet and The New Mutants saw post-shut down, partial-reopening releases but didn’t do as well as they could have had they been released under normal circumstances. As for Wonder Woman 1984? It’s set to be released day-and-date over Christmas at theaters and streaming on HBO Max, a rather disappointing outcome as I have no desire to pick up that service, which will mean I probably won’t ever get to see the film on the big screen.
Of the three films that I highlighted, I remain anticipatory of all three and instead of re-hashing my thoughts on In the Heights or A Quiet Place: Part II, let me highlight five other films I’m anticipating for this year. Before getting into the details on the five major selections for this week’s list, I’d like to highlight four other films I anticipate that I didn’t have room to go into detail on: Chaos Walking looks like an inventive sci-fi actioner that posits what kind of world would it be without women in it among other potentially heady topics. Some elements of the trailer make it look a bit challenging, but hope still wins out on a project like this. Although there’s already a perfectly delightful musical version of Cinderella from Rodgers and Hammerstein, it will be interesting to see how this Kay Cannon-directed musical affair to can subvert expectations. It’s already doing pretty well with Billy Porter playing the Fairy Godparent and Idina Menzel as the wicked stepmother of the tale.
Respect was pushed back from the 2020 Oscar season where Jennifer Hudson was certainly going to compete for Best Actress for her role as Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. I’ve long been hoping Hudson could escape the clutches of her Oscar-winning performance in Dreamgirls and lay claim to being a fine actress in her own right and this might just be the film to quell others’ concerns. And, finally, Sing 2 is the long-anticipated sequel to the surprisingly charming and fun original about a singing competition that brought people of all ages in to compete for a grand prize giving us some terrific musical vignettes. Sequels are always dangerous and I suspect this might not have the engagement of the original, but here’s to hoping.
Denis Villeneuve is quickly becoming one of my favorite modern directors. Sicario, Arrival, and especially Blade Runner 2049 are superb films, each with technical details as fine as narrative and acting ones. Tackling one of the most notoriously difficult novels to film is going to be a fascinating challenge and Villeneuve might well be up to it. The intriguing cast includes Timothée Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, James Brolin, Stellan Skarsgaard, Javier Bardem, and Charlotte Rampling as principle characters. These are all terrific actors I’ll be interested to see how they do. The film also stars the less impressive Jason Momoa and Dave Bautista.
Frank Herbert’s wildly popular sci-fi novel Dune has been adapted twice before. David Lynch tried his hand at it in 1984 while the Sci-Fi Channel (now Syfy) put together a miniseries version of it in 2000. Each has their partisan fans, but having not read the novel nor seen the prior adaptations, I will go into this film fresh. That said, I did purchase the novel and have it sitting by my bedside ready to read should I find the time.
I am not expecting much out of this Ryan Reynolds sci-fi vehicle about a video game non-playing character named Guy who becomes self-aware as player characters wreck havoc around him. The first trailer of the film was lightly humorous and had a lot of visual treats to engage the audience. Reynolds himself has been a consistently hilarious presence in his recent filmic outings, most notably as the title character in Deadpool. He’s had a few bum outings in recent years mas well, but given the right material, he can certainly thrive.
Free Guy is one of two films starring the former TV actor coming in 2021 and although I have hopes that The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard will be as fun as the first film, I have lower expectations of that film than this one. That said, director Shawn Levy is at the helm of this picture and his prior output, including the dismal Pink Panther and passable Real Steel, makes this film seem not at all promising. That said, Reynolds could certainly elevate the material and I genuinely hope he does.
Every year, there’s a potential Oscar contender that doesn’t hit the radar until late in the season. Usually, it’s the latest Clint Eastwood film, but this year, it comes in the form of Kevin Macdonald’s legal thriller about a Mauritanian Muslim man imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay. Jodie Foster stars as his lawyer with Shailene Woodley as her assistant while Benedict Cumberbatch plays a military official questioning the humanity and legality of the torturous interrogation methods inflicted on the prisoner. Tahar Rahim gets a potential breakthrough role as the prisoner, Mohamedou Ould Salahi. Zachary Levi co-stars.
Based on a true story, the film has been screened for certain journalists ahead of its planned February release, just in time for the Oscars’ extended eligibility period. Some of that buzz has been incredibly positive, making this a film that might be worth checking out. It’s been a long time since Foster did something remotely award worthy. We’ll see if this turns things around for her.
Raya and the Last Dragon
While Pixar has been struggling in recent years to re-connect with audiences, Walt Disney’s main animation house has been churning out hits left and right. That is likely to remain true with this latest feature, Raya and the Last Dragon. With a premise that is different enough from How to Train Your Dragon to be original, but similar enough to demand comparison, Disney’s latest animated adventure is scheduled to release in theaters in March…if the pandemic has subsided by then. It might go the Soul route and premier solely on Disney Plus and that would be a shame.
Animation luminary Don Hall co-directs this feature. His Princess and the Frog, Big Hero 6, and Ralph Breaks the Internet are fun films themselves, so this should be a fascinating adventure for him. The first trailer is impossibly adorable and looks quite promising, though any guarantees of quality are tempered by the March positioning of the film, typically a time for Disney to release features it doesn’t think will be as good as it’s later-year releases.
West Side Story
In 1961, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins directed a big screen adaptation of Arthur Laurents and Leonard Bernstein’s stage musical West Side Story, based on William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. With lyrics by legendary composer/songwriter Stephen Sondheim, the show was a huge success both on Broadway and on the big screen where it earned eleven Oscar nominations and won ten of them, one of the most honored films in Academy history. Exactly 50 years later, Steven Spielberg is taking a stab at re-adapting the legendary musical to the big screen.
Originally slated for 2020 release, it’s more than fitting for the film to release on the 50th anniversary of the Natalie Wood-starring feature. That said, it also invites comparison between the new attempt and the former. Spielberg’s film puts Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler into the roles made famous by Richard Beymer and Wood. The Prom‘s Ariana DeBose co-stars in the role that won Rita Moreno an Oscar with David Alvarez in the George Chakiris role, another that earned the original an Oscar. Moreno even makes an appearance in this version. Whether or not Spielberg can do the film justice remains to be seen. I’m reticent to put too much hope in this, but since I highlighted In the Heights last year, I thought it only fair to tackle this one this year as Spielberg’s films, even his weaker efforts, are generally pretty good.