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Fall 2021 promises to present a cultural calendar like no other. Just see the many films that were delayed a year or more, the return of the in-person film festival, and the normalizing of the streaming release—even for those films for which such a debut was previously inconceivable. No matter if stars like ScarJo don’t like premiering their blockbusters in our living rooms, the way we experience new movies has irrevocably changed. Here, we look forward to some of the biggest and best fall films, no matter where you’re watching them.
Birds of Paradise (Amazon - September TBD)
Not since Black Swan or the Suspiria remake has the world of ballet been given as in-depth and personal of an examination as it gets in this drama written and directed by Sarah Adina Smith (though, I’m pleased to report, Birds of Paradise trades horror and gore for a detailed and unflinching look at how the world of dance pushes two young women to—and far beyond—their breaking points). Smith wrote the main roles specifically for actors Diana Silvers and Kristine Froseth, and it shows; their bond is clear from the film’s first scene. —Emma Specter
The Card Counter (Focus Features - September 10)
Anticipation is high for Paul Schrader’s latest after his 2019 Oscar nomination for First Reformed’s screenplay. This time it’s Oscar Isaac in the tortured male protagonist role à la Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, playing an ex-military interrogator turned gambler haunted by his past, with Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan and Willem Dafoe supporting. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the revenge thriller will compete for the Gold Lion at the Venice Film Festival in September. —Lisa Wong Macabasco
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Amazon - September 17)
It looks set to be a bumper year for big-budget movie musical extravaganzas, from In The Heights to West Side Story, but this endlessly charming story of a queer teenager in northern England with aspirations of becoming a world-famous drag queen is the underdog film you can’t help but root for. The story—which hinges on Jamie’s wish to attend his school prom in full drag, and is based on a real story of a County Durham teenager who was the subject of a 2011 BBC documentary—is anchored by a number of standout performances, including newcomers Max Harwood and Lauren Patel as the gentle, wide-eyed protagonist Jamie and his tenacious bookworm of a best friend, Pritti, as they embark on their fabulous journey of self-discovery together. The supporting cast are equally dazzling too, in particular British TV veteran Sarah Lancashire as Jamie’s warm and unendingly supportive mum, and Richard E. Grant as a faded drag queen hamming it up at any given opportunity as Withnail draped in red velvet. The comparisons to Billy Elliott will be inevitable, but Everybody’s Talking About Jamie has a scrappy, offbeat charm all of its own. —Liam Hess
Blue Bayou (Focus Features - September 17)
Written and directed by Justin Chon (Gook, Ms. Purple), Blue Bayou tells the story of a Korean American adoptee in New Orleans with a checkered past who finds himself caught in an immigration nightmare. Inspired by news accounts of adoptees who were deported after living their whole lives in the United States, the film features some breathtakingly beautiful scenes and colors and one set piece that’s a clear homage to Wong Kar Wai. (It was shot on 16mm, suffusing the film with a balmy texture befitting the Big Easy.) The ending left nary a dry eye in the house at Cannes, but it was less a hit with critics; perennially undersung Alicia Vikander plays the devoted wife. —L.M.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye (Searchlight - September 17)
From the director, actor, and comedian Michael Showalter (The Big Sick; Search Party) comes The Eyes of Tammy Faye, an account of televangelist-slash-singer-slash-camp icon Tammy Faye Bakker’s dizzying rise, epic fall, and winding road to absolution between 1974 and her death in 2007. (The film takes its name from Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato’s winningly off-kilter, RuPaul-narrated documentary released in 2000.) Transformed by hair and makeup almost certain to win somebody an Oscar, Jessica Chastain stars as Tammy Faye, but a bright-eyed co-ed at North Central Bible College when she first meets Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), the man with whom she’d soon start a ministry, a children’s television show, a Christian news organization, and later a 2,300-acre theme park. But then came the scandals—and eventually, for Tammy Faye, a crack at redemption. Cherry Jones and Vincent D’Onofrio co-star. —Marley Marius
Dear Evan Hansen (Universal - September 24)
Musical theater fans and/or members of the Ben Platt fandom empire will need no introduction to Dear Evan Hansen, but for the as-yet uninitiated; Platt stars as the titular teen struggling with social anxiety disorder and getting entirely too wrapped up in a deceased classmate’s past in this Stephen Chbosky-helmed film adaptation of the stage musical. It’s a heartstring-tugger, to be sure, but one with enough body and bounce to make for a genuinely enjoyable viewing experience. —E.S.
Petite Maman (Neon - October TBD)
After breaking out internationally with the ravishing Golden Globe-nominated period drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire in 2019, French auteur Céline Sciamma is returning to her roots with the small but perfectly-formed Petite Maman. Clocking in at a sprightly 72 minutes, it’s a moving meditation on grief and motherhood anchored by an unlikely friendship between two eight-year-old girls. (As you learn in a delightful twist halfway through, however, one of these is not like the other.) Already drawing comparisons to the magical realism and childlike wonder of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated fantasies, it harks back to the fierce intimacy of the coming-of-age tales that first made Sciamma’s name—even if Petite Maman is a quiet marvel all of its own. —L.H.
The Many Saints of Newark (HBO Max / Warner Bros - October 1)
Nearly fourteen years after The Sopranos concluded its stunning six-season run with a wildly controversial finale, creator David Chase is returning to his roots for this cinematic prequel. Set against the backdrop of the 1967 Newark race riots, The Many Saints of Newark chronicles the rising tensions between the Italian-American and African-American communities in the mythic New Jersey township. The prequel is a standalone story that introduces plenty of new characters and story elements to the Sopranos universe, making it easily accessible to anyone who’s never seen an episode of the original HBO series. But longtime Sopranos fans are certain to enjoy the new crop of actors tackling younger versions of beloved characters. Most notable is the inclusion of newcomer Michael Gandolfini, stepping into the shoes of his late father James Gandolfini’s most famous role as a young Tony Soprano. —Keaton Bell
Titane (Neon - October 1)
Julia Ducournau’s feature-length debut Raw signaled the French filmmaker as one of cinema’s freshest new voices when it premiered at Cannes in 2016. Following a young veterinary student who develops a taste for human flesh, the coming-of-age drama pushed the boundaries of body horror in twisted new directions. Titane, her long-awaited follow-up, only reaffirms Ducournau’s filmmaking prowess as a modern-day Cronenberg of sorts, combining genre thrills with a humanistic touch. Having just claimed the coveted Palme d’Or at this year Cannes—the festival’s highest honor—Titane follows a young woman (newcomer Agathe Rousselle) who develops a sexual fascination with automobiles as a result of a horrific car accident she experienced as a child. Any further attempt to explain the plot mechanics of Titane would undermine the film’s surreal logic and unbridled strangeness. Gory, outrageous, and surprisingly heartfelt—oftentimes in the same scene—Titane simply needs to be seen to be believed. —K.B.
No Time To Die (MGM - October 8)
Perhaps the most agonizingly delayed-by-COVID Hollywood blockbuster, the latest Bond film directed by Cary Fukunaga with a screenplay partially credited to Phoebe Waller-Bridge, represents what is widely believed to be Daniel Craig’s swan song as 007. We were meant to see it way back in March of 2020, and then winter 2020, and each time the film was postponed expectations (and studio marketing costs) climbed. Can this possibly live up to the hype? Given the loaded cast (Lea Seydoux, Ana De Armas, Lashana Lynch among them) and the nearly three-hour running time, my interest remains piqued. —Taylor Antrim
The Last Duel (20th Century - October 15)
No one does swinging swords better than Ridley Scott. This true-story drama centers on the 14th-century duel——the last sanctioned by the king of France—between Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) after the former accuses the latter of raping his wife (Jodie Comer). Told from the viewpoint of each character, the film marks Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s first screenplay together since Good Will Hunting (for which they won an Oscar), with cowriter Nicole Holofcener tackling the female perspective. The trailer promises epic fight scenes, a lusciously locked Adam Driver, and Ben Affleck’s icy blond goatee. —L.M.
Dune (HBO Max / Warner Bros - October 22)
A spectacle on the grandest scale imaginable. Denis Villeneuve’s hotly awaited adaptation of the 1965 Frank Herbert sci-fi novel (and only part one of two Dune films Villeneuve will be making) looks to be a stunningly realized, boomingly loud, hyper-stylized space epic. The visuals are operatic in scale, the cast enormous and loaded with stars (Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Oscar Isaac and on and on and on). If ever there was a reason to go to a theater again this is it. —T.A.
The French Dispatch (Searchlight - October 22)
The fizziest and most unabashedly erudite reason to head back to the movies this fall is, sans doute, The French Dispatch, Wes Anderson’s long delayed paean to the midcentury heyday of a certain weekly magazine that has never been headquartered in France. And yet Anderson’s New Yorker-like creation, edited by one Arthur Howitzer Jr. (played with winking gravitas by Bill Murray) establishes offices in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé and employs a masthead of expatriate American journalists whose stories are presented anthology style over a rollicking two plus hours. The French Dispatch is bursting with stars (Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Tilda Swinton, Lea Seydoux, Timothee Chalamet, Frances McDormand to name only a very few), with amusements, ideas, gallic flair and the kind of precise, filigreed compositions that this most singular filmmaker has perfected over his idiosyncratic career. An ode to publishing, to writing, to romance, to politics and madness and food and literature and so much else, The French Dispatch is a bustling delight. —T.A.
Last Night in Soho (Focus Features - October 29)
For those who appreciate a raucous and edgy movie-going experience, Edgar Wright’s vibrant horror film Last Night In Soho stars Thomasin McKenzie as Eloise, a young fashion student transplanted to London, who finds herself subject to wild visions of the swinging, sometimes sinister, ‘60s. But are they visions? A woman—Anya Taylor Joy, polishing her superior abilities to inhabit an earlier era—begins to haunt Eloise’s dreams, part muse, part menace, and a ravishing delight to behold. —Chloe Schama
Antlers (Searchlight - October 29)
Nothing like a monster movie to enliven your Halloween and this one, a horror debut from director Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Hostiles) looks fun—in a misty, Pacific Northwest, vaguely mythic, young boy-confronts-ancient-evil sort of way. Bonus feature: Keri Russell, who we’ve seen too little of since that The Americans finale. —T.A.
Belfast (Focus Features - November 12)
Kenneth Branagh built his film career interpreting the texts of everyone from Shakespeare (Much Ado About Nothing) to Mary Shelley (Frankenstein). But for Belfast, described by Branagh as his “most personal film” to date, the filmmaker turns his directorial eye towards his own youth in Northern Ireland growing up with working-class Protestant parents. Written and directed by Branaugh, the semi-autobiographical drama tells the story of one boy’s childhood set against the tumultuous backdrop of 1960s Belfast. Featuring newcomer Jude Hill as Branagh’s on-screen avatar, the film also stars Caitriona Balfa and Jamie Dornan as the boy’s parents, along with Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds as his grandparents. An intimate and nostalgic exploration of family ties, Belfast is a welcome return to form for Branagh, who's recent directorial output has leaned heavier into big-budget spectacles like Thor and Murder on the Orient Express. —K.B.
Top Gun: Maverick (Paramount - November 19)
Top Gun: Maverick is finally (hopefully) a go for takeoff, after being pushed from a summer release (which had originally been a 2020 release). Tom Cruise is back in the saddle as Maverick, this time training a new class of Navy pilots, with Miles Teller (as Rooster, Goose’s son), Jon Hamm, and an ageless Jennifer Connelly supporting. There will be dogfights, beach volleyball, romantic motorcycle rides, and a cameo from Iceman Val Kilmer. —L.M.
Nightmare Alley (Searchlight - December 3)
Audiences are eagerly awaiting Guillermo del Toro’s follow-up to 2017’s Oscar-sweeping The Shape of Water. Based on the 1946 novel by William Lindsay Gresham (adapted into a 1947 film noir classic), the film stars Bradley Cooper as a manipulative carnival worker in the 1940s who falls in love with a mysterious and dangerous psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett). Rounding out the stacked cast are Toni Collette, Willem Dafoe, Richard Jenkins, Ron Perlman, Rooney Mara, and David Strathairn, among others. It’ll be Del Toro’s first film with no supernatural elements, but the recent R rating promises he’s not pulling any punches. —L.M.
The Hand of God (Netflix - TBD)
Paolo Sorrentino’s coming of age story, set in Naples in the 1980s, is as much a tribute to the magical eccentricities of classic Italian film-making as it is to the southern city that is a vibrant character in its own right. The title refers to another force that shapes this film—the legendary Argentinian football (that would be, soccer) player Diego Maradona who made Naples his adopted home after he began playing for the city in 1984. (Maradona attributed one of his most famous goals “a little to the hand of god.”) The Hand of God, the film, has the slightly dada flourishes that distinguish a Sorrentino work, and gained him breakthrough acclaim in The Great Beauty. But his aesthetic is also more subdued here; this is not realism exactly, but a romantic, loving portrait of a time and place. —C.S.
Mothering Sunday (Sony Picture Classics - TBD)
Imagine if the library scene in Atonement were expanded into a feature film of its own. Based on the 2016 best-selling novella by Graham Swift, Mothering Sunday is a sensuous British period drama centered on a housemaid and her secret lover and the events that occur over the course of Mother’s Day in 1924. Directed by French filmmaker Eva Husson, the film features big-gun Brits Glenda Jackson, Colin Firth, and Olivia Colman; rising stars Josh O’Connor and Odessa Young; delicious costumes by Sandy Powell; and a refreshingly equal approach to nudity. —L.M.
I Was a Simple Man (Strand - TBD)
Constance Wu plays a ghost returning to comfort her ailing husband, Masao (Steve Iwamoto), during his final days in Christopher Makoto Yogi’s I Was a Simple Man, which premiered at Sundance earlier this year. Set on the north shore of Oahu, the film shuffles between earlier periods in Masao’s life, revealing a wilder, more undeveloped island landscape and a man less burdened and twisted by the disappointments of his life. The film was shot entirely in Hawaii and along with the glittering Wu, features a notable case of Asian American and Native Hawaiian actors. —C.S.
Parallel Mothers (Sony Pictures Classics - December 24)
Pedro Almodovar took a brief break from full-length feature-making to give us his first English-language project, The Human Voice—an incredible 30-ish minute set piece in which Tilda Swinton walked around a vibrantly decorated soundstage monologuing and interrogating an absent lover/antagonist. His most recent film, Parallel Mothers, which opens the Venice Film Festival this September and is set for a wider release later in the year, stars an Almodovar favorite, Penélope Cruz, as a middle-aged woman who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and laboring alongside another mother, an adolescent whose pregnancy was also unanticipated. Quickly shot in the spring of 2021, the film seems no less beautiful than Almodovar’s greatest, filled with the quirks and flourishes that make him one of the most singular and visionary directors of our era. —C.S.
Originally Appeared on Vogue