Ten Films to Watch Out for in 2021

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Minari, 2021
Minari, 2021(Film still)

Kat Haylett looks ahead at the year’s most exciting movie releases – from a semi-autobiographical drama from Lee Isaac Chung to Darius Marder’s directorial debut about a heavy metal drummer

In the wake of a third national lockdown, cinemas have sadly been forced to close yet again, meaning that many films slated for a 2021 UK release have been further postponed. The good news, however, is that we have plenty of time to begin building anticipation for movies which will – all being well – still be released in some form this year, whether on the big or small screen. Whether a directorial debut, a grand return from an industry titan after a long hiatus, or simply the next project from a continually fascinating filmmaker, these films are all bound to be worth paying attention to.


Steven Yeun’s last role was as an enigmatic and dangerous stranger in Burning, but he’s portraying a more affable character this year as determined immigrant father, Jacob. In this semi-autobiographical drama from Lee Isaac Chung, set in 1980s Arkansas, a Korean family makes a new start in rural America, while facing the difficulties of assimilation in an unfamiliar and unpropitious world. One of the most moving aspects is the relationship between Jacob’s (incredibly adorable) son, David, and his grandmother Soon-ja, whose efforts to connect with David are met with hilarious remarks on how an “American” grandmother should act.

Armageddon Time

James Gray’s last feature was the lonely space exploration film Ad Astra. Despite being set in the farthest reaches of the solar system, its primary concern was the protagonist’s relationship with his absent father. While Gray plans to veer away from the distant setting with Armageddon Time, he is still focussing on the intrigue and uniqueness of human interactions. Set in Queens in the 1980s, with an impending Reagan presidency serving as a narrative backdrop, it draws on Gray’s own childhood experiences. The film is accompanied by a star-studded cast, including Robert De Niro, Oscar Isaac, and Cate Blanchett.

The Card Counter

Paul Schrader, who is known for his writerly collaborations with Martin Scorsese, is also an acclaimed director in his own right. His most recent feature, First Reformed, garnered Schrader his first, and well-deserved, Academy Award nomination. Putting this cachet to good use, his latest film stars Oscar Isaac as a gambler who takes on a young protege, played by Tye Sheridan, with whom he embarks on a quest for revenge. Tiffany Haddish, whose breakout role was in Girls Trip, has a supporting role, giving her a chance to demonstrate her dramatic talents and step outside the comedy world.

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion hasn’t directed a feature film since 2009, so this adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel comes highly anticipated. One of only five women to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, with a career of critically acclaimed features, Campion’s films have shown an incisive understanding of female desire, and the myriad of complex ways in which it manifests. The Power of the Dog turns to an exploration of masculinity in its most destructive form, against the backdrop of rural Montana in the 1920s. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch, alongside real-life couple Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons.

Let Them All Talk

Steven Soderbergh is one of the most prolific directors working today, and known for his experimental approach filmmaking, notably shooting two of his films entirely on an iPhone. His 28th film, Let Them All Talk, continues his trend of challenging cinematic convention; filmed over a fortnight aboard an ocean liner, much of the script was improvised by the cast. Meryl Streep, who also starred in Soderbergh’s previous feature The Laundromat, plays a Pulitzer-winning author writing her next book. Streep was reportedly paid a grand total of 25 cents for her role, so the profit margin is guaranteed to be immense.

The Souvenir Part II

If you were told that an exciting sequel was being released in 2021, you’d probably assume it was in reference to one of the many delayed superhero franchises, or something of that ilk. But the highlight of continually expanding franchises is sure to be the follow up to Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical drama, The Souvenir. Honor Swinton-Byrne will return as the quiet, thoughtful film student Julie, along with Charlie Heaton of Stranger Things fame. Beginning directly after the events of the first part, The Souvenir Part II will continue to explore Julie’s discovery of her own creativity, and new relationships.


Chloe Zhao quietly delivered one of the best films of 2017 with The Rider, in which the cast largely plays fictionalised versions of themselves. Nomadland continues this trend: supporting the award-winning leads, Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, are many of the people that the story depicts. Zhao adapted the best selling 2017 book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, which explores the concept of “workampers”. Most of the characters in the film have lost their livelihoods in the wake of the Great Recession, and now live as self-sustaining “nomads”, searching for ephemeral employment.

The Way of the Wind

Terrence Malick’s films from the very beginning have been permeated with explicitly Christian imagery, and the relationship between nature and grace. In 2019, A Hidden Life posed and subsequently wrestled with the question “What does Christ require of us?”. With his upcoming feature following the story of Jesus Christ as told through parables, and Mark Rylance confirmed to be playing four versions of Satan, this one seems to be the apotheosis of Malick’s religious sensibility. Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ was released to controversy in 1988; Malick’s interpretation of the same figure is sure to be something to behold.

Promising Young Woman

Promising Young Woman has been one of the many victims of a delayed theatrical release due to the pandemic. Debuting a year ago at film festivals, the anticipation for Emerald Fennell’s debut feature has done nothing but build. This one is worth the wait – it follows Cassie, a medical school dropout, who hasn’t been able to move on from a traumatic event in her past. Carey Mulligan is outstanding in the titular role, blending dark humour with a heavy, tired countenance, and almost unspeakable amounts of anger. It’s unexpected in almost every way, with some delectably timed needle drops.

Sound of Metal

Darius Marder’s directorial debut has been 13 years in the making, only to have its UK release date be continually postponed due to cinema closures. But if there was any film to make every effort to see on the big screen, (when it becomes safe to do so) it’s this one. Heavy metal drummer Ruben finds himself suddenly going deaf, and the sound mixing enables the audience to experience this terrifying loss in immersive detail. The sonic landscape is a work of art that is only heightened by Riz Ahmed’s powerful performance and a moving narrative involving a deaf community.

Ten more films to watch out for:

  1. After Yang: Kogonada’s second feature film looks to the future in this science fiction drama starring Colin Farrell.
  2. Annette: Leos Carax’s first film since Holy Motors in 2012, and his English language debut, is a musical starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard.
  3. Candyman: Nia DaCosta will be the first Black woman to direct a Marvel film, but we’ll first get to see her helm the sequel to the original Candyman, starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and produced by Jordan Peele.
  4. Deep Water: Adrian Lyne’s first film in nearly two decades is a psychological thriller starring real-life couple, Ben Affleck and Ana de Armas, as a married duo that begin a deadly game of cat and mouse with each other.
  5. The French Dispatch: Wes Anderson’s newest film is an epistolary story, following three narratives from French journalists, and the cast is filled with enough stars to form its own galaxy.
  6. Last Night in Soho: Edgar Wright returns to his genre roots with a time-travel horror-thriller, starring up-and-comers Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie.
  7. The Many Saints of Newark: Directed by Alan Taylor, David Chase’s long-awaited prequel to The Sopranos will star the late James Gandolfini’s son, Michael Gandolfini, as a younger version of his father’s iconic role.
  8. One Night in Miami: Regina King’s directorial debut is an adaption of the stage play by Kemp Powers, about a fictionalised meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke, celebrating one of Ali’s wins. 
  9. Soggy Bottom: Following the Academy Award success of Phantom Thread, Paul Thomas Anderson embarks on another period drama – this time set in the 1970s, familiar territory for Anderson, who previously explored this era in Boogie Nights.
  10. The Tragedy of Macbeth: One half of the Coen-duo strikes out alone for the first time with this Shakespeare adaptation, starring Frances McDormand and Denzel Washington.