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Featured Flicks: Five Favorable Films in 2021, by Justin Bearden

2020 was a disappointing year for films, among other things.


Aside from a few gems like Blumhouse’s The Invisible Man, Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, and Disney Pixar’s Soul, there weren’t many films to get excited about last year. Most box-office titles for 2020 have been postponed until 2021. While cinema lovers long for the immersive experience of a packed theater during a midnight premiere, Netflix, HBO Max, and other streaming services continue to release new films for viewers at home.


The future of film is uncertain, but the release schedule for 2021 features some promising titles. Here’s what’s on our radar:


Judas and the Black Messiah

(Feb 12th in theaters and on HBO Max)


For those familiar with his last film, Queen and Slim, lead actor Daniel Kaluuya’s performance as Fred Hampton in Judas and the Black Messiah won’t disappoint. This film has fans excited with an intriguing plot and a reunion with the talented Lakeith Stanfield after working together on Get Out. Stanfield has established himself as a reliable and versatile actor in films like Dope, Uncut Gems, and his breakout role in the TV series Atlanta. The film follows Fred Hampton, chairman of the Black Panther Party in Illinois in the Sixties. Through the NAACP and Black Panthers in Chicago, Hampton distributed meals to children, improved education in the city, and organized black youth within the community. Judas and the Black Messiah explores the events prior to William O’Neale’s (played by Stanfield) betrayal and the FBI’s assassination of Hampton in December of 1969.


The National Board of Review names Judas and the Black Messiah one of the top ten films of 2020. Yahoo Entertainment writes “it could immediately be in the running for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay and, most likely, Best Supporting Actor.” This film is a relevant historical drama about anti-black racism and racial injustice in America, and Kaluuya’s powerful talent effectively captures Fred Hampton’s activism while also immersing us in a crucial moment in our nation’s history.


Raya and the Last Dragon

(March 5th for Disney+ premiere, March 12th for free Disney release)


Disney-Pixar’s recent release Soul set expectations high, but Raya and the Last Dragon is another animation to look out for. The film is co-directed by Carlos López Estrada and Don Hall, director of fan-favorites Moana and Big Hero 6. Raya and the Last Dragon is an adventure film set in fictional Kumandra, a fantastical realm inspired by beautiful Southeast Asian countries such as Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. Most of the cast is Asian-American, such as prominent writer and actress Awkwafina and lead actress Kelly Marie Tran, known for her role as Rose Tico in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.


Raya and the Last Dragon follows a brave female protagonist, Raya, the warrior princess of Kumandra who must track down the last mythical dragon in order to defeat the evil Druun creatures who seek to conquer the world. From the trailer, teasers, and screenshots, the artistic style appears vibrant and accurately depicts a diverse natural landscape. Raya and the Last Dragon is sure to deliver the classic feel-good Disney experience, so fans of Soul and Disney-Pixar should consider giving it a watch.


Space Jam: A New Legacy

(July 16th in theaters and on HBO Max)


Space Jam: A New Legacy was announced in 2014 as a sequel to the classic 1996 Space Jam starring Michael Jordan; now it stars current NBA champion LeBron James. This is not LeBron’s first time on the big screen. LeBron produced and acted in Trainwreck (2015), Smallfoot (2018), and What’s My Name: Muhammad Ali (2019). After half a decade of changing hands, director Ryan Coogler (the director of Black Panther) and cinematographer Salvatore Totino (cinematographer of Spider-Man Homecoming, Cinderella Man, and The Da Vinci Code) are now working on the project. The film will feature NBA and WNBA players, coaches, and the original Looney Tunes characters. Little details are known about the plot, but it will supposedly follow LeBron James and his son as they are trapped in a video game created by a rogue AI. Filming has been slow due to the pandemic and LeBron’s filming time being limited to the offseason. It makes sense that the creators behind this film are taking their time with it as many fans expect a high-quality sequel to a classic that defined a generation. With the futuristic plot and the chagrin of the older generation of players, I can’t help but feel like LeBron will make a statement with this film.


Candyman

(August 27th in theaters)


Get Out is one of the greatest horror films of all time, and the source of such a unique horror narrative and social critique comes from none other than the modern master of the genre, Jordan Peele. For this film, Peele won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay and was nominated for Best Directing and Best Picture. 2019’s Us brought audiences another superb horror film featuring a spectacular performance by the award-winning Lupita Nyong’o. Get Out and Us share similar themes, but Us features a slasher-horror approach. Peele again accredited his inspiration for this story to his own worst fears, as he feels that the best horror movies are the ones that could possibly happen in real life. Like his other two films, Candyman will feature a mainly BIPOC cast and will continue to expand on the director’s vision to showcase the unique experiences of black people in the United States.


Another direct sequel to a 90’s film, most of the main cast will return to reprise their roles. The plot is similar to the original, following a supernatural serial killer who terrorizes a Chicago community with a hook for a hand. The film depicts the origin story of the Candyman while it explores the culture and life in the projects of inner-city Chicago. Recent Emmy winner Yahya Abdul-Mateen II will star in this film and reunite with Peele after working together on Us. Disappointed horror fans eagerly await the late 2021 release after it was postponed three times last year. Regardless of which direction he takes this film, Jordan Peele will surely take us on another visceral trip into the dark side of his mind with Candyman.


A Quiet Place Part II

(September 17th in theaters)


John Krasinski was the director, co-writer, and star of A Quiet Place, a creative horror film from 2018. He was nominated for the Critic’s Choice Movie Award and the Writers Guild of American Award for Best Original Screenplay. The National Board of Review and the American Film Institute listed A Quiet Place as one of the top ten films of 2018, and the film received a 96% on Rotten Tomatoes. Writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, as well as Krasinski, attribute their inspiration for their screenplay to the movies Alien and No Country For Old Men, the latter being a thorough lesson in the art of suspense evident in A Quiet Place. With only 90 lines of dialogue in a 90-minute runtime, most of the time spent in the theater was in total silence and suspense. The plot, the atmosphere, the cast—all were phenomenal and made for an unforgettable experience in theaters.


A Quiet Place Part II sees Emily Blunt, Noah Jupe, and Millicent Simmonds returning to reprise their roles from the first film. At the start, the storyline serves as a prequel to the first film, beginning with the day the aliens attacked and how the family survived. The remainder of the film takes place much later when Regan is older and takes a more prominent lead role in the family following her father’s death. Part of the intrigue of this film will be the new dynamic between the characters and how Krasinski incorporates their development. The trailer scene, in which Emily Blunt’s character attempts to keep her son calm while watching the apocalypse unfold, was very reminiscent of Susanne Bier’s Bird Box. Spectators can expect to see a more polished film in the second edition to Krasinski’s directorial debut. With so many members of the original team returning and Krasinski’s full control of the film, the feature has the potential to function as an opportunity to establish Krasinski’s name alongside Hollywood’s skillful filmmakers.


Film is a powerful medium, and directors like Jordan Peele and John Krasinski provide us with stories to entertain us through tough times and for us to consider different perspectives outside the limits of our imaginations. And while it can be hard to imagine watching films in theaters anytime soon, this year’s films make our home theaters all the better.

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