Summer movies are roller coasters. They’re fun rides that get your pulse pounding. Or, to use another metaphor, they’re the big, gooey cheeseburgers of cinema. Now, we at RELEVANT love a good cheeseburger, which is why we love movies like F9, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Free Guy. They were all a lot of fun. But it’s time to switch things up.
Fall movies tend to be more like tasting menus — fancy meals out on the town. They don’t usually smack you in the face with quite as much big, fun energy up front, but the results can be even more delicious and more rewarding, depending on your mood. This fall would be an interesting one for film, as movies are still trying to navigate the tension between theatrical releases and keeping everyone safe. Shang-Chi proved that audiences will show up in a movie theater, but with the Delta variant on the prowl and COVID cases rising to highs not even observed in 2020, it’s not at all clear that it’s a good idea to go to a movie theater right now.
Fortunately, smaller, homespun fare isn’t as dependant on splashy box office numbers for success. Many studios will feel comfortable experimenting with home releases and streaming platform debuts. That means you’ll get to enjoy your fancy movie and stay safe. That’s a win/win situation. So, which movies are we most excited about?
Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay makes two kinds of movies. The first kind are wacky comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, and he’s terrific at it. The other kind are political statements like Vice and The Big Short, and those are a little more of a mixed bag. Now he’s trying to combine his sensibilities with Don’t Look Up, in which Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play two low-level astronomers who discover a meteor headed right for earth, only to find that nobody seems to care. The climate change parallel seems obvious enough, but the stellar cast here is encouraging. Will it be any good? We’re anxious to find out.
The Serena and Venus Williams biopic was probably inevitable, but King Richard takes an interesting left turn on the subject by telling the story through the eyes of their father, Richard Williams. This gives Will Smith another crack at Oscar glory, something he’s dreamed of and is clearly capable of, though his vehicles haven’t always been on his side. Let’s hope this one pull it off.
The Power of the Dog
Kirsten Dunst and Benedict Cumberbatch face off in the Old West. This one’s getting a lot of attention for casting Cumberbatch as the bad guy — not a role you usually see a man of his charm tackle — but the real secret weapon here is director Jane Campion. It’s Campion’s first time writing and directing a film since 2009’s gorgeous Bright Star so if this is half as good as what we know she’s capable of, we’re in for a treat.
The Card Counter
Paul Schrader made his name with provocative religious films that blend the spiritual reality with the lurid present. His last movie, First Reformed, is one of the most thoughtful and fascinating films about Christianity to come out of Hollywood in a long time (and netted an Oscar nomination for Schrader’s screenplay in the process). The Card Counter certainly looks like it’s exploring the same themes, and it’s got Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish to boot.
Maybe the year’s most hyped movie. Denis Villeneuve returns to the esoteric scifi that made him a star with one of the genre’s most beloved and thorny stories in Dune. Adapting Frank Herbert’s classic has tripped up more than one gifted director in the past. Will Villeneuve be the one to break the curse? He has the help of an all-star cast to help him try.
House of Gucci
Ridley Scott is returning with not one but two movies in 2021, the first of which will tell the epic saga of Gucci, the family that became the first name in high fashion and the dark things they did to keep it that way. Lady Gaga is making her return to film on the heels of her very successful turn in A Star Is Born and Adam Driver continues to chart one of Hollywood’s most interesting careers. And if high fashion and murder aren’t your cup of tea but you still want a good Ridley Scott picture, might we suggest …
The Last Duel
Another true story, this one set in 14th Century France and written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. The story of France’s last legal duel is told through the eyes of Jodie Comer’s Marguerite de Thibouville, who claims she was raped and must have her honor defended by her husband (Damon) in a fight to death against the man she says attacked her (Adam Driver, in his other Ridley Scott movie of the year). Scott’s a steady hand with historical epics, so this should be interesting, if it handles the very delicate subject matter with intelligence.
Clint Eastwood is 91 years old and still writing and directing quiet testaments that seem intent on both reinforcing and subverting his American icon status. Cry Macho is his latest bid at interrogating the tough guy persona he spent most of his life inventing, and the trailer make it clear that he’s not so sure his legacy doesn’t deserve to get knocked down a few pegs. Eastwood isn’t always on but when he is, he’s capable of greatness.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Speaking of subverting American icons, our fall issue cover star Jessica Chastain puts the legend of Tammy Faye Messner under the microscope in a new biopic that will both explore the origins of the Moral Majority and interrogate Messner’s legacy. While Tammy Faye is mostly remembered for rivers of mascara and the scandals that brought her husband low, the people who knew the late Messner the best remember a very different woman than the one portrayed by the media. The Eyes of Tammy Faye aims to put the record straight.
Now that Marvel’s proved it hasn’t lost its edge with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, it’s preparing for one of its weirder swings. The Eternals are a race of ageless beings sent to protect earth millennia ago. They haven’t exactly done a great job, as people who’ve seen Infinity War can attest, but now they’re ready to emerge from the shadows. This movie features one of Marvel’s more obscure properties, so it’s a good thing it also features dynamite cast and writer/director Chloé Zhao, who’s fresh off a win for Best Director and Best Oscar with Nomadland.
Tyler Huckabee is RELEVANT's senior editor. He lives in Nashville with his wife, dog and Twitter account.