The 2021 Film Release Calendar: January

New Year, new movies.

This is the time of year when I go over all the movies set to come out this year. Because we have so much time between now and when I usually do awards stuff (and because I don’t actually know what film exhibition is going to look like for at least the first half of this year), it’s gonna be more spread out than usual. We’ll cover January today and I probably won’t cover February until we get to February. I kind of need to see what the lay of the land is going to look like before we get too deep into this whole thing. Don’t worry, I’m not even remotely close to starting to watch any of these yet, so the sanctity of the ratings won’t be violated.

But yeah. Here we are. Here’s all the movies set to come out in January:

Shadow in the Cloud

A female WWII pilot traveling with top secret documents on a B-17 Flying Fortress encounters an evil presence on board the flight.

This came out on Friday. But don’t worry, we’re still a way’s away from me actually sitting down to watch it.

It stars Chloe Grace Moretz and is from a story by Max Landis (though after his whole ordeal they pretty much rewrote as much of it as they could to get his name out of the credits).

It’s essentially that Twilight Zone episode with William Shatner on the plane, only with action because it’s World War II. I mean, okay.

Sounds like an easy 3 stars.

Trailer looks like it’s trying to be a fun, maybe even campy, B movie. So I can live with that. Much better than the alternative.

Pieces of a Woman

When a young mother’s home birth ends in unfathomable tragedy, she begins a year-long odyssey of mourning that fractures relationships with loved ones in this deeply personal story of a woman learning to live alongside her loss.

This is on Netflix in three days. It seems like one of those heavy indies. Lots of sadness, people shouting and going through some shit.

Vanessa Kirby is great, Shia’s a good actor, and you get Ellen Burstyn for good measure. And Iliza Shlesinger, Benny Safdie and Molly Parker for good measure.

I know they’re pushing hard on this to be great, but I have some doubts. It looks solid, but I can’t assume that this is gonna be abjectly great. So we’ll stick with just solid.

3.5 stars. Hope I like it more, can’t assume so. I’ve been burned before on things like this.

The Ultimate Playlist of Noise

Marcus, an audio-obsessed high school senior, learns he must undergo brain surgery that will render him deaf, and decides to seize control of his fate by recording the Ultimate Playlist of Noise.

This is on Hulu on the 15th.

Seems like your standard coming of age high school movie with those Fault in Our Star vibes. Somehow an original script and not based on some novel no one’s ever heard of that is somehow still a best seller. Which means it’s a writer trying to cash in on a genre. Let’s see how that goes

The main character, for once, was not on either Game of Thrones or Stranger Things. He’s instead from Euphoria, which is now the show du jour to cast young actors and make studios think they’re bankable just because they’re the eighth lead on a show people watch. Also stars Madeline Brewer, who was in Cam, which was very good.

The premise — “I love sounds, but now I’m not gonna be able to hear anymore!” — is flimsy — and the trailer… yeah. I’ll say because it’s January and I tend to be more forgiving in the early part of the year, 3 stars. But this does not look good at all and looks like the same generic garbage as all the rest of this stuff.

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets

In the emotionally charged, wild and humorous world of sixteen year old James Whitman, we see his struggle to overcome anxiety and depression by seeking advice from Dr. Bird – an imaginary pigeon therapist – in the wake of his sister’s disappearance.

This is one of those movies that feels overly quirky to a fault. I’ll see it for Taylor Russell, who was amazing in Waves and seems like a real up-and-coming great actress, but she seems to be doing a lot of these YA movies. And I get why she’s doing them from a thematic perspective, but this one feels like it’ll be tedious. Could be wrong, but that’s the vibe I’m getting.

2.5 stars.

The Marksman

A rancher on the Arizona border becomes the unlikely defender of a young Mexican boy desperately fleeing the cartel assassins who’ve pursued him into the U.S.

It’s a Liam Neeson movie. Which means you have every piece of information you need to know about this. Oh, and the director was Clint Eastwood’s longtime AD who directed Trouble with the Curve.

Which should make this an easy 3 stars.

Outside the Wire

In the near future, a drone pilot sent into a war zone finds himself paired with a top-secret android officer on a mission to stop a nuclear attack.

Netflix movie out on the 15th. Anthony Mackie stars. Director makes forgettable genre movies (when he works in this country, that is).

Barring a very good trailer, I see no reason not to guess 3 stars on this.

Yeah, I mean, could get to 3.5 stars if they do some cool stuff with the action, but the borderline bad-looking CGI seems like it’ll keep it to 3. Still, I’ll get what I need to out of this.

Don’t Tell a Soul

Two thieving teenage brothers, stealing money to help their sick mom, match wits with a troubled security guard stuck at the bottom of a forgotten well.

Oh, this is the ‘guy stuck at the bottom of the well’ movie. And Lassie is nowhere in sight.

This is from the writer of Flower, which was weird, but okay. Rainn Wilson is the security guard. Mena Suvari is the mother and one of the two brothers was in Dunkirk and the other was in It and Shazam. So, sure.

Doesn’t feel like more than 3 stars, but sure.

No Man’s Land

A modern Western inspired by the real-life “no man’s land” areas along the Texas-Mexico border. While out on a father-son border patrol, Jackson accidentally kills a Mexican immigrant boy. When Jackson’s father tries taking the blame, Jackson flees south on horseback, becoming a gringo “illegal alien” in Mexico. Chased by Texas Rangers and Mexican Federales, Jackson journeys across Mexico to seek forgiveness from the dead boy’s father only to fall in love with the land he was taught to hate.

From the director of Walk. Ride. Rodeo. on Netflix. Which already tells me everything I need to know.

Frank Grillo is in it. As are Andie MacDowell and George Lopez. Only the director is related to the lead actor, and I can already tell you before seeing the trailer that this looks like forgettable drivel.

2.5 stars.

I’ll see it for Grillo, but this looks bad.

Our Friend

After receiving life-altering news, a couple finds unexpected support from their best friend, who puts his own life on hold and moves into their family home, bringing an impact much greater and more profound than anyone could have imagined.

So the writer wrote Out of the Furnace (great, but also Scott Cooper), Run All Night (generic, Liam Neeson), American Woman (slow, depressing) and The Way Back. So clearly he has a tone. Female director, though, which is great. She made Blackfish. But also Megan Leavey, that army dog movie I didn’t like.

Cast is solid — Dakota Johnson, Jason Segal, Casey Affleck, Gwendoline Christie, Cherry Jones — I’ll need to see a trailer to decide. Since this guy’s movies seem to depend on who’s making them, and I don’t really have a bead on this director yet. So let’s see what the trailer tells us…

Oh, this is not what I was expecting. I mean, there’s the possibility of it being too sentimental, but it seems like it’s gonna be really charming. So 3.5 stars. I’m actually way more excited for this than I was five minutes ago.

The Sound of Philadelphia

A tale of family, friendships and betrayal in the violent world of the Philadelphia mob.

Joel Kinnaman, Ryan Phillippe, Maika Monroe, Matthias Schoenarts and Paul Schneider are in it. And the premise alone makes me go automatic 3 stars. Crime movie. You know these only ever go 3, especially when they come out this early.

The White Tiger

The epic journey of a poor Indian driver who must use his wit and cunning to break free from servitude to his rich masters and rise to the top of the heap.

On Netflix on the 22nd.

Seems decent. It’s also Ramin Bahrani, who did Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo and 99 Homes. And on that alone, 3.5 stars. Gotta trust him.

Penguin Bloom

A family takes in an injured Magpie that makes a profound difference in their lives.

Family animal movie. You’ve seen these a bunch. Cast is nice, only question here is really 2.5 or 3. So we’ll let the trailer decide.

Goddamn, this seems serious as hell. I’m gonna say 3 stars on this, just because I tend to be more forgiving this early on in the year. But I doubt I’m gonna care at all about any of this.

The Night

An Iranian couple living in the US become trapped inside a hotel when insidious events force them to face the secrets that have come between them, in a night that never ends.

Oh, so it’s kind of like His House… horror movie but with a message about the immigrant experience.

I also used to live right by where they shot this, which is kinda funny.

Can’t assume I’m gonna care, but I like the idea of this.

2.5 stars.

The Little Things

Two cops track down a serial killer.

HBO Max has this out on the 29th.

John Lee Hancock directs, and he’s minimum a 3.5 star director — The Blind Side, Saving Mr. Banks, The Founder, The Highwaymen — 3.5 should be automatic for him.

Plus, Denzel and Rami Malek are the cops and Jared Leto is the serial killer. So that also means minimum 3.5 on the guess. The question is, do I go 4. I’ll need to see a trailer, but I’m thinking no. But let’s see.

Trailer is interesting. Can’t guess more than 3.5 stars, but I like what they’re trying to do with this. I probably know where it’s going based on that trailer, but whatever. Denzel is always worth it.


Sam and Tusker are traveling across England in their old RV to visit friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have.

Big awards contender (seemingly). Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci stars. Surprisingly Tucci is the one with dementia. You’d feel like Firth would get that part and Tucci would be more of the loving caretaker. But still, I love both these men and I think this should be really good.

The rating stars at 3.5, but I’m gonna let the trailer decide if I wanna go 4. Director hasn’t done much, so just on instinct my gut says 3.5 is the way to go, but I wanna see if the trailer sways me.

Oh yeah, this is a 3.5 star movie. Performances are probably amazing, but I can’t guess higher than 3.5. Want it to be 4, but this feels like the male version of Ammonite — respectable movie with great performances. But I hope I’m wrong and it’s better.

Finding Ohana

Two Brooklyn siblings whose summer in a rural Oahu town takes an exciting turn when a journal pointing to long-lost treasure sets them on an adventure, leading them to reconnect with their Hawaiian heritage.

This is on Netflix on the 29th.

The premise sounds really good and it sounds like fun. The question is if it’s just pretty good 3-star fun or if I can get more out of it.

There’s currently no trailer, so I don’t have much to go on. However, female director and female writer. So that’s good. Both of Asian descent as well. So double good.

I… want to go 3.5, but I just don’t know enough without a trailer to be able to do that. So I will say 3 stars but will hope I can get 3.5 out of this.


An ex-convict strikes up a friendship with a boy from a troubled home.

This is on Apple TV+ on the 29th.

Justin Timberlake plays the convict, which is an interesting piece of casting. Fisher Stevens directs, which is also interesting. Since he’s done mostly documentaries lately, I think. Oh, he did Stand Up Guys a few years ago. That was likable. Female writer, too. Which does allay some of my reservations about this premise.

Juno Temple and June Squibb are also in this.

Instinctively, I feel like this is either a 3 or a 3.5. So I’ll let the trailer decide which it is.

I still can’t tell. So we’ll go 3 stars and let it be more solid than I’m expecting.

The Dig

An archaeologist embarks on the historically important excavation of Sutton Hoo in 1938.

Netflix on the 29th.

This is being pushed for awards, probably due to the cast and the fact that it’s based on a novel and because people still instinctively have that English Patient sort of feel for anything like this. These movies rarely make a dent anymore, but they always come out late. So we’ll see what it can do.

Stars Ralph Fiennes, Carey Mulligan and Lily James, which, as I said, given the awards placement and the cast, makes me think we start at 3.5 stars here. The trailer is gonna be the thing that lets me know where we’re leaning.

3.5 stars.

That should be easy. It would have to be really boring for me to go down to 3, and it would have to have a lot more going on that I just don’t see to get to 4. This feels almost certainly like a 3.5 star movie.

It does look pretty good, though.


A couple attempt a high-risk, high-stakes jewelry heist at a department store.

This is a Doug Liman-directed pandemic movie written by Steven Knight. So on the one hand, great people. On the other, I’m leery about something so topical. I mean, it’s not a Michael Bay-produced pandemic heist movie, but still.

Anne Hathaway, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Ben Stiller, Lucy Boynton, Ben Kingsley, Mindy Kaling and Stephen Merchant are all in it. I assume a lot of them have smaller parts. But Hathaway and Ejiofor seem to be the couple. It feels like they’re going for comedy here, which would normally very much worry me, but I also know that Doug Liman isn’t exactly a comedy guy. The closest thing to comedy you can say he’s done is Swingers (which is not a direct comedy) and Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which is more funny, but not a comedy. So I trust this won’t be so stupid the way most comedies would be.

And also, it’s Doug Liman. His last three movies are Edge of Tomorrow, The Wall and American Made. Which means he’s good for an automatic 3.5 stars. He’s earned that trust. He may not get that with Chaos Walking, given all that movie’s been through, but he generally earns that trust.

I should also point out — this isn’t officially dated, but HBO Max has it and generally people are saying they’re gonna release it early and January feels like a time they’re likely to do it. So it may not actually be out this month (or they may have just dated this today for all I know), but in all likelihood this should be out very early on in 2021.

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