There are many things to look forward to in 2021. Getting to see friends again, going out for dinner, being able to travel. One of the things most people like me are most excited for is the reopening of cinemas. To be able to smell the popcorn, experience the excitement of the trailers and the sizzle and crack of the projector screen. There are so many blockbuster movies to look forward to in the upcoming months, ones that have been long awaited and set back. However, there are also a number of small, independent films set for release this year that you may or may not have heard of. Here are my top ten indie movies to keep an eye out for in 2021.
Release date: (Date for UK cinema release TBD)
Director: Nikole Beckwith
Together Together is a dramatic comedy, starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison, which follows the story of a young woman called Anna who becomes a surrogate mother for a single, middle aged man named Matt who really wants a child. They form an unexpected relationship which challenges the perceptions of connection, boundaries and the particulars of love. It premiered at Sundance Film Festival to warm reviews and ratings, and is set to be released when cinemas reopen again in the coming weeks. (Subject to specific coronavirus regulations.) This film appears to be an endearing, modern look at parenting and different connections we form in life, and is set to be a fresh path for a well-known comedic actor like Ed Helms. I think this is a movie to look forward to because these are the kinds of light-hearted stories being told that deliver an important or enlightening message. These are the movies I feel we need more of going into 2021.
Release date: 4th June 2021
Director: Viktor Kosakovskiy
Gunda is a documentary style film, shot in black and white, that displays intimate daily lives of farmyard animals such as pigs, cows and chickens. This stripped back, quiet and intimate film, which was produced by Joaquin Phoenix, is a direct exploration into the lives of animals that end up being consumed by us humans every day for food. The short film’s aim is said to be to recalibrate our moral universe, and to allow audiences to self-examine ourselves in regard to what beings we deem worthy of existence. I think this is a movie to look out for in 2021 because this is a valuable topic for audiences to have discussions about, especially with the current conversations around climate change and the adaptations we can make in our everyday lives to make things better. Intimate films like these, I think, will be very successful and well received in this upcoming year.
Release date: 4th June 2021
Director: Robin Wright
Land is a directorial debut drama, which follows a middle-aged woman named Edee, played by Robin Wright who is also directing, that lives in an isolated cabin in Wyoming after experiencing an unspeakable tragedy and near-death experience. She is forced to come out of isolation after forming a surprising friendship, and therefore must face the reality of living again. Reviews so far have been mixed, but the overall feedback is that it is a quiet but surprisingly impactful drama. I think the isolation aspect of this movie is the thing that makes me believe it is one to look out for in 2021, as that has been the reality for millions of us around the world over the past year and I think it will be interesting to see these different looks at isolation in film, to see how audiences can relate. Land appears to be one of these movies, so I will be giving it a try and recommend you do the same.
In The Earth
Release date: 18th June 2021
Director: Ben Wheatley
In The Earth is an indie horror film, starring Joel Fry and Ellora Torchia, which follows a scientist and park scout over the course of one night as they venture deep into a forest for a routine equipment run, as part of a wider search for a cure for a disastrous disease plaguing the world. Sound familiar? Through the night, their journey becomes a terrifying voyage through darkness in all its dimensions, as the forest comes alive around them. Although some would say this larger plot point is coming a little too soon for humanity to handle after just beginning to exit lockdown, I think it is residual that a horror is reflecting the real-life horror we have all been living. I think this movie has the potential to entertain audiences, as we may be able to see the horror of a pandemic and search for relief from it displayed in the context of a scary movie, allowing us to view our own experiences from a different perspective. This is why it is one movie being released in 2021 that I am looking forward to viewing.
Release date: 30th June 2021
Director: Janicza Bravo
Zola, arguably one of the most highly anticipated indie movies of 2021, is a comedy drama focusing on a waitress called Zola, played by Taylour Paige, and what happens after she is seduced into stripping for the weekend in Florida to get some quick money. The trip becomes a whirlwind two-day odyssey, involving her nefarious best friend, played by Riley Keough, her boyfriend and her pimp. Distributed by A24, this is already a movie that cinephiles are eating up before they have even seen it. The movie is actually partly biographical, as it is based around a Twitter thread that told a similar story to the film’s plot. The movie is set to be Twitter culture come to life on the big screen, filled with cringe and hilarity. For me, this is the movie that has me most excited in this upcoming year. That may be the hype, but I think it just also holds the promise of being one of those clever films that will become a small, shining jewel in a year filled with big-budget blockbusters. I cannot wait for the day when I’m sitting in a cinema, armed with my sweet popcorn, and I see the Zola title appear in huge font on a screen in front of my anticipating eyes.
Night Of The Kings
Release date: 2nd July 2021
Director: Philippe Lacôte
Night of the Kings is a French feature drama-fantasy, set in a prison on the Ivory Coast. When a new arrival is designated to tell a story by the ‘Boss’ inmate, he doesn’t realise that his storytelling skills will determine whether he lives or dies. This film, which has already received rave reviews, is an almost Shakespearian drama, that lifts the cover on prison power dynamics and struggles. The cinematography and gripping story is set to pull audiences in upon its release, and I will certainly be one of them. Now please don’t let the French speaking aspect put you off, as in the words of the incredible Bong Joon-ho, “Once you overcome the 1-inch tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
The Green Knight
Release date: 6th August 2021
Director: David Lowery
Arguably the most well-known and most long- awaited movie on the list, The Green Knight, is a fantasy adventure based on Arthurian legend. It tells the story of Sir Gawain, played by Dev Patel, King Arthur’s headstrong nephew, who embarks on a quest to confront the Green Knight, a gigantic green-skinned stranger. The release of this film was setback a number of times due to the pandemic, but we finally have an end to the wait in sight. This unbelievable cast, the fantasy and the plot all come together in a stunning package that cinemagoers cannot wait to experience on the big screen. Count me as one of them. I believe The Green Knight, and especially Dev Patel’s performance will be more than worth the wait, and will make a huge imprint on the movie industry in 2021. Who doesn’t want an epic fantasy adventure to look forward to at a time like this?
Release date: 13th August 2021
Director: Sian Heder
CODA is a drama feature film that entails the life of a hearing teenage girl called Ruby who is a child of deaf parents, and also has a deaf brother. When her family’s fishing business is threatened, she finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music, and the fear of abandoning her parents. CODA, which stands for child of deaf adults, premiered at Sundance Film Festival to great critical acclaim. It has been noted as a massive crowd-pleaser, with a heart-warming portrayal of family dynamics and comedic notes that hit just right. I think this will be one of those movies this year that leaves audiences emotionally touched and feeling just blessed to have experienced such a film. This is one of my most anticipated indie movies of 2021, not just because of the positive feedback, but because stories like this that detail real human connections and realities always land well in my heart and mind. I urge you to add this to your list of films to see this year, as I have a feeling it may leave most people feeling like this. Trust me.
Release date: 9th December 2021
Director: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.
Wild Indian is an American thriller that tells the story of two men, Makwa and Ted-O, who covered up a shocking crime together when they were young, who now, after years have passed, must face the truth of what they have done and what they have become. Starring Chaske Spencer, Michael Greyeyes and Jesse Eisenberg, this story of inner turmoil and the battle to experience oneself is a contemporary Native American tale that I for one am excited for. Stories like this, being told by Native filmmakers, establish a fresh and invigorating time for the movie industry, and a shift that we should all welcome. This is a movie I cannot wait to watch, for one because I am a huge fan of slow-build thrillers that explore the deepest inner parts of each character involved, but also because art delivered by Native creators is never given the spotlight it deserves, in my opinion. Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr has noted that this is the most personal work he has ever created and I cannot wait to see the result of that personal excursion that he has went on to establish a story like this for audiences to immerse ourselves in. Please look out for this one at the end of 2021, I have faith that it will be very much worth the wait.
Release date: TBD
Director: Rebecca Hall
Passing is a drama feature directorial debut, that is based on the 1929 novel of the same title by Nella Larsen. The title and plot refers to the act of African- Americans “passing” as white. The story follows mixed-race childhood friends that reunite in middle class adulthood and become increasingly involved in each other’s lives and insecurities. While Irene, played by Tessa Thompson, identifies as African- American and is married to a Black doctor, Clare, played by Ruth Negga, “passes” as white and is married to a prejudiced, but wealthy white man. Details of the film are rather hush-hush, but this is already a much anticipated 2021 release. The cast is, in itself, enough to get me excited to watch, however, the topic is also extremely important and something I have rarely seen explored in film. Passing is set to be one of the main films of this coming year to look out for, with acting performances expected to deliver something very special indeed. The exact release date is not yet known, but I for one will be watching tentatively to add this date to my diary and experience this intriguing debut on the big screen.
These 10 movies are just a dip in the water at the amazing threshold of indie movies audiences have to look forward to in 2021. After a tumultuous year for smaller movies, as well as large blockbusters, I cannot hide my anticipation and excitement for this year to deliver the magic of the big screen back into my life. The movies on this list will be a priority for me to experience, and as soon as I can get back into a cinema seat, there will be no getting me away from it again. I hope this look into the next year’s indie movie line up gets you as excited to get back as it does for me.