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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLASundance 2022

Film preview: Winter releases to span genres in exploration of diverse themes

(Jocelyn Wang/Daily Bruin)

By Alyson Kong

Jan. 10, 2021 12:54 p.m.

This post was updated Jan. 12 at 6:43 p.m. to reflect a clarified headline. 

After COVID-19 shutdowns resulted in a relatively dry film season last year, 2021 is starting off strong with features that are worth the wait.

The streaming revolution is charging full steam ahead into the new year, but studios are not giving up on theaters completely. The next few months will see multiple exciting titles – ranging from dark thrillers to blockbuster animations – releasing either through theaters, streaming services or a mix of both. And with the Oscars around the corner, viewers can also look forward to some serious award season contenders.

Read on for the Daily Bruin’s picks of the most anticipated titles this winter.

(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
(Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The Little Things” (Warner Bros. Pictures)

A goosebump-inducing crime thriller on the horizon is on par with the chillier winter season.

Featuring a star-studded cast including Denzel Washington, Rami Malek and Jared Leto, “The Little Things” depicts the story of a deputy sheriff (Washington) and sergeant (Malek) trying to track down a serial killer (Leto) on the loose. At first glance, the film is reminiscent of the cult classic “Se7en,” but there may be more than meets the eye, judging by the disconcerting snippets of Washington’s character in the trailer.

The film won’t be the first time seasoned writer-director John Lee Hancock has explored the dynamics between law enforcement and lawbreakers, as seen in his previous projects such as “The Highwaymen,” but it may be the darkest storyline he has tackled yet. “The Little Things” will also kick off Warner Bros. Pictures’ slate for the year, releasing in theaters and HBO Max on Jan. 29.

With such a cast and plot, this film will likely provide all the bone-seeping chill and hard-boiled action for any thriller lover.

[Related: Book Preview: Winter 2021 novels will explore new horizons, revisit classic stories]

(Courtesy of A24)
(Courtesy of A24)

“Minari” (A24)

“Minari,” one of the best-reviewed films in 2020, follows a family of Korean immigrants and their evocative journey in rural Arkansas.

The emotional family drama about the American Dream has already acquired numerous accolades in the festival circuit, including the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury prize at Sundance Film Festival in 2020. Despite being produced and filmed in the United States, the feature failed to meet the Golden Globes’ controversial eligibility requirement for best picture categories, whereby films with 50% or more non-English dialogue can only compete in foreign language brackets. But “Minari”’s winning potential in acting and other categories make it a must-watch award season contender.

Set for a wide release in theaters on Feb. 12, the film features well-received performances by the cast, including “The Walking Dead”’s Steven Yeun and Yeri Han. The two-minute trailer unveils the dramatic core of the film, showcasing the Asian American experience and the generational conflict that comes with navigating two different cultures.

Amid the difficult era of the pandemic, this film speaks closely to the loss and hope of a brighter future.

(Courtesy of Glen Wilson)
(Courtesy of Glen Wilson)

Judas and the Black Messiah (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Based on the all-too-recent history of the Black Power movement, “Judas and the Black Messiah” comes at a pivotal time of national awakening.

The historical drama centers around the real-life betrayal and assassination of the chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party, Fred Hampton. As seen in the trailer, Academy Award nominee Daniel Kaluuya brings an electrifying intensity to his role as the civil rights activist, starring alongside LaKeith Stanfield as the undercover FBI informant. The film’s February release date comes right in time for the Oscar season, with the film already generating positive award season buzz.

Like other upcoming Warner Bros. Pictures’ films, “Judas and the Black Messiah” will be following a similar hybrid release format – premiering in select theaters and HBO Max on Feb. 12. In an industry that has continuously struggled to diversify, the filmmakers have also faced an uphill battle to get this project to the silver screen, with several studios including Netflix and A24 rejecting the pitch.

“Judas and the Black Messiah” has all the trappings of a big-screen feature – the drama, the tragedy and the action – but even more important is its reminder of the progress made and the progress needed.

[Related: Music Preview: ‘Tis the season for album releases in the rush of winter quarter]

(Courtesy of Disney)
(Courtesy of Disney)

Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney)

For a fantasy-charged form of escapism, look no further than “Raya and the Last Dragon.”

Raya, Disney’s newest warrior princess, is getting her big-screen debut in a lush world filled with mythical beasts living alongside humans. And though the re-imagined world is fictional in nature, its striking visual motifs draw from a mix of Southeast Asian cultures. Although Disney has drawn criticisms in the past for its handling of Eastern cultures, such as in the recent live-action “Mulan,” the filmmakers for this movie were promisingly reported to have researched in the countries they took inspiration from and worked alongside multiple cultural linguists and anthropologists during production.

With UCLA alumna and “Star Wars”’s Kelly Marie Tan starring alongside Golden Globe winner Awkwafina, the anticipation for this film only builds. Not to mention, the action-filled fantasy comes from Walt Disney Animation Studios – following its most recent project “Frozen II” – further shaping the film up to be a blockbuster release on Disney+ and in theaters March 5.

Though strong production value is no indication of cultural authenticity, viewers can hope the new release is moving Disney in the right direction.

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Alyson Kong | Alumna
Kong served as the Theater | Film | Television editor for the Daily Bruin from 2020-2021. She was previously an A&E reporter from 2019-2020.
Kong served as the Theater | Film | Television editor for the Daily Bruin from 2020-2021. She was previously an A&E reporter from 2019-2020.
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