West Side Story, a Sopranos prequel and Bond: the best films to see in autumn 2021

Spielberg revamps Bernstein, young Tony is lured by the mob, Phyllida Lloyd tackles spousal abuse, Top Gun returns – and Daniel Craig calls time on 007 with bangs galore

Annette

Quite the strangest film of the year: the glam art-pop duo Sparks – Ron and Russell Mael – have created what fans think may be their masterpiece: a colossal movie-opera melodrama, directed by the French auteur Leos Carax. Adam Driver plays a moody LA standup comedian who is in love with an opera singer played by Marion Cotillard. Together, they have a baby (named Annette) who looks weirdly like a marionette doll and this semi-alien creature’s own staggering singing voice enraptures the world and leads her father to a tragic destiny. Freaky.
3 September.

Falling for Stradivari

This documentary tells the story of the famous violin maker Antonio Stradivari (1644-1737) through the work of Dutch violinist Janine Jansen. Jansen sets out to record an album accompanied on the piano by Royal Opera House director Antonio Pappano, using 12 of Stradivari’s most treasured instruments, each a priceless object, while delving into the histories of these violins and into the personality of the Strad legend himself.
3 September.

Herself

Clare Dunne and co in Herself
Richly humane … Clare Dunne and co in Herself. Photograph: Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy

Phyllida Lloyd, director of The Iron Lady and Mamma Mia!, takes on the tough, absorbing story of a woman fighting back against spousal abuse and homelessness. Clare Dunne plays Sandra, a young woman in Dublin with two daughters, living in fear of her abusive and unstable ex-partner. Confronted with the prospect of homelessness, she investigates the possibility of actually building her own home using a template she finds online and a grant, with the help of friends played by Conleth Hill and Harriet Walter. A richly humane drama.
10 September.

Rose Plays Julie

Writer-directors Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor have created an eerie, uncanny mystery thriller for arthouse audiences, shot with cool blankness and emotional distance. A troubled young woman called Rose, played by Ann Skelly, has recently found out she was adopted, and also discovered the identity of her birth mother: a successful TV star, played by Orla Brady, whom she begins to stalk. And then, posing as a young woman called “Julie”, she begins to track down her birth father, another celebrity, disquietingly played by Aidan Gillen. She is playing a very dangerous game.
17 September.

The Many Saints of Newark

For all those who have been re-bingeing The Sopranos in lockdown, this is a must-see. David Chase has co-written a prequel movie to his HBO series, featuring Michael Gandolfini as the young Tony Soprano, showing us how this smart, promising student swerved into crime – Michael being the son of the late James Gandolfini, who played the New Jersey crime boss when the TV show was in its pomp. Corey Stoll plays the young Uncle Junior, Vera Farmiga is Livia Soprano, Billy Magnussen is the young Paulie Walnuts, and Ray Liotta is a grandee of the Moltisanti family.
22 September.

No Time to Die

The 007 brand has been a bit tarnished lately, with the new James Bond movie abruptly pulled from the release schedules for a second time and many cinemas blaming this letdown on their temporary closure. At any rate, here it comes: Daniel Craig is hanging up his Walther PPK, his tux and sky-blue swimming briefs and bowing out of the 007 role with the latest Bond thriller. Veteran Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have teamed up with Fleabag creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge for what is purportedly a funnier, savvier Bond for Craig’s last hurrah.
30 September.

Never Gonna Snow Again

Malgorzata Szumowska is a brilliant Polish film-maker whose movie Mug was a mysterious parable of the Polish and European soul. Now, sharing a directing credit with cinematographer Michal Englert, she returns with a deeply weird story of a masseur with supernatural powers who visits a gated community of the Polish bourgeoisie and exposes their secret fears.
15 October.

The Last Duel

The intriguing screenwriting team of Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcener take on a potent true story from medieval France which has assumed the standing of Arthurian myth, and Ridley Scott directs. Matt Damon plays a knight, Sir Jean De Carrouges, who accuses his friend Sir Jacques Le Gris, played by Adam Driver, of raping his wife Marguerite, played by Jodie Comer. King Charles VI, played by Affleck, decrees that there is only one way to settle this: a trial by combat between the two men, on the understanding that God will create the just outcome. If De Carrouges loses, Marguerite will be burned at the stake for her false accusation. Criminal justice was exciting in those days.
15 October.

Dune

Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune.
Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune. Photograph: Moviestore Collection Ltd/Alamy

This is an epic new adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert from 1965. Or rather, it is the first of two projected movies that will only cover the first half of the book. It takes some chutzpah to take on a movie adaptation that was last attempted by David Lynch, but this is what Denis Villeneuve has done, having already shown he has the sci-fi chops with his films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson star.
22 October.

The French Dispatch

Once again, Wes Anderson brings his Olympic-level standard of drollery and quirk, in a style that is now endlessly spoofed by an army of YouTube admirers, who never quite nail it. As with The Grand Budapest Hotel (inspired by Stefan Zweig), Anderson gives us an upmarket literary-tourist vision of Europe, here inspired by New Yorker correspondents such as SN Behrman and Mavis Gallant. An American paper’s French bureau enterprisingly reports on the rich world of a little town called Ennui-sur-Blasé. It stars Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and many more.
22 October.

Last Night in Soho

Thomasin McKenzie in Last Night in Soho.
Thomasin McKenzie in Last Night in Soho. Photograph: Alamy

Edgar Wright, one of Britain’s brightest movie talents, returns with a psychological London horror with a time-travel theme, set both in the present and in the glamorous yet seedy world of swinging 60s London. It’s co-written with smart new talent Krysty Wilson-Cairns (who also co-scripted 1917 with Sam Mendes). Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie star, and there’s some connoisseur 60s casting with the appearances of Terence Stamp and Rita Tushingham. The now sadly departed stars Diana Rigg and Margaret Nolan give their final performances in this film.
29 October.

Azor

Swiss director Andreas Fontana has had a critical hit on the festival circuit with his debut feature: an intriguing and mysterious drama set among the super-rich and super-corrupt, based on real events from the 1980s. A discreet and elegant Swiss private banker (Fontana is himself the grandson of one such) arrives in Argentina just as the junta begins to tighten its stranglehold on the country. His mission is to reassure his nervous high-net-worth clients from Argentina’s good families about their investments, and also about the disappearance of his own partner, which has spread a miasma of unease.
29 October.

Eternals

Chloé Zhao is the film-maker lauded for her Oscar-winning docu-realist masterpiece Nomadland. This couldn’t be more different. It’s a Marvel superhero film about a mighty race of aliens who have been living on Earth for millennia, but come out of shadowy hiding to battle against mankind’s enemy, the Deviants. The project was unveiled at the San Diego Comic-Con way back in 2019, and features Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden and Gemma Chan.
5 November.

The Souvenir Part II

Here is the richly conceived, deeply intelligent second part to Joanna Hogg’s autofictional movie The Souvenir, the completion of her self-portrait of the artist as a young woman. Honor Swinton-Byrne returns, more elegant and impressive than ever, as Julie, a young film student now working on a graduation project which she hopes will make sense of the tragic relationship detailed in the first film. Tilda Swinton (Honor’s actual mother) returns as Julie’s mother and Richard Ayoade is back with his outrageous scene-stealer as Julie’s dyspeptic fellow student Patrick.
5 November.

The Card Counter

Writer-director and American new wave veteran Paul Schrader returns with a tale bearing his classic motifs: masculinity, loneliness, obsession. Oscar Isaac plays Tell, a professional gambler making a living in the eternal night of the casino. He is approached by Cirk, a young man played by Tye Sheridan who wants Tell’s help in murdering an enemy of his – someone Cirk has good reason to think Tell hates too. But Tell instead tries to redeem and mentor Cirk by taking him on the road as his gambling apprentice, setting his sights on winning the Poker World Series.
5 November.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Whoever it is you were gonna call, you’d better call ’em again. This new Ghostbusters is a conventional threequel – effectively a follow-up to Ghostbusters 2 (and so standing apart from the 2016 gender-switch reboot). Thirty years on from the original story, two children and their single mom discover their link to the original ghostbusting heroes. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Sigourney Weaver appear in elder-statesperson roles (Harold Ramis, sadly, died in 2014).
11 November.

Belfast

Kenneth Branagh brings us his most personal film to date with this drama about a young boy growing up in the late 1960s in Northern Ireland, as the poison of the Troubles begins to spread. Newcomer Jude Hill plays the kid and an impressive cast, including Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, and Judi Dench, play the friends and family around him.
12 November.

Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount Pictures/Scott Garfield

Still speedy, still needy, still eerily boyish, Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell returns in this present-day sequel to Top Gun. The esteemed US Navy pilot played by Tom Cruise could be piloting a desk by now, but he prefers to be a badass warrior of the skies. Jennifer Connelly (a mere nine years Cruise’s junior) is now the love interest. Miles Teller plays Rooster Bradshaw, the son of Goose Bradshaw, who was played by Anthony Edwards in the first film. Could it be that this film will finally acknowledge the homoeroticism famously described by Top Gun superfans Roger Avary and Quentin Tarantino? Probably not.
19 November.

Petite Maman

Céline Sciamma follows up her hit period drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire with this fairytale ghost story about childhood and memory. An eight-year-old girl is playing in woodland just behind a house belonging to her late grandma, where her mum is doing the sad clear-out job following the funeral. And it is in this enchanted forest that the girl finds another little girl beckoning to her, asking her to come and play. She is the girl’s mirror image (they are played by twins) and after a while it becomes clear this is her mum, magically transported back in time to her daughter’s age. A beautiful and delicate parable.
19 November.

West Side Story

Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story.
Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story. Photograph: 20th Century Fox/Niko Tavernise/Allstar

With the politics of identity and ethnicity such hot-button issues, Steven Spielberg takes on this ageless classic, updated from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with its immortal Leonard Bernstein score. (But will it follow last year’s Broadway revival in dropping the song I Feel Pretty – a move some suspected was driven by contemporary squeamishness about body fascism?) Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler are Tony and Maria, the star-crossed lovers, and Rita Moreno, star of the original film, returns in a supporting role.
10 December.

Contributor

Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp