US cinema in May 2021

This monthly column provides an overview of the film landscape for all things American at the movies, including US characters, stories, settings, directors, stars and so on… Here I round up the upcoming theatrical releases, the forthcoming streaming highlights and special edition Blu-Rays/DVDs. May is this year’s post-Academy Awards month, and as such does not feature any awards ceremonies, but there are still film festivals happening, primarily online but also in-person too.

Whilst the Academy Awards dominated the April skyline of the mainstream cinema world, it marks a break now in the awards season. The ninety-third Academy Awards demonstrated a sense of continuing progression in terms of diversity, as well as some of the best nominees being rewarded, as is shown by awards going to Nomadland (dir. Chloé Zhao, 2020) for Best Picture, Chloé Zhao for Best Director,  Frances McDormand  for Best Actress, and Daniel Kaluuya for Best Supporting Actor for Judas and the Black Messiah (dir. Shaka King, 2021). However, the ceremony was awkward and unnecessarily slow, which possibly lost out due to its absence of a host, live music performances and supporting film clips. We live in hope of next year’s version being presented to us in something like normal circumstances…

 

Theatrical releases

There are a number of interesting American feature films receiving theatrical release in May, coinciding with an increase in the number of theatres across the country which are either starting to re-open, or are increasing the legal capacity allowed. For example, restrictions are now completely lifted in Alaska, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Wisconsin, adding to the list which contained only Texas last month. On the first Friday of the month (7 May) Gia Coppola (grand-daughter of Francis Ford) releases her second feature film, Mainstream (dir. Gia Coppola, 2020). A comedy-drama starring Andrew Garfield, Maya Hawke and Jason Schwartzman (another Coppola relative), Mainstream is concerned with identities and relationships in the contemporary world of digital communication. Released on the same date is Above Suspicion (dir. Phillip Noyce, 2019), a thriller starring Emilia Clarke as Susan Smith, who famously became the first known person to be murdered by an FBI Agent. The film has endured a lengthy and somewhat unorthodox release as it originally screened in several Middle Eastern countries in 2019, and in 2020 was even released online, on DVD and even on television in some European countries, before finally being released this month in the US.

It is in the second half of the month, however, when new theatrical releases appear thick and fast. On 14 May, cinema-going audiences in the US will be treated to a number of releases including Those Who Wish Me Dead (dir. Taylor Sheridan, 2021) starring Angelina Jolie. This neo-Western thriller is directed by Taylor Sheridan (Wind River, 2017, and writer of a number of impressive neo-Westerns in recent years), and which follows the current trend of simultaneous theatrical and streaming release (HBO Max). Competing for audiences’ attention at the same time will be Spiral (dir. Darren Lynn Bousman, 2021), the ninth instalment in the Saw horror franchise, starring Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson. Spiral is another anticipated release which was delayed considerably by the pandemic, originally slated for release in May 2020. Perhaps the award for ‘most fun release of the month’ should go to Army of the Dead (dir. Zack Snyder, 2021), an action-crime-zombie-horror film directed by Zack Snyder and starring Dave Bautista. The film is released a week later (21 May) on Netflix, but this feels like the type of film to be enjoyed at the cinema rather than streamed at home.

The theatrical releases during the following week (on 28 May) are equally as worthy of audiences’ excitement too. Cruella (dir. Craig Gillespie, 2021) is the latest adaptation of the 1956 book The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which has also been adapted cinematically multiple times, in both animated and live-action forms. This version stars Emma Stone as the titular evil character, and is released simultaneously on Disney +. Sharing the same release date is possibly one of the most-anticipated US film releases of the year – A Quiet Place Part II (dir. John Krasinski, 2020). Once again directed by John Krasinski and starring Emily Blunt – this time joined by Cillian Murphy and Djimon Hounsou – the sequel follows the Abbott family who must face deadly threats in silence, out in the wider world.

 

On demand

In addition to those films which will see them available online on or near their theatrical release dates, also available in May is The Woman in the Window (dir. Joe Wright, 2021), which hits Netflix on 14 May. Directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, 2007, Hanna, 2011), the film is a strong contender for ensemble cast of the year with Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Brain Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Julianne Moore all onboard in this thriller about a psychologist with agoraphobia whose life is transformed when becomes suspicious of the circumstances surrounding her neighbour’s disappearance. Originally scheduled for an October 2019 theatrical release, the film’s producers rescheduled it due to feedback from test screenings, only for the pandemic to then disrupt the revised date of May 2020.

 

Special edition Blu-Ray/DVDs

There are a number of eye-catching special edition home entertainment releases for those of us not brave enough (or allowed) to visit the cinema theatres yet. 11 May is when both Fast Times at Ridgemont High (dir. Amy Heckerling, 1982) and Saw (dir. James Wan, 2004) both hit the shelves of your nearest Blu-Ray or DVD stockist. The former is perhaps best remembered as the 1982 coming-of-age high school comedy which launched Sean Penn’s career into the spotlight, as well as the filmmaking careers of director Amy Heckerling and screenwriter Cameron Crowe. The special edition contains a restored 4K digital version of the film, audio commentary with Heckerling and Crowe, the television version of the film (if you like your old school films ‘old skool’), interviews with cast and crew members, and much more. 11 May also sees the special edition release of the original Saw, tying in nicely with Spiral’s theatrical release. Unfortunately the extras appear to be a little on the underwhelming side, with the prime features being in the form of a Dolby Vision presentation of the film, optional Dolby Atmos audio, the original Saw short film, and ‘Hacking Away at Saw’, a short video in which cast and crew recall behind-the-scenes stories about the production.

On 18 May an absolute Schwarzenegger classic is unleashed in all its 4K glory: Last Action Hero (dir. John McTiernan, 1993). Interestingly, a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment poll in 2019 revealed the film to be the favourite to be given a 4K UHD disc release from their catalogue. The steelbook includes a newly remastered 4K version, Dolby Atmos audio, commentary with director John McTiernan, deleted and alternate scenes, alternate ending, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and “Big Gun” music video by AC/DC. One week later on 25 May, is something a little more sophisticated and thoughtful in the form of My Fair Lady (dir. George Cukor, 1964). The Audrey Hepburn-starring classic musical from 1964 that won eight Academy Awards is celebrated in a package which contains a 4K restoration copy of the film, ‘More Loverly Than Ever’ (a making-of), footage of both the Los Angeles and British premieres, and much more. Rounding off the special edition releases for May is the J.J. Abrams / Steven Spielberg collaboration Super 8 (dir. J.J. Abrams, 2011). A film which seemingly paved the way for Stranger Things and other recent 80s/90s homage texts, Super 8 tells a tale of youth, mystery and adventure for child filmmakers who (maybe) remind Abrams and Spielberg of their younger selves. The package contains the film presented in 4k, commentary by Abrams, eight different featurettes, and 14 deleted scenes.


Phil Hobbins-White

Film Studies teacher and freelance film and television writer. My MA in Film (2016) dissertation focused on film festivals and independent filmmaking. My MA in Media (2011) dissertation focused on gender in contemporary horror films. My other main research interests include post-9/11 U.S. war films, feminist film theory, and debates around film exhibition.

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