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The strangest movie year on record deserves the strangest of previews

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Clockwise from top left: Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of fantasy novel Dune; Pete Davidson in The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow; Rose Byrne and Steve Carell in Irresistible, directed and written by Jon Stewart; and Elizabeth Debicki and John David Washington in Christopher Nolan’s TenetHandout

Over the past three months, I’ve started and stopped putting together a summer movie preview a half-dozen times. Not only because it’s anyone’s guess as to when theatres might reopen their doors, but because the streaming and video-on-demand landscape changes by the week. New movies are sometimes announced weeks ahead of time, sometimes days. Releases are pulled, reshuffled or accelerated to meet the demands of a restless marketplace.

So, the strangest movie year on record deserves the strangest of previews – and not one limited to the summer, either, because that’d be a mighty short and depressing read. Instead, The Globe and Mail presents its guide to the 25 most exciting movies definitely (probably, maybe) coming out this year, either through streaming, VOD or – with any luck – the big screen. But no promises.

Monthly streaming guide: Reviews of new films and TV shows on Amazon Prime Video, CBC Gem, Crave, Netflix and on-demand

Da 5 Bloods

In a different world, Spike Lee has just wrapped up his term as the jury president of the 73rd annual Cannes Film Festival, which is where his new film, Da 5 Bloods, premiered out of competition. Instead, Lee will have to settle for a Netflix-only launch for this heist drama, in which four black Vietnam vets return to Saigon in search of buried treasure. The story is intriguing, the cast is stellar (Delroy Lindo, Chadwick Boseman), the trailer is excellent and because Netflix has confirmed its release, it will actually be available to watch. (Netflix, June 12)

The King of Staten Island

Judd Apatow (Knocked Up, Trainwreck) is back giving young comic actors the perfect vehicle for their charms and unleashing them onto an unwitting public with this semi-autobiographical tale starring Saturday Night Live’s Pete Davidson. Bonus points for the trailer deploying the best use ever of the Wallflowers’ One Headlight. (VOD, June 12)


Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars in this thriller that takes place aboard a hijacked aircraft on its way from Berlin to Paris – just in case you ever thought about stepping inside a plane again. Strong reviews out of its film-fest circuit run last year promise a tight, claustrophobic ride perfect for your tight, claustrophobic living space. (Amazon Prime Video, June 19)

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Will Ferrell hasn’t had a great run of things lately, but maybe this music-focused farce will turn things around. Co-stars Rachel McAdams and Pierce Brosnan should help, as is the genuinely snappy mock-song, Volcano Man, that Netflix released the other week. (Netflix, June 26)


Ignore its yeeesh title and focus on the fact that we’re getting an election-year political comedy from Jon Stewart, starring his old Daily Show comrade Steve Carell. Although maybe now is not the best time to expect the American electorate to chuckle at the tensions between blue and red states. Either way, Rose Bryne co-stars, and she is always delightful. Sold! (VOD, June 26)


While the distributors of a few smaller titles (the Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged, the military drama The Outpost) have said that they’ll be opening in North American theatres at the beginning of July, it is a good bet that the biggest, and most exciting, blockbuster to welcome audiences back to the big screen – whenever that might be – will be Christopher Nolan’s latest sci-fi head-trip. Long ago set for a July 17 release – and with studio Warner Bros. sticking to that date, despite [gestures wildly at everything] – Tenet focuses on the time-travel-but-not concept of “inversion.” I have no idea what that means and may not have a better understanding once I actually see the film. But I cannot wait to be confused. (In theatres, July 17)

The Old Guard

I’m glad that Charlize Theron has decided to split her career into two distinct lanes: Charming comedies (Long Shot) and high-octane thrillers (Atomic Blonde, The Fate of the Furious). Her latest feature, The Old Guard, is of the latter genre, with Theron playing an immortal mercenary “whose time might be up” (that quote is mine, but feel free to use it in the marketing, Netflix!). The story sounds ridiculous, but it could be just the kind of necessary ridiculousness that this summer movie season needs. (Netflix, July 10)

An American Pickle

Speaking of Long Shot, Theron’s co-star Seth Rogen went into 2020 expecting his latest comedy to be released in theatres by Sony Pictures in the fall. Instead, the Demolition Man-esque film – which follows a 1920s immigrant who is preserved in pickle brine for a century, awakening to a new and terrifying world (but not one with COVID-19) – will serve as one of HBO Max’s big attractions for its launch. However, because the streaming service won’t be available in Canada, it’s anyone’s guess as to when and how Rogen’s countrymen might be able to savour this cinematic dill. (HBO Max, Aug. 6)


During her tenure on the sitcom Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Chelsea Peretti was the fiercest player in a cast stacked with secret comedic weapons. Now Peretti is getting her first leading role in this buzzy Canadian comedy directed by Toronto’s Andrea Dorfman. (Vimeo on Demand on Aug. 7, iTunes/Apple TV on Aug. 11)

Sound of Metal

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Riz Ahmed stars in Sound of Metal.Amazon Prime Video

A clanging success when it debuted at the TIFF last year, Darius Marder’s intense drama about a drummer who’s losing his hearing features an electrifying lead performance from Riz Ahmed and a unique, and perhaps polarizing, auditory style. (Amazon Prime Video, Aug. 14)


Acclaimed French auteur Leos Carax’s English-language debut was another one of those destined-for-Cannes titles, but because it comes from Amazon Studios, there is a decent chance that it will be released in some form this year (unless it holds out for Cannes 2021, which I’m exactly 37-per-cent convinced will happen). Starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, the musical chronicles the relationship between a comedian and a soprano, and their child who is born “with a unique gift.” Given Carax’s outre tendencies (see Holy Motors), this could mean everything and anything. (Amazon Prime Video, TBD)


Any film from the not-nearly-prolific-enough Andrew Dominik (Killing Them Softly) is something to get excited about … even if his new feature, Blonde, takes on a subject that seems done to death: The life and times of Marilyn Monroe. Also dubious is Dominik’s decision to cast Ana de Armas as Monroe, but given that Blonde is based on Joyce Carol Oates’s alternate-history novel, all the idiosyncrasies promise to line up nicely. (Netflix, TBD)

The Father

I can’t imagine that Sony Pictures Classics won’t try to push The Father out to audiences any way it can this year, given the tremendous word-of-mouth the father-daughter drama built after its Sundance premiere in January. And given the general uncertainty of the indie-drama market, The Father’s critical bona fides and Oscar-ready cast (Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman) might help it serve an audience (re: serious, adult-minded viewers) who will be desperately underserved this fall. (In theatres, TBD)

Hillbilly Elegy

Last year, Netflix paid US$45-million for the rights to distribute Ron Howard’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoirs, so you best believe the streaming giant is going to put all its weight behind the drama whenever it reaches screens (a late-fall launch seems likely). With a cast composed purely of awards bait (Glenn Close, Amy Adams, Haley Bennett), Hillbilly Elegy could be this year’s big Oscar contender. If the Oscars happen. (Netflix, TBD)

I’m Thinking of Ending Things

Acclaimed weirdo Charlie Kaufman hasn’t directed a film since 2015′s Anomalisa, so an adaptation of Canadian novelist Iain Reid’s disturbing thriller seems like the right kind of source material to mark Kaufman’s long-awaited return. Following an unnerving road trip between a man (Jesse Plemons) and his girlfriend (Jessie Buckley), Reid’s book pivoted on one whopper of a twist. Will the filmmaker follow Reid’s journey or opt for a more inscrutable, Kaufman-y detour? (Netflix, TBD)

The Life Ahead

Speaking of long-awaited returns, the new Italian drama The Life Ahead marks the first on-screen appearance of Sophia Loren in a decade. Directed by Edoardo Ponti (that’d be Loren’s son), The Life Ahead stars Loren as a Holocaust survivor who develops a friendship with a young Senegalese immigrant. Heartwarming lessons surely ensue. (Netflix, TBD)

Let Them All Talk

The title of this new Steven Soderbergh film could also describe the filmmaker’s year. Thanks to his prescient 2011 film Contagion, the director has been on the tip of everyone’s anxious tongues. It’s doubtful that Soderbergh’s latest will be as widely discussed, but a good portion of industry eyes will be on how his experimental film, shot aboard the RMS Queen Mary 2 as it crossed the Atlantic, performs for HBO Max. And when, ahem, Canadians will be able to see the Meryl Streep-starring film. (HBO Max, TBD)


After finding common cause with Netflix thanks to his serial-killer series Mindhunter, David Fincher is doubling down in his commitment to the company by releasing his first direct-to-streaming film. Written by his father, Jack Fincher, and starring Gary Oldman, the Hollywood drama looks at the struggles of screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz as he wrote Citizen Kane. The layers alone here – one of the big screen’s most accomplished filmmakers working for a streamer; the subject of that film being one of the greatest movies ever made – are already more interesting than half of the movies released this year. (Netflix, TBD)

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

After the success of Denzel Washington’s Fences, you’d think that traditional studios would have jumped at the chance to adapt another of August Wilson’s plays. Instead, Netflix picked up the torch, with this drama focusing on the tension between “Mother of the Blues” Ma Rainey (Viola Davis) and her bandmates (Chadwick Boseman, Glynn Turman and Colman Domingo) while recording in 1927. (Netflix, TBD)

The Midnight Sky

George Clooney directs and stars in this postapocalyptic thriller about an Arctic scientist who tries to help an astronaut (Felicity Jones) return back to Earth. Sounds like it rhymes with another Clooney thriller … maybe “Bravity” … but it has to be better than his most recent directorial effort, the wan Coen Bros. cosplay known as Suburbicon. (Netflix, TBD)

On the Rocks

Indie-film distribution darling A24 isn’t likely to sit out the entire year, so if there must be a bet placed on which of its titles it releases in 2020, I’d place a small fortune on this Sofia Coppola feature, which reunites the director with her Lost in Translation star Bill Murray and was produced in partnership with streamer Apple TV+. Rashida Jones co-stars as a woman who reconnects with “her larger-than-life playboy father” (Murray, naturally) for an adventure in New York. (Apple TV+, TBD)

The Prom

Netflix’s golden boy Ryan Murphy aims to deliver on his US$300-million deal, directing this adaptation of the Broadway musical in the same year that his series Hollywood and The Politician riled up audiences in the way that only Murphy can. Here, the director brings along a few of his familiar small-screen collaborators (Andrew Rannells) but also some movie stars (Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman) for this tale of a high-school senior who isn’t allowed to take her girlfriend to prom. (Netflix, TBD)

Promising Young Woman

After impressing Sundance attendees in January, the Carey Mulligan-led revenge thriller Promising Young Woman seemed a lock for the most controversial film of the spring. Here’s hoping that Focus Features, which has already sent a handful of titles direct to VOD this spring (The High Note, Irresistible) makes Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut available to audiences soonest, through whatever means. (In theatres, TBD)


I’m confident that the world does not need another adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel. But if someone had to mount a new version, than sure, why not British madman Ben Wheatley (High-Rise)? Bonus points for casting Armie Hammer as Maxim. (Netflix, TBD)


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Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson star in Denis Villeneuve's adaptation of Dune.Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

If Warner Bros. is going to be the major studio banking on welcoming audiences back to the multiplex (with Tenet), it is also probably going to be the one closing 2020 out in mega-style, too. This epic adaptation of Frank Herbert’s fantasy novel attempts to do right where David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation went sideways. Canadian Denis Villeneuve is directing and has enlisted more stars than is reasonable (Oscar Isaac, Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Zendaya). May we all live to see his sandworms. (In theatres, Dec. 18)

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