Movies Update: The Year in Movies and More

Plus, how to get jazz right in «Soul.»

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By Mekado Murphy

Movies Editor

Hey movie fans, Happy New Year!

We made it through quite an unusual period in movies, and this week, our critics looked back at the year that was and forward at what’s to come. Will people want to return to the movies? A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis don’t doubt that audiences will, but also contemplate the next chapter of the theatrical film business.

And what to be excited about in 2021? We offer 11 choices across the arts spectrum that could get things off to a good start.

If you’re still catching up with the latest crop of streaming options, we offer some related back stories and interviews. For “Soul” on Disney+, read about how the animators worked to accurately depict jazz instrument-playing, as well as how accurate the movie is at portraying the feel of jazz in general. On “Wonder Woman 1984” (in theaters and on HBO Max), see our stories about Wonder Woman’s evolving look and the origins of the villain Cheetah (as well as an interview with Kristen Wiig, who plays Cheetah in the latest film). And if you want to catch a new Bruce Willis movie on demand like “Breach,” we give you a hint of what to expect.

Enjoy the movies!

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MOVIE REVIEWS

‘Happy Face’ Review: Alternative Therapy

In Alexandre Franchi’s film, a 19-year-old crashes a support group and leads its members to personal breakthroughs.

By Ben Kenigsberg

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‘Two Ways Home’ Review: A Spare Family Drama Unfolds in Iowa

Cast with mostly unknown actors, the film follows a woman who strains to connect with her daughter after being released from prison.

By Teo Bugbee

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‘Shadow in the Cloud’ Review: There’s Mischief in the Air

A World War II heroine defies death and more in this horror-action hybrid.

By Devika Girish

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‘Night of the Kings’ Review: Telling Tales to a Captive Audience

Ancient tradition fuses with modern struggles in a prison in Ivory Coast.

By Nicolas Rapold

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‘Herself’ Review: She Does It All

After fleeing her abusive husband, a woman figures out how to build a new home for herself and her daughters.

By Glenn Kenny

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NEWS & FEATURES

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Netflix

Critic’s Notebook

David Fincher, the Unhappiest Auteur

The director makes beautiful bummers in an industry that prefers happy endings. Perhaps that’s why his movies seem like an endangered species.

By Manohla Dargis

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Mark Pernice

Critic’s Notebook

The Bruce Willis Journey From In Demand to On Demand

An assessment of the actor’s late-career B-movie filmography, including his most recent entry, “Breach.”

By Elisabeth Vincentelli

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Lauren Fleishman for The New York Times

Vanessa Kirby Has Been Waiting for a Role That Scares Her

For her first lead in a film, the actress wanted a character as challenging as many of those she’s played onstage. She found it in Kornel Mundruczo’s “Pieces of a Woman.”

By Eleanor Stanford

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DC

A History of the Cheetah in ‘Wonder Woman’

This villain, played by Kristen Wiig in “Wonder Woman 1984,” has had a long, complicated relationship with her rival.

By Devin Fuller

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Erik Carter for The New York Times

For His Second Act, Nnamdi Asomugha Made Preparation His Byword

The former pro football player has pushed himself in acting classes, onstage and in films. His latest drama, “Sylvie’s Love,” also meant returning to an early passion: music.

By Gina Cherelus

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Disney Pixar, via Associated Press

Critic’s Notebook

Jazz Onscreen, Depicted by Black Filmmakers at Last

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” “Sylvie’s Love” and “Soul” understand the music and its place in African-American life, a welcome break with Hollywood history.

By Giovanni Russonello

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Nicola Scott/DC

Wonder Woman and Her Evolving Look

She remained steadfast in her decades-long fight for justice, but her costumes ranged from a golden-eagle emblem and skirt to a W logo breastplate and leggings.

By George Gene Gustines

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