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6 Best True Story Movies 2021
The big moneymakers at the box office, at least of late, are often fantastical, over the top superhero productions that take audiences to a whole different world, and those are fine and good. Absolutely nothing wrong with a good deep dive into the imaginary, but when it comes to narrative and award-contenders, there’s always a pinch of reality sewed into the mix. That is likely because as mundane and strenuous as it may seem, real life always tends to make for good storytelling—at least for those people who know what they’re doing when they sit down in front of a blank page.
2021 is coming in with a whole collection of films that pull directly from (or at least are heavily inspired by) real life. Later this year, we’ll see biopics chronicling the lives of some of music’s most influential artists. Jennifer Hudson will disappear into the role of Aretha Franklin, followed shortly by a Baz Luhrmann-directed biopic of Elvis’s life. But the interesting part of a true story is how unknown the stories can be. Take Nomadland for instance, which pulled real nomadic Americans onto the screen to tell their own stories.
Fantasy will always be intriguing, catapulting us into a new world created with imagination. But when the eyes are opened and the light streams in, it’s important to remember that the reality before all of us can be just as interesting as what we envision when we close our eyes again.
Frances McDormand is remarkable as a nomad who lives out of her van after her husband’s death. Chloe Zhao’s breathtaking film shines a light on the large, yet often undiscussed, faction of nomadic Americans who move across America in search of work to fund an untethered and free life. While the central story is based on a composite of real-life stories from Jessica Bruder’s book of the same name, a number of the actors featured in the film are nomadic Americans playing themselves.
The United States vs Billie Holiday (February 26)
Andra Day stars in Lee Daniels’ adaptation of Billie Holiday’s life, coming out later this winter. The portrait of the complex, powerful music icon will also star Trevante Rhodes and Natasha Lyonne. The narrative will chronicle her often difficult life, particularly as it applies to her civil rights advocacy and her drug use, as detailed in the source material, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs.
Respect (August 13)
Part of Aretha Franklin’s finala wishes is that if a biopic of her life were produced, Jennifer Hudson would star. Aretha will get her wish this year when Hudson leads Respect, chronicling the life of the Queen of Soul. And considering that Aretha was involved in the early stages of planning, this is sure to be a film we don’t want to miss.
The Last Duel (October 15)
Let’s take it all the way back to Medieval France, shall we? This upcoming Ridley Scott film will reunite Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, not just on screen, but in the writer’s room. Also starring Jodie Comer and Adam Driver, the story follows an old narrative about a man who challenges his best friend to a duel after his wife alleges he raped her. It also happens to be the last duel in France before they were officially outlawed.
Elvis (November 5)
A Baz Luhrman biopic about Elvis? Have mercy. Starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks (Hanks isn’t Elvis… don’t worry), the film will chronicle Presley’s life and his relationship with his long-time manager, Colonel Tom Parker.
King Richard (November 19)
The ever-controversial film about Richard Williams, father and coach of Venus and Serena, will make its debut late this year, likely making a play for the 2022 Oscars. Will Smith will star as the legendary coach. The film is part of the slate to be released simultaneously on HBO Max.
Justin Kirkland is a writer for Esquire, where he focuses on entertainment, television, and pop culture.
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