Best movies of 2021

22 Dec

Any movies that we saw last year were most likely filmed before the pandemic, AKA the before times. Movies that we saw this year, however, were filmed in the trickiest circumstances. The quality of movies was so high this year that it seems like filmmakers were chomping at the bit to put their visions, once and for all, into the world. Last year, my favorite movies of 2020 were all seen at home; this year, I ventured out to theaters, mask worn from beginning to end of the show (movie popcorn will have to wait). It was hard to choose, but below are my favorite movies of 2021 (and my favorite movies from years past are: 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, and 2010, where it all began).

Barb and Star go to Vista del Mar: Today the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released the shortlist for several Oscars categories, and it’s a downright shame that nothing from this comedy was nominated- not “I love boobies” by Dick Cheese, not even Edgar’s Prayer, which features Jamie Dornan kicking and prancing on the beach. This is not the most prestigious movie of the year, by far. But I enjoyed it immensely- the silliness, the spoofing of Midwestern culture and movie musical tropes. I think we’ll be watching this one and laughing for years.

Cyrano: The sign of a good musical is that the songs and score linger in your mind long after the movie, and in this sense, Cyrano has succeeded. A simple story about a love triangle and love unrequited benefits greatly from passionately-sung music, and Haley Bennett enriches the soundtrack with her rich voice. Kelvin Harrison, Jr. and Peter Dinklage aren’t nearly as talented musically, but they make up for it with wonderful acting, especially Dinklage, who can say so much with a downward glance, or a smirk. “Cyrano” is cinematic, and well worth seeing.

The Green Knight: Like “Cyrano”, “The Green Knight” takes old (very old) material, and makes it fresh. It also doesn’t play the gimmick of taking telling an old story in a modern setting. It takes place firmly in the 14th century, but filmed with bravura by a director, David Lowery, who I’d never heard of before, but who I will be seeking out now. Each scene is gorgeously filmed, lending the story a truly mythic quality. The English countryside is gorgeous, but star Dev Patel ably carries the film, and matches the lovely scenery in beauty. This was one under-the-radar film from the spring that was well worth watching.

West Side Story: Yes, there are a lot of musicals on this short list. It’s not just because they’re musicals; they’re really, really well done. Music and lyrics, when they’re well-written, can be the perfect engine to convey deep emotion, and also to create a really fun time. “West Side Story” achieves this easily. Yes, the dance and music are (mostly) the same as the original movie, which is one of my all-time favorites. But the love story between Tony and María has real urgency as portrayed by Rachel Zegler and Ansel Elgort. And the color and vibrancy of the sets make the case for this remake. Steven Spielberg can definitely direct all kinds of movies, musicals included.

C’mon C’mon: Perhaps I’m more sensitive to the beauty of a story of an uncle and nephew because of I’m an aunt to a niece and two nephews. And I love the idea of a precocious boy finding solace with a trusted adult, who in turn becomes a paternal figure and role model to his nephew. The film has a documentary quality, with its slow pace, observing its central characters at a remove. Joaquin Phoenix does an outstanding job- it’s a subtle performance, with no fireworks. Just the subtlety of an uncle and his young nephew. Also, bonus points for using a lovely version of “Clair de lune”.

Honorable mention: “Palm Springs”, which came out in 2020, but which I finally saw this year. Original premise- a love story in a time loop- and achingly funny (especially everything with J.K. Simmons). Outstanding.

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