What I Saw Last Year – Best Feature Films 2021 – Part 1

Movie theaters had been closed for a year due to the pandemic when they began reopening this past year. When I saw Tenet on the IMAX screen at AMC Lincoln Square on March 22, it was my first time in an actual theater since March 14, 2020. Since then I’ve been seeing a lot of films on theater screens, but have seen considerably more at home via streaming and video discs, mostly films I’ve seen before or others I’d been meaning to see. Per a tally I just did, in 2021 I saw a total of 353 films — 140 in theaters and 213 streaming or discs.

I’ve come up with 28 films that I think are the best of what I saw, or at least my favorites. My “Top 10” will be covered in this post and the remaining 18 in Part 2. Of these ten, three titles are my picks for the best films of the year: Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, and The Power of the Dog. If I could only pick one, it would be Drive My Car.

______________________________________________

________________________________________________

Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, director & co-writer)  The running time is three hours, but it never feels long. This is a great film.

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/24/movies/drive-my-car-review.html?searchResultPosition=3

Not yet available for streaming.

__________________________________________________

Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Anderson, director & writer)

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/11/25/movies/licorice-pizza-review.html?searchResultPosition=8

Not yet available for streaming.

___________________________________________________

The Power of the Dog  (Jane Campion, director & writer)

Here’s what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

Set on a cattle ranch in Montana in 1925, this is an extremely powerful film. At times, the tone and look of it reminded me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood (2007), which was equally inscrutable and made you work to parse it out. I think The Power of the Dog gives us all the information, but nothing is spelled out. An enormous weight, both physically and emotionally, is conveyed. It’s also set in a time and place in a way that feels like I’ve never seen it before. There’s a granular detail to everything, the buildings, the location, clothing, behavior, all of it. The year is 1925, but there’s a cattle drive that evokes Red River. It’s the Twentieth Century, but it’s more like the Wild West. The excellent cast includes Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The role is a definite departure for Cumberbatch as an angry, bitter, tightly wrapped rancher with an overload of testosterone. He’s a long way from Sherlock Holmes.

Available for streaming on Netflix.

_________________________________________________

The remaining seven titles in alphabetical order;

_________________________________________________

__________________________________________________

The Card Counter (Paul Schrader, director & writer)  Schrader frequently makes films about obsessive, tightly-wrapped men. This film is no exception, and it’s excellent. Oscar Isaac is  great, an incredibly controlled performance.

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

__________________________________________________

C’mon C’mon (Mike Mills, director& writer)

Here’s what I wrote in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

I love this film. Joaquin Phoenix, in a performance of great warmth, plays Johnny, a radio documentary journalist who interviews kids around the country, asking them questions like, “When you think about the future, how do you imagine it will be?” During a break, he visits his estranged sister in Los Angeles, Viv (played by a terrific Gaby Hoffman, who was excellent on the Amazon Prime series Transparent). While there, Viv’s mentally ill ex-husband reaches out, and she has to suddenly travel to Oakland to help him. She asks Johnny to stay with her 9-year-old son, Jesse, while she’s gone. It develops that Viv has to be away longer than expected. Johnny has interview assignments he has to do, and he gets Viv’s permission to take Jesse along with him. This is a road movie that travels to Detroit, New York City, and New Orleans. Jesse is played by Woody Norman. It’s a cliché to say someone is a revelation, but that’s what he is. It’s a amazing performance, free of cute-kid mannerisms. The relationship that develops between Johnny and Jesse is another revelation. Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman feel totally authentic and real in ways that transcend performance. Based on two previous films I’d seen written and directed by Mike Mills, Beginners (2010) and 20th Century Women (2016), I anticipated something special with C’mon C’mon. I was not disappointed.

Currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime at a $19.95 rental. This price is sure to drop at a later date.

___________________________________________________

______________________________________________

Don’t Look Up (Adam McKay, director & writer)  I wasn’t sure the first time I saw this, but after the second I was totally on board. The thing is, though much of it plays like an over-the-top farce, it nevertheless feels weirdly accurate. I mean, given our previous presidential administration, nothing in this film seems unbelievable. The large cast is great, especially Jennifer Lawrence. Definitely stick around for the bonus scenes during the closing credits.

Available for streaming on Netflix.

___________________________________________________

The Macaluso Sisters (Emma Dante, director)  A truly beautiful film that follows four sisters after a tragedy, a defining event that reverberates through several decades. Watch for the pigeons in the upper room!

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/05/movies/the-macaluso-sisters-review.html

Not yet available for streaming.

______________________________________________________

______________________________________________

Riders of Justice (Anders Thomas Jensen, director & co-writer)  I love Mads Mikkelsen. He’s great in this.

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/movies/riders-of-justice-review.html

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

_______________________________________________________

Wife of a Spy (Kyoshi Kurosawa, director & co-writer)  I’ve been a big fan of this director ever since seeing his earlier slow-burn paranormal creepshows, such as Pulse and Cure. His new film is a tightly constructed narrative that drew me in in the way of a good novel. It’s quite beautiful.

New York Times review: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/16/movies/wife-of-a-spy-review-trust-or-fear-in-love-and-war.html

Available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

_______________________________________________________

The Worst Person in the World (Joachim Trier, director & co-writer)

Here’s what I included in a previous post after seeing this film at the New York Film Festival:

The following description, which I’ve adapted from the NYFF program, gives a good sense of the film: “As proven in such exacting stories of lives on the edge as Reprise and Oslo, August 31, Joachim Trier is singularly adept at giving an invigorating modern twist to classically constructed character portraits. Trier catapults the viewer into the world of his most spellbinding protagonist yet: Julie, played by Cannes Best Actress winner Renate Reinsve, who’s the magnetic center of nearly every scene. After dropping out of pre-med, Julie must find new professional and romantic avenues as she navigates her twenties, juggling emotionally heavy relationships with two very different men (Trier regular Anders Danielsen Lie and engaging newcomer Herbert Nordrum). Fluidly told in 12 discrete chapters, Trier’s film elegantly depicts the precarity of identity and the mutability of happiness in our runaway contemporary world.”

Not yet available for streaming.

______________________________________________________

That’s all f0r this segment. Since I’m way behind my own schedule, I’ve kept my comments to a minimum and have relied on external reviews to do some of the work for me, more so than I would have liked. That aside, stay tuned for Part 2 in a couple of days (hopefully). In the meantime, stay safe. I’m also hoping for concessions to return soon to Film Forum – popcorn! – Ted Hicks

______________________________________________________

About Ted Hicks

Iowa farm boy; have lived in NYC for 40 years; worked in motion picture labs, film/video distribution, subtitling, media-awards program; obsessive film-goer all my life.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What I Saw Last Year – Best Feature Films 2021 – Part 1

  1. David M Fromm says:

    Lotsto ook for. i have not seen many of these films and this blog will remind me to try and see them.d

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s