Sunday, January 2

Favorite Films of 2021 (Monte's List)

Monte's Favorite Films of 2021


In another year of uncertainty, it was nice to return to the safe sanctum of the movie theater. While the movies that found the silver screen were mostly superheroes, franchises, or big budgets, there were still many rewarding films to search out and watch. With streaming services growing more dominant, the availability of the typically hard-to-find arthouse movies seemed far more accessible than ever before. While I still crave the popcorn-saturated smell of a beautiful cinema, 2021 displayed that people are finding new ways to connect with artistic visual media. And there was much to consume in 2021. These 12 films, plus a few more that almost made the list, are the ones that displayed the joy of discovery and gift of engagement that movies have always provided for me. Here are my favorites of 2021. 


12. The Tragedy of Macbeth


The Shakespearean tragedy that examines the fear, folly, and fall of Macbeth is adapted with meticulous detail in a visually stunning and faithfully authentic adaptation. Composed within the desolating contrast of black and white photography, the gloom of darkness grows more threatening as the film moves from treacherous betrayal to brutal uprising. The use of supernatural elements, with witches and ghostly shadows, is haunting. The madness of Macbeth, embodied by a bold performance from Denzel Washington, is mesmerizing from start to finish. Joel Coen's artful adaptation is a marvel of design and structure. 


11. CODA


"CODA" tells the tale of a seventeen-year-old young woman named Ruby (Emilia Jones), the sole hearing member of a deaf family. This coming-of-age film doesn't rely on twists and turns to move its story forward but instead utilizes an accomplished cast to bring charm and heart to its plot. Emilia Jones is delightful, and the use of American sign language is lovely to see on film. "CODA" will have you smiling long after it leaves you.  


10. The Mitchells vs. The Machines


There aren't many films this year that I immediately wanted to watch again, "The Mitchells vs. The Machines" was one of those films. It is a feel-good family animation with a loving spirit for film and intelligent storytelling that displays the power of family and the importance of people working together despite their differences. It's witty, charming, and surprisingly emotional. But perhaps the best recommendation comes from my 10-year son, who said, "we need more movies that show how important it is to work together."


9. Pig


The trailer for "Pig" evokes the sensibilities of recent action/revenge films like "John Wick" or "Nobody."A scruffy truffle hunter who lives a life of solitude in the Oregon wilderness ventures into the city to find the person who stole his beloved pig. While the premise may elicit more odd reactions than the actual desire to watch the film, I assure you that "Pig" is so much more than what it advertises. Anchored by a subdued yet passionate performance from Nicolas Cage, "Pig" is a poignant journey of love and redemption. 


8. Spencer


"Spencer," a boundary-breaking biopic about Diana, the Princess of Wales, is described by director Pablo Larraín as "a fable from a true tragedy." It is a psychological drama, a tense thriller, a claustrophobic horror film, and a satirical comedy. Kristen Stewart, who continues to grow captivatingly as an actor, displays grit, elegance, and grace in the lead role. Stewart's performance is a highlight of any in 2021. Johnny Greenwood's pulsating score amplifies the themes of captivity and the yearning to break free. "Spencer" delivers a fable of the precarious path traveled in an attempt at freedom. 


7. Petite Maman


To reveal the intentions of writer/director Céline Sciamma's elegant and emotional journey into the life of a grieving family, specifically, a young girl named Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), would do a disservice to the magical cinematic vision this film composes. "Petite Maman" is a beautifully crafted film for children of all ages. Whatever you call it, a fable or allegory, it’s undeniably wonderful storytelling. 


6. The Green Knight


The brilliance of David Lowery's vision, "The Green Knight", is that the film isn't interested in finding understanding. It never positions itself for easy answers but instead lavishes in the twisting quest from the Round Table into the forest citadel. It has everything that current times have instilled into stories of knights in shining armor, adventure, danger, monsters, witches, spirits, and bloodshed. But "The Green Knight" never feels modernized; instead, there is no effort to update the language or repurpose the legend to fit a comfortable category. "The Green Knight" casts a spell of storytelling, an absorbing and visually beguiling tale.


5. The Killing of Two Lovers


The opening of director Robert Machoian's deftly crafted drama of love, loss, and longing is a meticulously composed act of tension. The story, about a married couple struggling to keep their relationship alive while living separated, displays the complicated emotional struggles of two adults trying to make sense of their committed life and the responsibilities and obligations that consume it. At times a haunting wintry tale of lost love and, in other moments, a heartbreaking story of the hardships endured during marriage. It's a character drama of the highest degree, finely directed and acted.


4. Licorice Pizza


In "Licorice Pizza," a coming-of-age movie set in the San Fernando Valley during the 1970s, director Paul Thomas Anderson paints a passionate and personal film about youth and maturation. The film follows Gary, a hustling teenager played with sincerity by Cooper Hoffman. And Alana, an assertive and strong-willed young woman, played with vibrance by Alana Haim. The two bicker and banter, succeed and fail, flirt and fall in love in the shadow of Hollywood and the glow of daydream California. Anderson stages a careful yet carefree film in its execution of structure and storytelling. 


3. Power of the Dog


Director Jane Campion examines the shifting, visible and concealed, characteristics of identity for a group of people living on a ranch through the western genre. Campion, with expert precision, weaves a western that is complicated and compelling, a psychological thriller that operates with enough ambiguity to keep the mystery of manipulations intriguing until the bitter end. Benedict Cumberbatch crafts a menacing and manipulative character. It's an impressively constructed film from the hands of one of cinema's most accomplished directors.


2. Summer of Soul (Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)


Director Ahmir Thompson, a.k.a. Questlove, takes us to a six-week summer music festival in 1969 known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. This documentary serves as much a concert movie as it is a journey through a critical time in history for Black America. The music explores both diversity and unification, while the concert event displays a new movement in culture, politics, and pride. The interlacing of civil rights violence footage, speeches from political activists, and interviews with concert attendees are impeccably arranged. "Summer of Soul" is simply one of the best music documentaries ever made.


1. Drive My Car


In a film about dealing with grief, understanding the bounds of love, the traumatic and therapeutic process of work, and the healing capacity of art, director Ryusuke Hamaguchi crafts a stunning piece of cinema with "Drive My Car ."At nearly 3-hours in length, Hamaguchi's film never outstays its tender yet complicated welcome. Centering on the life of a widowed theater director Yusuke (Hidetoshi Nishijima), working on an "Uncle Vanya" production for a festival in Hiroshima, the story maneuvers a delicate and meditative trance of emotion. "Drive My Car" is masterful filmmaking. 


Honorable Mentions:

•          C'mon C'mon

•          The Empty Man

•          French Dispatch

•          Judas and the Black Messiah

•          The Lost Daughter

•          Memoria

•          Old Henry

•          Passing

•          Red Rocket

•          Riders of Justice

•          Saint Maud

•          Shiva Baby

•          Spiderman: No Way Home

•          tick, tick…Boom!

•          Titane

•          The Velvet Underground

•          The Vigil

•          Westside Story

•          The Worst Person in the World 

•          Zola


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