2021 was one of the most challenging years for cinema. But, after many delays, we finally got to see long-awaited films like No Time to Die and West Side Story. We returned to a “new normal”. And with a new normal, came lower box office expectations and further delays. It became apparent that the most vulnerable populations were not ready to return to the theaters. Some movies, like Luca, went directly to streaming while others, like Dune, had a same-day streaming release. Studios were not sure how to deal with the unpredictable component of the pandemic.
But, despite a rocky year, millions of people returned to the theaters, and many went to film festivals. Many of our frustrations about 2020 were improved even if the pandemic continued raging on. Even if I had to skip on some theatrical experiences, I was lucky to go to the New York Film Festival and watch Power of the Dog, Dune, and French Dispatch (among many others) on the big screen; We had the chance to reunite with the power of cinema.
Watched: 116 films
Couldn’t Get To: The Worst Person in the World, Drive My Car, King Richard, Bergman Island, Flee, Summer of Soul
This is an unranked list of films that almost made my top 10. I enjoyed all of these and would gladly recommend them.
- No Time To Die
- Nightmare Alley
- C’mon C’mon
- In The Heights
Encanto depicts the story of a Colombian family with extraordinary gifts. Encanto features one of the best soundtracks of the year including songs by Lin Manuel Miranda. The movie stars Mirabel Madrigal (Stephanie Beatriz) who wants to restore the miracle her family was given when they flew their village in Colombia. The movie is streaming on Disney+ and one of its original songs (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno”) reached number 1 in the Top Billboard charts.
9. Parallel Mothers
Part a historical drama and part a family melodrama, Almodovar navigates a delicate line. Parallel Mothers is a movie that is trying to resonate on an emotional level while also discussing relevant historical subjects. The movie includes stand-out performances by Penelope Cruz and her counterpart Milena Smit. Featuring an immersive score by Alberto Iglesias and the beautiful landscapes of Spain, this is one of the best international movies of the year.
8. The French Dispatch
The French Dispatch tells three stories, all related. Wes Anderson crafts three plots weaved together in this editorial approach to storytelling. Anderson lured us in with a refined cast and beautiful sets and production design. But the true magic is how these stories connect thematically and emotionally. The French Dispatch is one of the best edited films of the year for a reason, and one that overwhelms us with passion and that is never boring.
7. West Side Story
The original West Side Story is a classic film that many directors would not dare adapt. But Stephen Spielberg’s adaptation is a worthy attempt. Despite being the first musical directed by Spielberg, the direction is the film’s strongest suit. The iconic soundtrack and grand score are some of the reasons to see this film. When it comes to casting, the team did a fantastic job. And while the overall cast does a respectable job, Ariana DeBose steals the show by reprising Anita’s role. Make sure to watch this film on the biggest screen possible with the best speaker system available.
Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut is one of the most assured of the year. Passing remains one of my favorite films of the year. Based on the 1929 novel by the same name written by Nella Larsen, the title refers to African Americans with skin light enough that some perceived as “white”. This film explores the disparities and racism experienced by Black people in the 1920’s. Ruth Negga, Tessa Thompson, and Andre Holland are fantastic in this relevant film.
CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) is the crowd-pleaser of the year. The internet has been raving about the cast since the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Newcomer Emilia Jones leads a fantastic cast that authentically includes deaf actors (Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, and Troy Kotsur) in important supporting roles. The film won our hearts by being an authentic coming-of-age story with an outstanding cast.
4. The Lost Daughter
The Lost Daughter carries an unsettling feeling from beginning to end; a feeling that you cannot shake but compels you to keep watching. Maggie Gyllenhaal directs her first feature film based on an Elena Ferrante novel. Leda (Olivia Colman) is a desperate mother trying to cope with her past. Her attempt to enjoy her vacation in Greece is sabotaged by Nina, a young mother who is vacationing with her family. Leda becomes transfixed with Nina’s relationship with her daughter so much that she cannot help herself from ensnaring herself in their relationship. The Lost Daughter is a stellar film that is equal parts about love and trauma.
Denis Villeneuve is one of my favorite directors. His Dune (part I) adaptation is impeccable. The direction, production design, score, and writing amount to one of the best pictures of the year. Despite only portraying the first part of the story, Denis was able to introduce a complex world and deliver an exciting epic. Presenting the world of Dune to a diverse audience is a challenge only the most adept directors could tackle. By employing the right amount of exposition, he can queue the viewers in without overwhelming them. I cannot wait to watch part II.
2. Licorice Pizza
Licorice Pizza presents a slice of life picture. It tells the story of a teenage boy infatuated with a young adult and the story of a young adult figuring out her place in life. Alana Haim is a revelation and her chemistry with Cooper Hoffman is one of the main reasons to watch this movie Paul Thomas Anderson put together one of the best films of the year and one of the funniest. Sometimes the best cinema is the one that is a cathartic and ecstatic experience, and Licorice Pizza feels like a full-speed run to get your favorite ice cream.
1. The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion shattered the glass ceiling when she became the first woman to win the Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or award in 1993 for her film The Piano. She spent several years making television but has finally returned to film with The Power of the Dog. The Power of the Dog is the best film I experienced this year. The film features an incredible cast including real-life couple Kristen Dunst and Jesse Plemons and Benedict Cumberbatch. TPOD is one of those films that lures you in with an intriguing premise and can deliver something that feels both unexpected and surprising in the best way possible; It is a slow burn that pays off in the most satisfying ways. It is readily available on Netflix but be warned that it requires your full attention if you wish to enjoy it.
Top TV Shows
- Hacks (tie) Succession
- The White Lotus
- Only Murders in the Building
- The Other Two