2021: The Best in Cinema

So, here we are again at the end of a year. The end of another cinematic year. And this means, this critic must put forth their Best of the Year list. So, without further ado, here are my choices for the Best Cinema of 2021.

1) Licorice Pizza: Paul Thomas Anderson, one of the best directors working today, hands us the most personal and down to Earth film of his career. A pretty spectacular feat considering most of the movie is the real life adventures of a real life child actor turned producer. The maker of such films as There Will be BloodBoogie Nights, and Magnolia, gives us the account of a fifteen-year-old child actor and budding entrepreneur and his strange yet beautiful friendship with a twenty-five-year-old woman. Cooper Hoffman, son of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Alana Haim from the sister band Haim, make their film debuts and blow the whole shebang out of the water. Bradley Cooper also has a small scenery chewing cameo that is worthy of an Oscar. This film brings Anderson even deeper into Robert Altman territory - a territory the auteur has already explored in most of his films - and plays out as the most quintessential L.A. film since the aforementioned Altman left this world.

2) Belfast: A classicblack and white film by Kenneth Branagh set in the titular war-torn Northern Ireland city in the late 1960’s. A cast of mostly unknowns (at least in the US), led by Caitriona Balfe in an Oscar worthy performance as the suffering but strong-willed mother, and including Jamie Dornan, the star of Fifty Shades of Gray, in a subtle and quite shockingly brilliant performance as the dad. Branagh's best work, the film looks and feels like something Orson Welles would have made in his heyday.

3) West Side Story: I loved the original, but Steven Spielberg manages to improve on the 1961 Oscar winner. The director fixes the inherent problems with the original (everyone is both appropriately cast and does their own singing) and takes it up another level with it’s production design, cinematography, and editing - while still keeping all those vibrant Sondheim/Bernstein songs. All that and Rita Moreno too!

4) The Power of the Dog: Oscar nominated director Jane Campion is back after a too long sabbatical (twelve years since Bright Star) and she does it with her most powerful film since The Piano. Benedict Cumberbatch stars and gives us a performance that reminds one of Daniel Day-Lewis at his most powerful and frightening. We also get great stuff from Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. With this brilliant film, Campion could easily become just the third woman, and the second in a row, to win the Best Director Oscar.

5) Nightmare Alley: Guillermo del Toro’s nightmarish noir remake, starring Bradley Cooper as a con man on the run, and Cate Blanchett as the requisite femme fatale, takes this film lover back to the heyday of the film noir. The only thing missing is the black and white cinematography that goes along with any true noir classic. Oh yeah, a black and white version is coming soon.

6) The Tragedy of Macbeth: Directed by Joel Coen, in his first film without brother Ethan, this Shakespeare adaptation is done in 4:3 aspect ratio and stark black & white and looks as if it could have been made by Welles or Dreyer or Fritz Lang back in the day. It is also highlighted by Kathryn Hunter playing all three witches, in an homage to the works of Bergman, and one of the best performances of the year by Denzel Washington as the titular Scotsman.

7) Shiva Baby: A quietly hilarious look at a young Jewish woman, played snidely and wonderfully by Rachel Sennott, trying to traverse a family shiva while simultaneously having a nervous breakdown. The film was directed by first time director Emma Seligman and is the best comedy of the year.

8) The French Dispatch: Wes Anderson's episodic look at a quaint & quirky magazine and his array of quaint and quirky writers. This film has everything that you would expect from the hipster auteur (quaint & quirky characters, colourful sets and costumes, Owen Wilson & Bill Murray, a Godardian mindset) and happens to be his best film in more than a decade.

9) The Hand of God: Italian Maestro Paolo Sorrentino’s succulent film about love, loss, and yearning is one of the most achingly and beautifully devastating films of the year - or of any year.

10) Last Night in Soho: Edgar Wright gives us a stunningly eerie film about a young woman who can go back in time in her dreams. With its swinging London set pieces, the film is appropriately terrifying at times and always gorgeous to look at. Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy as the present day and past versions of the young woman are both wonderful.

Runners-Up (in no particular order): Don't Look Up, Dune, The Green Knight, CODA, Spenser, Gunpowder Milkshake, House of Gucci, Tick, Tick ...Boom!, The Last Dual, Ema, Titane, C'mon C'mon, Passing, The Lost Daughter, Cruella, Being the Ricardos, The Tender Bar, Annette, Zola, In the Heights, Encanto, The Harder they Fall, Free Guy, The Mitchells vs. the Machines, and Spider-Man: No Way Home.

That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


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