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Thread: BEST MOVIES OF 2021 (Lists)

  1. #1
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    BEST MOVIES OF 2021 (Lists)

    Best Movies of 2021

    I will be putting up other people's lists as I hastily try to compile one of my own to send to IndieWire. Due to missing the NYFF and every other in-person festival this year and not spending any time in NYC or Paris either, I have not yet seen a lot of the festival favorites that will be popping up on critics' lists. Maybe I'll have seen and loved some few others even noticed, though.

    On one site these are the only personal lists available so far:
    First Cow - Kelly Reichardt
    Her Socialist Smile - John Gianvito
    Tiong Bahru Social Club - Tan Bee Thiam
    Martin und Hans - Mark Rappaport
    John Farrow Hollywood's Man in the Shadows - Claude Gonzalez & Frans Vanderburg
    While We Are Here - Clarissa Campolina and Luiz Pretti
    Letters from the Ends of the World - a dozen of the first graduates of Béla Tarr’s FilmFactory
    Uncut Gems - Ben Safdie and Joshua Safdie
    Cry Macho - Clint Eastwood

    Annette- Leos Carax
    Benedetta -Paul Verhoeven
    The Hole - Michelangelo Frammartino
    The Card Counter - Paul Schrader
    Cry Macho - Clint Eastwood
    Drive My Car - Ryűsuke Hamaguchi
    France - Bruno Dumont
    In Front of Your Face - Hong Sang-soo
    Memoria - Apichatpong Weerasethakul
    What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? - Aleksandre Koberidze

    (For his annotated version go to ArtForum)

    ANNETTE (Leos Carax)
    The best movie of the year is an insane, over-the-top, and thankfully self-indulgent Sparks Brothers musical about an angry macho performance artist, his opera-diva girlfriend, and their daughter, who is somehow born a puppet. See it by yourself so no one you know can possibly ruin this nutcase masterpiece. Oh yeah—it’s really long.

    Beautifully edited from forgotten footage left behind in a lab, the so-called Black Woodstock concert film, originally shot in 1969 in Harlem, rises to the top of 2021 with a vengeance. The camera practically goes down Clara Ward’s throat to show us just where her great gospel voice actually begins. Wait till you see Nina Simone—never angrier! She’ll kick your ass and so will this movie.

    Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), 2021, 2K video, color, sound, 117 minutes. Nina Simone.
    Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), 2021, 2K video, color, sound, 117 minutes. Nina Simone.
    VORTEX (Gaspar Noé)
    The director’s most humane and unironic yet scarily claustrophobic feel-bad drama about death is filmed in split-screen Duo-Vision, so be prepared for twice the disturbing power of his other cinematic shockers.

    FRANCE (Bruno Dumont)
    This psychological study of a fictitious popular female newscaster may start out conventionally, but the assured director’s long pauses and cruel plot twists quickly turn a quasi attack on the media and its ravenous consumers into a searing critique of both the tedium and the emotional risk of living in the public eye.

    THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD (Kristina Lindström, Kristian Petri)
    Imagine, today, openly gay director Luchino Visconti being allowed inside a high school to parade auditioning half-naked teenage boys in front of him for his film Death in Venice. This harrowing documentary explores the perils of teen stardom for the kid who got the part and went from being the most beautiful to the most fucked up.

    MANDIBLES (Quentin Dupieux)
    The stupidest art film of the year, directed by a Gallic auteur who specializes in one-joke dumbbell comedies, about a giant fly and two French stooges, is also one of the funniest and most charming.

    RED ROCKET (Sean Baker)
    Shocking? Refreshing? The male gaze comes out of today’s PC closet in an incredibly well-cast tale of a washed-up hetero male porn star who goes back to his meth-head ex-wife and mother-in-law in Texas to start a new dysfunctional life. Finally, fuckin’, fightin’, and frontal nudity are back on the art-house screen, where they belong.

    If Ingmar Bergman came back from beyond the grave today to direct Shakespeare on film, this is what it would look like. Kathryn Hunter as all three of the witches has to be seen to be believed.

    SAINT-NARCISSE (Bruce LaBruce)
    The Canadian punk queer director’s most successfully realized movie, elegantly shot and seamlessly put together. Think Vali the Witch of Positano meets twin Joe Dallesandros. Catholic, sexy, and oh so deviantly devout.

    OK, I’m really going out on a limb here, replacing Pedro Almodóvar’s exquisite Parallel Mothers, a film everybody should love, with this loathsome unreleased feature everybody will probably hate. The Human Centipede director tops himself with a story of rich Los Angeles women who gather together to masturbate while watching news footage of the world’s misery. Often wrongheaded but sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, it has been rejected by film distributors worldwide. All I can say is that the movie sure as hell delivers. You will probably never be able to see it. Maybe that’s a good thing . . .
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2022 at 12:05 PM.

  2. #2
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    Chris Knipp's 2021 Best Movie Lists
    Films for a not-yet-final annual movie best list for 2021:
    Favorite features and documentaries of the Year among those that I have seen so far. Some are films I saw last year that had theatrical release this year.

    A work in progress.

    Categories IndieWire asks you to list: Best Film (top 10), Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best First Film, Best Documentary, Best Performance, Best International Film, and the Best 2022 Release You've Already Seen.

    Favorite features
    THE HAND OF GOD/Č STATA LA MANO DI DIO (Sorrentino) - seen and added later
    THE CARD COUNTER (Schrader)
    KING RICHARD (Green)
    THE DISCIPLE (Tamhane 2020) - but seen in the virtual NYFF last year
    UNDINE (Petzold)
    BEGINNING (Kulumbegashvili) - same as THE DISCIIPLE
    THE DIG (Stone)
    WIFE OF A SPY (Kurosawa)

    Also liked:
    THE VIGIL (Thomas)
    TITANE (Dumoustier)
    DUNE (Villeneuve)
    PASSING (Hall)
    TICK, TICK...BOUM! (Larson)
    SUMMER OF 85 (Ozon)
    AZOR (Fontana)
    THE FEAST (Jones)
    DAYS (Tsai Ming-liang)

    Best Documentaries:
    THE RESCUE (Chin, Evasarhelyi)
    SABAYA (Hirori)
    SUMMER OF SOUL (Thompson)*
    ACASĂ, MY HOME (Ciorniciuc)
    YOUNG PLATO (McGrath, Ní Chianáin)

    Other 2021 films I also need to see
    (when I have seen these, my favorites list may change):

    BEING THE RICARDOS (Sorkin) - seen, did not like
    COMPARTMENT NO. 6 (Kuosmanen)
    DRIVE MY CAR (Hamaguchi)
    LICORICE PIZZA (P.T. Anderson) - seen, somewhat disappointed
    MEMORIA (Weerasethakul)
    THE POWER OF THE DOG (Campion)- seen, chilled but impressed
    DON'T LOOK UP (McKay)- seen; witty but not successful as a movie
    WEST SIDE STORY (Spielberg) - coming Dec. 9/10
    *But I have to remember that SUMMER OF SOUL is ruined despite its great performances by constant interruption for commentary and historical footage.

    ...and also the remaining NYFF 2021 Main Slate films I've not seen yet, a few of which I might like:--at least the starred ones:
    *PARALLEL MOTHERS (Almodóvar) - seen, liked
    CHIARA (JCarpignano)
    *AHED'S KNEE (Lapid)
    BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN (Jude) - seen, not much liked
    *BENEDETTA (Verhoeven)
    IL BUCO (Framarttino)
    THE FIRST 54 YEARS (Moghrabi)
    *FLEE (Rasmussen)
    FUTURA (Marcello, Munzi, Rohrwacher)
    THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER (R and S Zurcher)
    *HIT THE ROAD (Panahi)
    OTHER Hong Sangsoo film
    INTEGRALDE (Munteen)
    *NEPTUNE FROST (Williams, Uzeyman)
    *PETITE MAMAN (Sciamma)
    VORTEX (Noe)

    Additional 2021 releases I'd forgotten:

    THE REASON I JUMP (Jerry Rothwell)

    A HERO (Asghar Farhadi) METACRITIC reviews (80%)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2022 at 12:18 PM.

  3. #3
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    Important coming end-of-year 2021 releases.

    WEST SIDE STORY (Spielberg) is out in the UK and Peter Bradshaw's review in the GUARDIAN is a rave.

  4. #4
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    My other choices - Indiewire Poll

    Best Director
    Wes Anderson

    Best Actress
    Kristen Stewart

    Best Actor
    Will Smith

    Best Screenplay

    Best Documentary
    Summer of Soul

    Best Undistributed
    Things We Dare Not Do

    Best Cinematography
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-21-2021 at 12:55 PM.

  5. #5
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    The Indiewire Poll

    1. The Power of the Dog
    2. Licorice Pizza
    3. Drive My Car
    4. Flee
    5. Titane
    6. Summer of Soul
    7. Memoria
    8. The Card Counter
    9. The Green Knight
    10. Parallel Mothers

    Richard Brody's (New Yorker) favorites (which may make more coherent sense because they are not a poll):
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-26-2021 at 01:58 PM.

  6. #6
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    Thanks for these lists.
    Great to have a heads up on the best of the year…
    "Set the controls for the heart of the Sun" - Pink Floyd

  7. #7
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    Lots more to see though which will take a considerable time as Oscar knows.

  8. #8
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    The Stunning Feature Debut and Cinematic Swan Song from
    Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson
    Narrated by Tilda Swinton

    Now Playing Exclusively at Metrograph In Theater and At Home
    Expands January 14

    I've watched and admired a screener of this but haven't been able to review it; but for lovers of film as art it has a special place as a kind of refined still-image-based black-and-white sci-fi comparable to Chris Marker's wonderful Le Jetée.

    From the review by Roger Luckhurst for BFI's Sight and Sound:
    This 70-minute experimental film brings together a daunting conjuncture of elements. It is a Jóhann Jóhannsson film, conceived, shot (with cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grřvlen) and scored by the Icelandic composer, but left incomplete at his death from an accidental overdose in 2018. Jóhannson is principally known for his minimalist film scores, which process orchestral sound through tape loops and electronic glitches, and in particular for his soundtrack for Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival (2016), where the music is integral to creating the strange elegiac tone of that melancholic encounter with aliens bearing unusual gifts.

    Last and First Men is a non-narrative meditation in the same mood, but is closer to Jóhannsson’s concept albums, which combined the holy minimalism of Arvo Pärt or John Tavener with science-fictional bleeps and gurgles typical of the synth gloomsters of the late 70s New Wave. Given this post-apocalyptic mood, it is inevitably hard to avoid the trap of bending the film around the knowledge of Jóhannsson’s early death, turning its reflections on end times into a last testament.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-10-2021 at 12:43 PM.

  9. #9
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    BEING THE RICARDOS (Aaron Sorkin 2021)

    Richard Abele's review for The Wrap eloquently describes this movie's many faults that I saw but can't write about because I am recovering from surgery on a broken right wrist, and it would be dispiriting to enumerate them anyway. I'm afraid Abele is right that Sorkin is not a director. He can be an excellent writer, as he was in creating "The West Wing" and scripting The Social Network. From the sparkle of the latter you'd never know he could create the drabness of Being the Ricardos.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-16-2021 at 07:49 PM.

  10. #10
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    1. Memoria
    Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Colombia/Thailand/UK/France/Germany/Mexico/Qatar

    Of all the mysterious objects engineered by Apichatpong, Memoria may be the most enigmatic—and, through a masterstroke of sonic design, the most transfixing. Jessica (Tilda Swinton), an expat living in Colombia, finds herself afflicted by a curious aural hallucination, a blunt metallic womp suggesting the impact of a phantom orb against the surface of... her skull? The cosmos? The cinematic apparatus? What follows can only be described as Apichatpongian: mischievous narrative game-play; personages who phase-shift through multiple realities; bliss-inducing detours and divertissements (an extended musical jam session that Jessica wanders into ranks with the supreme pleasures of the director’s oeuvre); the patiently calibrated and marvelously confounding evanescence of time and space. The genius of Memoria resides in its auditory premise: even more than Jessica, the spectator is riveted by the intermittent, unpredictable detonation on our tympanic membrane. What does it all mean? No thoughts, just vibes—but riddle me this: if a memory falls in the mind, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?—Nathan Lee

    2. Drive My Car
    Ryűsuke Hamaguchi, Japan

    The vehicle at the whirring heart of Drive My Car bears a sly anomaly: the steering wheel is on the left, rather than the right, where it should be in Japan. Cars are already liminal spaces—to travel in one is to be both inside and outside, moving and still—and this aberration makes the red Saab 900 of the film, and the tale that winds around it, feel even more like a miracle of mechanics. Taking as chassis a thin Haruki Murakami story about a widowed actor who opens up to a young female chauffeur about the infidelities of his late wife, Ryűsuke Hamaguchi engineers an elaborate narrative contraption that holds control and contingency in equal poise: the film’s voluble dialogue and intricate moving parts draw their power from the mysteries—human, vehicular—that neither speech nor plot can explain. It’s a conceit brought out thrillingly in the film’s central set piece, a multilingual production of Uncle Vanya, in which language becomes a chasm rather than a bridge, refracting the experiences of the characters with nearly blinding clarity.—Devika Girish

    3. The Souvenir Part II
    Joanna Hogg, UK

    Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir ends with the director’s on-screen surrogate, Julie (Honor Swinton Byrne), gazing out the massive door of a student-film studio at a gray sky—an image that could suggest freedom. But, as The Souvenir Part II makes clear, it is one of intense ambivalence. Now that her private education with an older, cultured man is over, Julie must return to a place (and form) of learning that’s far more bracing and practical: film school. Through the excruciating process of actually doing the thing—and facing the questions and reservations of those around her—we see Julie becoming an artist, a self-actualization that almost drives me to tears. The other central conceit—seeing a fictional version of Hogg attempt to direct a film about her life within the film we are watching about her life—is as coolly lush as Nico’s “Sixty Forty,” the song woven throughout this sequel.—Violet Lucca

    4. Annette
    Leos Carax, France/USA

    Though Leos Carax’s gesamtkunstwerk teeters and sways under the weight of its many contrivances, it somehow, against all odds, manages to take flight. Annette is a singular work: part rock opera, part celebrity satire, part pop-art mindfuck, part dissection of the ties that bind. Roping together all these disparate elements—from Adam Driver’s brooding performance as a sociopathic stand-up to the elaborate set and character design to Ron and Russell Mael’s relentlessly peppy tunes—is the same overwhelming Romanticism that has saturated Carax’s work since Boy Meets Girl (1984). And yet, Annette may be the Carax film with the lightest touch. A movie this morose and self-involved shouldn’t be so fun—or so profound. As the final scene makes clear, animating all the artifice, from the fake island to the crooning puppet that plays Baby Annette, are an understanding of human frailty and a sincere love for the flawed creatures that, corny as it sounds, compel Annette to sing.—Clinton Krute

    5. Days
    Tsai Ming-liang, Taiwan/France

    There is the singular day—a bounded measure of hours—and then there’s days, the hefty, formless accrual that makes up a life. What better name for Tsai Ming-liang’s first narrative feature in almost a decade? Tsai remains interested in time without story, though the durational centerpiece in Days is new: the slow atrophy of muse Lee Kang-sheng’s ailing body. Once a novel affliction in The River (1997), Lee’s pain has since lapsed into the common fate of aging. Seeking reprieve, his character chances on Anong, a young Laotian migrant worker in Thailand, and the two share a moment of tender synchrony. The scene coaxes us into surrender: some rhythms are better felt than seen. Still, midway through Days, when faced with a long, static take of a sun-strobed wall, I instinctively sought out movement—a lizard, a quivering leaf, any motion to index change. And so I missed, until the last second, the fact of a darkening sky. The gift of Tsai’s cinema is this encounter with time as a feeling. Night falls slowly, then all at once.—Phoebe Chen

    6. The Power of the Dog
    Jane Campion, Australia/New Zealand

    At the heart of Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog is a perilous shortsightedness, embodied in the ambiguous silhouette of a hungry dog that only some can see in the jagged contours of a Montana mountain range. The wealthy Burbank brothers are especially burdened by such poetic myopias: the malicious Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch), who revels in the filth and machismo of ranch life, only respects the ultramasculine; and for all his gentleness, George (Jesse Plemmons) cannot quite see his new wife Rose (Kirsten Dunst) floundering under his brother’s torment. Rose’s effeminate teenage son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), is perhaps the most opaque of all, albeit the least disguised, surrounded as he is by adults caught in the patriarchal grasp of stifling, all-too-familiar roles. The film, too, is in disguise, revealing itself in an unexpected finale to be a meticulously mapped erotic thriller, begging for a second viewing to appreciate its ingenuity.—Kelli Weston

    7. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
    Ryűsuke Hamaguchi, Japan

    2021 was another rotten year, though perhaps not for Ryűsuke Hamaguchi, who asserted his status as one of contemporary cinema’s key figures with two much-celebrated features. Whereas Drive My Car is the more polished of the two and derives from a short story by Haruki Murakami, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is a work no less ambitious, comprising three discrete yet thematically continuous stories. The first will feel the most familiar to Hamaguchi fans, tracing the fraught and secretive resolution of a love triangle; the second, about a plot to set a honey trap for a macho creative-writing professor, conjures Philip Roth in its portrayal of desire’s unpredictable contortions; but it is the third, an obliquely postapocalyptic lo-fi sci-fi about a case of double mistaken identity, that feels the most now. Heterogeneous, unstable as a matter of principle, and utterly reactive to a world gone chaotic beyond the frame: few moral tales feel as modern as this.—Dan Sullivan

    8. What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?
    Alexandre Koberidze, Georgia/Germany

    Alexandre Koberidze’s What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? is a film of curious propositions. On a bridge in the Georgian city of Kutaisi, passersby are invited to hang for two minutes from a pull-up bar and win a nice dinner. (Later incentives involve cash and cookies.) The bar is charmingly off-kilter, much like the curse that keeps apart would-be lovers Giorgi and Lisa, who, after two chance meet-cutes, wake up in new bodies. The bar is also a frame: it offers us a way of viewing the lives that pass through it, including those of Giorgi and Lisa, who, having lost everything, encounter their city as though it were new. Koberidze voices the narration, at one point pausing to consider the violence of our era before returning to his characters. Their eventual reunion is no less a feat of cinematic magic than the everyday rituals of the schoolchildren, pharmacists, and multispecies soccer fans who make their home in this ancient city.—Genevieve Yue

    9. Benedetta
    Paul Verhoeven, France/Netherlands

    Ambition, delusion, and ecstasy mingle in the story—inspired by real events—of Sister Benedetta Carlini, a 17th-century Italian nun who claims to experience mystical visions of Jesus and is put on trial for her sapphic liaison with the younger, alluringly feral Sister Bartolomea. Male-gaze naysayers miss the point: in this tale of pestilence and politics, Paul Verhoeven delves into the power of spectacle and the spectacle of power, affirming his place as one of cinema’s greatest social critics. Benedetta may be set during a plague long ago, but it is a film for our own sick times, concerned as it is with the hypocrisy of governing institutions and the worldliness of those who claim to be guided by higher principles. It depicts a universe, all too familiar, in which good-faith attempts to distinguish between truth and lies are forever frustrated by leaders who play by different rules. Sure, the CGI is a bit laughable—but isn’t subtlety sometimes overrated?—Erika Balsom

    10. Undine
    Christian Petzold, Germany/France

    Undine (Paula Beer), the water nymph whose earthly existence depends on a faithful lover, is cut loose early in Christian Petzold’s beautiful and mysterious reworking of the European myth. During an intense breakup initiated by her boyfriend, she quietly, fatefully declares that she will have to kill him. In an ongoing interplay between legend and reality, Undine works as lecturer in a museum dedicated to the different incarnations of pre- and post-unification Berlin. Her twist of fate comes in a stunning scene, both comical and magical, when in the spillover of a shattered aquarium she meets the man who is clearly her destiny, an underwater diver (Franz Rogowski). The city of Berlin, shown in both its gleaming real-life surfaces and elaborate mock-ups, gradually gives way to a more fluid, ethereal realm—the watery underworld where Undine and her beloved diver can coexist, forever faithful in their own way.—Molly Haskell

    Read the full list
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-17-2021 at 10:00 AM.

  11. #11
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    Found here:
    1. Drive My Car - Ryűsuke Hamaguchi
    2. Memoria - Apichatpong Weerasethakul
    3. Benedetta - Paul Verhoeven
    4. Annette - Leos Carax
    5. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn - Radu Jude
    6. The Souvenir Part II -Joanna Hogg
    7. Days - Tsai Ming-liang
    8. What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? -Aleksandre Koberidze
    9. The Power of the Dog - Jane Campion
    10. The Card Counter - Paul Schrader
    11. Licorice Pizza - Paul Thomas Anderson
    12. France -Bruno Dumont
    13. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy - Ryűsuke Hamaguchi
    14. About Endlessness - Roy Andersson
    15. El Planeta - Amalia Ulman
    16. Bergman Island - Mia Hansen-Lřve
    17. Zola -Janicza Bravo
    18. Titane -Julia Ducournau
    19. Faya Dayi -Jessica Beshir
    20. The Velvet Underground -Todd Haynes
    Barack Obama's "favorite movies of 2021"

    More 2021 movie best lists (including some Variety critics) HERE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-17-2021 at 10:08 AM.

  12. #12
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    The New York Times 2021 Ten Best Movies

    Found HERE

    A.O. SCOTT

    1. ‘Summer of Soul’ (Questlove)
    This documentary about a series of open-air concerts in Harlem in 1969, interweaving stunning performance footage with interviews with musicians and audience members, is a shot of pure joy. The lineup is a pantheon of Black genius, including Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, the Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson and many more. But the film is more than a time capsule: It’s a history lesson and an argument for why art matters — and what it can do — in times of conflict and anxiety. (Streaming on Hulu.)

    2. ‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’ (Radu Jude)
    From its hard-core opening to its riotous conclusion, this category-defying Romanian film captures the desperate, angry, exhausted mood of the present almost too well. A Bucharest schoolteacher (the brilliant, fearless Katia Pascariu) finds her job endangered after a sex tape she made with her husband goes semiviral. Meanwhile, the Covid pandemic and simmering culture-war hostilities turn everyday life into a theater of grievance and anxiety. Holding everything together — barely — is the abrasive intellectualism of Jude’s direction and the earnest rage that fuels his mockery. (In theaters.)

    3. ‘The Power of the Dog’ (Jane Campion)
    There are a lot of talented, competent, interesting filmmakers working today. Then there is Jane Campion, who practices cinema on a whole different level. The craft in evidence in this grand, big-sky western — the images, the music, the counterpointed performances of Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee — evoke the best traditions of old-style Hollywood storytelling. But there is nothing staid or conventional in the way Campion tackles Thomas Savage’s novel of jealousy, power and sexual intrigue. (Streaming on Netflix.)

    4. ‘Petite Maman’ (Céline Sciamma)
    The death of a grandmother, the grief of a parent, the acquisition of a new friend — these ordinary experiences, occurring over a few weeks in the life of an 8-year-old girl, provide the basic narrative structure of this spare, perfect film. Whether it’s best described as a modern-dress fairy tale, a psychological ghost story or a low-tech time travel fantasy is up to you. What’s certain is that the performances of Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, real-life twins playing possibly imaginary friends, have a clarity and purity that Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) deploys for maximum emotional impact. (Coming to theaters.)

    5. ‘Bring Your Own Brigade’ (Lucy Walker)
    This harrowing documentary about California wildfires is also, almost by accident, an exploration of the country’s polarized, chaotic, self-defeating response to the Covid pandemic. The picture Walker paints is complicated, partly because that’s the way people are: stupid, generous, reckless and brave. The movie is hardly optimistic, but its open-mindedness, compassion and intellectual rigor provide a buffer against despair. (Paramount+)

    6. ‘Bergman Island’ (Mia Hansen-Love)
    In a year when rumors of the death of moviegoing spread along with all the other bad news, it was delightful to encounter this warm, wry, emotionally savvy exploration of movie love, moviemaking and movie-centered tourism. Two filmmakers travel to Faro, a Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman lived and worked, and discover either that movies are life, or that there’s more to life than movies. (For rent on most major platforms.)

    7. ‘Drive My Car’ (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
    A theater artist (Hidetoshi Nishijima), recently widowed, travels to Hiroshima to direct an experimental version of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya.” A young woman (Toko Miura), also stricken by loss, is hired as his driver. Out of this scenario — and out of Haruki Murakami’s novella — Hamaguchi builds an understated, multilayered meditation on the complexities of human connection. The spirit of Chekhov hovers in the background and is honored by the film’s unsentimental, compassionate regard for its characters. (In theaters.)

    8. ‘Memoria’ (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
    Weerasethakul’s movies defy summary or easy categorization. To describe them as dreamlike is incomplete, since you never know who is doing the dreaming. In this case, it might be Jessica (Tilda Swinton), a Scottish expatriate living in Colombia. Or it might be alien visitors, the filmmaker, the Earth or time itself. What is certain is that this film sharpens the senses and activates emotions that are no less powerful for being impossible to name. (Coming to theaters.)

    9. ‘West Side Story’ (Steven Spielberg)
    Somehow, Steven Spielberg and Tony Kushner — and an energetic young cast of Jets and Sharks — pulled off a surprising cinematic coup. Respecting the artistry and good intentions of the original stage musical, they turned it into something urgent, modern and exciting. There’s a lot to unpack in the movie’s gestures of reverence and revisionism, but mostly there are big emotions, memorable songs and an unabashed faith that sincerity will always be stronger than cynicism. (Coming to theaters.)

    10. ‘The Velvet Underground’ (Todd Haynes)
    Like “Summer of Soul,” this documentary revisits the music of the 1960s in a spirit that is more historical than nostalgic. Rather than assemble present-day musicians to pay tribute to their forebears, Haynes concentrates on the Velvets in their moment and on the artistic scene that spawned them. In particular, he focuses on their connections to the experimental cinema that flourished in New York, work that inspires his own visceral, cerebral, visually dense style of storytelling. (Streaming on Apple TV+.)

    Also …
    “Annette” (Leos Carax), “The Disciple” (Chaitanya Tamhane), “Flee” (Jonas Poher Rasmussen), “The Green Knight” (David Lowery), “The Hand of God” (Paolo Sorrentino), “King Richard” (Reinaldo Marcus Green), “Mogul Mowgli” (Bassam Tariq), “Parallel Mothers” (Pedro Almodóvar), “Passing” (Rebecca Hall), “El Planeta” (Amalia Ulman), “The Souvenir Part II” (Joanna Hogg), “Spencer” (Pablo Larraín), “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (Joel Coen).


    The Best Film Was One in a Theater
    In July, I watched one of the most mediocre movies that I’ve seen this year — and it was glorious. After more than 16 months of streaming at home, I went to a theater to watch Matt Damon sing the white-guy blues in “Stillwater.” The movie was poky and trite and irritating, and I reviewed it accordingly. And while I regretted it wasn’t better, I was still grateful because it sent me back to theaters, big screens and other moviegoers.

    Those other people admittedly did give me pause. They were masked, well, most were, kind of, but could I be safe and feel at ease with these people for two or so hours? I was vaxed and masked but also still navigating being back in the world. But the room was great, the screen huge, and I decided that I could — though first I had to tell a guy near me that, yes, he did need to wear the mask he’d parked on his chin. He put it on. I settled in, back in the place that makes me supremely happy: I was at the movies.

    Since then, I have watched many more new releases in person, including at two festivals where I gorged like a famished person (so many thanks to both the Toronto International Film Festival and the New York Film Festival). I had spent the first part of the year on book leave, and while I’d streamed plenty of new and old films then (hello, Marie Dressler!), I missed going out (anywhere). I missed really, really big bright images and I missed the rituals, including the quick search for the most perfect seat and the anticipatory wait for the movie to begin, for someone to hit the lights and start the show.

    Movie critics tend to write about movies as discrete entities. Even when writing about franchise copies of franchise copies, we often stick to the object. Although we sometimes share how a movie makes us feel (happy, sad), we rarely write about the true depth of our experiences as we watched these movies — how it felt as the images flowed off the screen and into our bodies and memories — and how this too affected us. There are a lot of reasons for this, including reviewing conventions, which tend to measure movies by certain, traditionally prescribed, often literary and commercial values: Was it a good story, did it say something, is it worth leaving the house for, worth spending money on?

    It’s a given that money is always part of the equation, as much of the discussion around the future of moviegoing underscores. Most of the chatter about moviegoing these days often devolves into journalists and industry types parroting the logic of capitalism, i.e., whatever industry power dictates. Netflix and other big streamers have had a huge impact, no question, and we can chat about what it all means in a few years. But whatever the rationalization, the reasons there’s so much intense focus on Netflix and Disney is their monopolistic grip not simply on the entertainment industry but also on the hive mind of the mainstream media. But there are other considerations, as well.

    So, yes, more people will likely watch “The Power of the Dog,” the latest from Jane Campion, than any other film in her decades-long career because it’s on Netflix. But what matters is the movie. And you should watch it whether at home or, if you can, in a theater. It looks beautiful no matter the size of the screen. But I’m grateful that I’ve seen it several times projected in theaters. For starters, I could focus on it rather than the distractions of my home, but mostly I could more fully experience the monumentality of its images, could feel on a profound, visceral level both the claustrophobia of its shadowy interiors and the liberating, heart-clutching boundlessness of its open landscapes.

    Like all the movies I love, “The Power of the Dog” got under my skin. I watched it, fell into it, felt it. And like all the movies I care most about, it is far more than the sum of its finely shaped story parts. I admire its narrative ebb and flow, but the movie’s meaning extends beyond its chapter breaks and dialogue. In Campion’s aerial shots of an arid, lonely land and in the anguished close-ups — in backlighted bristles of horsehair and in the rhythmic rocking of a strand of braided leather on a man’s body — she sets loose a cascade of associations. You see Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays its tormented villain, and in his strut you also see John Wayne, Gary Cooper, Clint Eastwood. You see the sweep of the western genre, the men and women you know, the world you live in.

    1. ‘Drive My Car’ (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
    A masterpiece about life and death and art from one of the most exhilarating directors to hit the international film scene in a long while, “Drive My Car” draws from theater and literature — a splash of “Waiting for Godot” but mostly “Uncle Vanya” and the Murakami short story that gives the movie its title — to create a work of pure cinema. (In theaters.)

    2. ‘The Power of the Dog’ (Jane Campion)
    Much has rightly been made of Benedict Cumberbatch’s powerful performance as a malignant force named Phil in Campion’s latest. Much more should be said about how delicately and beautifully Kirsten Dunst, as Rose, holds the movie’s moral center with a gutting performance that shows you how brutally optimism can both die and be reborn. (Streaming on Netflix.)

    3. ‘The Velvet Underground’ (Todd Haynes)
    Everything comes together in Todd Haynes’s superb testament to a lost world that helped make our own: the music and art, the drugs and ideas, Lou Reed and John Cale, Andy Warhol and Jonas Mekas, the beauty and ugliness, the affordable New York housing and the artistic freedom that cheap rents allowed, the droning and strobing and darkening shadows that swallowed people whole. It’s all here. Watch it — play it — loud. (Streaming on Apple TV+.)

    4. ‘Summer of Soul’ (Questlove)
    There’s much to love in Questlove’s documentary about a New York concert that took place in the summer of 1969, most obviously the music that takes you higher. But consider too the formal design and rigor, and how the movie contracts and expands in time with the onstage call and response, how Questlove narrows in on a moment of beauty — a soaring note, a sliding foot, a beaming face — only to gracefully expand your horizons as he dialogues with the past, the present and the possible future. (Streaming on Hulu.)

    5. ‘Passing’ (Rebecca Hall)
    Set in the 1920s, Hall’s exquisite heart-wrencher centers on two African American women, friends from childhood, who can and do present as white. One (Tessa Thompson’s Irene) will pass for convenience, as when she enters a racially restricted hotel, while the other (Ruth Negga’s Clare) lives as white. Separately and together, with yearning and dueling looks, they negotiate the color line, which W.E.B. Du Bois called “the problem of the 20th century” and that still stubbornly defines and divides this country. (Streaming on Netflix.)

    6. ‘Azor’ (Andreas Fontana)
    With chilled detachment and meticulous control, this shocking drama tracks a Swiss banker and his wife on a seemingly routine business trip through Argentina in 1980. As they travel about, the juxtaposition between the bourgeois homes they visit and the ever-present military creates an increasingly unnerving tension, culminating in a shattering finale. Here, every polite smile and bland pleasantry is in service to a world of evil. (Streaming on Mubi.)

    7. ‘The Card Counter’ (Paul Schrader)
    For decades, Schrader has been telling his favorite story — that of a man alone in a room, alone in his head — to greater and lesser if always interesting effect. Now, with Oscar Isaac, Tiffany Haddish and Willem Dafoe, Schrader tells that tale again, getting into your head with feeling, some scattershot politics, horrific violence and auteurist confidence. (Available on most major platforms)

    8. ‘The Disciple’ (Chaitanya Tamhane)
    Every so often, the title character, a Hindustani classical singer (Aditya Modak), rides through the dark night, the voice of a musical guru filling the air and stirring your soul. Our young singer yearns for greatness, but as the years pass and practice never quite makes perfect, the divide between aspiration and reality grows impossibly wider. In a year of wonderful soundtracks, this is the one that soars highest. (Streaming on Netflix.)

    9. ‘Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy’ (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
    This movie, the other of Hamaguchi’s to receive an American release this year, is split into three intricate stories that turn on chance and were, he has said, inspired by Eric Rohmer. Not all of the parts work equally well, but all have moments of beauty and grace along with amazing, complex rivers of words. By the time a character rests a hand on her heart in a rush of feeling, you may find yourself doing the same. (In theaters)

    10. ‘Spencer’ (Pablo Larraín)
    Larraín’s atmospherically perfect (and creepy) drama is at once a blistering takedown of the British monarchy, a blazing psychological portrait and a queasily funny Gothic horror freak-out. If you’re still chuckling and sometimes weeping over that soap opera called “The Crown,” this may wipe off your smile — or just make you roar with laughter. (Available on most major platforms.)

    “Bring Your Own Brigade” (a smart, cleareyed, solution-oriented documentary about the climate crisis that won’t leave you curled up in a ball sobbing); “Dune” (yeah, I know, but I dug this immersive big-screen spectacle, the sort Hollywood rarely produces today); “The Electrical Life of Louis Wain” (part of this year’s Benedict Cumberbatch wave and a must-see for animal lovers or, really, anyone with a beating heart); “Faya Dayi” (a gorgeous dream to slip into); “The First Wave” (a moving, intelligent, deeply human documentary on the pandemic); “In the Same Breath” (a tough, compassionate look at the pandemic via China); “Licorice Pizza” (especially the truck sequence — I could watch two hours of that amazingly directed, staged and choreographed camera-and-wheel work); “Prayers for the Stolen” (stirring and upsetting); “Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time” (a gorgeous labyrinth); “Stillwater” (eh, it isn’t good but it brought me back into theaters); “The Truffle Hunters” (a touching lament for rapidly disappearing communities and traditions); “The Woman Who Ran” (elegant, wry, touching cinematic serialism).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 12-21-2021 at 02:13 AM.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    Austria, “Great Freedom”
    Belgium, “Playground”
    Bhutan, “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”
    Denmark, “Flee”
    Finland, “Compartment No. 6”
    Germany, “I’m Your Man”
    Iceland, “Lamb”
    Iran, “A Hero”
    Italy, “The Hand of God”
    Japan, “Drive My Car”
    Kosovo, “Hive”
    Mexico, “Prayers for the Stolen”
    Norway, “The Worst Person in the World”
    Panama, “Plaza Catedral”
    Spain, “The Good Boss”

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    One thing I notice based on the American best lists for 2021 is that this is the first year that a movie directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi receives a release in this country (whatever a release means nowadays). In Europe, at least in the UK and France, he's been well-known for over a decade. European critics and cinephiles have been writing wonderful things about his features Passion, Asako, and Happy Hour but here in the US we're just finding out about him. It was the same with Hou, Tarr, Serra, etc. A.O. Scott opined about "Drive My Car" "understated, multilayered meditation on the complexities of human connection", which is a description that seems to fit all of his movies. Looking forward to the "meditations".

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area
    It also may be that he is improving himself - by fits and starts as before - more significantly lately. WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY was a beautiful, elegant study of people, but an anthology film in three unrelated parts, whereas from what I gather (I'm still waiting to see it if I can get to the Landmark Shattuck in this stormy holiday week in Northern California without being able to drive because I have a broken wrist) DRIVE MY CAR layers its parts complexly in a single narrative and may be the best thing he's done yet, judging by the international response.

    The leap forward in recognition (and quality) is shown in that HAPPY HOUR (which was something like his sixth feature and tenth film), the first time he seemed to be significantly noticed in New York, was included in New Directors/New Films, whereas this year both of his two latest features were deemed worthy of the highly selective Main Slate of the NYFF.

    WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY was released in the US Oct. 15, and DRIVE MY CAR in November 2021.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-02-2022 at 12:24 PM.

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