2021 was in many respects a nightmare year in real life, but it managed to deliver some really good movies. Here are my totally unscientific picks for the ten best.
- BELFAST. It’s a tough decision, but director/writer Kenneth Branagh’s ode to his childhood gets the edge, precisely because it could easily have been trite or average or, worst of all, boring. Instead, it’s informative and glorious and full of sorrow and joy.
- CYRANO. Directed by Joe Wright and adapted by Erica Schmidt from her stage musical (lyrics by Matt Berninger & Carin Besser, music by Aaron Dessner & Bryce Dessner), which is itself adapted from Edmond Rostand’s CYRANO DE BERGERAC, this film has its perfect center in lead Peter Dinklage. Enough cannot be said about his performance and his characterization, or the candlelit ambience. The film feels epic while in fact being fairly contained in its production. It’s magnificent.
- LAST NIGHT IN SOHO. Director/co-writer (with Krysty Wilson-Cairns) Edgar Wright has crafted a genre-straddling mystery that combines nostalgia, horror, a warm central character and a puzzle that plays fairly in handing out its pieces. It’s gorgeous to look at, engrossing to follow, and hits on surprisingly deep levels.
- SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME. Most movies can’t do what this one does, because it needs its twenty years of cinematic history in order to work, and few other films have such a wealth of material to utilize. Director Jon Watts and writers Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers love their hero, love his universes, and love everyone who loves them, and manage to dramatize all of this wonderfully.
DON’T LOOK UP. Director/writer Adam McKay, who crafted the story with David Sirota, has created a hilarious, on-target bummer of a disaster movie, except here the disaster isn’t so much in the physical impact of a comet headed towards Earth (although there’s that), but in the all-too-plausible reactions of those in power to impending doom. McKay is mad as hell and doesn’t know what to do about it, but his scream into the void is fully on target.
MARIONETTE. Directed by Elbert von Strien and written by von Strien and Ben Hopkins, this existential thriller, set in Scotland and upstate New York, plays fairly with our expectations, yet provides genuinely unexpected twists. Even saying what the film turns out to be about is a spoiler, but it manages to be simultaneously ferociously violent and tender in its handling of big themes.
- CANDYMAN. Director Nia DaCosta and her fellow writers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld take Bernard Rose’s screenplay for his 1992 CANDYMAN, based on Clive Barker’s short story “The Forbidden,” in a new direction. Rose’s CANDYMAN was simply scary. DaCosta’s CANDYMAN has purpose that gives it power, as well as making a connection between visual art and texture, and the subject matter under discussion, while still keeping things quite creepy.
- THE COURIER. Benedict Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze provide expert performances in this fact-based story of world-shaping early ‘60s espionage, directed by Dominic Cooke and written by Tom O’Connor.
- MASS. Fran Kranz’s feature writing/directing debut has some issues, but it goes much deeper than anything that has come before on the subject of school shootings. Also, there are some breathtaking performances, especially by Ann Dowd as a mother impacted by the tragedy.
- THE OLD WAYS. This mostly Spanish-language folk horror film from director Christopher Alender and writer Marcos Gabriel turns the scary-people-in-the-forest trope inside out with engagingly original style.
There were lots of other fine films this year, some overall terrific, with standout qualities – THE GREEN KNIGHT’s stunning costume design by Malgosia Turzanska, the gorgeously-executed choreography of Justin Peck for WEST SIDE STORY, based on Jerome Robbins’ original choreography – but these ten are the ones that made the biggest impressions.
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Article: YEAR IN REVIEW: THE 10 BEST MOVIES OF 2021