The Year 2021 Retrospective #2 - Movies

So, I saw a lot of movies this year. Not all new, but between new releases and streamers and catching up with some oldies but goodies, I hit over 60 films. That’s a lot, though that count might also include some limited series and TV seasons. This time around I’ll break it up into new releases, last year’s movies I finally caught up with then the older batch. If I have a chance for another post, I’ll talk about the TV shows I enjoyed.

My Favorite New Releases (Not Counting Family Movies).

A QUIET PLACE PART II – This was such a tense, wild follow-up to the original, taking place immediately after the first (the fact that the young actors have aged a bit is ignored), after a well-done prologue showing how it all began. This film also holds a special place in my heart as being the first I went to go see at a movie theater since the lockdown began.

DUNE – Long awaited, long delayed because of COVID, this large-scale epic of Hebert’s magnum opus is finally here, and worth the wait. Amazing visuals, especially the sets and ships which pay homage to the many classic book covers from the printed Dune series. Everything is a bit over the top (though slightly more restrained than Lynch’s version) in the melodrama department (as is the book), and the music, though beautiful and haunting, is insistent throughout and becomes a bit of a distraction by the second half. Overall a beautiful, wonderful and quite literal take on the novel.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME – I’ve always enjoyed the Spider-Man comics as a kid, and loved the first Toby McGuire movie, but as time went on, as much as I liked the franchise, it never struck me as original and ground-breaking as some of the other Marvel movies. Until now. Bringing Spidey into the MCU had a lot to do with it, but honestly this edition is one of the best – not only best Spider-man movie but Marvel movie too. One of them, don’t misquote me. You won’t appreciate it as much if you haven’t seen the original McGuire and Garfield versions, but if you have… well, the short version: fantastic Spidey movie. See it.

DON’T LOOK UP – Been looking forward to this since seeing the trailer ages ago. Now, I can see (and anticipated this as I watched) why people are split between those who enjoyed and hated this film, and largely along political lines, as usual with this guy’s movies. But DON’T LOOK UP doesn’t just mock the anti-vaxxers and soulless politicians but pokes fun at everyone else including the sometimes head-in-the-clouds left. It’s wonderful and dark and at times horrifying, peaking under the covers at society today. Your mileage may vary, but I laughed a lot during this movie.

TICK, TICK… BOOM! – Andrew Garfield brings the performance of a lifetime to this bio pic about, and written by, Jonathan Larson who also created the play RENT. Larson’s style is obvious in this musical about a struggling playwright trying to get his big break in New York. Every song, every scene explodes with pure joy by the musicians and players. And if you know Broadway and the surrounding scene, you’ll be amazed by so many cameos in the film. A wonderful surprise, this one.

THE KING’S MAN – I knew I’d like this from the moment I saw the trailer a million years ago (another one that waited until the theaters reopened). A Prequel to the KINGSMAN series of action/spy/satirical films that plays itself pretty straight and is full of some of the best fight / action sequences I’ve ever seen. Fun movie (but very violent so be warned).

2021 Honorable Mentions

There were many 2021 movies I saw and also enjoyed, but no room to get into all of them. Some worth mentioning are: THE MIDNIGHT SKY, FREE GUY, JUSTICE LEAGUE THE SNYDER CUT, BEING THE RICARDOS, THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE (the movie not the documentary), THE UNITED STATES VS BILLY HOLIDAY, OLD, Marvel’s SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (which I think went a wee bit off the rails in the climax) and BLACK WIDOW, and of course THE SUICIDE SQUAD where the un-canceled and uber-talented James Gunn brings DC films back from the brink.

2021 Movies I Still Want to See

So many movies, so little time. I still haven’t seen (but want to and in no particular order): THE ETERNALS, PIG, LAMB, THE GREEN KNIGHT, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH, HOUSE OF GUCCI, WEST SIDE STORY and NO TIME TO DIE

My Favorite Family Movies of 2021

On the very top of the list of favorite family-friendly films: THE MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES, Netflix’s early ’21 release which my son Elias watched probably 20 times. Another of his favorites was LUCA. Both Elias and (3 year-old) foster Emil loved PAW PATROL: THE MOVIE and I will say this one is very well done. Finally, giving the Chinese film WISH DRAGON major kudos, as it was another Elias favorite this year and I enjoyed it too (English dubbed, but you need that with kids).

2020 Releases I Managed to Catch Up to This Year:

Of the 2020 films I finally enjoyed, many pre-Oscar party: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 7, THE SOUND OF METAL and THE FATHER. For the sheer discovery of it and mindless popcorn action (though the plot has some clever elements) BOSS LEVEL on Hulu, the fun and very sweet EUROVISION SONG CONTEST, and PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN which was intense and a bit depressing. MY OCTOPUS TEACHER was a wonderful documentary but I kept thinking there had to be someone filming and this doubt kept creeping through my viewing of it. Finally, just to mention it (though I didn’t enjoy it much) TENET from Christopher Nolan, one I’d been looking forward to seeing and though slick and visually striking, it had a plot nearly impossible to follow unless you were on serious hallucinogenic drugs.

Some Older Movies I Finally Saw and Loved:
Fellini’s LA STRADA (1954), sad and sweet and truly Giulietta Masina’s crowning performance (along with another by Anthony Quinn).
THE 39 STEPS (1935): this one was not a favorite, but wanted to show how cultured I am by listing it. This has a long history with me, though: I’ve been wanting to watch this Hitchcock film for decades since my Mom (or so I thought) said they filmed most of it at an estate she’d grown up on (her parents were servants at the Crane Estate in Ipswich MA). All this time I must have remembered wrong because this is definitely all-British locations. Obviously, I’d remembered my childhood conversation with Mom wrong. It’s goofy but fun but still, just OK.
PROSPECT (2018): I’m a sucker for lesser known independent science fiction films, and this one starring Sophie Thatcher and Pedro Pascal was an honest look at how life might be like for the every-people in space. Well acted and scripted.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL (2016) – like PROSPECT, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL was on my TBW list for sometime before I finally got around to seeing it and it was as good as I’d hoped. A film that largely went under the radar, this kid-with-powers-on-the-run starring one of my faves, Michael Shannon, is superb and fun.
THEY SHALL NOT GROW OLD (2018) – Peter Jackson found documentary footage of a platoon fighting in World War I and restored it, COLORIZED it, and added voice actors and foley artists to fill in the missing sounds (the footage was originally silent). It brings this war’s absolute horror, inhumanity and horrible waste of life to the screen. You will cringe and cry and never look at WWI the same way again. (Note: it starts out B&W but once we join the platoon all hell breaks loose in full color).
ALIEN 3 (1992) – Huh? You’ve seen this a dozen times. Yes, and it was always a thorn in my side for what it did to the overall story arc of the ALIEN franchise, but for years after seeing it in the theaters I’d only watched the remixed “special edition” with restored / modified scenes. Didn’t like the movie, but… this year ALIEN 3, the original theatrical version, came out on Prime in high def so I watched it again. Honestly, it was extremely good. Powerful acting and story and, aside from a couple of silly CGI attempts (ALIEN only works with practical effects), a very strong movie. A major black mark remains because of what they did to Newt and Hicks, but I will concede that as a movie on its own, ALIEN 3 is a remarkable, very human film.
KUNG FU HUSTLE (2004) – if you like any kind of martial arts films, you need to see this. A complete parody which starts out straight then gets twisted. It’s hilarious.
YOUR NAME (2016) – I let my son Andrew (the 30 year-old) pick this Japanese anime over Christmas break and so glad I did. Very clever twist on the theme of two people connecting from a distance, it keeps you guessing and surprised all the way through
PAPRIKA (2006): another Andrew-recommended anime, stunning artwork and a very interesting story. Between these two I’m starting to realize how good anime movies can be. Their writing and effects are on par with the best Disney or Pixar can spit out, but for grown-ups.
ATTACK THE BLOCK (2011) is a goofy violent fun about an alien invasion and the invisibles of London society who fight them off, though sometimes for non-traditional reasons. Fun movie and another that had gone too long on my TBW list.
RICKY GERVAIS: HUMANITY (2018): I normally find Gervais’ humor grating. With so many performers being blacklisted from their careers during this modern McCarthy era for crossing moral lines drawn by internet mobs (even while millions more people are also insulted by these comics – myself included - who have not called for their destruction). The comedians of the world seem to be the last bastion against this new intolerance of anyone with different opinions, and do so with far more vitriol than anyone. Their job is simple: force us to laugh at ourselves (even though the above-mentioned vocal section of society seems to have lost that ability). As uncomfortable as Gervais’ humor can be, this time I was laughing hard even when he was insulting me and my own sacred beliefs. Because these past couple of years, we all need to laugh at ourselves, or go mad. Your mileage may vary, but before you post a snarky comment, please read my closing comments.

Others enjoyed: I AM MOTHER (2019), SYNCHRONIC (2019), TAKE SHELTER (2011) and 3022 (2019) another indy sci-fi.

Gone on too long at this point, so I’ll do TV shows in a different post…

I hope everyone has a wonderful and better 2022. Looks like many are catching this new, somewhat tamer version of Covid lately so maybe this is the last surge of this damned virus so we can all move on. One can only hope and pray. I also hope, and pray, that our wonderful, necessary Arts & Entertainment universe can begin to settle down this year. Everyone used to be accepted here, no matter how different, but no more. We need to open these doors and make it a free, open world where grace and acceptance of everyone is the norm. Black, white, every color in-between, straight, gay, cis or not, liberal or conservative and the extremists on both sides of these fences, as long as the latter promise to be nice to each other. Because right now, they aren’t, and it’s making the sandbox and ugly place to perform. So, everyone, let me reiterate: this year, be nice!


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