By Tim Nasson
2021 was the Wild West when it came to movies made for theaters. Many big studio movies (including the entire WB 2021 slate of films) debuted their titles Day-and Date (in theaters and streaming the same day). Some studios, including the biggest, Disney (as with their Pixar film Luca), debuted their fare exclusively on their streaming services. Very few movies debuted exclusively in theaters; the anomalies being Sony’s Spider Man: No Way Home and No Time To Die. Even Universal’s Halloween Kills on the same day opened in theaters and debuted on their parent company’s Peacock streaming service. The film took in more than $92 million in U.S. theaters – even though it played on TV at the same time, with commercials (if the person subscribing didn’t have the premium package).
Criteria for my Top 10 Movies of 2021 is simple. If it was listed on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences list of 276 eligible films for 2022 Oscar consideration, and the studios supplied me with a screening copy, theatrical screening or DVD, I would consider it.
My favorite movie of 2021 is a movie that seems to have been released in secrecy. It opened in one Los Angeles movie theater (for one week) and immediately thereafter was available to rent On Demand. It is currently on Netflix.
1. This Is The Night (starring Oscar nominee Naomi Watts)
Less is more going into this film. If you love seeing movies in a theater, grew up waiting in line for movies, had a crush on the prettiest girl (or guy) in school, kept secrets that you thought were life altering and unique to you, had a normal family (one that fought, but truly loved each other), this is for you. The kid who plays the older son, Christian, in the film, Jonah Hauer-King, plays the Prince in Disney’s upcoming live action The Little Mermaid. The film has one of the best original scores I have heard in years. Too bad it will get no love from The Academy.
2. The Worst Person In The World
This movie won its star, Renate Reinsve, the Best Actress award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. She won my heart and will win yours too. See the film. The film’s costar, Anders Danielsen Lie, is not only a contender for Most Beautiful Man in the World, he is a medical doctor when not acting, and is a great actor. He also appears in Bergman Island. In both films he has no problem showing off his birthday suit.
3. Parallel Mothers
Pedro Almodovar has been making movies – great movies – for over 40 years. Parallel Mothers is one of his very best. The multilingual Penelope Cruz can go from earning an acting Oscar nomination in an English speaking movie (Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona), to this, a Spanish film, in which she shines bright. Again, with this one, less is more. The film takes a turn almost as big as the one in Parasite that had everyone talking.
4. Old Henry
If you like classic westerns, films with surprise (alternate reality) endings and great acting (Tim Blake Nelson), this is one not to miss.
5. The Power of the Dog
Jane Campion has waited thirty years to right a wrong, a Best Director Oscar nomination snub for her The Piano. The Power of the Dog, featuring an all star cast is an early 20th century masterpiece in every sense.
Pixar’s best film in years has perhaps the biggest plot twist in the history of animated movies. And happens to be the best Pixar film in more than a decade.
A documentary and foreign film in the same breath, Flee tells the true story of an Afghan refugee. The animation makes the film something you don’t want to turn away from. And its screenplay is one of the best ever for a big screen documentary.
Paul Verhoeven may best be known for directing Robocop (1987) and Showgirls. But this French film (that takes place in 17th century Italy) that tells the true story of a mad, lesbian nun is something to behold. Charlotte Rampling is divine.
Kenneth Branagh has directed his magnum opus; a film based on his childhood in late 1960s Ireland. It was filmed in Black & White, which gives it exactly what it needs; an even grittier tone. Judi Dench and the film’s entire cast are Oscar worthy. As is Branagh, the film’s writer and director.
10. 12 Mighty Orphans
If ever there was a Disney film that never was, this is it. The film was released in theaters during the summer – by Sony Classics. The boutique label puts out some of the best movies (Parallel Mothers, Compartment No. 6 and Mothering Sunday, just to name three on this list). But blockbusters they are not known for. The Mighty Orphans would have benefitted from a studio with an unlimited marketing budget. It is the family film of the decade.
No Time To Die, Dune, The Card Counter, Bergman Island, Tick, Tick, Boom!, Compartment No. 6, Mothering Sunday, Coda, Spider Man: No Way Home, Cruella
Most Overrated Movie of 2021
Drive My Car
I picked four foreign language films to be included in my Top 10 list of 2021 movies. All are better than Drive My Car. The film is not necessarily one of the worst of the year. It is just silly (a deaf woman appearing on stage in a speaking role?), melodramatic, and not especially filmed by a master cinematographer. And it is three hours long. Three hours is fine if it is The Sound of Music, Schindler’s List, Titanic, Fiddler on the Roof or Ben Hur. Drive My Car is the film of 2021 from which every movie critic (and hopefully not Academy voters) drank the Kool-Aid. I can’t imagine anyone who has paid or will pay to see the film would ever want to sit through it again. I can think of more than 200 foreign language films that deserve more accolades and that I would want to sit through again.