The Best Films of 2021

The best of the best by Spielberg, Coen, Branagh, and more.

It’s that time of the year again. The time for me to deliver my praises for the best of the best of the best movies of the year. As always, I’m unable to put every great movie on my list, which, which is why I made an honorable mentions list with “Dune,” “In The Heights” and “Mass,” among many others. They would be between 11 and 20, but I prefer a Top 10 list. Let’s begin the countdown.

10.) “The Mitchells vs The Machines”

We gotten some Disney animated delights this year like “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Encanto,” and “Luca,” but the best animated film of the year has to be Netflix and Sony Pictures Animation’s “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” an animated comedy that combines “National Lampoon’s Vacation” with “The Terminator.” Kudos to writer/director Mike Rianda and producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for combining traditional animation with CGI, and for its social media nostalgia, voice work (Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Eric Andre, and Olivia Colman), big laughs, and a lot of heart.

9.) “The Card Counter”

In Paul Schrader’s latest profound entry, Oscar Isaac knows when to walk away from the card table, while struggling to overcome his dark past. Like “Rain Man,” this gambling movie knows the stakes, and provides a vivid character study. And with excellent supporting work from Tiffany Haddish, Tye Sheridan, and Willem Dafoe, the movie keeps you going. It’s a Must See.

8.) “Drive My Car”

The best international film of the year is a Japanese import so original, sexy, and provocative, it should run for three hours straight. You know what they say: “Three is a magic number.” Writer/director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi crafts a complex story about life with vivid characters worth knowing about. They’re actors, screenplay writers, and drivers, and they’re drawn with radiance and poignant tones that makes them leap off the screen.

And I’m still turned on by how the screenwriter wife tells her theater director husband her story. Wait and see.

7.) “The Suicide Squad”

The original “Suicide Squad” from 2016 was a wasted DC mess, whereas this sequel was written and directed by James Gunn, who knows how to apply the action, comedy, and nostalgia with Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And being R-rated, the movie is able to reach new heights with an all-star cast (Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, etc.), a giant alien starfish (Starro), a lot of vulgarity (I mean how often does a father and daughter F each other off on the prison phones?), and a fresh attitude. It may have bombed at the box office, because of how Warner Bros and HBO Max released it simultaneously, but at least we get to see Cena as Peacemaker on the upcoming series soon.

6.) “Pig”

Nicolas Cage gives one of his best performances as a man, who cares about his pig enough to track down the people who stole it from him. Writer/director Michael Sarnoski really combines food and life very well, and he guides the actor with a complex tone that doesn’t settle for easy story formulas. It’s dark, moody, and riveting.

Spoiler Alert: This pig had an understudy.

5.) “Belfast”

Writer/director Kenneth Branagh makes his best film in years as a personal story based on his own childhood experiences, about a young Irish lad caught in the middle of one of the worst protests in history. Jude Hill makes an impressive debut as that boy, and he also has worthy support from Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe as his parents and Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds as his grandparents. The lives are reflected on what the boy experiences, and the highs and lows he finds himself in.

4.) “The Tragedy of Macbeth”

Joel Coen’s first solo feature (because Ethan is focusing more on theater work) couldn’t be more committed to the William Shakespeare story about Lord Macbeth murdering a king in order to fulfill a prophecy of him becoming one. We all know the tragedy, but we still admire how Coen is able to present it in his own image.

Denzel Washington is brilliantly and profoundly cast as Macbeth, while Frances McDormand ignites the screen as his wife Lady Macbeth. Even the supporting work from Corey Hawkins, Harry Melling, and Brendan Gleeson, among others, know the stakes. The dazzling black-and-white images set the atmosphere of the film, while the evils and insanity earn it the R-rating. I also saw this movie at the New York Film Festival in spellbound silence. This is a Coen masterpiece that ranks with the giants.

3.) “West Side Story”

As much as I loved “In The Heights,” the best movie musical of the year was the new version of “West Side Story,” directed by Steven Spielberg, who was faithful to its source material. Collaborating with the late Stephen Sondheim, they have a terrific cast (from Ansel Elgort and newcomer Rachel Zegler as the new Romeo & Juliet to original cast member Rita Moreno as a mother figure), dazzling choreography, and all the remarkable songs that made the play and 1961 such classics. This one caught me by surprise.

2.) “Licorice Pizza”

Paul Thomas Anderson’s 9th film is one that resonates and ranks with his very best entries, and stands alone as his love letter to the 1970s Hollywood, almost how Quentin Tarantino expressed his love for the 60s in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Phillip Seymour Hoffman is smiling down at how well his son Cooper has been in the lead role along with Alana Haim of Haim fame. They’re both part of a would-be love story that transcends into a business partnership where the boy is trapped in his own world, while the girl is in the real world. And with brilliant supporting work from Bradley Cooper, Tom Waits, and Sean Penn, among others, “Licorice Pizza” is a trip down memory lane.

1.) “The Power of the Dog”

Jane Campion’s best film since “The Piano” is a western with vivid characters, all portrayed tremendously well by Benedict Cumberbatch, Kristen Dunst, Jesse Plemons, and Kodi Smit-McPhee. And all these characters have different moods and personalities, which somehow adapt through time.

Cumberbatch plays the meanest rancher in Montana of 1925, Plemons is his nicer brother, Dunst is his new wife, and Smit-McPhee is her sensitive son. The rancher manages to affect the lives of his new relatives, and maybe his new step-nephew could affect his. Poignant and sad, it shows us how one relationship can take directions for better or worse.

I got an early glimpse of the film and I loved it, and then I also saw it at the New York Film Festival, and the second viewing made it quite clear to me. Even Cumberbatch thanked me for seeing it twice. It’s a masterpiece about toxic masculinity and human nature on the American frontier. I’m glad this premiered on Netflix, because people, who aren’t ready to go back to the theaters yet, can experience this powerful adaptation of Thomas Savage’s novel. I hope it wins the Best Picture at the Oscars and Golden Globes.

Honorable Mentions

“Mass,” “In the Heights,” “Encanto,” “Free Guy,” “C’mon C’mon,” “The Souvenir: Part II,” “Dune,” “Titane,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Tick, Tick…Boom,” “Nightmare Alley,” “Luca,” “A Quiet Place: Part II,” “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street,” “Parallel Mothers,” “The Velvet Underground,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Coming 2 America,” “Nobody,” “Cyrano,” “The Lost Daughter,” “Cruella,” “King Richard,” “The French Dispatch,” “CODA,” “Together Together,” “The Worst Person in the World,””Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Julia,” “Sing 2,” “Spencer,” “Last Night in Soho,” “Antlers,” “Passing,” “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain,” “The Harder They Fall,” “Lamb,” “No Time to Die,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Everyone’s Talking About Jamie”

The Best International Features

  1. “Lamb”
  2. “Final Account”
  3. “I’m Your Man”
  4. “I Carry You with Me”
  5. “Flee”
  6. “Riders of Justice”
  7. “Titane”
  8. “The Worst Person in the World”
  9. “Parallel Mothers”
  10. “Drive My Car”

The Best Documentaries

  1. “Changing the Game”
  2. “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It
  3. “Summer of Soul”
  4. “Val”
  5. “Pray Away”
  6. “Final Account”
  7. “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”
  8. “Julia”
  9. “Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street”
  10. “The Velvet Underground”

The Best Animated Movies

  1. “Cryptozoo”
  2. “The Boss Baby: Family Business”
  3. “Ron’s Gone Wrong”
  4. “Vivo”
  5. “Sing 2”
  6. “Raya and the Last Dragon”
  7. “Encanto”
  8. “Flee”
  9. “Luca”
  10. “The Mitchells vs The Machines”

The Best Movie Performances

  1. Ryan Reynolds in “Free Guy”
  2. Bradley Cooper in “Nightmare Alley”
  3. Martha Plimpton in “Mass”
  4. Nicolas Cage in “Pig”
  5. Kristen Stewart in “Spencer”
  6. Denzel Washington in “The Tragedy of Macbeth”
  7. Andrew Garfield in “Tick, Tick…Boom”
  8. Will Smith in “King Richard”
  9. Emma Stone in “Cruella”
  10. Benedict Cumberbatch in “The Power of the Dog”

The Best Celebrities I Spoke With

  1. Maurice LaMarche
  2. John Ratzenberger
  3. Ed Asner (R.I.P.)
  4. Rosario Dawson
  5. Richard Kind
  6. Seth Green
  7. Kenneth Branagh
  8. Cary Elwes
  9. Tate Donovan and Susan Egan (tie)
  10. Benedict Cumberbatch

Categories: List

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