Since the late 1970s, filmmaking auteur Pedro Almodovar has received praise from critics and
audiences in his home country of Spain as well as in North America, first breaking through
stateside with Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown in 1988, then again with All
About My Mother in 1999, as well as Talk To Her, for which he won the Best Foreign Language
Film Academy Award in 2003. Almodovar seeks to receive similar acclaim this awards season
in Parallel Mothers, where he reunites himself with one of his favorite actresses, Penelope Cruz,
while introducing relative newcomer Milena Smit. The result of this collaboration is a solid
melodrama full of great, nuanced performances from the two leads and Almodovar’s stylish
direction, which is enough to keep audiences engaged from beginning to end.
2021 was a year that brought about strife not unlike the kind America went through over the course of 2020, from a seemingly ceaseless pandemic and an ongoing standstill between political parties over a myriad of issues to tensions amongst subgroups of society and a mental health crisis on the rise. It was for that reason in particular that a retrospective of this sort was not produced last year, as the start of the current decade left this critic feeling despondent about his place in the field of cinema and what the future of the medium would hold, given the uncertainty over movie theaters’ survival and the state of online discourse. Nevertheless, we endure, and for those that ventured back out into society upon getting the COVID-19 vaccine, 2021 was a year of reunitement. The vaccinated were able to see our friends and families in-person after some time away, had life experiences that were postponed a year prior, and congregated once again in the places they hold dear. The latter for this critic is the movie theater, and the silver screen boasted a plethora of phenomenal films that rejuvenated moviegoers’ passions for cinema, transported us to wondrous new worlds, reunited us with our favorite characters and asked questions about societal norms from the past, monstrous ne’er do wells, and the nature of our inner spirit. Here is a brief look back at the year in cinema that was, and a list of the ten best films of 2021.
Who says you can’t release a good horror film outside the fall season? As awards season picks up steam and audiences start to slowly come off their high from last month’s Spider-Man: No Way Home, we set our sights on the New Year and the exciting film slate ahead. Typically, January is viewed as a month where studios dump films they don’t expect to generate much buzz (or money) because the quality isn’t there. However, that’s not the case with 2022’s Scream. Instead, Scream is a well-crafted, blood-soaked horror film that’s the year’s first great offering for fans of the franchise, horror fanatics and moviegoers in general. Read more
In 2018, anime director Mamoru Hosoda received an Academy Award nomination for Mirai, which enthralled audiences with gorgeous animation and a wondrous coming-of-age narrative that explored the psychology of its child protagonist well, yet was lacking in thematic weight. His newest film, Belle, aims to improve upon that with a story set inside an online role playing game, and the result is one of the best animated features to come out this awards season thanks to a well-written character arc, clever storytelling, creative world building and gorgeous animation from Studio Chizu.
Despite A-list star George Clooney churning out some duds behind the camera, including last year’s pricey The Midnight Sky from Netflix and 2017’s Suburbicon starring Matt Damon, he still should appear on the radar whether he’s starring or directing. Clooney’s latest film, Prime Video’s The Tender Bar, based on the 2005 memoir of the same name, hits the streaming service this weekend. Even though Clooney is still in search of his first high quality directorial effort since 2011’s The Ides of March, this coming-of-age story is still charming enough for anyone to enjoy, thanks in large part to Ben Affleck.
William Shakespeare’s timeless play Macbeth has been adapted to film several times over the years, from Akira Kurosawa’s samurai epic Throne of Blood and Orson Welles’ 1948 adaptation to Justin Kurzel’s dreamlike retelling that starred Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in 2015. Now Joel Coen takes a stab at bringing the tragedy to the silver screen in The Tragedy of Macbeth, and the results are as great as one would expect from the more dramatic half of the Coen Brothers thanks to striking high-contrast cinematography, practical art direction and set decoration, and captivating performances from its two leads. Read more
Ever since debuting with Hard Eight and Boogie Nights in 1997, Paul Thomas Anderson has
been a constant presence in the conversation about the best contemporary filmmaking auteur
working today, and he continues to solidify himself as such with his new film, Licorice Pizza.
Curiosity has been rampant about how a melodrama would feel in the more nuanced style he’s
refined since There Will Be Blood in 2007, and sure enough, the results place his coming-of-age
story among the best movies of the year for its nostalgic tone, the infectious chemistry between
the two leads, and a script that’s as funny as it is heartfelt in its depiction of platonic love and the
boundlessness that came with youth in the 1970s.
As an athlete, it can be easy to get lost in the competitive nature of sports. Many athletes want to excel. Some just want to do their part. In The Novice, Alex Dall (Isabelle Fuhrman) takes it to a whole different level as she strives to be the best at competitive rowing. Being the best at a sport can take a mental toll, and that is fully on display in this 94-minute thriller.
There are very few actors that can turn in a cohesive, gripping film in their directorial debut. That cannot be said about Maggie Gyllenhaal, the writer and director of The Lost Daughter, an intimate psychodrama that gives unique perspectives on motherhood. There’s much about being a mother that will never come to light for most, and some of those dark and difficult aspects are put under a microscope in The Lost Daughter.
After winning the Academy Award in the now-titled category of Best International Feature Film in
2014 with The Great Beauty, writer/director Paolo Sorrentino has solidified himself as a
filmmaker on the rise with the overlooked drama Youth and the miniseries The Young Pope in
addition to its sequel, The Two Popes. He looks to gain another Oscar this awards season with The Hand of God, a semi-autobiographical story about his adolescent living in Naples, Italy;
however, as impressive as Sorrentino has evolved his filmmaking style and despite the
emotional punches that his personal story punches, his latest film is ultimately a tale of two
halves that’s held back by a myriad of issues in the script that audiences may or may not find
easy to overlook, yet saved by the rich, gorgeous city in which it takes place and the eccentric
characters that populate it.
Adam McKay, one of the most polarizing directors in the game right now, is back with another button-pushing comedy that will ruffle some feathers. Love him or hate him, McKay always provides entertaining products, even if that means some people will turn off one of his films before finishing it. That couldn’t be more true for his latest film, Don’t Look Up, which is certain to turn off some viewers within the first act of the film. Regardless of your personal views, this is still a must-see comedy, thanks to the A-list talent assembled here. And while this might not be the awards contender Netflix was/is hoping for, it is still pretty damn funny.
It was only a matter of time until arguably the biggest television show of all-time, I Love Lucy, finally got a film adaptation that covered the sitcom in some sort of fashion. Enter Aaron Sorkin, one of the best writers in Hollywood, coming on the heels of directing (and writing) one of 2020’s best films in The Trial of the Chicago 7 (which in this critic’s opinion was the best film of 2020). In just his third directed film, Sorkin continues harnessing the skills he has been lauded for that go beyond the scripts in the engrossing Being the Ricardos. Thanks to a great duo of leads and one of the year’s best screenplays, this insightful feature detailing the behind-the-camera drama of its characters is a must-see in theaters or when it becomes available on the streaming service Prime Video later this month.
A courageous gut-punch. That’s the best way to describe Matthew Heineman’s recently released documentary The First Wave. We have been in the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year and nine months, so traveling back to March 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. Viewers will feel this when watching this documentary, so one can only imagine how it feels for the medical professionals on the frontlines who have been in this from the start. Highlighting the great job done by the medical professionals, The First Wave shows us the raw emotion of the early days in the pandemic that must been seen by everyone in order to understand what these heroes have been going through.
Musicals can always draw people from a particular audience even if they’re not the biggest fans of the genre (myself included). For that to be possible, you need a hook within minutes of the studio logos appearing on screen. And that’s exactly what Tick, Tick…Boom! does with a great opening number from Andrew Garfield to start the movie’s monologue that draws us into this upbeat dream-chasing story. Thanks to an Oscar-worthy performance from Garfield and impressive direction from Lin-Manuel Miranda in his directorial debut, Tick, Tick…Boom! is an engaging musical that pays tribute to Jonathan Larson and the magic of theatre.