Cody’s Top Ten of 2021
This year I found myself optimistic as the film industry was, like most everything else, getting back to “normal.” Theaters prior to the pandemic were facing difficulty in staying relevant and finding innovative ways to keep seats filled. Heck, the most hype for movies in recent years could arguably be the AMC meme stock. But now, as we navigate life aside the pandemic, we are reminded again of the underlying fact that people love interaction with other humans and enjoy experiencing something together. Movies fall under this category and it was a major factor that weighed heavily on how I rated films this year. That personal human to human connection is something that simply can’t be beat. As the year went on more and more people, my friends included, returned to theaters and enjoyed one big blockbuster after another. We were able to laugh, to love, to cry, and every emotion in between. Best of all, we could finally experience all of this together again.
Evan’s Top 25 of 2021
As I contemplate this year in film, I find it difficult to contextualize against previous years. Streaming options have expanded with Paramount+ and Peacock joining the fray in earnest and the result has been a race for content, revivals of long dead properties and some truly awful movies. Undoubtedly my average film from 2021 has been worse than previous years, but as with the product of any 365 day period, this year has given us a lot of really special filmmaking.
Can good satire exist anymore? The common consensus is that the medium died years ago when Trump and other prominent real life targets of satirical work grew so ridiculous that they were the joke already. Shows like Saturday Night Live have no ideas other than mimicry to the point that they literally hired a comic (the very funny James Austin Johnson) most famous for his impersonations of the former president to just do impressions. If satire really did die when Trump descended that golden escalator, why does Adam McKay keep making films that ignore that reality?
Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true. This classic refrain is a central theme of Spider-Man: No Way Home, the final in Jon Watts and Tom Holland’s MCU trilogy. Unintended consequences is such an important piece that Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) even utters the line to Holland’s Peter Parker when the story tries to unravel. Beyond the screen though, it’s a warning for the fans who spent years desperately hoping for some of the things this film delivers.
**MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME**
AFI Fest 2021: Red Rocket
Sean Baker has never had problems finding cinematic drama — and a deep well of empathy — in the lives of people on the brink. To large degrees, all of his films have revolved around well intentioned folks doing the best they can in the face of debilitating financial situations. Be it Sin-Dee (Kitana Rodriguez) and Alexandra (Mya Taylor) working the streets of LA or Halley (Bria Vinaite) doing sex work on the side to keep a roof over her daughter Moonee’s (Brooklynn Prince) head, Baker’s characters clearly hold his respect. Mikey Saber (Simon Rex), the central figure of Red Rocket, is a new type of lead for the director.
This past Monday was a momentous occasion, happy Spider-Monday to all those that celebrate. One of the most highly anticipated films since Covid arrived and shut down all social interaction, Spider-Man: No Way Home began selling pre-order tickets this week. The response was fervent. Would be cinema goers waited in hour long virtual queues to secure the right to purchase a seat, opportunistic scalpers listed their tickets online for astronomical prices, American audiences were clamoring for a big communal experience.
Tick… tick… Boom: Lin Manuel Miranda’s Best Work of the Year is Jonathan Larson’s Play
Lin Manuel Miranda is having himself a year. Now, that statement would be true in almost any year since he burst onto Broadway with In the Heights back in 2008, but it is especially so now. Just in 2021 alone Miranda has: produced a big screen adaptation of In the Heights, starred as a musically inclined kinkajou in Vivo, written original music for Disney’s Encanto and, most impressively of all, released one of the best movies of the year with tick... tick… BOOM, his directorial debut.
AFI Fest 2021: Petite Maman
Expectations are always high for a well regarded auteur, but they were especially lofty for Celine Sciamma following her revelatory 2019 film Portrait of a Lady on Fire. From Water Lillies to Girlhood, the French director has always had a piercing vision, but Portrait brought her the largest audience and most fervent acclaim of her illustrious career. So how did she choose to follow it up? With Petite Maman, a 72 minute fable about a young girl meeting her mother as a child, of course.
For decades film has told the stories of young people finding their way in the world to dazzling effect. There is something so universally relatable about those late teenage years where you feel like you’ve figured it all out and seeing it with the gift hindsight you realize that those answers wouldn’t come until much later. The hard truth is that coming of age doesn’t happen all at once and that next phase of life brings with it doubts, big decisions and so much more uncertainty. This is the phase of life examined in Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World.
A tale as old as time, how much can true love transcend? Is it simply an intertwining of attractions or is love something more, something so inherent to our very being that we’ll find our way back to it under even the most dire of circumstances? These are questions Georgian filmmaker Alexandre Koberidze poses, if never really answering, in What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?