The Best Movies of 2021 — And the Worst!

Posted on December 30, 2021 at 10:03 am

I see no need to limit myself to a top ten or to try to rank the very different movies that I most loved (or hated) this year. So here is my list of the best and worst movies I saw in 2021. I did not expect to have four black and white movies on my list, but all were outstanding and gorgeously filmed. And as always I am especially happy to include a number of films from first-time writers, directors, and actors who made unforgettable debuts this year. The final item on my alphabetical list includes both newcomers and two of the most accomplished and lauded filmmakers in Hollywood.

Copyright A24 2021

    Best


Belfast — Sir Kenneth Branagh’s loving autobiographical film about his family when he was 8 and the Troubles were getting more intense in Northern Ireland.
The Card Counter — Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish are brilliant in this story of a veteran struggling with PTSD and devastating guilt who makes a living at casinos.
C’mon C’mon — The best depiction of the constant terror, exhilaration, exhaustion, and overpowering love of being a parent, with a career-best performance by Joaquin Phoenix, matched by Woody Norman as the child he has to care for while his mother is away.
Coda — A heartwarming story of the hearing daughter of Deaf parents who wants to sing but feels obligated to help in her family’s business, with a luminous performances by Emilia Jones.
Come From Away — The heartwarming hit Broadway musical about the small Canadian town that took in the frightened international passengers from planes re-routed on 9/11 is filmed as a stage play.

Count Me In — Rock and roll drummers tell their stories in one of the most joyous documentaries of the year.
Cyrano — Peter Dinklage stars as the classic character who writes letters to the woman he loves on behalf of the handsome soldier she thinks she loves in this beautifully performed musical based the same classic play that inspired Steve Martin’s “Roxanne.”
Don’t Look Up — The most savage satire since “Dr. Strangelove” has an all-star cast: Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Timothee Chalamet, Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, Mark Rylance, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchett, and Tyler Perry in a wild story about science vs. anti-science and our ability to recognize and solve problems. Stay through the credits for two extra scenes.
Encanto — A girl who thinks she is the only one without magical powers in her family learns that only she has what it takes to save the day in this animated Disney musical with songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
The Green Knight — Don’t expect to understand it all or know what it means, but do expect to be enthralled by this classic story of a callow nobleman (well-played by the ever-talented Dev Patel) on a mysterious quest.
In the Heights — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s award-winning musical before “Hamilton” about his neighborhood is brought to the screen with joyful and touching music and dance.

Copyright Sony Pictures Classics 2021

Mass — Two couples meet in a church basement to talk about the tragedy that connects them. One couple are the parents of a child killed in a school shooting. The other are the parents of the shooter, who also died that day. Four brilliant actors and first-time writer/director Fran Kranz’s outstanding work make this film deeply moving and even hopeful.
Nine Days — Winston Duke and Zazie Beetz head a superb cast in first-time writer/director Edson Oda’s stirring film about souls hoping for the infinite privilege of being born into lives on Earth. The most powerful ending scene of the year.

The Outside Story — I loved every minute of this film from another first-time writer/director, Casimir Nozkowski. A somewhat reclusive video editor who creates memorial tributes for Turner Classic Movies is locked out of his apartment. Brian Tyree Henry is perfect in the role, and each encounter he has — from the person he blames for his break-up to the girl who lends him a charger and the cop who is writing a ticket — is a perfectly constructed and performed gem. They may seem random but they all come together at the end.
Passing — Actor Rebecca Hall is also a first-time writer-director in this exquisitely filmed story of two Black women, once friends, who meet after a long separation as one learns that the other has been passing as white, married to a racist white man. Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga, and Andre Holland give performances of quiet delicacy that enhance the emotional power of the story.
Raya and the Last Dragon — A brave girl goes in search of a dragon (Awkafina, in the best voice performance of the year) in this exciting and heartwarming animated adventure.
Schmigadoon — It’s a series, not a movie, but I could not leave out this hilarious love letter to classic Broadway musicals with an all-star cast led by Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key, with Ariana DeBose (Anita in “West Side Story”), Kristin Chenoweth, Alan Cumming, Ariana DeBose, Ann Harada, Jane Krakowski, and Aaron Tveit.

Copyright 2021 Hulu
Summer of Soul — Pure joy, and a powerful lesson in history and how it is told. Questlove assembled footage that had been sitting in a basement for half a century into the year’s best documentary, about a series of concerts in Harlem in 1969 featuring everyone from Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, the Staples Singers, the Fifth Dimension, to Mahalia Jackson.
The Tender Bar — An uneven film, based on the autobiography of a man whose lessons in masculinity came from the denizens of the local bar, is grounded in Ben Affleck’s best performance in years.
tick…tick…Boom! — Lin-Manuel Miranda directed Andrew Garfield in a story based on the early work of Jonathan Larson, who wrote “Rent” and died the day before it opened. Garfield was awarded the Best Actor prize from the Washington DC film critics for his outstanding performance.
The Tragedy of Macbeth — Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand play Shakespeare’s most murderous couple, directed by Joel Coen, with stunning black and white cinematography and an outstanding cast.
West Side Story — Screenwriter Tony Kushner and director Steven Spielberg have taken one of the best-known and most-awarded works and made it even more powerful. Ariana DeBose as Anita, Mike Feist as Riff, and Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her role as Anita in the original film, in a new role here, give performances that capture the most intimate details and the most powerful emotions.

Worst

    The Little Things — I had to invoke my famous Gothika rule for this dumb serial killer story that works well for the first half and then goes completely bonkers.
    Tom and Jerry — Why make a live action Tom and Jerry movie? And why make the non-animated part so boring?
    StillwaterGothika rule again. The premise came from the true story of an American student imprisoned in Europe for murdering her roommate but the nonsensical storyline did not.
    Lady of the Manor I gave a zero star review to this terrible film that combines wasting the talented cast with a disgusting white savior theme.
    The King’s Man — The first two films were cheeky fun. This prequel is a dumb, dull, dud.
    Shiva Baby — Yes, it turned up on a lot of “ten best” lists this year. But I hate cringe comedy and found this movie filled with appalling caricatures of its Jewish characters, with the exception of the always-terrific Molly Gordon.

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Awards

And the Winners Are….Washington Area Film Critics Awards 2021

Posted on December 6, 2021 at 4:31 pm

“Belfast” headlined a diverse roster of winners when The Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) announced their top honorees for 2021 this morning. A semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama from filmmaker Kenneth Branagh centering on a nine-year-old boy and his family during the Troubles in 1969 Northern Ireland, “Belfast” won Best Film and Branagh took home Best Original Screenplay.

Jane Campion won Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay for “The Power of the Dog,” based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel, a provocative western of toxic masculinity and repressed longing set in the big sky country of 1925 Montana. As a college-aged young man with an increasing enigmatic connection to his petulant rancher uncle, Kodi Smit-McPhee was also awarded Best Supporting Actor for the film.

Copyright Warner Brothers 2021

WAFCA awarded Best Actress to Kristen Stewart for her stirring portrayal of Diana, Princess of Wales, reaching the life-altering decision to leave her marriage to Prince Charles and the royal family over the 1991 Christmas holiday, in Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer.” Also superbly playing a late real-life figure, talented composer, lyricist and playwright Jonathan Larson, Andrew Garfield won Best Actor for Lin Manuel-Miranda’s musical-drama “tick, tick…BOOM!” Best Supporting Actress went to Aunjanue Ellis, wonderful as Oracene “Brandy” Price, mother of future tennis greats Venus and Serena Williams, in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s “King Richard.”

Best Acting Ensemble accolades were awarded to Fran Kranz’s “Mass,” an emotionally shattering drama starring Ann Dowd, Reed Birney, Martha Plimpton and Jason Isaacs, as grieving parents who meet in the wake of a tragic school shooting. For Best Youth Performance, Woody Norman won for Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon,” as a nine-year-old boy who forms a bond with his uncle while his mother is out of town.

Copyright Bleekeer Stelt 2021

Mike Rianda’s vibrant sci-fi comedy “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” about a family road trip that turns into a fight to save the world from a robot uprising, took Best Animated Feature honors, while Best Voice Performance went to Awkwafina for her standout work as excitable dragon Sisu in “Raya and the Last Dragon.” Best Documentary kudos went to “Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised),” Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s film about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. Best International/Foreign Language Film was awarded to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Japanese drama “Drive My Car.”

In technical categories, Denis Villeneuve’s sweeping fantasy epic “Dune” was the major victor, winning Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, and Best Original Score, while Best Editing went to “tick, tick…BOOM!”

The Washington, D.C. Area Film Critics Association comprises over 65 DC-VA-MD-based film critics from television, radio, print and the Internet. Voting was conducted from December 3-5, 2021.

THE 2021 WAFCA AWARD WINNERS:

Best Film:
Belfast

Best Director:
Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)

Best Actor:
Andrew Garfield (tick, tick…BOOM!)

Best Actress:
Kristen Stewart (Spencer)

Best Supporting Actor:
Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Best Supporting Actress:
Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)

Best Acting Ensemble:
Mass

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Best Youth Performance:
Woody Norman (C’mon C’mon)

Best Voice Performance:
Awkwafina (Raya and the Last Dragon)

Best Original Screenplay:
Kenneth Branagh (Belfast)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)

Best Animated Feature:
The Mitchells vs. the Machines

Copyright 2021 Hulu
Best Documentary:
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

Best International/Foreign Language Film:
Drive My Car

Best Production Design:
Patrice Vermette, Production Designer; Richard Roberts and Zsuzsanna Sipos, Set Decorators (Dune)

Best Cinematography:
Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS (Dune)

Best Editing:
Myron Kerstein, ACE; Andrew Weisblum, ACE (tick, tick…BOOM!)

Best Original Score:
Hans Zimmer (Dune)

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Awards

Washington Area Film Critics Award Nominees 2021

Posted on December 5, 2021 at 10:44 am

Copyright 2021 Focus

The 2021 WAFCA AWARD NOMINEES ARE:

Best Film:
Belfast
The Green Knight
The Power of the Dog
tick, tick…BOOM!
West Side Story

Best Director:
Kenneth Branagh (Belfast)
Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)
David Lowery (The Green Knight)
Steven Spielberg (West Side Story)
Denis Villeneuve (Dune)

Best Actor:
Nicolas Cage (Pig)
Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog)
Andrew Garfield (tick, tick…BOOM!)
Will Smith (King Richard)
Denzel Washington (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

Best Actress:
Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter)
Nicole Kidman (Being the Ricardos)
Lady Gaga (House of Gucci)
Kristen Stewart (Spencer)
Tessa Thompson (Passing)

Best Supporting Actor:
Jamie Dornan (Belfast)
Ciarán Hinds (Belfast)
Troy Kotsur (CODA)
Jesse Plemons (The Power of the Dog)
Kodi Smit-McPhee (The Power of the Dog)

Best Supporting Actress:
Caitríona Balfe (Belfast)
Ariana DeBose (West Side Story)
Ann Dowd (Mass)
Kirsten Dunst (The Power of the Dog)
Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard)

Best Acting Ensemble:
Belfast
The French Dispatch
The Harder They Fall
Mass
The Power of the Dog

Best Youth Performance:
Jude Hill (Belfast)
Emilia Jones (CODA)
Woody Norman (C’mon, C’mon)
Saniyya Sidney (King Richard)
Rachel Zegler (West Side Story)

RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON – As an evil force threatens the kingdom of Kumandra, it is up to warrior Raya, and her trusty steed Tuk Tuk, to leave their Heart Lands home and track down the last dragon to help stop the villainous Druun. © 2020 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Best Voice Performance:
Awkwafina (Raya and the Last Dragon)
Stephanie Beatriz (Encanto)
Abbi Jacobson (The Mitchells vs. the Machines)
Kelly Marie Tran (Raya and the Last Dragon)
Jacob Tremblay (Luca)

Best Original Screenplay:
Kenneth Branagh (Belfast)
Mike Mills (C’mon, C’mon)
Zach Baylin (King Richard)
Paul Thomas Anderson (Licorice Pizza)
Fran Kranz (Mass)

Best Adapted Screenplay:
Siân Heder (CODA)
Jon Spaihts and Denis Villeneuve and Eric Roth; Based on the novel ‘Dune’ written by Frank Herbert (Dune)
Jane Campion (The Power of the Dog)
Steven Levenson (tick, tick…BOOM!)
Tony Kushner (West Side Story)

Best Animated Feature:
Encanto
Flee
Luca
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Raya and the Last Dragon

Best Documentary:
The First Wave
Flee
The Rescue
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Val

Best International/
Foreign Language Film:
Drive My Car
A Hero
Lamb
Titane
The Worst Person in the World

Best Production Design:
Jim Clay, Production Designer; Claire Nia Richards, Set Decorator (Belfast)
Patrice Vermette, Production Designer; Richard Roberts and Zsuzsanna Sipos, Set Decorators (Dune)
Adam Stockhausen, Production Designer; Rena DeAngelo, Set Decorator (The French Dispatch)
Tamara Deverell, Production Designer; Shane Vieau, Set Decorator (Nightmare Alley)
Adam Stockhausen, Production Designer; Rena DeAngelo, Set Decorator (West Side Story)

Best Cinematography:
Haris Zambarloukos, BSC, GSC (Belfast)
Greig Fraser, ASC, ACS (Dune)
Andrew Droz Palermo (The Green Knight)
Ari Wegner, ACS (The Power of the Dog)
Bruno Delbonnel, ASC, AFC (The Tragedy of Macbeth)

Best Editing:
Úna Ní Dhonghaíle, ACE, BFE (Belfast)
Joe Walker, ACE (Dune)
Andrew Weisblum, ACE (The French Dispatch)
Peter Sciberras (The Power of the Dog)
Myron Kerstein, ACE; Andrew Weisblum, ACE (tick, tick…BOOM!)

Best Original Score:
Bryce Dessner & Aaron Dessner (Cyrano)
Hans Zimmer (Dune)
Alexandre Desplat (The French Dispatch)
Jonny Greenwood (The Power of the Dog)
Jonny Greenwood (Spencer)

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Awards

Oscars 2021: The Good, The Nutty, The Surprises, The Gowns

Posted on April 26, 2021 at 10:47 am

Copyright APMAS 2021

Well, that was different. And for reasons that go beyond the pandemic. Last night’s Oscar broadcast merited adjectives never applied to the television-era Academy Awards before. It was small, it was intimate, and because it felt like it was organized for the industry, not the audience, it had the enticing air of eavesdropping on something more authentic. No splashy musical numbers. No dumb jokes by presenters, no “playing off” the awardees if they went over their allotted three minutes. The Academy’s efforts to expand its membership to lower the average age and include more diverse filmmakers, combined with many of the usual “awards-bait” films being postponed due to the pandemic, let to recognition for smaller independent films, made with more passion than money.

The bad news — the audience will likely shrink again. The good news — the people who watch because they really care about film and had seen most of the nominees were likely to find it far more satisfying.

What worked:

Instead of silly scripted banter, most of the presenters told us telling details about the backgrounds and influences of the nominees. Harrison Ford hilariously (and grumpily) read aloud the “notes” and complaints from early viewers of “Blade Runner.” Many of the acceptances speeches were more than recitations of names. Thomas Vinterberg’s dedication of his foreign language award for “Another Round” to his daughter who was killed in a car accident was vulnerable and touching. The intimacy of the setting, including Questlove as DJ instead of a full orchestra, made the three hours-plus seem less of a slog. And, even though it was clearly a set-up, Glenn Close’s detailed response to “Da Butt,” including a demonstration of the dance, was a delight.

I also enjoyed the commercials! Lots of reflections of the broadcast’s focus on diversity, some very intriguing looks at upcoming films, including the musicals “In the Heights” and “West Side Story.” Putting the nominated songs in the pre-show allowed for lovely, very professional performances, beautifully filmed. I was rooting for “Husavik, My Home,” performed last night in Husavick, with the children who live there. The pre-show questions focused on the films, not on the dress designers.

And it was wonderful, as always, to see the international filmmakers who come together to create the nominated films, especially the below-the-line people who do costumes, make-up, special effects, production design, and sound. The awards for the short narrative film, “Two Different Strangers” and “Collette” will bring more recognition to the problem of racially-motivated police violence and the heroism of those who stand up to the greatest evil and oppression. This was the most diverse group of nominees ever, and that made the awards for Daniel Kaluuya (Best Supporting Actor for “Judas and the Black Messiah, also the first-ever Best Picture nominee with all-Black filmmakers), Chloé Zhao (Best Director, Best Picture, the second woman and first Asian woman to win the directing Oscar), and Yuh-Jung Youn (Best Supporting Actress for “Minari” and winner of my most charming acceptance speech award) especially welcome.

Surprises:

Copyright 2021 Film 4

The Screenwriting and Best Actor (Anthony Hopkins) awards for “The Father” were probably the biggest surprises. followed by the shut-out for “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” The decision to end with the Best Actress and Best Actor awards instead of Best Picture, reportedly in expectation of a posthumous award for Chadwick Boseman, was not a good idea. One thing the movie industry should understand is how to build to a climax. This was not it.

But of course there were gowns to admire! Viola Davis was stunning in a white, lacy dress, Halle Berry in a lilac fantasia, the midriff-baring lovelies of Carrey Mulligan, Zendaya, Andra Day, and Angela Bassett’s stunning silhouette. And I loved seeing “Nomadland’s” Oscar-winning Zhao and McDormand apparently appearing without make-up, Zhao in sneakers! They didn’t look disrespectful; they looked real, very much in keeping with the tone of the evening.

Best Picture

“Nomadland”

Best Director

Chloé Zhao, “Nomadland”

Best Supporting Actor

Daniel Kaluuya, “Judas and the Black Messiah”

Best Supporting Actress

Yuh-Jung Youn, “Minari”

Original Screenplay

Emerald Fennell, “Promising Young Woman”

Adapted Screenplay

Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, “The Father”

Animated Feature

“Soul”

Production Design

“Mank”

Costume Design

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Cinematography

Erik Messerschmidt, “Mank”

Editing

“Sound of Metal”

Makeup and Hairstyling

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

Sound

“Sound of Metal”

Visual Effects

“Tenet”

Score

Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Jon Batiste, “Soul”

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Awards
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