Friday, December 31, 2021

My Top Ten 2021 Movies

Here are my Top 10 Movies of 2021. Note that I'm including a few streaming "series" as movies with the caveat that they were one-offs, standing alone and were, essentially, long-form movies broken up into episodes. So, without further ado, here's what I really appreciated in 2021:

*WEST SIDE STORY. One of my all-time favorite movies is the original 1961 version. I first saw it as a little boy, alone in the State Theater (a glorious former vaudeville palace) in East Liverpool, Ohio. It left me in tears that extended to my time standing outside among snowflakes falling, waiting for my mom to pick me up. The new version was just as moving, but added layers of depth and characterization the original simply didn't have. No one was more shocked than I that I actually preferred it to the original film.

* THE POWER OF THE DOG. Lyrical, deliberate, and darkly poetic, Jane Campion's take on westerns is one that will haunt me for a long time to come. Magic.

* SWAN SONG. Filmed near where I grew up in Ohio, this comic and ultimately poignant story of an elderly drag queen making good on a promise to do the makeup for his nemesis for her funeral demonstrates how we can hate someone and also love them fiercely, showing how life is filled with disturbing and delightful contradictions. 

* BELFAST. A black and white homage to the troubled Ireland of the early 1960s, Kenneth Branagh's nod to his own boyhood becomes a lens in which we view the historical through the personal. It crossed time and frame of reference barriers to resonate with me personally, as all good art does.

* DON'T LOOK UP. Wow. Biting satire and social commentary so on the mark that the laughter was undercut by nausea because it was so reflective of our current times. Great performances all around.

* TICK, TICK, BOOM. I am one of those folks who absolutely adores Jonathan Larson's RENT. I've seen it multiple times on stage (skip the movie version, please). TICK, TICK, BOOK shows the genesis of the show and its creator's passion and, lurking in the shadows, his all-too-soon demise, under the masterful direction of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

* TIME. This prison drama, hyper realistic, is on Britbox and appears in three episodes. Everything from the writing to the directing, to the acting, is a masterclass in realism. The film is about hope beneath the darkest of circumstances and will stay with you long after the final credits roll.

* THE GUILTY. A showcase and nearly a one-man show for star Jake Gyllenhall, this super intense story of a few hours in an LA 911 response center, is not for the faint of heart. Powerful, moving, dark, and ultimately redemptive, this is one that's getting far too little buzz in my opinion (streams on Netflix).

* WHITE LOTUS. An HBO Max miniseries from the brilliantly-quirky mind of Mike White, this series gripped me from its opening to its closing. Featuring a career-best from the always wonderful Jennifer Coolidge.

* MARE OF EASTTOWN. Both a meditation on small-town life and an intricate murder mystery, this was some of the best television I've ever seen. And Kate Winslet and Jean Smart, as mother and daughter, demonstrate how transformative good acting can be.

Honorable mentions: Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu), Dopesick (Hulu), It's a Sin (HBO Max), Queen's Gambit and Midnight Max (Netflix).

What were your favorites?

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