After a tough 2020, 2021 was an improvement. Mostly because vaccination against COVID-19 gave a way out of the pandemic, and life started to come back to normalcy. One ancillary effect, the one that is relevant to this space, is that movie theaters reopened and distributors restarted to schedule a more constant and diverse flow of films.
It was also a reminder of how much the theatrical experience matters; this goes beyond the quality of image and sound, which generally is (but may not be) better in a movie theater. Some films are improved with a (well-behaved) audience, and all films are improved with the undivided attention which the movie theater can provide. The streamers can (and do) pick up some films that were left behind for one reason or another, and this is great, but it should be supplementary to going to movie theaters.
In any case, to the list.
Best Documentary Feature Film: The Rescue
Seemingly as in every other year, I feel I should watch more documentaries. Out of those I watched, this is the one that touched me the most. Even for those who followed the press when this occurred and know the ending as a fait accompli, the filmmakers are able to slowly build the tension. The film also provides a valuable reminder that mankind can, at times, get united and spend enormous resources to save a small number of lives, because each and every one of them matter enormously.
Best Live-Action Feature Film: The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun
Yes, Wes Anderson’s films are an acquired taste. The French Dispatch mixes his usual elements to great success: a certain emotional aloofness in the tone that does not, at all, reduce the emotional impact of the film; great precision in the visual construction; great use of music. His love letter to the written word, and to those that ensure they happen (writers, editors) is a delight. His writing is absolutely on-point, with voice-overs beautifully read by some of his enormous and most excellent cast. Also, this film sports what may well be the most touching, most painfully true quote of the year: “You see, people may or may not be mildly threatened by your anger, your hatred, your pride but, love the wrong way and you will find yourself in great jeopardy.”
Best Animated Feature Film: Belle (Ryuu to Sobakasu no Hime)
Let me be clear: this is my favorite film of the year. It’s neither here nor there, but the film is a beauty: both worlds are distinctive and colorful, character design is inventive. What truly matters, however, is its story: an unlikely combination of modern concepts and a fairy tale (one as old as time), the account of a teenage girl in her quest for self-discovery and for finding self-love again. Her journey is very emotional and thematically rich, a sometimes hectic but extremely satisfying experience.
Best Television: Station 11
The best book of the past few years begot the best piece of television on 2021. The series revolves around a number of characters, all of them interesting to watch, creating a world that is brutal but not all that unlikely. The fragmented narrative (which comes straight out of the original material) allows for a very engaging emotional thread.
Best Book (Released before 2021): Torto Arado, by Itamar Vieira Junior.
The remaining films are alphabetically listed below:
Paul Verhoeven’s mildly scandalous and extremely entertaining film takes a look at a very interesting character (played beautifully by Virginie Efira), a woman who straddles the line between a swindler and a true believer.
Hamaguchi Ryusuke makes such a beautiful adaptation; it is almost as if the original short story (by Murakami) had a conversation with the play (by Chekhov) about acting and (emotional) pain. This was one of the richest, most rewarding films to watch, this year.
Year in, year out, stories such as the one told by Shaka King in this powerful film continue to happen. That’s what makes this film so enraging: it’s hard to shake down the feeling that mankind is evolving towards a bleak future. Beautifully acted all-around.
Ridley Scott creates layers upon layers in this historic drama, and with that slowly subverts the viewers’ notions of truth. The emotional center of the film turns out to be the least expected character, played by Jodie Comer in what is one of the best performances of the year.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s film has a lot going on for it: two young performers giving very fine performances as two winning protagonists, plenty of funny moments, the best action driving sequence of the year, and a nice coming-of-age story to make it all work.
Pedro Almodóvar gets the best performance of the year out of Penélope Cruz and one of the best supporting performances out of Milena Smit. The melodrama is very effective, as it follows the story of the two young mothers. The musical score, by Alberto Iglesias, is the best of the year.
The tagline of Aly Muritiba’s romantic drama tells it all: “a love story in times of unlove”. The love story happens between two unlikely people, and that sweetness rather than hate is where their path takes them is a ray of sunshine in today’s environment.
Chloé Mazlo finds a very beautiful way to tell such a hard story; yes, there is a love story at its center, but the film is about how the civil war affects the relationship. The toughest moments are presented with memorable delicacy and originality.
Films that would be above had I watched them in a timely fashion: Happening (L’Événement).
So, what were your favorite films of 2021? Why don’t you let me know in the comments below?
Thanks for reading!