Maciej Kasperowicz is a good friend and one of the more trusted movie voices in my life. Today he shares his recap of 2021 especially for us, the DBB throng.
It was a Saturday, a few weeks into March 2021, that marked two weeks since my second Pfizer dose.
I planned my whole day around going to the movies.
Film Forum was playing a double feature of Pedro Almodovar’s new short paired with one of his classics, so I went there for those, got some delicious fish and chips for lunch, and then walked up to the Quad to see Shiva Baby.
I went to the movies 55 times in 2021, and part of that was making up for lost COVID time, but I also think that, because of the uncertainty of 2020, a ton of good shit came out last year. There were movies that I adored, that I told my friends that they absolutely HAD to go see or rent, that I couldn’t squeeze into my top 40 for the year.
For you, though, and for DaBearsBlog, I’ve whittled the list down a 40. Make some popcorn and enjoy.
Psycho Goreman, HYDRA, The Night House, The Novice, The Tragedy of Macbeth, Test Pattern, Never Gonna Snow Again, Malignant, The Power, Plan B
Drive My Car, Matrix: Resurrections, The Green Knight, Annette, The Queen of Black Magic, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, Judas and the Black Messiah, Identifying Features, In the Heights, Prisoners of the Ghostland
This movie’s oddly hard to actually see right now, but I’m optimistic that you’ll get the chance at some point, and when you do, you’ll get one of the best Tilda Swinton performances in years, and the coolest sound design of any movie that came out last year.
19. West Side Story
It can often be counterproductive to remake a movie and spell out its subtext in capital letters (I hated this year’s very ABOUT TRAUMA Halloween Kills), but Tony Kushner’s sharp focus on the racial, economic, and real estate dynamics in one very specific neighborhood of late 50s NYC only enriches the text. Visually, Spielberg is just showing off here, and it’s so fun to watch. I’d love it even more if I didn’t think it didn’t have a black hole of charisma in the middle of it in the form of Ansel Elgort.
[Editor’s Note: If Maciej and I ever start a Siskel and Ebert type program, we could do three episodes on Elgort’s performance in WSS.]
Seems out like it’s gonna be John Wick but about a kidnapped pig and, structurally, it kind of is? But it replaces Gun Fu with real talk about fine dining, tender cookery, and baguette sourcing. It’s the most unexpectedly sweet movie of the year.
Janicza Bravo directs a cast of very good and very good-looking actors in a movie that looks and feels very modern, like you hope a movie based on a Twitter thread would, without looking and feeling gimmicky, like you fear a movie based on a Twitter thread would.
16. Night of the Kings
I saw this sort of 1001 Arabian Nights set in an Ivorian prison at virtual Sundance last year, which seems like lifetimes ago now. It’s got social realism, it’s got meta storytelling, it’s got dancing, and it’s got some even weirder shit than that.
Appalachian poverty drama was a well-worn genre even before 2020’s adaptation of dumb fucking asshole JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy mainstreamed it. So, I can see this movie being a hard sell, but from the first frames of Jessica Bardem sprinting down an alley (every movie should start with someone running), you can tell this Southern Ohio-set drama is up to something unique and real.
14. Licorice Pizza
Holler recognizes that running and driving are cool things to have in a movie, Licorice Pizza basically builds the whole movie around them. This movie is just wildly kinetic and fun, and if not for those two inexplicable John Michael Higgins scenes it’d probably be one of my fav five of the year.
This 20s-set, black and white adaptation of Nella Larsen’s novel would be impressive no matter what, but as a directorial debut from the excellent actor Rebecca Hall, it’s even more so. Ruth Negga and Tessa Thompson both give terrific performances, and its visual style is so thoughtful and engaging. A great New York movie.
12. The Inheritance
A lot of my favs this year mixed genres and tones to great effect. This one’s about young black leftists trying to start a commune and touches on their interpersonal struggle while mixing in a ton of local movement history. The documentary parts are great, and the narrative parts mix in a lot of colors that remind me of early 90s Spike Lee in a very cool way.
Christan Petzold (Jerichow, Barbara, Transit) makes great fucking movies. His latest manages to weave scuba diving, urban planning history, and mermaid lore. It’s cool, it’s romantic, and it has one foot firmly set in modern Berlin, with the other tapping through various pasts.
I mean, there was no way that The Paul Verhoeven Nunsploitation movie wasn’t gonna be super fun. This could easily have been a simple anti-religion polemic, or a mystery mainly concerned with whether or not Benedetta’s visions are real, but it’s so much more. Come for the dildo whittled from a Virgin Mary, stay for real questions about faith and power.
9. Shiva Baby
The premise – aimless 20-something runs into her sugar daddy (and his wife) (and her ex-girlfriend) at a shiva she’s attending with her family – would make you cringe even if it wasn’t all shot like a horror film. Happily, it is, and those claustrophobic angles make it even more grotesquely funny. Rachel Sennot and Polly Draper both rule, and I’m declaring it the official policy of the DaBearsBlog that if you get a chance to watch Fred Melamed you take that chance.
[Editor’s Note: Policy is firmly endorsed.]
8. The Souvenir: Part II
This is both a sequel to Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir and a movie about a movie about the events of The Souvenir. So, you know, you should probably watch that movie first. But it’s also just a wonderfully observed and acted movie about being a young artist, made with such a control of tone that a mug breaking elicited gasps from the crowd I saw it with. Honor Byrne-Swinton is excellent.
7. This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection
If you’re the type of person for whom how a movie looks is the most important thing, absolutely run to watch this film. That’s not to say there’s no plot here: it’s a not unfamiliar one about modernity encroaching on a small village in Lesotho and a woman, terrifically played by Mary Twala, trying to fight back. But this movie has more beautiful, painterly images than any other in 2021.
6. Barb & Star Go to Vista del Mar
I love a movie about friendship, but even more than that I love a movie that has something funny in basically every line of dialogue. This could easily have been a thin excuse for Wiig and Mumulo riffing, and it would have still been fine, but there are so many other funny characters and the costumes and set design are both worthy of awards. It’s a new comedy classic.
5. The French Dispatch
I was at the bar with Jeff and the gang during the 4th quarter of the Bears getting destroyed by the Bucs in October when I made the decision to duck out a little early and go see The French Dispatch, and it was one of the better decisions I made all year. Pushing on from Grand Budapest, Anderson goes even further into making a movie about his own stylistic, aesthetic, and thematic obsessions. While that process won’t lead to movies for everyone, that kind of personal filmmaking, especially when done with such ridiculous craft as the police station scene here, is absolutely thrilling to me.
4. The Power of the Dog
My first time through Power of the Dog I thought it was gorgeously made and full of lovely and weird character moments, and it wasn’t until the very end that I realized how incredible the plotting is. I’m shocked that the first time I’ve gotten Benedict Cumberbatch’s whole deal is him doing a John Wayne, but credit to him and of course to Jane Campion, who is a master.
Julia Ducournau’s Raw was a cannibal movie that left me so hyped I went out and immediately found some steak tartare to eat. Titane, well, happily I didn’t feel the need to go fuck any cars after it, but I definitely did yell a bit. Unlike Pig, Titane more than delivers the violence it promises early on. But, like that movie, it also offers a surprising amount of tenderness amidst its gauntlet of absolutely wild shit.
I know, this is a 2020 movie as far as most folks are concerned, but calendars mean something, dammit, so I’m putting it here. Any movie with a funny grandma that brings anchovies across the ocean and falls in love with professional wrestling is off to a great start for me. Plus, there’s more pee-drinking pranks than in Jackass Forever. (I wrote additional thoughts about this movie in our Oscar post last year).
#1. Summer of Soul (…or When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
I love all these movies, and I think many of you will love a lot of them too. But listen: if you don’t think the hyperviolent French sex-with-a-car horror is up your alley, that’s fair. If you just know you don’t like Wes Anderson, cool. Maybe you’re right that bloody Nic Cage talking about restaurants just won’t be your thing.
But you’re going to like Summer of Soul. You’re going to enjoy the story of how the festival came together and how the footage disappeared and was recovered. You’re going to get a kick out of watching the performance footage of these songs, some of which you’ve heard hundreds of times. And you’re going to love watching some of the festival attendees and performers, who never thought they’d see the footage again, watch that footage with you.
Tomorrow: The HughesReviews list of the best films of 2021.