Cinema Junkie Awards: Looking back on the films of 2021
Speaker 1: (00:00)
You're listening to K PBS midday edition. I'm Jade Henman with Christina Kim 2021 may have seen more cinemas open and more movies released in theaters, but it was still a difficult year for the entertainment industry. K PBS film critic, Beth Amando is here to look back on the year to pick her favorites. Welcome
Speaker 2: (00:19)
Beth. Hey, thank you.
Speaker 1: (00:21)
So has the pandemic made it easier or harder to compile your best of five list?
Speaker 2: (00:26)
Well, it's easier in terms of studios making a lot more films readily available through screening links, but it's harder with so many virtual releases and so many films streaming. So I feel like on a certain level, I haven't seen enough films to do an accurate 10 best list. And that's one of my agonies is worrying that I might have missed that foreign film or that indie gem that should have been included and I missed it. But another issue is, is that so many films have had their opening dates rearranged and moved around. So I don't always know what year to place a film in. So one of the best films I saw in 2020 was St and that was on my 10 best list for that year, but the studio is pushing it for a film this year. So I just wanted to mention that because that would've been on my list this year, if I hadn't already placed it on last year's.
Speaker 1: (01:14)
So how were the films this past year overall? I mean, and did you feel there was a strong pool of titles? I
Speaker 2: (01:20)
Felt there were a lot of excellent film films, but fewer films than last year that I felt really took chances and just knocked it out of the park. So fewer films like Saint mod or possessor uncut, or I'm thinking of ending things. So in some ways it's actually harder to pick the top five because they're all so different and not a single one really like leap out.
Speaker 1: (01:41)
Wow. Okay. Hey, we're gonna go through your top five. And if people wanna see your full list, they can find it tomorrow on your cinema junkie blog, along with the rest of your cinema junkie awards. But at number five, you have Jane campions the power of the dog. Here's a scene that sets the relationship with Benedict comebacks, uh, rough cowboy and a young boy. He likes to torment.
Speaker 3: (02:04)
I wonder what little lady made these
Speaker 4: (02:11)
Actually I did, sir. My mother was a Floris, so I made them to look like the ones in our garden.
Speaker 3: (02:21)
Oh, well through pardon me? They're just as real as possible. Uh, now gentlemen, look, see, that's what you do with the cloth.
Speaker 5: (02:41)
Speaker 4: (02:46)
That's it's really just for wine
Speaker 3: (02:48)
Drips. Oh, you got that boys only for the drip. Now get us some
Speaker 6: (02:59)
Speaker 1: (03:00)
All right. So Beth, what stood out about this film?
Speaker 2: (03:03)
I love Jane Campion's confidence in creating a film that's made up mostly of like silences and minimal action. So this is a revenge story and one with quite a bit of brutality in a certain way, but it's so quiet and that you might actually miss some of the key action if you're not paying attention. And the actor who plays the young boy, Cody Smith MCee is fabulous. And he and Benedict Cumba just have an amazing on screen chemistry working off of each other. So
Speaker 1: (03:36)
Tell me about your number four pick, which is an animated document called flee.
Speaker 2: (03:40)
Yes. You don't see a lot of animated documentaries. So this is an animated documentary about the true story of a mean, who arrived as an unaccompanied minor in Denmark from Afghanistan. So it starts in the present with a mean now in his thirties, recounting a secret, he's been hiding for two decades. So through an interview, he should ears with his friend. We go back in time and in order to visualize what he went through, the film employs animation, as well as archive news footage. And it's just a stunning mix of animation and this voiceover narration. And it's a way to get into this man's story in a really away in
Speaker 1: (04:21)
Your number three slot. You have Joel Cohen's adaptation of Shakespeare's McBeth. Uh, here's a brief clip from that trailer
Speaker 7: (04:29)
By the pricking of my thumbs. Something wicked this way comes
Speaker 1: (04:49)
So intense. I love it already. You've said, Macbeth is your favorite Shakespeare place. So what did Cohen get right here?
Speaker 2: (04:55)
The visuals, this is such a cinematic film. So it's breathtaking in black and white it's cinematic yet. It looks like it's shot on theatrical sets. So everything feels very kind of confined and limited. And that's perfect for the story of the ambitious McBeth. And it's interesting for me because on a certain level, I didn't quite agree with Cohen's kind of emotional of the characters, but the film is just so intoxicatingly visual that it completely sucked me in and won me over.
Speaker 1: (05:30)
And in the number two spot, it's a film that you just recently found streaming on Amazon called nine days. It is described as being about a man interviewing human souls for a chance be born. Uh, here's an early scene.
Speaker 6: (05:45)
As you know, you are being considered for the amazing opportunity of life. If after this process, you are selected, you'll have the chance to be born in a fruitful environment where you can grow, develop and accomplish. Would you like to be considered for this position? I would, before we get started, may I call you Mike? Yes. Maria Alexander Kane. yeah. Do you have any questions? Am I dead? I wouldn't say you're alive or dead. Are you the boss? I would say coele that sounds into how long is this process hard to pinpoint exactly. But if you make it until the end nine days, so I have nine days, yes. Or less after that, if you're selected, there is an extension as a newborn. If not, I would say it's the end.
Speaker 1: (06:56)
Very interesting. I mean, what did you like about this film?
Speaker 2: (06:59)
I love the wonderfully inventive premise that it uses. And Winston duke is amazing as this man who's interviewing these human souls and it's a film that sometimes approaches the kind of visual poetry of a Terrence Malik film. And it captures memories on VHS videotapes that it laying in the background frequently. And there's just these wonderfully poetic moments that create this swell of emotion for you. That capture what it means to be alive and what it means to have your own identity and how to carry that over. And it was just a film that was surprising on so many levels and just emotionally rewarding. And it was such a surprise cuz I actually found it last night on Amazon. When I was searching around for some last minute, 2021 releases to check out
Speaker 1: (07:46)
Always a pleasant surprise to just stumble upon a good film in your number one spot. You have a Japanese film that screened at the San Diego Asian film festival called drive my car. The film looks to a Japanese man who is directing a stage version of uncle Vaya in which actors speak in different languages. Here's a scene from a rehearsal. What do
Speaker 8: (08:09)
Speaker 9: (08:15)
I think the director should be the one to judge
Speaker 8: (08:20)
Speaker 9: (08:25)
I agree with you. I feel like we both did better during the auditions. Hmm.
Speaker 8: (08:32)
Do you know why?
Speaker 9: (08:33)
Um, because I've learned a little bit of the dialogue. So I use my partner like my acting cues, but if I don't learn the dialogue, I can't act. Okay. And I thought that this way I could, um, pay more attention to other people's emotions. If I learned the dialogue perfectly, including theirs, I can react better.
Speaker 8: (08:56)
I see why don't we read the book again
Speaker 1: (09:02)
And what made this your number one film?
Speaker 2: (09:05)
As soon as I saw this film, I knew it was gonna be on my top 10. It's a film like power of the dog has this confidence and assurance and its ability to tell a through kind of misdirection where it's quiet. A lot of it is through dialogue and you have to pay attention to it, to kind of start piecing together the story of this man who is overcoming loss. And I love films that leave a lot up to the viewer to piece a everything together. They don't lead you by the nose and tell you how you're supposed to feel and tell you what's happening. You kind of have to pay attention. And this film is just beautifully executed and so confident in the story it's telling and you have to be patient, but by the end, the payoff and the emotional rewards are spectacular.
Speaker 1: (09:57)
All right, well Beth, thanks for sharing your picks for the best films of 2021. You can find the full list of her favorites on her cinema junkie firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again, Beth. Thank you.
The Ten Best films plus more awards
Cinema Junkie hands out its awards and picks the top ten films of 2021.
Last year may have seen more cinemas reopen and more movies released in theaters, but it was still a difficult year for the entertainment industry.
It also proved to be a difficult year too for picking films for a best list.
Screening films was easier in terms of studios making titles much more readily available through screening links. But the challenge was that with so many virtual releases and so many films streaming I felt like I hadn't seen even of a fraction of the films released to make an accurate best list. And that's one of my agonies — worrying that I might have missed some foreign film or indie gem that I should have been included.
Another issue is that so many films had their opening dates bounced around that I was not always sure which year to place them in. One of the best films I saw in 2020 was "Saint Maud" and I put it on my 10 best list for that year but now the studio is pushing it as a 2021 release because that’s when it actually opened in cinemas. So I wanted to mention it because I would have it on this year’s list if I had not already cited it last year.
Last year saw a lot of excellent films but fewer films than last year that I felt really took chances and just knocked it out of the park. Fewer films like "Saint Maud" or "Possessor Uncut" or "I’m Thinking of Ending Things." So it was actually harder to order the best films because they were all so different and few leapt out from the pack.
Trying to cram a diverse array of films into a ten best list is always a painful process for me so I can cheat a little with a list of honorable mentions.
There were many outstanding documentaries and I'd like to give praise three that focused on music: to Ahmir "Questlove" Thompson's "Summer of Soul, Edgar Wright's "The Sparks Brothers" and Todd Haynes' "The Velvet Underground."
Honorable mentions also go out to: Pedro Almodovar's "Parallel Mother;" Taiwan's "Detention" (based on a banned video game in China); "The Humans;" "Riders of Justice" (a new addition to my list of holiday action films); "Suicide Squad" (for getting the tone spot on); "Spider-Man: No Way Home" (for the multiverse acting ensemble);, "Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings;" "CODA;" "Belfast;" "The Card Counter;" "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" (this might have made the list for the title alone but it is also a brilliant Romanian satire); and "The French Dispatch."
Horror highlights from 2021 include: "Coming Home in the Dark," "The Medium," "Candyman" (how to do a remake/reboot right), "The Trip," "Lamb," and "Kandisha." Thanks to Shudder for making some of those foreign horror films readily available.
Cinema Junkie special awards
Craziest and most ridiculously fun films: "Mandibles" (about two French slackers who try to train a giant fly) and "Psycho Goreman" (which channels TV sitcoms and "The Power Rangers" to deliver a tale of a hell demon controlled by a bratty little girl).
Best feature directing debuts: Edson Oda for "Nine Days" and Maggie Gyllenhaal for "The Lost Daughter"
Best sequel: "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" (for understanding how to play off the originals, do cameos right, and make fans happy)
Best Actress: Agathe Rossouselle, "Titane"
Runners up: Olivia Coleman, "The Lost Daughter;" Noomi Rapace for doing both "Lamb" and "The Trip"
Best Actor: Winston Duke, "Nine Days"
Runners up: Oscar Isaac, "The Card Counter;" Daniel Craig, "No Time to Die"
Best directors: I am giving a tie to Ryusuke Hamaguchi, "Drive My Car," and Jane Campion, "The Power of the Dog," because they defy the current craving for bigger, louder, and faster.
Runners up: Joel Coen, "The Tragedy of Macbeth;" Edgar Wright for delivering freshness in both "Last Night in Soho" and "The Sparks Brothers" and because I think his talent is underappreciated.
Best restoration/newly discovered classic: "El Vampiro Negro" (1953)
The UCLA Film Archives with funding from the Film Noir Foundation began restoration on this back in 2014. The digital screening of the full restoration that I saw in Palm Springs at the Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in October of last year was only the second time it was shown publicly. The digital premiere was at Noir City in San Francisco in January of 2020. This Argentine remake of Fritz Lang's "M" has nothing to do with vampires except that the serial child killer is referred to as El Vampiro Negro. The cinematography is just breathtaking: seductive, eerie shadows; layers of darkness; elegant composition. There is one scene with the killer almost silhouetted in the dark sewer and we see on glistening teardrop fall -- just spectacular. Nathán Pinzón plays the killer in a manner that is both chilling and tragic. He manages to keep him human despite his horrific crimes. This was a great discovery for me and I wanted to make note of it. It should be available later this year on Blu-ray from Flicker Alley and the Film Noir Foundation.
Films I wished I had seen on the big screen: Joanna Hogg's "The Souvenir, Part II" and Apichatpong Weerasethakul's "Memoria"
I feel like these might have placed higher if I had seen them on a big screen. I know that is a bit ironic because they are intimate films that should play fine on a small screen. But they are slow, highly visual films where the concentration you have in the dark looking up at a big screen allows you to take in more of the delicate details. I still loved and appreciated these films but not with the same vigor as earlier works from these filmmakers.
The worst films of 2021
For some reason I felt like more films this year pissed me off than usual. So at the very bottom of the barrel you can find "Halloween Kills," "Coming to America 2" (except for Wesley Snipes who was a delight), "Old," "Cruella" (why does Disney want to turn a character who wanted to kill puppies into some kind of Goth heroine?), "Quiet Place II," and "Army of the Dead."
LEDE: Although the pandemic has not gone away, more cinemas have reopened allowing more opportunities to see new releases in theaters. KPBS Cinema Junkie
Any year that gives me a pair of French slackers trying to train a giant fly and a hell demon controlled by a bratty little girl is a year to rejoice in.
CLIP I will bathe in your blood… Don’t worry… Worry.
OK, neither of those films made my top ten but they both have a place in my heart. But here’s what did make my top ten starting with number ten…
CLIP Bond theme
I saw No Time to Die four times in theaters and fell in love with Daniel Craig’s final Bond appearance. As a lifelong Bond fan, I felt the film delivered all the action you expect from a 007 movie but with unexpected emotional weight.
Coming in at number 9 is an audacious turn by French director Julia Ducournau. With Titane she delivers another body horror tale that’s both gender and genre bending as it takes one strange turn after another.
At number eight is Edgar Wright’s Last Night in Soho.
This film that made me swoon with its stylish use of music, editing and visuals. It’s a ravishing valentine to the movies and to London in the 60s.
At number seven is Val, one of 2021’s many outstanding documentaries.
CLIP My name is Val Kilmer…
Kilmer’s son jack provides the voiceover narration since his father struggles to speak after a battle with throat cancer. Created from decades of the actor’s videos, it’s a heartbreaking and inspiring documentary that also serves up a compelling portrait of the artist and his creative process.
I found my number 6 film This is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection on Amazon Prime.
We don’t get many films released here in the U.S. so I was thrilled to find this and was dazzled by its unique narrative style and seductive imagery.
At number 5 is Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog. Campion tells this western revenge tale with unexpected nuance and elegance. I love her confidence in creating a riveting and tense film made up of silences and minimal action.
At number 4 I have a second documentary, Flee.
CLIP Clapper board then Amin speaks
It’s the true story of Amin who reveals a secret he’s been hiding for two decades. The audio of Amin’s interview, where he recounts coming to Denmark as a child from Afghanistan, is brought to vivid life through animation and archival footage.
Then at number 3 slot is Joel Coen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
CLIP By the pricking of my thumbs something wicked this way comes…
This is another film that’s simply intoxicatingly cinematic. Coen’s claustrophobic and horror tinged imagery perfectly match Shakespeare’s tale of a man who feels more and more trapped by fate and his own bad choices.
CLIP Lay on Macduff and damned be he that first cries hold enough.
At number two is another film I just recently found streaming on Amazon called Nine Days.
CLIP You are being considered for the amazing opportunity of life
Actor Winston Duke excels in this feature film debut of writer-director Edson Oda. The inventive, visually poetic film proves to be less about the human souls applying for life on earth and more about Duke’s character being reminded of that despite the pain, life is made up of small, wondrous moments.
And at number one is Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car. The film doesn't show its hand as it seems to meander about but your patience is richly rewarded with an exquisitely crafted story about grief and loss, and finding human connections.
Many of these films can be found on streaming platforms, and a couple are still in cinemas.
Beth Accomando, KPBS News.
TAG: You can find more of Beth’s picks for the best and the worst of 2021 on her Cinema Junkie Blog at K-P-B-S-dot-ORG.
2021 Ten Best
1. Drive My Car, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Janus
2. Nine Days, Edson Oda, Sony Pictures Classics
3. Tragedy of Macbeth A24
4. Flee, Jonas Poher Rasmussen, Neon
5. Power of the Dog, Netflix
6. This is not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese, Dekanalog
7. Val Amazon/A24
8. Last Night in Soho Focus Features
9. Titane – Julia Ducournau, best actress, Agathe Rousselle Neon
10. No Time To Die MGM
Mandibles Magnet Releasing
Psycho Goreman RLJE Films
El Vampiro Negro
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
The Souvenir, Part II
1. The Velvet Underground
2. The Lost Daughter – best actress
5. The Humans
6. Psycho Goreman
7. Riders of Justice
8. Summer of Soul
9. The Sparks Brothers
10. Coming Home in the Dark
The Card Counter – best actor
French Dispatch – best supporting actor
Drive My Car
No Time To Die
Tragedy of Macbeth
Last Night in Soho
The Velvet Underground
Summer of Soul
Power of the Dog
The Lost Daughter
Don’t Look Up
Being the Ricardos
Hand of God
Boy behind the Door
Summit of the Gods
House of Gucci
Tick tick boom
A Cop Movie
Harder they fall
Electrical Life of Louis Wain
There’s someone inside your house
Coming Home in the Dark
Prisoners of Ghostland
Eyes of Tammy Faye
The Card Counter
The Night House
Ghostbusters best sequel
Audrey EarnshawIn the Earth
Mitchells vs Machines
West Side Story
Spider-Man no way home
Let It Snow
Godzilla Vs Kong
Spiral: From Book of Saw
Coming to America 2
Army of the Dead
The King’s Man
Quiet Place II
Wrath of Man
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
The top ten
10. "No Time to Die"
The film suffered repeated delays before finally hitting cinemas in October. I saw it four times in theaters and fell in love with Daniel Craig’s final Bond appearance. As a lifelong Bond fan, I felt the film delivered all the action you expect from a 007 movie but with unexpected emotional weight.
Another audacious turn by French director Julia Ducournau. With "Titane" she delivers another body horror tale that’s both gender and genre bending as it takes one strange turn after another. It also boasts an absolutely riveting central performance by newcomer Agathe Rousselle.
8. "Last Night in Soho"
Edgar Wright’s "Last Night in Soho" is a film that made me swoon. It’s a ravishing valentine to the movies and London in the 60s, and it gave me goose bumps with its rapturous sense of style.
There were so many great documentaries this year but "Val" stood out for both its creativity in execution and its story. Compiled from decades of home movies as well as the actor’s videos, this heartbreaking and inspiring documentary serves up a compelling portrait of an artist as well as the creative process.
6. "This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection"
We don't get many films from Africa released here in the U.S. but I found this one on Amazon Prime and was dazzled by its unique narrative style and window to a very different world.
5. "The Power of the Dog"
Jane Campion serves up a western revenge tale with unexpected nuance and elegance. I love her confidence in creating a film made up of silences and minimal action. Plus there's the intense on screen acting chemistry of Benedict Cumberbatch and Kodi Smitt-McPhee.
This animated documentary serves up the true story of Amin who arrived in Denmark as an unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan. It starts in the present with the adult Amin recounting a secret he’s been hiding for two decades. The audio of Amin’s interview is then brought to vivid life through animation and archival footage.
3. "The Tragedy of Macbeth"
This is another film that’s simply intoxicatingly cinematic. Joel Coen’s claustrophobic and horror tinged imagery perfectly match Shakespeare’s tale of a man who feels more and more trapped by fate and his own bad choices.
2. "Nine Days"
Winston Duke excels as a person (or perhaps a being) who interviews human souls for the opportunity of being given life on earth. The film marks the astonishing feature film debut of writer-director Edson Oda. The visually poetic film is inventive and offers an achingly sweet celebration of the tiny details of life that we should appreciate. It presents itself as being about the people applying for life on earth but what it is really about is Duke's character remembering that life is beautiful and worth living despite all the pain.
1. "Drive My Car"
I was introduced to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s film at the San Diego Asian Film Festival. The film doesn't show its hand as it seems to just meander but your patience is richly rewarded with an beautiful story about grief and loss and finding human connections. It is an exquisitely crafted film that, as with Campion's "The Power of the Dog," approaches its subject through misdirection. It asks that the viewer pay attention (a rare thing these days when filmmakers like to lead audiences by the nose and tell them what to think) and to piece together the subtle elements.
Many of these films are available streaming so treat yourself to some filmmaking that is simply divine.