30 December 2021

NMW's Salute to 2021: MOVIES!

Well folks, it's finally that magical time of year - ranking time! We're going to look back and reflect on everything that happened this year. Somehow the movie landscape felt even more fractured than in 2020. Maybe that's just because 2020 still had a lot of fun movies to burn off. In 2021 we really felt the impact. And super self-admittedly, I did not see all the 2021 movies I wanted to. Some years I just kind of make it up, but this year I wanted to really stick with just those that I actually laid my eyes on. I barely saw more than ten passable films, so maybe wait until next year for a more proper ranking?

Speaking of which...

2020 Re-rank

Trial of the Chicago 7
Extra Ordinary
Palm Springs
Da 5 Bloods
Another Round
I'm Thinking of Ending Things
Color Out of Space
Promising Young Woman

Great example! Six films actually remain from last year, but my #1 fell to #6. Oh well. I actually still like Mank more than I thought I would a year from last year, but not enough to crack my Top 10. Nomandland and Promising Young Woman feel like the kind of towering films that will be high for a long time.

Okay, ready for 2021?

#10: Raya and the Last Dragon

For some reason, it seems like no one cares about Raya and the Last Dragon. No one's talking about, I even ready a weary take that bemoaned a supposed inevitable Oscar win for its studio and Chinese pandering. This film was great. Awkwafina was miscast, just because she sounds too much like Awkwafina, but this was the most OCD-plugging film of all time. It's the kind of movie that can really inspire a little kid, and I pictured a younger self going crazy unpacking the different kingdoms, cultures, and ramifications of personal choices. It was a lot of fun, a compelling adventure, and one that I honestly think folks avoid because it's Disney, Chinese, and starring women. Oh well.

#9: The Sparks Brothers

I really just wanted to talk about how I somehow have this big Sparks gap. How had I not heard of this band? They are so up my alley and when I saw the trailer I started listening to their music constantly for six months and developed a genuine love for their ever-changing sound. I just missed them for so long. But it's never too late to become a Sparks fan. You may think The Beatles: Get Back was the best piece of media to explore the evolution of creative process this year, but give up some credit to The Sparks Brothers, which dives deep into band and song formation more than getting bogged down in the personal drama and drug use like many other musician biopics. The documentary format helps, as does the fact that they've never done drugs and made 25 albums.

#8: The Suicide Squad

Listen, all your lists will include Drive My Car or Shiva Baby but I want to talk about how much I loved The Suicide Squad. It is a positively wacky film with a huge budget, and the greatest, most expensive course correction in franchise blockbuster history. It's a simultaneous sequel and remake and I loved everything about it. The off-beat but three-dimensional characters, the comic book zaniness, and the well-paced and choreographed action scenes that also advance character growth are all high points for other superhero films to shoot for, especially with smaller bullets.

#7: The Power of the Dog

I think this was good. It was definitely boring, but rewards folks who pay attention. Also, the ending is not that ridiculous, he had an open wound with bad cow hide, that's that. It's a strange film with no actual protagonist, though. Maybe it's Benedict, but he's kept at such a distance that you never get into his head. Maybe it's Kirsten Dunst, but she also fades late in the film. We never really get into Jesse Plemons, and Kodi just pops in so later and with such foggy intentions that it's hard to get into his head, too. These are slights in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, but Jane Campion presents this as a puzzle to unlock without ever sacrificing compellingness. Okay, it definitely gets boring when she's just trying to learn piano.

#6: Barb and Star Go To Vista del Mar

This sneaky little bastard of a movie. It has flaws for sure, the tired villainous albino trope being at the top, but from the get go it's hard to understand what movie I actually clicked on in Hulu. But it settles into his wackiness, presents cringe, then backs off, pays off, and slays off like no film this year. Jamie Dornan and Annie Mumolo are fantastic, Kristen Wiig surprisingly less so, but it really is a film like no one else is making. And it got totally buried, so go watch it. Pray like Edgar, my favourite movie song of the year.

#5: The Harder They Fall

I'd consider this an average movie experience, until a huge twist at the end, but since it also stars all Black Cowboys it instantly becomes unique. That should certifiably be understood as a dreary take on the industry, considering how much black folk shaped the west (and are both comparatively underrepresented and...the reason they're called cowboys). I don't know why I need to know who Bass Reeves is from HBO's Watchmen. Anyway, it's directed with engaging panache by Jeymes Samuel, who hopefully had more in the tank like this. It's equal parts fun and serious from start to finish and presents its blackness as natural rather than particular. Hope for us all.

#4: Don't Look Up

AKA the late 2010s: the movie. Jeez, this film. Since parting with Ferrell, Adam McKay has been really terribly scattershot. I like The Big Short (2015) and Vice (2018), but this is somehow his most complete and traditional narrative. It's also bonkers, but really not that bonkers. In fact I hesitate to think that people in real life would be this rational. It's like a disaster movie without leadership being a given and the ending is really fulfilling. Our decisions have consequences, folks! This could be about climate change, or COVID-19, or anything else. We have some deep problems embedded in our culture, and unfortunately, I agree with the media moguls here that Leo and Jenn screaming at us isn't going to move the needle.

#3: No Sudden Move

Remember No Sudden Move? The fisheye Soderbergh movie that dropped on HBOMax over the summer? Everyone seemed to love it but then immediately forget. It's just that kind of culture, I guess. I still liked it. Definitely boring for stretches, and as soon as you realize that Don Cheadle and Benicio del Toro don't actually have any influence on the plot (and that the plot is also about a real-life auto industry conspiracy to suppress the catalytic-converter), it becomes far more watchable. It's subtle, fueled by stellar acting, an impressive cast, and ultimately significant stakes. I'd like to watch it again.

#2: The Green Knight

It was tough between these last two. In many ways, these were the only two movies I truly liked this year, and in my annual review of top films seen for the first time regardless of release year, these were the only two that really stood out. The Green Knight is layered in symbolism to unpack, fueled by unorthodox casting choices that enhance the core message, and updates an ancient tale to a modern audience while avoiding the flash of easy commercial filmmaking. The ending is righteous, ambiguous, and takes its cake while eating it too. Make no mistake, this film delivers on all the promises it makes. It's also ridiculously beautiful, finding breahtaking vistas in muddy rainy England, from forest to cliff to scrungy city. It's a film firing on all possible cylinders.

#1: PIG

That's right. Nic Cage. Haggard. Trying to find his pig. This premise could so easily become ridiculous. Like a John Wick (2014) parody, or...well, like any Nic Cage film. But the film treats its subject matter seriously, and slowly unravels what this guy's deal is. It also delivers on its promises, and never backs down from the stated fact that this truffle-hunter was the real deal chef, but he understands life perhaps better than any cinema character ever. I said it. I watched this on a plane. It's so good.

Films I saw that barely missed this list:

Bo Burnham: INSIDE
Plan B
Bad Trip

Films I did not see that could be here next year:

The Tragedy of MacBeth
Licorice Pizza
French Dispatch
Last Night in SOHO
House of Gucci

That's it. I feel more regretful than usual, mostly because some of these picks are just terribly commercial, but I dug what I dig and that's it, baby. We'll see if any befallen 2021 film can creep back in my re-rank next year, but for now - that's it! Hello 2022!

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