Olivia Colman is a great actress, who in "The Lost Daughter," has never been better. She plays Leda Caruso, an academic who is vacationing in Greece, alone. It's a deeply compelling character study of not just this woman, but of all women, who face societal pressures to not only become mothers, but the best mothers that they can be. Existing solely for the sake of others is perhaps the most selfless act in the world, but it doesn't leave a lot of room for personal - or what some may consider "selfish" - happiness.
Directed and adapted by actress Maggie Gyllenhaal - in this her directorial debut - "The Lost Daughter" bucks conventions to become one of the few films of 2021 that is simply impossible to forget.
The real tragedy of "The Tragedy of Macbeth" is that it will be a challenge to get people to see it...the works of William Shakespeare while classic, are not exactly accessible.
But for those willing to let it in, or who are fans of Shakespeare, will find "The Tragedy of Macbeth" to be one of the most effective, spell-binding takes on the famous play ever committed to screen.
There is a slang meaning for "red rocket" that I won't go in to (Google it if you must). but its an appropriate title for the latest film from Sean Baker. Baker has been on an upward trajectory himself, first making waves with the 2015 indie hit "Tangerine" (shot completely on an iPhone) and then following that up with his highly-regarded 2017 film, "The Florida Project," which landed an Oscar nomination for one of its stars, Willem Dafoe.
Baker has an uncanny knack for shining light into corners of rural, lower class America that rarely get attention, and the "deplorables" that populate these overlooked areas. "Red Rocket" fits in perfectly - thematically - with "The Florida Project" and "Tangerine" and features one of the most surprising comeback performances of this or any year.
Yes, Simon Rex - who once went by the rap name Dirt Nasty, who was a famous MTV VJ in the mid-90s and who dabbled as an actor in pornography - gives one of the year's best performances in "Red Rocket," against all odds, playing a washed-up ex-porn star. Go figure.
Fans are being asked to plug back into The Matrix franchise, nearly 20 years since the last two installments, "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Matrix Revolutions" hit theaters just a few months apart back in 2003. The love story of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) was at the heart of this ground-breaking film saga that mixed action with high-concept sci-fi and stunning visuals, returning over 1 billion (with a "b") at the box office for the trilogy.
Lana Wachowski returns to the franchise (sans her usual partner, sister Lilly) to give us a fourth chapter, "The Matrix Resurrections," a decidedly uneven but wildly ambitious return to the world of rogue programs, slow-motion bullets, steam-punk aesthetics, unabashed ass-kicking and endless sci-fi mumbo-jumbo. Its high-aiming philosophy works better than its action set pieces, but ultimately this is a mixed-bag reboot whose main themes get buried under a mountain of code.
You can tell that "The Tender Bar" might have worked better on the page as it was intended, for those that are into inspirational, personal, coming-of-age stories. But the memoir - by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, J.R. Moehringer - becomes a sloshy, melodramatic snooze-fest as adapted by director George Clooney, with a screenplay by Academy Award winning scribe, William Monahan ("The Departed").
Somewhere along the line, the "Kingsman" films stopped being fun.
When "Kingsman: The Secret Service" debuted in 2015, it was one of my favorite films of that year. It was a vibrant comic-book movie (of which it is based), but one meant for adults. It was surprising, violent, funny and cool...a spy-action-thriller that wandered close to satire, walking a line between James Bond danger and Austin Powers buffoonery. It kicked-ass. And its director, Matthew Vaughn (who ironically directed "Kick-Ass") was on a roll, having also hit a home run with "X-Men: First Class."
The sequel was inevitable, and when "Kingsman: The Golden Circle" came in 2017, I called it a "soul-crushingly disappointing sequel." It was not good...not good at all. It starred Elton John , which should pretty much cue you in.
Even still, I was cautiously optimistic for "The King's Man," a film promised as a prequel to the original movie. It was long-delayed, first scheduled to hit theaters in November of 2019 before being pushed back due to the pandemic and a bevy of other reasons. Over two years later, it's finally here, but this is one that should have been kept permanently on the shelf.
There are usually two types of critiques of a Paul Thomas Anderson film: The film is either a masterpiece, or it is a masterpiece that you just do not understand.
I tend to be told the latter half by those that swoon over everything P.T. Anderson touches. You see, P.T. Anderson films are inherently great because he made them. got it? And if you don't like one, well, you just MISSED its greatness, because it's all in there.
In other words, if you don't like a P.T. Anderson movie, it's not his fault...you're the problem.
I said this at the end of 2020 but I feel the same way: 2021 was certainly...a year. If anything we entered a "new normal" in which most of us were used to masking up, flashing vaccine cards and maintaining our distance. And that's just for those that didn't succumb to the virus or were too terrified to leave their houses.
But 2021 did represent a return to movie theaters, and the future looks bright. With a slew of films from 2020 held over and released into 2021 and beyond, there definitely was no shortage of content in 2021 at the box office or on the ever-increasing streaming platforms at our disposal.
I understand that there might be some films on my "Best of" list that you haven't heard of...and that's OK. I don't add them to be pretentious or to say "hey look at all of the smaller films I have access to!" But believe it or not, movies both big and small are actually way more accessible to mainstream audiences than ever before. There isn't a single movie on this list that you won't be able to find on a streaming platform or in theaters (I take that back...there is one), so I urge you to seek out the films you haven't seen on this list, and to share your feedback as to your top films of 2021.
There are two documentaries and two animated films on my list...including one that is actually an animated documentary, go figure.
There are some films that I share love for with other critics and many (too many, some might say) where I go my own way. I loathed the critical darling "The Green Knight," was only slightly warmer on P.T. Anderson's "Licorice Pizza" and only thought "C'mon C'mon" and "West Side Story" were just OK...I stand by the pure scientific fact that Jared Leto's performance in "House of Gucci" is among the worst cinematic performances and casting decisions in the history of cinema, despite his name (barf!) showing up on some "year-end" best lists...but I digress.
Having those debates is part of what I love about what I get to do for a living...so let some more of the debates begin! Here for you, is a list of my 21 Favorite Films of 2021, with the small privilege of being able to change/adjust this list as I finish out my list of "must-see" 2021 films ("Drive My Car," "Matrix: Resurrections," "The King's Man" and "The Tender Bar" are the few films I've yet to see).
One other small admission: My absolute favorite film of 2021 was "Come From Away" (Apple TV+), but since that is technically a filmed stage-play, I don't believe it qualifies for this list...but definitely seek it out.
So with that, my favorite 21 movies of 2021:
There is low-brow science-fiction ("Starship Troopers" and similar) and then there is more intellectually-challenging high-brow science-fiction (the recent "Ex Machina" or "Possessor" comes to mind).
"Swan Song" is a fantastic, thoughtful, emotionally-charged drama dealing with cloning, where it asks a simple question: If you could spare your loved ones from the hurt of ever losing you or experiencing any grief, what would you be willing to sacrifice?
With great power (i.e. advanced knowledge of what happens) comes great responsibility (like not to reveal even the slightest spoiler).
Here's what I CAN say: "Spider-Man: No Way Home" is finally hitting theaters...it is the third full-length Spider-Man film featuring Tom Holland as Peter Parker...and it picks up where things left off at the very end of "Spider-Man: Far From Home," with the world discovering the real identity of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
***NO SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED IN THIS REVIEW, OTHER THAN WHAT IS SHOWN IN THE ALREADY RELEASED TRAILERS FOR THE FILM***
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