Saturday, January 01, 2022

Ann and Stan on 2021 in film

Stan's "2021 in films (Ann and Stan)" and Ann's "2021 in films (Ann and Stan)"  are their annual joint-posts on the year in film which we always cross-post here.

Ann and Stan here doing our usual year look back at films.  In 2021, the pandemic continued.  And a lot of bombs depressed the country even further.  DUNE?  Denis Villeneuve had already destroyed BLADE RUNNER when some idiot decided he was the one to reboot DUNE.  Then you had Stephen Spielberg apparently now on fumes deciding to remake (ruin) WEST SIDE STORY.  In "Why the West Side Story remake flopped," Marcia outlined many of the reasons the film flopped and we think this one is the most important one on her list:


Problem three?

Lack of star power.  A bunch of nobodies.

In 1961, the original film came out.  West Side Story, at that point, had been a huge hit on Broadway.  Jack Warner didn't say, "Let's put the Broadway cast on film!"  No.  He knew nobodies weren't going to cut it.  

Rita Moreno was an often photographed Latina actress (she'd had no real box office on her own and was better known for her cheesecake photos than for her films).  She was still better known than the Broadway cast.

But Jack Warner knew that the film needed a star.  Someone who people would pay money to see.  Natalie Wood was a big name.  She'd been a child star.  In 1955, she 'grew up' with Rebel Without A Cause and earned an Academy Award nomination.  She followed that with one popular film after another (and with the classic The Searchers).  West Side Story came out after her massive hit (and Academy Award nominated performance in) Splendor in the Grass.  West Side Story came out before her massive hit Gypsy.  

Natalie Wood was huge.  Where was the huge star that Spielberg cast in his remake?

No where to be found.

Get it?  When the first film was made in 1961, while the show was a Broadway success, Jack Warner knew it required a star to carry it on the big screen.  Somehow that reality eluded Stephen Spielberg -- maybe his mental state's degrading?  

It was a bad film.  There were so many of them.  But here's our top ten of 2021's best.


Halle Berry scored both in front of and behind the camera with this film (stream it on NETFLIX) which she starred in and directed.  It's a big story with lots of elements -- domestic issues, alcoholism, dreams -- failed and ongoing -- and sports -- and director Halle navigates them so well, weaving throughout in a manner that holds you and moves you.


Jane Campion returns in this film that features Kirsten Dunst delivering her finest performance in years.  There's much to admire in this film but there's also Benedict Cumberbatch and we just don't buy him.  He's got a real problem of hollow performances.  And he  and his stretched out face (did he have face lift?)  are the weak point of the film.  (Stream it on NETFLIX.)


We loved THE MATRIX.  We loved that first film.  It was rooted in what appeared to be a world we might live in.  The two sequels took us away from that and meant less to us.  This film takes the threat back into the world we know -- or what we think is the world we know.  And it roots itself in the relationship of Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Trinity (Carrie-Ann Moss).  The chemistry between those two characters is still strong and present and we care whether Neo and Trinity will get together.  The film has a lot to say about our would and the way we are controlled.  Neil Patrick Harris makes a great villain.  Everyone delivers and we really need to note Brian J. Smith because we were huge fans of SENSE8.  (Stream it on HBO MAX.)


A strong action film starring Angelina Jolie as a forest ranger who has to protect the son of a whistle-blower.  Angelina really delivers in this film but so does everyone.  Taylor Sheridan has gotten performances worthy of praise from the entire cast including Tyler Perry and Jon Bernthal (the latter of whom we've not been impressed with before).  It's a worthy and impressive credit on Nicholas Hoult's already outstanding filmography.  And it's a strong action film that more than holds your attention.  We're hoping that this year or 2023 will bring a teaming of Angelina and Channing Tatum in an action film.  (Stream it on HBO MAX.)


Benedict Cumberbatch is the Stella Stevens of film in the 21st century.  He keeps getting cast and delivering the same performance over and over.  Hear he sports a strange and weird southern accent that goes to just how miscast he was.  Otherwise, this is a first rate film directed by Kevin Macdonald and based upon the 14 year imprisonment of Mobamedou Ould Slahi by the US government.  Shailene Woodley, Tahar Rahim and Zachary Levi are standouts but Jodie Foster? If Jodie Foster isn't nominated for an Academy Award, it'll be the greatest snub since the Acadmey ignored Cher in MASK.



It wasn't critics that piled on, it was industry publications like VARIETY and THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER.  They hated this film and wanted you to believe that Americans did as well.  These same trade papers pimped DUNE over and over in their desperate efforts to save that under-performing bomb.  Enough Americans paid to see ETERNALS for the film to be the sixth biggest grosser in North American ticket sales.  DUNE?  Not even in the top ten.  Academy Award winner Chloé Zhao directed this film with a sure touch.  She's managing both a large cast and many themes and she pulls it off and then some.  Strong praiseworthy work from Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Richard Madden, Bill Skarsgard, Gemma Chan, Brian Tyree Henry, Lauren Ridloff, Haaz Sleiman and Barry Keoghan.  This film offers thrills and some deeper meanings as the Eternals have seven days to save the earth.  (Starts streaming on DISNEY+ on January 12th.)




Raising a family and working outside the home, Nancy Kulik often found herself questioning what the choice she should make was and, at those times, she asked, "What would Sophia Loren do?"  Born in America after her parents arrived from Italy, Nancy grew up with Italian cinema and no one shined brighter or intrigued her more than Academy Award winner Sophia Loren.  This film not only details how that played out in Nancy's life it also brings Nancy face-to-face with Sophia.  Quirky and touching.  (Stream on NETFLIX.)


Ahmir Thompson (Questlove of The Roots) directed an incredible documentary of the year.  It examines the Harlem Cultural Festival held in 1969 which features live performances by Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, The 5th Dimension, Sly and The Family Stone, The Staple Singers, Mahalia Jackson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Blinky Williams and the Chamber Brothers.  That footage alone makes the film worth seeing.  Thompson also provides context and films interviews (like Mavis Staples reflecting on dueting with Mahalia Jackson at the festival). (Stream on HULU.)


2)  TINA.

Director TJ Martin delivered the best documentary of the year -- and this was a strong year for documentaries -- if our list was a top fifteen, Andre Gaines' THE ONE AND ONLY DICK GREGORY would make the list.  It's a strong documentary but what kicks TJ Martin's documentary onto the list and so high on the list is that this is a reconfiguring of the way we see Tina Turner.  A rock legend whose songs will live on for some time, one of the great live performers of all time, she is also someone that we think we praise when we ask her about the abuse she survived.  Tina is very upfront about the post-traumatic stress she suffers from as a result of Ike Turner terrorizing her and how questions can be structured in such a way -- and often are -- that she has to relive the abuse.  Remember, Stephen Spielberg offered her a role in THE COLOR PURPLE but she turned it down saying she'd already lived it.  Tina's life has happiness now and it's the sort of happiness we all aspire to.  If you think you know TINA, make a point to check out this documentary.  Great documentaries like TINA and SUMMER OF SOUL expand, enlarge our understanding.  (Stream on HBO MAX.)


An amazing, fast paced adventure that is one of the most visually accomplished films of the year.  There's really no superlative you can't attach to this film and it gives you a zip the way great films (think GOODFELLAS) do.  And give it up for Awkwafina because she delivers and makes the film.  Yes, she's great as the love interest.  But the most important point she serves in the film is being us, the audience.  Her questioning and disbelief echoes the audience in the beginning and as she accepts and witnesses events, we suspend disbelief as well.  Simu Liu offers true star power and should be the star of many more films.  Destin Daniel Cretton has made an unexpected classic -- and we mean classic film, not just classic superhero film.  This is film making at its finest and this could be the first superhero film to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.



Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"