#EDITORSNOTE: TEAM MR. WILL TOP TENS OF 2021
While it felt the latter part of 2021 was rather hectic on the release side for films, it certainly was a memorable, although sometimes chaotic year in Cinema. As we saw several films which should’ve surfaced in 2020, banked for our enjoyment on the big screen this year, it makes it even more challenging to narrow down our favourites. Truly, the Films that made the cut in 2021 truly were outstanding as they had to shine amongst a quality slate of releases.
Though it seems we’re making one step forward and two steps back in making it through this Pandemic, we were so happy to have been able to be back in theatres once again and enjoy a hybrid version of the Toronto International Film Festival. For that we are grateful and we look forward to sitting in a theatre once again, full capacity with popcorn and drink in-hand, even if not yet.
Team Mr. Will break down their favourite releases of 2021 for us and as always, it is an exciting and eclectic mix. Films like CODA, ROADRUNNER, NINE DAYS, C’MON C’MON and MASS might not be on all Critics’ Top Tens, but they fared well among the Team and found a home with us. If you’re still deciding what to see or are on the fence about, let us help you out!
So grateful for this amazing family of Writers and their esteemed opinions and hard work delivering for us year-round.
I think Cinema is at its best when it entertains, increases empathy and enlighten us. The films in my Top Ten check those boxes for me. However, 2021 is filled with impactful Cinema and my list could easily be 20! Other films I love are Awards Season favourites King Richard, Belfast & Spencer. This list was made before viewing A Hero, Parallel Mothers & Cyrano.
The Worst Person in the World & Petite Maman would be below but they release in 2022. Keep an eye out for them!
Top Ten Narratives (in alphabetical order):
Drive My Car
Judas & the Black Messiah
The Lost Daughter
The Power of the Dog
tick, tick… BOOM!
West Side Story
Fav Docs (in alphabetical order):
Summer of Soul
Writing With Fire
1. NYC Epicenters
2. Life in a Day: 2020
3. The Last Duel
5. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
6. C’mon C’mon
8. The Green Knight
9. Bo Burnham: Inside
In a near-tie for my favorite this year: two Documentaries attempting to process recent history. Life in a Day revisits the original 2010 experiment, sourcing thousands of hours of amateur footage from across the world shot on a single day in 2020 that might as well represent the era. Spike Lee‘s NYC Epicenters–a four part miniseries available on Crave–looks at every major New York disaster since 9/11 up to the present moment with absolutely crushing clarity. Sidenote: Netflix‘s ‘Turning Point‘ gives 9/11 some much-needed context as the inciting incident in a much broader tragedy for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. Bo Burnham’s Inside grapples with our collective quarantine routine, and though I have misgivings about how accurate it is to Burnham‘s real experience of the pandemic–dropping it a bit further down the list–I cannot deny the singular power of his music to bring meaning to our perpetually sealed-off lives. In third–and the first narrative on the list–The Last Duel failed to connect with the Box Office but succeeded in keeping me locked at a 70° angle as I untangled the all-too-familiar cycle of assault, denial, and public scorn told from three distinct perspectives, brought together by a relentless, titular duel more explosive than anything Ridley Scott has ever yelled at a journalist. Dune could not be less connected to our present, so it was nice to become ensnared in its deadly world with the most well-integrated Visual Effects I’ve ever seen. Roadrunner and C’mon C’mon are both stories of Documentarians who live their work. For Joaquin Phoenix, it’s a spiritually healing act. For Anthony Bourdain, it’s a bit more complicated. Spencer synthesized Diana‘s tragedy into a devastating weekend of pheasant hunting, pea soup and Jazz. Sidenote: ‘Diana the Musical‘ is worth a Netflix skim for a horrific glimpse into yet another way of defining her story. The Green Knight revitalized title cards–along with reflections on destiny and death. And Annette finally put an end to our cultural obsession with selfish toxic male stars–j/k!
2021 was the year I capitulated, when it came to the Movies. I firmly believed that they HAD to be seen on a big screen to even be considered worthy candidates to make my personal “Best” list. To me, VOD always stood for movies that studios deemed unworthy of a theatrical release and streaming services were like HBO: good stuff but, like HBO movies, should not be considered Oscar-worthy. My feelings came crashing down when I saw my first movie in a darkened theatre when we were finally allowed to do so. It was the Documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”. It was also the 107th movie I had watched this year. The final nail in the coffin was when I was given the choice to see “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” in the theatre or to stream it and I chose the latter.
Whittling down the 288 titles I watched in 2021 to my Top Ten was no easy task! And apologies to the movies I haven’t seen yet (The Lost Daughter, Drive My Car, A Hero, Parallel Mothers and The Green Knight) that could have made the list and those that I could not squeeze-in (Annette, Flee, Belfast, Being the Ricardos, Don’t Look Up, In the Heights and Passing).
- The Power of the Dog
- West Side Story
- (tie) Summer of Soul/Attica
- Nine Lives
- The Humans
- The Worst Person in the World
What a mess 2021 has been, we thought we couldn’t possibly still be in this god damn pandemic anymore but here we are. Thankfully, even through the endless, and I mean ENDLESS delays we got some content this year that was absolutely incredible. Only one movie on this Top Ten list only played the festival circuit, and I cannot stress enough that it must be viewed when it comes out. Everything on this list deserves its placing, and if you haven’t seen some of these picks, please please please go and see it to warm your Cinephile heart. I present to you my top 10 of 2021. May 2022 bring forward some other excellent Cinema!
Alone With You
I’m your Man
Tick Tick Boom
Note: at the time of publication I have not seen Drive My Car, or Parallel Mothers.
Happy New Year everyone, and Bon Cinema!
Were we wrong thinking 2021 would be better than 2020? While it was not nearly as much of a dumpster fire, there is still so much wrong and so few lessons learned. I loved being able to experience movies in a theatre again, yet am depressed at how few people turned up for anything that did not involve Marvel characters (though I did enjoy some of those ones too). Fingers crossed we can lose the increasingly annoying “Exclusively in Theatres” rhetoric at some point in 2022. All of that said, I was able to experience a whole world of titles at digital festivals and likely saw more movies this year alone than I have in previous years (or at least compared to all the years I have tracked on Letterboxd!). So it was not all doom and gloom.
Here is a look at my ranked Top 10 list of titles that had a profound effect on me, inspiring my creativity endlessly in a year where I felt so little, followed by alphabetical lists of 2020 films I could not see until 2021 and a few festival favourites waiting for proper release.
- Nine Days
- The Mitchells vs. The Machines
- The Worst Person in the World
- Judas and the Black Messiah
- Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
- Riders of Justice
- Licorice Pizza
2020 Favourites That Were Available This Year
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Unreleased Festival Favourites
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
Catch the Fair One
Three things we always look for in a great film. One, it has to take us on a real journey and there’s gotta be something at stake that’s meaningful. It doesn’t matter how big the stakes are. It is the Director and Actors’ jobs to make it feel like the journey they are going on matters. Two, we love it when an Actor transforms and we laud bravado in a performance. Three, we want to feel something when we walk away from a film. These Films meet all the criteria for me. Whether it be Kristen Stewart’s transcendent performance as Diana in Spencer which we’re still obsessed with, or what it means for a father to go for broke because he believes so much in his daughters in King Richard, or films like Zola and Red Rocket which pushed the envelope giving us a glimpse into the lives of Sex Workers, my eyes were opened and sometimes welled-up from some of the masterful work I saw in my Top Ten.
Don’t forget to check-out highlights from our 2021 Star Sightings in Toronto here!
2. King Richard
3. Red Rocket
4. Blue Bayou
5. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
7. West Side Story
10. Licorice Pizza
To another amazing year in Film ahead! Thank you for continuing to join us!
Team Mr. Will
#SUNDANCE: 2020 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL AWARD WINNERS
By Amanda Gilmore
This year’s Sundance Film Festival saw a wide range of films from a wide range of Filmmakers. There were some films that came into the Festival being bought, such as highly-buzzed Zola by Sony Pictures and A24, to Palm Springs starring now Andy Samberg, now distributed by Hulu and NEON. Winners at the Festival have been unveiled with films like MINARI and I CARRY YOU WITH ME getting top honours.
NEXT Innovator Award was chosen by a single juror this year and it was Gregg Araki.
NEXT Audience Award: I CARRY YOU WITH ME directed by Heidi Ewing
NEXT Innovator Award: I CARRY YOU WITH ME directed by Heidi Ewing
World Cinema Documentary Competition — the jury included Eric Hynes, Rima Mismar and Nanfu Wang.
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing: Mila Aung-Thwin, Sam Soko and Ryan Mullins for SOFTIE
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography: Mircea Topoleanu and Radu Ciorniciuc for ACASA, MY HOME
World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Creative Storytelling: Benjamin Ree for THE PAINTER AND THE THIEF
World Cinema Documentary Award for Directing: Iryna Tsilyk for THE EARTH IS BLUE AS AN ORANGE
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize Documentary: EPICENTRO directed by Hubert Sauper
World Cinema Documentary Audience Award: THE REASON I JUMP directed by Jerry Rothwell
The World Cinema Dramatic Competition — the jury included Alba Rohrwacher, Wagner Moura, and Haifaa Al Mansour.
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting: Ben Whishaw for SURGE
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Visionary Filmmaking: Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese for THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION
World Cinema Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Screenplay: Fernanda Valadez and Astrid Rondero for IDENTIFYING FEATURES (SIN SEÑAS PARTICULARES)
World Cinema Dramatic Award for Directing: Maïmouna Doucouré for CUTIES
World Cinema Grand Jury Prize World Dramatic: YALDA, A NIGHT FOR FORGIVENESS directed by Massoud Bakhshi
World Cinema Audience Award: IDENTIFYING FEATURES (SIN SEÑAS PARTICULARES) directed by Fernanda Valadez
The U.S. Documentary Competition — the jury included Rachel Rosen and Noland Walker
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Emerging Filmmaker: Arthur Jones for FEELS GOOD MAN
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Social Impact Filmmaking: Elyse Steinberg, Josh Kriegman, and Eli Despres for THE FIGHT
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Editing: Tyler H. Walk for WELCOME TO CHECHNYA
U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Innovation in Nonfiction Storytelling: Kirsten Johnson for DICK JOHNSON IS DEAD
U.S. Documentary Directing Award: Garrett Bradley for TIME
U.S. DocumentaryGrand Jury Prize: BOYS STATE directed by Jesse Moss and Amanda McBaine
U.S Documentary Competition Audience Award: CRIP CAMP directed by Nicole Newnham and Jim LeBrecht
The U.S. Dramatic Competition — the jury included Ethan Hawke, Wash Westmoreland, and Rodrigo Garcia
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast: the cast of CHARM CITY KINGS
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Auteur Filmmaking: Josephine Decker for SHIRLEY
U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Neorealism: Eliza Hittman for NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS
The Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award: Edson Oda for NINE DAYS
U.S. Dramatic Directing Award: Radha Blank for THE 40-YEAR-OLD VERSION
U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize: MINARI directed by Lee Isaac Chung
U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award: MINARI directed by Lee Isaac Chung
Some highlights of the Festival were seeing marquee names like Taylor Swift, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Rachel Brosnahan – the latter two whom we haven’t been lucky enough yet to see at TIFF yet, but hopefully soon!
Festival Goers also are treated to some really great Pop-Ups, our favourites being the Lyft Up Lounge sponsored by Lyft and one for the upcoming film, DOWNHILL. The former talked to the Lounge’s namesake program which offers free rides to those in need, while giving out chocolate, coffee and Impossible Burgers. Visitors got a chance to take a picture with their simulated ski lift also! The latter gave out soup, hot chocolate, coffee and even an oxygen bar were on-site to perk us up!
Catch-up on our 2020 Sundance coverage including reviews and sightings here.
(Photo credit: A24/Amanda Gilmore)
#SUNDANCE: “NINE DAYS”
Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
This exceptional Film from first-time Feature Writer-Director Edson Oda follows reclusive Will (Winston Duke) who interviews prospective candidates, who are personifications of human souls, to be born as human beings.
Nine Days is one of the most moving films to come along in years. Oda has written an excellent intelligent Script filled with lessons and reminders about how wonderfully painful life is. Its ultimate message is to hold on when things get tough because it’s the small things that make life worthwhile. His direction is nothing short of superb. With only one setting he is able to make the nearly two-hour running time fly by. The entire cast is outstanding but Duke is a showstopper. This is one of those films that will happily haunt you for a long time decades after viewing.
Nine Days screens at Sundance on Mon, Jan. 27th at 6:30 PM at Eccles Theatre, Tues, Jan. 28th at 9 AM at The Ray, Wed, Jan. 29th at 3 PM at Sundance Resort, Thurs, Jan. 30th at 8:30 PM at Prospector Square, Fri, Jan. 31st at 6 PM at Grand Theatre, and Sat, Feb. 1st at 12 PM at Library Centre.
#SUNDANCE: 2020 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL DAY FOUR SIGHTINGS
Sightings were a bit more on the quiet front today, but some exciting names were out and about at Sundance earlier.
THE NEST – An American Entrepreneur’s life takes a twisted turn after he moves to an English Country Manor.
NINE DAYS – A recluse conducts a series of interviews with human souls for a chance to be born.
RELIC – A daughter, mother and grandmother are haunted by a manifestation of Dementia, which threatens to consume their family’s home.
SURGE – A Thriller about a man who goes on a reckless journey of self-liberation over 24 hours. Stars of both Films, Bella Heathcote and Ben Whishaw gave us a two-for-one, spotted entering a Press Stop together for each of their Films!
(Photo credit: Amanda Gilmore)