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): Flee 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).
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.
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.
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
2020 Favourites That Were Available This Year Minari Quo Vadis, Aida? Saint Maud
Unreleased Festival Favourites Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes Catch the Fair One The Fallout Petite Maman Sundown
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!
After going virtual last year, the Film Independent Spirit Awards are back in-person on Santa Monica Pier! Nominees were announced this morning and leading the way in nominations with five nominations is IFC Films Thriller THE NOVICE, followed by THE LOST DAUGHTER, the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal. While the Awards traditionally are held the weekend of the Oscars, an earlier date this year allow the ceremony to be more of a precursor to Awards Season. Some of the presenters this year include Regina Hall, Naomi Watts and Beanie Feldstein.
Full list of nominees:
Best Feature “A Chiara” “C’mon C’mon” “The Lost Daughter” “The Novice” “Zola”
Best Director Janicza Bravo, “Zola” Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter” Lauren Hadaway, “The Novice” Mike Mills, “C’mon C’mon” Ninja Thyberg, “Pleasure”
Best Male Lead Clifton Collins Jr., “Jockey” Frankie Faison, “Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain” Michael Greyeyes, “Wild Indian” Udo Kier, “Swan Song” Simon Rex, “Red Rocket”
Best Female Lead Isabelle Fuhrman, “The Novice” Brittany S. Hall, “Test Pattern” Patti Harrison, “Together Together” Taylour Paige, “Zola” Kali Reis, “Catch the Fair One”
Best Supporting Female Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter” Amy Forsyth, “The Novice” Ruth Negga, “Passing” Revika Reustle, “Pleasure” Suzanna Son, “Red Rocket”
Best Supporting Male Colman Domingo, “Zola” Meeko Gattuso, “Queen of Glory” Troy Kotsur, “CODA” Will Patton, “Sweet Thing” Chaske Spencer, “Wild Indian”
Best Screenplay Nikole Beckwith, “Together Together” Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris, “Zola” Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter” Mike Mills, “C’mon C’mon” Todd Stephens, “Swan Song”
Best First Screenplay Lyle Mitchell Corbine, Jr., “Wild Indian ” Matt Fifer; Story by Sheldon D. Brown, “Cicada” Shatara Michelle Ford, “Test Pattern ” Fran Kranz, “Mass” Michael Sarnoski; Story by Vanessa Block, Michael Sarnoski, “Pig”
Best First Feature “7 Days” “Holler” “Queen of Glory” “Test Pattern” “Wild Indian”
John Cassavettes Award (Given to the best feature made for under $500,000) “Cryptozoo” “Jockey” “Shiva Baby” “Sweet Thing” “This is Not a War Story”
Best Cinematography “A Chiara” “Blue Bayou” “The Humans” “Passing” “Zola”
Best Documentary “Ascension” “Flee” “In The Same Breath” “Procession” “Summer of Soul”
Best Editing “A Chiara” “The Nowhere Inn” “The Novice” “Zola” “The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain”
Robert Altman Award (Given to one film’s director, casting director and ensemble cast) “Mass”
Best International Film “Compartment No. 6” “Drive My Car” “Parallel Mothers” “Pebbles” “Petite Maman” “Prayers for the Stolen”
Producers Award (Honors emerging producers who, despite highly limited resources, demonstrate the creativity, tenacity and vision required to produce quality independent films.) Brad Becker-Parton Pin-Chun Liu Lizzie Shapiro
Someone to Watch Award Alex Camilleri, “Luzzu” Michael Sarnoski, “Pig” Gillian Wallace Horvat, “I Blame Society”
“The Truer Than Fiction Award” (Presented to an emerging director of non-fiction features who has not yet received significant recognition.) Angelo Madsen Minax, “North By Current” Jessica Beshir, “Faya Dayi” Debbie Lum, “Try Harder!”
Best New Non-Scripted or Documentary Series “Black and Missing” “The Choe Show” “The Lady and The Dale” “Nuclear Family” “Philly D.A.”
Best New Scripted Series “Blindspotting” “It’s a Sin” “Reservation Dogs” “The Underground Railroad” “We Are Lady Parts”
Best Female Performance in a New Scripted Series Thuso Mbedu, “The Underground Railroad” Anjana Vasan, “We Are Lady Parts” Jana Schmieding, “Rutherford Falls” Jasmine Cephas Jones, “Blindspotting” Deborah Ayorinde, “THEM: Covenant”
Best Male Performance in a New Scripted Series Lee Jung-jae, “Squid Game” Olly Alexander, “It’s a Sin” Michael Greyeyes, “Rutherford Falls” Murray Bartlett, “The White Lotus” Ashley Thomas, “THEM: Covenant”
Best Ensemble Cast in a New Scripted Series “Reservation Dogs”
The 37th annual FILM INDEPENDENT SPIRIT AWARDS take place Sunday, March 6, 2022.
ZOLA brings the unique Tweet-Storm story A’ziah King posted on October 27, 2015 about how her and her friend Stefani had a falling-out.
Writer-Director Janicza Bravo visually brings the Twitter Story to screen in a creative and captivating way. The true life story is filled with crazy, unexpected twists and eccentric real-life characters. Bravo has an impeccable attention to detail and keeps the provocative aspects of the story without ever being grotesque. Although the story is predominately told through A’ziah King’s point-of-view, Bravo does her best to question the perspectives of both her and Stefani.
The story is hilarious and Bravo makes sure the audience laughs, however, there are heavy themes and questions she presents. It’s clear that things can all be fun and games until they aren’t. And Bravo balances these hysterical moments with the hard-hitting serious reality of the things these two girls were experiencing. Her entire Cast consisting of Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun and Colman Domingo cleverly and masterfully teeter between her Comedy and Drama. Yet, it’s the brilliant, energetic performances from Paige and Keough that keep the audiences wanting more.
Zola screens at Sundance on Fri, Jan. 24th at 12:15 PM at Eccles, Sat, Jan. 25th at 12:15 PM at Grand, Sat, Jan. 25th at 11:45 PM at Egyptian, Mon, Jan. 27th at 3 PM at Sundance Resort, Tues, Jan. 28th at 9:30 PM at The Ray, Wed, Jan. 29th at 11:45 AM at The Ray, and Fri, Jan. 31st at 8:30 AM at The MARC.
The star sightings continue to pour-in and our Amanda Gilmore doesn’t disappoint! See some of the talent she spotted out and about at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Day Three!
DOWNHILL is about a couple married with kids, who barely escape an avalanche on a trip, only to be forced to confront finally how they feel about one another.
FREESTYLE LOVE SUPREME centers on “pre-Hamilton” Lin-Manuel Miranda and the improv Hip-Hop movement he was part of, the Documentary following their reunion in 2019.
ZOLA centers on a Stripper who goes on a wild road trip to Florida. This Film is getting a startling amount of buzz out of the Festival and stars Riley Keough.
FOUR GOOD DAYS is about a mother who helps her daughter in recovery from substance abuse. Glenn Close and Mila Kunis both star in the Drama.
THE FIGHT is a Documentary which centers on the tsunami of lawsuits against the Trump administration which came about shortly after he got elected.
Kerry Washington (Producer)
BLACK BEAR is about a female Filmmaker who turns to the woods after having some creative struggles, only for the woods to summon her inner demons.
SNOWPIERCER (Netflix TV Series) centers on a world that has become a frozen wasteland and the group of people left who inhabit a train which circles the globe. Parasite Director Bong Joon Ho serves as a Producer on the Series which stars Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs.