The Best Movies of 2021!

Posted in 2000s, Movies by CulturalMining.com on January 1, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

I’m back again to tell you my choices for the best movies of 2021, high brow and low brow, both Oscar worthy and mainstream including genre movies, conventional and experimental, big stars and unknowns, high budget, low budget. This year is especially strange because the award season was pushed forward a few months and lots of movies were dug up and released rom years earlier. And, at least in Toronto, movie theatres were barely open most of the time. So it’s hard to know whether a movie is from this year, last year or somewhere in the future.

I see and review hundreds of movies each year, so how do I narrow it down? No sequels — the movies have to stand alone —  no documentaries (even though there were some amazing ones this year) and no franchise or superhero movies.  These are all movies that were released over the past year, either at festivals or commercially. 

Here are what I think are the best movies of the year, in alphabetical order:

Benediction (Terence Davies) An acerbic look at the life and loves of British poet Sigfried Sassoon

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (Junta Yamaguchi) a brilliant low budget sci-fi comedy about small-scale time travel, done without special effects

Cryptozoo (Dash Shaw) whack arthouse animation about a zoo for mythical creatures 

Drive My Car (Hamaguchi Ryuske) a long and pensive movie about a play director whose actors can’t understand one another.

Licorice Pizza (Paul Thomas Andersion) is a brilliant coming of age story set in the early 1970s in the San Fernando Valley

Lune (Aviva Armour-Ostroff, Arturo Pérez Torres) about a bi-polar anti-apartheid activist in Toronto and her relationship with her daughter

Mothering Sunday ( Eva Husson) — set in the 1930s about a clandestine love affair between a n orphan servant who later becomes a writer and her young upperclass neighbour.

Pig (Michael Sarnoski) a movie about a reclusive truffle hunter (Nicolas Cage) who enters the restaurant world in search of his kidnapped pig

The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion) a new-style of western about the secrets of a Montana rancher in the 1920s

Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma) about a little girl who encounters her mother when she was her age

Spencer (Pablo Larrain) an imagined character-study of Princess Diana’s mind during her Christmastime break top with Prince Charles.

Titane (Julia Ducournau) A deranged serial killer who has sex with a car and then disguises herself as the long lost son of a fire station chief. 

Undine (Christian Petzold) about an etherial romance between a woman who works in a museum and a man who thinks she’s a mermaid.

There are lots of other great movies that deserve a mention:

Lamb (Iceland)

I’m your Man (Germany)

True Mothers (Japan)

Moffie (South Africa)

Sun Children (Iran)

One Second (China)

Wildhood (Canada)

Last Night in Soho (UK) 

French Dispatch (US)

Don’t Look Up (US)

Benedetta (France)

Tick Tick Boom (US)

And one again, here are the best movies from 2021 that  are somehow special or amazing or shocking or surprising or moving.

Benediction

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

Cryptozoo

Drive My Car 

Licorice Pizza 

Lune

Mothering Sunday

Pig

The Power of the Dog

Petite Maman 

Spencer

Titane

Undine

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

Christmas Movies! Films reviewed: Sing 2, Licorice Pizza

Posted in 1970s, Animals, Animation, comedy, Coming of Age, Drama, L.A., Movies, Musical, Romance by CulturalMining.com on December 24, 2021

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

It’s Christmas today, with time off for most of you, meaning lots more time to spend at the movies, whether in theatres or at home.  So this week I’m looking at two new movies opening this Christmas weekend. There’s a cute cartoon about musical animals trying to put on a show, and a coming-of-age story about two young people in California trying to get to know each other.

Sing 2

Wri/Dir: Garth Jennings

Buster Moon is a producer-director who runs a small-town theatre. His current production, Alice in Wonderland, is a smash hit, selling out each night.  The performers, young and old, are singing and dancing their hearts out.,

And audiences love it. So now they’re ready to make it big… they just have to be “discovered” first. But when a talent scout from the big city is uninterested, they decide to take their show to the big city, and show up for the auditions anyway. They disguise themselves as janitors and sneak onto the stage, and to their great surprise, the big boss, Mr Crystal, who has rejected dozens of acts before them… likes them! He signs them on the spot under certain conditions. One: they must bring a celebrity  — specifically the reclusive rock singer Clay Calloway — into their show. And two, if anything goes wrong that might embarrass Crystal, he will literally throw them off the roof of his high-rise. 

Sing 2 is a sequel and in case you never saw the first one, this is an animated movie, and all the characters are animals. Moon is a koala (with the voice of Matt McConaughey), Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) is a wolf, the faded rock star is a lion (Bono) along with various other pigs, gorillas, and elephants  (Reese Witherspoon, Taron Egerton) as well as a cute porcupine named Ash , voiced by Scarlet Johannson unfortunately dressed in what looks like a fake indigenous headdress. (Why…?)

Although it has a kiddy plot meant for three-year-olds, Sing 2 is a consistently entertaining, highly watchable and fast-moving cartoon movie suitable  for kids and adults alike. There are some great scenes, like Johnny the break-dancing gorilla being forced to learn broadway dancing from a cruel choreographer, and a long audition sequence like a fast-motion American idol This is a musical, where the characters sing a huge selection of popular contemporary songs (mainly from the last decade or so), plus a few new ones written for the movie. But always as performers on a stage or in rehearsal, never spontaneously breaking into song in real life (like in a traditional musical). So if you’re looking for a cute and fun family Christmas pic, a film you can leave the theatre humming in your head, you’ll probably like Sing 2.

Licorice Pizza

Wri/Dir: Paul Thomas Anderson

It’s 1973 in Encino, California in the San Fernando Valley. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman) is a teenager who lives with his single  mom, a business woman and entrepreneur. Gary’s an actor, part of a. song-and-dance kids troupe known as the Tiny Toes.  Today is photo day at the local High School. Gary sees a young woman in the hall who takes his breath away. It’s Alana Kane (Alana Haim) He approaches her point blank and asks if she’ll go out for dinner with him. She flatly rejects him. Turns out she’s not a student, she’s in her twenties, she works for the school photographer, and she wants nothing to do with this aggressive, chubby kid. But he is nothing if not persistent. So they end up having non-alcoholic drinks at a local bar & grill where Gary is a regular. She adamantly tells him they are not and will never date. But she agrees to be his chaperone to a TV appearance in NY city along with his Tiny Toes colleagues. She ends up dating his rival, an older and better-looking singer- dancer-actor, but it doesn’t last. 

They form a sort of a friendship and business partnership, trying out Gary’s various get-rich-quick schemes, some of which work, others that don’t. Gary wants fame and fortune, while Alana wants to support political causes (US Soldiers are still in Vietnam and Nixon is embroiled in the Watergate scandal.) Can the two of them get along, and will they ever take it to a higher level? 

Licorice Pizza is a stupendous, period comedy-drama, a coming-of-age story about a largely unrequited romance. It’s set within the rapidly-changing social and sexual mores of southern California in the turbulent ’70s.  It has cameo appearances by celebs playing other celebs, like Sean Penn as a movie star who seduces Alana and an unrecognizable Bradley Cooper as a wild-eyed Jon Peters (Barbra Streisand’s husband at the time) in an unforgettable scene where he’s a customer at their fledgling waterbed business. Because they’re in the Valley, Alana and Gary are constantly interacting with semi-famous people in their daily lives, but not quite making it big themselves.

Aside from these cameos, the movie is based on real people, or at least previously unknown actors in their first movie roles, and they are unbelievably good. Gary is played by Cooper Hoffman (son of the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and Alana Kane is played by Alana Haim  a musician/singer from the eponymous trio Haim. And if you look at the cast list, everyone is related to someone famous, with a Spielberg kid here, a Demme there, and more Hoffmans, Haims and Andersons than you can shake a stick at. And maybe that’s what makes this movies seem so incredibly real, even though it’s clearly just a movie. Everyone’s acting and playing scripted roles in costumes from a different era, but it just seems so honest, so true. And Hoffman and Haim have amazing chemistry.

I don’t usually gush over movies, but Licorice Pizza is so very entertaining, delightful, surprising, funny, sad, and moving, from beginning to end, that I walked out of that theatre thinking, wow, this is a movie everyone should see. It’s got direction, acting, music, locations, costumes, dozens of unforgettable characters,…I’m telling very little about what happens because I saw it blank, knowing nothing about it, and I think you should too. This is one of the best movies of the year.

This Christmas weekend Sing 2 and Licorice Pizza open theatrically across Canada with Licorice Pizza playing at the TIFF Bell Lighbox; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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