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

Pigs. Films reviewed: Alice, Gunda, Pig

Posted in Animals, documentary, Drama, Feminism, Food, France, Russia, Sex Trade, Women by CulturalMining.com on July 17, 2021

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

Pigs.

In ancient Greece they were considered monsters — Theseus defeats a sow that terrorizes a village. They’re banned by various religions, and considered unclean and selfish. But did you know people keep pigs as pets, and some say they’re more intelligent than dogs?They’re more than just bacon for your eggs, they’re an important part of our culture — think Animal Farm, Miss Piggy, Spirited Away, Charlotte’s Web, and Babe, to name just a few.

So this week, I’m looking at three new movies about pigs, from Russia, the US and France. There’s life as  a pig on a bucolic farm in Europe; a truffle pig  kidnapped in Oregon; and a happily married woman in Paris… who discovers her husband is a pig. 

Alice

Wri/Dir: Josephine Mackerras

Alice Ferrand (Emilie Piponnier) lives the prefect life in Paris. She has a good job, a loving husband François, a writer, (Martin Swabey) and together they own a very nice apartment — she put all her money into the mortgage. Together they are raising their three-year old son Jules. Until one day, out  of the blue, all her credit cards are rejected her bank account is empty, her insurance is cancelled, her husband is nowhere to be seen. What’s going on? Turns out François has been withdrawing money from their join account for more than a year and stopped paying bills. The bank manager says he’s been warning them for six months to make payments or lose their home. But what about me, asks Alice That’s my money in the flat — why didn’t you contact me?

After a bit of sleuthing Alice discovers François spent it all at a high-priced escort service. And when she visits the place undercover, to find out more… she’s offered a job there. And it may be the only way she can come up with the 7,000 euros needed to save her home.  

Alice is a great, unexpected drama about a young woman entering the sex trade, how she takes care of her young son, and the friendship she develops with another escort from New Zealand named Lisa (Chloe Boreham).  It’s funny, quirky and quite moving, including some hilariously awkward encounters with clients. Unusual for movies about sex workers and “fallen woman” this one is about the sense of empowerment Alice gains from her new line of work. The dangers she faces are not from the job itself but from a disapproving, moralistic public and possibly François, who reappears, tail between his legs asking for forgiveness. 

Piponnier is excellent as Alice as she changes from a naive and nervous mom to a woman who sticks up for herself. And Swabey is also great as the self-centred, needy François. 

I like this movie a lot.

Gunda

Co-WriDir: Viktor Kosakovskiy

What’s it like to live as a pig? This black and white documentary follows seven piglets and their mom over the course of their lives, from birth until the end. Squirming in the hay, fighting for their turn at the sow’s nipples, or playing in the fields. The enormous mom takes care of all of them, herding them from place to place with nudges from her snout. We also encounter cows, lying down for a rest, or standing side by side, in sort of a 69, using their tails to whisk flies of each other’s faces. And some majestic chickens jauntily walking around outside of their coop.

This is not an exposé of factory farming; instead it shows the contrast of life in traditional farms and animal sanctuaries. Humans don’t appear on camera, but they react to the camera’s presence staring right at you the viewer. Gunda is 90 minutes long, and not much happens. But it’s not boring… more relaxing than anything else. It’s shot in gorgeous black and white and you can really feel the animals’ emotions. I’m not a vegan or vegetarian, but it did make me think about where my food really comes from. So if you want to lean back and watch life on a farm, Gunda is for you. 

Pig

Co-Wri/Dir:Michael Sarnoski

Rob (Nicholas Cage) is a hermit who lives in a cabin deep in the Oregon woods along with a furry pig. He’s  totally off the grid: no phone, electricity, or running water. He washes and drinks fro a nearby stream, and cooks with a wood-burning stove. And he listens to old cassette tapes on his battery operated boom box. The truffles the pig digs up  provides him enough money to survive. He sells them to Amir (Alex Wolff), a young hot shot who pays cash. Amir is a truffle broker from Portland with an un-ironic moustache who drives to the cabin in a yellow sports car. But Rob’s world is turned upside down when someone knocks him out in the middle of the night, and steals his pig. He orders Amir to drive him into Portland too find the pig-napper. No pig = no truffles, and the end of Amir’s only source. But he has a reputation to uphold. How can he drive to  Portland’s most exclusive restaurants with this filthy, monosyllabic hobo in rags, his face half covered with dried blood, a man who can barely take care of himself?

But it soon becomes clear that this hermit was once well known in the Portland restaurant scene. So famous that the mere mention of his name will open all doors. Who is this mysterious man? Why did he disappear? Who stole his pig?  And how can he get her back again?

Pig is a wonderfully dark, picaresque journey through hidden Portland. It takes you from a secret fight club to wine cellar hidden in a cemetery, to a power-broker’s mansion. It’s told in three chapters, each with a cryptic title referring to a particular dish. Pig is a film about foodies, but it’s not food porn — it rarely dwells on cooking and eating. Nicholas Cage is terrific as this brooding man with deep thoughts who takes every punch but always gets up again, hiding a deeper pain somewhere inside. He always looks like about to explode in violence. And I’ll watch Alex Wolff in anything he does, I’ve never seen a bad performance from him. Pig is intense, surprising and all-around great. 

I recommend this movie.

Alice will be available VOD on Tuesday; Gunda is now playing digitally and on VOD;  and you can see Pig in theatres nationwide (though not yet in Toronto) — 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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