Our Drink in the Movies team have compiled a comprehensive year-end piece that provides a shared look at each of our top 10 films of 2021. You can see their selected titles below in the text list or by pressing the arrows on the Poster Carousel Images.
Alexander Reams: ‘The Harder They Fall’ (Netflix)
From the opening prologue of Jeymes Samuel’s explosive film “The Harder They Fall”, it is clear that this voice is very much singular, wanting to provide entertainment, but with a message. Followed by a bloody opening title card, and boisterous, loud, and awesome opening credits that are scored by a new song by Kid Cudi and Jay-Z, all the while giving us the who’s who in the star-studded cast. I loved the vibe, the music, the story, all of it had me hooked. Jeymes Samuel crafted a brilliant western that has comedy, mostly delivered by a villainous Lakeith Stanfield (who also has some of my favorite lines in the film) and R.J. Cyler who gets to use his full range of comedic talents. Add in some very well-timed reggae music, Jonathan Majors, Delroy Lindo, and a slew of other stars, with all of the aforementioned brilliance, and you have one of my favorite films of the year.
Anna Harrison: ‘The Beta Test’ (VOD)
Maria Athayde: ‘Petite Maman’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Michael Clawson: ‘Wheel of Fortune & Fantasy’ (VOD)
Patrick Hao: ‘Old’ (VOD)
Raúl Mendoza: ‘The Hand of God’ (Netflix)
Taylor Baker: ‘The Worst Person in the World’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Alexander Reams: ‘Spiral: From The Book of Saw’ (VOD)
Anna Harrison: ‘Limbo’ (VOD)
Maria Athayde: ‘Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar’ (Hulu, VOD)
Directed by Josh Greenbaum and written and starring Kristen Wigg and Annie Mulmo “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” was the best VOD release of 2021. Barb and Star tells the story of two middle-aged friends Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wigg) who travel from Nebraska to Vista Del Mar, Florida for a once in a lifetime vacation. What ensues when they arrive is comedic gold. During their stay, Barb and Star fight off a mad scientist named Sharon Gordon Fisherman (also played by Wigg) and her henchmen Edgar Pagét (Jamie Dornan) and Darlie Bunkle (Damon Wayans Jr.) as Sharon plots to destroy the town of Vista Del Mar and its citizens who made fun of her during her childhood. As Barb and Star continue to enjoy their vacation the story really kicks into high gear. I knew I was completely won over during the bar scene when Barb, Star, and Edgar share a large drink that is filled with “treasure”, get wasted, start tripping, and dance to an awesome club remix of My Heart Will Go On which you can preview here. Jamie Dornan is a total scene-stealer and knocks it out of the park especially during a musical number which was an unexpected surprise. This was such a hilarious and earnest look at a friendship that I could not get enough of. If you haven’t already make sure to watch Barb and Star and see what other surprises this soon-to-be cult classic holds. My parting line to convince you to watch this gem of a film is “I think your dong went all the way up and touched my heart.”.
Michael Clawson: ‘France’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Patrick Hao: ‘Labyrinth of Cinema’ (Mubi)
Raúl Mendoza: ‘Parallel Mothers’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Taylor Baker: ‘JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass’ (Showtime)
Alexander Reams: ‘Mass’ (VOD)
Anna Harrison: ‘The Green Knight’ (VOD)
Maria Athayde: ‘Zola’ (VOD)
Michael Clawson: ‘Beginning’ (VOD)
Patrick Hao: ‘The Last Duel’ (VOD)
Raúl Mendoza: ‘C’mon C’mon’ (VOD)
“C’mon C’mon” is written and directed by Mike Mills (“Beginners”, “20th Century Women”) as it looks at the life of a traveling radio journalist, Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), who volunteers to take care of his sister’s child, Jesse (Woody Norman). Jesse’s mom Viv (Gabby Hoffman) leaves her child to be cared for by her brother as she travels to take care of her husband who is mentally ill. “C’mon C’mon” is masterfully acted by everyone in the cast from Phoenix to our young newcomer Woody Norman. It is visually stylized by its rich black and white cinematography that is shot by the director of photography, Robbie Ryan. The film is tender and patient as it navigates a multitude of themes and characteristics between our characters. Mike Mills expertly crafts that with his magnificent writing and poignant dialogue between Johnny and Jesse. Also, its exemplary score by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National beautifully accompany the visual language of the film by providing a soft and relaxing composition that sneaks its way in and caresses your heart. Why is this film one of my favorites of the year? Well, it is not just a beautiful film about childhood and adulthood along with the trials and tribulations that come with it, but it was an emotional experience inside of the cinema. As time continued on and the film sat with me it became apparent that I watched something truly special that spoke to me more and more with every thought that accompanied it.
Taylor Baker: ‘Parallel Mothers’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Alexander Reams: ‘The Hand of God’ (Netflix)
Anna Harrison: ‘Belfast’ (VOD)
“Belfast” is one of the most beautiful love letters ever composed: set in the titular city during the Troubles, it’s director Kenneth Branagh’s ode to his childhood and those who populated it. Following nine-year-old Buddy (an extraordinary debut performance from Jude Hill) as he navigates a rapidly changing political and social landscape, we watch violence unfold through his eyes as his innocence peels away—while his family is Protestant, they live in a largely Catholic neighborhood which suddenly finds itself surrounded by barricades and rife with religious strife.
Even with this tense setup, the main plot of “Belfast” unfolds leisurely as Buddy goes about his life, but it’s what goes on in the background that makes the film tick. Jamie Dornan and Caitríona Balfe turn in spectacular performances as Buddy’s parents, and to see the strain between them played out through Buddy’s young eyes only makes it that much more affecting; Ciarán Hinds and Judi Dench as Buddy’s grandparents bring a tender sadness to the proceedings that can only be achieved by veteran actors of their caliber. (Colin Morgan, one of the foundational actors of my youth from his role in “Merlin”, also gives a great turn as the neighborhood Protestant agitator.)
“Belfast”is nothing revolutionary, but it’s hard not to be affected by the warmth that oozes out of every shot. Filmed largely in black and white, Branagh frames it all with love; in a nice touch, the comic books (one, in particular, serving as a nod to Branagh’s time as “Thor”director), theater shows, and movies that Buddy sees are all in color—they’re larger-than-life escapes and splashes of brightness amidst the tumult of Buddy’s life. Not only is “Belfast”a love letter to its titular city, but it’s also one to stories, and to the mediums that Branagh has spent his career bringing to life for lucky audience members like me.
Michael Clawson: ‘Anne at 13,000 ft’ (Release Date TBA)
Patrick Hao: ‘Flee’ (Release Date TBA)
Raúl Mendoza: ‘Titane’ (VOD)
Taylor Baker: ‘Bergman Island’ (VOD)
Alexander Reams: ‘The Green Knight’ (VOD)
Anna Harrison: ‘Nine Days’ (VOD)
Maria Athayde: ‘Spencer’ (VOD)
Michael Clawson: ‘El Planeta’ (VOD)
Less common than movies about people already living in poverty are movies about people on the brink of falling into poverty. “El Planeta”, the debut feature from conceptual artist-turned-filmmaker Amalia Ulman, falls in the latter category. Set in Spain in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the movie stars Ulman and her real-life mother Ale Ulman as an unemployed mother and daughter clinging to the luxuries of the affluent as they face an imminent eviction and financial ruin. While Leo (Amalia Ulman) explores a variety of avenues in search of a paycheck to fund her hip lifestyle, including everything from freelance work on a music video to prostitution, her mother Maria cons her way into enjoying fancy meals and fur coats, usually by asking restaurant waiters and upscale clothing store clerks to put her charges on the tab of a non-existent wealthy boyfriend. An exceptionally witty and poignant tragicomedy, shot in crisp black and white that recalls Hong Sang-soo’s recent work, “El Planeta” doesn’t wallow in its heroines’ financial predicament or judge the lifestyle they desire. Delicately balancing comedy and pathos, Ulman’s film is a perceptive and moving account of a mother and daughter as they resist slipping down the economic ladder.Read Michael Clawson’s full review of “El Planeta”
Patrick Hao: ‘Bergman Island’ (VOD)
Raúl Mendoza: ‘The Worst Person in the World’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Taylor Baker: ‘Memoria’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Alexander Reams: ‘The Card Counter’ (VOD)
Anna Harrison: ‘The Hand of God’ (Netflix)
Maria Athayde: ‘Rebel Hearts’ (Discovery+)
Michael Clawson: ‘Undine’ (Hulu, VOD)
Patrick Hao: ‘Days’ (Mubi)
Taylor Baker: ‘The Last Duel’ (VOD)
“The Last Duel “is a film in three acts, each act by a different writer, with a different lead character perspective revolving around two main events. That of a rape, and that of the titular duel. Matt Damon alone serves as both the main character and writer for his segment. He plays Jean de Carrouges, a squire to Ben Affleck’s Count Pierre who falls in love with Jodie Comer’s Marguerite. The second act’s main perspective and thus character is that of Jacques Le Gris played by Adam Driver. A squire who according to his recollection keeps Jean from killing himself at the river battle quickly rises up the ranks and gains his master Count Pierre’s ear. The segment itself is written by Affleck, witty and subjectively grotesque as it is convincing. The third act is written by renowned filmmaker and writer Nicole Holofcener. Who deftly, stoically, and openly lays bare not only the weaknesses and insecurities of the men in the first and second act but the pride, the ego, and the hurt that anyone involved in rape may bear. With her segment, the film graduates out of a sanctimonious competition between insecure warriors to a larger gradation of achievement. Heightening rather than underscoring Damon and Affleck’s segments before. “The Last Duel” seems on its face to be a macho film, and while there is violence, it’s the moments with Comer’s Marguerite that will stick with you. Although the river battle sequences are pretty dang cool.Read Taylor Baker’s full review of “The Last Duel”
Alexander Reams: ‘Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry’ (AppleTV+)
Anna Harrison: ‘The Power of the Dog’ (Netflix)
Michael Clawson: ‘Days’ (Mubi)
Patrick Hao: ‘Undine’ (Hulu, VOD)
Only Christian Petzold can take the myth of the Undine and simultaneously make half of it an engrossing lecture about German architecture. Petzold has been in a mode for the past ten-plus years in which he has been subverting classic film genres and styles. Whether it’s the suspenseful romanticism of Hitchcock, the psychological horror of Hark Harvey, or the WWII expressionism of Michael Curtiz, Petzold has made a career putting his own unique spin to the familiar. In “Undine”, Petzold juxtaposes the blunt utility of Berlin’s communist architecture with the enchantment of myth and magic. There’s an inevitability of fate that underlies the runtime of “Undine”, but the romanticism of it all lulls the viewer to sleep and slowly the mythic nature of it all creeps in. It is an extraordinary example of the handling of tone. It helps that Petzold has two solid leads in Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski to center the romance on. The successful blurring of magic, mystery, LECTURES, and romance is why Christian Petzold is a master of his craft.
Raúl Mendoza: ‘Judas and the Black Messiah’ (HBO Max)
Taylor Baker: ‘All Light, Everywhere’ (Hulu, VOD)
Alexander Reams: ‘C’mon C’mon’ (VOD)
Anna Harrison: ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ (Theatrical Release)
Within the past 20 years, there have been eight “Spider-Man” movies, and “No Way Home” marks the ninth. Spidey’s movies have been tumultuous, reaching high highs and the lowest of lows, and “No Way Home”, with its sprawling cast and complicated premise, could have easily been as chaotic and messy as the overstuffed ‘Spider-Man 3” and “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”—luckily, it seems that Jon Watts and company learned from their predecessors’ mistakes and stuck the landing with this one.
By this point, everyone knows who shows up in “No Way Home”: it’s a parade of fan service, each cameo more exciting than the last, but the overabundance of denizens from Sam Raimi and Marc Webb’s movies, and a certain lawyer from Hell’s Kitchen, by and large only enhance the film (it helps, of course, that we don’t have to reestablish any of these characters). The reappearance of beloved characters such as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock would have been enough, but add to it Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parkers, and give them the conclusions to their arcs that they were denied as the promises of “The Amazing Spider-Man 3” and “Spider-Man 4” never materialized? And ensure that their big beats never overshadow, but rather feed into the arc of Tom Holland’s Peter Parker, whose position at the end of this film promises a fresh new direction? It’s one hell of a juggling act.
Does “Spider-Man: No Way Home”deserve a Best Picture nomination, as Sony and Marvel have been pushing for? Definitely not. Was it an emotionally rewarding and often moving warm blanket of a movie in a shitshow of a year? Absolutely. So for sheer enjoyment, for love of the character, for the bubbling excitement of the theater on opening night, it’s my number three.Read Anna Harrison’s full review of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”
Maria Athayde: ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ (Netflix)
Michael Clawson: ‘What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?’ (Mubi)
Patrick Hao: ‘West Side Story’ (Theatrical Release)
Raúl Mendoza: ‘The Green Knight’ (VOD)
Taylor Baker: ‘No Sudden Move’ (HBO Max)
Alexander Reams: ‘Zack Snyder’s Justice League’ (HBO Max)
Anna Harrison: ‘Tick, Tick… Boom!’ (Netflix)
Maria Athayde: ‘Licorice Pizza’ (Theatrical Release)
Michael Clawson: ‘Drive My Car’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Patrick Hao: ‘The Power of the Dog’ (Netflix)
When the credits rolled on “The Power of the Dog“, I thought to myself, “Jane Campion is working on another level than most filmmakers working today.” The only other directors I had that same thought this year were Steven Spielberg and Paul Thomas Anderson. First, let’s admire the way Campion and cinematographer, Ari Wegner, shoots New Zealand as 1925 Montana. This is a western after all and Campion uses the vast barren landscape as a prison of loneliness for her central four characters. Various other films have done the same before – “Brokeback Mountain”, “The Searchers” – but none have been quite so haunting the way The Power of the Dog is. Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Jesse Plemons, each play off each other brilliantly in this psychological Mexican standoff, forced by the restraints of their money, class, and gender. The alienation of the characters may translate to the viewer’s alienation towards the film, and at the end of Campion’s masterpiece, I was caught off guard by just how devastated I felt. And isn’t that why we go to the movies?Read Patrick Hao’s full review of “The Power of the Dog”
Raúl Mendoza: ‘Identifying Features’ (VOD)
Taylor Baker: ‘Drive My Car’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Alexander Reams: ‘Drive My Car’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has a history of films with longer-than-average runtimes, topping out with his 2015 opus “Happy Hour” at 317 minutes. His latest work is far shorter but still longer than most average films. This can be a turn-off for some, but not for this writer. A premise so simple that only a masterful director could take the idea and break it down so well that by the end you still comprehend everything that has been thrown at you for all 179 minutes. Not only an adaptation but a riff on the short story of the same name by Haruki Murakami. I loved this film from the gorgeous silhouette opening scene to the brilliant finale that ties everything up in maybe not the most perfect way, but that’s the point of “Drive My Car“, life is rarely tied up nice and neat, especially when working through the stages of grief, and at its heart, that’s exactly what Hamaguchi sets out to do. A meditation on grief and loneliness in a world where we experience far more than we should seem like it would be a downer for the entire time, and yet at the end I found myself feeling hopeful, and that’s a feeling we could all use.
Anna Harrison: ‘West Side Story’ (Theatrical Release)
Maria Athayde: ‘West Side Story’ (Theatrical Release)
Michael Clawson: ‘The Souvenir Part II’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Patrick Hao: ‘The Worst Person in the World’ (Limited Theatrical Release)
Raúl Mendoza: ‘Dune’ (VOD)
Taylor Baker: ‘Last and First Men’ (Limited Theatrical Release)