Drink in the Movies Superlatives of 2021

It is a tradition on the Drink in the Movies Podcast to commemorate the year in film by talking about our favorite films and giving out our own special superlatives. As our site has grown over the past year, we decided to let our contributors participate in our superlatives. Our contributors come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences across the United States, each with invaluable insight and opinions on movies. You can see their selected titles below in the text list or by pressing the arrows on the Poster Carousel Images.

Wounded Soldiers:

The Wounded Soldier category encompasses our contributors’ favorite movies that neither got love from critics or audiences. Each one of these films either performed poorly at the box office relative to their budget and theatrical release, and got a 60 or under on Metacritic.  

Alexander Reams: “Spiral: From the Book of Saw” (VOD)

Anna Harrison: “Encounter” (Prime Video)

Michael Clawson: “French Exit” (VOD)

With what little conversation there was about it and how few people apparently saw it, it’s almost as if Azazel Jacobs’ “French Exit” never came out at all. But it did: following its premiere as a selection in the 2020 New York Film Festival’s Main Slate, this talky, star-studded adaptation of Patrick DeWitt’s novel came and went from theaters in a flash. I guess those who did see it found its eccentricity grating, maybe even pretentious (the movie is currently sitting at a score of 56 on Metacritic). But that wasn’t my experience. An offbeat dramedy about a widowed socialite (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her son (Lucas Hedges) ditching New York City for Paris as their wealth dries up, “French Exit” has the verbal wit and high-society satire of a Whit Stillman movie, but with an absurdist twist (Tracey Letts voices a talking cat that Pfeiffer’s Frances Price believes is the reincarnation of her late husband). Not all of it works, but the lightly mannered performances that Jacobs gets from his cast (filled out by Imogen Poots, Isaach de Bankolé, Danielle Macdonald, and the incredibly funny Valerie Mahaffey) are perfectly calibrated. If for nothing else, see it for a breathy, flamboyant, unsurprisingly great turn from Michelle Pfeiffer.

Patrick Hao: “Stillwater” (VOD)

Taylor Baker: “JFK Revisited: Through The Looking Glass” (Showtime)

Squandered Talents:

Squandered Talents are the actors or directors who our contributors feel have been wasted by the films of 2021. These could be because the movies are not using them to their full potential or because the movies are flat-out bad.

Alexander Reams: Ethan Hawke (“Zeros and Ones”) and Chris Dowd (“The Starling”)

Anna Harrison: “Eternals” cast and Chloe Zhao

I liked “Eternals.” If ever a Marvel movie were to get a rotten score on Rotten Tomatoes, it should not be “Eternals.” (There are at least four obvious other choices.)

That said, if ever a Marvel movie were to be labeled as “Most Frustrating,” it should absolutely be Eternals. Stuffed with perhaps the most diverse and talented cast the MCU has assembled—including Angelina Jolie, Brian Tyree Henry, Barry Keoghan, Richard Madden, and Salma Hayek, to name a few—and directed by Oscar-winner Chloé Zhao, “Eternals” had all the potential in the world, and seemed poised to shake up the MCU landscape. Maybe this would be the film that broke the Marvel formula (not that I have ever been too critical of that), maybe this would be the first Marvel film to well and truly stand on its own artistic merits, maybe, maybe, maybe.

Alas, while Eternals has moments that promise a tantalizing new future for the MCU, these promises ultimately fail to materialize outside of a handful of scenes. The talented actors are stranded amidst a clunky script (even by Marvel’s standards), and are left to spout exposition instead of being able to dig deep into their characters, who get only the thinnest of sketches as the movie bounces from one Eternal to the next. Zhao tries to bring her own artistic flourishes to the proceedings, but the overwritten script goes against her understated directorial impulses; in the moments where she is allowed to shine, the movie soars, but unfortunately, those are too few and far between to quite make up for everything else.

One can only hope that Marvel doesn’t take the wrong lesson from “Eternals.” If they ever wish to get in Martin Scorsese’s good graces, then they need to double down on projects like this—and then trust the audience can get the plot without over-explaining, let the directors direct and the actors act. Why go to the bother of hiring such an excellent cast and crew if you don’t let them do what they’re best at?

Read Anna’s full review of “Eternals”

Maria Athayde: Henry Golding & Samara Weaving (“GI Joe Origins: Snake Eyes”)

Michael Clawson: Illana Glazer (“False Positive”)

Patrick Hao: Anna Paquin (“American Underdog”)

Taylor Baker: Octavia Spencer (“Thunder Force”, “Encounter”), Mark Wahlberg (“Infinite”, “Joe Bell”, and “Scoob”)

Best Ensemble:

A good ensemble on film is when a film’s cast perfectly complements each other to make a harmonious whole. Not only is everyone in the cast fantastic, but the way they all worked off of each other was inspired

Alexander Reams: “The Harder They Fall” (Jonathan Majors; Idris Elba; Zazie Beetz; Regina King; Delroy Lindo; Lakeith Stanfield; RJ Cyler; Danielle Deadwyler; Edi Gathegi; Deon Cole; Damon Wayans, Jr. Dewanda Wise; Julio Cesar Cedillo) (Netflix)

Jonathan Majors, Zazie Beets, RJ Cyler, Edi Gathegi, Idris Elba, Regina King, Lakeith Stanfield, Delroy Lindo, Deon Cole, and Damon Wayans Jr. are all stars in their own right, but together they form the best cast of 2021. Assembled by Jeymes Samuel, and given words by Samuel that elevate their characters. Once these words were spoken by these terrific actors, they created art. Giving each performer moments to shine, and then bringing them together to not only create memorable moments, but also emotional depth. These performers coming together and creating this phenomenal film is why “The Harder They Fall” is my pick for the best ensemble of 2021.

Anna Harrison: “Licorice Pizza” (Alana Haim; Cooper Hoffman; Sean Penn; Tom Waits; Bradley Cooper; Benny Safdie; Skyler Gisondo; Mary Elizabeth Eliis; John Michael Higgings; Christine Ebersole; Harriet Sansom Harris; Ryan Heffington; Nate Mann; Joseph Cross; Maya Rudolph; Danielle Haim; Este Haim; Moti Haim; Donna Haim) (Theatrical Release)

Maria Athayde: “Fear Street Trilogy” (Kiana Madeira; Olivia Scott Welch; Benjamin Flores Jr.; Julia Rehwald; Fred Hechinger; Ashley Zuckerman; Darrell Britt-Gibson; Maya Hawke; Jordana Spiro; Jordyn DiNatale; Elizabeth Scopel; Gillian Jacobs; Sadie Sink; Emily Rudd; Ryan Simpkins) (Netflix)

Michael Clawson: “Drive My Car” (Hidetoshi Nishijima; Tōko Miura; Masaki Okada; Reika Kirishima; Park Yoo-rim; Satoko Abe; Jin Dae-yeon; Sonia Yuan) (Limited Theatrical Release)

Patrick Hao: “Old” (Gael Garcia Bernal; Vicky Krieps; Rufus Sewell; Alex Wolff; Thomasin McKenzie; Abbey Lee; Nikki Amuka-Bird; Ken Leung; Eliza Scanlen; Mikaya Fisher; Aaron Pierre) (VOD)

Taylor Baker: “Drive My Car” (Hidetoshi Nishijima; Tōko Miura; Masaki Okada; Reika Kirishima; Park Yoo-rim; Satoko Abe; Jin Dae-yeon; Sonia Yuan) (Limited Theatrical Release)

Best Documentary:

Documentaries can often be just as dramatically interesting or profound as their narrative counterparts. These documentaries chosen by our contributors are some of the most profound ones of the year.

Alexander Reams: “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry” (Apple TV+)

Anna Harrison: “Maya” (Undistributed)

Maria Athayde: “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” (Hoopla, Kanopy, and Netflix) & “Writing with Fire” (Undistributed)

Michael Clawson: “The Two Sights” (Undistributed)

Patrick Hao: NYC Epicenters 9/11➔2021½ (HBO Max)

Taylor Baker: “All Light, Everywhere” (Hulu, VOD)

Broad but narrow, specific but all-encompassing, personal but private. Solar parallax, Taser-Axon Body Cameras, optic nerves, eugenics, the operant observer effect, pigeon cameras, the history of photography, Charles Darwin’s cousin, anthropomorphism, constitutional rights — how does one properly begin a review of a film with so many facets? I think with its own words. A quote from one of the dozens of lines it has that would define any other picture. But in a film as unique as “All Light, Everywhere” they simply make up its marrow, and in a film centered on images, it’s astounding that all of its narration is worthy of quotation.

“The eye only sees in each thing that for which it looks, and it only looks for that of which it already has an idea.” -Alphonse Bertillon

Theo Anthony’s “All Light, Everywhere” marks his third project since his 2016 tour de force “Rat Film”. He edits as well as directs, using Dan Deacon’s evocative score to great effect. At the beginning of the film, we are greeted by the smooth voice of narrator Keaver Brenai. Brenai almost reassuringly chimes in as the film builds and elucidates thought-provoking realizations in conjunction with troubling facts and historical technologies that expand not only your way of thinking about sight, recording, and images. But the way those pieces of photographic technology have been curated and at points exploited to attack, denigrate, and falsify claims against races, soldiers, and types of individuals.

“All Light, Everywhere” is a film that must be personally experienced and contended with. Like a great piece of literature, everyone will have their own experience and trains of thought through engaging with it. Marking it as not only a great entry in the canon of documentary but of cinema.

Read Taylor’s full review of “All Light, Everywhere”

Best Original Soundtrack:

For original soundtrack, Drink in the Movies is encompassing both traditional film scores and music choices by the director. So whether a movie is using an original piece of orchestration to dictate the tension of a scene or a pop song by Huey Lewis & the News, this category considers all the ways a movie uses music.

Alexander Reams: “Nine Days” by Antonio Pinto (VOD)

“Nine Days” Antonio Pinto is not a new face on the film-scoring scene, but I have not heard any of his work before seeing “Nine Days.” His score is not only one that fits within the frames of the film, but also expands to an ethereal realm that few film scores can achieve. The use of strings is emotional but also distant, symbolizing the distance that Winston Duke’s Will is from the candidates he chooses to be born. As the film progresses the strings lose their emotional detachment and evolve, like Will, to be attached to these emotions, culminating in one of the most beautiful pieces of 2021, Rebirth. When this piece began to play it broke me, mentally and emotionally, I felt refreshed, life-affirmed, and still thinking about what happened before. I love this score and it is my favorite original score of 2021.

Anna Harrison: “West Side Story” original music by Leonard Bernstein & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, arrangement by David Newman (Theatrical Release)

Maria Athayde: “Bruised” music by Terence Blanchard and Terilyn A. Shropshire; OST produced by Halle Berry (Netflix)

Michael Clawson: “Drive My Car” by Eiko Ishibashi (Limited Theatrical Release)

Patrick Hao: “Licorice Pizza” by Jonny Greenwood; Original Soundtrack curated by Paul Thomas Anderson (Theatrical Release)

Taylor Baker: “Last and First Men” by Jóhann Jóhannsson & Yair Elazar Glotman (Limited Theatrical Release)

Best Actor(Lead):

Alexander Reams: Hidetoshi Nishijima (“Drive My Car”) (Limited Theatrical Release) & Nicolas Cage (“Pig”) (Hulu, VOD)

Anna Harrison: Andrew Garfield (“tick, tick… BOOM!”) (Netflix)

Maria Athayde: Andrew Garfield (“tick, tick… BOOM!”) (Netflix)

Michael Clawson: Hidetoshi Nishijima (“Drive My Car”) (Limited Theatrical Release)

Patrick Hao: Adam Driver (Combo of “Annette”(Prime Video); “House of Gucci”(VOD); “The Last Duel”(HBO Max, VOD))

With three movies in 2021 – “Annette,” “House of Gucci,” and “The Last Duel.” – Adam Driver is on a run as a screen actor comparable to the run that Robert De Niro had from the 1970s to 1980s. Like De Niro, Driver’s performances elevate any movie to a must watch, no matter the quality of the movie itself. It just so happens that he was in three really good movies last year. Driver also does not shy away from the despicableness of his characters. This last year alone, he has played a rapist, backstabbing nobleman in “The Last Duel,” a trust fund baby easily corrupted by money in “House of Gucci,” and, worst of all, a male stand up comedian in “Annette.” Although the three roles share a commonality of Driver playing difficult insecure men, he is allowed to modulate in his performances, delivering something distinct in each.

What truly makes Driver distinct as an onscreen presence is his use of his physicality. At 6’3’’, and filled with muscles, he is an imposing figure. Yet, he does not always play outwardly imposing characters. It is almost like his characters do not quite understand how big they are. This allows the outbursts of violence in “Gucci,” “The Last Duel,” and “Annette,” simultaneously horrifying and thrilling at the same time. All three performances are funny, entrancing, and inviting, showcasing Driver’s natural charisma just for him to reveal how truly evil and cruel his characters can be.

There’s no actor as exciting as Driver today.

Taylor Baker: Hidetoshi Nishijima, “Drive My Car” (Limited Theatrical Release)

Best Actress(Lead):

Alexander Reams: Noomi Rapace, “Lamb” (VOD)

Anna Harrison: Taylour Paige, “Zola” (VOD)

Maria Athayde: Kristen Stewart, “Spencer” (Hulu, VOD)

Michael Clawson: Lea Seydoux, “France” (Limited Virtual & Physical Theatrical Release)

Patrick Hao: Paula Beer, “Undine” (Hulu, VOD)

Taylor Baker: Jodie Comer, “The Last Duel” (HBO Max, VOD)

Jodie Comer has been appreciated by television audiences for years now for her work in “Killing Eve” and “The White Queen”, but she hadn’t had a chance to show audiences what she was capable of in film. In fact, before 2021 she’d had exactly two film roles the most notable being Rey’s mother in “Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker”. In 2021 she doubled her film count for American audiences from 2 to 4 with her turn as Millie in “Free Guy” and her best performance in film to date as Marguerite de Carrouges in Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel”. As Marguerite, Jodie balances her character’s importance deftly between each act. From her freshly infatuated nature at the beginning of the film to the disillusioned strength, she embodies by the end. Marguerite is tasked by the screenwriters to embody the purpose of the film, and Jodie’s every action, inflection, stumble, sidelong look, and stoicism cement “The Last Duel” as one of the best films of the year. Jodie Comer isn’t just an actress to watch moving forward, she’s a performer that demands attention, if she’s acting in a film, that’s now enough of a reason for film audiences to sit down and pay attention.

Read Taylor’s full review of “The Last Duel”

Best Actor (Supporting):

Alexander Reams: Jason Isaacs “Mass” (VOD) & Toni Servillo “The Hand of God” (Netflix)

Anna Harrison: Mike Faist, “West Side Story” (Theatrical Release)

I have a “Dear Evan Hansen” Playbill from way back with four signatures on it—I can’t remember who signed it this day, only that Ben Platt and Laura Dreyfuss didn’t come out. It’s certainly feasible that Mike Faist is one of those signatures, though somehow I doubt it. But I’m not trying to brag here: what I mean to say is that I saw Faist in “Dear Evan Hansen” long before he was in “West Side Story,” and I wasn’t impressed. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was fine, but I thought his Tony nomination was a bit ridiculous, like he was only nominated because he was in awards darling “Dear Evan Hansen,” and less because he was really good in awards darling “Dear Evan Hansen.” (And, just so we all are on the same level, “Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812” should have won Best Musical.)

Any middling thoughts I had on Faist as an actor promptly vanished upon seeing him in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” Even in a movie stacked with stellar supporting turns from David Alvarez, Ariana DeBose, and Rita Moreno, he stands out as Riff, leader of the Jets gang. Riff could have very easily turned into a one-note asshole, but in Faist’s hands he becomes one of the most tragic figures in an already-tragic show: bent on a path of self-destruction (one scene has him placing his forehead against the barrel of a loaded gun without so much as flinching), he holds tight to what he can in an ever-shifting world and lashes out at anyone who threatens to change the world around him, but in the moments where his guard drops we get reminded that he’s just a kid full of fake bravado in way over his head. Faist brings a bristling physicality to the role, wound up tight like a coil just waiting to spring, and when he lets loose in the dance numbers, it’s a sight to behold.

So, Mike Faist, if you read this, I’m really sorry I didn’t give you enough credit for “Dear Evan Hansen.” I get it now. (Call me!)

Read Anna’s full review of “West Side Story”

Maria Athayde: Mike Faist, “West Side Story” (Theatrical Release)

Michael Clawson: Richard Ayoade, “The Souvenir Part II” (VOD)

Patrick Hao: Anders Danielson Lie, “The Worst Person in the World” (Limited Theatrical Release) & “Bergman Island” (Hulu, VOD)

Taylor Baker: Adam Driver, “The Last Duel” (HBO Max)

Best Actress (Supporting):

Alexander Reams: Teresa Saponangelo, “The Hand of God” (Netflix)

Anna Harrison: Ariana Debose, “West Side Story” (Theatrical Release)

Maria Athayde: Ariana Debose, “West Side Story” (Theatrical Release)

Michael Clawson: Dakota Johnson, “The Lost Daughter” (Netflix)

A lithe, sensuous performance, Dakota Johnson’s supporting role in “The Lost Daughter” further reveals an actress in total command of the subtleties of physical expression. Just look at the moment, for example, when we first see the young mother Johnson plays, Nina, returning the watchful gaze of Olivia Coleman’s vacationing Leda: see how Johnson, lying on her stomach on a beach chair, gently tucks her chin under her arm as Nina studies Leda from afar. Or look at how Johnson brings her fingers to her lips and fixes her eyes on Coleman when Nina comes to thank Leda for finding her daughter. While Jessie Buckley’s tremendous turn as the younger Leda provides Johnson with competition for my favorite supporting performance of the year, it’s Johnson who serves the more vitally supporting function. A bracingly candid film about the knotty complexities of motherhood, so much of the movie’s fascination with its lead character’s ambivalence is rendered visible on Johnson’s face.

Patrick Hao: Gaby Hoffmann, “C’mon C’mon” (VOD)

Taylor Baker: Suzanna Son, Red Rocket (Theatrical Release)

Best Directorial Debut:

Alexander Reams: “Pig”, directed by Michael Sarnoowski (Hulu, VOD)

Anna Harrison: “Nine Days”, directed by Edson Oda (VOD)

Maria Athayde: “Shiva Baby” directed by Emma Seligman (HBO Max, Kanopy, VOD)

Ever since I first watched “Shiva Baby” written and directed by Emma Seligman at the 2020 Boston Jewish Film Festival I cannot stop thinking about it. It is an extraordinary debut feature. “Shiva Baby” is equal parts anxiety inducing and joyous. As the title suggests it takes place at a shiva, a Jewish funeral service.

Mostly confined to this one setting we have our protagonist Danielle (Rachel Sennott) who attends the service after a hook up with her sugar daddy Max (Danny Deferrari). Danielle and Max’s relationship is one of the catalysts for the film. The other being Danielle’s relationships. Both with her parents played by the wonderfully hilarious Fred Melame and Polly Draper, and her ex-girlfriend Maya (Molly Gordon), and, to some degree, this film also explores Danielle’s relationship with herself.

It is an extraordinary look at what happens when you are just about to graduate college and all the expectations that are put upon you. It is also about how to navigate those messy relationships in your 20s. What made this a great time is how Danielle’s world chaotically collides while she attends this funeral service.Who knew that her parents, ex, sugar daddy (with his wife Kim (Dianna Agron) and kid, and family friends all in the same room would make for such great comedy. All this tension and anxiety is accentuated by side-conversations, in the vein of “Uncut Gems,” stylistic camerawork, and a terrifying score by composer Ariel Marx. If you haven’t watched “Shiva Baby” yet you are missing out on a hilarious and anxiety inducing ride.

Michael Clawson: “El Planeta”, directed by Amalia Ulman (VOD)

Patrick Hao: “Test Pattern”, directed by Shatara Michelle Ford (Kanopy, VOD)

Taylor Baker: “Last and First Men” (Limited Theatrical Release)

Best Classic Discovery:

There are no limits to our blind spots and film education. Here are our contributors’ Best Classical Discoveries of the year.

Alexander Reams: “The Kid” (Criterion Channel, HBO Max, The Roku Channel)

Anna Harrison: “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Plex, Prime Video, VOD)

Maria Athayde: “A Woman Under the Influence” (Criterion Channel, HBO Max, VOD)

As soon as I finished watching John Cassavetes’ “A Woman Under the Influence, I told myself I could never watch this film again. Starring Peter Falk as Nick Longhetti but led by a tour de force performance by Gena Rowlands as Mabel Longhetti this was one of the hardest movies I have ever seen. This melodramatic film combined with Rowlands’ performance was staggering, emotional, and uncomfortable to watch. Throughout my viewing experience I felt like I was intruding on very private moments as I watched Mabel Longhetti be consumed by heavy drinking, psychosis, and ultimately a breakdown. This sequence of events leads to her institutionalization and crumbling of her family life. This movie does not provide you with easy answers or an easy way out. You are supposed to feel uncomfortable as you watch another human begin to “crumble” in front of you and learn about the consequences the absence of a matriarch has on the Longhetti’s family life. A treatise on family, mental health, and motherhood it is no wonder this is considered one of the best American films of the 20th century and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry. “A Woman Under the Influence” is a must-watch with the caveat that you should be in a good headspace before viewing it. For those weary about their viewing experience, I recommend watching Gena Rowlands, in her own words, explain what the film meant to her here.

Listen to Michael and Taylor discuss “A Woman Under the Influence”

Michael Clawson: “Millennium Mambo” (Physical Media Only)

Patrick Hao: “Diary of a Mad Housewife” (Physical Media Only)

Taylor Baker: “The Last Picture Show” (VOD)

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