As with every year, it was a great year for cinema if one knew where to look. After serving as a “screener” for one film festival (Chicago Underground) and a juror at another (Lake County), I probably watched more feature films in 2021 than I have in the past few years — although, because I spent most of the year working on a new feature myself, I spent less time writing about them. Below is a list of my top ten favorites and ten runners-up that I’ll be submitting to Cine-file Chicago, along with links to my original reviews where applicable.
10. Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir, Ethiopia/USA)
9. In Front of Your Face (Hong Sang-soo, S. Korea)
8. The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg, UK)
7. Benedetta (Paul Verhoeven, France)
6. Cry Macho (Clint Eastwood, USA)
My esteem for this late-period Clint Eastwood masterpiece has only grown since my first viewing. After some bumpy narrative exposition and the introduction of some red-herring genre trappings, it settles into a sublime, near-plotless meditation on the importance of slowing down and enjoying life: you know, just hanging out with other people, petting animals, taking a nap, dancing, making food. That sort of thing. To paraphrase something Roberto Rossellini once said about Chaplin’s A KING IN NEW YORK, it’s the film of a free man. You can hear me discuss it with Bennett Glace on the Split Tooth Media Podcast here. You can read my original review for Cine-file here.
5. Annette (Leos Carax, France)
4. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion, New Zealand)
3. Shadow Kingdom (Alma Har’el, USA)
A lot of film people aren’t even aware of the Alma Har’el/Bob Dylan masterpiece SHADOW KINGDOM. Or, if they are aware of it, they don’t realize that it’s actually a movie. It was advertised as a “livestream event” in advance of its premiere on Veeps.com, which led many people to assume that it would be a concert (whether live or pre-recorded). What we got instead was a gorgeously photographed black-and-white art film, shot over seven days on multiple sets on a soundstage in Santa Monica, in which Dylan and a group of masked musicians mime along to a sublime set of new recordings of old Dylan songs. In my brief Letterboxd review, I called it “a visual album, not unlike Beyonce’s LEMONDADE as directed by Straub/Huillet” but if you want a deep dive into what makes it a truly exceptional film, you should listen to Laura Tenschert’s amazing analysis here. It was only available to stream for a week via Veeps (presumably before disappearing into the ether forever), but I might be able to show it to you if you want to come over to my place…
2. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)
1. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Japan)
It isn’t often that I feel this way about a movie but when I saw the first of the two masterpieces that Ryusuke Hamaguchi released this year, I felt like I should have made it myself. Reviewed for Cine-file here.
Runners Up (in Alphabetical Order) :
The Card Counter (Schrader, USA)
Feast (Leyendekker, Netherlands)
Malignant (Wan, USA)
Memoria (Weerasethakul, Colombia)
Our Father (Smith, USA)
Procession (Greene, USA)
Shiva Baby (Seligman, Canada/USA)
This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (Mosese, Lesotho)
Topology of Sirens (Davies, USA) – Reviewed for Cine-file here.
Zeros and Ones (Ferrara, Italy/USA)