Best Discoveries of 2021: My Top 10
At the end of each year I try to compile all the movies I spent the most time thinking about through the year. These aren’t necessarily the best movies I saw in 2021, but the ones I couldn’t get out of my mind. And in case you think I can’t count, I just couldn’t trim my list down to 10, so let’s call it my Top 11. (Plus I have one image twice in the collage above. Math is clearly not my strong point.)
I’ll link to my original thoughts on each film as well as a few words on how I’m thinking about those films now. All films are in alphabetical order.
The Cremator (1969)
This Czech film pulled me in with its odd lenses and initial dark humor. Even when I realized where it was going fairly early on, the impact of its ending and the film’s protagonist Karel Kopfrkingl (Rudolf Hrušínský) still send shivers up my spine. The film also reminds me how easily people (or a county) can move from one ideology from another so smoothly. All the danger signals are there, but we tend to interpret them as something other than dangerous.
A Day in the Country (1936)
Ever since the Criterion Collection released this film on Blu-ray several years ago, I thought, “They’re releasing a 41-minute movie on Blu-ray at their full price? Forget it!” Well, I was a dope. I’ll also confess to watching this on the Criterion Channel only to get the context for the next film on my list, La Flor, which includes a variation of this film. A Day in the Country delves deep in its 41-minute running time, touching on social classes, love, manipulation, and so much more. Now I’m going to pick up that Criterion Blu-ray.
La Flor (2018)
I don’t care if you call this a 13+ hour experiment, an exercise in pretension, or a masterpiece, I could watch La Flor all over again right now. I enjoyed trying to figure out what the whole thing means, but the performances by the four women leads are spectacular no matter how you look at it.
The Last Command (1928)
Early in my movie journey, and before I ever saw any of his films, I kept hearing about how Josef von Sternberg was enormously talented and arrogant. After watching several of his films, I don’t care how arrogant he was. Man, this guy was brilliant. (I would urge you to purchase the Kevin Brownlow book The Parade’s Gone By, which includes an anecdote about von Sternberg giving a film crew a lesson they’d never forget.) The Last Command is a masterpiece and Emil Jannings’s performance is beyond description.
Having previously seen several Altman films, I spent the first 20 minutes of Nashville thinking, “Here’s Altman doing his thing again, loading this film up with characters and overlapping dialogue that’s going to drive me nuts for close to three hours.” I was a dope. Had I seen this earlier I would’ve grabbed the Criterion Blu-ray, which is now out of print.
I have no idea how Carl Theodor Dreyer pulled off Ordet without making it pedantic and heavy-handed, but this is the same guy who directed The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), so maybe he had a bag of magic tricks or some way to call down miracles. The ending shouldn’t work, but if there’s smoke and mirrors going on, I can’t see them.
This western both haunts and fascinates me. Not enough people have seen it. Not enough people talk about it. If I can get just one of you to watch it, I will have succeeded.
Say Amen, Somebody (1982)
Regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof), this is an absolutely joyous film. See it.
These Are the Damned (aka The Damned, 1963)
One of the most disturbing movies I saw this year. I can't imagine what audiences thought of this film when it was released. Anyone who saw it then, please let me know.
War and Peace (1966-67)
The scale and audacity of this film are off the charts. I can't even begin to comprehend how much money this must have cost, but every cent of it is right there on the screen. This film had been on my to-watch list for over 35 years until I bought it as a blind buy. I do not regret it.
Written on the Wind (1956)
I never imagined I would come to love the films of Douglas Sirk as much as I do. This film seems like it belongs on another world, yet nothing in it seems that far removed from ordinary life. This one knocked me out on so many levels. As soon as the Criterion Blu-ray was announced, I preordered it and can't wait for its February 1, 2022 release date.
That's it, my Top 10... Okay, Top 11. How about yours?