One person’s best film is another person’s floor.
As a young and influential lad all I wanted to do was see R-rated movies. Nowadays an R-rating hints at violence and drug use rather than explicit nudity and sex.
One Sunday afternoon an older friend over 16, the then age of admission for R-rated films, opened an exit door so I could attend a double feature of “Klute” and “The Wild Bunch,” a Warner Brothers double feature.
When I finally saw “A Clockwork Orange” it was because a school mate worked at the theater and let me in gratis. No age check, no hassle. The film had been out for six months and I’d already read the Burgess novel.
Your humble scribe could easily list the top 40 films since that would barely be ten-percent of the films released in 2021, either on the big screen or via streaming services.
My top two picks for 2021 are not rated per studio standards but if they were rated it would be a hard R for either nudity or smoking cigarettes.
d. Paul Verhoeven
Paul Verhoeven’s “Benedetta” mocks religion at the same time it raises religious concepts to plateaus of reverence. “Benedetta” is a film that takes the precept that nuns are married to Jesus in a literal sense. That doesn’t mean they can’t fool around.
When you see a naked body in “Benedetta” are you gazing at a person that might have traipsed through the Garden of Eden.
A novice whose father has paid her way into a nunnery in 17th century Italy grows up to eventually become the mother superior. But not before faking her way through phases of stigmata to give the impression of miracles.
Amazing performances from Virginie Efira and Charlotte Rampling boost Verhoeven’s strict sense of time and place.
“Benedetta” is a film both religious and sacrilegious, a film both chaste and salacious; it’s a keeper. In French with subtitles.
The Beatles: Get Back
d. Peter Jackson
“The Beatles: Get Back” chronicles forgotten archives some of which became the 1970 movie “Let It Be.” Over a four-week period at the beginning of 1969 director Michael Lindsay-Hogg shot footage with multiple cameras on a daily basis as The Beatles rehearsed.
The multi-perspective footage allows director Peter Jackson to cut together scenes of incredible verisimilitude following specific conversations. The film runs just shy of eight-hours.
Jackson divides the story into three distinct episodes. The first runs 157 minutes, the second 173 minutes, and the last a mere 138 minutes. The longer the film becomes gets the more you never want it to end.
d. Sian Heder
“CODA” is not only a musical term but an acronym for Children of Deaf Adults. A loving family bonds despite indifference from the local community.
A young girl, the sole member of her family that can hear, attempts to pursue her music career with a scholarship to the Berklee School of Music.
Multiple characters are played by deaf actors including Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, while Eugenio Derbez steals scenes as a music professor.
There are genre similarities to last years highly acclaimed “Sound of Metal” yet that film was grim and deterministic whereas “CODA” works its charm with occasional humor.
d. Julia Ducourau
“Titane” has some peculiar family bonds of its own. After being traumatized as a youth by a car accident a woman comes of age obsessed with – no pun intended – auto erotica. Our heroine has sex with a car that impregnates her. She also goes on a killing spree.
Before things progress any further a new character, a fireman, becomes the focal point of the story. “Titane” skewers the term audacious.
Raves and shaves go down differently in France. Disguised as the fireman’s long lost son the killer gives birth. Meanwhile the fire chief deals with his own surreal problems. In French with subtitles.
d. Paul Thomas Anderson
Anderson minds cultural artifacts from the 1970s with the same passion that propelled likeminded films “Inherent Vice” and “Boogie Nights.”
Anderson has acquired a distinct needle drop stance, one that allows some songs to play completely, while giving other tunes a few seconds to audition. “Hot Smoke and Sassafras” from cult favorite Austin Texas band Bubble Puppy being an example of the latter.
A 15-year-old woos a woman of 25 with varying results. Along the way real life personages like William Holden, Lucille Ball, and Jon Peters pop up. The more you relate to Altman styled ensemble movies the more you’ll welcome the divergent storylines.
Being the Ricardos
d. Aaron Sorkin
There are cheating hearts and there is censorship all depicted behind-the-scenes on a hit 1950s television show.
There are three timelines: three writers from the show in modern time recalling the 1950s; the shooting of “I Love Lucy” during the week Lucy and Ricky told the sponsors she was pregnant; and flashbacks that flesh out the couple’s romantic bent, all highlighted by inside jokes.
Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Lucy and Ricky are such accomplished performers you never doubt their take on the characters for one moment. Bardem performance of “Babaloo” is pitch perfect. J. K. Simmons and Nina Arianda as the show’s support cast also make a lasting impression.
Sorkin writes his screenplays with an eye and ear for the big climactic ending scene and “Being the Ricardos” is no exception.
d. David Gordon Green
It’s hard to dismiss a film that had the killer off a first responder with the jaws of life.
“Halloween Kills” is a film about the mob mentality gone amok. Remember how in the “Frankenstein” films there was always an angry segment of the town that wanted to burn down the castle?
One especially witty set piece takes place in the house featured in the original “Halloween,” which came out in 1978. It’s now owned by a couple named Big John and Little John.
A politically incited mob hunts down Michael Myers. “Halloween Kills” is first of a series of meta films with no other relation than that they are lampooning their own franchise (along with “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and The Matrix Resurrections”).
Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror
d. Kier-La Janisse
An amazing documentary, divided into six parts. The beginning deals with the holy trinity of folk horror films: “Witchfinder General,” “Wicker Man,” and “Blood on Satan’s Claw.”
The majority of the film explores Anglocentric or American topics like the reemergence of old religion in the case of the UK and hidden metaphors in US theology like the use of Hoodoo in the 2005 “The Skeleton Key.”
There are some key revelations of the hidden meaning of several well known titles. In part five the filmmakers explore Folk Horror from Other Countries. All of a sudden you’re aware of films you’ve seen perhaps years ago like Peter Weir’s “The Last Wave” or Masaki Kobayashi’s “Kwaidan.”
d. Jimmy China & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Truly amazing documentary that uses news footage, found footage, as well as clever recreations of the rescue of several young members of a Thai soccer team trapped in a cave with rising water.
“The Rescue” to its credit utilizes graphic visualization of the outlay of a cave that isn’t just a few hundred yards but rather many kilometers of underwater caverns, with at least eight stopping points with enough roof for air and staging points.
The 13 kids were rescued individually by sedating them and carrying them like leaden weights through zero visibility waters.
“The Rescue,” which incidentally is being made as the narrative feature “Thirteen Lives” with Ron Howard directing, unwinds with a distinct documentary flare that doesn’t shy away from the kind of pacing found on a typical Discovery Channel show.
Labyrinth of Cinema
d. Nobuhiko Obayashi
Exhausting to the point of illumination. A bizarre sequence of events told in a staged and theatrical style that is pure Obayashi, who incidentally died after making this film in a career that spawned over 70 movies.
Many of the special effects are superficial in the sense that they look patently fake yet they fit perfectly into the storyline. Life is a stage and and the lead characters are thrust into a world composed of classic Japanese cinema that examines times of upheaval and war.
Obayashi was raised near Hiroshima, a location that figures in the last act. “Labyrinth of Cinema” constantly moves with the rapidity of a fast paced comedy. In Japanese with subtitles.