2021 Movie EXTRAVAGANZA! (Part One)
My Top 10 Recent Releases
It’s been a confusing two years for films. No movie theatres, $25 for VOD, waiting months for streaming, theatres are a thing again… or not! Given all these changes, I thought I’d make a list of my favourite recent releases from either 2020 or 2021 that I loved watching.
Stay tuned for Part Two of my 2021 Movie Extravaganza next week, where I reveal my Top 10 New-To-Me Films!
10. Luca (Enrico Casarosa, 2021)
I didn’t know anything about Luca prior to watching it; after it ended, I was sobbing on my couch. This year’s Disney-Pixar collaboration, the movie stars Luca, a sea monster who, prompted by his new friend Alberto, shapeshifts into a human in order to compete in a race in the town of Liguria on the Italian Riviera.
While not explicitly queer, the movie does a sob-inducing job of paralleling how it feels to hide queerness and ultimately, how it feels to embrace a part of yourself that others told you was dangerous. The story is sweet and the animation is beautiful. If you need to cry, pop this on.
9. Zola (Janicza Bravo, 2020)
Zola was my first movie back in theatres. Trepidatiously, I headed to a 2:30 screening of it on a Tuesday at the smallest theatre in town. My nerves were calmed when there were only five other people in the theatre, and that the film was a delight from start to finish.
Although I remembered Zola’s original thread happening live on Twitter, I’m glad I didn’t remember all the twists and turns of the story. I really loved Taylour Paige and Riley Keough’s performances, as well as the use of the iPhone screen time and unlock sound. While I wished it was a little longer, ultimately I thought this was a super fun 90-minute road-trip-gone-wrong movie.
8. Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman, 2020)
As a twenty-something bisexual woman with a degree in Gender Studies who often has a hard time describing what I’m doing with my life at family gatherings, this one HIT HARD. Shiva Baby follows college senior Danielle attending a shiva with her parents.
The catch? Not only does her sugar daddy show up, but so does her ex-girlfriend. Although Shiva Baby’s only 78 minutes, it’s an extremely tense and stressful watch, illuminating the anxiety and horror of choosing your own desires in the face of your parent’s expectations of you.
7. Minari (Lee Isaac Chung, 2020)
Do you like CRYING? Minari stars Stephen Yeun as Jacob, the head of his immigrant Korean family living in Arkansas in the 1980s. While trying to provide for his family, he accidentally distances himself from his wife and children in his struggle for survival in the United States.
It’s a painful narrative to watch, even though you understand why Jacob has to do what he does. Still, it’s the performances from Youn Yuh-jung as the grandmother and Alan Kim as the young son and the beauty of their relationship that really send this film over the top.
6. Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell, 2020)
The film that launched a thousand think pieces. Although I really loved Promising Young Woman on the first watch, I was troubled by the tonal differences between the parts that felt like a comedy and the parts that felt like a heavy thriller.
Rewatching it months later, however, the juxtaposition of these tones worked even better for me and made the heartbreaking reveals all the more gutting. I adore revenge movies and having a super visually and sonically femme-inspired take on it only elevated this one even more for me. It’s not perfect, but it is grasping at some profound and ugly truths, and for that, I love it.
5. Sound of Metal (Darius Marder, 2019)
Starring Riz Ahmed as a heavy metal drummer slowly losing his hearing, Sound of Metal grapples with what a person is willing to do in order to not lose something they think they can’t live without.
The way this film showed the diagnosis of a disability and how a person comes to terms with it (or not) was absolutely gutting. This has also got to be one of the best uses of sound design I’ve ever heard in a film, and I really wish I had got to hear it in a theatre.
4. Dune (Denis Villeneuve, 2021)
I’m not a big science fiction person; there’s just something about the worlds of mainstream sci-fi that doesn’t really appeal to me. Dune, however, really fucking appealed to me. Finally, a dark and brooding space movie for emo people who like politics!
I really loved the details of world-building, as well as the theme of the impact of colonization. Although it’s nearly three hours long, my attention was held pretty strongly throughout. Still, it’s the cast that sent it over the edge for me. Getting to stare at Oscar Isaac, Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya act their hearts out was riveting. I can’t wait for Part Two.
3. Spencer (Pablo Lorrain, 2021)
Narratives about women slowly having terrifying mental breakdowns are what I call “an Alanna Why cheat code.” But even if they weren’t, there’s so much in this film to enjoy: Kristen Stewart’s performance, Jonny Greenwood’s hauntingly jazzy score and the magnificence of the set and costuming.
Even for Princess Diana casuals this is a haunting watch but is made even better if you know more about her life. Although I’ve seen criticism by some that it’s a bit slow, I thought it was well-paced and THAT ENDING! Absolutely soul-crushing.
2. Bo Burnham: Inside (Bo Burnham, 2021)
Some people hated it, but I love this fucking thing with my whole heart. Is it a comedy special, a one-man show, a musical film? All I know is that it had to be on this list. While some view it as a meditation on the pandemic, I think Inside is the culmination of what Burnham’s been working towards with his comedy for the past decade, a stunningly accurate depiction of how it feels to live with mental illness.
And the songs are absolute bops! I was genuinely worried these songs were going to make the top of my Spotify Wrapped, but luckily they only managed to get on the “Top Songs of 2021” playlist. I rewatched this recently just to double-check that it was as good as I thought it was, and it was only even better.
1. Titane (Julia Ducournau, 2021)
Winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, Titane is a French body-horror thriller that pushes the limits of gender, sexuality, family and love. It’s a disturbing, gruesome and profoundly bizarre watch. It’s also one of the most affecting movies I’ve seen in my life, ever.
The less you know about this one, the better, although a few plot beats have managed to work their way into the culture at large. Come for the sex with cars, stay for the supremely fucked-up yet beautiful ride.
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