2021 Movie EXTRAVAGANZA! (Part Two)
My Top 10 New-To-Me Watches of 2021
Welcome to Part Two of my 2021 Movie EXTRAVAGANZA! While Part One was a list of my favourite recent releases, this is a list of my favourite new-to-me watches, meaning any movie I watched for the first time in 2021 that wasn’t a recent release. The order of this list is pretty irrelevant: I’d label all of the following films as 5-star watches. If you want to cry, check out #1, #4 and #9. If you want to be freaked out, watch, uh… the rest of them.
And now, a paragraph of earnestness: When I started my Substack a year ago, I was unsure if anyone would read it or even care. It has blown me away to hear from so many people how much they enjoy this newsletter and look forward to reading it. Sharing my cultural criticism with an audience again after not doing it publicly for a few years has been very meaningful to me. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart. It truly means the world to me.
ON TO THE LISTICLE!
10. Young Adult (Jason Reitman, 2011)
I went through a phase in summer where I watched every film written by Diablo Cody, because the only way I know how to survive life (and COVID, in particular) is to make little low-stakes projects for myself. While rewatching Juno for the first time in a decade was a real highlight, Young Adult was definitely a close second.
The film stars Charlize Theron as Mavis Gary, a late 30-something who’s made a career ghostwriting a once-popular YA series. After seeing that her high school ex-boyfriend has had a baby, she goes back to her hometown, convinced that he’s her soulmate.
It’s the perfect blend of uncomfortable cringe comedy that I love in particular, although it is hard to watch at parts. I thought this was a really brilliant depiction of depression. Young Adult was way ahead of its time in 2011 and I think this movie is extremely underrated, as is Diablo Cody’s, Jason Reitman’s and Charlize Theron’s other collaboration, 2018’s Tully.
9. Beginners (Mike Mills, 2010)
There was one day in winter where my boyfriend and I were so profoundly fed up with COVID bullshit that we both just needed to cry and let our emotions out. Beginners was the perfect solution, with both of us sobbing profusely through most of the film. The film, based on writer-director Mike Mills’ own life, is about a man working through the death of his father, who came out as gay only five years before he died.
It’s told in a non-linear way, which makes certain moments hit even harder, as you assume you are in one timeline, when you’re actually in another. As someone who’s lost a parent in the last few years, this film beautifully captures the pain and grief of losing the person who once took care of you.
8. The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)
Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos is known for his profoundly disturbing films. From all of his I’ve seen, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is my personal favourite. It’s a highly unnerving movie focused on the extremely bizarre relationship between a teenage boy and a surgeon.
While the first half comes across as uncanny due to the extremely stilted dialogue, the film eventually flourishes into a moral dilemma with life-threatening stakes. There were quite a few shots that made me gasp out loud and that still send shivers down my spine when I think of them.
Lanthimos is reportedly adapting Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation into a film, which is the most perfectly fucked pairing imaginable.
7. The Prestige (Christopher Nolan, 2006)
I first came across The Prestige in, of all things, a book of poetry. Hanif Abdurraqib’s A Fortune For Your Disaster references the film throughout the collection, with the sections even divided into the parts of a magic trick referenced in the movie.
Based on the 1995 Christopher Priest novel of the same name, the film stars Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale as rival stage magicians in 19th-century London. It’s also David Bowie’s final movie appearance, with his role as… Nikola Tesla?!
The story has a super heightened literary quality that I (obviously) fell in love with, but it’s Jackman and Bale acting their asses off that sends it over the edge, in addition to an ending that will completely melt your brain.
6. Lady Snowblood (Toshiya Fujita, 1973)
I technically watched Lady Snowblood on December 30, 2020, but I’m still thinking about it, proving that it had to be included in this list. Based on a manga of the same name, Lady Snowblood is a 1973 revenge/action extravaganza featuring actress Meiko Kaji, who also starred in the Stray Cat Rock series.
Still, it’s probably best known for being one of the main influences of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill series. It was really fun to watch the source material, which at times is even more bloody and insane than what it influenced. There are a few brutal sword slices in this that continue to blow my mind whenever I remember them a year later. If you love action, this is a must-watch.
5. Mulholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001)
Not me watching Mulholland Drive for the first time in 2021! Twenty years later, it’s pretty uncontroversial to say that this film is one of Lynch’s greatest.
Originally conceived of as a pilot for ABC (WHAT?!), Mulholland Drive is a non-linear psychological thriller starring Naomi Watts as Betty Elms, a young woman from Deep River, Ontario (!) who moves to Los Angeles to pursue acting.
This is one of those movies that is meant to be felt rather than understood, with the last thirty minutes making the entire feature what it is: a dreamy haze of haunting visual madness.
4. Anvil! The Story of Anvil (Sacha Gervasi, 2008)
In addition to being a lifelong music freak, I’ve been in a weekly remote music movie club since the start of the pandemic, so trust that I Know My Shit when I say that Anvil! The Story of Anvil is one of the greatest rock documentaries of all time.
The documentary follows ‘80s Canadian metal has-beens Anvil as they go on a disastrous European tour and attempt to raise money to record their 13th album. But more than that, the film is about what it means to sacrifice the comforts of life in order to pursue art, as well as the heart-breaking decades-long friendship between the principal band members.
It’s a real-life and profoundly moving version of Spinal Tap that won’t leave a dry eye in sight. If you like music narratives, I’d also highly recommend watching two other rock docs from this time period: Searching For Sugar Man and A Band Called Death, both released in 2012.
3. Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2017)
As I previously discussed in my latest Obsessions newsletter, I’ve been on a PTA kick all year long, trying to watch as much as I can from his back catalogue before the release of Licorice Pizza.
Anderson’s most recent film, Phantom Thread, is also one of his greatest. The lighting in this movie is absolutely unreal, as is the costuming, sets and depiction of food, making it one of the most sensuous films I’ve ever watched.
However, it’s the relationship between main characters Reynolds Woodcock and Alma that is the real highlight of the film, with no movie that I know of exploring the idea of power dynamics and kink in a relationship in such a subtle and breathtaking way.
2. There Will Be Blood (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2007)
Back to back PTA! The man is a legend for a reason. For three hours, I was waiting for Daniel Day-Lewis to say what I knew of as “the milkshake thing.” When it finally happened, I was extremely satisfied, but it’s the journey towards that moment that makes There Will Be Blood so fucking good.
Loosely based on the 1917 novel Oil! By Upton Sinclair, the film stars Day-Lewis as oilman Daniel Plainview, who frequently has to face off against local preacher Eli Sunday, played by Paul Dano, in order to get his way. Their rivalry is the core of the film, with Plainview representing capitalism and Sunday representing religion. However, the film explores the greed and excess of both philosophies and ultimately transforms into one of the best metaphors for Western capitalism I’ve ever seen.
Although Jonny Greenwood’s score for Phantom Thread is highly celebrated, I actually was moved more by his sound work on this film, which was the perfect tense and disturbing accompaniment.
1. In The Mood For Love (Wong Kar-wai, 2000)
My boyfriend and I watched In The Mood For Love on Valentine’s Day this past year while eating an entire cherry cheesecake, which I think are the perfect conditions to watch this film. As soon as the credits rolled, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be my favourite watch of the year.
Directed by celebrated filmmaker Wong Kar-wai, In The Mood For Love stars two neighbours, played by the equally breathtaking Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung, in 1960s Hong Kong. This romantic drama follows the two as they realize their spouses are having an affair, and slowly also start to fall in love with each other.
THE SHOTS IN THIS MOVIE! Their beauty is truly impossible to describe, even though they are mostly images of doorways. AND THE SMOULDERS! Tony Leung could just stare into space and it could move me to tears.
Speaking of which, the ending has got to be one of the most heartbreaking and true in all of cinema history. In The Mood For Love is a film I will carry with me for a long, long time, and I am looking forward to watching more of Wong Kar-wai’s work in 2022.
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