The DFW Film Critics Association is out with its list of the best movies of 2021. I’m a voting member of the group, and so below I’m sharing my personal list of the year’s best. Did I hit the mark? Did I completely miss the target? Let us know in the comments, and let us know what your favorites are and why. OK, now onto the list:
- The Hand of God – Writer and director Paolo Sorrentino mines his teenage years in Naples for this coming-of-age story of a boy with twin obsessions: soccer and moviemaking. When tragedy strikes, Fabietto gets more serious about making something out of his life, with help from his inner-circle and a few passing strangers. Sorrentino seamlessly drifts from boisterous family gatherings to quiet, reflective moments as his camera lovingly glides through his hometown. (Streaming on Neftlix)
- The Power of the Dog – Director Jane Campion’s adaptation of the Thomas Savage novel about a cowboy with a secret gets off to a bit of a meandering start. But once the pieces begin to fall into place, The Power of the Dog lands some well-earned punches. Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Kirsten Dunst may all be delivering well-earned acceptance speeches in a few months. (Streaming on Netflix)
- Flee – A young Afghan man named Amin recounts his family’s story of fleeing his home country for Moscow after the Soviet withdrawal, and their years-long struggle to make it to the West. This inventive documentary uses animation to great effect to fill in the gaps where visuals aren’t available, and Amin’s tale will leave most viewers both inspired and thankful for how easy our lives are in comparison. (In theaters)
- Spencer – Princess Diana’s isolation within the royal family is on display over a Christmas holiday gathering in Norfolk, England. Director Pablo Larraín drills down to the small slights made by the blood royals and even the estate staff that make it clear to Diana just how low she falls in the pecking order. Kristen Stewart captures Diana’s sense of both never feeling at home and dread over how she envisions the rest of her life. (In theaters)
- Summer of Soul – This could’ve been a straight-ahead concert film of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and probably still made this list based on never-before seen performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, the Staples Singers, Sly and the Family Stone and others. Instead, director Questlove connects each performance to various elements of the Civil Rights movement, adding context and meaning to music that is already moving on its own. (Streaming on Hulu)
- Drive My Car – A regarded theater director name Yusuke is invited to Hiroshima to stage an ambitious production of “Uncle Vanya” just as he’s working to put his life back together following a personal tragedy. As is the case with so much art, “Vanya” resonates more deeply for Yusuke in his new reality. (In theaters)
- West Side Story – Many have asked if the 1961 film needed to be remade. For some, it’s a classic that rightfully won 10 Oscars. For others, it’s a story of the Puerto Rican experience written by a team of white men that is standing in the way of more authentic stories being told. Director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner attempt to address some of the criticism of West Side Story – whether they went far enough is surely up to the individual viewer. What’s undeniable, though, is the ensemble set pieces (“The Dance at the Gym,” “America”) are delivered on the grandest scale yet. (In theaters)
- Belfast – Writer and director Kenneth Branagh uses his own childhood as the inspiration for this story of a Protestant family weighing if they should leave their Catholic Belfast neighborhood at the height of the Troubles. It’s hard not to be won over by newcomer Jude Hill as young Buddy, who anchors the story. Ciarán Hinds and Judy Dench inject the story with warmth as Buddy’s grandparents, and Caitriona Balfe brings you into the despair of a mother caught in an impossible situation. If it all sounds a wee bit heavy, fear not – you’ll smile much more often than you cry.
- Licorice Pizza – Sometimes when the chemistry is just right, the story becomes secondary. That’s the experience of watching Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman circle each other in the San Fernando Valley of 1973 in a much lighter film than we usually get from Paul Thomas Anderson.
- The Lost Daughter – When a woman (Olivia Colman) visits a beach town for a little R&R, she becomes fixated on a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and her relationship with her daughter – a picture that reminds her of her own difficulties raising girls. Maggie Gyllehaal’s makes assured and bold choices in her directorial debut – let’s hope this is the first of many from her.
Honorable Mention: Tick, Tick … Boom!, The French Dispatch, The Lost Daughter, Being the Ricardos, A Hero