This year became the official cinematic rebound from the dreaded 2020. We saw huge franchise's return to the big screen: (GHOSTBUSTERS, THE MATRIX, SPIDER-MAN). As well as lauded remakes of some classics films (WEST SIDE STORY by Spielberg, DUNE by Villeneuve, and NIGHTMARE ALLEY by Del Toro.
Below FIR writers Roy Frumkes and John Larkin give us their favorites from the past year.
TOP FOURTEEN LIST for 2021
By Roy Frumkes
Not all of them are feature-length films. But nine of them are. Kept somewhat out of the cinemas due to Covid-19, and dealing with some medical issues, I didn’t get to enjoy the range of movies this past year that I usually do. A shame, but still, here are some noteworthy titles to consider:
WEST SIDE STORY
Talk about feeling a director’s presence. Every shot had Spielberg’s signature on it. That could
be good or bad, and in this case it was good, since he clearly loved the material, was
comfortable with it, and had the vision and directorial sprawl to sculpt a remake all his own.
I liked Ansel Elgort as Tony and, quite the opposite of many of the reviewers, I felt there
were two shots of him that were so emotionally powerful I suspect they used CGI to get the
desired effect. Rachel Zegler is beautifully effective in the lead. Rita Moreno provides a tangible link with the cast of the 1962 version.
There had to be something to complain about – no filmmaker gets through their film
critically unscathed. In the Spielberg version, it was the placement of the song ‘I’m So Witty”.
It follows a particularly tragic sequence and I know what they were hoping would happen in
terms of an emotional clash, but it just didn’t work, and worse, it impairs the following scenes
to a degree. The song reputedly has a gay subtext planted by composer Leonard Bernstein,
lyricist Stephen Sondheim, and author Arthur Laurents. It’s a great song, but it just didn’t have
a flawless place to perch. I caught the film in a real theater, and as it ended I did something I
never do: I stood up, turned and faced the patrons, and asked “How many of you felt the song ‘I Feel Pretty’ came at the wrong time and injured the pacing of the third act?” All present agreed with me. Now as it happens, my wife and I were alone in the theater, but she, good sport that she is, agreed with me, though I’m sure she wondered exactly who I was addressing other than her. Perhaps the ghosts of pre-covid-19 past…
Special attention must be given to the end title sequence. In the original version, Saul
Bass set up a collage of three-dimensional graffiti-ridden inner city billboards, walls, etc., and
the camera glided by them, or dissolved from one to the other, laying out the names of the
participants. Here it is stop-motion camera moves past tenement buildings, the shadows
passing over them as the titles are laid out. It’s a wonderful acknowledgment of the artistry of
the past, paying tribute in its own creative way, and it’s extremely sincere of Spielberg to have
Bravo to Guillermo Del Toro for a loving remake of a harrowing, depressing ‘40s Noir, drenched in fabulous art direction, decadent saturated carnival colors – in short, a period recreation gone mad.
A mega ‘B’ usually inhabited by the likes of Stallone, Van Damme, Lundgren and the rest of the boys. A mortifying setup sends us swinging (as in punching) into the two concluding acts, and Bob Odenkirk is utterly convincing in what amounts to an action film split personality.
HITLER PARODY by John Larkin
Which Hitler parody by John Larkin…? Any Hitler parody by John Larkin.
There have been other Hitler parodies, both as feature films (THE GREAT DICTATOR, TO BE OR NOT TO BE, etc.) and rock videos (“Hitler, Where Brooklyn At…” by Notorious BIG). But here are a brilliant few which debuted in 2021:
ROADRUNNER – BEST DOCUMENTARY, shedding all kinds of insights on Anthony Bourdain, a revolutionary filmmaker, great chef (I’m told), and a sucker for femme fatales.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948) Warner Archives
An old friend of mine, Al Kilgore, who created the Rocky & Bullwinkle comic strip, was going to movies in the 30s and 40s, well before I was fully aware of the art of cinema, and he told me that audiences back then would actually applaud the color as often as they cheered for the heroes or the villains. The concept is completely plausible when you view The Warner Archives release of MGM’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS from 1948. The direction is okay, the performances decent, but based on those qualities alone, the new BluRay might have been destined to end up as a ‘trade pile’ casualty. However, the Technicolors are so mind-boggling, as are the costumes, the art department period recreations, and Gene Kelly’s compulsively endless stunts, that for these last four achievements, the BluRay is an absolute ‘keeper.’ You can easily endure the foolishness of the actors now and then in exchange for a heady dose of the extraordinary technical achievements. And those colors are re-watchable.
To order, visit
The Warner Archive Collection on Amazon.com or retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays® are sold.
THE FIEND WHO WALKED THE WEST (Fox)
How I bemoaned the miserable 20th Century Fox home video release of THE FIEND WHO
WALKED THE WEST several years back. Was it derision at the hokey title that allowed the studio to so carelessly lose track of the film’s wide-screen negative? The scanned format was so disheartening that I instantly got rid of it and washed the stench off my fingers. Titles can be misleading, and maybe they thought this was a stupid film unworthy of preservation, but all
they had to do was check IMDB to establish its pedigree. Such talents as Harry Brown, Philip
Yordan, Ben Hecht and Charles Lederer left their marks on the clever screenplay, which itself
originated with a classic noir from ’47 – KISS OF DEATH. The lovely noirish cinematography
came courtesy of Joseph MacDonald (PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET and MY DARLING
CLEMENTINE). The breathlessly paced editorial skills were contributed by Hugh Fowler (PLANET OF THE APES and PATTON). Art Direction was supplied by Lyle Wheeler (the original NIGHTMARE ALLEY! and LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN) and Walter Simmonds (THE OMEGA MAN…okay, maybe Walter doesn’t quite belong on the list…). All of these impressive talent were gathered under the sturdy helmsmanship of Gordon Douglas (THEM! and KISS
TOMORROW GOODBYE). Not to mention that the role of the ‘Fiend’ was filled by future
Paramount honcho Robert Evans, who is utterly convincing (to the point, perhaps, of providing
insights into what it takes to run a Hollywood studio). Well, the good news is, a friend unearthed a widescreen, English-language release in France…which (and this isn’t all good news) has French subtitles, requires an all-region player, has a twenty-minute appreciation by renowned filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier (sadly without accompanying English subtitles!), and displays an occasionally annoying, pulsating light leak on the edge of screen left. Still, given all those problematic elements, it’s far better than what we had, and you may well find it deserving, as I have, of a place on your Western DVD shelf.
12 ANGRY MEN (KINO LORBER)
One of William (THE EXORCIST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION) Friedkin’s superior skills is working with ensemble casts. Here he triumphs over a jury room flush with male talent, and they’re practically all terrific (and the few who aren’t terrific are good, limited only by their character development in the screenplay).
BEST TV ADVERTISEMENT – for a second year running – Joe Namath pitching the Medicare
Coverage Help Line. I mean, this guy means it!
BEST SCREENPLAY LINE
Everyone is gushing over Bradley Cooper‘s last line delivery in NIGHTMARE ALLEY, and rightly so. Fewer viewers have hailed the soft, brilliant, last two shots in KATE.
And while I hate to ruin the best line of the year, so I won’t, nonetheless I will tell you that it
comes in the final minutes of BEING THE RICARDO’S, when Javier Bardem, as Desi Arnaz,
introduces someone on the telephone in front of a live audience. Extraordinarily nice moment,
dreamed up by screenwriter/director Aaron Sorkin. I’m generally not a big fan of his, but he hit
it out of the park with this one.
And then there’s:
BEST REVISIONIST WESTERN – POWER OF THE DOG
BEST REVISIONIST-YET-TRUE-AT-THE-SAME-TIME MOVIE:
BEING THE RICARDO’S.
My Favorites from 2021
by John Larkin
It used to be that all the films nominated at the oscars were some of my favorites of the year, these days it tends to be the opposite. With no motive to try and be contrary to popular opinion, some of my least favorite films this year are the ones being the most lauded (LICORICE PIZZA, BELFAST, DON'T LOOK UP) just to name a few.
That being said here are some of my favorites from the year:
Cillian Murphy in A QUIET PLACE II
Alessandro Nivola in THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK
Tom Holland in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
Bradley Cooper in NIGHTMARE ALLEY
Will Smith in KING RICHARD
Best Supporting Actors
Benny Safdie in LICORICE PIZZA
J.K. Simmons in BEING THE RICARDOS
Rhys Ifans in THE KING'S MAN
Nicole Kidman in BEING THE RICARDOS
Millicent Simmonds in A QUIET PLACE II
Jodie Comer in THE LAST DUEL
Best Supporting Actresses
Naomie Harris in VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME by Michael Giacchino
BEING THE RICARDOS by Aaron Sorkin
THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK
WEST SIDE STORY
John Krasinski - A QUIET PLACE II
Dennis Villeneuve - DUNE
Jon Watts - SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
A QUIET PLACE II
BEING THE RICARDOS
Best Marvel Post Credit Scene
The multiverse switch in VENOM: LET THERE BE CARNAGE
Best Moments in a Film (MY FAVORITE CATEGORY)
Ryan Reynolds wields the official Skywalker lightsaber in FREE GUY (2021).
The opening sequence in A Quiet Place 2
The final beach scene with Gael Garcia Bernal and Vicky Krieps in OLD
The camera gliding over various graves at a cemetery while voiceovers for each of the dead speak as the camera passes them in the opening scenes of THE MANY SAINTS OF NEWARK Guy (Ryan Reynolds) pulls up the Captain America shield (Chris Evens watching on his phone), then a hulk arm then the Skywalker lightsaber in FREE GUY
The climactic duel in THE LAST DUEL
The Hand in Box scene in DUNE
Andrew Garfield and Tobey Maguire showing up in SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
Rasputin's (Rhys Ifans) Dance fight in THE KING'S MAN
Bradley Cooper's last line delivery in the final shot of NIGHTMARE ALLEY