Yesterday, I posted my list of the Best Movies Of 2021. Here are ten more titles I really enjoyed and strongly recommend. Some of them were considered 2020 movies for Oscars purposes (there are several winners among these), but since they didn’t open in St. Louis until 2021, I include them here.
These are my capsule reviews. You can read the full versions by clicking on the movie title’s link. Also, check JustWatch.com to see if the ones that intrigue you are available for streaming.
#11: “The Father” This is a tough movie to watch, particularly for those of us whose parents developed dementia in their later years. It was written and directed by French playwright Florian Zeller, adapted from his stage play, which was produced on Broadway in 2016. I saw that production, with Frank Langella in the title role, and walked out emotionally wrecked. I felt the same after watching the film, which stars Anthony Hopkins as Antony, an octogenarian in London whose mind is failing him. Olivia Colman plays his daughter, Anne, who has taken on the responsibility of caring for Antony after yet another nurse has left because of the way he mistreated her. Anne clearly loves her father and is pained by what he’s going through, but it’s rough on her, too. Thus, “The Father” is not only about the frustration Antony experiences because of the disease, but also the difficult, draining role of caring for a dementia patient. There’s nothing feel-good about “The Father,” but it will strike a chord with anyone who’s had to care for an elderly loved one whose body still works, but whose brain has abandoned them. For those who haven’t experienced such circumstances yet, it may be a preview of what’s to come.
#12: “Stillwater” Matt Damon is Bill Baker, a blue-collar guy from Oklahoma, who flies off to Marseille, France, where he’s going to visit his daughter, Allison (Abigail Breslin), who has been imprisoned for five years for the brutal death of her roommate and lover, Lina. It’s apparent this isn’t Bill’s first time making the trip, but Allison — who has always maintained her innocence — has some new information that might clear her. If this were a Liam Neeson movie, the rest of “Stillwater” would revolve around the father muscling his way around the city, zeroing in on the young man Allison believes was the real killer, and using his very special skills to help his daughter escape from the slammer. But “Stillwater” adds a romantic element via Camille Cottin (from Netflix’s “Call Your Agent”) as Virginie, an actress who agrees to serve as Bill’s translator as he takes on the investigation himself. Damon does some of his best work in “Stillwater.” His Bill is unafraid to admit he doesn’t know much, often referring to himself as “a dumbass.” He’s frustrated by the obstacles in his life, mostly of his own doing, and always seems on the verge of an exploding rage. Yet he manages to hold himself together as he stays on in Marseille to visit Allison more often in prison and try to find the mystery murderer — while simultaneously building a closer chemistry with Virginie and her young daughter.
#13: “Good On Paper” The movie is based on an actual experience comedian Iliza Shlesinger had several years ago with a guy who lied to her about almost everything — his job, his home, graduating from Yale, and more. The same thing happens to her character, Andrea (also a comic), when she meets Dennis (Ryan Hansen) on a flight home. She has no physical attraction to him, but they strike up a friendship and start hanging out together — a lot. The more they do, the more he lies, in an effort to get her to fall for him. Shlesinger dubs “Good On Paper” a rom-con, which fits perfectly. The fun is in watching her blinders-on approach to the relationship even though we can smell the smarm and see how desperate and lame Dennis’ sophistry is. Then, when the light bulb finally goes on, there’s more fun as she drags the truth out of him and puts an end to whatever the hell this whole thing was.
#14: “Free Guy” Ryan Reynolds is Guy, a nondescript character in a video game full of crashes, explosions, and gunfire. But one day, amidst the mayhem, Guy spots an attractive woman, Molotov Girl, who he’s never seen before, and follows her. Along the way, he grows aware that there’s something more to the environment he and those around him inhabit. Soon, he’s become the hero of the game. Meanwhile, there’s a parallel story involving the game’s developers and the ruthless boss of the video game company. I’d try to explain it to you, but it doesn’t matter. Like anyone playing Free City, once it starts, you just go along for the ride as the movie combines elements of “Groundhog Day,” “The Truman Show,” and “Inception.” “Free Guy” is a rollicking entertainment full of amazing special effects and stunt work, a very funny screenplay, and Reynolds at his coolest. Jodie Comer, who made such a splash as Villanelle on “Killing Eve,” makes the most of her big screen break, bringing a nice warmth and intelligence to Molotov Girl. This won’t be the last time we see her in a major movie, I’m sure.
#15: “Nomadland” When the sheet rock factory in Empire, Nevada, closed in 2011, it left Fern unemployed and adrift. Having lost her husband a few months earlier, and with the locals abandoning the now-dead town, she was left with nothing. So, Fern (Frances McDormand) decided to hit the road in her van, which became her new home. She slept in it, cooked in it, and spent many lonely hours in it. As she drove through the southwest, she’d stop for a few days here and there, taking whatever jobs were available to earn a few dollars. She did seasonal work for Amazon, janitorial work for a national park, and kitchen work in restaurants. Linda May, a friend from the Amazon warehouse, invites Fern to join her in Arizona for a meetup of similar van-dwellers — mostly over sixty, with not much besides social security checks and a slew of sad stories — who help Fern learn how to survive.
#16: “No Sudden Move” Don Cheadle plays Curt, recently released from prison, who’s offered a chance by Doug (Brendan Fraser) to make a few thousand dollars for a seemingly easy job. Curt is paired with Ronald (Benicio del Toro), a tough guy with a racist streak that means he’s not thrilled with his newly-assigned partner. The job is to guard a wife and two kids while the husband is taken off to work by a third criminal, Charley (Kieran Culkin), who will force him to open a safe and extract some valuable paperwork. Then they’ll return to the house, where everyone will go their separate ways. At least, that’s the plan, which Curt and Ronald quickly figure out isn’t the whole story. Then things get messy. Most of the fun of “No Sudden Move” comes from the byplay between Cheadle and del Toro as colleagues who mistrust each other yet realize they must work together to get the most out of what is obviously a precarious situation. That’s what makes this noir tick.
#17: “Mass” The story is simple. The parents of a school shooting victim sit down face-to-face with the parents of the boy who killed their son (and several others). The adults have signed some paperwork in the hope the meeting will be therapeutic, as it takes place years after the horror, the commensurate lawsuits, and the memorials. There’s no one else in the room to guide the discussion, but it’s clear they’re all wounded, vulnerable, defensive — and exhausted. In the hands of lesser actors, “Mass” could come off as maudlin, even exploitative. But the parents are played by a quartet of terrific character actors — Ann Down, Reed Birney, Martha Plimpton, and Jason Isaacs. Watching their performances is like sitting in on a master class in how to play devastating grief and unimaginable pain.
#18: “Being The Ricardos” It’s always a challenge to cast a movie about famous people, and in television there have been few people as well-known as Lucille Ball. So, when writer/director Aaron Sorkin announced Nicole Kidman would play Lucy in “Being The Ricardos,” it raised a lot of eyebrows. The good news is that Kidman does an excellent job. She has Lucy’s timing, attitude, and rasp — to the point where, in the sitcom scenes, she takes the tone up a notch to match the comedienne’s on-screen persona. As for Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, once you get past his accent being Spanish, not Cuban, he’s fine, and the two stars radiate the right kind of chemistry in their scenes together. Sorkin squeezes three substantial incidents (which took place at different times) into a single week, and lets those events be the antagonists. It’s a lot to juggle, yet Sorkin has always been a master at combining multiple plots (e.g. any episode of “The West Wing”), and he pulls it off again in “Being The Ricardos.”
#19: “Worth” Michael Keaton had quite a year in 2021. He was in the Hulu series “Dopesick,” about the opioid crisis created by the Sackler family’s Purdue Pharma. He played the villain in “Protege.” And he starred in “Worth” as Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer charged with figuring out how to compensate the thousands of victims of the 9/11 attacks. “Worth” is about that process and the efforts of several different parties to fix the formula Feinberg settled on for those calculations. Keaton — long one of our most versatile actors — is stunningly good as Feinberg, as is Laura Benanti as the conflicted wife of a New York firefighter who died in the Twin Towers. There’s also nice supporting work from Amy Ryan as Feinberg’s partner in their law practice, Stanley Tucci as a victim’s husband who thinks Feinberg’s doing it all wrong, and Tate Donovan as a lawyer representing high-net-worth clients whose lives he thinks were worth more than even the first responders who died.
#20: “Small Engine Repair” For its first hour, “Small Engine Repair” seems like a clinic in toxic masculinity. It’s the story of three lifelong friends from Manchester, New Hampshire, all of whom come with deep South Boston accents. They’re the kind of guys who, when they go into a bar, have about a 93% chance of getting into a fight with other patrons before they leave. The lead character has just been released from prison, where he falls back into his old rhythms with his best friends, his 17-year-old daughter, and his ex-wife. Then, something happens involving a new character, Chad, an entitled college jock whose presence becomes the focus of the remaining 40 minutes. I won’t give anything away about him or why he shows up, except to say that things take a turn I did not see coming, ramping up the tension considerably.