Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Rosalie's Favorite Movies of 2021

 by Rosalie Lewis

There’s a saying I first heard as a kid that is both trite and inaccurate but I’m gonna quote it here anyway:
Make new friends but keep the old,
One is silver, the other gold.

In year two of relative social isolation, movies were the friends that we could invite into our living rooms without a test or a mask or a social distance (though I do recommend sitting at least six feet from your TV screen unless you want to hurt your eyes). And while those new movies were shiny and appealing, I mostly stuck with golden oldies from previous years—many of which were still first-time watches for me.

So, as both a tribute to Erika’s love of ties and as a more accurate representation of my viewing habits, I’m doubling up on lists for this column: one for actual 2021 releases, and one for older releases discovered this year.

Let’s start with the new stuff, shall we? Normal caveats (I didn’t see even close to everything) apply.

10. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
For sheer laughs and silliness, nothing beats this road trip movie based on an SNL sketch. I rewound certain scenes so many times, and it really brought me joy early in the year when I needed it most. If you haven’t caught up with this goofy saga of two midwestern ladies vacationing at a beachside resort and encountering a very flexible and musical Jamie Dornan, please stop depriving yourself and dive in.

9. Matrix Resurrections
I saw the first Matrix at a very formative time in my life, and it’s definitely the reason I minored in philosophy in college. When Matrix: Reloaded came out, my cousins and I discussed the plot and symbolism endlessly and spun wild theories about the possible conclusion of the saga. I dressed up as one of The Twins (complete with the wig) for Matrix: Revolutions even though the showing I attended was around 1pm, right after I got out of finals at the community college. Aaaaand I hated it. I had never felt so let down. For several years, if anyone asked my biggest regret, I told them it was seeing Matrix: Revolutions. Total douchebag behavior on my part, I realize. I have not revisited the sequels in the intervening years, and I’m sure I ought to, but I got pretty excited in spite of myself when Resurrections was announced. I had no idea what to expect, but let’s just say it lived up to my expectations and totally makes up for my disappointment back in 2003. I loved being back in that world, I loved new characters like Bugs, loved the self-awareness of it, and I loved seeing Neo and Trinity together again. Not everything works but I mostly don’t care. It gave me awesome action and some thoughtful truths to chew on, plus hotties in love. Aw yeah.

8. F9: The Fast Saga
I understand that most people think this series has run out of gas, but those people forgot that it runs on DIESEL, BABY! And my love of Vin Diesel will never die. This was my most-anticipated theatrical experience of 2020 before the pandemic, and then it became my most-anticipated “whenever theaters re-open and I’m vaccinated” movie. The hype in my head may have warped into an artificial euphoria but we DID get cars in space, goddammit, and we also got to see The Family for the first time in a while. Just thinking about it makes me want to jump up and down, and I’m writing this at 9pm when my old bones would usually rather be reclining amongst heated blankets and cat fluff-covered pillows. So just like Audiovent bleated in 2002:

Fast 9’s The Energy,
Fast 9’s the same as you
Take everything you need
Fast 9’s the answer to
The broken breaking through
Take everything from me.
(I am not as good at song parodies as Adam Riske, sorry.)

7. Plan B
I still haven’t stopped thinking of this timely, hilarious movie from Natalie Morales since I wrote about it last summer. I actually think about it every time I go to a pharmacy to pick up a prescription, which means it made a pretty indelible impression to override all the negative associations I have with standing in line at the pharmacy.

6. Nightmare Alley
I’m a fan of the Tyrone Power version of this movie, and I was both excited and nervous to see the remake. It’s gorgeous to look at and the cast brings its circus world to life. I wish Rooney Mara had gotten a little bit more to do in the last third or so of the movie, but Bradley Cooper is magnetic and let’s not even get started on Cate Blanchett. Woo Mama! Even though I knew where this movie was going, I felt in suspense the whole time. A noir lover’s dream.

5. The Card Counter
Paul Schrader has written many genius lines, some found in movies like Taxi Driver and Blue Collar; others found on his Facebook page (a recent gem: “Stop signs. Socialism at work”). Add this movie to the pile of his good ones—thanks in particular to Oscar Isaac’s mysterious lead performance. I didn’t read anything about the plot beforehand, and I suppose it’s fine if you do, but I enjoyed not knowing who this guy was or what he might be up to until the movie decided to reveal those things. Tiffany Haddish gets to do something different than we’ve seen, and I’m always in her cheering section, so that gives this movie extra points. Like every movie about playing cards and being super duper good at it, this movie made me want to figure out how to play cards and be super duper good at it while simultaneously reminding me that it’s probably way more work and risk than I’m willing to venture.

4. Beans
I can’t lie to you: I was first drawn to this movie because of its title when I was looking at movies released in 2021. One of my cats is named Nena Bean, Bean for short. So this title made me think of her and that’s a shortcut to my heart beating extra loud and warm feelings welling up in my chest. But there’s more to this movie than a cute name: It’s directed by Tracey Deer, and tells the story of a 12-year-old Mohawk girl named Tekehentahkhwa, aka “Beans,” whose family lives in Quebec. The film sees the events of the 1990 Oka crisis unfold through Beans’ eyes. She’s eager to try new things (especially things her parents may not approve), and she also finds herself needing to get tough fast as the world around her grows more tense and chaotic. Actress Kiawentiio Tarbell completely blew me away as the title character, and I also learned about a recent historical event I probably should have already known about. You can rent this on streaming right now and I hope you will, even if I’m the only person you know that has seen it. It’s so, so good.

3. Passing
Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut grabs you first with its black and white cinematography, a meaningful choice in a story about the blurring of racial identities between Black and White in the lives of two women in the 1920s. Irene (Tessa Thompson) lives in Harlem with her doctor husband (Andre Holland) and two sons, employing a maid and volunteering for the Negro Welfare League. Clare (Ruth Negga), a childhood friend, has kept her Black ancestry a closely guarded secret and married a rich white man (Alexander Skarsgard) who harbors less than progressive views about race. When the two women unexpectedly cross paths one day, Irene is perplexed at her friend’s choice and Clare realizes she misses some of the comforts of home, away from the facade of her assumed identity. A gripping drama that unfortunately seems to be receding into the background of awards talk when really it’s one of the best things released by Netflix (or any other studio) this year. Don’t sleep on this one.

2. The Last Duel
I kept thinking about this movie multiple times a day for basically a full month after watching it. About how hilariously perfect Ben Affleck is in it. About how it might be Adam Driver’s best performance ever, a high bar to clear but still possibly the case. About how Matt Damon, a man I’ve had a crush on for approximately a quarter century, plays a character that probably smelled so gross I almost had to breathe through my mouth when he was on screen. About how unbelievable Jodie Comer is, in life and in this movie. About how I should really re-watch Rashomon soon. About how idiotic Twitter can be, especially when it comes to thoughtful discourse about…well, anything, but movies in particular. About the absolute powerhouse genius badass Nicole Holofcener is, and how she is not in the conversation enough when people talk about this movie. About Ridley Scott making TWO ambitious movies this year, and this being way better than Gladiator but not getting a fraction of the audience (these millennials and their cell phones, amirite?). About how this movie would make a pretty incredible double feature with Lynn Shelton’s Humpday, and then about how sad I am Lynn Shelton is gone. About how this would probably be unbeatable as my favorite film of the year, and remained so until the very last moment when another contender entered the fray and bested it.

1. The Power of the Dog
To quote Thomasin McKenzie’s character Lola, “Holy Hell.” THIS MOVIE KNOCKED ME ON MY ASS IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY! No, my caps lock is not stuck, I really am yelling (but like in an excited way not in a mean way). I postponed seeing this one because I was nervous about potential animal misfortunes being depicted, but I love Jane Campion and come New Year’s Day, I finally gathered my courage and my “” assurances (it does not) and hit play. Even in the open spaces of New Zealand (standing in for Montana), Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil could make someone feel claustrophobic with his cutting remarks and taunting whistling. And yet… there is something about him you can’t quite put your finger on, something that draws you in. Of course you have real life couple Jesse Plemons and Kirsten Dunst in this movie too, as Phil’s brother George and George’s wife Rose, whose short courtship nonetheless seems founded on genuine emotion and kindness. Rose has been married before, and has a son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), who does not embody the expected version of masculinity endorsed by the cowhands and ranchers of the 1920s. You don’t need to read a full plot synopsis, just know that this was both the first movie I watched in 2022 and the second movie I watched in 2022. I literally paused long enough for a bathroom break and a coffee refill and then I played it again, and the second time revealed even more brilliant details than my first watch. I need to get the book, the Johnny Greenwood score, and hopefully a Criterion Blu-ray if we get lucky so I can immerse myself in this unbelievable film.

Honorable Mentions: No Sudden Move, Listening to Kenny G, Mitchells vs. The Machines, The French Dispatch, Wrath of Man, Summer of Soul, Mayday, Preparations To Be Together For an Unknown Period of Time, The Novice

OK now for my top 10 discoveries of 2021!

10. Pure Luck (1991)

Martin Short plays the unluckiest man in the world, Danny Glover plays the adult as they pair up to find a rich man’s daughter who has disappeared in Mexico. I laughed til I cried at multiple scenes in this movie.

9. Teeth (2007)

A high school student learns she has teeth in her vagina that expeditiously dispatch any… invaders. A dark but humorous horror movie that I enjoyed during Scary Movie Month.

8. Cutter’s Way (1981)

I mentioned this during #Noirvember but I really just can’t stop thinking about it. John Heard and Jeff Bridges are quite the duo in this post-Vietnam neo noir. I expect this will become at least a once a year revisit for me.

7. Rio Bravo (1959)

One of my great movie shames (although I don’t really think we should be ashamed of what we haven’t seen) is finally erased: I’ve seen this renowned Western and must admit it’s pretty damn awesome. Walter Brennan for the win!

6. The Wood (1999)

This came up on a podcast Adam and Patrick did when they were talking about great 1999 movies, and I’ve been intending to watch it ever since. Finally did, and it’s every bit as good as they said it would be. I miss Omar Epps being in lots of movies.

5. Diner (1982)

For some reason I thought this was going to be boring but it’s definitely the opposite! Mickey Rourke is the standout, although really all of the performances here are outstanding. Another one that I probably should’ve watched a long time ago finally checked off the list.

4. His Kind of Woman (1951)

A truly bonkers movie in the best way, starring Robert Mitchum, Vincent Price, and Jane Russell all vamping it up in a Mexican resort. The behind the scenes production details are almost as entertaining as the movie, and only add to my enjoyment.

3. Avengement (2019)

Scott Adkins superfan Mike Scott gets credit for this, but so does Patrick, who has sung Adkins’ praise on this site plenty. This movie, DUDE. It fucking goes for it. Adkins is a complete badass and this makes me want to see more of his work.

2. Deep Cover (1992)

Bill Duke is a god among men, and this movie finally got the kind of release it deserved when Criterion put it out this summer. I had watched it just a few months before it was announced, and everything about it is my jam. Larry Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum, a killer soundtrack, and noir vibes all around.

1. The Hit (1984)

My number one on this list shares something with my number one of 2021: I watched it twice in one day, because I was like Hit me baby one more time! John Hurt! Terence Stamp! Baby Tim Roth! A road movie that’s also a noir! Chills.


  1. I'm so excited that you liked TPOTD so much. Although I don't think I connected with the story intimately myself, I think it's totally deserving of all the praise it's getting. I rewatched Rose & George's scenes many times because they're so tender. I love that in the book Rose's character is supposedly almost as much of a main character as Phil, they parallel each other in many ways and their similarities contribute to why they're attuned to each other. (To be clear I haven't read the book, likely won't get to it soon, but I've heard this and other great things about it).

    My big personal takeaway from TPOTG was Kodi Smit-Mcphee, who I just found mesmerizing and other-worldly and couldn't stop being curious about. He led me to watching another western, SLOW WEST, which I'd been meaning to get to since 2015. And wow, Slow West is special. I'm in love with that kid, he is so beautiful and adorable and so particular looking/feeling that a lot of the tenderness in that movie can come out because of him, I think. He's like a magic ingredient. It's my favorite Michael Fassbender role, too. And the story + direction + writing, all by John Maclean, is crazy strong. I'm not one to follow directors, I only follow a handful (Jane Campion is one), but I am definitely following John Maclean now.

    I'm excited to see your #2, The Last Duel. Hope I like it as much as you.

    1. That was a pretty big Slow West tangent there, sorry :)

  2. If you loved "Beans" you should check out Kenneth Branagh's "Belfast." Similar set-up (world conflict viewed through the eyes of a small child), but so rich in family life and small details (American shows/movies in TV as an escape valve for young people's imagination), all shot in gorgeous B&W with sporadic bursts of blinding color. Highly tecommended! 😃👍💣💥

  3. Thanks Rosalie for sharing your awesome lists! Lots of new flicks for me to checkout. I particularly love your idea of listing a top 10 discoveries...its a great chance to share movie discoveries that came out before the year but really made an impact....i dig it the most! (and, like you, i was blown away by Avengement this year..Adkins continues to impress and is an amazing ambassador for the action loving community..he's awesome).


  4. Love seeing a top ten of new-new and old-new favorites from 2021. I am definitely going to see Beans and Pure Luck sounds like a very goofy good time.
    My favorite old-new watch of 2021 was Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952). I’m not the biggest fan of his movies but this one blew me away: funny, sad, and beautiful.

    1. "Ikiru" is in my Top 5 of all time. So sad, so uplifting, so timeless, so Kurosawa. That scene near the end on the swing in the snow... amazing! 🥰🥶🥺

  5. Hey thanks for the shout-out Rosalie! Glad you too have found the joys of a scarred Adkins beating the hell out of dudes in a bar

  6. Great list Rosalie. Glad you liked The Wood. Epps!

  7. Love it! Heck yes for The Matrix Resurrections!! Was in my list as well. Loved it.

    Mickey is SO good (in everything) in Diner!! I love the guy.

  8. "those people forgot that it runs on DIESEL, BABY!"

    Never change, Rose. This had me ugly laughing at work.

  9. Rosalie - love the idea of a "discoveries" list; will have to add that to my own. Rio Bravo!

  10. His Kind of Woman is also one of my favorite watches of last year. There are some classic noir scenes in it, but it was Vincent Price that really pushed up my enjoyment of the film.