by Jan Bottiglieri
I did not see enough movies.
I love the movies. I often think about what an incredible miracle it is that the film I’m about to enjoy even managed to get made in a world that seems so goddamned close to ending itself with every war-fueled wobble around its axis. But whatever: it did and I’m here. And that makes me feel a little better.
Coming up with a “Top 10” or “Best Moments” list for 2021 was impossible, because I didn’t see enough to make those judgements—and also because I was so constantly desperate for movie-comfort during every moment of this difficult year that I kind of loved everything. Still, a few particularly heart-exploding moments stood out for me.
Valentina Sings About the Shitty World, West Side Story
It’s Time to Die, No Time To Die
This Bond, in this movie, finally has a family he wants to live for—and is willing to die for—not by accident, but by choice. Craig’s performance as a man who realizes he has that choice, and then makes that choice, made me feel more human. That’s the best any movie can hope to do. Oh, and Felix dies and Blofeld dies and FUCK IT-- I really hope you didn’t read that if you haven’t seen this movie.
Phil Bathes with a Handkerchief, Power of the Dog
Something I love about this movie is the way each element supports its themes of control, repression, and social expectation, from Jonny Greenwood’s sharp score to the slow camera movements and shifting perspectives of near and far, light and shadow. This movie teaches us to hate and fear Benedict Cumberbatch’s monstrous Phil Burbank from the moment we meet him bullying his gentler brother George. Later, bound to the camera’s eye, we follow Peter through the brambles to discover Phil literally and figuratively naked, reveling in the intimate pleasure he receives from Bronco Henry’s worn kerchief and the memory of their relationship. The revelation makes Phil seem more human but also that much more dangerous: we see what he was hiding, we understand why, and we feel viscerally all he would do to protect his secret because we are human too. Phil and Peter’s relationship, and their eventual fates, seem both shockingly unexpected and unavoidable—the final element of the film’s exploration of its themes. Every taut frame makes me fucking grateful that cinema exists.
The Janitor Dances While Playing Pinball, Willy’s Wonderland
And then one day one of those aliens said, “Yeah, Nicolas Cage is great, but what if he never talked?” and the other alien said, “STILL GREAT” and the first alien said, “PROVE IT” and they made Willy’s Wonderland.
I absolutely love the questions that this film presents us with—questions like “What?” and “How?” and “Why?” and “Huh?” WHO CARES? This is not a movie about explaining the ancient lore of satanic ritual, or why a knight, a weasel, and a sexy siren would sell pizza. Willy’s Wonderland is frenetically violent and gloriously bloody; it wastes no time and suffers no fools or their foolish questions—especially about the Janitor, about whom VERY little is explained. And then… he takes a break to play pinball and dance. He’s flipping the flips and shaking his hips, and I feel a pure kind of joy that only comes when you can say to a movie, “I accept your mysteries and give myself to you.” It’s the purest form of love between people and people, and between people and movies, and I am here for it.
Jack and Sandie (and Ellie) Dance, One Night in Soho
Great digital effects are awesome, but great practical effects are magic. We need to feel the realness, the magic, and the tension between the two; that tension is where the rest of the movie takes place. When the movie stops being something I’m watching, and starts being something that’s happening around me… I fucking love those moments.
Rob explains why he went looking for his pig, Pig
I’ve saved this moment for last because it may be my single favorite moment in any movie I saw during 2021. I won’t say much about it because nothing I write here can explain the place in my heart for movies any better than watching Pig can—so if you have not yet seen it, please do that.
I don’t know what happened to Nic Cage to make him so transcendently good at playing a man drowning in grief, but I guess we don’t get to choose our superpowers. I do know that we watch Rob walk through nine circles of hell in search of his pig, and we think we know exactly why, but when he finally says it out loud it’s surprising and revelatory and not what we expect, and it broke my heart open. I’m not going to write it here, because on paper it sounds trite; if you know, you know. Rob’s “reason” is our only hope on this or any other lonely planet, if you ask me, and I love when a movie helps me remember that.
Here are a few other things I loved about some movies I saw in 2021. Feel free to tell me the ones I missed in the comments! I’ve given you enough to round out a baker’s dozen:
Dune: Because space movies.
Nobody: Because Odenkirk.
Ghostbusters Afterlife: Nerdy, awkward girl feels connected to her dead relative? IT ME.
Zola: Women need to affirm the worth of other women. I’m not joking.
The Last Duel: Women also need to affirm their own worth. I’m fucking serious.
Psycho Goreman: BYEEEEEEEEEEEEE
The Mitchells vs. The Machines: For letting a dog wear a tuxedo “like a little gentleman.”
I love you, Movies. Let’s try to spend more time together in 2022.