Three versions of Spider-Men. A pig-napping. Lady Gaga speaking in a Russian accent even though her character is Italian. In a year where the industry attempted to return to normal, the movies were anything but. Some films, however, set themselves apart as masterful works.
Here are The Phoenix’s top five movies of 2021.
Honorable Mentions: “Pig,” “In The Heights,” “West Side Story,” “The Last Duel,” “The Power of the Dog.”
5. “C’mon C’mon”
Director: Mike Mills
Date: November 19, 2021
R | 1 hour 48 minutes
A sweet, witty and tender movie, Mike Mills’ “C’mon C’mon” is a delight. Joaquin Phoenix stars as a podcast host who takes care of his nephew while the latter’s father is in the middle of a manic episode. Shot in black and white, the film seems pretentious but Mills’ sensitive direction elevates the whole product.
While Phoenix won the Oscar — unfortunately — for “Joker,” this is a slight and pleasant performance that says substantially more than whatever Arthur Fleck stood for. However, the real star and revelation is Woody Norman as Jesse, a smart and curious 9-year-old. His chemistry with Phoenix is pitch perfect.
Mills explores the intricacies of raising a child and ensures to depict both sides of the coin — kids are a blessing but can also be a nuisance. Even in these darker parts, the movie still feels like a warm hug and viewers will not want to let go.
“C’mon C’mon,” rated R, can be rented on Amazon, Apple TV and YouTube.
4. “Red Rocket”
Director: Sean Baker
Date: December 10, 2021
R | 2 hour 8 minutes
Director Sean Baker’s bold and often hilarious “Red Rocket” is a sharp snapshot into the disillusionment of washed-up sex worker Mikey Saber (Simon Rex) returning to his conservative Texan hometown.
Rex gives the performance of the year as an unlikable, vulgar but ultimately captivating Mikey. His rapid dialogue delivery and tremendous tanned facial expressions keep the viewer investested in Mikey’s life as he makes mistake upon mistake.
Casting the former “Scary Movie 3” star in this awards-vehicle pays off for Baker — he’s able to tap into Rex’s talents like no other director and gets him to do some truly outrageous things. Mikey’s story is about the dangers of American narcissism, and setting the movie in 2016 with Donald Trump’s campaign ominously present in the background is a great choice by Baker.
Mikey may not be going places but viewers should be going to the theaters to buy a ticket to “Red Rocket.”
“Red Rocket,” rated R, is now playing in theaters.
3. “The Green Knight”
Director: David Lowery
Date: July 30, 2021
R | 2 hour 5 minutes
In an ideal world, everyone would be talking about director David Lowery’s exquisite and dazzling “The Green Knight.” Maybe Lowery’s unique take on an Arthurian legend, devoid of battle scenes or lengthy dialogue, was too eccentric for the average moviegoer. However, this is what makes it one of 2021’s best movies.
It all starts with the stunning cinematography by Andrew Droz Palermo, whose mesmerizing shots do all the heavy lifting. The visuals are so detailed that “The Green Knight” is a rare movie that could’ve worked as a silent film (and is essentially one beautiful Alicia Vikander monologue away from being one).
Dev Patel as King Arthur’s confused and juvenile nephew Sir Gawain is in top form. While it isn’t a flashy role and he isn’t given a show stopping moment, Patel’s restrained performance fits the essence of Gawain’s character and his evolving maturity.
It’s unclear what’s real and what’s fake in Lowery’s surrealistic Camelot, but it’s clear “The Green Knight” is magnificent.
“The Green Knight,” rated R, can be rented on Amazon, Apple TV and YouTube.
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Date: October 22, 2021
PG-13 | 2 hour 35 minutes
Simply put, “Dune” is among the greatest in-theater experiences of all time.
It’s fitting the uber-talented Denis Villeneuve — responsible for many visual masterpieces — accomplished the impossible task of adapting Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel. Only his expansive vision and patient storytelling could’ve created such an opulent feature.
With humongous set pieces, Hans Zimmers’ daunting score and harrowing sand worms, this movie has it all. Filmed with IMAX cameras, Villeneuve uses every inch of the screen to fully immerse the viewer in this dystopian world. It’s overwhelming in the best way possible.
The all-star cast — including Oscar Isaac’s glorious beard — is even more incentive to watch “Dune.” Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho is a double threat with his sly tongue and brutal strength. It’s Timothée Chalamet’s languid and subtle performance as Paul Atreides, though, that’s nothing short of a marvel.
In the end, “Dune” is a one-of-a-kind psychedelic dream viewers hope to never wake up from.
“Dune,” rated PG-13, can be rented on Amazon, Apple TV and YouTube.
1. “Licorice Pizza”
Director: Paul Thomas Anderson
Date: November 26, 2021
R | 2 hour 13 minutes
What more can be said about “Licorice Pizza”? That it’s a funny and wonderful slice-of-life movie with a spectacular screenplay from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson? Or that it features two future superstars in Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman?
“Licorice Pizza” is the best movie of 2021 because Anderson makes the viewer feel nostalgic for a time and place they didn’t live through.
In this film, viewers will connect with Gary’s aspirations or relate to Alana’s desire to stay young. Very few filmmakers have this inert ability to craft a transcendent experience — Anderson does it time and again and, in this movie, he gets to the core of what it means to grow up.
Aside from Haim, Hoffman and a wild Bradley Cooper, actors such as Sean Penn and Harriet Sansom Harris — who’s especially incredible — come for short but well-cast cameos that leave a major impact.
Gary and Alana run a lot in this movie, sometimes toward each other as if they’re magnetic poles. Moviegoers should run to watch “Licorice Pizza,” another masterpiece from the legendary Anderson.
“Licorice Pizza,” rated R, is now playing in theaters.