The Films of 2021

Discussions of specific films and franchises.
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hearthesilence
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Re: The Films of 2021

#126 Post by hearthesilence » Mon Jan 03, 2022 12:13 am

Has anyone else seen Alexandre Koberidze's What Do We See When We Lookat the Sky? It popped up on quite a few top ten lists and already played in the fall (at Lincoln Center and BAM) but fortunately there were a few end-of-year screenings elsewhere.

I won't spoil anything but I'm not sure what to make of it. I was quite taken with the first act, believing they were brilliantly pulling off the kind of romantic comedy fantasy that a filmmaker would have made if they never heard of Nora Ephron but learned everything about their craft through Robert Bresson's films. All the details painted of life outside of the two leads was exquisite, but deep into its 150 minute run, it really felt like the film was simply adrift, though pretty much by design as the narrator blatantly makes clear. I haven't checked out the reviews yet - I wanted to go in fresh - but anyone here have any impressions they want to share?

nitin
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Re: The Films of 2021

#127 Post by nitin » Tue Jan 04, 2022 12:29 am

Has anyone else seen Rebecca Hall's Passing? I thought it was a terrific debut and a very literate adaptation of what I bet is an even more brilliant novella. Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and Andre Holland are excellent and Hall uses 4:3 B&W cinematography in a way that really worked for me in terms of boxing in the characters and also fitting in with the main theme. I saw it in Dolby Vision on Netflix and the visuals really were something, and when paired with the very careful sound design, felt like a dream.

My only criticism is that aspects of this came across as more in tune with a very British sense of repression, rather than an American one.

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Matt
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 12:58 pm

Re: The Films of 2021

#128 Post by Matt » Tue Jan 04, 2022 12:54 am

I saw it and liked it, but I don’t think I have much to say about it. I like how the B&W photography emphasizes the tensions regarding skin tone in the story (vs. skin color), and I would not be sorry to see Ruth Negga nominated for (or winning) an Oscar. I would like to see Rebecca Hall continuing to write and direct, and also to act. Her performance in The Night House was a flinty, abrasive marvel.

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DarkImbecile
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Re: The Films of 2021

#129 Post by DarkImbecile » Mon Jan 10, 2022 11:41 am


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John Cope
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Re: The Films of 2021

#130 Post by John Cope » Tue Jan 11, 2022 5:21 am

Zeros and Ones

A glance at the old IMDB clearly indicates that this movie was absolutely not what most viewers wanted to see or thought they were going to see and fairly or not then (and here I blame Lionsgate promotional material just as much) it was inevitably going to be dismissed with disdain. But of course Abel Ferrara was never interested in a conventional action-thriller genre picture as this was advertised. This is rather an ambient, textural, tonal piece, a mediation or tone poem backed up by great and creatively compelling substance however elusive and obscure that might be.

No small part of his accomplishment here is in exactly what many viewers seem to hate the most: the foregrounding and prominence of lockdown era allusions. This is only appropriate as Ferrara shot this during a time of lockdown in Rome and he does make allowances for it, integrating its reality into or accommodating it within the subject and ostensible focus of his film, albeit only vaguely but no more so than any other element involved. Still, that alone might have been enough to set some viewers off. While this is, again ostensibly, a military thriller of some sort or another that is never made clear and its obscurity is if anything profoundly pronounced. So, then, given that, the extreme emphasis upon masking and (gasp) even the consistent use of hand sanitizer probably sets poorly as what that does is upset or unsettle the usual depiction of a militaristic narrative as one of clear cut goals for strong and accomplished men; a heavy reliance on an element that emphasizes vulnerability or protective measures will inevitably interfere with someone's settled notions of masculinity.

Actually, watching this just brought back to my own mind again something I've been thinking about off and on for quite awhile now. All the enormous efforts that have gone into safety measures on movie and TV productions have gone into the service of producing work that defiantly avoids any acknowledgment of our prominent and prolonged present reality state of turbulent upset; what there is instead is a great effort to deny that reality exists and, as such, when someone looks back at this era in years to come and tries to get a fix upon it through its representation in media they will indeed be left with close to a great zero (perhaps Hollywood is waiting till all this can be safely contextualized as a "historic" piece). I guess much of this neglect has to do with our current conditions as a society beset by a rift between those willing to acknowledge it on same base ontological level and those who are not--that can kind of put the fear of God into the hearts of media investors.

Under such conditions then we should be especially grateful for what Ferrara has provided us with here: not just a film that does blatantly acknowledge the conditions of our reality (even as they are repurposed for his own specific ends and therefore not specifically related to COVID as such) but also a film that seeks to recognize a much bigger picture beyond the immediacy of the moment and these particular details. It is indeed a film that is defiantly obscure but that is appropriate for the elusive ineffability of what he is after here. The title refers to a fundamental state of both duality and binaries but it is not necessarily a state that cannot be surpassed and recognizing that is key to the sublimity of Ferrara's effort. And it is indeed an effort, a spiritual exercise in transcendence even or at least the effort made. The characters as analogues for this represent a world of confusion, of confused differentiation, not so much the twisting contours of a double agent spy plot in which sides don't matter and give way purely to power plays but representative instead of a world in which the clearly designated and supposedly competing ideologies themselves slide away from comprehension for the characters and ourselves; clear meaning slides away in other words and that is not irrelevant but critical. It opens up then to a multiplicity of meaning but not without threat and danger. This is then representative of a far more complex global world and Ferrara's film is one of the first I've seen to really take seriously the challenge of a multicultural world that is now incumbent upon us. The result of all that is that confusion and searching reigns supreme as center of all, another thing surely set to disrupt any inclination toward a trite triumphalism even as Ferrara never denies that the reality of such a moment is indeed a war state (and indeed acknowledges this as most other films seeks to downplay it). It is appropriate then that the characters represent a blur of undefinable and unfinalizable loyalties and commitments. The emphasis is upon the seeking, a state of being made more prominent or distinctive by situating it within a war state surrounding it.

Not insignificantly a character says, "The world is the hiding place for God," and that provides an ultimate lens or a lens of ultimacy through which to view all this. The film's portrait of fundamentals inevitably comes crashing back into the numinous, an absolute state which is indeed situated beyond what we immediately see and is only pointed to by that. The bare existence details of lockdown life, for instance, shift and take on the strangely surprising but surprisingly natural seeming cast of sacred rites or a certain sacramentality. This eases up on us slowly as it merges with the film's also slowly eased into consideration of ultimate concerns. The explicit religious content is then also surprisingly revealing as those scenes always function as directly related to whatever the other prominent narrative elements are without ever losing the distinctive details of their religious character. As such they too point to a fundamental inextricability between these seemingly disparate realms. Even the more inexplicable moments such as Hawke's sex scene at gun point can't help but allude to a larger world beyond the frame in which the significance or relevance of these acts can be contextualized and understood, a world we simply do not know. This consistent disconnected presentation, however, gives all the events and details the redolence of an unfathomable mystery.

This is a film finally about attempting to get past or go beyond the specifics of conflicting ideologies or even the specifics of distinctions themselves into a realm of reconciliation. That may be too hopeful to be anything other than utopian in spirit but for Ferrara at least it is the great philosophical and spiritual effort we are capable of that is worth the effort, that we are ultimately implicated by if we do not make the effort, positioned almost as a kind of divine directive for pursuit of the divine built into the unique character of human capability. It's an expansion of consciousness which attempts to overcome the conflict between perspectives, between binary opposition, even the very idea of the conflict itself through a reconfiguration that may only be able to be recognized rather than ever fully implemented but however it turns out it's the measure of the effort that counts.

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John Cope
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Re: The Films of 2021

#131 Post by John Cope » Tue Jan 11, 2022 5:23 am

Flag Day

Liked this very much though that was not entirely a surprise as I've liked and admired all of Penn's directorial work including even the much maligned The Last Face. This was no exception to the high quality I think he puts into all of it. I wouldn't necessarily claim that he is or will be the inheritor of Eastwood's mantle for virtuoso actor/director especially as their styles are so different but I really don't see much in the way of competition.

Watching this I wondered why it was received so poorly and what I came up with is what may also be key to the work and key to its successful accomplishment if you perceive it that way. I'm sure that many will think this is obvious and overwrought but that hardly seems like a flaw to me when it was clearly designed that way as unapologetic melodrama. The intensity of the domestic scenes recalls similar such sequences from Cassavetes or Vincent Gallo's pictures; the lyrically aloft ones recall Malick. The rough hewn look of the film also carries an overall aesthetic of immediacy and a signature style that unifies it cohesively to Penn's overall body of directorial work as much as the foregrounded prominence of music and song montages. He's simply operating in a form or mode that is unfashionable, maybe even deeply unfashionable at present; that doesn't reflect on the actual quality of the work at all. Having said that though, and as receptive to what he is doing as I am, even I have to concede that the grand climactic scene here is incredibly over the top to a degree that may actually be counter-productive as it diverted me from the obviously intended emotional impact and into the realm of simply recognizing, "Well, yeah, he took it all the way alright," and wondering just how true to the underlying "true story" all this was.

Still, director Penn's performance throughout is great and very impressive; it takes a lot of guts to be willing to present oneself through one's character as so incredibly desperate and pathetic and he is certainly willing to go there. Meanwhile, he has not misjudged in terms of placing his daughter at center stage here; Dylan Penn reveals herself as more than capable of handling that spotlight and really carrying the film (she has to age over a significant span of years and does so very convincingly). Her nuanced take matches that of her father both in terms of his performance and the perhaps more obscured accomplishment of his direction. The parallel between the real life father-daughter relationship (both the Penns own and the figures their characters are modeled upon) and the one we see on screen is daring in its own way, not just for what it may risk or reveal but because since Dylan is the product of a very public celebrity relationship we all feel like we've lived through more of this than the film itself acknowledges.

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John Cope
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Re: The Films of 2021

#132 Post by John Cope » Tue Jan 11, 2022 5:24 am

The Killing of Two Lovers

A model independent film, made with great craft, maturity and wisdom. Picture opens with a startling moment (it won't be the only one) which it then proceeds to immediately subvert in terms of dramatic sensationalism through an overall aesthetic strategy of distance and remove. Actually though part of the film's unique, small scale domestic genius is exactly in its aesthetic which matches and complements the tone of the substance of the picture. This is a very serious consideration of the damage done to partners in a relationship during and after a break up (the "killing" of the title while also teased in a literal sense too) and the film expresses this through a back and forth tension between the many long distance compositions which isolate the characters from one another and within an unyielding landscape and the claustrophobic 4: 3 format which suggests the noose tightening tension of lessening possibilities and the confinement of impending doom. Film is also excellent at conveying information through set ups such as the one in which the husband gets incontrovertible evidence of his wife's lover that do not provide the comforting familiarity of cutting back and forth between observed and observer but rather force us into the psychic space of the observer taking in a miserable reality and unable to look away from it or deny it. This is one of those rare films in American cinema (indie or otherwise) which I've alluded to before that actually offers up fully realized, multi-dimensional portraits of mature adult characters and the filmmaking is equally mature, delivering that portraiture through sophisticated means that accrues detail gradually and naturally and often just below the surface, surprising us finally with what we come to understand about these characters and their circumstances. The end is not an end but wisely recognized as just the resolution we've reached now; there will surely be more to come that we and they cannot know and is most assuredly unresolved. Really wish more of director Machoian's earlier work would get a release and I greatly look forward to whatever is next. For me, easily among the very finest films of last year.

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Persona
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Re: The Films of 2021

#133 Post by Persona » Fri Jan 14, 2022 6:45 pm

nitin wrote:
Tue Jan 04, 2022 12:29 am
Has anyone else seen Rebecca Hall's Passing? I thought it was a terrific debut and a very literate adaptation of what I bet is an even more brilliant novella. Tessa Thompson, Ruth Negga and Andre Holland are excellent and Hall uses 4:3 B&W cinematography in a way that really worked for me in terms of boxing in the characters and also fitting in with the main theme. I saw it in Dolby Vision on Netflix and the visuals really were something, and when paired with the very careful sound design, felt like a dream.

My only criticism is that aspects of this came across as more in tune with a very British sense of repression, rather than an American one.
I liked it a good bit, though perhaps its lasting effect was, eh, passing.

The cinematography is a great boon to it. As are Negga and Holland. I am somewhat conflicted on Thompson's performance, and find it difficult to parse from an artificiality/intentionality perspective.

I am not familiar with the book but can only presume the film follows it. I am not sure about the overarching dramatic structure and endgame, yet nonetheless it's interesting to mull over.

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Finch
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Re: The Films of 2021

#134 Post by Finch » Sun Jan 16, 2022 12:09 pm

Petite Mamman is getting a UK BD & DVD release from MUBI who've branched out into physical media about two or three years ago. This may be a good alternative to the NEON/Decal disc that, if their previous discs are anything to go by, is likely to be poorly compressed.

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Michael Kerpan
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Re: The Films of 2021

#135 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Jan 17, 2022 12:22 pm

Belle (Ryū to Sobakasu no Hime / The Dragon and The Freckled Princess) (Mamoru HOSODA, 2021)

This finally got its US theatrical premiere (a year or so after it first appeared). Hosoda is possibly my favorite current anime movie director -- and this did nothing to damage my esteem. While he previously did an internet game-themed movie (Summer Wars), this one had the added attraction of being a musical which borrowed motifs from Beauty and the Beast (albeit with a distinctly different focus overall). Our heroine is a girl who loved music (and singing) but has suffered from depression (and a significant degree of social isolation) since the tragic death of her mother. She is introduced to an online virtual world -- where one can create an ideal alternate self -- and her online avatar is stunningly lovely (instead of "plain" -- like her real self) sharing only her freckles and her love of singing (something she can no longer do in real life). She becomes wildly popular for her looks and her songs (with the help of her one confidant -- who acts as her "producer")-- but then her existence there is disturbed an over-powered dragon and the self-appointed justice warrior who wants to destroy that dragon. The plot juggles (perhaps) a few more balls than it can fully handle -- but no one in our party of six (including 2 Japanese college girls) were bothered much by this. The visual beauty and the very lovely music -- and the momentum generated by the appealing characters made this a very pleasing movie experience.

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