In many ways, 2021 still felt more like the worst of times than the best for movies, with many quality projects being done (or ending) on streaming services as theaters tried, often to no avail.
However, there were still movies that mattered for various reasons, some of which had as much to do with what they represented as the movies themselves, in what is clearly an evolutionary period for movies and movie theater. How much premium content is there? As a rather amusing sign, four movies were seriously considered for this list that were shot in black and white: “Belfast”, “Come on, come on”, “Passing by” and “The Macbeth Tragedy”. Some other admirable skipped movies are worth acknowledging as well, starting with Dune.
Which played too conspicuously as “Part One,” feeling almost incomplete until “Part Two” sees the light of day. “King Richard” represented another close call, with the force of his (Will Smith in particular) performances elevating a fairly conventional sporting framework. What did the cut do? Let’s start with a group nod to a genre that delivered more quality than box office dollars: All three films might have rated individually, but the excitement of three standout musicals in one year was partially offset by their commercial struggles.
With just “Tick Lin-Manuel Miranda’s impressive directorial debut, Tick, was spared questions about the underperformance at the box office as Netflix declined to provide such data. Yet these films deserve collective praise in part to encourage more, with the understanding that more at-bats will inevitably mean artistic and / or financial strikeouts, in the style of “Annette” and “Dear Evan Hansen.” Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Simu Liu in ‘Shang-Chi and the legend of the ten rings.
Thank Disney with a double whammy for inclusion by releasing Marvel’s first Asian superhero vehicle and an animated musical (also featuring music by Miranda) about a Latino family whose matriarch survived a refugee experience to settle in Colombia. Both movies were pretty good on their own, but they make a stronger statement together. Parents don’t give a false note, an example of how to take a very basic template and make it shine.
Ditto for Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical journey to the violence-ravaged Ireland of his youth.
That showcases the formative role of pop culture in the young protagonist’s life, while offering a timely illustration of the human cost associated with fanaticism and division. A very enjoyable sequel on its own, depicted here primarily because of the reassuring signal it sends about the ability to attract people to theaters. With that said, the film’s blockbuster numbers also highlight the gap between those marquee franchises and a more serious dramatic a famine scenario that has turned into a massive chasm during the pandemic.