The 11 best movies of the year, according to ‘Fresh Air’ reviewer Justin Chang: NPR

(Clockwise from top left) Who passed, The Remembrance Part II, Drive my car, parallel mothers, Memoria and The green knight are some of Justin Chang’s favorite movies of 2021.

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(Clockwise from top left) Who passed, The Remembrance Part II, Drive my car, parallel mothers, Memoria and The green knight are some of Justin Chang’s favorite movies of 2021.

NPR

2021 was the year some of us returned to the movies, cautiously but gratefully. After a year of watching screens at home, it was wonderful to see some great new movies on the big screen again. And there were some great movies – so much that, as usual, I struggled to narrow my end-of-year list down to 10. And so here are my 11 favorite movies of 2021, that according to my annual tradition , I arranged as a series of grouped titles. I do this because it never ceases to amaze me how each year so many of my favorite movies seem to be in conversation with each other.

Drive my car

Misaki (Tôko Miura) is the personal driver of a grieving actor (Hidetoshi Nishijima) in Drive my car.

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Cannes film festival


Misaki (Tôko Miura) is the personal driver of a grieving actor (Hidetoshi Nishijima) in Drive my car.

Cannes film festival

The best movie I saw this year was Drive my car, an extraordinarily moving drama by Japanese writer and director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi. He has won critics’ awards left and right, and he deserves them: this adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami, about a widowed actor and theater director and the relationship he forges with his personal driver. , is a deep meditation on how art can and cannot compensate for some of life’s disappointments.

The Remembrance Part II and Procession

Honor Swinton Byrne is an aspiring filmmaker who mourns the loss of her older lover in The Remembrance Part II.

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Honor Swinton Byrne is an aspiring filmmaker who mourns the loss of her older lover in The Remembrance Part II.

Joss Barratt / A24

My next two favorite films are also about the challenge of making art following intense grief. The Remembrance Part II is the second chapter in Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical drama about her days as a film student in 1980s London. It opens in the wake of her boyfriend’s untimely death and somehow evolves into one of the happiest portraits of cinema as a collaborative medium I have ever seen.

At # 3 on my list is a haunting documentary titled Procession, in which director Robert Greene follows six men, all survivors of childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, as they make a series of short films about their trauma. It’s not easy to watch, but it is a powerful portrayal of male friendship and solidarity in the face of unspeakable evil.

Memory and Days

Tilda Swinton plays a botanist in Memory.

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Tilda Swinton plays a botanist in Memory.

Match Factory Productions

My next two favorites are two gorgeous films that completely blew me away when I saw them on the big screen. At n ° 4 is Memory, the latest from critically acclaimed Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. It stars Tilda Swinton as a botanist in Colombia, where she sets out to solve a mystery that builds itself up to the strangest, most mind-boggling movie moment I’ve experienced this year.

At n ° 5 is Days, a lovely portrait of a fateful brief encounter between two lonely men. The story couldn’t be simpler, but Taiwanese-Malaysian director Tsai Ming-liang films it with such fondness that she might make you cry.

Parallel mothers and Little mom

Milena Smit and Penélope Cruz co-starred in Parallel mothers.

Iglesias Más / Sony Pictures Classics


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Milena Smit and Penélope Cruz co-starred in Parallel mothers.

Iglesias Más / Sony Pictures Classics

And speaking of tears: At # 6 on my list is Parallel mothers, a multi-level melodrama starring a possibly career best performance by Penélope Cruz. It’s also the best film in years from the great Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, working here to a new level of mastery.

My film n ° 7, Little mom, by French director Céline Sciamma, is a much calmer, sweeter story about mothers and daughters. It only lasts 72 minutes and does more in that compact runtime than some movies do in their entirety.

the disciple and The green knight

At the start of the new movie The green knight, Dev Patel’s Gawain is King Arthur’s stubborn young nephew. He is not yet a knight and has a lot to prove.

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At the start of the new movie The green knight, Dev Patel’s Gawain is King Arthur’s stubborn young nephew. He is not yet a knight and has a lot to prove.

A24

Then on my list are two stories of men trying and failing to live up to the fates they’ve imagined for themselves. At n ° 8 is the disciple, in which Indian director Chaitanya Tamhane follows a young man who aspires to be a great Hindustani classical singer but simply has no greatness in him.

This makes it an ideal match with The green knight, the haunting Arthurian epic of David Lowery with Dev Patel. It’s a wonderful subversion of the usual heroic quest narrative, and a reminder that we often learn more from our failures than from our triumphs.

The power of the dog and Who passed

Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga co-star as Irene and Clare in Who passed.

© 2021


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Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga co-star as Irene and Clare in Who passed.

© 2021

The last two films on my list are both tense and suspenseful dramas about the deception of appearances. At n ° 10 is The power of the dog, Jane Campion’s gorgeous Western psychodrama starring a fearsome Benedict Cumberbatch as a Montana rancher who isn’t quite what it seems.

And at n ° 11 is Who passed, Rebecca Hall’s startling directorial debut starring Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as two fair-skinned black women living on different sides of the color division in 1920s New York. stories about what it means to live a lie, but like all of my favorite movies this year, they’re full of emotional truth.


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