2021 Year Enders, Film

YEAR-ENDER: Anna Hoang’s Favorite Films of 2021

Find your Jesus, find your Kubrick


For both personal and professional growth, 2021 was a huge year for me, which may tie into the fact that I’ve seen more in-year releases than ever before. Do I feel like I’m in tune with the topical? Pretty much! Admittedly, I have not seen any of the new Marvel or Pixar movies this year to truly engage with the majority (though I feel in my bones that Eternals would be my ish once I get a chance), but attaining the ability to engage in The French Dispatch and Licorice Pizza discussions — even though I wasn’t a fan of either Anderson piece — is actually kinda nice.

To no one’s surprise, talking about movies is one of my favorite things! Not only is it a chance to reveal my soft spot for weirdo David Dastmalchian making his weirdo rounds in Dune and The Suicide Squad, but I enjoy hearing about people fawning over West Side Story; where I cannot or feeling satisfied by the Sorkin saga Being the Ricardos when I had a hard time juggling any interest between Communism, extramarital affairs, and an episode of a show I did not watch. My beef with the National Board of Review is probably what makes this year feel a little more special to me.

However, it’s misleading to say that my favorite films are those of a contrarian. My list has no curveballs, and will more or less reflect a lot of films that received a lot of love. However, I did struggle with ranking. I knew there were going to be movies that I would enjoy from the get-go, movies or performances that I’d maternally term as “pleasant surprises,” and movies that I have a love-hate relationship with. So in honor of the true star of the awards circuit, I’m going to categorize my favorite movies* based on Lady Gaga interview sound bites (and then alphabetically because I’m that bitch).

Also, because I’m putting her name in my mouth: while I did not like House of Gucci, I thought Lady Gaga gave it her all and will continue to give it her all in future endeavors.

aka pure favorites

The Green Knight dir. David Lowery
For a modern tale of medieval times to look so rich without the need for heavy touch-ups can almost be a slap in the face for those whose eyesights are adjusted to theatrics to the Game of Thrones scale. But while you’re still wondering if you should get night-vision goggles to see what’s happening in “The Long Night,” Lowery doesn’t let any part of his characters or set shy away from the sunlight, decaying matter or not. The beauty of danger in nature takes precedence, and I don’t mean only Dev Patel.

Pig dir. Michael Sarnoski
I’m still not sure if I liked the movie because it was completely the opposite of what I was expecting (including the fact that when the movie posters were released, I had thought that the pig credited as Brandy meant that Brandy the singer was going to start voice-acting for arthouse films). However, I did shed a tear for Nicolas Cage, and surely wasn’t that the goal? Also, who knew that Gucci would make another cameo this year?

Shiva Baby dir. Emma Seligman
This movie was almost off the list because I wasn’t sure if it’s considered a 2020 release or a 2021 release, but I’ve decided that I need to proclaim my love somehow. I honestly go off about this movie to anyone who thought they could casually ask me for recommendations. While the plot is pretty much a hot-potato game of socially awkward tension, the roulette of talent spins between Rachel Sennott’s klutzy antics, Molly Gordon’s furrow-browed kindness, and a conniving-but-also-maybe clueless girlboss Dianna Agron. I’m in love with it all.

The Tragedy of Macbeth dir. Joel Coen
I cannot stress how much this movie is my motherfucking shit. I live for long shadows and the deliverance of Ye Ole English from our modern greats. I don’t generally cape for Coen pieces, but The Tragedy of Macbeth is of a third world, between film and stage, that seeks to tell the haunting prophecy of greed. I don’t say this often, but it was a movie that works best in the big screen. (If you had seen this at the Kendall Square Cinema in late December and heard a childlike gasp in the audience at the ending, that was probably me.)

aka I loved it but damn was that crazy or what

Annette dir. Leos Carax
The most normal thing I can say about this batshit movie is that Adam Driver has a lovely voice. I don’t think I cared much for the first part, but the movie really picked up for me when Annette started to sing, because that was the precise moment I lost my fucking mind. I can’t unthink about this movie.

Red Rocket dir. Sean Baker
In an interview, Sean Baker said that using “Bye Bye Bye” was akin to having a A-list star, which also means a lot to his usual use of non-professional actors in addition to using a millennial throwback. While Red Rocket doesn’t approach the magnificent impression that The Florida Project left in 2017, the movie was still more enjoyable than most of the Joe Schmoe releases this year. It also managed to place NSYNC in my latest Spotify rotation. Fuck Justin Timberlake, but at the very least, Baker makes a memorable hit once again.

Zola dir. Janicza Bravo
Zola is a comfort movie for me in ways that I can’t fully explain. Maybe it’s in the same way that Bring It On is probably my most rewatched movie. Maybe it’s also the way that Taylour Paige and Riley Keough are friends in real life, which makes this adventure feel like it doesn’t really end on a bad note.

aka it deserves a shout-out

CODA dir. Sian Heder
Do we often celebrate genuine family love in movies? Like where things are just so nice and good? If not, let us welcome CODA into our lives. Yes, it’s all true: it’s marked up as an Apple TV+ feel-good movie, but it’s a disservice to classify it as a film of Hallmark motions. There are moments that make me smile from a good place in my heart, including the fact that there were ASL-related jokes that some of the audience members laughed at before it was explained in the movie.

Days dir. Tsai Ming-liang
After watching this, I don’t think I could listen to a music box alone in a room without feeling like solitude has a cold death grip on me. It’s a lovely movie.

The Hand of God dir. Paolo Sorrentino
Originally I thought this movie was going to center around soccer, but in the first ten minutes, the laughter shared between the Schisa family was just too contagious. Characters of different colors and motives come alive, from Teresa Saponangelo’s prankster ways to the fur-wearing matriarch eating burrata by the chompful. The Hand of God had caught me off guard, and I’m happy for that.

aka good performances in movies not mentioned

Benedict Cumberbatch (The Power of the Dog)
While I could go either way with the movie, the emotional direction would have stayed stagnant if it weren’t for Cumberbatch’s force in his performance. I haven’t really cared for his Sheldon Cooper-type roles from his other works, but put him in leather chaps and place bull testicles in front of him and I guess this sorta works for me?

Caitriona Balfe (Belfast)
There might have been a few things that Kenneth Branagh wanted to reveal about his life in Belfast, but one thing that was clear to me was his signaling to the strength of a mother’s love. Did I know much about The Troubles? No, but I’ll always remember the opening scene in which Jude Hill’s Buddy is barreling down the street with toy weapons and youthful abandon, but when a riot occurs, it’s his mother (played by Balfe) who wields the shield and carries Buddy to safety. It remains one of the most touching moments in film this year.

Haruka Abe (Snake Eyes: G.I. Joe Origins)
Just for the mere seconds of her sprinting across the dojo grounds because she, the head of security, has to do her job — inspiring.

Masaki Okada / Park Yoo-Rim (Drive My Car)
Truthfully, I’d like to put down the whole cast of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, because everyone played the moving aftermath of grief so well. I had a personal favorite thing for each character — Yusuke’s Dark Lord playwright outfits, Reika’s soft-spoken voice that brought the opening scene to unimaginable beauty to my cinematic soul, Misaki’s anchoring normalcy — but I think the tides really turned in two specific instances: Takatsuki (Okada)’s backseat monologue that carried both malice and innocence to the forefront and Yoon-a (Park)’s on-stage speech, done through signing, about how even suffering might seem eternal, acknowledgment of it makes it seem less lonely.

Olivia Colman (The Lost Daughter)
This woman has got me screaming at the screen every time she whips out that doll. Girl, you’re at a seaside spot in Greece. Toss it off a cliff and into the ocean with a glass of wine in hand like the long-suffering character you’re meant to be!

Ray Fisher (Zack Snyder’s Justice League)
It’s unfathomable to hear anything else about Ray Fisher than his truth. After watching the Snyder Cut, it was clear that Cyborg was the the heart of the film, and for someone else to step in, remove the majority of his parts, and claim that Fisher was the troublemaker is an act of narcissistic evil. The Snyder Cut may have noticeably improved from the original J*ss Cut, but Fisher’s performance speaks more volume and substance both on and off screen.

*Movies that I haven’t seen yet but anticipate having a strong opinion about includes TitaneThe Harder They Fall, and Benedetta.

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