Joseph Palumbo, Lindsay Wynne, Samuel Albers, Jessica Garraway, Pierre Young
For almost a century, the Oscars have been the film industry’s gold standard for deciding who among a list of writers, directors, artists and technicians will receive recognition for their work. There is undeniable prestige that comes with the walk down the world-famous red carpet.
However, for those of us who’ve replaced traditional television with streaming services, the Oscars do not possess the same significance they once did. With so many entertainment options at our fingertips, the pomp and circumstance of Hollywood’s award ceremonies no longer has the same sway over the collective taste of American filmgoers.
Additionally, it has been made abundantly clear from the corrupt nature of how these award shows operate, including “For your Consideration campaigns” where studios all but bribe Academy members with free lunches and film screenings. As such, the American public is less willing to put stock in the opinions of Hollywood insiders, preferring instead to come to their own conclusions. Despite these Hollywood criticisms and although the Academy Awards have passed, our appreciation for film as a medium marches on; so, we at The Metropolitan would like to share our own personal selection of last year’s greatest movies. Here are our picks for the best films of 2021!
(Property of A24)
Shot in black and white and in the style of cinéma verité, “C’mon C’mon” effortlessly weaves fiction and nonfiction storytelling in its analysis of the human condition. At its heart, the film is about relating to one another—a sad and delightful exploration of family, fear, and hope. In semi-documentary fashion, the film chronicles several weeks in the life of radio journalist Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix), as he navigates his complicated relationship with his sister, Viv (Gaby Hoffman), and her nine-year-old son, Jesse (Woody Norman). In his current assignment, Johnny interviews children about what they think of life and the future, as well as their fears and desires. When he agrees to watch Jesse during a few weeks of family turmoil, his life becomes one, long interview—sometimes as the interviewer and other times, as the interviewee.
While some critics have alluded to a light plot, this film has heart. It doesn’t preach any specific ideas about how families should work or what the true meaning of life is. It simply asks each of us, “What do you feel?” And then begs for us all to stop and simply listen to the response.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
(Property of Marvel Studios)
2021 ended with “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” the third movie of the “MCU Spider-Man: Homecoming” trilogy. Filled with action, suspense, drama and surprise nostalgia, Tom Holland gives his best performance yet in the role of Spider-Man, facing continuing challenges as he confronts the realization that “with great power comes great responsibility.” The film is a love letter to fans who have been waiting years for what is now being hailed the best live-action Spider-Man movie of all time. This film is recommended for Spider-Man fans from film to comic books to video games.
“Don’t Look Up”
(Property of Netflix)
“Don’t Look Up” is a hilarious and depressing ride that resonates with the spirit of our times. NASA scientists discover an asteroid hurtling toward Earth that will wipe out all life on the planet in 6 months’ time. The stakes couldn’t be higher, yet experts are in a constant state of disbelief and anxiety over the lack of seriousness the media, those in power and broader society are giving to this existential threat. The perils of climate change are clearly implied, making the film viewer’s experience even more potent. Whether you need a laugh or just to feel less alone with climate doom, this film is for you!
(Property of Neon)
A powerful story of love and loss, “Pig” was not at all the film I was expecting. Nicholas Cage delivers a tour de force performance as Robin, a man with a tragic past living in the rough Oregon wilderness with his beloved truffle-hunting pig. When his pig is stolen by unknown assailants, Robin begins a quest through the seedy underbelly of Portland’s culinary scene to rescue her. In every scene, Robin gets closer to finding his pig and the audience catches glimpses of the passionate, influential man that he was before his self-imposed exile. At each major story beat, I was expecting the infamous “Cage Rage” to burst out in a scene of indiscriminate slaughter. “Pig,” however, is a more subtle tale than many of Cage’s more recent ventures. It is an undeniably sad story that examines grief and the different ways in which each person deals with it. It is a film that says, “Sometimes things don’t work out. Sometimes you get hurt. Sometimes all that you can do is learn to live with it.”
(Property of Warner Bros. Pictures)
An adaptation of Frank Herbert’s supposedly unfilmable novel of the same name, “Dune” is a film of epic proportions. Set tens of thousands of years in humanity’s future, the film tells the story of young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), scion of the powerful and influential House Atreides. When the Atreides are forced to accept stewardship over the remote and inhospitable desert planet Arrakis—the only source of the psychoactive and prescience-inducing Spice Melange—Paul is forced to confront his own destiny and the perils therein.
Crafted by the brilliant director, Denis Villeneuve, “Dune” is a film full of little details made for the big screen. From the set design to the special effects, to Hans Zimmer’s expansive score, “Dune” more than lives up to the grand aspirations of its source material. The film offers up organic exposition while deftly avoiding the lengthy information dumps and awkward inner monologues that plagued David Lynch’s well-loved but flawed 1984 adaptation. A superbly-selected cast brings the characters to life in a way that feels grounded and human, especially Chalamet’s Paul Atreides, who is (at least lore-wise) a Mentat—a genetically-engineered human supercomputer.
It doesn’t take a Mentat to figure out why Villeneuve’s “Dune” is such an incredible and memorable cinematic achievement. Villeneuve clearly loves Frank Herbert’s books and has approached every single detail of the film with the utmost care and respect. I loved every bit of the film and can’t wait for the second installment. If you love science fiction and you haven’t seen ‘Dune” yet, what are you waiting for?
“Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”
(Property of Searchlight Pictures)
Directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, “Summer of Soul” is a time capsule of countless faces and voices in Harlem’s black community and features a lineup of some of the greatest American artists of the 20th century. Such talents, to name a few, include Stevie Wonder, The 5th Dimension, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Sly and the Family Stone and Nina Simone. The film also features interviews with Rev. Jesse Jackson, Chris Rock, Sheila E. (née Escovedo) and Lin-Manuel Miranda. I had the pleasure of seeing this movie at the 40th anniversary of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Film Festival in May 2021. It also won the Best Documentary award at the Oscars—though it sadly had its spotlight stolen by Will Smith smacking Chris Rock in the face, along with all the subsequent media fallout. With that said, it certainly earned this accolade by leaps and bounds and, despite the incident, I’m glad it got some of the attention it deserved.
In addition to being an electrifying concert feature, “Summer of Soul” is also a fascinating documentary showcasing the lives of ordinary people living and working on the streets of Harlem. Underneath the thrilling performances and the heart-stopping music lies a profound reminder of the fragility of marginalized communities, both in terms of their art and general survival in an often merciless world. With recent events forcing us to confront some difficult challenges we face as a country, there is something to be said about the power of music and its ability to lift us all to new heights of personal, social and spiritual enrichment. I hope those of you with a love of music in your soul will find the time to give it a watch.