The Better Films I Saw in 2021
(film comments by Mark R. Leeper)

Every year I have been making my list of the films I saw the previous year that I thought were the ten best. But once again this year the circumstances are quite unusual, as I am sure the reader is aware. Again, I have seen far fewer films and while 2021 was better than 2020, the list is still a bit unusual, with few major films appearing. But at least most of these are "top-ten-worthy." Here in my opinion are among the best I saw. (A couple are older films first seen in 2021.)

1. NIGHTMARE ALLEY: NIGHTMARE ALLEY is described by its makers as a new adaptation of the book by William Lindsay Gresham, not a remake of the 1947 classic film noir version. There is a great deal of difference between the two, but this is every bit as good as the previous film. The production design, art direction, set decoration, and costume design are all note-worthy, and this film has a star-studded cast who bring it to life.

2. HOUSE OF GUCCI: This is more than a film about fashion--it is an Italian family epic in much the same style as THE GODFATHER, and based on a true story. There is conspicuous wealth, scheming, betrayal and yes, even murder.

3. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO: LAST NIGHT IN SOHO looks back at the 1960s through the dreams; the use of camera filters and different film stock helps fix the time periods of the various scenes, as well as the set design. This is a surprising film with enough ideas for two films.

4. A HERO: When the secret girlfriend of Rahim (the title character) finds a purse full of gold coins, he thinks this will solve his debt problems, but it only entangles him further into a web of lies and deceptions. Very much a film about honor and reputation, this does not rely on flashy techniques but on good solid story-telling and acting.

5. WORTH: WORTH is a film about the September 11 Victim's Compensation Fund, and uses two very good actors in a strong and even riveting conflict: when forced to name a dollar amount as the worth of a human being, how can someone actually fairly assign a monetary value on the worth of a human? Michael Keaton, Stanley Tucci, and Michael Tucci star.

6. LAPSIS: LAPSIS is set in a world not quite our own, where Ray takes a job running cables connecting large, metal cubes in a (mostly) deserted forest. This is not a big-budget sci-fi flick, but a low-budget satire of aspects of our lives today.

7. THE COURIER: THE COURIER is a classic spy thriller based on historical fact and starring Benedict Cumberbatch. It is not quite up to the recent BRIDGE OF SPIES, but is definitely a quality film. Again, this does not rely on expensive special effects or stunts, but on writing and characterization.

8. JUNGLE CRUISE: JUNGLE CRUISE (the movie) was based on "Jungle Cruise", a Disneyland ride, so we weren't expecting much, and were definitely pleasantly surprised. The script owes some of its intelligence and humor to THE AFRICAN QUEEN and ROMANCING THE STONE, as well as THE MUMMY (1999) and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK., but there is nothing wrong with using classics as inspiration. All in all, this is a fun movie.

9. AMERICAN EXPERIENCE--CITIZEN HEARST: Most people know William Randolph Hearst only as the fictional title character in CITIZEN KANE. Almost four hours long, this documentary looks at the real William Randolph Hearst and the power he wielded as perhaps the first media mogul. Sadly, this film would not qualify for Oscar consideration because it played on PBS rather than theatrically. But the American Experience films made for PBS deserve recognition for their consistent quality, and this year I MAKE THE RULES.

10. THE FATHER: This is a look at dementia from the inside--Anthony Hopkins is suffering from progressive dementia and cannot remember people, places, or events. What makes this different is that, for example, when Hopkins does not recognize his daughter, she is played by a different actress than when he does, so we experience his perception from inside his head. Other techniques are used as well. Disturbing, but recommended.

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2022 Mark R. Leeper