The end of the year means end of the year lists! Now through January, the staff of Milwaukee Film will be providing you with some of their favorites of the year that was. Next up, Kpolly's favorites from the year that was!
This is a list of some fantastic films I saw that were released in 2021. I want to include new films that were technically from 2020 but I didn’t see till this year. And I want to include films I have NOT seen, but will SURELY be on my list once I do. No one is stopping me or holding me to any standard or rules. All of this turmoil is self-imposed.
I take these lists too seriously, but it’s not all struggle. I love poring over the films that have made an impact on me over the year and keeping an eye on all the other lists published. Being delighted when I agree with someone else’s top ten. And even better – getting furious when I see a snub. Oh, the cursed snub! Sure, I may make them too, but when I do it… it’s the correct snub.
10. THE ONE AND ONLY DICK GREGORY
Dir. Andre Gaines/USA
I love comedy and Dick Gregory is a key figure in the history of stand-up in the US. But, that part of his life is only a fraction of the impact he’s had throughout this life. Seeing the luminaries of comedy come out and speak about this legend and to hear the account of his feats and defeats was a real pleasure.
Dir. Janicza Bravo/USA
I was all in on Bravo’s style ever since I saw LEMON a few years ago. With Zola she has stretched her storytelling to include the absurdity of her previous films into a real-life encounter. Tempered a bit, but she still highlights the bizarre story with the style I appreciated so much from previous work. Can’t wait for more.
Dir. Valdimar Johannsson/Iceland
Speaking of absurdity… I mean, sure – the premise of the film alone is right up my alley. A couple on a farm raise a baby that’s half human, half lamb. If that was it, I’d camp out overnight for a ticket. But, while watching the film I had a moment where I was thought, “Oh, right. You can do whatever you want in a movie. Just go ahead and make an already whacky film three notches whackier. Why not?” And beyond just the strangeness of it, the story and characters are engaging and real. It’s a great combination.
7. END OF THE CENTURY
Dir. Lucio Castro/Argentina
A beautiful story of two men and their journey together and apart. The structure of this film shows the past and the present intermittently, showing how they met and where they went after, and finally reuniting. But, the timeline isn’t spoon-fed to you, which actually adds a lot to the style and intelligence of the film. You may have a moment or two of working out where they are in time, but it’s actually worth it.
6. SUMMER OF SOUL (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).
Dir. Ahmir-Khalib “Questlove” Thompson/USA
A rare discovery of amazing footage from a once in a lifetime music festival in the 60s. Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, among other, performing in Harlem for weeks. Despite the immense lineup of talent, producers at the time didn’t think it worthy of distribution. An unbelievable oversight now being corrected by Questlove himself. The performances are overwhelming and the context given within the film conveys the true history of this event and the time that surrounded it. Among the best concert films of all time!
5. THE GREEN KNIGHT
Dir. David Lowry/USA
This is how I want to see all legends and myths portrayed on screen! Not some Disneyfied version, but the dark, strange, and magical. With jarring color schemes and ALWAYS – let me be clear – ALWAYS have a talking fox. I mean, why wouldn’t you?! Also great to see Dev Patel get into some edgier territory.
4. POWER OF THE DOG
Dir. Jane Campion/New Zealand
A very internal western with perfectly cast actors whose styles vary but compliment each other. I would imagine it’s difficult to make a western without all the shootouts and horse chases. The showdowns are purely psychological. This is a very unique and expertly directed film in this genre.
3. NIGHT OF THE KINGS
Dir. Philippe Lacote/Ivory Coast
My absolute favorite film from the last MKE Film Festival. I love that the festival brings stories from areas of the world we don’t always have access to otherwise. The film takes place in a prison run by the prisoners. An entire culture is created within the walls, including the naming of the prison storyteller, or “roman.” A newcomer is dubbed the roman and when his story ends it’s lights-out! A modern day Arabian Nights.
Dir. Michael Sarnoski/USA
It’s rare to get a Nick Cage movie that isn’t just a payment on his foreclosed island or his fines for assaulting an Egyptian pyramid. So, you must savor it. And PIG was a delightful and well thought out film. A man searches for his cherished pig while the mystery of his past slowly comes to the surface. The trailer poses this film as a typical revenge flick, but it’s more like a low-key adventure with a lot of beautiful discoveries along the way.
1. C’MON C’MON
Dir. Mike Mills/USA
This was the best movie to see around the holidays. Completely about connection to family, the film is a very heart-warming story of an uncle who is suddenly helping to take care of his 9 year old nephew. Sounds pretty cut and dry, but the charming and intelligent nephew is a challenge and a gift for his independent and mildly unprepared uncle. Accompanied by lovely touches throughout, including passages from contemporary artists and writers, and interviews with children about how they think the future will be. I can’t recommend it enough to anyone whose heart is still intact. If not, skip it.
I can’t bare not to mention one more handful of movies that made me happy this year: Werewolves Within (great indie comedy); Joy Ride (for fans of stand-up); Black Art: In the Absence of Light (art lovers); Candyman (a successful “sequel” to a classic horror); and Never Gonna Snow Again (just a touch of weird).