Goodbye 2021. Hello 2022. Another weird year in the books.
I got asked two questions over and over this year. Every day someone asks me, “May I see your vaccine passport?” Every other day someone asks, “Do you think movies theatres will ever go back to normal?”
The answer is always an unabashed, “yes.” Theatres are open but audiences haven’t flooded back to fill seats, (unless the name of the movie is “Spider-Man: No Way Home), but I think they will.
It’s not just the lure of the popcorn or the Twizzlers. It’s an age-old ritual.
During the pandemic we’ve gotten used to watching movies at home or on our phones, but no matter what set-up you have in your living room, the thing missing is the ancient practice of sharing entertainment with a large group of strangers.
It’s a primal thing, hard-wired into our DNA, that dates back to when tribes of cave dwellers would sit around fires and tell stories through to the Globe Theatre, vaudeville, the talkies and right up to today’s IMAX and AUX screenings.
People have gathered to be entertained since there were tales to be told because there is no better way to enjoy the storytelling experience than surrounded by strangers who are laughing, crying, gasping— whatever — in response to a shared event.
In our double and tripled vaxxed era, no matter how large your TV or comfortable your sofa, home viewing misses the magical element of community. And these days we need as much of that as we can get. In the theatre you’re getting the sound and the picture the director intended, but more than that, the experience brings people together, inspires conversation, respect and triggers actual physical interaction with others. Try that as you stream a movie on your iPhone.
In the wake of Omicron, the variant with the name of a supervillain, and whatever comes next, we may be hesitant to flock back to theatres but, when it is safe, I believe we will. I like the way English novelist Angela Carter described watching a film in a theatre. She called it “dreaming the same dream in unison” and that, for me, will never go out of style.
So, without further ado, here, in alphabetical order, is my “Nice” list of the films that made going to the movies in 2021, a pleasurable communal experience.
The search for identity is not a new concept in coming-of-age films but the First Nations context here, combined with Kiawentiio’s breakout performance, make Beans
important, vital cinema.
Every frame of Belfast
radiates with the warmth of the connection Buddy shares with his family, and his family’s relationship to their home and country. But set against a time of upheaval, this is a family drama, but not a political one.
may be the most inspiration movie of the year. Maybe ever. There is uplift in almost every frame.
is kind of flipping through a diary. Some details are vivid, some glossed over, but everything is relevant to the experience being written about. Like diary entries, the movie is episodic. Each passing episode allows us to get to know Gary and Alana a bit better, and just as importantly, remind us what it means to be young and in love.
Like the people it documents, Lift Like a Girl
is dynamic and scrappy, but still wears its heart on its pumped-up sleeve.
is raw and real, devastating, nuanced and somber, a beautifully acted study in misery that allows for a flicker of hope.
occasionally bites off more than it can chew, but as uncomfortable as it can get, it is never less than compelling.
Rockfield: The Studio on the Farm
is an exercise in nostalgia, but it’s an entertaining one. A look back at rock ‘n roll’s first residential studio, it’s a guided tour through several generations of British rock’s guitar.
Despite a rather joyous finale, Spencer
has more to do with a psychological horror film than a traditional biopic.
Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street
It’s a loving portrait, painted with clips that are sure to trigger happy memories for those who grew up watching the show, or even watching kids as they watched the show.
Tick, Tick… Boom!
is a celebration of the creative process and the following of dreams, director Lin-Manuel Miranda brings Rent composer Jonathan Larson’s story to life with equal parts reverence and joy.
The Tragedy of Macbeth
is accessible without ever playing down to the audience. Masterful filmmaking mixes and matches the text with compelling images and wonderful performances to create a new take on the Scottish Play that is both respectful and fearlessly fresh.
The storytelling in The Velvet Underground
is linear, but the visuals are an idiosyncratic eyeful that match the ambitious nature of the music.
West Side Story
is Spielberg’s most compelling film in years. It reinvents, reimagines and re-contextualizes a classic story with energy, respect and lots of finger snapping.