The Top Twelve Movies in 2021, by MoCo’s Very Own Andrew Italia

2021: The Top Twelve List

By Andrew Italia

 (…for more movies on Twitter, see @italia_budo)

Andrew Italia is an attorney in Rockville, 2001 Quince Orchard High School graduate, and MoCo resident. When he was in college at the University of Maryland, he was the movie critic for The Maryland Diamondback.

During his time as the movie critic, he began making Oscar predictions for all 24 categories. His all-time record is 21 out of 24, but he usually falls in the 18-20 range. We will share his Oscar predictions again later this month.

You never forget your first time.  The first year of the decade was filled with them.  Captain Kirk made his maiden voyage to space.  The Dow finally crept over 36,000.  Caeleb Dressler managed 100 Fly in under 49.46 seconds.  Adele released an album in her thirties.  Congress passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill this century.  LeBron became a cartoon.  Facetime became Meta.  Harry and Megan became persona non grata.  

The Italias had our own firsts.  Jax played first base at his first baseball game.  Abby finished first in her heat at her first swim meet.  Ang began her first year as an ESOL teacher (verdict: she digs it) and ate her first BBQ at the legendary Top Gun bar in San Diego (verdict: she didn’t dig it).  I got the first stripe on my Purple Belt and first dove the Chimney off Turks.  Eleanor Roosevelt (the dog, not the first lady) ate her first cicada, which wasn’t as scary as poor Mr. Packard having his ass eaten by a Humpback (…also presumably for the first time – https://www.nbcboston.com/news/local/oh-my-god-im-in-the-mouth-of-a-whale-cape-cod-man-recounts-moment-he-was-swallowed-by-a-whale/2404002/).

Hollywood wasn’t immune to this trend.  Moviegoers trickled back into theaters for the first time in a year for the first Bond by a Yank (No Time to Die) and the first solo films by Lana Wachowski (The Matrix Resurrections) and Joel Coen (The Tragedy of Macbeth).  Musicals were back in the biggest way in a half century, brought by a minor director named Steve Spielberg (West Side Story) and a minor playwright named Lin Manuel (In the HeightsVivotick, tick…Boom!, Encanto).  Medieval operas also made a comeback, with genre specimens bodacious (The Green Knight), badass (The Last Duel), and flat out bananas (Benedetta).  

With the pandemic having pummeled theaters, the industry shifting to streaming, and the box office barely breathing, the bigger question is whether there are going to be many more second and third times ahead for movies.  It’s certainly worth a yeoman’s effort.  After a year that began by smearing feces across the hallowed halls of the US Capitol and ended by cutting my girl Betty W just weeks short of her centennial, I for one am ready to turn the page and try.

 

12.  Pig:  Uber-maestro and known human Nicolas Cage (call him a thespian damnit! – https://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/dec/31/call-me-a-thespian-not-an-actor-says-nicolas-cage) is an exiled gourmet chef rescuing his kidnapped pig from the squalid Seattle underworld.  Think John Wick sans the seo nages.  Warning: if that synopsis doesn’t sell you, you have no soul.  Watch it Now On:  Hulu  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (2000).

 

11.  No Sudden Move:  In an age where the concept of a movie is as malleable as Ted Cruz’s fortitude, no auteur has turtle rolled the A frame of this transmorphing wave of content as adroitly as Steven Soderbergh.  The director who coached Erin Brokovich‘s F bombs once shot a feature on his cell and captured another entirely on a two week cruise.  So his return to a more conventional, but no less tasty, starchy genre exercise is a cause for casual celebration.  Gathering a grandiloquent cast for a pandemic hang in a neo-noir 1950s Detroit, it’s a triple crossing crime caper that does Danny Ocean proud.  Watch it Now On:  HBO Max  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  November Road by Lou Berney (2018).

 

10. Don’t Look Up: Who the shit wants to listen to a baker’s dozen of Tesla twerking tossers and Hollywood hobnobs pontificate about the importance of leaving our children a habitable planet in a message movie as subtle as a shovel savaging you over the head?  The answers may include, but are not limited to:  152 million households the week after Christmas Eve.  The estimated 150,000 poor bastards who won’t be here by next Christmas Eve (https://www.who.int/heli/risks/climate/climatechange/en/).  Self-important cinephiles who can’t consume enough Strangelove-esque political parodies on any Christmas Eve.  Ahem.  Plus the brontarocs.  Watch it Now On:  Netflix  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift (1729).  

 

9.  Riders of Justice:  Mads Mikkelson could host a drinking game based upon the sheer number of rogues he’s played from the gallery.  He’s cried tears of blood to Bond, eaten livers with fava beans, dueled Dr. Strange, and Voldemorted the shit out of a Potter prequel.  So it’s heartwarming to see him trading hats to swim gloriously against the grain in this retcon of the revenge thriller, easily the highest octane Danish export this side of LEGO.  That is, if the colloquial “heartwarming” is expansive enough to include merciless machine gun melees and other cruel comeuppances akin to a Squid Game with Alec Baldwin’s armorers.  Watch it Now On:  Hulu  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: The Camel Club by David Baldacci (2005).

 

8. Spider-Man: No Way Home:  Questions Presented:  Would moviegoers return to the cinemas en masse amidst an Omicron wave?  Could chugging cinematic franchise fructose filled with fan service still deliver novel thrills and even a few profound reflections?  Could a pandemic picture take down Avatar to become the third highest domestic grosser?  Is the Academy a paper bag of assholes for failing to nominate a superhero film for Best Picture?  Would my four-year-old develop an arguably unhealthy obsession with MJ’s midsection?  All.  Signs.  Point.  To.  Yes.  Watch it Now:  In Theaters  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (2016).

 

7. No Time to Die:  This May marks six sunny decades since Ursula Andress first Aphroditied out of a Jamaican lagoon in Dr. No.  That equates to a mega franchise as gluttonous as it is glorious, chalk full of innumerable double entendres, dozens of vodka martinis, twenty-five features, and six Rolex and Omega clad blunt instruments to have been issued a famed licence to kill.  Plus one Dr. Holly Goodhead.  The famed spy’s latest chapter is the ferocious finale to Daniel Craig’s five-film foray, and it’s one that simultaneously pays homage to the series’ tradecraft roots while pulverizing new existential ground.  As one era ends, so another begins.  Paging Dr. Elba…  Watch it Now On:  VOD / Blu-Ray  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household (1939).  

 

6.  King Richard:  Bob Saget was alive.  Billie Eilish wasn’t.  Macaulay was the most famous Culkin.  This scene was the apex of crime cinema (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9hFRw5jeRQ).  Kris Kros made you jump, Seinfeld made you laugh, and Royce Gracie made you bleed.  Yes, I’m talking the 1990s.  A simpler time when Pepsi was crystal, MTV played music, and irony was a Alanis Morissette single.  Slip on your Doc Martens and fire up an old school sports flick featuring a charismatic underdog and celebrity peppered cast fit for the decade.  What better specimen than one starring the King of the 90s himself, the Fresh Prince turned mega-watter pre-Willenium  Big Will, as the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena?  This throwback to an almost forgotten genre by a star whose time has come will give you goose bumps and giggles.  Plus more stopping power than a Palm Pilot.  Watch it Now On:  VOD  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  Heaven is a Playground by Rick Telander (1976).  

 

5.  Licorice Pizza:  Of the myriad hopes and dreams we have for our kids, none is likely to be so eclectic – or frankly specific – as opening a water mattress store before they’re old enough to vote.  Yet this fever dream is but one of many hustles we find Gary firing as he pines for an older woman in the latest bravura cinematic ballad brought cantankerously to life by Paul Thomas Anderson.  An evanescent love letter to the 1973 San Fernando Valley that only a survivor could construct so capably, it lovingly recalls non-linear sensations, soundtrack needle drops, and sycophantic flights of fancy while summoning nostalgia for adolescents who partied harder than Boris Johnson during a pandemic.  Is PTA tackling so humble a project as sporting as a butt-kicking contest against Teddy’s beloved one-legged rooster Fierce?  Maybe.  Though if an exercise in young love is wrong, who wants to be right?  Watch it Now:  VOD  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: The Big Goodbye by Sam Wasson (2020).  

 

4.  CODA:  Emma Woodhouse frets she’ll never marry.  Holden Caulfield, the OG incel, shortchanges his sonorous prostitute Sunny after blaming his non-performance on recovery from a “clavichord” procedure.  Another incel, one James “Jim” Levenstein, transfers his, erm…frustration into fresh pastry.  While perhaps tamer, but no less taut, than these infamous perils of the genre, the protagonist of this tearjerker grapples with her own dilemma.  Ruby is the hearing child of deaf adults (thus the titular acronym…).  In a karmic exercise of schadenfreude to humble Sophocles, her greatest gift is the ability to create music that her family can’t hear, and which threatens to take her away from their fishing business.  This fundamentally hopeful twist on the coming-of-age continuum was one of the few transcendentally bright spots of the past year.  It dares to suggest that sometimes the most sublime love you can offer someone is the courage to let them go.  Watch it Now On:  Apple TV+  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (2014).  

 

3.  The Suicide Squad:  Why doesn’t Steven Soderbergh (# 11 supra) approve of the deluge of superheroes metastasizing on our silver screens?  Is he too highbrow for these proletariat proclivities?  Is the source material too simple?  Is he all hat and no spurs?  Nope.  His one complaint:  “Nobody’s fucking!”  It’s our fortune that in a chaste new era where book banning is all the rage, we have James Gunn to take a samurai sword to such prude conceptions.  Plus a flamethrower.  Not to mention a few sawed offs, eye gouging gags, collapsing skyscrapers, John Cena’s whites, and a massive mind controlling killer starfish more heinous than a heel hook.  If a hard R reboot of the misfits of the DCEU going Predator is your dope, then consider this sardonic satire of a belly laugher your huckleberry.  In a world where IP is king, don’t forget the film’s pugilistic pallet cleanser – this year’s superb HBO Max spinoff series Peacemaker (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mrr3UNALww).  It’s extraordinary.  With a capital X.  Watch it Now On:  HBO Max  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986).  

 

2.  The Rescue: After raising us to the Icarusian heights of free soloing in their last Oscar winning documentary, the dynamic duo of Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi plunge us into the depths of Hades with their latest white knuckled pot boiler.  Chronicling the stranger than fiction tale of a Thai soccer team trapped in an underwater cave, we’re left with an adrenaline fueled race between rising flood water and the rescue efforts to save them.  In addition to hundreds of emergency workers, a platoon of Thai Navy SEALs, and villagers who literally formed a human chain to drain the cave one Sisyphean bucket at a time, we meet the unruly and mismatched collection of peculiar cave divers tasked with bringing the children out.  Swimming us between dark rock crevices in conditions about as fun as a bare assed fart to the face, the film fuses actual footage, stunning reenactments, and illuminating diagrams to tell this exceptional tale with enough suspense to make you forget you can Google the ending.  Its contact high isn’t its mystery though.  In an age of prickly political polarizations and seemingly intractable factional chasms, the reminder that an entire village, nation, and global community can buck up, ruck up, and throat punch the impossible when necessary is a timely one.  Watch it Now On:  Disney+  If you Liked this Film, Try this Book: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer (1997).  

 

1.  The Last Duel:  Things not on my 2021 bingo card:  Melinda and Bill break up.  Ben and J. Lo get back together. Texas freezes.  The Pacific Northwest burns.  Texas “eliminates” rape (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/09/08/greg-abbott-says-texas-eliminate-rape-defends-abortion-law/5770204001/).  The RNC eliminates Lynn Cheney.  McGregor loses with a broken leg.  Jacare wins with a broken arm (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V28RxrjMSY0).  Tigers run free in Texas.  Britney runs free of her conservatorship.  Plus, well…this (https://www.texasmonthly.com/being-texan/raining-fish-texarkana/).  Yes, also Texas.

            Also not in the crystal ball?  That the year’s best movie would be a nearly three hour swordplay spectacle written by J. Lo’s new bo and that somewhat creepy Crypto salesman, all directed by a knight older than our last two Presidents.  Yet here we are.  

What a spectacle.  Said director, one octogenarian dubbed Sir Ridley Scott two decades post Gladiator (“Are you not entertained!?”) glory, pulled another high wire hat trick by channeling old school Hollywood through the prism of modern sensibilities.  To do so, he serves up a post-MeToo medieval missive wrapped in a blockbuster canvas and unspooled in three Rashomon adjacent narratives.  The three tales converge to catalogue the last judicially sanctioned French duel between Norman Knight Jean de Carrouges (a flinty Matt Damon) and squire Jacques Le Gris (a flintier Adam Driver), fought over Le Gris’ rape of Marguerite de Carrouges (…unfortunately rape had not been “eliminated” by Texas yet).  All refereed by Count Pierre, a horndog royal handsier than Andrew Cuomo (a not-so-flinty Ben Affleck – “Come in!  Take off your pants!” he cries to a party guest as invitation to an orgy, having clearly slept through his HR’s presentation on red light behavior…)

What a duel.  If Hamilton made them great again, Ridley only sharpened the curve (we did establish the man’s a no-shit knight, right?)  A showdown of the puerile and pugnacious that is balletic yet more brutal than a boshiken to the bollocks, it’s the capstone of this call to arms.  Much like its duel, the film’s je ne sais quoi is its dichotomy.  Ridley’s practiced eye both soars over the grandeur of 1540s France whilst also zeroing into its catastrophic sexual politics.  Should Carrouges win, it’s proof God believed his wife’s accusation.  Should he lose?  It’s divine proof his wife must be lying, so they will burn her at stake.  Let me repeat that.  If Carrouges loses his own duel, then they will burn his wife.  The rape survivor.  To death.  At stake.

To borrow a line from Olivia R, “it’s brutal out here.”  

As scheming politicians play chicken with their Faberge egg egos, venal one percenters drown in the excesses of their night soil, and misogynistic men play at war while ignoring the collateral damage in their wake, we can rejoice that we no longer live in such uncivilized times.

Right.

…right?

Watch it Now On:  HBO Max

If you Liked this Film, Try this Book:  In a Grove by Ryunosuke Akutagawa (1922).

 

The rest of the list…

13.   Dune (2021) (VOD)

14.   West Side Story (2021) (Disney +)

15.   The Green Knight (Showtime)

16.   Raya and the Last Dragon (Disney +)

17.   The Matrix Resurrections (VOD)

18.   Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney +)

19.   The Power of the Dog (Netflix)

20.   Plan B (Hulu)

21.   Belfast (VOD)

22.   I Care a Lot (Netflix)

23.   The Mitchells vs. the Machines (Netflix)

24.   The Harder They Fall (Netflix)

25.   A Quiet Place Part II (Paramount +)

26.   Luca (Disney +)

27.   The White Tiger (Netflix)

28.   Black Widow (Disney +)

29.   Drive My Car (HBO Max)

30.   Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar (Hulu)

31.   The French Dispatch (HBO Max)

32.   Judas and the Black Messiah (HBO Max)

33.   House of Gucci (VOD)

34.   Those Who Wish Me Dead (HBO Max or Hulu)

35.   The Tragedy of Macbeth (Apple TV +)

36.   Nightmare Alley (HBO Max or Hulu)

37.   The Card Counter (VOD)

38.   Old (VOD)

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