Top Must-watch Movies in 2021
|Acasa, My Home. Photo: Films in Frame|
Acasa, My Home
The Enache family—comprised of father Gică, mother Niculina and their nine kids—live a primitive off-the-grid life in Văcărești, an untamed stretch of wetlands situated right beside sprawling Bucharest. Theirs is an existence of fishing by hand, burning trash, and hiding children from social services.
Journalist-turned-documentarian Radu Ciorniciuc’s Acasa, My Home accompanies this unruly clan as they’re forced to integrate into the very civilization Gică rejects after their residential area is earmarked for wildlife-reserve development. Far from a saga about idyllic rural life torn asunder by modernity, this patient and incisive film instead reveals itself to be a story about selfishness and togetherness, conformity and rebellion, and the responsibility parents have for their children, the last of which comes to the fore once Gică’s eldest son Vali begins resenting his father for raising him as an illiterate, unskilled vagabond, even as he follows in his dad’s footsteps. There are no easy answers here, only longing for a happier (if unhealthier) time, and fury over an inheritance of a squandered past and a bleak future.
A Glitch in the Matrix
What if reality wasn’t actually real? That’s the question plumbed by A Glitch in the Matrix, Rodney Ascher’s latest documentary to traverse unreal terrain in search of answers about human existence, alternate realms, and our conscious and unconscious connections to our celluloid dreams. Like his prior Room 237 and The Nightmare, Ascher’s film features a chorus of out-there voices, who articulate opinions about the likelihood that we’re all cogs in a program about which we’re unaware, and which is operated by higher beings we can’t understand.
Ascher chats with these individuals via Skype, recreates their stories with computer animation, complements their hypotheses with movie clips, and conceals their identities through the use of digital avatars, creating a seamless (and playful) marriage of form and content that speaks to the material’s issues of self, truth, alienation and loneliness. Simulation theory comes across as a fantasy of both enslavement and escape, and Ascher’s amusing and critical inquiry posits it as a reflection of timeless human impulses to explain the inexplicable. Via the patricidal story of Joshua Cooke, it also exposes this Matrix-inspired idea’s capacity for catastrophic chaos.
|Photo: Media Arts Center San Diego|
Whether seen in agonized close-ups or at an alienated remove, director Fernanda Veladez’s characters are alone—and forlorn—in Identifying Features, a masterful Mexican drama of grief, guilt and dislocation. Consumed with finding her son, who’s gone missing while trying to cross the Mexican-American border, single mother Magdalena (Mercedes Hernández) embarks on an investigative journey through a dusty, dangerous country of migrant shelters, remote gas stations, vacant homes and wide open plains that echo their inhabitants’ lonely sorrow.
Her path eventually crosses with Miguel (David Illescas), a young man who, having been deported by the U.S., now seeks to reunite with his long-abandoned clan—one of many lyrical parallels found in this haunting descent into a national heart of darkness. Though dialogue is minimal, Hernández and Illescas’ pained-yet-resolved countenances speak volumes about the anguish and terror of a people plagued by separation and yearning. The film’s stunning formal beauty enhances its unholy nightmarishness, as Veladez alternately frames his protagonists amidst expansive landscapes and constricting structures in order to highlight their simultaneously lost and trapped condition. And in an unforgettable late sequence set to an indigenous speaker’s un-translated recollection, the filmmaker presents a vision of demonic cruelty so horrifying, it can barely be comprehended.
It’s been a long, cruel hiatus from the Marvel Cinematic Universe—its last movie released in theaters was Spider-Man: Far From Home way back in the summer of 2019. But 2021 is going to be a good year for MCU fans, between the slate of Marvel shows debuting on Disney+, and the release of this long-awaited standalone movie focusing on Scarlett Johansson’s superpowered spy Natasha Romanoff. Black Widow will be a throwback of sorts, set directly after the events of 2016’s Captain America: Civil War (which ended with Romanoff on the run) and will see her grappling with the dark past hinted at in prior movies. There’s a stacked supporting cast around Johansson, including Florence Pugh, David Harbour, Rachel Weisz, and The Handmaid’s Tale’s O-T Fagbenle.
Ever since its buzzy debut at the Venice Film Festival, Chloé Zhao’s based-on-real-life drama has been eagerly anticipated by cinema fans. Starring Frances McDormand in an Oscar-tipped performance, Nomadland follows the story of a woman who leaves her small-town life behind after a job loss. She sells most of her possessions, buys a van, and sets out to travel around the country. Struggling to find work on the road, she’s introduced to the nomad lifestyle and develops survival skills that redefine her attitude toward the world.
No Time to Die
Daniel Craig’s fifth and final outing as 007 is intriguing for a number of reasons, even if you’re not typically a Bond person—chief among them the fact that Phoebe Waller-Bridge worked on the script. Given the long history of thinly veiled chauvinism baked into this franchise, the idea of Waller-Bridge getting her teeth into Bond is hard to resist. Set five years after the events of Spectre, No Time To Die begins with Bond coming out of retirement to face down Rami Malek’s villain, described as “a danger the likes of which the world has never seen before.”
A Quiet Place Part II
John Krasinski’s hit horror movie A Quiet Place won over audiences three years ago with a deceptively simple yet haunting premise: What if making any sound at all could get you killed? This sequel sees Emily Blunt reprising her role as the newly widowed Evelyn Abbott, who must continue fighting to protect her children from mysterious sound-seeking monsters in a post-apocalyptic world. Cillian Murphy joins the cast, while Krasinski will return in flashback form.
If you’re a fan of historical movies, especially those based on a book, then this one’s for you. Carey Mulligan stars as Edith Pretty: a wealthy English widow who’s convinced there’s something unusual buried on her land. She enlists the help of local archaeologist, Basil Brown (played by Ralph Fiennes), to help her uncover the hidden mysteries. What they unearth is one of the most archaeologically significant discoveries in the world. The Dig will also receive a limited theatrical run in the US before arriving on Netflix.
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