The Class of 2021: My Favorite Movies

Viva Las Vegas

A short story about breath:

Having become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 a month ago, I’ve begun taking regular trips to the movie theater again. Few topics are as perennially popular among cinephiles as the love/hate relationship with theatrical viewing. But since I’ve never lived in a big city, I don’t have very many negative experiences to recount, thankfully. The crowds I’ve shared a room with tend to be quiet, especially right now, with the idea of a full house still slightly out of reach. The “communal experience” has rarely amounted to much when I’ve gone to the movies; for the most part, I just like being in a dark room free of distractions. But two incidents, two weeks apart, reminded me why watching movies with people really is ideal. First, as the Disney logo came up at the beginning of Raya and the Last Dragon, a child a few rows ahead of me gasped in excitement. Then, as the closing credits of A Quiet Place Part II came up, there was an audible exhalation of relief from the row directly in front of me. I choose not to be cynical about these events. Movies can still do things to people, and this is something to celebrate. After a year of shielding our breaths from our neighbors, and metaphorically holding our breaths against possible disaster (for many of us, the metaphorical part lasted more like four years, if not longer), the specificity of these two reactions felt eerily symbolic. Since my own breath no longer poses any potential risk to anyone, I look forward to sharing it with even more people soon (still from a respectful distance, of course!).

Private Hell 36

I spent the eleven months before May watching movies new and old at home, as usual. Along the way, I saw my 4,000th movie. As I wrote in last year’s dispatch, my tendency to work backwards chronologically led to me not going much of anywhere. (“A reverse-chronological journey through the movies I own will probably be completed by this time next year,” I wrote last June, hilariously.) I continue to run into the paradox that the more I see, the more I realize I haven’t seen. The 2010s weren’t even quite done with me yet; seven more films from that decade appear on the list below. They’re all orphans, not receiving the honor of appearing in either of my two (!) compilation videos, so please pay special attention to them here. The seasonal interludes of October (aka spooky month) and November (aka Noirvember) gave me a reason to see some older films, as did an extended visit with the films of Frank Capra earlier this year. Finally, for the past month or so I believe I have finally broken free of the backwards motion by setting aside a week or so for various directors and performers (so far, Elvis Presley, Howard Hawks, Wilder and Wyler, Kurosawa and Kaurismäki). I already have roughly another two months planned for similar pursuits, after which I might start working backwards in time again.

The group of films I loved the most over the past year are, as always, a chaotic mix. They come from four different continents and range in time from 1928 to 2020. They testify that I have now seen my first Frederick Wiseman documentaries, and also that I’ve seen every movie in the Resident Evil franchise. Besides Capra, the best showings are by Don Siegel and Spike Lee, with three films each. Two of the titles are shouting at you, and eleven speak in complete sentences. In total, there are 73 movies, making this my smallest class since 2018. I don’t know if this means much of anything. My obsessive tracking of all these details will allow me to know if it becomes a trend (i.e., am I enjoying first-time viewings less and less, or did I just watch the wrong movies this time?). Adding these 73 to all my previous favorites yields a grand total of 996. Milestone ahead! I don’t believe I’ll be able to resist ranking all of them for much longer. In the meantime, I have a project brewing involving short films; it’s about time I gave them their due. Stay tuned. I don’t know how soon I’ll start blogging regularly again, but it’s still something I hope to be able to do in the future. The future, there’s a concept. I freely admit that the past year has taken practically nothing away from me personally. Countless others have been hit much harder, in various ways. Still, I’d like to take this moment to reaffirm that the movies are for everyone, and I hope we can continue enjoying them together.


I now present the class of 2021:

Da 5 BloodsSpike Lee2020
The Adventures of Sherlock HolmesAlfred L. Werker1939
All Quiet on the Western FrontDelbert Mann1979
American MadnessFrank Capra1932
And the Ship Sails OnFederico Fellini1983
AntipornoSion Sono2016
AuditionTakashi Miike1999
La Belle NoiseuseJacques Rivette1991
The Big ComboJoseph H. Lewis1955
Boys StateJesse Moss & Amanda McBaine2020
Bring It OnPeyton Reed2000
Calamari UnionAki Kaurismäki1985
Cause for Alarm!Tay Garnett1951
Charley VarrickDon Siegel1973
A Christmas CarolClive Donner1984
Claire’s CameraHong Sang-soo2017
David Byrne’s American UtopiaSpike Lee2020
The Day I Became a WomanMarziyeh Meshkini2000
The Death of Mr. LazarescuCristi Puiu2005
Dick Johnson Is DeadKirsten Johnson2020
Dry SeasonMahamat-Saleh Haroun2006
First CowKelly Reichardt2019
First Name: CarmenJean-Luc Godard1983
Five Graves to CairoBilly Wilder1943
Flaming StarDon Siegel1960
FranticRoman Polanski1988
HospitalFrederick Wiseman1970
How to Steal a MillionWilliam Wyler1966
I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as BarbariansRadu Jude2018
I’m Thinking of Ending ThingsCharlie Kaufman2020
I’m Your WomanJulia Hart2020
The Incredible Shrinking ManJack Arnold1957
Johnny GuitarNicholas Ray1954
Juvenile CourtFrederick Wiseman1973
KajillionaireMiranda July2020
The Kid DetectiveEvan Morgan2020
Kind Hearts and CoronetsRobert Hamer1949
Ladies of LeisureFrank Capra1930
The Lost PatrolJohn Ford1934
MalmkrogCristi Puiu2020
The Man with the Golden ArmOtto Preminger1955
The Man Without a PastAki Kaurismäki2002
Meet John DoeFrank Capra1941
MinariLee Isaac Chung2020
The Miracle WomanFrank Capra1931
Monty Python’s Life of BrianTerry Jones1979
My Twentieth CenturyIldikó Enyedi1989
Night and DayHong Sang-soo2008
No Regrets for Our YouthAkira Kurosawa1946
Old YellerRobert Stevenson1957
On the RocksSofia Coppola2020
One, Two, ThreeBilly Wilder1961
Personal ProblemsBill Gunn1980
Private Hell 36Don Siegel1954
Raw DealAnthony Mann1948
Resident EvilPaul W.S. Anderson2002
Resident Evil: RetributionPaul W.S. Anderson2012
The Secret Life of Walter MittyNorman Z. McLeod1947
Seven BeautiesLina Wertmüller1975
SibylJustine Triet2019
Sicilia!Jean-Marie Straub & Danièle Huillet1999
SoulPeter Docter & Kemp Powers2020
Stop Making SenseJonathan Demme1984
Da Sweet Blood of JesusSpike Lee2014
TeslaMichael Almereyda2020
Tokyo SonataKiyoshi Kurosawa2008
Tread Softly StrangerGordon Parry1958
Viva Las VegasGeorge Sidney1964
Why Does Herr R. Run Amok?Michael Fengler & Rainer Werner Fassbinder1970
Why We Fight: The Battle of BritainFrank Capra & Anthony Veiller1943
Why We Fight: The Battle of RussiaFrank Capra & Anatole Litvak1943
The WindVictor Sjöström1928
Zorns LemmaHollis Frampton1970

And here’s my top ten ranking from that group:

10. No Regrets for Our Youth
9. First Name: Carmen
8. Monty Python’s Life of Brian
7. The Kid Detective
6. David Byrne’s American Utopia
5. Personal Problems
4. The Miracle Woman
3. Dick Johnson Is Dead
2. I’m Thinking of Ending Things
1. Johnny Guitar
Personal Problems

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