Five films that made 2021 a faultless cinematic experience

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To give you a heads up, the following is a revision of the agitated conditions of cinema brought by the pandemic and the restrictions placed upon art production and social activities. Because, let’s get it right, it is still a challenge to keep trusting the film stories and the cinema trends and stay focused on the actual reason why we keep watching films. No news here, the movie industry has changed its fundamental core towards the home experience and our expectations from the big screen are easing up. It is a structural change in the cinema experience that keeps shaking us. This in terms of stories being told and mediums being used, resulting in a rather fast film consumption, offered by digital platforms and even by film festivals switching online. Just an idea, to think of films in the (sort of) newly introduced form of TV mini-series, as they are rightfully working their way up to the most invested products of the industry. An even more distressing point, personal this time, regarding the dialectics of films, that are slowly losing ground to beauty and techniques, often overvalued at meaning’s absence (e.g. 4D elements leading the storyline, as it happened in the nonetheless stunning Dune). But, to properly give justice to the cinema of this year, regardless of norms and forms and deficiencies, if you think that all the above led to a crippled year for movies, the following list will make you think again.

Bo Burnham: Inside

It is not the greatest comedy ever made. Not even by Burnham himself. But this one, a Netflix special, one-man show on and off camera (Burham wrote, directed, edited, and acted), has it all for a perfect summary of the lockdown experience. Burnham transformed his studio apartment into a stage for debate on internet culture and alienation, using socks, lights, and sounds as his props. He is addressing mostly the generations of 20s and 30s, as an honest stand-up comedian being aware of his status. And he casually maintains this throughout the show, whether he sings about Jeff Bezos or projects Jesus in his body. You cannot help but enjoy the creativity, the speedy flow of references, and the high-end visual result. Above all, it is a promise, you’re gonna have a laugh, probably reflective back to you. Which I guess is the point. 

Nobody

Now, action films have always had it easy. What’s not to like in fighting scenes, triumphant long-lasting gunshots, and flashy blood splashes on the camera? In a year in which James Bond makes a family and dies (sorry, but it shouldn’t be a spoiler by now) and Mads Mikkelsen shows his sharpest teeth (“Riders of Justice”) it’s hard to look anywhere else. But, “Nobody” caught our eye. For the fast pace and convincing narrative, the detailed script that only sticks to the requisites (finally, no unreasonable punches and no overplotting), and the geniality in the (very creative) settings. Don’t worry, car chasing scenes and secret agents beating Russians are also in the picture. If you are a fan of “John Wick” or “Breaking Bad” or just every performance of Bob Odenkirk, you will definitely get the adrenaline rush with this one.

The Beta Test

Speaking of action, Jim Cummings is on track to set up his one style. He already had our appreciation (“Thunder Road”, 2019), but with this one, he made us officially fans. This time, he co-wrote, co-directed, and starred in this frantic nightmare that would have probably remained unnoticed without his whimsical, kick-ass acting. “The Beta Test” stands somewhere between sarcasm against the cooperative culture and outburst of anger towards social media and data, dressed in a Hollywood suit. They all come together, not to delineate the ethical corruptions and the money-driven behaviors of enterprises, nor internet conspiracies of the late 2010s. Do not expect any depth at any of these. Accept it and move on to the aftermath. Yes, the film suggests attention to the individual, inside the contemporary condition, that can only be represented as a mental breakdown, in this case perfectly delivered by the performance of Cummings and the sharply confusing narrative. 

Drive my car

The gem from the East that you must have been expecting. Especially if you still recall the majesty of “The Shoplifters” (Hirokazu Koreeda, 2018) or the success of “Parasite” (Bong Joon-ho, 2019). This one is a slow-digesting, 179’ long spin of the most human emotions. That is, sorrow, grief, and compassion. Beyond its Chekhov references—clearly conjoining the story into poetry—the film is a tribute to small and significant experiences that bring people growing together. In a rational, sensible, touching way, without beautifying any aspect of shared realities. The film is a dynamic adaptation of a short story by Haruki Murakami. The director, Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Happy Hour”, 2015 and “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy”, 2021), masters in smoothly developing each character, making use of every minute. Silence often gives the floor for all the ordinary gestures to transform into a soft visual symbolism and support the stories told. Beware, this is a very sensitive film. It needs all your vulnerability, whether you decide to follow every layer or just one.

The Hand of God

A year without new releases from major contemporary directors is a lacking year for the cinema. Thankfully, Paolo Sorrentino returned to his ground aesthetics with this visual masterpiece that we so long missed. The film is presented as autobiographical, with Sorrentino working on his formative years in Naples, his family, and passion for passion. Miracles and Maradona bridge the fantasies of a young boy, body and soul tightied to his relatives, yet to be shaped into an independent believer. Stunning scenery, the sun and the sea, Italian temperament and style, watermelons and idols fade into memories of words and sights that will keep you dreaming through the screen. It is a must for cinema lovers and a remedy for Mediterranean nostalgia. 

Sign off soundtrack, press play, and consider spending some time with the very precise overviews of human course by Adam Curtis. Start off with the “Can’t get you out of my head” mini-documentary series, on the self and the individual, his recurring subject. Dazzling and amusing.

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