Greatest Films of the 2020s


Greatest Films of the 2020s
2020, 2021

2021

Academy Awards for 2021 Films
Title Screen Film Genre(s), Title, Year, (Country), Length, Director, Description

Being the Ricardos (2021), 131 minutes, Aaron Sorkin
Writer/director Aaron Sorkin's biopic and show-biz drama, told through flashbacks and various witness-perspectives, followed the fame and fortunes of 1950s-TV most-beloved couple: RKO's red-headed studio actress Lucille Ball (Nicole Kidman) who had appeared in numerous low-budget films, and Cuban-born singer/band-leader Desi Arnaz (Javier Bardem). After marrying and moving to Hollywood, Lucy's casting in the successful radio show My Favorite Husband in 1948 morphed by 1953 into a very popular CBS-TV comedy sit-com show renamed I Love Lucy, where the two played husband and wife. Behind the scenes, the couple were already facing issues regarding Arnaz's frequent cheating and infidelity. On the set of I Love Lucy, Vivian Vance (Nina Arianda) and William Frawley (J.K. Simmons) (portraying their married neighbors Ethel and Fred Mertz), continually feuded with each other, and Frawley was frequently drunk. However, the hit TV show and their own marriage were even more threatened during a tumultuous week ( a period known as the Red Scare), when political allegations surfaced in a newspaper article - claiming that Lucy was a Communist. Although Lucy was cleared of the charges, their martial problems intensified and ultimately led to Lucy filing for divorce after the taping of their last show in 1960.

Belfast (2021, UK), 98 minutes, D: Kenneth Branagh
This semi-autobiographical, B/W political and childhood drama, written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, was set amidst the tumult and turmoil of life in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s, when conflict and problems in the region (known as "The Troubles") were occurring between "Protestants" (composed mostly of Unionists and Loyalists who wanted to remain united with the UK) and "Catholics" (composed mostly of Nationalists and Republicans who wanted a united Ireland). The main character was 9 year-old Irish boy named Buddy (Jude Hill), who had a brother named Will (Lewis McAskie). Buddy's grandparents were Granny (Judi Dench) and Pop (Ciarán Hinds). Buddy's working-class parents Pa and Ma (Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe) were worried that their family was in extreme danger (and might be forced to move), especially since they identified as 'Protestants' and were being pressured to take sides.

CODA (2021), 111 minutes, D: Sian Heder
The title of writer/director Sian Heder's sweet, highly-emotional, coming-of-age family drama and musical was taken from the acronym CODA (meaning 'Child of Deaf Adult'). The Best Picture Oscar winner was remarkable for having in its cast a trio of hearing-challenged actors. The only non-hearing impaired individual in the family of deaf people living in Cape Ann's town of Gloucester, Mass. (who were engaged in the fishing sales business) was talented, teenaged, 17 year-old Ruby Rossi (Britisher Emilia Jones), an aspiring singer with plans to attend college at the highly-competitive Berklee College of Music if she could acquire a scholarship. By signing for her family's deaf members, her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and older disgruntled brother Leo (Daniel Durant), they had become almost totally-co-dependent and reliant upon her to communicate for them - jeopardizing her chances of an educational future. She was also struggling to have a normal romantic relationship with shy schoolmate Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a member of the HS choir and her duet partner, while attending private singing lessons with her school's idealistic music teacher Bernardo "Mr. V” Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) before auditioning for college. However, to fulfill her dreams, she realized that she would have to break away from her home and abandon her parents, who were pressuring her to continue as an intermediary involved in the family's fishing enterprise. She was resigned to her fate, until her parents attended her choir recital (and applauded when they saw others doing the same), and also secretly watched her Boston college audition from a balcony as she sang Joni Mitchell's 'Both Sides Now.' Remarkably, they remained supportive when she decided to follow her musical passion and proceed with her educational plans. In the film's ending, as Ruby was driven away, she flashed her family with one final ASL sign that meant: "I Love You" (the symbols of I, L, and Y).

Don't Look Up (2021), 138 minutes, D: Adam McKay
Writer/director Adam McKay's comedy about a possible, impending apocalyptic climate tragedy was prescient. Michigan State University Professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his astronomy grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovered a comet headed directly toward Earth that could potentially - in six months - destroy the entire planet. Their serious warnings during a whirlwind media tour fell on deaf ears and were met with apathy and indifference, from individuals including US President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), her Chief of Staff/son Jason (Jonah Hill) and two upbeat, popular morning talk show (The Daily Rip) hosts Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack (Tyler Perry). Individuals took sides over the issue - those who wished to save the planet with efforts to divert the comet, those who wanted to exploit the comet's valuable and scarce previous minerals (led by tech billionaire Peter Isherwell who was a prominent financial supporter of the President), and those who didn't believe that there was even a problem. The film concluded with a last-minute escape plan to avoid being obliterated - an exclusive flight on a spaceship to another Earth-like planet with passengers placed in cryogenic sleep. The comet struck Earth as predicted and killed nearly everyone (although there were some who survived, including Jason). During the end credits, 22,000 years into the future, the spaceship landed on a tropical alien planet where the survivors were immediately attacked and killed by wild animals.

Drive My Car (2021, Jp.), 179 minutes, D: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
Japanese director/writer Ryûsuke Hamaguchi's contemplative, heart-wrenching, lengthy psychological drama about grief was adapted from Haruki Murakami's 2014 short story. Nominated for both Best Picture and for Best International Feature Film. In the story, the recently widowed Yusuke Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a famed and successful stage actor/director in Tokyo, had been chosen to direct a new adapted production in Hiroshima of Chekov's Russian play Uncle Vanya. Two years earlier, Yusuke's TV playwright wife Oto (Reika Kirishima) had suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared and was presumed dead. Soft-spoken, initially-intimidated young Misaki Watari (Toko Miura) served as Yusuke's chauffeur due to safety rules, and drove him to and from the production's many rehearsals. She was hired to drive him in his own beloved, red Saab 900 (hence the title "Drive My Car"). They bonded together as he began to be haunted by thoughts that his wife had betrayed him and been unfaithful with handsome TV star Koshi Takatsuki (Masaki Okada), whom he had inexplicably cast in the current production as the middle-aged Vanya.

Dune (2021), 155 minutes, D: Denis Villeneuve
This was the second version of Frank Herbert’s popular and epic 1965 sci-fi novel (its first half), following director David Lynch's 1984 box-office failure. The big-budget, messianic hero's-journey tale (Part One) was set more than 8,000 years in the future. On the limited, foggy and misty oceanic planet of Caladan, gifted heir and son Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) was born into the noble House of Atreides, consisting of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac) and witch-mother concubine Lady Jessica Atreides (Rebecca Ferguson), a member of the sisterhood of Bene Gesserit. Troubled by premonitions and visions of the future (including a Fremen woman named Chani (Zendaya)), Paul was entrusted with traveling to Arrakis (aka Dune), a dangerous, inhospitable desert planet, to protect the future of his family and people. Arrakis was home to a very precious and valuable psychogenic substance known as "melange" (aka "the spice") - a drug that prolonged life and enhanced thinking and perception. The desert crop known as "spice" was also required for interstellar travel by navigators to instantly cover vast distances through expanded consciousness. Also on the planet were giant sandworms that traveled under the desert. Imperial politics were in full swing, as malevolent forces known as the Harkonnens had been fighting for many centuries over the drug with the planet's navite warrior-inhabitants, the Fremen. Deadly war was imminent in the future between the House of Atreides and their foes - the monstrous House of Harkonnen, once Paul arrived on Arrakis. In the film's conclusion, Paul joined the Fremen to fulfill his father's goal of bringing peace to Arrakis.

Encanto (2021), 102 minutes, D: Jared Bush, Byron Howard, Charise Castro Smith
Disney Animation Studios' 60th feature film, nominated for Best Animated Feature Film. The lively and colorful animated musical with a soundtrack of songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, was set in the country of Colombia. A magical, multi-generational family-clan known as the Madrigals lived there in the hillside town of Encanto (surrounded by mountains) after becoming refugees when they fled violence in their native land. They dwelt in an 'sentient,' idyllic house known as La Casa Madrigal. Each member of the extended family had unique, supernatural and special powers to serve the villagers, such as super-human hearing, cooking, flower-blooming, communication with animals, super-strength, or shape-shifting - except for the youngest daughter - the lonely and quirky 15 year-old Mirabel Madrigal (voice of Stephanie Beatriz) - the heroine-Cinderella character in the story. To restore her family's "miracle" (represented by a flickering, burning candle) and the mystery of her own weakened powers, Mirabel sought to investigate the cause of the family's dwindling loss of powerful magic (that was also damaging the Casita and creating earthquake fissures in the hills).

The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2021), 126 minutes, D: Michael Showalter
This biographical drama was based upon an earlier documentary film, The Eyes of Tammy Faye (2000), directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato, and narrated by drag queen RuPaul. In the 1960s in rural Minnesota, small-time country-girl Tammy Faye Grover (Jessica Chastain) with a strict religious upbringing, met up with fellow college student Jim Bakker (Andrew Garfield), a professed man of God. They married impulsively, and took their Christian message on the road, with programs showcasing Jim's preaching plus Tammy's singing. By the mid-1960s, they hosted a popular children's show, Jim and Tammy, and then hosted The 700 Club on Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). Joined together as evangelists, they rose to fame through their inspirational and upbeat message of hope, love, and forgiveness. In the mid-1970s, they struck out on their own by establishing the world’s largest religious broadcasting network, the PTL (Praise the Lord) network, centered on their popular show The PTL Club (aka The Jim and Tammy Show) that lasted from 1974-1989. They also established a 2,500-acre mixed-use family Christian theme park and resort in Fort Mill, South Carolina, known as Heritage USA. However, their ostentatious and lucrative lifestyles (of lavishness and luxury, and Tammy's own problems with drug addiction) and emphasis on prosperity led to accusations of the misuse of financial funds, and Bakker was also charged with various sexual misconduct scandals and fraud. They lost control of their entire PTL empire when it collapsed by the late 1980s, and eventually divorced in 1994.

House of Gucci (2021), 158 minutes, D: Ridley Scott
Director Ridley Scott's crime-drama thriller, a decadent, real-life melodramatic tale of jealousy, betrayals and backstabbings, revenge, and murder, was based upon Sara Gay Forden's 2001 book The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed. In the plot chronicling the rise and fall of a fashion empire, ambitious gold-digging outsider Patrizia Reggiani (Lady Gaga) - the social-climbing daughter of a middle-class business owner, married into the Gucci family's business by tying the knot with Gucci family heir Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver). The Gucci empire was run by Maurizio's father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons) and uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), who were hampered by aspiring but untalented son Paolo (Jared Leno). Patrizia's diabolical, exploitative, calculating motives were to manipulatively gain a controlling interest in the company, but she was hampered by Maurizio's own legal war against Aldo for control over Gucci after becoming Gucci's majority shareholder. She became enraged and resentful by an embittered Maurizio's infidelity when he began an affair with an old childhood friend Paola Franchi (Camille Cottin), and when he ultimately schemed to acquire a controlling number of shares of the company, although mismanagement of the company led to his ouster, and acquisition of almost half of the company by Investcorp, an equity-investment fund. Now an estranged couple, Maurizio sought a divorce but Patrizia initially refused (although their split was finalized in 1994), while she made plans to assassinate him with the aid of celebrity psychic Giuseppina "Pina" (Salma Hayek), who put her in contact with hit-men "from Sicily." In the midst of deep financial struggles and after a major sell-off of Gucci stock, Maurizio was gunned down in the spring of 1995 in broad daylight outside his Milan office. Subsequently, Patrizia, Pina, and the hitmen were arrested for murder, convicted and sentenced to prison. The end credits stated that the powerful fashion house no longer involved a single Gucci family member.

King Richard (2021), 144 minutes, D: Reinaldo Marcus Green
This biographical drama from indie director Reinaldo Marcus Green told about the hard-driving Richard Williams (Will Smith), the persistent, over-bearing father (and coach) of two aspiring daughters - tennis stars Serena (Demi Singleton) and Venus Williams (Saniyya Sidney). Hard-working as a night security guard, he lived in Compton, California with his wife Oracene "Brandy" Price (Aunjanue Ellis) and three step-daughters, plus Serena and Venus. To propel them to stardom and extract them from their tough South Central LA environment, he began by assertively writing a 78-page manifesto of his unorthodox plans, plus brochures and videotapes. He reluctantly hired pro coach Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) to coach Venus, but then decided to take it upon himself to supervise the coaching of the two girls due to the exorbitant expense of hiring a professional. They trained on rugged, public tennis courts in their hometown of Compton, CA. The movie mostly focused on the rise of Venus' tennis career, while Serena was close-behind in the shadows. In the 1990s, the family found themselves treated as outsiders amongst the restrictive, predominantly white, upper-class competition, on and off the court. Once the girls were recognized for their talent, the family relocated to Florida to train at coach Rick Macci's (Jon Bernthal) tennis camp. The temptations of being taken advantage of, succumbing to media pressures, and being sponsored for extravagant sums of money by big-name sports brands were ever-present. The end credits (to the tune of Beyoncé's "Be Alive") presented the many accomplishments of the Williams' players with documentary footage - as a teen, Venus signed a lucrative contract with Reebok, won 5 times at Wimbledon, and became the first African American woman to be ranked number one in the world. Serena's career was even more successful - she became a 23-time Grand Slam champion and was one of the greatest tennis players in sports history.

Licorice Pizza (2021), 133 minutes, D: Paul Thomas Anderson
The title of writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson's nostalgic, quirky coming-of-age romantic drama was derived from the name of a regional record store chain (now defunct) that was established in Southern California (San Fernando Valley) in the early 1970s, but was bought out by Sam Goody. [Note: Its initials LP stood for "Long Playing" - a reference to black vinyl records round-shaped like a pizza.] The events of the films were loosely based on the director's own youth in SoCal. The main story (about a first love) told of the budding relationship between two mismatched youths with clashing personalities separated by 10 years of age: 15 year-old opportunist, overconfident teen actor Gary Valentine (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman's 18 year-old son, Cooper Hoffman in his debut role), and 25-year-old Alana Kane (29 year-old Alana Haim also in her film debut - a musician in the female trio rock band Haim), a photographer's assistant. They first met during a yearbook picture-taking session at his HS (Grant), and afterwards, Gary's manager-mother Momma Anita (Mary Elizabeth Ellis) allowed Alana to chaperone him to NYC to attend a cast reunion for the family comedy-variety show "Under One Roof" (a stand-in for the film Yours, Mine, and Ours (1968)). In 1973, it was a time of the gas crisis, the 'waterbed' craze and legal prohibitions against pin-balling - facts worked into the film when budding, entrepreneurial hustler Gary attempted various business schemes. He started a waterbed company, partnered with Alana, and in a comic sequence, they delivered a waterbed to the home of crazed, womanizing hairdresser Jon Peters (Bradley Cooper) - a real-life Hollywood producer who was dating actress/singer Barbra Streisand. The waterbed destroyed the house during a disastrous installation. Gary also took advantage of the legalization of pinball in 1973 by opening a game arcade. Through many common scenarios and their tumultuous misadventures, they were increasingly drawn to each other and became soul-mated friends.

The Lost Daughter (2021), 121 minutes, D: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Actress-turned-director Maggie Gyllenhaal’s feature-directing and writing debut - a psychological drama and character study about motherhood - was based on Italian author Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novel. In the film's plot, middle-aged, late 40s English professor and language scholar Leda Caruso (Olivia Colman as older adult) was a single divorcee with two grown children (who had departed to be with their father in Canada). While summer beach-vacationing in a rented villa in the small coastal town of Spetses in Greece, during a 'working vacation,' Leda grew increasingly obsessed watching an impatient mother named Nina (Dakota Johnson) playing with her 3 year-old daughter Elena (Athena Martin) (with a favorite toy doll). When the child and her doll briefly disappeared, Leda found the girl but inexplicably and strangely purloined her doll, took it to her room and secretly cared for it. Other characters included the hotel's manager-caretaker-handyman Lyle (Ed Harris), and his resort assistant, bartender and beach-keeper Will (Paul Mescal) who became involved in an affair with the depressed Nina. It was revealed that Nina was in an unhappy marital relationship with her controlling husband Toni (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). All of the events and interactions triggered the literary academic Leda to suffer from troubling and haunting flashbacks decades earlier to her youth (portrayed as younger by Jessie Buckley). Feeling guilty, she remembered and perceived her own period of "unnatural" motherhood as difficult (for her own children Bianca and Martha), when her academic career was in its ascendancy. She recalled how as an 'unfit' mother, she made a life-changing decision to abandon her two daughters after three years, when she was in a promiscuous affair with fellow Professor Hardy (Peter Sarsgaard, the director's real-life husband) during an out-of-town conference. While offering advice and warnings to Nina, Leda returned the stolen doll - prompting an enraged Nina to stab Leda with her long sun-hat hairpin. Later that evening (actually the film's opening scene), the wounded Leda (bleeding from her abdomen) packed up and drove off from the resort, but crashed her car and ended up collapsing on a beach shoreline. After awakening the next morning, Leda phoned her grown daughters - a sign of possible reconciliation and healing.

Nightmare Alley (2021), 150 minutes, D: Guillermo del Toro
Co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro's intriguing crime-mystery thriller was an adaptation of William Lindsay Gresham's hard-boiled and gritty 1946 novel, first made into a stylish film noir in 1947 by Edmund Goulding and starring Tyrone Power. In the remake's neo-noir plot set in the late 1930s and early 40s, traveling carnival worker Stanton "Stan" Carlisle (Bradley Cooper), an ambitious and manipulative con-artist, had joined after leaving his Midwestern roots, murdering his alcoholic father and burning of the corpse inside his cursed childhood home - a wooden cottage. Seedy carnival owner Clement "Clem" Hoately (Willem Dafoe) explained how he could easily take advantage of down-and-out drifters to work as the carnival's side-show 'geek' - a performer who would spectacularly bite off the heads of live chickens for audiences. Stan became enamoured by virginal co-worker Molly Cahill (Rooney Mara), who stage-performed as an electricity-conductor. The smooth-talking Stan also set his sights on success in the world by learning the deceptive trickery (coded language signals) of an old husband-and-wife couple: carny clairvoyant tarot-card reader Madame Zeena Krumbein, the Seer (Toni Collette) and her alcoholic husband Pete (David Strathairn). One night after accidentally providing Pete with a lethal bottle of toxic wood alcohol, Stan fled from the carnival with Molly. Two years later, the pair had become successful as a stage-performing, mentalist psychic-act duo in an Art Deco supper-nightclub for swanky and rich audiences in the city of Buffalo, NY. During one evening's performance, psychiatrist Dr. Lilith Ritter (Cate Blanchett) was in the audience and attempted to expose Stan's deceptive and phony techniques - but failed to embarrass him. He thought he had duped her - but not for long. Soon after, Stan was employed by wealthy Judge Kimball (Peter MacNeill), who believed that Stan could show him and his wife how to communicate with their dead son. Meanwhile, Stan had fallen in love and collaborated with the blonde femme fatale Dr. Ritter as his slinky con-artist associate (to provide background information on his scam-victims for their mutual benefit), to swindle and con the Judge and other elite members of the local society for greater monetary rewards. (Later, the Judge and his wife were found dead in a murder-suicide while vainly trying to reunite with their son.) During a climactic scam-act to swindle abusive Ezra Grindle (Richard Jenkins), Stan convinced Molly (who was on the verge of abandoning him) to appear as a dead female named Dorrie - Ezra's lover who had died following a failed abortion. The scam failed when Dorrie was revealed as a fake, prompting Stan to murder both Grindle and his bodyguard-associate Anderson (Holt McCallany). The film's main concluding revelation was that Dr. Ritter, in a turn-around battle of wits, had been scamming Stan - she threatened to use her audio recordings of their therapy sessions to expose his mental illness. She shot Stan in the ear before he murdered her by strangulation. He fled from authorities, and ended up both alcoholic and homeless, and begging for the "Geek" job from another carnival owner.


No Time to Die (2021), 163 minutes, D: Cary Fukunaga
The 25th installment of the long-running spy series: James Bond film franchise. The blockbuster film's plot opened with a prologue explaining how Agent 007 James Bond's (Daniel Craig in his last outing as MI6 agent) former partner and psychotherapist Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) was connected to the film's new and powerful, adversarial terrorist villain: Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). When Madeleine was a young girl living in Norway, Lyutsifer (wearing a porcelain mask) made a failed attempt to murder her father Mr. White (working for SPECTRE), but was able to kill her mother. Madeleine responded by shooting Safin but he survived, and saved her when she fell through broken ice on a frozen lake. In a flash forward to the present, Dr. Swan was in the hilltop village of Matera, Italy with Bond when he was attacked by SPECTRE assassins led by mercenary Primo (Dali Benssalah), during Bond's visit to deceased girlfriend Vesper Lynd's tomb (who died in the conclusion of Casino Royale). Both escaped, though Bond suspected that Swann had double-crossed him. [Later, it was revealed that the SPECTRE ambush was staged and that Swann had not betrayed him.] Although she firmly denied the charges, he compelled her to leave on a train and they broke up. Flash-forward to five years later, when a rogue MI6 scientist Valdo Obruchev (David Dencik), who invented a lethal, DNA-targeting bio-weapon during work on Project Heracles, was kidnapped from an MI6 laboratory. Slightly disfigured bioterrorist Lyutsifer's heist motivation was to take possession of the deadly nanobot weapon for his own nefarious purposes. Meanwhile, Bond was in retirement from MI6 in Port Antonio, Jamaica, where he was reluctantly recruited and convinced to leave retirement by his old CIA friend Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) (and CIA agent Logan Ash (Billy Magnussen) - later revealed to be a duplicitous double-agent) to find Obruchev. Bond also met the new 007 agent - his successor - MI6 agent Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who urged him to not get involved. In Havana, Cuba, Bond met with an allied CIA colleague of Leiter's named Paloma (Ana de Armas), and the two infiltrated a SPECTRE meeting. The imprisoned SPECTRE chief Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), Bond's continuing arch-enemy, was conducting a virtual meeting with SPECTRE members with plans to kill Bond, but the plan backfired when Obruchev's reprogrammed bio-weapon 'mist' reverse-infected the SPECTRE enemy and destroyed them. Bond recaptured the kidnapped scientist Obruchev, and extracted him to a boat to meet with Felix and Ash, but the mission failed when double-agent Ash shot and killed Leiter, seized Obruchev, and escaped. Bond confronted Blofeld in prison to find out where Obruchev has been taken with the nanobots, where he became infected by touching Dr. Swann (she had been blackmailed by Safin to agree to being infected in order to kill Blofeld). Then during a struggle with Blofeld, Bond unintentionally but lethally infected Blofeld, just as Safin had planned. In a backstory explanation, Bond tracked Dr. Swann to her childhood home in Norway, where she revealed a 5 year-old daughter named Mathilde Swann that she insisted was not fathered by Bond. She told Bond that her father Mr. White (through Blofeld's orders) had poisoned Safin's parents when he was only a boy. Afterwards, Safin had inherited his father Gostan's large pharmaceutical empire. Thus, Safin had been engaged in a vengeful rampage against Blofeld and SPECTRE, Dr. Swann and Mathilde, and Bond. During a confrontation on a boat, Bond avenged Felix Leiter's death by killing Ash and his cohorts, but Dr. Swann and Mathilde were successfully taken hostage by Safin. In the film's conclusion at Safin's island lair HQ (a WWII missile base located between Japan and Russia) where Safin was holding Swann and her young daughter Mathilde, he announced his deadly intentions to unleash Obruchev's mass-produced nanobots bio-weapon upon the entire world. Bond managed to rescue Dr. Swann and Mathilde from captivity and get them to safety via boat, with assistance from Nomi, who killed Obruchev by pushing him into a nanobot vat. Bond sacrificially remained behind in the HQ's control room to open the blast-resistant silo doors - to insure that a missile strike, orchestrated by Bond's superior M (Ralph Fiennes) from the nearby HMS Dragon, would succeed. The missiles were designed to completely destroy the bio-weapon within the factory, including killing Safin's remaining men (including Primo). In the tense ending, as the clock was ticking after the missiles were launched and Bond was being aided by MI6's equipment quartermaster Q (Ben Whishaw), he was attacked by Safin who shot him several times and infected him by breaking a vial of the bio-weapon (genetically programmed to lethally infect Swann and Mathilde) over his head. After killing Safin, and knowing that he was fatefully doomed, Bond opened the silos, and then sorrowfully bid goodbye (via radio) to Dr. Swann as he confessed that he had fathered Mathilde, before the missiles rained down on him and destroyed the factory.

Parallel Mothers (2021, Sp.) (aka Madres Paralelas), 120 minutes, D: Pedro Almodóvar
Wrier/director Pedro Almodóvar's family drama involved two strangers, both single females who unexpectedly became pregnant: middle-aged, almost 40, professional photographer Janis Martínez Moreno (Penélope Cruz), and younger, more traumatized, fragile and scared adolescent teen Ana Manso Ferreras (Milena Smit). Janis had become pregnant after sleeping with well-known, married forensic archaeologist Arturo (Israel Elejalde) whose wife was undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Both women shared a Madrid maternity ward hospital bedroom where they were about to give birth, while building an unexpected, solid and close bond. After two baby girls were born, Arturo questioned the parenthood of Janis' baby Cecilia, and a maternity test revealed that Janis was not Cecilia's biological mother. She kept the shocking news a secret. Months later, Janis and Ana were reunited, and figured out that Ana's baby Anita had suffered a crib death, and their babies had mistakenly been switched in the hospital. After Janis hired Ana to be a live-in maid and nanny, Janis collected saliva samples to take another maternity test that confirmed that Cecilia was Ana’s daughter. Ana also confessed that her pregnancy was the result of a gang rape by her classmates, that was hushed up due to pressure from her father. Arturo reappeared in Janis' life and told her that his wife had recovered from cancer, but that they were separating. In the climactic ending, Janis confessed to Ana the truth of Cecilia's birth, causing the dismayed Ana to take the baby away, but then called the next morning - to reconcile with Janis and allow her to see the baby. Months later, Janis revealed to Ana that she was again pregnant (3 mos.) by Arturo. She had also petitioned Arturo to excavate a mass grave in her home village, where her great-grandfather and several other men from her home village had been executed in July 1936 by Spain's dictator Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War. She vowed to name the baby depending on its gender - either Ana or Antonio (after her great-grandfather).

The Power of the Dog (2021), 126 minutes, D: Jane Campion
Based upon the 1967 semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by Thomas Savage (a closeted gay family man), this romantic drama, character study and western was shot on location in New Zealand, to represent mid-1920s Montana. The title of the film referred to a carved shape of a barking dog in the side of a mountain, and to a Bible verse. In the plot with themes of bullying-masculinity and repressed homosexuality, brazen, hard-hearted rancher Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch) constantly ridiculed his kind-hearted, likeable brother George's (Jesse Plemons) new wife - the previously-widowed inn owner Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst) and especially her frail and effeminate son Peter Gordon (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who had a lisp. With great animosity, cruelty and harsh anger, Phil believed that Rose had married George for his money and often mocked, belittled and taunted her, causing her to secretly begin to excessively drink alcohol. George's wealth helped to send Rose's "sissy" son Peter to medical school to study diseases and surgery, following in the footsteps of his alcoholic medical-doctor father who had committed suicide by hanging. When Peter came home for the summer, he came across evidence that the abusive Phil was hiding the fact that he was attracted to men - he found a stash of magazines of nude men, and spotted Phil bathing naked with a handkerchief around his neck. Clues to Phil's sexual orientation were clear - the handkerchief belonged to his late homosexual mentor - a mysterious character he loved known as Bronco Henry. Peter realized that his own mistreatment was Phil's defense mechanism regarding his own self-hatred. Over time, the tormenting Phil began to express a strange friendship for Peter and taught him western skills, such as riding a horse and roping with a rawhide lasso. Peter also learned that Phil's life had been saved by Bronco Henry during freezing weather, when the men laid naked together in a bed roll. Phil acquired a serious hand wound acquired while repairing a fence, and after the open gash became severely infected, he unexpectedly died. At his funeral, the doctor diagnosed that Phil probably died from the infectious disease anthrax - although Phil had always avoided diseased cattle. In the anti-climactic finish, Peter read a passage from the Book of Common Prayer about burial rites, and stopped on Psalm 22:20: "Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog." In the film's twist, there were strong implications that Peter had deliberately infected his uncle Phil (to bring harmony to his family) by having him come into contact with a piece of rawhide (for the construction of a lasso rope) that he had cut from an diseased cow.

Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021), 148 minutes, D: Jon Watts
The 27th film in Marvel's Cinematic Universe was a continuation of the Spider-Man franchise, and featured an appearance by all three of the actors who starred as the title character in Spider-Man movies over the past 20 years. Peter Parker's (Tom Holland) true identity was unmasked by his old enemy Quentin Beck/Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) (posthumously) - when he was revealed as web-slinger Spider-Man. Doctored video footage of the identity reveal was released by J. Jonah Jameson (J.K. Simmons) of sensationalist news website TheDailyBugle.net, as Spidey was declared a murderer and war-criminal. Parker was relieved that his smart girlfriend MJ (Zendaya), his best friend Ned Leeds (Jacob Batalon) and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) knew the truth about him, but so did the entire world and it immediately became problematic. Parker, MJ, and Ned also found themselves rejected from attending MIT. To remedy the situation, Parker asked world-reknowned surgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in the New York Sanctum Sanctorum (on Bleeker St.) to make his identity a secret again. Dr. Strange devised a dangerous spell, but it became corrupted and damaged by destabilization caused by repeated alterations. The spell went awry and ripped a hole in the multiverse. As a result, dangerous villainous bad-guy foes ("visitors") from alternate realities (from earlier iterations of the Spider-Man saga) arrived and began wreaking havoc. The deadly enemies included (in order): Doc Ock/Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), the Green Goblin/Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), the Lizard/Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans), Electro/Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx), and Sandman/Flint Marko (Thomas Haden Church). In addition, alternate Peter Parkers known as "Peter-Two" and "Peter-Three" (Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield) were also summoned from a different universe. Dr. Strange's objective was to send the villains back to their respective universes, although there were serious delays and other tragedies (i.e., the death of Aunt May) after Parker argued that the villains had to first be reformed and cured of their evil powers. Ultimately, Beck's damage was undone when Strange eventually magically erased the world's knowledge of Peter Parker's existence from everyone's memory.

tick, tick … Boom! (2021), 115 minutes, D: Lin-Manuel Miranda
This magical musical drama, director Lin-Manuel Miranda's debut feature film, adopted the title of gifted 1990s composer/lyricist Jonathan "Jon" Larson's (Andrew Garfield) own 1992 semi-autobiographical solo rock monologue. The biopic portrayed the brief life of Larson, who suddenly died at the age of 35 (due to an aortic aneurysm) on the night before his groundbreaking Broadway rock opera Rent opened for its first preview performance in 1996. The film opened as aspiring playwright Larson sensed that his time was limited, since he had been hoping to write and produce a great musical since the early 1980s. Now in 1990 before turning the age of 30, he was living in a cheap SoHo apartment while waiting tables at NYC's Moondance Diner. He was preparing rehearsals for a workshop (at Playwrights Horizons) on a futuristic, sci-fi rock musical that he had been working on for many years - a '1984'-inspired work titled Superbia. He compared himself to his revered idol Stephen Sondheim (Bradley Whitford) who had made his Broadway debut at age 27. The small circle of friends surrounding Jonathan included ex-dancer/teacher-girlfriend Susan (Alexandra Shipp) who was pressuring him for a commitment, and his best buddy and former roommate Michael (Robin de Jesús), an ex-actor who had been diagnosed with AIDS and had given up theatrical acting for a more lucrative and successful career in advertising. Jonathan was upset by news that fellow waiter Freddy (Ben Levi Ross) was HIV-positive and hospitalized. As a struggling and aspiring creative artist in musical theatre, the increasingly-anxious Jonathan was distracted by challenging personal issues that blocked his song-writing talents, his own lack of self-confidence and feelings of failure, and temptations to take more stable corporate work to make ends meet. Although his workshop performance of Superbia was highly praised, he received no offers, and he viewed it as rejection. Nonetheless, he persevered with the support of Susan and Michael, and was on the verge of success with Rent (about five years later) when he died.

The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021), 105 minutes, D: Joel Coen
Director Joel Coen (with his first solo feature without brother Ethan's help) adapted Shakespeare's 1623 classic that has been filmed many times from the silent film era to the present (from filmmakers such as Orson Welles in 1948, Akira Kurosawa in 1957, and Roman Polanski in 1971), in addition to many TV adaptations. In this B/W historical drama (filmed and interpreted as a neo-noirish crime-thriller), the film opened after Scottish general Macbeth (Denzel Washington) fought a victorious battle for King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson), but was rewarded with the lesser title of Thane of Cawdor, while Duncan's feckless son Malcolm (Harry Melling) was appointed as the prince of Cumberland - more in line to succeed as King. Macbeth had already become convinced by a trio of witches (a contortionist triumvirate of "weird sisters" all played by Kathryn Hunter) that he was destined to become King of Scotland. His ambitious, cruel and childless Machiaveillian wife Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand, director Coen's wife) supported him and plotted with him to seize power. The first to suffer the machinations of Macbeth and his wife was the current King Duncan himself (and his servants) in a ruthless act of regicide. Duncan's heir-son Malcolm fled to England, as Macbeth assumed the kingship. Further assassinations were ordered to solidify Macbeth's reign, including the murder of Macbeth's friend and fellow warrior Banquo (Bertie Carvel) and attempted murder of Banquo's son Fleance (Lucas Barker). As the tyrant Macbeth took power and more blood was spilt, he began to suffer from fearful, guilt-ridden hallucinations (of the ghosts of his victims, including Banquo's appearance at a royal banquet), and his sleeping-walking wife Lady Macbeth became increasingly mad as she babbled about her complicity in the "unnatural deeds." The witches appeared again to cryptically and prophetically foretell that Macbeth should remain wary of fugitive Malcolm (who was raising troops) and of Scottish lord Macduff (Corey Hawkins), who sought revenge for the earlier brutal executions of his wife (Moses Ingram), son (Ethan Hutchinson) and servants. Ultimately, the treacherous Lady committed suicide (off-screen). The premonitions came true - Malcolm's troops marched on Macbeth's stark castle at Dunsinane, and Macduff (not born of a woman but instead "untimely ripped") challenged Macbeth to a duel, resulting in Macbeth's beheading. Malcolm was crowned the new King of Scotland. Banquo's son Fleance, who had been prophesied to be in the line of kings, survived the bloodbath and was whisked away to safety by intermediary Ross (Alex Hassell) who had been shrewly playing both sides.

West Side Story (2021), 156 minutes, D: Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg's reimagined remake version (his first musical) was again loosely based on Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" - it was originally a Broadway stage musical in 1957 that became a Best Picture-winning film in 1961 from co-directors Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins. In the familiar musical romantic drama (with a racially-charged love story at its center), gang rivalry in the mid-1950s in Manhattan's Upper West Side was occurring in numerous "rumbles" between Puerto Rican youths (the Sharks led by hot-headed Bernardo (David Alvarez), who was in love with Anita (Ariana DeBose)) and nativist white gangs (the Jets led by Riff (Mike Faist)). As the film opened, Bernardo's beautiful and charming sister Maria (Rachel Zegler in her feature film debut) was engaged to marry Sharks' gang-member Chino (Josh Andrés Rivera). However, at a HS dance, Maria met Tony (Ansel Elgort), a friend of Jet leader Riff, and the two fell in love at first sight, angering Bernardo. A secret, star-crossed love affair defying blood ties developed between the two members of the opposing groups. As a parolee, Tony's past was marred by a one-year prison term he had served after nearly killing a rival gang member. In the "balcony" scene on a fire escape at the Cloisters Museum, the couple expressed their love for each other by singing the lovers' duet "Tonight." Tony and Maria's efforts to forestall a large rumble between the gangs failed, and during the conflict, Bernardo fatally stabbed Riff. In raging retaliation, Tony stabbed Bernardo to death. Afterwards, Chino plotted to vengefully kill Tony. When Maria sent Anita to warn Tony about Chino's intentions, she was nearly gang-raped by the Jets. Traumatized by the attack, she spitefully and falsely claimed that Chino had killed Maria. When Tony heard the rumored news of the death of his lover Maria, he emerged in the streets begging for Chino to kill him. The film's conclusion climaxed in a sad and violent finale-showdown when Tony was shot by Chino and died in Maria's arms. Sorrowful and distraught, Maria confronted both gangs and chastized them for the senseless deaths they had caused.


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