Moira Macdonald reflects on her favorite movies – and popcorn – of 2021 – Lowell Sun


A long time ago – well, it seems like a long time ago – I was a full-time film critic who each December named my 10 favorite movies of the year, along with a handful of finalists. Because I had generally seen almost a few hundred movies that year, it was an interesting exercise, although I always resisted calling it a top 10 list (how can you tell what is best without seeing everything?), or classify my titles numerically. (I’ve always wondered – and envied – how some critics get so much clarity that they can tell the seventh best movie of the year from the eighth best.)

But now we are there. My professional responsibilities changed a few years ago; I now cover a lot more than movies. And, thanks to the pandemic, we’ve all spent a good chunk of 2021 – maybe even all – without being able to see the most recent movies in theaters. So while I’ve seen and reviewed a handful of decent movies, especially over the past few months, that really wasn’t enough to make a significant “10” list. But let’s try something different this year! Here is my list of movies that helped me get through the mess of 2021.

My favorite movie of the year: People always ask that, so it’s up to me to have an answer. There you go: Jane Campion’s western thriller “The Power of the Dog” (which you can, conveniently, watch on Netflix right now, even if seeing it on the big screen took my breath away). Because of all that I have seen this year, this film has dazzled me more than any other, with its rich performances, its shimmering atmosphere of mystery, its magnificent light that seemed to change the story with every subtle nuance. So many films take us to familiar places; this one took me somewhere i have never been. Magnificent.

The movie that gave me the most joy: After 15 months without seeing a movie in theaters, I put on a mask in May and saw the charming “In the Heights” by Jon M. Chu and Lin-Manuel Miranda – and how perfect was it to come back to films in person with a musical, a genre which by its very definition is larger than life? It made my tired spirits dance.

The movie I would have liked most to see on the big screen: Rebecca Hall’s “Passing”, currently on Netflix, is an understated masterpiece of subtlety, shot in soft black and white. I loved it on my TV screen, but I wish I could have seen the faces of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga as big as a house, the better to read the eloquent stories written there. (Other beautiful black-and-white movies I’ve both been lucky enough to see in theaters: “Belfast” and “The Macbeth Tragedy.”)

The movie I’m most grateful to have seen on the big screen: I’m sure “Spider-Man: No Way Home” will be a lot of fun when watched at home someday. But on a huge multiplex screen, with popcorn in hand and breathless (masked) audience members, it’s cinema heaven.

The movie that was exactly what I thought it would be, and I loved it: Wes Anderson’s “The French Dispatch” is so very Wes Anderson-y – deadpan Bill Murray – in the best possible way.

The movie that wasn’t at all what I thought it would be, and I loved it: I was deeply pessimistic about Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story”. I shouldn’t have been. Give Rita Moreno that second Oscar, right now.

The movie with the most glorious fashion: We have probably all forgotten “Cruella” by now, but the costumes of this Emma Stone / Disney vehicle are etched in my memory: that red dress apparently made of flames, the enormous “newspaper dress” with a train bigger than a trash truck, the black leather work suit, the fitted and flared Dalmatian print coat. I coveted everything, then and now. (Tall Jenny Beavan, known for “A Room with a View,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and many more, designed the costumes.)

The larger-than-life movie, in a good way: I will certainly listen to the arguments that “House of Gucci” is not really good. But if there was a more fun movie moment this year than watching Al Pacino, Jeremy Irons, Jared Leto, Adam Driver, and Lady Gaga mix it up with a range of Italian opera accents, I’d love to know.

Not a movie, but the movie-related breakthrough that made this pandemic year tolerable: My brilliant friend and dinner at a movie partner in crime Bethany Jean Clement figured out how to make movie popcorn – you know, the bright yellow kind that smells of salty chemicals and mornings – at home. I’m not going to tell you how many times I made this popcorn for lunch in 2021. Maybe I made it yesterday. Don’t ask me.

And with that, I will gratefully close 2021. As always, I will end with the hope that the New Year brings us beauty, joy and peace – in cinema and beyond.

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