The time has come to share my favorites of the last year. Things are still struggling to get back to normal in the world of movies. But things are beginning to look up with films from both established and upcoming filmmakers. The order of my list would probably change on any given day, but these are the ones I think need to be highlighted. Of course, my motto for lists like this is “De gustibus non disputandum est.”
But feel free to disputandum.
- Living. (Directed by Oliver Hermanus.) Masterful reworking of Akira Kurosawa’s Ikiru with a screenplay from Nobel winner Kazuo Ishiguro. Bill Nighy plays a very strait-laced bureaucrat who learns he is dying. But first he’s going to have to learn how to live. An emotional dive into the search for the meaning of life that dates back (at the very least) to Ecclesiastes. Living is currently in theaters.
- EO. (Directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. Poland’s submission for Best International Feature) This is also an emotional dive into the search for the meaning of life, but from a much different perspective—that of a donkey. It is not so much a remake as an homage to Robert Breeson’s Au hasard Balthazar. EO is currently in theaters.
- Women Talking. (Directed by Sarah Polley.) A group of battered women in a religious compound debate whether to leave the community and the only life they have known, or fight the oppression and violence of the men. While it may seem a unique setting, the issues of women’s oppression are far more universal. Women Talking is currently in theaters.
- RRR. (Directed by S. S. Rajamouli.) This was the most fun I had watching a film this year. It is part Bollywood, part bromance, part martial arts action film, part anti-colonial statement. An Indian police officer vows to bring in a revolutionary. When they meet (without knowing who the other is), they strike a great friendship and set out to save their country. RRR streams on Netflix.
- Close. (Directed by Lukas Dhont. Belgium’s submission for Best International Feature) In this coming-of-age story, two boys who are best friends suddenly are confronted with societal expectations of same sex friendship. A story of tragedy, grief, and possible healing. Close arrives in theaters soon.
- The Inspection. (Directed by Elegance Bratton). During the don’t-ask-don’t-tell period, a gay black man joins the Marines. He has no one who accepts who he is. His mother rejects him. Can he persevere through bootcamp to come out as someone who knows (and is known for) his value?
- No Bears. (Directed by Jafar Panahi.) Panahi (who has now been jailed by the Iranian government) makes a film about being forbidden to make films. Working near the border (where he could escape to the West), he struggles to make the film remotely and gets embroiled in a local feud. No Bears is currently in theaters.
- The Banshees of Inisherin. (Directed by Martin McDonagh.) A long time friendship comes to an end suddenly for what seems no good reason. Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell play out this tragic story that is at time comic but also deeply sad. Banshees of Inisherin streams on HBO Max.
- Call Jane (Directed by Phyllis Nagy) and The Janes (Directed by Tia Lessin and Emma Pildes.) These two films (the first narrative, the second documentary) tell the story of a group of women in pre-Roe v. Wade Chicago who helped women secure illegal abortions. I found Call Jane the more engaging because of its storyline, but the two films enhance each other. Call Jane can be rented on Prime Video; The Janes stream on HBO Max.
- Tár. (Directed by Todd Field.) A woman has risen to the top of her profession as an orchestra conductor. She is strong, confident, and full of hubris. As she prepares for an important concert, everything comes crashing down—both professionally and personally. Tár is in theaters and can be rented on Prime Video.
- You Will Remember Me. (Directed by Éric Tessier.) A man with dementia connects with a girl who lives in a world of constant screens. It is a look at not just memory, but what kind of reality we have crafted in today’s world. Rémy Girard offers the best monologue/rant of the year when the tells us “You are prisoners of the eternal present.” You Will Remember Me can be rented on Prime Video.
- Last Flight Home. (Directed by Ondi Timoner.) Documentary about a man who had great success and loss in his life. As he seeks an end to his terminal illness, his family (including his daughter who made the film) gathers in support. A beautiful look at the end of life and the love within a family. Last Flight Home streams on Paramount+ and can be rented on Prime Video.
Of course, twelve is never enough (even if it’s thirteen), so let me add a few honorable mentions alphabetically.
- After Yang. (Directed by Kogonada.) A story of love and loss and the meaning of being human. After Yang streams on Showtime.
- Argentina, 1985. (Directed by Santiago Mitre. Argentina’s submission for Best International Feature.) A team of lawyers prosecute the military junta that oppressed the country. Argentina, 1985 streams on Prime Video.
- The Eternal Daughter. (Directed by Joanna Hogg.) Tilda Swinton plays both mother and daughter on a trip to recall the past. The Eternal Daughter can be rented on Prime Video.
- The Fabelmans. (Directed by Steven Spielberg.) Spielberg’s semi-autobiographical account of family and the love of film. The Fabelmans is in theaters and can be rented on Prime Video.