Some of The Big Picture’s regular contributors share their choices for the best films of 2021. Part 5.
The Power of the Dog (Dir. Jane Campion)
Jane Campion’s 1920’s set film, about two Montana ranch owning brothers whose lives change irrevocably when one of them marries, is a slow burn masterpiece that demonstrates once again Campion’s mastery of character and the narrative tensions that create gripping cinema. There are so many layers to this film that make it a must for repeat viewings, even after its twists and turns reveal the unexpected ending. Benedict Cumberbatch excels as the uber-male out to dominate and destroy and Kirsten Dunst nails her role as widowed innkeeper Rose, but it’s Kodi Smit-McPhee’s delicate yet determined Peter that quietly steals the film, as we see the remarkable lengths a son will go to protect his mother.
Another Round (Dir. Thomas Vinterberg)
High school teacher Martin’s (Mads Mikkelsen) mid-life crisis triggers an experiment for he and his fellow lecturer friends to provide a wake-up call for their neutered world view. Based on a Norwegian psychiatrist’s theory that humans are born with an alcohol blood level 0.05% too low, the friends decide to test the bounds of what it would mean to get drunk, and then stay drunk, at a consistent level every day. The effects of the alcohol, and their inability to control the experiment has unexpected consequences for each of the four friends as their intellectual exercise turns sour and the shackles of repressed emotions are thrown off, leading to a disastrous yet exhilarating finale. We all know about the dangers of excess, but less is known about how we get there, and Vinterberg’s film is an honest portrayal of mistakes that are borne out of life’s many stresses which, while often destructive, can also make us grow.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Dir. Questlove)
During the summer of 1969, a series of concerts took place in Harlem’s Mount Morris Park to celebrate African American music, culture and the politics of black pride. Although The Harlem Culture Festival (remembered now as the Black Woodstock) was a massive success, few had ever seen footage of the event as attempts to turn the material into a tv special or film over the years faltered until The Roots drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson finally managed to bring it to the big screen in 2021. The music footage of Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone and Stevie Wonder (amongst many others) is sublime, and there’s a unique sense of significance to their performances and the impact this series of concerts had on a community that routinely suffered from social and economic neglect. The joy and pride felt by those that attended is beautifully captured in the audience footage as children wiggle, teenagers sway and adults of all shapes and sizes sing in unison and the whole thing feels like a huge family picnic or house party. Summer of Soul opens a door to a time and place that feels at once private and universal and is a reminder of the importance of collective belonging in a time when we were starved of these very things due to a global pandemic.