Some of The Big Picture’s regular contributors share their choices for the best films of 2021. Part 2.
Petite Maman (dir. Celine Sciamma)
One of the most exhilarating moments of the year’s cinema is when Nelly finds a paddle ball and bat in the cupboard of her Mother’s old house, heads outside and exuberantly smashes the ball until it breaks off, almost immediately, and rockets into the wilds off frame. Nelly moves on with her day, nonplussed. It is one of many moments of entwined joy and melancholy in Celine Sciamma’s film that cement the filmmaker as one of the finest working today, and also ensures that this film transcends the production limitations imposed by the pandemic. Petite Maman is a deeply pleasurable and deceptively perceptive film about family, loss and the trauma of being a human being, at any and all ages, featuring two complex and mesmerising central performances from Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz as an eight-year-old girl (Joséphine) who meets her Mother (Gabrielle) when she is the same age.
Nobody (dir. Ilya Naishuller)
The script by Derek Kolstad (John Wick) and the central performance by Bob Odenkirk ensure the experience of watching this belter of a pulp action movie darts constantly between disbelief and satisfying familiarity with the unfolding plot mechanics. It’s absurd, on the surface of it, that Odenkirk’s ‘auditor’ Hutch Mansell has suppressed his former life as a ruthless Black Ops hitman and recovery specialist to the degree that we meet him at the start of the film when his home is burgled, but the pleasure of the film comes in that ruthlessness being awoken in ever more violent and extravagant ways and watching the underrated Odenkirk slowly piece back together the discarded pieces of his former life. It’s funny, it’s bloody, it’s not a super empathetic portrayal of a Russian immigrant community, but it contains the most out loud gasps of gleeful, voyeuristic surprise at people being viciously murdered on screen of any film this year.
Sisters with Transistors (dir. Lisa Rovner)
In a landmark year for music documentary (Summer of Soul, The Velvet Underground, The Sparks Brothers, Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché and more), it seems right to reserve special praise for a film that might have got lost in the waves of bigger and more widely praised and seen works. Lisa Rovner’s portrait of pioneering female electronic composers and musicians comes at a time of great experimentation and success for the women following the trail, such as Gwenno, Kelly Lee Owens, Loraine James as well as many more, set by the participants Rovner concentrates on. This is an aesthetically sensitive film, capturing the spirit, sense of adventure and curiosity exhibited by the likes of Delia Derbyshire (also the focus of Caroline Catz’s brilliant Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes, released this year too), Bebe Barron, Clara Rockmore and Eliane Radigue, some of the women the film celebrates. The thoughtful, collective nature of the film makes the vital case for how cruelly these women have been overlooked without diminishing their individual achievements or personalities. Here’s hoping they all get similarly effective individual portraits soon.