Top 15 Films of 2021 – Allen’s Picks
11) Saint Maud
Speaking of great feature length debuts, writer/director Rose Glass joins the incoming class with the terrific Saint Maud. Exploring themes of faith, meaning, and purpose, Glass follows a deeply religious nurse named Maud (Morfydd Clark) as she slowly descends into her madness. Believing herself to have a close connection with God, Maud makes it her mission to save the soul of the dying Amanda (Jennifer Ehle). But as Maud’s pleas to the Almighty go answered, she begins to blend reality with her own warped fantasies. The result is a disturbing rollercoaster ride, as Maud goes to extreme lengths to find some sign from above. The final frame, punctuated with the force of a hammer, haunted me for days after seeing it. As Saint Maud proves, the most dangerous villains are the ones who believe they are the heroes.
10) Nine Days
What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to have a genuine, human experience? How does one find love and beauty in a world so full of hate? These are just a few of the questions that permeate Edson Oda’s lyrical debut, Nine Days. Winston Duke gives one of the finest performances of the year as Will, a lonely man whose only purpose is to interview unborn souls for the chance to experience life on earth. After nine days, Will must make the choice to approve a candidate or have them return to oblivion. The film has such a poetic style, in how Will conducts his interviews to how he recreates small perfect moments for the subjects, that I was enraptured not just by the creativity of the filmmaking but in the tenderness of the material. This is a film that argues that every person is important, everyone has something to offer, and that all souls deserve to find happiness – whether in this life or the next.
In the wrong hands, the main character of The Power of the Dog could have been a simple brute, whose existence is predicated on his sadism. But under the guide of master filmmaker Jane Campion, we discover a man whose actions mask an underlying vulnerability. Benedict Cumberbatch gives a career-best performance as Phil Burbank, a man living in constant denial. It is not until his sister-in-law (Kirsten Dunst) and her son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) come to live on his ranch does Phil reveal his true nature. Campion allows the narrative to slowly peel away at Phil’s layers, inching closer to the source of his pain. What we find is a lost soul, whose distorted beliefs of masculinity prevent him from being his true self.
What in the world is this movie? What makes the Palme d’Or winner Titane so remarkable is that it refuses to be categorized. It is equal parts horror, crime, and sci-fi flick, but it also contains a level of tenderness that makes it damn near sweet. Julia Ducournau has crafted a true original. At no point did I have a clue what was going to happen next and that felt incredibly refreshing. Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon play characters who come from opposite ends of the spectrum and yet somehow find a companion in each other. Yes, the film contains a ton of graphic nudity and violence, but if you can wade beneath the surface, you will find something that aims to be more than just shocking. This is one of the most creative movie-going experiences I’ve had in a long time – for those willing to take the journey, you will be greatly rewarded.