Best of ... 2021? The five movies I saw for the first time this year—from any era—that gave me the most enjoyment
I thought I’d continue a tradition I started last year and give a nod to the five movies I saw for the first time this year-- from any era-- that gave me the most enjoyment. Because, boy, do we need it.
In January, I saw one of the best movies of this year, Questlove’s documentary Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. As if the concert footage itself weren’t fantastic enough, Questlove deftly places the festival in its social and historical context, with a musician’s sense of rhythm and dynamics.
In May, I watched a movie from the legendary comedy director Preston Sturges, called Unfaithfully Yours. It’s Sturges at his best, with an ingenious narrative structure right alongside the silliest sound and sight gags. And while I’ve never been a huge fan of slapstick, there’s a scene with a murderous Rex Harrison accidentally breaking nearly everything in sight that just had me in stitches.
In July, I watched a movie called The Aviator’s Wife, and that’s really on this list because it was the first thing I’d ever seen from the great French director Éric Rohmer, and afterwards I just started devouring his movies. They’re so easy and breezy, they’re impossible not to love.
Along similar lines, in that it’s more about what the movie represents than the specific movie—I finally saw John Waters’ Female Trouble, and it’s a delight to be reminded how truly transgressive Waters has been, especially when you think you’re a hardened, unshockable movie-watcher. He’s simply untouchable.
And then in September, I saw 1989’s Chameleon Street, still the only movie ever made by Wendell B. Harris, Jr. It has to be one of the most exciting movies to come out of the American independent movement, and it’s appalling to know someone with Harris’s level of talent and creativity hasn’t had another shot. The movie business is cruel.