21 for 21
favorite movies of the year
Since I no longer do monthly recs, I’ve missed writing about all the movies I watched in a given month. It was extremely tough whittling down my favorite first-time watches to 21 but I managed it.
The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy (1980) - dir. Kathleen Collins
A truly enigmatic bit of work about a trio of Puerto Rican brothers who help an elderly white woman renovate her home. The film is narrated by oldest brother Victor, who breaks the fourth wall to talk to his father’s ghost. Watching this during the bitter cold winter was perfect because its summery look and feel plunged me into warmer weather.
Training Day (2000) - dir. Antoine Fuqua
This was the start of my Denzel marathon this year, with 18 movies in total. (I’ll finish St. Elsewhere one of these days). I’ve always known about this movie but was unprepared for how good it is. And Denzel being the greatest actor ever of all time period is so villainous and charismatic all at once.
The 40 Year Old Version (2020) - dir. Radha Black
This is such a riot with biting satire of the ways white people consume Black art. And how great to see an older Black woman reinvent herself with so much humor, thriving in a world that’s not designed for her to. “White man with a Black woman’s butt / how you carry all that back there?” is imprinted on my brain for eternity.
Crooklyn (1994) - dir. Spike Lee
My favorite Spike Lee joint, and maybe his most innocent film. Troy lives in Brooklyn with her loving parents and four brothers. She’s feisty and smart and so precious. This is a lovely coming of age tale with memorable characters, like one of the glue sniffing neighbors, played by Lee. Troy’s neighborhood also brought me back to my old one during childhood summers.
Audrey (2020) - dir. Helena Coan
This beautiful film is a primer for new Audrey fans and a love letter to the older ones. Here’s my review which is one of my favorite things I’ve written ♥
Sprout (2013) - dir. Yoon Ga Eun
My favorite discovery of this year. Nothing compares. Bory is a five year old girl who goes to the market by herself for the first time to buy bean sprouts for her grandfather’s memorial dinner. Bory gains independence on her adventure, and meets someone very special. What Sprout lacks in gloss it more than makes up for with such an endearing protagonist and a story right out of a picture book. I just know Hayao Miyazaki would love it. It’s easy to dismiss children’s stories as silly or childish, but Yoon Ga Eun avoids that because she treats Bory and her world as vitally important.
The Scent of Green Papaya (1993) - dir. Tran Anh Hung
No papayas, but lots of insects and still, quiet moments. This film just has so much lyricism. I don’t know what else to say about it, except that it is tremendous despite, or maybe because of, its simplicity.
Poetry (2010) - dir. Lee Chang Dong
An elderly woman caring for her grandson enrolls in a poetry class. Her grandson was involved in the death of a female classmate. The grandmother’s memory is also failing, but it doesn’t prevent her from making beautiful art. A film that deserves its title. “I’m quite a poet. I do like flowers and say odd things.”
Humoresque (1946) - dir. Jean Negulesco
This was part of my mini Joan Crawford marathon. Women’s pictures of the 1940s were always so rich in their depiction of women’s inner lives and desires. This film is no exception, with Joan as a wealthy socialite in an unhappy marriage who falls for a violinist (John Garfield). It has all the high drama and tragedy of a melodrama of this period, just exquisite.
Maurice (1987) - dir. James Ivory
A tender and devastating portrait of gay love in England, when it was illegal. Thankfully there’s no tragic ending. The visuals are just filled with so much life, from the blooming flowers to the gray mist. Hugh Grant was so gorgeous. This movie has plenty of yearning and romance, very big with the youth these days. Tumblr would’ve ruined Maurice in 2012.
Sylvia and the Ghost (1946) - dir. Claude Autant-Lara
A very sweet and melancholy story about a young girl who’s in love with a romantic legend. The man’s ghost looks out for her. Sylvia is sensitive, a dreamy heroine who is never mocked, even if she’s expected to outgrow childish fantasies. This would pair so beautifully with Portrait of Jennie (1948). “It’s because I see so many things that hurt me that I keep my head in the clouds.”
Luca (2021) - dir. Enrico Casarosa
I’ve written a lot about Luca already, but I couldn’t not include it on this list. Pixar’s most kid friendly movie to date, thoroughly silly and with so much heart. It celebrates life changing friendship, eternal summers, and innocent carefree childhood. It’s also pays unintentional homage to Roman Holiday and is suspended in time, which only adds to its abundant charm. A lot of official best of 2021 lists have overlooked it. Why? Because cinephiles live to piss me off.
Memories of Murder (2003) - dir. Bong Joon Ho
There are three k-dramas that are heavily inspired by this film, my favorite Life on Mars borrowing from it the most. The humor in this is as dark as the dreary backdrops. It’s such a difficult watch, since it depicts a serial killer who targets women and eludes capture. The film does a great job of exposing South Korea’s corrupt and incompetent police. It also condemns rape culture, but simultaneously participates in it. I got to watch it at the theater which was a great experience.
Deception (1946) - dir. Irving Rapper
My favorite from the Bette Davis marathon I had. I just love elegant black and white lighting in these old films. It elevated this story, about a musician who marries a pianist and hides her past relationship with an insanely jealous older man. Actually, they’re both jealous. Paul Henreid plays the insecure husband and Bette’s favorite costar Claude Rains plays the older man. He delights in taunting her, threatening to reveal the relationship. I really don’t think a more delicious movie exists…and Claude Rains…just divine.
American Psycho (2000) - dir. Mary Harron
The Joker for women. After years of memes I finally got to see what all the fuss is about, and I was not disappointed. This is satire at its best but the humor never distracts from the horror. You are a woman with Patrick Bateman inside you narrating your inner monologue. You get a lot of mileage out of the quotes, but my underrated favorite is: “I’m on the verge of tears by the time we arrive at Espace, since I’m positive we won’t get a decent table.” The line delivery, man.
Mississippi Masala (1991) - dir. Mira Nair
Yung Denzel! Stunning Rita Choudhoury. Together! Two of the most beautiful people ever paired onscreen. This movie is lush and warm, a Romeo and Juliet romance that tackles racism in a sympathetic way. I was so flustered watching it, it’s that romantic and sensual without being overdone. Denzel is SO. Himself…
Time to Hunt (2020) - dir. Yoon Sung Hyun
Seijun Suzuki said action movies are for women because we love the bloodthirsty stuff. So true! Women’s pictures of the 1940s are about women’s emotional complexity, but women’s pictures of today are violent and bloody, with explosions and men getting shot and stabbed. Time to Hunt is exceptionally girly, a dystopian fantasy doused in vibrant hues of red and orange. Four best friends rob a casino but their plan is foiled by Han (Park Hae Soo), a methodical killer who hunts them down. Han moves with such deadly efficiency. He’s like a robot. Very Lee Marvin in Point Blank of him.
Midnight (2021) - dir. Kwon Oh Seung
This movie was made specifically for me. It actually reminds me of a story I’m writing, except the deranged killer in mine is female. Midnight is the story of a mother and daughter, both deaf, who cross paths with a killer. After the daughter saves one of his victims, he pursues her instead. To me it was a respectful and rounded portrayal of deaf people. The two of them were helpless at times (and there’s nothing wrong with that, though our utilitarian and capitalist society says otherwise), but they did ultimately rescue themselves. Wi Ha Jun did a terrific job in Squid Game and this role gave him the chance to show off a darker side. He even made a moment of terror intimate and almost romantic. How Lee Marvin of him.
The Divine Fury (2019) - dir. Kim Joo Hwan
An MMA fighter with rage towards God becomes afflicted with a stigmata that gives him the power to kill demons. He teams up with an exorcist to cleanse South Korea of a demonic army. Despite the Hollywoodification of a holy wound that saints received to become closer to the crucified Lord, this movie rules. And that’s actually one of the reasons why. It’s rare to see Catholicism and priests depicted as heroic. We know that in real life they are responsible for great evil. And this is why we desperately need good and holy priests.
A Hard Day (2014) - dir. Kim Seong Hun
Another excellent women’s picture! Maybe the funniest neo noir there is, because it just leans into the black humor of corrupt cops. It’s also relentless, never once letting up on the action and adrenaline. A cop runs over a man with his car, and a stranger stalks him and claims to have witnessed it. The cop in question is the most idiotic male character I’ve ever seen in a movie, so he has my heart. The two of them whale on each other in a bathroom! It’s SO MUCH FUN.
Passing (2021) - dir. Rebecca Hall
This movie is so luminously shot in black and white. Two clean colors that are strictly delineated unlike black and white identities. This is exactly how I pictured Nella Larsen’s novella. It’s an auspicious directorial debut for Rebecca Hall. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are both incredible, the latter in particular having so much nervy energy. It would make a great double feature with Julie Dash’s Illusions (1982).
I hope you saw some of your favorites on this list. Here’s to more film discoveries in 2022!