The Groffscars ("Oscars") of 2021

This year was a pretty good crop of movies. It's the first year I can recall in which I actually enjoyed all of those nominated for Best Picture (except The Sound of Metal, which is still on my watchlist). Mank was a disappointment but still an enjoyable homage to Citizen Kane. Minari and Nomadland were well-done slices of life's bitterness and sweetness. Judas and the Black Messiah was a riveting political drama that I hope woke people up to the absolute treachery by the FBI against black power and civil rights activists in the 60s and 70s. And Ma Rainey was a dazzling, fast backstage drama.

But my favorite historical picture this year was The Trial of the Chicago 7. I could be biased, having gone to high school with one of the titular seven actors, but I don't think I am. It was a drama both fun and enraging with performances that bounce off the wall, especially Jeremy Strong and Sacha Baron Cohen. The gagging of Bobby Seale was shocking and another historical wake-up call. Aaron Sorkin's direction got Aaron Sorkin's dialogue to click. Chicago 7 takes third place.

Second on my list is The Father. I saw this the day after rewatching Fellini's 8 1/2 with a helping of California cannabis, and for much of the film it felt like a continuing blend of fact and fiction. It had a touch of whimsy; not the way we're used to seeing dementia, but perhaps a more accurate way to get inside the head of someone who is absolutely convinced what he experiences is real and puzzled when it is inconsistent. Adapting theater to the screen has its pitfalls, but the sadness and the fantasy blend together seamlessly through the lucid camerawork. Both Hopkins and Colman give deeply affecting performances.

But for my top pick Promising Young Woman takes the gold. When I saw it (back in September I believe), I doubted anything else would top it, and I was right. A movie this bold—stylistically, narratively, and dramatically—does not come along often. It's hard to comment on it without giving any spoilers, but I can say this: the pop-candy soundtrack and set design set the table deliciously, and the director Emerald Fennell takes advantage of the set-up ingeniously. Carey Mulligan's performance could easily have been monotonous and flat, but somehow she shows many colors in a way I can't quite put my finger on. Bo Burnham is a charming and disarming love-interest. It's a rarely vivacious and provocative movie that puts it head-and-shoulders above the rest.


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