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List: Zach Youngs’ Top 10 Films of 2021

List: Zach Youngs’ Top 10 Films of 2021

We waited in the early months of this year to see if this summer would be like the last, if our anticipated films would be delayed again. As we emerged from the haze and went to that theater with our masks on we were greeted with the familiar sights, sounds, and emotions of the big screen. I did find myself disappointed by the majority of the major films that I’d waited for in those anxiety ridden months. I found that because I had scrounged for and sought out films that I might not have in a typical year, I was hoping for something more out of these films I was hankering for. It was in the smaller films I found my love of the movie theater again. Not in the lounging seats of the multiplexes, but in the cramped seats of my local indie theater. My list isn’t about best, because best is obvious. My list is about emotion, passion, and above all, an escape from the everyday. And while I was barred from including it, you should know that the comic treasure Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar haunts the middle of this list.

10. In the Heights

In the Heights celebrates that the people in our lives should be the most important part of any dream. We can achieve more with each other than without. There is no better way to convey dreams, dreamers, and hope than with a musical. If it were any other type of film year, the clinking of Usnavi’s keys mixed with the sounds of the city could have become as iconic as the whistling that begins West Side Story. With catchy, inspired songs, stunning dance numbers, and terrific performances anchored by Olga Merediz, In the Heights is joy, heartbreak, and joy all over again.

9. The French Dispatch

The reason I like Wes Anderson films is because he lives out his childhood fantasies. He and I share that precociousness of youth where we didn’t ever want a buttoned down life of toil and drudgery. With The French Dispatch, the fantasy is of the roving reporter, the person that gets embedded, that sinks their teeth into a story and doesn’t stop until they get to the bottom of it. With Anderson’s signature whimsy, he creates a fabulous tapestry of a bygone era of journalism. The film has an incredible cast and intricately, terrifically detailed production design that doesn’t feel real, but is practical and utilized in delightful ways. It’s a sensational fantasy.

8. Together Together

It’s rare that a platonic relationship is explored as thoroughly as in Together Together. I love platonic love on screen and this is one of the best examples of what it can be like to fall into that deep, all encompassing friendship with someone. It’s witty, charming, sweet, and never gives in to the basest of instincts about human relationships. Nikole Beckwith has written an incredible love story with stellar performances by both Patti Harrison and Ed Helms. It’s a film that subverts your expectations and warms your heart.

7. Shiva Baby

Some of my favorite films take place in mostly one location. The tension, horror, and ridiculousness that can ratchet up in a situation where everyone is trapped together makes for engrossing human stories. Shiva Baby is an anxiety inducing, fevered look at what it’s like to try and keep secrets when all you have are nosy people in your life. It’s deliciously timed and superbly written in a way that whips you around from one secret to the next, from one reveal to the next.

6. The Tragedy of Macbeth

There is a scene in The Tragedy of Macbeth that has stayed with me. It’s an interstitial scene, one that isn’t overt in the original text. It’s where Macbeth does the deed, in which he kills Duncan in his bed. The tenderness and familiarity of where the scene begins is contrasted eloquently with the brutality of its end. The timing of this scene is why Joel Coen has always been a great filmmaker. He takes that one moment to convey the gravity of this betrayal and the impact this act will have on Macbeth, giving us more than the original text could. It’s a haunting scene in a beautifully haunted film.

5. C’mon C’mon

Mike Mills has the ability to break my heart. He reaches into my chest cavity, carefully pulls it out, cracks it open, cradles it, squeezes it, kneads it, and mends it before putting it back in. He’s a filmmaker who knows how to create beautiful emotional tension that inspires awe. With C’mon C’mon, Mills has written an ode to the difficulties of adults relating to children and the hard time children have relating to adults. It’s lyrical, soulful and comes with its own reading list that you’ll wish you had a pen and paper to write down as they appear on the screen.


4. Nine Days

Questions of heaven and hell, souls, and humanity have been posited since the first narrative films were created. It’s well trod territory, but Edson Oda’s Nine Days has a perspective that is lacking from all that came before it. In Nine Days, there is a human element in the choosing of what makes a soul human. The scenes in which Will grants each of his candidates a final wish is some of the most beautiful filmmaking to watch. The detail put into the design of each experience shows the empathy Will has for each person that comes to him. It’s beauty on top of beauty.

3. Pig

Food movies often get lavish with their design. They show off the best food that a production team can come up with. Pig is different from all food movies because while it indulges in discussions of food and flavor, it’s far more about an emotional response to food. The memory of a truly great meal can evoke some extraordinary sensations. The beauty in Pig is that memory can be cruel, freeing, and redemptive all at once.

2. The Green Knight

Stories of Arthurian legends can often be overwhelmed with a need for grand battles and grand love stories. The Green Knight eschews those trappings, throws off the yoke of what a story like this should be and gets back to the natural and supernatural elements that made these stories indelible in the first place. There is a deep humanity in the choices Sir Gawain makes that grounds this epic fantasy unlike any other. David Lowery is a true magician with what he’s able to accomplish on screen.

1. CODA

“My parents just don’t understand me,” is a common refrain in a coming of age film, but what CODA has done is to put that idea into a unique perspective. Ruby’s parents and brother are deaf and they don’t understand her need for pursuing music. The film is elevated beyond that conceit especially by the stellar, heartbreaking performances. It leaves you in a puddle of emotion, but by the end you realize it’s a good puddle. It’s a puddle of satisfaction, hope, and a full heart.

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