Reely Bernie’s Top Ten of 2021

For me, 2021 was all about raising a wonderful baby daughter and being a goofball dad and supportive husband. Movies were far and few between, but they continued to be dependable coping devices during the ongoing pandemic (and rare evening off). More theatres were opened and maintained safely, the promised releases of 2020 played catchup, and the cinematic quality accompanied the quantity.

Below is my humble Top Ten of 2021. As with any list, it is subjective, nonsensical, and extremely personal. These movies fulfilled the “3 E’s” Reely Bernie looks for in any movie – Empathy, Entertainment, and Escape. Please let me know how your Top Ten list compares!

10. Boiling Point, Directed by Philip Barantini

As if the Safdie Bros. decided to remake Dinner Rush (2000) with one, 90-minute take, Boiling Point is a frenetic peak behind the kitchen door at a fine dining restaurant in London.

There is a controversy about how valid Russian Ark’s (2002) 99-minute, continuous shot was implemented (in the middle of the movie, the camera pans down a dark hallway, covering what appears to be an edited cut), but this overlooked, handheld indie seems legit in its execution.

The restaurant culture gamut is covered: Chefs with addictions, a patron about to propose to his girlfriend, rude customers, exquisite culinary creations, under (properly) cooked lamb, health inspectors, food critics, and a hellfire of an ending. If this much happens on one night at a restaurant, why would we even go to the movies?

9. Pig, Directed by Michael Sarnoski

Nic Cage and Writer/Director Michael Sarnoski resurrect the 90-minute movie, and 90 minutes are all you need to savor an existential and fulfilling search for a pig. Through the dark Oregon woods and seedy Portland underground, we observe an oddball community of tweekettes, epicureans, street fighters, and, yes, pignappers. Not many words are spoken, hearts are broken, and grief is as anticlimactic as we don’t want it to be. Think of it as Winter’s Bone (2010), starring Okja (2017).

This is the indie gem of the year, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

8. The Power of the Dog, Directed by Jane Campion

Behavioral oddities, “hints, allegations, and things left unsaid”* – this polar opposite of a Clint Eastwood western is a cerebral study of characters enduring pain to simply live. Revelations are slowly unveiled (even though I saw the ending coming a mile away), the cinematography is spellbinding, and the primary reason to see this Jane Campion (The Piano) novelty is Benedict Cumberbatch’s simultaneously conniving and heartrending performance.

*The name of a 90s alternative rock album from what band?

7. The Green Knight, Directed by David Lowery

This is the kind of film that speaks through shadowy cinematography and a haunting score that syncs with boot plods in the mud and raindrops to a puddle. The pace is tempered to a journey by foot while the virtues of knighthood – generosity, chastity, and piety – are tested by one fascinating character after another. Honor in chivalry is both glorified and debunked in this fantastical, punky interpretation of a medieval poem with undertones of The Last Temptation of Christ. A truly bizarre concoction and acquired taste not many will enjoy, but I admire its originality.

6. The Tragedy of Macbeth, Directed by Joel Coen

Even without his brother whispering advice in his ear, Joel Coen interprets this Shakespearean masterpiece in a way that is both suitable to literary traditionalists and devotees of anything “Coen Brothers-esque.” Carter Burwell’s timpani-pounded trademarks accompany this black-and-white, minimalist approach that breathes dread in a masterpiece that overcooked in past film attempts. If anyone can match subtlety with powerhouse, it’s salt-and-peppery Denzel Washington. If anyone can match his madness, it’s Frances McDormand. Together, the Macbeths glide into darkness under the spell of a unique rendition of The “Three” Witches.

5. West Side Story, Directed by Steven Spielberg

Although there’s no escaping the blatant remake pandemic, Steven Spielberg’s “reimagining” of an urgent racial justice message and demonstration of a classical musical production re-introduces our younger generation to what is brilliant music, vibrant dancing, and a Shakespearean narrative arc that will run its course until we actually accomplish world peace. There’s nothing wrong with hoping, and there’s nothing wrong with thoroughly enjoying this movie and its musical and choreographed brilliance. Unlike the “songs” in In the Heights, aural recollection of any Bernstein/Sondheim gem is effortless the moment you walk out the theatre.

4. The Card Counter, Directed by Paul Schrader

I was thoroughly captivated by The Card Counter’s gradual unveiling of its two male leads – one running away from the past, the other face planting right into it. The runner is William Tell, played by Oscar Isaac in a mechanical, chiseled, and unblinking performance that would never be acknowledged nor rewarded by the Oscars, and I mean that as a compliment. Less about poker and more about seeking redemption from an unforgivable past involving insurmountable torture, The Card Counter tests its audience’s ability to make amends with its characters. As every 5 minutes unfold, you have no idea where the next 5 will take you. My kind of slow burn entertainment.

3. The Rescue, Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

Above and beyond the best documentary of the year, The Rescue details the impossible rescue of 12 boys and their soccer coach in a flooded cave in Chiang Rai Province, Thailand. We may recall this story from only three years ago, but Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin provide vivid footage of the brave cave divers that is too real to be believed and a meaningful, visual chronicle of altruism that is too significant to overlook. There is more to this story than oxygen levels, claustrophobia, international unity, and human willpower. There is hope. Watch this on Disney+ now!

2. Spencer, Directed by Pablo Larraín

Documented facts and biases aside, Director Pablo Larraín successfully captures the spiritual liberation of Princess Diana with less a biopic lens and more an impressionistic brush stroke. Like Natalie Portman was in Jackie (2016), Kristen Stewart is Larraín’s muse for painting expressions of sympathetic understanding. Like Jonny Greenwood’s jazzy, dissonant score, nothing is linear here. There is no closure between Diana and what the world thought of Diana. It is an appropriate stance and my favorite drama of the year.

1. Dune, Directed by Denis Villeneuve

Put simply, Dune made me young again. I haven’t experienced that sense of awe since I was a kid watching “the original” Star Wars trilogy. Veneration, dread, and wonder overwhelmed me. The other titles listed above are movies. Dune is more an experience. And, it is an experience best suited for the movie theatre – big screen, Dolby sound, and all. I anticipated a confusing narrative with too many characters to keep track of. What I got was a harmonious netting of exposition elements, consequences both sensical and otherworldly, and intense, sporadic action made epic by Hans Zimmer’s thunderous score. Stellan Skarsgård’s portrayal of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen was like Apocalypse Now-Marlon Brando déjà vu. This is solid entertainment on repeat until the sequel comes out!

Thank you for reading and be sure to share YOUR favorites of 2021!

Happy New Year,

Reely Bernie

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54 thoughts on “Reely Bernie’s Top Ten of 2021

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  1. No room for House of Gucci or The Last Duel? I only saw two of your top ten. I don’t watch movies on streaming, I prefer seeing them in the cinema and most of your list either didn’t make it to general release or were there so briefly I missed them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Fair enough. Ha! I’d say The Last Duel was my least favorite of the year. Never saw House of Gucci but still interested when I get a few brainless hours of time. Cinema all the way 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Ha! Now, THAT was an example of a miserable experience in a movie theatre – something that rarely happens to me because I pretty much know what I’m walking into, but that one will be one of my personal “hated, hated, hated, hated it” (RIP Roger Ebert) flicks 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve enjoyed really your reviews about we are not going to agree always on what’s a good movie! I loved West Side Story and enjoyed it much more than the original where both Tony & Maria were a bit plastic I thought. My recent favourites have been Belfast, The Father, The Lost Daughter and the re-mastered Godfather series (a serious Wow!) I hated the Power of the Dog mainly because of the low-light cinematography, while acknowledging moments of greatness. We had some brilliant TV programmes in the UK last year so the cinema losses weren’t too hard to cope with.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s always a joy to hear from the UK. London is still #1 on my bucket list, but I want to wait until my kids are older. Those are all superior movies you listed. I really hope The Godfather Part II is re-released in theatres in the states. I always flip between that and the original as my all-time favorite. Does the UK like or abhor Ted Lasso?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, Ted Lasso is very popular. It fits the mood of the moment I think where a feelgood story is necessary to lift the spirits, and in his case, with superior acting and a true heart to the story, I’ll give it ten! Godfather last night, Part ll next Saturday and Part lll the following Saturday. I took someone with me who hadn’t seen it (yes, there are such people out there) and he was overwhelmed. It’s only one for one night each film, so gotta make the most of it while I can. I can pack away my DVDs now!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That sounds so fun! I’m jealous. To see The Godfather for the first time. I’m glad it still holds up. Good to know Ted Lasso is appreciated across the ocean too. We know he can be somewhat an annoying American, but you’re right – it’s a “feelgood,” and his optimism is infectious and needed these days 🙂 Enjoy the rest of the Godfathers!


    1. You’re the music guy, Max. No worries. I’m late for your Christmas party: I freaking love Bing Crosby’s voice for anything Christmas. Honest to God, since Rylan was a week old to this very day (she’s 1 now!), we put in Bing’s version of “White Christmas” in the car, and she calms down and takes a nap. Even if it’s in the middle of freaking July, she’ll sleep to Bing. I’m glad you listened to him a lot this past Christmas 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Bing’s voice has been 90% reliable every time, haha! Happy New Year, Max. Despite losing and enjoying time as a new dad, I’m glad I can still be in touch with you. I thought to myself that I want to keep this site going for as long as I can and retire by simply writing reviews. Let’s stay alive together and keep watching movies and listening to good music. Music-wise, I’ve been going back to The Talking Heads. They were ahead of their time, I think 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. That sounds good Bernie! I’m just going back to work today after being off for 11 days…it’s tough!
            Every sacrifice you make is worth it…you will never make anything better…but….they will drive you nuts!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Welcome back to work, Max. We are back this morning too – a faculty work day before classes start tomorrow. Good luck to us both. Thank you, as always, for the realistic advice. I cherish that more than the “isn’t she just a sweet ball of sunshine everyone morning of everyday in your beautiful life?” Ha! Nope.

              Liked by 1 person

            2. LOL… yes I remember that stuff! When she goes off to Germany she won’t be that sweet anymore lol.
              No he is having a good time and will be back in less than two weeks.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Two weeks! You can do it. He will bring back awesome stories and more independence. I did that when I lived in Italy for a summer. It’s a good thing for everyone. Just tough growing up stuff. I appreciate my parents more and more these days. I think back on what they did for me when I was young.

              Liked by 1 person

            4. Oh yea….I was happy that he went…just not WHEN he went…I told him you can go for 363 days…just be here for Christmas Eve and Christmas! But yea I know it doesn’t work like that lol.

              Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading/following! You know, I simply couldn’t wire myself to “Don’t Look Up’s” satire. Part of me had seen it before (“Catch-22” or “Breakfast of Champions”), and part of me didn’t laugh much, but part of me really enjoyed DiCarprio’s ability to disappear in a neurotic role. What was your fave of the year?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, “Don’t Look Up” felt a little off to be honest. With that star cast they could have done way better. I watched it for Leo and Jonah, and they didn’t disappoint me with their performances. Talking about my fave of the year, I’d wholeheartedly agree on Dune.
        Also I didn’t watch a lot of “2021” movies this year, as I was watching some old classics like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, Vertigo, The silence of the lambs, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest for the first time and some other modern thrillers.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I’m jealous that you get to see those fabulous classics for the first time! I wish more people went back to the classics to see how much ground they broke before today’s constant recycling and remaking. Yes to DUNE! I’m already looking forward to seeing it again for the 4th time, haha!

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I’m in love with the old classics now as I got to witness some really captivating original work that I’d never forget. Casablanca, Ben-Hur, It’s a wonderful life are on my watchlist and I’m really excited to watch them for the first time.
            Also cheers to the new year! I’d like to read more reviews on your site this year, as I see you have written some quality pieces and hopefully more are coming up in future.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Thank you, and I’m enjoying reading your thoughts and haikus! Looking forward to staying in contact. May you have a safe and fulfilling 2022! My favorite silent film is Nosferatu 🙂

              Liked by 1 person

            2. Thank you! I looked up Nosferatu and I see it’s from 1922, reviews are marvelous so I guess I’ll put in my watchlist.
              Few days ago I was watching a movie called “The Dreamers” featuring Eva green. Really love it , but I wasn’t able to pick the movie references they were discussing in that movie. I’m not sure if you’ve watched that but if you have then you must have got those references I believe.

              Liked by 1 person

            3. Gosh, I need to see “The Dreamers” again. I remember really liking it in the indie movie theatre. Nosferatu might be a good save for October, if you celebrate Halloween. I like to go back to it every year.

              Liked by 1 person

            4. Alright! Normally here in India we don’t celebrate Halloween, but from past few years it’s gaining some attraction among youngsters. So surely will invite few of my friends to watch some horror movies during that time of the year. Nice talking to you by the way.
              Have nice day/night.

              Liked by 1 person

  3. Thoroughly enjoyable read Reely. Since the Pandemic began, I haven’t been as an astute movie viewer as before. I will try to see most of these recommended. I didn’t know about the Joel Coen release or the Oscar Isaac movie. I regret not seeing Dune at the cinema.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Happy 2022, OB! My hope is that theatres, especially 12+ multiplexes don’t go out of business. Every movie I saw had a sparse audience, and I’m not sure how long these things can sustain themselves. I highly recommend watching Oscar Isaac in The Card Counter. He implodes before you! Stay safe out there!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Happy New Year Reely! I would have thought people would have been flocking to Theatres, although I haven’t like before. They are streaming them now, arent they, so that may explain it.
        Yes, that Card Counter sounds right up my alley and I like Isaac esp in Llewyn Davis where he also implodes, kind-of. The last movie I saw at the cinema was Encanto because my partner likes Disney animations. It was pretty good and immersed in Colombian culture and music. Cheers to you and your family.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hopefully, the “flocking” happens more this year, especially in the summer. I need to see Encanto. I didn’t get in many animated movies this year, and they are always the upbeat material I need when times are tough. Cheers right back 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Yes, it’s definitely upbeat. A bit too much ‘magic’ for my liking especially at the end, but the music and message was good.
            My biggest regret was not seeing Dune. it didn’t last long here. I liked how you wrote that it made you reflect on seeing the Original Star Wars, although I slapped myself on the forehead haha
            Yes, times have been better, that’s for sure. Anyhows onwards and upwards as they say.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I remember only seeing MTV off my cousins’ cable package back in the day. Last I saw it was ten years ago, and it was just a bunch of reality tv nonsense. The excitement for the music video is kind of obsolete now 😦

              Liked by 1 person

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