AMY TAUBIN’S BEST FILMS OF 2021
Amy Taubin is a contributing editor OF Artforum and Sight and Sound and is a bit player in Todd Haynes’s The Velvet Underground.
1 THE POWER OF THE DOG (Jane Campion) As clear-sighted and emotionally wrenching a skewering of patriarchy—its myths, its fear and hatred of the feminine, its twisting of psyches—as you’ll ever witness. Civilization: what a waste.
2 KEN JACOBS COLLECTION, VOL. 1 This excellently produced Blu-ray (Kino Lorber) has highlights, almost all originating on 16 mm, from Jacobs’s more than sixty years of moviemaking. A rapturous program earlier this year in the Museum of Modern Art’s garden and another at the Museum of the Moving Image, both in New York, were split between Jacobs’s celluloid period and his prodigious and equally astounding digital work from this century. Those fortunate enough to be on his email list received almost weekly attachments of “Eternalisms”: digital conundrums of back-and-forth movement by Ken with the assistance of Nisi Jacobs.
3 THE VELVET UNDERGROUND (Todd Haynes) and SUMMER OF SOUL (. . . OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED) (Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson) Splendid resurrections of ’60s musicians and the power of their performances.
4 MEMORIA (Apichatpong Weerasethakul) The images are captivating, but it is this film’s sound that evokes the mystical experience of all time—past and future—as always present here and now.
5 PETITE MAMAN (Céline Sciamma) The imaginative world of an eight-year-old girl who fears losing her mother is portrayed with such vivacity that it seems as real to us as it does to her. The mother-daughter bond has inspired a wide variety of compelling films this year: Prayers for the Stolen (Tatiana Huezo), La Civil (Teodora Mihai), Lingui, The Sacred Bonds (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun), Mlungu Wam (Good Madam, Jenna Cato Bass), Parallel Mothers (Pedro Almodóvar), and the restored 1975 Adoption (Márta Mészáros).
6 MR. BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS (Maria Speth) The eponymous Bachmann teaches middle school in a small German city where many of his students are children of foreign workers. Simply a great documentary about a great educator. Attention should also be paid to these docs: In the Same Breath (Nanfu Wang), Hold Your Fire (Stefan Forbes), Bring Your Own Brigade (Lucy Walker), and Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir).
7 AZOR (Andreas Fontana) A dry-ice-cold thriller about Swiss banking “interests” in Argentina during the junta. It’s an astonishingly deft debut feature.
8 THE DOG WHO WOULDN’T BE QUIET (Ana Katz) and SOUAD (Ayten Amin)Seemingly small films that expand conventional narrative forms through their portrayal of rarely envisioned central characters.
9 CRYPTOZOO (Dash Shaw) and THE ELECTRICAL LIFE OF LOUIS WAIN (Will Sharpe) The first animated, the second not, both are irresistible accounts of strange creatures and the humans who hold them in high esteem.
10 THE BUREAU (Éric Rochant) Given that I saw almost everything this year on my home screens, it is not surprising that this brilliantly directed, written, and acted fifty-episode French spy thriller (2015–20) remains my obsession.