Movies Watched, December 2021

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December and January are the best time of year for movie lovers. There’s so much to see. Not all of it is great of course, but this year one of my favorites was “The Hand of God,” director Paolo Sorrentino’s semi-autobiographical re-creation of the Naples of his youth, which debuted on Netflix last month. It’s tempting to think dismissively of Netflix, which also brought us Alfonso Cuaron’s similarly autobiographical “Roma” a few years ago, as a clearinghouse for middle-aged male directors looking to finance self-indulgent trips down memory lane. But these two projects are probably the two very best things the streamer has ever undertaken. Sorrentino conjures a deliciously vibrant, idiosyncratic vision of Neapolitan family life in the 1980s that I found intoxicating.

I also watched Peter Jackson’s monumental “The Beatles: Get Back,” a documentary culled from over sixty hours of footage originally shot by Michael Lindsay-Hogg during studio recording sessions in 1969. I take an extremely skeptical view of most feature-length documentaries, but in this case I was all in. Where most documentaries tend to meet time constraints by playing fast and loose with facts or by raising questions they don’t have time to answer, the extended running time for “Get Back” allows Jackson the space to give us a truly unprecedented view into the creative life of this iconic band. Across its three parts, “Get Back” clocks in at nearly eight hours, but hardly a moment seems inessential and I would have gladly watched another eight hours. A shorter documentary would have told the story of the band’s creative process; this one shows us who the band members were during that creative process. “Get Back” is not quite a film in the sense of most of the films I prefer to watch, but nevertheless it was one of the most absorbing things I saw all year

I’ll post a full roundup of my favorite films from 2021 soon, but in the meantime I highly recommend two that I also saw in December: “Passing,” the directorial debut from actor Rebecca Hall, which beautifully recreates the milieu and racial anxiety of Harlem in the 1920s; and “Benedetta,” an over-the-top mash-up of lesbian nun exploitation and unbridled interrogation of Catholic power. I’d also warn you against two hugely overrated, high profile movies: Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza,” in which he breaks his incredible winning streak of challenging, exquisitely made masterpieces by offering a series of lazy and largely incoherent vignettes of Los Angeles in the 1970s; and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which, in all likelihood, you’ve already seen anyway so what’s the use?

Here’s the full list of sixteen movies I saw in December.

  1. Licorice Pizza” (2021) ★½
    Paul Thomas Anderson working well below his abilities.
  2. Mr. Jealousy” (1997) ★★
    Highly charming cast, deeply preposterous concept.
  3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021) ★½
    Another dispiritingly hollow entry to the Marvel canon.
  4. The French Connection” (1971) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Amazing, go-for-broke filmmaking that hasn’t lost an ounce of its potency.
  5. Passing” (2021) ★★★½
    Racial complexity in 1920s Harlem. Sturdy but not quite fully realized.
  6. The Hand of God” (2021) ★★★★
    For the first half at least it’s more alive, kinetic and hilarious than just about any prestige autobiographical drama in recent memory
  7. Ron’s Gone Wrong” (2021) ★
    Completely inessential.
  8. Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021) ★★
    A mashed potato pile of a movie.
  9. The Grinch” (2018) ★★★
    Rewatched. I’m not saying this is great, but I’ve watched it four times and I always like it.
  10. Champion” (1949) ★★★½
    Very predictable cautionary tale but made with grit and flair.
  11. The Matrix Resurrections” (2021) ★★
    Hard to believe, but the third sequel in this franchise has just as few good ideas as the previous two.
  12. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Dependably entertaining.
  13. Holiday” (1938) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A perfect concoction of screwball romance and sentimentality-free holiday cheer.
  14. The Beatles: Get Back” (2021) ★★★★
    I just ate this up.
  15. The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) ★★½
    Rewatched. Wes Anderson’s emotional compass leads directly into maudlin territory.
  16. Benedetta” (2021) ★★★
    An expected but nevertheless kinetic mix of schlocky Euro-trash and high-minded interrogation of religious power.

This is the latest roundup of my monthly movie consumption. You can also see what I previously watched this past November, October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February, and January, and in 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, and 2016. Also, you can always keep up with what I’m watching by following me on Letterboxd—where I’m also writing tons of capsule reviews.