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Friday, December 31, 2021

Films of 2021

This is my annual post about the new films I saw over the prior year. Here's a link to last year's list if you want to work backwards through my choices over time. 

I made the following point last year and it remains true thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic:
I saw nearly all of these films at home rather than at my local multiplex. I think the last movie I saw in the cinema was Little Women in December 2019. On Long Island. I vividly recall the experience and miss it dearly. 
This first group of films is excellent. All that were eligible last year (the top 5) were nominated for Oscars and were worthy of those nominations. The 2020 Oscar competition allowed for films released early in 2021 to be eligible for consideration, which explains why they are included here. 

As for the "new" crop of 2021 films, I found Limbo to be excellent with a potent political (and humanistic) message about the duty to care for refugees. Power of the Dog is a novel western in that it addresses themes not ordinarily present in the genre. 

Tier I
Judas and the Black Messiah
The Father
One Night in Miami
Quo Vadis, Aida?
Power of the Dog

These next films were also entertaining, but they were clearly a notch below the selections in the top tier. CODA is earning a lot of awards buzz and may well be worth it. I found it to have predictable "movie of the week" themes, but it is very well done and it reveals a bit of the world unfamiliar to most of us. King Richard was also well done, but it relies upon a number of sport film tropes that will be familiar to viewers. 

Shiva Baby was very hard to watch at times, with extremely awkward situations and an atonal soundtrack. It may make your skin crawl, but it is smart. 

See Rams. 

I really wanted to like Don't Look Up and I very much appreciated its message about science, but I think it may have been overly ambitious with its attacks on media and celebrity culture. It wasn't as funny as it should have been despite the all-star cast and production team. 

By contrast, I Care a Lot is excellent social satire that is quite well written and funny. Its targets are not as ambitious. 

Tier II
I Care A Lot
King Richard
Quiet Place II
No Sudden Moves
Don't Look Up
No Time to Die
Shiva Baby
Riders of Justice
Together Together
The White Tiger

I also saw these new films in 2021:

Tier III
The Kid Detective
Plan B

Oh, also, I saw a few new documentaries in 2021. Summer of Soul was one of the best movies of the year and should earn an Oscar nomination. A Glitch in the Matrix was not worth my time -- or yours. I enjoyed 227 by the same director and they have a similar odd take on pop culture. But no, skip it. 

Summer of Soul
Some Kind of Heaven 
Derek DelGaudio's in & of Itself 
A Glitch in the Matrix

I almost forgot to add a list of Films of 2021 I still plan to see:

About Endlessness, Akilla's Escape, All is Forgiven, Amusement Park, Anne at 13,000 ft, Assassins, Atlantis, Azor, Beginning, Belfast, Belushi, Bergman Island, Card Counter, Censor, The Climb, C'mon C'mon, Come From Away, Come True, Concrete Cowboy, The Courier, Cowboys, Cruella, The Disciple, The Dig, Dream Horse, Dune Part One, First Wave, FTA, Green Knight, Hearts and Bones, Holler, Hope, Human Factor, Human Voice, Identifying Features, I'm Your Man, Inheritance, Karen Dalton, Keep an Eye Out, Killing of Two Lovers, Land, Lapsis, Licorice Pizza, Little Fish, Lost Daughter, Mass, Mitchells vs. The Machines, Memoria, MLK/FBI, Mogul Mowgli, Night of the Kings, Nobody,  Outside Story, Oxygen, Passing, Pieces of a Woman, Pig, The Reason I Jump, Red Rocket, The Rescue, Ride or Die, Rocks, Rose Plays Julie, Saint Maud, Saint-Narcisse, Shadow in the Cloud, Slow Machine, Souvenir Part II, Spencer, Stowaway, Supernova, This Is Not a Burial It's a Resurrection, tick, tick...Boom!, Tina, Tragedy of Macbeth, Truffle Hunters, Two of Us, Undergods, Undine, The Vigil, White Lie, Wild Indian, World to Come, Yellow Rose, Zola. 

And these are Films of 2020 I still need to see:

All In: The Fight for Democracy, Babyteeth, Bacurau, Banana Split, The Beach House, Beanpole, Beats, Bloody Nose Empty Pockets, City Hall, Color out of Space, Come as You Are, David Byrne's American Utopia, Donut King, End of Sentence, Ghost of Peter Sellers,  Half of It, Herself, How to Build a Girl, Lost Girls, Madre, Mangrove, Martin Eden, Miss Juneteenth, Mr. Jones, My Darling Vivian, The Nest, Ordinary Love, Place of No Words, The Platform, Possessor, Premature, Proxima, Relic, the Rental, Selah and the Spades, She Dies Tomorrow, Social Dilemma, Sorry We Missed You, Spaceship Earth, Straight Up, Sugar Daddy, The Surrogate, True History of the Kelly Gang, The Truth, Vitalina Varela, Wander Darkly, The Whistlers, A White, White Day, White Riot.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Books of 2021

This is my annual post listing books I read in the most recent year. I have produced such a list since 2005 -- here's a link to the 2020 list if readers want to work backwards.

Also, I posted short reviews of most of these books at Goodreads


Robert Vitalis, White World Order, Black Power Politics

Robert C. Rowland, The Rhetoric of Donald Trump 

Paul Harris, Pathologies of Climate Governance 

Rikka Kuusisto,  International Relations Narratives 

Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk 

Fareed Zakaria, Ten Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World 

Hank Aaron with Lonnie Wheeler, I Had a Hammer 

Joe Cox, The Immaculate Inning: Unassisted Triple Plays, 40/40 Seasons, and the Stories Behind Baseball's Rarest Feats 

Harvey Frommer, Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball 

Jess Lebow, The Beer Devotional: A Daily Celebration of the World's Most Inspiring Beers     

The Vitalis book is not perfect, but it is an eye-opening must-read. I recommend it to anyone interested in international relations. Vitalis produces an amazing array of evidence revealing that the IR discipline was built by scholars and institutions that were fundamentally racist and imperial. He also discusses an array of black scholars who were building "the Howard School" of IR that pondered genuinely rival ideas, but that are mostly neglected, if not forgotten.

Disclosure: I've been friends with Robin Rowland for over 40 years -- read his book on Trump's rhetoric anyway. It's not an insiders account of misdeeds. Arguably, in fact, it is a far more frightening account of Trump's appeal based on his public rhetoric.

The Harris book is an update of a similar older book that I read some years ago. I adopted it as a textbook for my class on Global Environmental Politics this past fall. 

Both Lewis and Zakaria have penned better books. These had their moments, but also had some serious flaws. Both actually seemed a bit rushed and thus unfinished.   

I don't know why I waited so long to read Hank Aaron's autobiography. It's a great story. Joe Cox's book is full of interesting tales of baseball rarities. 

Literature and Genre Fiction

Patrick Modiano, So You Don’t Get Lost in the Neighborhood 

Graham Greene, Power and the Glory 

Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart 

I didn't read that many books this year that would count as "literature." I'm listing these three and could put them in almost any order. Modiano has won a Nobel Prize for Literature, though I found this book somewhat frustrating. That may have been the point. Greene was a master, but this book is kind of slow and perhaps repetitive. Achebe's tale is well-known, so I'm late to it. It's more enjoyable if you like magical realism. 

Charlie Fletcher, A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World 

Stephen King, Billy Summers 

Philip K. Dick, VALIS 

I think these three works were my favorite fiction books of the year. I was sometimes frustrated by Fletcher's story, but it easily held my interest and it is well worth your time. King's recent non-horror book is terrific (though flawed, ultimately) and Dick's work was bizarre at times, but compelling. 

Shawna Seed, Not in Time 

Eric Ambler, Cause for Alarm 

Donald E. Westlake, The Black Ice Score as Richard Stark

Donald E. Westlake,  Dancing Aztecs 

Michael Connelly, The Last Coyote 

Ross Macdonald, The Underground Man 

John MacDonald, The Lonely Silver Rain 

Donald E. Westlake, Drowned Hopes 

Helen MacInnes, Ride a Pale Horse

This set of works is rated a bit higher than the books below. I read three books by Westlake and he rarely fails to entertain. As you can see, I completed the Travis McGee series this year. Indeed, as usual, this list includes a lot of crime fiction. 

Disclosure: I've known Shawna Seed for decades as we were undergrads together at Kansas. I liked her first book a great deal, but this one also made for an interesting read. Personally, I would have preferred that she not include the paranormal elements. 

Paul Auster, Music of Chance 

Carl Hiassen, Bad Monkey 

James Lee Burke, In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead 

Duane Swierczynski, Expiration Date

PD James, A Mind to Murder 

Sue Grafton, K is for Killer 

Stephen King, Later 

Ian Fleming, The Spy Who Loved Me 

David Goodis, Shoot the Piano Player 

Jean-Patrick Manchette, No Room at the Morgue 

Jim Thompson, Savage Night 

Robert Parker, Catskill Eagle 

I was really disappointed in the Spencer book by Parker. To me, the character jumped the shark, committing far too many acts of violence and lawlessness. I'm not sure when I might jump back into that series, which I had been reading in order.

The books just above that Spencer story were a bit dated in one way or another. I found King's storytelling to be first-rate, of course, but the story itself was not all that interesting in the end. PD James, Sue Grafton, and James Lee Burke all told new stories about familiar characters -- but I didn't enjoy these books as much as others I have read by the authors. 

The Auster story was very strange (absurd even), which made it difficult to embrace. It has stuck with me, however, so that's a strong point in its favor. I had not read a Hiassen book in some years, but this one was kind of funny (as intended). 

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