I have my 10 best list today. You can Google “just see Canada” to see who is streaming or try these other choices. Vancity Theater shows its own choices for the best, two of which agree with my list, and The Cinematheque commemorates the work of India’s master director Satyajit Ray. This year was the 100th anniversary of his birth. The theater shows its praises Apu Trilogy, which Martin Scorsese said was “one of the great cinematic experiences of my life.”
Or there are these …
Harry Potter reunion special: 4 stars
Out of the blue: 3
Drinking water: 3½
The book by Boba Fett: 4
Best of 2021: (various)
HARRY POTTER 20TH ANNIVERSARY: Back to HOGWARTS: First comment: surprised to think that it’s now 20 years since the first movie came out. Second: no surprise that HBO MAX would produce a reunion special like this after the huge success of the Friends reunion it gave us earlier. Third: what an interesting and charming film this is. Even skeptics will enjoy the background stories it gives us, just like a “make” feature on many movies’ DVDs. Fans will enjoy it all and in the pure nostalgia brought about by the many clips from the movies, backstage scenes and original audition tapes.
The producers brought back many of the actors to talk about their experiences, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, and Emma Watson, of course, recalling that they were just kids, and played together on the set at the first film, connected with as close friends as seven more were made. They occasionally give in to doubts about whether they can continue. Emma was shocked by the impact of fame on her life. Other actors also tell stories: Helena Bonham Carter (mostly alive), Robbie Coltrane, Ralph Fiennes, whose daughter insisted he did not continue playing Voldemart, Jason Isaacs, Gary Oldman, Tom Felton, and others. And also the directors, starting with Chris Columbus, light and friendly, and then others who were brought in as the movies got darker. We learn a lot. For example, how can you film Quidditch, a game that does not even exist. Who got broken ribs in a fight scene. Rupert’s first dance “with a lady,” Maggie Smith reveals. The effect of all these memories, theirs and ours, is really moving. (On CRAVE, beginning January 1st). 4 fan5
OUT OF THE BLUE: You have another chance to catch this all-but-lost film that Dennis Hopper made in Vancouver back in 1980 and that critic like Roger Ebert declared a masterpiece. I do not go so far because it is so uncomfortable really in depicting the life of a rebellious teenager that it is sometimes uncomfortable to see. But it comes right in the punk rock scene in the city at the time and has a great acting of Linda Manz. She is arrogant, self-conscious outward; uncertain and vulnerable from within.
Hopper plays her father, back from a few years in prison, and Sharon Farrell plays her mother, who works in a cheap diner and offers insights like, there are two types of men, the wild and the providers. Man worships the father, even though he can not get a good job and carries a secret. It’s her that we usually see, maybe at punk shows. The Pointed Sticks do two songs at once, a treat in themselves. Jim Byrnes performs at a party and Tom Lavin contributes music. It is a time capsule and has a history. Hopper, who followed Easy Rider with you The last movie and then 10 years out of the business was hired to act in this Canadian film and ended up rewriting and directing. For him, it’s about families falling apart. Manz shows the result, the one minute endearing, the other punk invectives. Idealism makes way for nihilism. (Play Thursday at The Polygon Gallery, at the foot of Lonsdale in North Van. Donation access, but you must RSVP. 3 of 5
DRINKING WATER: This was just named the audience favorite at the Whistler Film Festival, both in theater and online. You still have to catch it online today or wait until it returns for a regular booking. It’s for sure. It’s so entertaining and very, very Canadian. Better yet, it has a lovely and quirky sense of humor.
It plays in Penticton where Mike Drinkwater (played with ease and style by Daniel Doheny) can not fit in. He dreams of a high school girl (Chloe Babcook) who is completely out of his league, president of the student council, top student, beautiful, and all that. Also, she is already claimed by a self-important jock whose father runs a car dealer. Mike’s father (Eric McCormack) sits alone at home and defrauded an insurance company with a work injury claim. However, Mike makes two moves: he volunteers at the student council and trains for a marathon in hopes of defeating the jock who is poised to win. Awkward scenes become comical, dialogue is poignant (“At least we’re not a plutocracy run by big pharmaceutical companies,” he tells some visiting Americans) and Canadian motifs abound: Tim Hortons, a Zamboni, and songs by Loverboy, Trooper, Doug and the Slugs, Corey Hart and many others. Montreal-born but Hollywood-born Stephen S. Campanelli directed. (WFF website.) 3½ out of 5
THE BOOK OF BOBA FETT: No surprise, na The Mandalorian was such a big hit that Disney would spin out of another Star Wars series. The bounty hunter Boba Fett is up now. He was already a favorite of fans of his short appearances in the movies and he gets to stretch himself in this seven-part series. The episodes are only about 40 minutes long, but the production values are high. Such is the action. There are fights with guards, seven creatures and boys with transparent shields. There is not even a dialogue until 12 minutes after this first episode.
Temeura Morrison as Boba and Ming-Na Wen as Fennec Shand arrive at a desert town (looks very Middle Eastern) to “preserve” (take over, take over) the empire of Jabba de Hutt. A woman played by Jennifer Beals welcomes him and he decides to rule with respect, not with fear. A very busy adventure (for such a short film) ensues and will surely please fans, though the Star Wars saga gets very long and just goes on and on. Jon Favreau made and wrote the series and Robert Rodriguez directed this opener. Morrison makes a very solid impression by playing the lead. (Disney +) 4 out of 5
BEST OF 2021: For all the setbacks on the film scene this year, there have certainly been many very good films. I have not been able to keep my list at 10, even though I have not included any strong competitors, like Flee en Cyrano. ENExcept for short festival games, they have not been here yet. And thinking back to the early months, movies like that Nomadland, Minari en Judas and the Black Messiah have been feeling this way for so long now too.
To get around them, I’ve compiled this list:
SUMMER OF SOUL: Great music, rediscovered 1969 film and great editing brought the film that gave me more fun this year than any other. Just watch Mahalia Jackson and Mavis Staples perform a great duet and you will be traded. Plus lightly drawn in the background, the emerging politics of America’s Black population.
LICORICE PIZZA: This charmer depicts young love growing despite the cynics and hucksters of Los Angeles. It’s sweet, stars two new actors and is written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson with humor and a lot of empathy and insight.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH: Tersely presented and performed in crisp black and white by the Joel half of the Coen brothers duo, this film puts new energy into the Scottish play and lets Denzel Washington, Frances McDormand, Brendan Gleeson and others do wonders with the words.
THE POWER OF THE DOG: Benedict Cumberbatch becomes an American cowboy and delivers. He is toxic and then not, making the shift effortless. Jane Campion’s film slips away some of the novel’s content, but tries mightily.
CRY WITH FIRE: A Celebration of Journalism Under Extreme Difficulties, this film shows courageous reporting by women in India who are also casual Dalits (untouchables). See how they confront the powerful. Also, from the very beginning of this year, there has been a story of fearless journalism that became tragic. THE DISSIDENT investigates the case of Jamal Khashoggi, the author for the Washington Post who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. This is a hard-hitting investigation and provides strong evidence on how and why he died.
DRIVE MY CAR: This enchanting and moving film from Japan follows a theater director to a presentation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and shows exactly what he means when he says that Chekhov “drags the real you out.”
WEST SIDE STORY: Close, but not entirely consistent with the 1961 version, Steven Spielberg’s take on the great musical is at least stimulating, lively and exciting. And Latinos play Latinos this time.
BELFAST: Family love survives the tension, unrest and violence of the growing “problems” in Northern Ireland in Kenneth Branagh’s film which draws on his own memories of growing up there at that time. It has a warm heart and a lot of humanity. Nine-year-old Buddy (Jude Hill) is a standout alongside the likes of Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench and Ciarán Hinds.
MARIA CHAPDELAINE: It’s my favorite Canadian movie of the year because it’s so Canadian in its depiction of pioneering life in Quebec. Life in the far country is shown by hard work, storms that make travel difficult and longing for visitors to feel less connected. And there’s a love story in the center.
ONLY THE ANIMALS: This one comes from France and portrays a mystery about a missing woman. Due to the different connections with them, as told by different people, we are completely drowned. It’s a very cleverly constructed puzzle.
THE RESCUE: You know the story, 12 boys and their football coach rescued from a flooded cave in Thailand. But it’s amazing how touching and exciting it gets anyway in this documentary that uses a few restagations and useful illustrations to convey the drama.
SHOW HOME: We now have an annual Day of Atonement to address our national residential school shame. This documentary shows how that started, as Orange Shirt Day in Williams Lake. It lets Phyllis Jack-Webstad of the Secwépemc Nation describe her experiences in the school she was taken to when she was six years old. With its culture dying and the salmon dwindling, it’s a very moving story.
GUNDA: For supreme emotional content, watch this movie by a veteran Russian director all about a pig. Only her and her herd, no humans, but a few cows and a chicken with one paw, but there is high drama as she feeds her and later a reason to be overwhelmed and confused. This is an extraordinary movie.