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I had intended to finish this list by the end of 2021 -- in fact, I had intended to be caught up with all the new films by the end of 2021 – but I ultimately had to stay home for nearly a week after Christmas for reasons which you can probably guess, and I only caught up with the last of the new films a few days ago.
 
Predictions are in boldface, followed by those which I personally would nominate in italics. As with previous years' lists, for several categories I have NOT provided my own nominations, since frankly I know jack about costumes, sound and so forth, though more and more I try to pay attention to sound in particular. Films that I have listed as my own personal nominations yet which will definitely not be nominated -- either because they are ultimately ineligible in those categories or simply not shortlisted -- are marked with an asterisk.

PICTURE
 
BEING THE RICARDOS
BELFAST
CODA
CYRANO
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
KING RICHARD
LICORICE PIZZA
THE POWER OF THE DOG
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH
WEST SIDE STORY
 
FLEE
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
THE GREEN KNIGHT
LICORICE PIZZA
NO SUDDEN MOVE
PARALLEL MOTHERS
PASSING
THE POWER OF THE DOG
RIDERS OF JUSTICE
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH

ACTOR
 
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH – The Power of the Dog
PETER DINKLAGE – Cyrano
ANDREW GARFIELD – Tick Tick…Boom!
WILL SMITH – King Richard
DENZEL WASHINGTON – The Tragedy of Macbeth
 
DON CHEADLE – No Sudden Move
CLIFTON COLLINS JR. – Jockey
TIM BLAKE NELSON – Old Henry
JOAQUIN PHOENIX – C’mon C’mon
DENZEL WASHINGTON – The Tragedy of Macbeth

ACTRESS
 
OLIVIA COLMAN – The Lost Daughter
NICOLE KIDMAN – Being the Ricardos
LADY GAGA – House of Gucci
FRANCES MCDORMAND – The Tragedy of Macbeth
KRISTEN STEWART  Spencer
 
JESSICA CHASTAIN – The Eyes of Tammy Faye
OLIVIA COLMAN – The Lost Daughter
RUTH NEGGA  Passing
MOLLY PARKER  Jockey
TESSA THOMPSON  Passing

SUPPORTING ACTOR
 
BEN AFFLECK – The Tender Bar
CIARAN HINDS – Belfast
JARED LETO – House of Gucci
TROY KOTSUR – CODA
KODI SMIT-McPHEE – The Power of the Dog
 
CIARAN HINDS  Belfast
TONY LEUNG – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
J.K. SIMMONS – Being the Ricardos
KODI SMIT-McPHEE – The Power of the Dog
JEFFREY WRIGHT – The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun

SUPORTING ACTRESS
 
CAITRIONA BALFE – Belfast
JUDI DENCH – Belfast
KIRSTEN DUNST – The Power of the Dog
MARLEE MATLIN – CODA
RITA MORENO – West Side Story
 
NINA ARIANDA – Being the Ricardos
AUNJANUE ELLIS – King Richard
GABY HOFFMAN – C’mon C’mon
KATHRYN HUNTER – The Tragedy of Macbeth
CHARLOTTE RAMPLING – Benedetta

DIRECTING
 
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON – Licorice Pizza
WES ANDERSON – The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun
KENNETH BRANAGH – Belfast
JANE CAMPION – The Power of the Dog
STEVEN SPIELBERG – West Side Story
 
PAUL THOMAS ANDERSON – Licorice Pizza
WES ANDERSON – The French Dispatch of the Liberty, Kansas Evening Sun
JANE CAMPION – The Power of the Dog
JOEL COEN – The Tragedy of Macbeth
DAVID LOWERY – The Green Knight

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
 
BEING THE RICARDOS
BELFAST
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
THE HERO
LICORICE PIZZA
 
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
LICORICE PIZZA
NO SUDDEN MOVE
RIDERS OF JUSTICE
TOGETHER TOGETHER

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
 
CODA
THE LOST DAUGHTER
THE POWER OF THE DOG
THE TENDER BAR
WEST SIDE STORY
 
I’M YOUR MAN
THE LOST DAUGHTER
NIGHTMARE ALLEY
PASSING
THE POWER OF THE DOG

CINEMATOGRAPHY
 
BELFAST
DUNE
NIGHTMARE ALLEY
THE POWER OF THE DOG
WEST SIDE STORY
 
C’MON C’MON
DUNE
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
LICORICE PIZZA
NIGHTMARE ALLEY

PRODUCTION DESIGN
 
BELFAST
DUNE
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
NIGHTMARE ALLEY
THE POWER OF THE DOG
 
DUNE
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
LICORICE PIZZA
NIGHTMARE ALLEY
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH

FILM EDITING
 
DON’T LOOK UP
DUNE
KING RICHARD
THE POWER OF THE DOG
WEST SIDE STORY
 
DUNE
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
LICORICE PIZZA
THE POWER OF THE DOG
SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)

COSTUME DESIGN
 
CRUELLA
CYRANO
DUNE
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN
HOUSE OF GUCCI

SOUND
 
DUNE
NO TIME TO DIE
THE POWER OF THE DOG
A QUIET PLACE PART II 
WEST SIDE STORY

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)
 
DUNE - Hans Zimmer 
ENCANTO - Germaine Franco
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN - Alexandre Desplat
THE POWER OF THE DOG - Jonny Greenwood
SPENCER - Jonny Greenwood
 
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING SUN – Alexandre Desplat
NIGHTMARE ALLEY – Nathan Johnson*
NO SUDDEN MOVE - David Holmes*
PARALLEL MOTHERS – Alberto Iglesias
THE POWER OF THE DOG – Jonny Greenwood

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)
 
"THE ANONYMOUS ONES" - Dear Evan Hansen
"BE ALIVE" - King Richard
"BEYOND THE SHORE" - CODA
"NO TIME TO DIE" - No Time to Die
 
“BEYOND THE SHORE” – CODA
"DOS ORUGUITAS" - Encanto
“A LITTLE CLOSER” – Dear Evan Hansen*
“NO TIME TO DIE” – No Time To Die
“THIS WAS ME” – Everybody’s Talking About Jamie*

VISUAL EFFECTS
 
DUNE
GODZILLA VS. KONG
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
 
DUNE
FINCH*
GODZILLA VS KONG
REMINISCENCE*
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLYING
 
COMING 2 AMERICA
CRUELLA
CYRANO
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
HOUSE OF GUCCI
 
DUNE
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE
HOUSE OF GUCCI
NIGHTMARE ALLEY
THE SUICIDE SQUAD

ANIMATED FEATURE
 
ENCANTO
FLEE
LUCA
THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES
RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON
 
I think I may have seen barely more than five new animated features in 2021 (and I missed Luca, as its one-week theatrical run in Los Angeles coincided with my first week way from town since the pandemic began), so I won’t bother to give my own choices for this category. I don't want to be like the Tony Awards, who at least one year gave an award for basically Only New Musical.

And, as always, here are my nominations for a category which doesn't actually exist but damn it, it ought to:
  
TITLE DESIGN
 
CANDYMAN
NO TIME TO DIE
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
WEST SIDE STORY

MY FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2021
 
BLACK WIDOW
DUNE
THE FRENCH DISPATCH OF THE LIBERTY, KANSAS EVENING POST
GODZILLA VS. KONG
LICORICE PIZZA
NIGHTMARE ALLEY
NO SUDDEN MOVE
NO TIME TO DIE
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME
THE SUICIDE SQUAD

MY LEAST FAVORITE MOVIES OF 2021
 
I disliked few of these films enough to call them the “worst” of the year (though I kind of hated Halloween Kills, and The King’s Man’s mix of cartoonishness and historical earnestness is utterly baffling to me), but these were the ten which I found the most irritating or unsatisfying.
 
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT
DEMONIC
DON’T LOOK UP
HALLOWEEN KILLS
THE KING’S MAN
MALIGNANT 
THE MISFITS
SING 2
SPENCER
WOLF

MY FAVORITE THINGS FROM THE MOVIES OF 2021
 
The big spoiler surprise(s) of Spider-Man: No Way Home, which I won’t go into here for obvious reasons. I’m way more of a 007 geek than I am an MCU fan, but I thought this film earned the emotions it was trying for way way more than No Time to Die did.
 
The black-and-white cinematography of C’mon C’mon (Robbie Ryan) and The Tragedy of Macbeth (Bruno Delbonnel)
 
The cinematography (Dan Laustsen) and production design (Tamara Deverell) of Nightmare Alley, probably the most beautiful looking color film of the year.
 
Don’t Look Up largely annoyed me or left me cold (and it was way too long, and I've come to despise Adam McKay's shooting and editing style. He's definitely a filmmaker where I prefer "the early, funny films," to quote Stardust Memories), but the running joke about Jennifer Lawrence’s character, the general played by Paul Guilfoyle, and the White House snacks cracked me up every single time, and I saw the film twice (don’t ask why).
 
Florence Pugh in Black Widow, especially when she’s making fun of the title character.
 
J.K. Simmons and Nina Arianda as William Frawley and Vivian Vance in Being the Ricardos. Kidman and Bardem were fine, but I could have watched a whole other film about Frawley and Vance, and overall the film was cast with typical excellence by Francine Maisler (Moneyball).
 
Last Night in Soho was a frustratingly uneven movie, but I will always appreciate the chance it gave me to see the peerless Diana Rigg in one final movie role.
 
The opening title sequence of No Time to Die, by 007 perennial Daniel Kleinman. Not even among his best work, but I knew going in that it would be my favorite part of the film, and it was.
 
Pretty much everything about Licorice Pizza. I don’t know if it’s just pandemic-related deprivation, but it felt like the best new movie I had seen in years. Since it probably was.
 
Honestly, I don’t know if there was anything I saw in movie theaters in 2021 that was quite as satisfying as just being able to go back into movie theaters on May 1st (for Godzilla vs. Kong, Nobody and Raya and the Last Dragon) after having received my second vaccine shot, for the first time since theaters had closed down on March 16, 2020. Okay, maybe Licorice Pizza (in 70mm, at the Village Theater in Westwood) was even more satisfying.

MY TEN FAVORITE SOUNDTRACK RELEASES OF 2021
 
THE EIGER SANCTION [Intrada Special Collection]
FACE OF A FUGITIVE [Intrada Special Collection]
GLORY [La-La Land]
LEGEND [Music Box]
MASADA [Intrada Special Collection]
THE PUBLIC EYE: UNUSED SCORE [Intrada Special Collection]
SHAMUS [Intrada Special Collection]
THE TIME TUNNEL [La-La Land]

THE BEST SCORES OF 2021 COMMERCIALLY UNRELEASED ON CD
 
BENEDETTA – Anne Dudley
THE EYES OF TAMMY FAYE – Theodore Shapiro
THE GREEN KNIGHT – Daniel Hart
JULIA – Rachel Portman
THE LAST DUEL – Harry Gregson-Williams
NIGHTMARE ALLEY – Nathan Johnson
NO SUDDEN MOVE – David Holmes
THE POWER OF THE DOG – Jonny Greenwood
SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS – Joel P. West
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH – Carter Burwell
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I find the complete absence of 'Last Night in Soho' from your lists puzzling. Did you see it?

I find the complete absence of 'Last Night in Soho' from your lists puzzling. Did you see it?

Yes, I saw it, and though I enjoyed it I thought it was a mess, possibly my least favorite Edgar Wright film, my favorites being The World's End and Scott Pilgrim (and I like Baby Driver enough to have seen it three times in the theater despite the gaping hole of negative charisma that is Ansel Elgort. But at least he dances well).

I do have it on one of the lists - the final screen appearance of Diana Rigg was one of my favorite things of the movie year. I originally had it among my own Production Design picks but I ended up putting Tragedy of Macbeth in instead.

My main take after seeing Soho was I would have liked it more with fewer "mean girl" scenes and fewer ghost appearances, though I might like it more on a second viewing. I appreciated the ambition of it while finding it ultimately unsatisfying - Wright's films tend to be so tightly controlled that the out-of-control nature of this one was refreshing - while I only guessed two-thirds of the big twist, so I felt smart yet still pleasantly surprised.

I find the complete absence of 'Last Night in Soho' from your lists puzzling. Did you see it?

Yes, I saw it, and though I enjoyed it I thought it was a mess, possibly my least favorite Edgar Wright film, my favorites being The World's End and Scott Pilgrim (and I like Baby Driver enough to have seen it three times in the theater despite the gaping hole of negative charisma that is Ansel Elgort. But at least he dances well).

I do have it on one of the lists - the final screen appearance of Diana Rigg was one of my favorite things of the movie year. I originally had it among my own Production Design picks but I ended up putting Tragedy of Macbeth in instead.

My main take after seeing Soho was I would have liked it more with fewer "mean girl" scenes and fewer ghost appearances, though I might like it more on a second viewing. I appreciated the ambition of it while finding it ultimately unsatisfying - Wright's films tend to be so tightly controlled that the out-of-control nature of this one was refreshing - while I only guessed two-thirds of the big twist, so I felt smart yet still pleasantly surprised.


My take:
A young country girl comes to London to study at the College of Fashion. The young lady loves all things 60’s and both she and the film revel in period-perfect music and fashion from that decade. The naive and deeply sensitive girl’s adjustment to the harshness of big city life does not go well. Things take some terrible, surreal and truly mind-blowing turns as the line between so-called reality and what is possibly fantasy become blurred in the extreme. What follows is a kaleidoscopic frenzy of psychedelic sound and imagery which in the first hour is pure delight but soon veers into the truly horrific.

‘Last Night in Soho’ is very hard to ‘review’ because so much depends on us NOT knowing what is actually going on or where things are going. Therefore I’ll focus on the following: There are three perfect performances which anchor the film and three supporting roles filled brilliantly by three 1960’s icons of British cinema.

In the central role, Thomasin Mackenzie gives us a full realization of the potential she displayed in ‘Leave No Trace’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit’. Her complex and piercingly emotional work as the citystruck teenager is simply fantastic and should bring her award notice from every quarter this year. On par with her performance is Anya-Taylor Joy (‘Emma’, ‘The Queen’s Gambit’) who once again does an utterly charismatic job as the ‘swinging London’ glamor girl who initially appears to be Thomasin’s alter-ego. The third characterization is by Matt Smith (who plays the Duke of Edinburgh in TV’s ‘The Crown’). Smith plays an oily denizen of the London deep who ingratiates himself with the female characters.

In a triad of excellent supporting performances, it was a delight to watch Brit 60’s stars Rita Tushingham ('The Knack'), Terence Stamp ('The Collector') and Diana Rigg ('On Her Majesty's Secret Service' and TV's 'The Avengers'), all three who rather exemplified the whole Carnaby Street mood themselves, do their finest work in years. Both Stamp and Rigg could be up for some serious awards notice as well.

Director Edgar Wright, who has given us some of the most truly amusing comedies to come out of Britain in the past few decades (‘Shaun of the Dead’, ‘Hot Fuzz’, ‘The World’s End’) turns deadly serious here. While the actors are great, this is still truly a director’s picture and Wright completely masters his visually and conceptually complicated subject. For him, it’s a tour de force.

Enough can’t be said about the use of music. The soundtrack is a veritable ultimate greatest hits package of English 60’s pop music, all of it used most effectively. The original, orchestral score - which gains more and more prominence as the film descends into a gotterdamerung of madness, is by Steven Price who composed ‘Gravity’’s oscar-nominated soundscape and grows in both power and presence as the film unfolds.

Some films try to be a lot of things, become muddled, unfocused and fail. ‘Last Night in Soho’ IS a lot of things and succeeds admirably. It’s part swinging-60’s romp, part coming-of-age drama, part groovy-musical, part murder mystery and part may-or-may-not-be-a-ghost story. It works on all of these levels and never misses a beat. Another testimony to Wright’s skill. If I had one sharp criticism it would be that it could have ended 5 minutes sooner. In it’s only nod to commercial concerns, the film ends rather surprisingly on a high note. This is one of those rare instances where I actually wish they had left me hanging - in the dark.

It’s a fantastic movie.

I always look forward to your year-end lists, Scott, and it's gratifying to see mentions of The French Dispatch and C'mon C'mon here - I'm afraid these two films have gotten "lost in the shuffle" re this year's award-giving. Is Lady Gaga still viable as Actress after House of Gucci turned out to be a turkey? I thought she was very good, but I'd rather see Alana Haim from LP get nominated.

West Side story is a real joy, and the music and the direction of the film really work nicely.
It is a non genre non comic film, so of course, hardly anyone watched it.

It's good to see this column back. Always a neat read.

It's nice to see a proper 'Least Favorite (or Worst, whatever) Movies' list when so many have abandoned them for whatever reason. (One person on Twitter, rather hysterically, stated that 'Any one who makes a Worst Movies of the Year list hates movies.' It was all I could do not to respond with the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n5E7feJHw0. I sit through Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard and I'm not allowed to complain about Salma Hayek screaming and swearing and screaming while swearing? What planet are you on?)

Last Night in Soho was decent. Good atmosphere, fine acting...and a protracted story (The ghosts spend the second half scaring the bejeezus out of Ellie and it's only near the end where they communicate what they want: "Help us." "Save us." "You couldn't have told me this from jump street? I almost stabbed a bitch in the face! Who's gonna save you then?").

Godzilla vs. Kong...dug the monster fights. There seemed to be an intentional Die Hard reference snuck in (look at when Kong - I think - jumps off a roof). Then they have to spoil it by cutting to the humans. Very much paled in comparison to the humans of King of the Monsters and Skull Island.

Sing 2...I'd planned on seeing this (I found the first one quite charming) until the paranoia of the health crisis had me avoiding all but the stuff I felt I needed to see (hope you're feeling all right, BTW). Didn't quite take. (Must've been that screening of Spider-Man.)

And is it just me or did it feel like David Holmes was consciously homaging Mancini's Charade in No Sudden Move?

DUNE is widely predicted to feature in the Best Picture nominations (as it did at the Golden Globes).

SInce it's in your favorites list there's no need to be pessimisitc. I think it will score a couple of major nominations (as well it should). To me, it was the only truly memorable film of the year (and should look even better once the sequel completes it).

To address various people's points -

-Clearly we'll have to agree to disagree about Last Night in Soho. As an Edgar Wright fan, I wanted to love it, and I have to appreciate a film partly set in swinging London that features Barry's "Beat Girl" theme, a gigantic Thunderball billboard, and roles for Diana Rigg, Rita Tushingham and Terence Stamp, but it just didn't come together for me.

-I think Gaga is still viable for Actress (certainly a nomination, anyway, as it's not a super-crowded field and she was lots of fun in Gucci).

-But I certainly wouldn't mind Alana Haim being nominated, as that was truly the movie of the year for me.

-Much as I wished Spielberg had made a different musical, I really enjoyed West Side Story. You could see he really cared about it (much more than say, The Post), and I thought even Ansel Elgort was effective.

-Sing 2 wasn't awful, just left me cold. And I thought the entire story was poorly motivated - our musical animal heroes have a smash hit in their home town. Why is it so important for them to conquer Vegas as well, to the extent they have to lie to get their new show up?

-David Holmes was definitely channeling Mancini's percussion from Charade, as well as some sounds from Goldsmith's Chinatown.

-Would be very happy for Dune to get a Best Picture nomination, though I didn't love it the way I loved Blade Runner 2049. The best thing about the expansion of the Best Picture category has been how science-fiction films are now "legit" enough for the category - Avatar, District 9, Inception, Gravity, Her, The Martian, Arrival. (I may have forgotten one or two)

-I hope to see French Dispatch again, and on second viewing won't be distracted by a small girl running up and down the auditorium stairs during the first half, with her father doing nothing to stop it. During an R-rated film, by the way, with a "red-band" trailer for Antlers beforehand.

And what about 'Mass'. Just saw this last night. Good God what a powerhouse film! Now my #1 of the year.

And what about 'Mass'. Just saw this last night. Good God what a powerhouse film! Now my #1 of the year.

I would have liked to see Mass but it only played a few weeks in LA, and there was simply too much else to see in those weeks.

I also really wanted to see The Humans, but like Luca it played one week only and a rare week I happened to be out of town.

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