Personal Favorite Films of 2021

Each year goes by, and each year I think to myself: hopefully, the next one will be better. However, this is not entirely correct because every year has its ups and downs. As the year 2021 is drawing to a close, and the year 2022 will soon welcome us in its embrace, I think it was quite special in terms of achieving personal goals and keeping healthy in these trying times.

In terms of change, it was an interesting year for the cinema as well; it demonstrated that we are growing into diversity and its rightful representation on screen, but we still have a lot to learn. Nonetheless, the creators delivered positions that, I am confident, will become timeless as the years pass. Each is unique, and each had something that piqued my interest in one way, or another.

When I watch a movie, my mind is drawn to the meaning behind the script and the lenses of the cameras first. Each of the films listed below captivated my attention and lingered in my mind long after the film séance. There is no specific order to the list. These are simply the films that have had the most impact on me this year. I also want to state that I have yet to watch films on my list that I’ve been meaning to watch. The list is ever-changing, so take it with a grain of salt–just some films to watch if you didn’t.

Petite Maman

Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz in Petite Maman.

I’ve been a fan of Céline Sciamma for some time now. Petite Maman was one of my anticipated positions when covering the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival. What I didn’t expect is for this precious, illuminating film to become one of my ultimate favorites of this year.

The film tells the story of Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) who loses her grandmother. As the little girl assists her family in cleaning her mother’s childhood home, Nelly meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz). The girls grow closer to each other over time, sharing many secrets that connect them in an unusual, beautiful way. 

Petite Maman tells an extraordinary story. The film’s imaginative viewpoint and truths hidden behind the lines of the script all resurface at the film’s emotional conclusion. Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz are at the heart of the film, stealing the spotlight from every other supporting character.

The Matrix Resurrections

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss in The Matrix Resurrections / Warner Brothers

There is no secret that The Matrix trilogy is one of my ultimate favorite, dearest films. When I was in middle school and others were talking about how many cool things they got for the holidays, I’d proudly say that I got the original trilogy on DVD.

Finally, 21 years after we first met Thomas Anderson, aka, Neo (Keanu Reeves) —an IT by day and hacker by night, the beloved characters are back. Although the film feels more like a familiar, warm embrace and not a breath of fresh air, the new characters, new technology, and more elaborate fight scenes make up for it. It’s one hell of a comeback to Matrix. 

The excellence of the film lies within nostalgic script and dialogues that become an ode to the previous parts. Matrix Resurrections will undoubtedly divide the audience with its polarizing narrative. However, I’m sure that it’s excellent viewing for those who are just discovering the franchise and slowly following the white rabbit. At the same time, it becomes a great love story and nostalgic ode for the original trilogy fans. 

My full review here.


Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton in Mass by Fran Kranz, an official selection of the Premieres section at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Ryan Jackson-Healy.

I still, to this day, think about Kranz’s debut at least once a day. Mass truly breaks any boundaries and is one of a few films that delve into another side of the story.

The film tells a story of two pairs of parents—one of them the parents of the school shooter, while the others are the parents of the victim.  When Gail and Jay (Martha Plimpton and Jason Issacs) arrive at the chapel, they meet Linda and Richard (Ann Dowd and Reed Birney). Momentarily, all bets are off. The anxiety and uncomfortable tension arise from the very moment both families meet. It’s an indescribable kind of stress, the one that only people who can relate on a personal level can truly feel.

Kranz’s film will stimulate many conversations about the mental health system in which the United States lacks much, the issue of easy gun access, and much more. Mass is not an easy film to watch, but we must view it and talk about it. The film is a very powerful depiction of loss, forgiveness, and the coming together of two sides. The names of Plimpton, Dowd, Issacs, and Birney are worth remembering.

My full review here.


Emilia Jones in CODA / Apple TV.

CODA was such a surprise during Sundance 2021 and I quickly realized that it will become one of my favorite films of the year.

The heartwarming film by Sian Heder tells the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), who’s the only hearing member of her deaf family from Gloucester. At 17, she works mornings before school to help her parents and brother keep their fishing business afloat. Ruby soon dreams of changing it after joining her high school’s choir club. The young woman finds herself drawn to both her duet partner and her passion for singing.

CODA’s entire cast is beyond incredible. Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, and Eugenio Derbez deliver an incredible performances with Emilia Jones shining the brightest.

Heder presents a story that is often dismissed or not talked at all. CODA is an incredibly important, empowering, witty, and amusing portrayal of the family—you don’t want to miss it.


In the Sundance premiere Censor, directed by Prano Bailey-Bond, Enid (played by Niamh Algar) has an unusual job. Depending on the amount of violence in each film, her assignment is to determine whether the horror film passes or is rejected. Her days are saturated with scenes of blood, gore, and oftentimes rape. But she believes thoroughly in her work. Enid prevents people from seeing too much, continuously thinking about their mental health and psyche. She is the titular censor, and she thrives on it.

Censor is set in the 1980s and Prano Bailey-Bond attempts to visualize the streets of Europe of that time period. Viewers have the chance to explore the subject of C-level horror movies and see the United Kingdom as it was forty-something years ago. ’80s Europe is much different than 80s America. In the film, it’s much more poignant. Gloomier. The director captures that gloom perfectly well. It manifests itself not only in the characters. We can see it in the phenomenal production design by Paulina Rzeszowska (also of Saint Maud) who uses every surface she can work with.

Censor is one of the films that shock you by what you see on the screen. The reality blends with a dream while we experience the spotlight on video nasties and how they thrived. Very worth watching.

My full review here.

Playing with Sharks

Valerie Taylor in Paying With Sharks

In the documentary, Playing with Sharks, which premiered at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Sally Aitken showcases Taylor’s remarkable life and ends this documentary with a touching finale. The film is now available to watch on Disney+.

Valerie Taylor, a remarkable scuba diver, started spearfishing in the ’60s. She was one of the few women who took part in this activity. One could always notice her. Taylor always wore a pink or a red suit; a color that was not accidental. It was to commemorate the legendary Jacques Cousteau and his ever-present red cap. She was a force of nature wherever she went. Even in the typically masculine field of work, Valerie quickly showed other divers that she was equal to them. Aitken ensures that we, as an audience, fully see Valerie’s adventurous life by presenting us the footage that has been collected over the decades of her and her husband’s journeys.

Sharks are one of the most magnificent and powerful creatures of ocean life. Their majestic beauty manifests in many of their species. People like Valerie Taylor uphold said beauty and showcase it to us everyday individuals to better understand them. Playing with Sharks is a must-watch for everybody. It’s a film that gives us an interesting insight into the life of one amazing woman who wasn’t afraid of playing with sharks. 

My full review here.

Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo in Barb And Star Go To Vista Del Mar.

The plot of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar can be divided into two parts. First, we are introduced to two middle-aged best friends, Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig), who lose their jobs at “the hottest place in town”, a furniture store, Jennifer Convertibles. After their mutual friend convinces them to try something new, Barb and Star travel to the mysterious, most gorgeous place on Earth—Vista Del Mar. However, before the audience even gets to know them, there is an opening scene that contains something else entirely.

Soon after, we discover that Sharon Gordon Fisherman (portrayed by Wiig also) seeks revenge on a small ocean town; surprise, surprise, it’s Vista Del Mar! As she was bullied because of her skin condition, Sharon, with Edgar’s help (Jamie Dornan)—the man who holds a massive crush on his boss, plans to send mutated killer mosquitoes to the vacation place. That, of course, is supposed to happen when Barb and Star are there.

As this love letter is being written, the words aren’t enough to fully articulate how much we needed this film right now. While it’s always worth it to watch a film that fills our hearts with emotions and lets our minds reflect long after, we are also in dire need of something light that will take us and surround us with as much confusing yet hilarious weirdness as possible. This is what Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar achieves. Please don’t wait and go see it because it’s just a so gosh darn great film. 

My full article here.


Frances McDormand in the film NOMADLAND. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2020 20th Century Studios.

Nomadland, directed by Chloé Zhao and based on Jessica Bruder’s book, is a captivating story of a woman’s journey across America and becoming a modern-day nomad in the post-Great Recession era. While the film explores the issues of poverty and the consequences of economic failure, its true magic lies within the amazing stories that Fern (Frances McDormand) hears throughout her voyage, and the strong relationships she builds. Nomadland, in its most prominent aspect, teaches us the value of living in the now.

Over the course of her travels, Fern re-learns how to live and experiences newfound happiness caused by seemingly insignificant events. Zhao infuses the simple task of Fern learning how to change a tire with unexpected import. Just dancing with her new friends, or going with Dave to the zoo and marveling at the animals she sees, we get to live in the joy of the mundane along with her.      

The story of Nomadland is a humbling experience to me and makes me think about my own past life experiences. It helps me appreciate seemingly inconsequential moments between me and my relatives or friends. In perspective, they are the ones that I come back to the most.


Bob Odenkirk in Nobody.

The first scene that comes to mind when I think of Nobody is when Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) gracefully approaches the record player, inserts the vinyl, and slowly lowers the needle. Suddenly, everything bursts into flames. Hutch’s entire vinyl collection burns in front of our eyes. As an avid vinyl collector, I was deeply hurt by the scene. But, as a fan of Nobody and Ilya Naishuller’s thrilling direction, I was blown away by almost every scene and fight choreography in the film.

If you had to describe Odenkirk’s Hutch, it appears that “quiet” and “ordinary” are two of the best words to use. The lead, however, makes sure that we keep changing our minds and second-guessing the next move. When Hutch’s home is broken into, the man is driven to violent vengeance and an inevitable reckoning with his own past.

Nobody is a film that is worth seeing multiple times. It’s unlike anything we’ve seen before–it’s not your typical action film. Odenkirk wreaks havoc, and after watching this one, you’ll probably want a kitty cat bracelet. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Don’t Look Up

Jonah Hill, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence in Don’t Look Up / Netflix.

Don’t Look Up is definitely amongst my favorite films of 2021. The dark, hilarious and extremely relatable satire by Adam McKay is off the chains. The entire cast ensemble brings something interesting, witty to the table. Each of them represents something else.

But who deserves the standing applause? It’s, without a doubt, Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio. This talented duo of actors, as Kate and Randall, two geeky astrologists who discover the comet coming to the Earth really stood out and did an incredible job. It’s one of the films that will remain relatable for quite some time.

Another solid part of the film is the script. You know that moment in Don’t Look Up when Cate Blanchett’s Brie says “I’d rather get drunk and talk shit about people”? Similar witty one-liners fill the script, making it very relatable.

McKay and Sirota wrote brilliant characters and a great premise. One of my favorite part is Lawrence’s Kate trying to figure out why the guy charged them for free snacks the entire movie

The entire film is built around funny situations while delivering a rather sadder, depressing statement. Definitely worth visiting again in the future.

These are the films that, somehow, stayed with me even after watching them. The list is quite personal, with surprising positions. Just a little recommendation at the end of the 2021.

May your new year brings prosperity and happiness!

film review

‘Halloween Kills’ is A Bloodthirsty, Gory Spectacle Filled With Campy One-Liners

Michael Myers (aka The Shape) in Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green

When we hear Michael Myers’s name, we immediately think of a white mask, a work coveralls in a dark blue/gray color, or a bloody knife. Everyone knows his name, whether they’ve seen the slasher franchise or not. This Halloween season, Michael Myers is back, wanting to spill more blood. Halloween Kills is a crazy rollercoaster filled to the brim with gore, a high body count, elaborate kills, and a hysterical, entertaining script. The slasher directed by David Gordon Green, a creator of the 2018 chapter, will be a feast for the Michael Myers fans, but it may not be to everybody’s taste.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been on the run from the masked killer for quite some time. Forty years, to be exact, as mentioned frequently by the film’s characters. Following the events of the previous part, Laurie, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) are transported to Haddonfield Hospital. Meanwhile, the infamous Boogeyman flees the burning building (sic!), killing many first responders in the process. Shortly after, the plot of Halloween Kills picks up when Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), Lonnie (Robert Longstreet), Lindsey (Kyle Richards), and the nurse Marion (Nancy Stephens)—all of whom are survivors of previous encounters with Michael—band together with other residents of Haddonfield to apprehend the killer and ultimately defeat him.

There are horror films that shake the audience to their core and psychological horror films with deeper meanings. There are also slashers, a horror subgenre. Its most significant components are blood, killings, and cheesy dialogues. Halloween Kills has all of the above. The horror is a fun ride for fans of the franchise and horror films in general. This time, Laurie Strode takes a back seat as the younger generation takes the reign. After the turbulent events and the death of her husband, Karen is shaken and more cautious, insisting on keeping watch by her mother’s hospital bed. Allyson, on the other hand, desires the opposite – the young woman is filled with rage and a want for vengeance. Greer and Matichak are a fabulous mother-daughter duo who especially steps into the spotlight. Especially Matichak as determined Allyson who refuses to give up gives a great performance.

Dylan Arnold, Andi Matichak, and Robert Longstreet in Halloween Kills.

The return of Kyle Richards and Nancy Stephens is a tempting prospect that tremendously intrigued the audience and die-hard fans of the 1978 slasher; finally, two of the original characters return to confront Michael. Unfortunately, while it was a great idea on paper, the film doesn’t devote enough time to the legendary characters. Instead, Anthony Michael Hall takes the narrative and transforms it into a battle between Michael and the residents of Haddonfield. Beware, the phrase “Evil dies tonight” is repeated frequently, and whether it was a coincidence or a deliberate goal, it provides excellent entertainment and an occasional eye roll. It also opens a possibility to a great drinking game.

The Halloween franchise is a lot of things, but cheesy was never one of them, at least not to this extent. However, because of Kills‘ over-the-top script, many hilarious one-liners become stuck in one’s head. The chapter ups the ante on the body count, which is exactly what we want from a slasher. Michael also gets very creative with the death scenes, whether it’s eyes popping out of the skull, a cracked bottle slicing the neck or a chainsaw.

It’s not advisable to look for logic or an ambitious script. Otherwise, you’ll be let down. Michael Myers is The Shape, The Boogeyman, the figure in the shadows who creeps up on you and murders you when you least expect it. But he won’t die, no matter how many times you shoot him, slice him, kick him, or even try to burn him. Instead, he wants to return to his childhood home, walk upstairs, and stand quietly by the window, staring at himself in the mirror. The sooner people grasp it, the better!

Best advice? Expect blood, guts, broken limbs, and cheesiness, and you’ll have the best time with the slasher. That is precisely why the film works. It’s difficult to say if this was David Gordon Green’s specific goal or not. Nonetheless, if you’re a Michael Myers fan, Halloween Kills provides plenty of entertainment. It’s a film that will surely diversify the audience and may spark a polarizing discussion. But, without a doubt, it’s a great position for the spooky season.

Grade: 7 out of 10

Halloween Kills is currently in cinemas as well as on Peacock with an upgraded subscription.

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TIFF21 Capsule Review: “Petite Maman” is An Imaginative, Emotional, Innocent Drama About Childlike Wonder

Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz in “Petite Maman” / Neon.

We’ve all felt a pull towards our heritage, our family’s past, especially as children. We want to know what our parents were like when they were our age. In their spare time, what did they enjoy doing? Petite Maman is about all of this, but it’s so much more. Céline Sciamma’s latest drama film is an elaborative, often emotional film that beautifully depicts a mother-daughter relationship, family ties, and the magic of childlike wonder.

After 8-year-old Nelly (Joséphine Sanz) loses her grandmother, whom she adored, the little girl assists her mother (Nina Meurisse) and father (Stéphane Varupenne) in cleaning her mother’s childhood home located near the forest. Shortly after, Nelly meets Marion (Gabrielle Sanz) as she explores the surrounding area. Struggling to accept her grandmother’s death, Nelly helps the newly-met friend build a hut in the middle of the forest. The girls grow closer to each other over time, sharing many secrets that connect them in an unusual, beautiful way. 

sJoséphine Sanz and Nina Meurisse in “Petite Maman” / Neon.

Petite Maman begins quietly, nostalgically, and subtly, laced with sadness, departure, and grief. Because of personal reasons, the first act hits extremely close to home. My wound from losing my grandmother not long ago hasn’t healed yet. As a result, watching Sciamma’s latest work feels extremely relatable. Especially when Nelly tells her mother, “I didn’t say goodbye to her. The last goodbye wasn’t good. Because I didn’t know”. The similarities don’t end with that. In addition, as a young girl, I lived very close to the forest. I spent time exploring various paths, just as Nelly, and discovering many hiding spots.

Although initially very personal and heartbreaking, the film has a rather innocent tone as told from the perspectives of Nelly and Marion. Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz are at the heart of the film, stealing the spotlight from every other supporting character. The young actresses are thoroughly endearing and sweet. Their characters truly embody the childlike wonder and curiosity that we, as adults, often lose as we get older.

Petite Maman, written and directed by Sciamma, tells an extraordinary story. The film’s imaginative viewpoint and truths hidden between the lines all resurface at the film’s emotional conclusion.

The film is an excellent choice to kick off the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s subtle but powerful. It’s both innocent and heartbreaking. It will elicit reflection afterward and linger in our minds as we go about our day.

Grade: 10 out of 10.

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“The Prom” is Packed with Zazz, Sequins and Spectacular Designs

This review may contain spoilers to The Prom.

Edited by Toni Stanger.

When I was in high school, I didn’t take my girlfriend to the prom. Instead, I made a deal with my then best friend. I will take him to mine; he will take me to his. It wasn’t actually forbidden for me to bring my girlfriend, but it was surely frowned upon. Even when one of my friends didn’t have a partner and wanted to dance  with her female friend, my teacher didn’t think it was suitable. 

In The Prom, Emma Nolan (Jo Ellen Pellman) is way braver than I was. As a young woman from a very conservative Indiana high school, the teenager fights the PTA board, led by Mrs. Greene (Kerry Washington, American Son), to let her take her girlfriend, Alyssa (Ariana DeBose, Hamilton), to the prom. The PTA board remains determined, however, even with the support of school principal Mr. Hawkins (Keegan Michael Key, Keanu), and the dance is completely canceled. 

Suddenly, Dee Dee Allen (Meryl StreepMamma Mia!) steps in – once a great Broadway star, today a spoiled, selfish actress who lives on unemployment checks. Together with Barry Glickman (James CordenSuperintelligence), the co-star of the canceled yet very expensive new Broadway show, as well as Angie Dickinson (Nicole Kidman, The Goldfinch), and Tent Oliver (Andrew Rannells, A Simple Favor) – two actors also looking for their big break – the group jumps on a bus to Indiana. Under the guise of helping Emma, the actors aim to show themselves as kind, helpful, selfless people – but everything changes when their plan is discovered, and, in the end, the actors find themselves determined to give Emma the best inclusive prom.

The Prom, created by Ryan Murphy (Ratched, The Boys in The Band), a veteran of everything campy, is packed with zazz, sequins, self-love, and everything that shines – including a five-star cast. The new Netflix original is based on the Broadway musical by Matthew Sklar and a book by Bob Martin with the same title. The production is utterly sweet and uplifting. The audience receives an interesting encounter between precocious actors and a young woman who just wants to be accepted for who she is. If you’re afraid you’ll only see LGBTQ+ characters being mistreated by self-absorbed characters who believe they’re the world’s moon and stars, don’t be. Murphy balances it exceptionally and, in the second act, displays the possibility of change and making amends. 


Everything about the set design is spectacular. The creators use every surface they can possibly use and create an atmosphere of the prom that we, as an audience, can really feel. It may bring a little bit of nostalgia for older audiences and a breath of fresh air for youngsters. Lou Eyrich, the costume designer who has worked with Murphy plenty of times (most recently on Ratched), has outdone herself in creating the characters’ costumes. Each person, be it Dee Dee, Angie, or Barry, screams sequins and glitter. Simultaneously, despite the use of the same materials such as said glitter, each outfit reflects the personality of the character. Dee Dee’s attributes are shawls; meanwhile, Angie loves a soft, flat hat, typically with a visor. One of my favorite outfits is Emma’s modern baby-blue suit in the final scene. In pair with Alyssa’s shiny prom dress, the sapphic duo becomes a powerhouse and charms the audience in front of the TVs and the rest of the cast. 

The performances in The Prom wary from dizzying to just okay. Streep’s Dee Dee is stunning. As the actress who needs to re-learn how to be humble, she’s mostly paired with Key’s Hawkins. The school principal has been a long-time fan of Dee Dee’s work, but suddenly the man clashes with the reality of her “tarnished brand.” After always idolising her, Hawkins realizes she’s truly a spoilt brat. The newcomer, Pellman, is absolutely spectacular. My personal favorite song is her performance of Zazz. In a singing duet with Nicole Kidman’s Angie, both actresses are unstoppable, dancing on the stairs and emanating the titular zazz. 


Each song, written by Chad Beguelin, has a contemporary feel that perfectly fits Emma’s situation. One of my other favorites, besides Zazz, is Love Thy Neighbor by Rannells in the mall scene, and Unruly Heart sang by Pellman’s character in a highly emotional scene that’s also a standout song/performance. Emma ultimately decides to come forward and address the discrimination she faced in her high school. While the teenager sings the song, the audience can see all the people from the LGBTQ+ community watching the video, and discover how the words and the voice affect them. Further into the plot, we see some of them again during an inclusive prom organized by the film characters for Emma. 

In the opposite corner, there is Mrs. Greene, the leader of the PTA board and the loudest opponent of Emma’s “life choices.” Kerry Washington gives a great performance as a conservative yet caring mother. The actress touches the viewers’ hearts when her on-screen daughter, Alyssa, excellently portrayed by DeBose, comes out to her. We obtain a very relevant and profoundly personal moment that is deeply authentic. Instead of hate or exaggerated optimism, we observe one parent’s very coherent reaction in which there is a promise of further serious talks yet evident acceptance.

The person who doesn’t feel right here is Corden. Although he really tries and repeatedly shows it, the actor and talk show host feels off when amongst other cast members. Barry’s character, a gay man who never got a chance to go to the prom, is exaggerated in the negative sense of the word. The idea is touching; however, Corden misplaces his attention, and, in effect, the audience misses out on a great character that was first introduced in the Broadway musical.

The Prom is a heartwarming picture with catchy songs that will make you smile. At the same time, it’s a brutal reminder of the world we live in. While we may move forward in regards to LGBTQ+ rights, there are still places in the world and in the United States of America where teenagers from the community face homophobia and bullying because of who they are. It’s a quite sobering reflection that is needed. 


The musical also reminds us how crucial and life-changing coming out can be. A similar theme could be seen in Hulu’s recent Happiest Season, the new holiday rom-com directed by Clea DuVall. The film caused a very torn discourse in social media revolving around coming-out stories, and there is a possibility that it may happen with The Prom. However, it’s worth remembering that although times are slowly changing, modern adolescents have to see these stories as well. Young people deserve to see coming-out stories that are contemporary and suitable for today’s wide, complicated world. And that’s what The Prom does. 

The Prom is something we really need right now, especially as this turbulent year is nearing its end. The spectacular cast does their best as singers, dancers, and actors. Even with a few hiccups, it provides a great time for the family. Its uplifting, entertaining narrative, combined with the moving message, will make your heart warm. Catchy songs will be stuck in your head, but it’s Emma’s storyline that will let you rethink the world that we live in and make you realize that we, as a society, still have a long way to go in terms of tolerance. 

The Prom will be available to stream on December 11th on Netflix.