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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
My Top Ten Favorite Movies of 2021
by Betty Jo Tucker

CYRANO (musical romance). What a perfect blending of poetry and music, two of my favorite things! And this is a movie where Peter Dinklage proves he can sing as well as act. He plays the title character in this marvelous version of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac play. I’ve already watched it three times and enjoyed it even more each time! Co-star Haley Bennett wows us as Roxanne, a beautiful woman Cyrano loves. However, he feels he can't tell her because he's a midget, so he helps Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a handsome soldier, woo Roxanne by writing his letters to her. Humor, romance, swordfights and outstanding production values combine to make this film one of the best movies of the past decade.      

RITA MORENO: JUST A GIRL WHO DECIDED TO GO FOR IT (documentary). This revealing -- and sometimes shocking -- documentary covers Moreno’s life and work from her childhood in Puerto Rico to her success on Broadway and in Hollywood. She has the distinction of being one of the few people to be an EGOT, which stands for Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards winner. At the age of 90, she is even more famous now -- and she’s making the most of it. Moreno talks a lot in the film and that’s what I enjoyed the most. But hearing from some of the people who know about her work also added to my admiration for her. She’s a national treasure!

LAMB (horror). This unusual horror movie from Iceland warns us not to fool with Mother Nature. It’s very slow moving, which makes us worry about what is going to happen. However, beautiful scenery and bucolic scenes of farm life are easy on the eye before the ugliness takes us by surprise. I’ll never be able to count sheep again as an insomnia cure! Performances by Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guõnason are first-rate. They play a grieving couple who take a newborn lamb and treat it like a baby of their own. Needless to say, complications ensue. Lamb frightened me and made my blood curdle. But that’s what I like in a good horror film. 

DEAR EVAN HANSEN (musical drama). Ben Platt convinces us he is Evan Hansen, a high school senior suffering from a social anxiety disorder and whose therapist asks him to write positive messages to himself every day. He grabs your heart with words and song. Because of Platt’s splendid acting, we empathize with Evan no matter what mistakes he makes, even when he lies about his relationship with a fellow student who commits suicide. The music and lyrics by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek are so beautiful they made me cry, and the compelling story held me spellbound throughout.

PASSING (drama). After watching Passing, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Although taking place back in the 1920s in Harlem and the Big Apple, everything that happens on the black-and-white screen seems real. So I am still worrying about the main character and wondering how her life turned out during the period after the end of the film. That has never happened to me before! The story follows two old friends who accidentally meet each other years later. One is now passing as white and the other is curious about it. Both of their lives change completely as a result of this meeting. Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga deliver superb performances in this intriguing adaptation of Nella Larsen’s book.    

VIVO (animation). Although Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original songs add to the entertainment quality of Vivo, the cute title character steals the show. Vivo (voiced by Miranda) looks like a monkey but he’s a kinkajou -- or honey bear -- found in a crate by André, an elderly street musician in Havana. Lucky for Andrés, Vivo has many talents of his own and fits right into the man’s show which he presents regularly in a neighborhood plaza. Kudos to co-directors Kirk DeMicco and Brandon Jeffords as well as to screenplay writer Quiara Alegria Hudes plus all the film’s artists for the creative sensitivity they’ve put into this delightful computer-animated film. I really, really loved Vivo’s acrobatic dancing and Fedora hat!

THE ICE ROAD (thriller). Racing against time would be a guarantee for enough tension in this chilly offering starring Liam Neeson. But adding a persistent villain and dangerous roads over a frozen ocean to the mix is cruel punishment for viewers. I mean that as a compliment. My husband and I were totally exhausted after watching The Ice Road. But we were glued to the screen every second. And our hearts beat faster in each scary scene. Plus, we actually felt COLD even though the temperature in our house remained at 74 degrees! 

IN THE HEIGHTS (musical). I was awed by this movie version of the Broadway play with stunning music by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s the most exuberant musical ever! As a former dancer, the glorious routines choreographed by Christopher Scott made me very happy. They are performed on sidewalks, streets, above water and below water as well as on the side of a building (a la Fred Astaire’s iconic Royal Wedding number). Directed by Jon M. Chu, this entertaining offering takes place in Washington Heights, a predominately Hispanic neighborhood in New York. It deals with the hopes, problems, and dreams of those who live there, especially a young man (Anthony Ramos/Hamilton) who runs a bodega and saves his money each day to move to the Dominican Republic. A simple story from the heart, this musical is modern art. 

THE HARDER THEY FALL (western). There is not one dull minute in this rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ Western. And this time, the characters are played by a great cast of Black actors, including IdrIs Elba and Jonathan Majors as rival outlaws. Most of the cast members portray real people who existed back in the 1890s. Also, this new Western boasts a wonderful musical soundtrack practically embedded in the script – one that includes Reggae, Hip-Hop and Spirituals. One of the highlights for me involved the powerful performances of Zazie Beetz as saloon owner Stagecoach Mary and Regina King as Trudy Smith, a fierce bodyguard.  Not since Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies have I seen such tough women on screen. Their characters are on opposite sides, and their brutal hand-to-hand battle ends up being one of the best action scenes this year. 

CINDERELLA 2021 (musical comedy) I found this musical comedy version of Cinderella to be the most fun movie of the year! It’s an entirely new live-action Cinderella starring popular singer Camila Cabella, who excels in her first acting role. Although most of the standard fairy tale people and creatures are still here, Cinderella is a strong young lady who has her own plans and vows to overcome all obstacles in the way. And, oh yes, instead of a fairy godmother, she has a “Fabulous Godmutha” played fabulously by Billy Porter. Plus, there’s scene after scene of great singing and dancing to move the story along.  



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