Salty Air

Remakes among end-of-year highlights

Westside story
Written by Tim Miller

So many movies. So little time.

Yes, it’s an insane time of the year for film critics, with the annual end-of-year avalanche of movies coming in via DVDs, links or advance screenings. Everything is geared toward top-10 lists and critics group awards – and, later, the Oscars.

Speaking of critics and awards, the Boston Society of Film Critics (to which I belong) met last weekend and, during a lively Zoom meeting that ran about seven hours, came up with the following winners:

Best picture – “Drive My Car”

Best actor – Hidetoshi Nishijima, “Drive My Car”

Best actress – Alana Haim, “Licorice Pizza”

Best supporting actor – Troy Kotsur, “CODA”

Best supporting actress – Jessie Buckley, “The Lost Daughter”

Best director – Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, “Drive My Car”

Best screenplay – Ryūsuke Hamaguchi and Takamas Oe, “Drive My Car”

Best cinematography – Ari Wegner, “The Power of the Dog”

Best English-language film (replacing best foreign-language film since this year’s best-picture winner is Japanese) – “The Power of the Dog”

Best animated film – “Flee”

Best documentary – “Summer of Soul (or … When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)”

Best editing – Affonso Gonçalves and Adam Kurnitz, “The Velvet Underground”

Best new filmmaker – Maggie Gyllenhaal, “The Lost Daughter”

Best ensemble cast – “Licorice Pizza”

Best original score – Jonny Greenwood, “Spencer”

I’m happy with the choices, especially the “Drive My Car” wins. My tentative top 10 for 2021 has been changing almost daily because so many of the movies I’ve been seeing of late are so impressive, but writer-director Hamaguchi’s drama will definitely wind up near the top, along with “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy,” another film from Hamaguchi, and “The Worst Person in the World,” from Norway. These films, which I’ll discuss further sometime in the next few weeks in a column devoted to my top 10, took my breath away.

Meanwhile, here are some quick hits on movies currently playing in local theaters:

Westside story

Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler are the leads in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.” (20th Century Studios)

“West Side Story.” Why remake a classic? Good question, but Steven Spielberg’s redo of the 1961 Oscar-winning Leonard Bernstein-Stephen Sondheim musical (and “Romeo and Juliet” reworking) about rival New York street gangs springs to life with its imaginative choreography, striking cinematography, heartfelt performances and, of course, beautiful, beautiful songs (“Maria,” “Tonight,” “Somewhere”). **** (out of four)

“Nightmare Alley.” Another remake, this one of the gripping 1947 film noir starring Tyrone Power. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, it stars Bradley Cooper in the Power role, a grifter who goes from working as a carny to catering to wealthy clientele as a medium, with chilling results. Cooper is great as the charming heel, with outstanding backup from Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, David Strathairn, Toni Collette, Richard Jenkins, Willem Dafoe, Ron Perlman and Mary Steenburgen. ****

Nightmare Alley

Bradley Cooper and Rooney Mara star in Guillermo del Toro’s “Nightmare Alley.” (20th Century Studios)

“Being the Ricardos.” Writer-director Aaron Sorkin (“Trial of the Chicago 7”) provides a behind-the-scenes look at the classic TV comedy “I Love Lucy.” Nicole Kidman transforms herself into Lucille Ball, whose ditsy clown on the screen belies her tough savvy off it. Also first-rate: Javier Bardem, as her co-star and supportive but philandering husband, Desi Arnaz; and Nina Arianda and J.K. Simmons as “Lucy” second bananas Vivian Vance and William Frawley. ***½

“Belfast.” Kenneth Branagh wrote and directed this drama inspired by his childhood in working-class Northern Ireland in the late 1960s. Beautifully shot (in black and white), the film focuses on family – young Buddy (Jude Hill), his parents (Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe) and grandparents (Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench) – with “the troubles” between Catholics and Protestants ever present in the background. ***

“Spencer.” Director Pablo Larrain, whose “Jackie” showcased a powerhouse performance by Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, takes a similar approach here with Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana. The film takes place as Diana, her marriage to Prince Charles on the rocks, joins the royal family at a country estate for the Christmas holidays. In this strangely claustrophobic atmosphere, she struggles to maintain her sanity while trying to break free of the oppressive constraints of the life she’s chosen. **½

“House of Gucci.” Lady Gaga, Al Pacino and Jared Leto compete to see who can give the most over-the-top performance in this apparent comedy about power struggles within the Gucci family’s fashion empire. (Leto wins, by the way.) Directed by Ridley Scott, the film works OK on a camp level, but that’s about it. Also starring Adam Driver and Jeremy Irons. **

Tim Miller

Play It Again, Tim

Tim Miller is a Cape-based member of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He and Tony Raine host “Tim ’n’ Tony’s Rock ’n’ Pop Show” from midnight to 2 a.m. Sunday nights/Monday mornings on WOMR (92.1-FM), WFMR (91.3-FM) and (archived shows at He also teaches film at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

Leave a Comment

error: Content is protected !!