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    Hits and Misses Among 2021 Films, Holiday Favorites On & Off Screen

    By Jan Wahl–

    This is the time of year when people in the movie reviewing business go crazy. We want to make a top ten list at year’s end, but that means seeing a lot of movies. For every good film I see at this busy time of the year, I see just as many that don’t work for me.  Why don’t they work? I think I have nailed down the problem.

    I like one plot, two at the most. I prefer to connect with what is going on and to care about the characters. I want a story well told and a script worth following. Wild and eccentric are fine, but some kind of thread holding the journey together is desired. I know it is asking a lot, but actually feeling emotions adds to the excitement and value of moviegoing.

    Some I liked enough to recommend this year include the new 007 (No Time to Die), which offers a chance to virtually visit Italy and Denmark and to say a final goodbye to hunky Daniel Craig as Bond. The Eyes of Tammy Faye was much better than my colleagues thought, and played perfectly to my memories of meeting this extraordinary woman. I will always be grateful to her for supporting the LBGTQ community when everyone tried to stop her. I’m hoping Jessica Chastain is nominated for Best Actress for her fragile, mascara dripping performance. But the film is underappreciated. Passing is a strong historical drama with terrific lead performances.

    Disappointment was brought about by Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch (gorgeous visuals are not enough; I’ll take his earlier films) and the beautifully cast Western The Harder They Fall

    Chastain will have a hard time being up for an Oscar against Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball in Aaron Sorkin’s terrific Being the Ricardos. It is a great film as well as a surprising performance. At first it is hard to get around Kidman’s face and figure that are not like Ball’s. But soon we buy into the movie and all of the characters, including Kidman and Javier Bardem. The movie treats the audience as if we are intelligent enough to know the times and politics, and it features gorgeous imagery highlighting showbiz details, including memorable sets and cinematography.

    Cinema purists will probably not agree, but The House of Gucci was the flip side of The Godfather. It has a great story and characters, with the divine Lady Gaga stealing every scene. How does one person have this much talent? She recently appeared with Tony Bennett in his last concert and was gentle and sensitive to him while she owned the stage equally. When I see her on talk shows or in concert, I fall in love all over again. In Gucci, it is a straight dramatic turn, but she nails it.

    Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake was a true relief. The music and dance are there; the story opened up but is still Romeo and Juliet. I like to think of young people enjoying it for the first time, being unaware of the magic of the original film. Tony Kushner’s screenplay stays true to the characters and plot. Justin Peck has worked alongside Jerome Robbins, creating marvelous choreography. Spielberg has given us a cast that worked for me, and I loved the reworking of his street scenes. Not messing with Sondheim and Bernstein, the incredible score lifted my heart. I am quite mad for the original play and film, but this one is not a disappointment and for that I am deeply grateful.

    This time of year, my favorite holiday song comes to us from the great Jerry Herman and Mame: “We Need a Little Christmas.”  Get thee over to San Francisco’s historic Fairmont Hotel. Their lobby décor is insane, from the floor to ceiling tree to the remarkable See’s candy 22-feet-high walk-through gingerbread house. My darling doggy Ella loves going there, too. Ella also enjoys her visits to sister hotels The Sonoma Mission Inn and The Claremont (Berkeley). All are dog friendly.

    Back to San Francisco’s Fairmont: Get on your hula with their tiki vibe Tonga Room. Or go straight up the lift to your own suite. Choose the Santa Suite completely decorated for the holidays. Or at The Claremont, lace up your skates for their new ice rink: Five Palms Ice Skating. Fan of the bubbly? Sonoma Mission has a ten-foot recycled wine bottle Christmas Tree; I’ll drink to that. Get ready to groove into 2022!          

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Published on December 16, 2021