2021 Calvins: Best Picture

By David Mumpower

April 3, 2021

Best Picture: Soul

Today, we recap what is unquestionably the weirdest year ever for The Calvins…and, you know, society.

The pandemic challenged our staff in ways that we could never have anticipated, resetting our expectations for how we watch movies.

My wife and I went to an early screening of Onward in February of 2020. One month later, the film was officially a bomb and available for free on Disney+.

Titles like Mulan and The High Note ceded theatrical release entirely, even though they’d been only weeks away from release when the world caught fire.

Then, there are strange examples like Black Widow and Jungle Cruise, movies that should have come out almost a year ago yet still await release.

Along the way, we improvised, first by consuming all the television shows that we possibly could.

Then, we returned to movies, even though theaters stayed closed. Our viewing habits changed, yet our staff’s love of cinema remained as strong as ever.

This year’s list for Best Picture reflects the worst year in half a century…but it also demonstrates that the movie industry can survive even the worst black swan events.

We fell in love with (at least) 25 movies, ten of which earned nominations. The entire list is available to consume for free across the major streaming services.

In fact, out of the complete list of 25 titles, you can watch at least 18 as long as you’re a subscriber to Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max…and have access to Hulu.

The times, they are a-changin’, but we don’t mind some of the changes at all.

Of course, the more things change, the more BOP’s staff proves it’s set in its ways.

Once again, Pixar has produced our choice for Best Picture. On Christmas Day, Disney+ gifted us with the thought-provoking title with the monosyllabic name.

Thanks, Santa! Soul was exactly what we needed after a nightmarish year!

Soul shows the life…and then the death…and then the quasi-afterlife of Joe Gardner, a teacher and jazz musician.

One day, Joe’s dreams come true when he earns a gig as a club musician for an established singer. Before he can start, he falls down a manhole and enters the afterlife.

The fun begins then, even though death by manhole may not sound like fun to you.

Joe encounters several creatures who determine how people spend eternity. Simultaneously, who decides who he wants to be (after)life.

As usual, Pixar challenges us with its profound storytelling. Our staff loved Soul so much that it earned more points than our second and third entries combined!

Speaking of which, second place goes to the strongest overall performer this year at The Calvins.

We previously lauded One Night in Miami for Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Cast, and Best Supporting Actor.

The film won all those battles, but Soul ultimately won the war. Still, our adoration for One Night in Miami is unmistakable.

We stared in awe at the brilliance of this story, which brings together several famous African Americans at a turbulent time in history.

As society struggled with racism, these men debated their role and purpose, arguing whether their celebrity required them to speak out or lay low.

In a year with several worthy examinations of racial conflict, One Night in Miami struck the strongest chord with our staff, as demonstrated by its overall dominance.

We had a photo-finish for third place, with my favorite movie of the year ultimately getting the slight nod.

I'd never watched Hamilton before it reached Disney+ and was only familiar with some of the songs. Let me tell you how much that changed over a long weekend.

I probably listened to Wait for It 50 times and Battle of Yorktown nearly as much.

I suspect that Hamilton was as universally appreciated by our staff as One Night in Miami and Soul.

However, many of us got hung up on the fact that it’s a four-year-old recording of a Broadway performance, not a movie.

I’m squarely in the “great is great” category, but I fully understand that perspective.

If you’ve listened to our new podcast, Streaming into the Void, this year, you’ve heard us debate the subject multiple times.

Fourth place goes to another of our top performers this year, Minari. It won the category of Best Supporting Actress and earned nominations in all acting categories.

We watched in wonder at this tale of a minority family struggling to find its place in American society. And Cranky Grandma was possibly our favorite character of the year.

Our fifth selection goes to Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, one of the final two (major) roles for the late Chadwick Boseman.

This tale of an insecure, braggadocious musician and a self-confident music legend won us over with its straightforward storytelling.

Conversely, we liked I’m Thinking of Ending Things because it made absolutely no sense, which is apparently what we want and expect from all Charlie Kaufman stories.

In fact, we loved dared storytelling, in general, this year, as demonstrated by our seventh and eighth selections.

The rise and fall of RadhaMUSprime in The 40-Year-Old Version confounded us with its constant surprises, and I mean that in the best possible way.

Similarly, Sound of Metal kept us guessing until literally the final moment of the film, something that rarely happens to our jaded staff.

Our final two entrants seemed like they were linked in several categories. Da Five Bloods and Trial of the Chicago 7 both examine race in the 1960s.

One film overtly relates the situation to society today, while the other leaves the dots there for the viewer to connect.

Both films deliver powerhouse entertainment, and their casts are among the best of the year.

Here’s the list of the 15 films that couldn’t quite earn a nomination this year. At least two of them earned a first-place vote and therefore are can't miss titles.

The 15 near-misses are Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (first-place vote), Judas and the Black Messiah, Mank, Promising Young Woman, The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Nomadland, Love and Monsters, Onward, My Octopus Teacher, The High Note, Wolfwalkers, Adoniran, Chemical Hearts, Never Rarely Sometimes, Always, and Small Axe (first-place vote).

Top 10
Position Film Total Points
1 Soul 177
2 One Night in Miami 93
3 Hamilton 78
4 Minari 75
5 Ma Rainey's Black Bottom 60
6 I'm Thinking of Ending Things 57
7 The Forty-Year-Old Version 54
8 Sound of Metal 51
9 Da 5 Bloods 48
10 The Trial of the Chicago 7 45



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