MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 7, 2022: The Best #MOTWs of 2021

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January is usually short on new releases, and January, 2022 is no exception. Team #MOTW sseizes this opportunity to recap 2021’s Movies of the Week by highlighting our favorites. Each Team #MOTW member picked a film for inclusion in our ‘best of 2021 #MOTWs’ list. There are many things about 2021 that we want to forget, but these femme-helmed/femme centric films that brought inspiration, understanding, compassion, and respite replete with laughter must not slip into oblivion. Click each title for our full #MOTW feature. Add these films to your watch list. Share the titles with friends. Enjoy! — Jennifer Merin
CODA – Betsy Bozdech

In telling the story of teenage Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing person in her deaf family, writer/director Sian Heder breathes fresh life into a familiar narrative about a young adult caught between following her dreams and a sense of duty to her home and loved ones. The result is a warm, funny dramedy with excellent character development and strong performances. CODA never presents deafness as a disability — or portrays the Rossis as noble souls who must overcome difficult odds. They’re simply a family: They argue, they joke, they tease, they show up for each other. And that’s what makes them so relatable — and memorable.
THE COUNTY – Sherin Nicole

There is a scene in The County in which only our heroine’s mouth is in the light; everything else is shadows. She is speaking truth to power. Inga, played with verve and contained rage by Arndís Hrönn Egilsdóttir, fights the corruption and misogyny of a dairy co-op with force of will, milk, and manure in this stark Icelandic film about a personal rebellion. The County is easily relatable for women who have had far too many men wink while taking advantage or threaten us for coloring outside the company lines. Brava, writer/director Grímur Hákonarson, for this ballad of a woman unbowed.
HIVE – Leslie Combemale

Hive recently made the International Features short list for the 2022 Oscars, a first for its country of origin, Kosovo. It’s been in my psyche since I first watched it at Sundance, where it was the first in Sundance history to win the Grand Jury Prize, and the Audience and Directing Awards in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition. This deeply affecting and very inspiring reality-based story is Blerta Basholli’s directorial debut, a really impressive feat. With Hive, a female-centered story, Basholli is shoring up the bourgeoning film industry in Kosovo, and as such should be celebrated. See the film.

Mexican filmmaker Fernanda Valadez’s devastating first feature follows Magdalena, a devoted mother who’s trying to find her son who left their home in Guanajuato to find a better life in El Norte — the United States — and disappeared. The screenplay relies on imagery as much as dialogue for exposition, a conceit that works perfectly to communicate the anguish of circumstances. Mercedes Hernandez’s performance as Magdalena is brilliantly underplayed in a way that makes you feel rather than observe her anguish. This is not an easy film to watch, but it is one that really must be seen because it so poigniantly points to an ongoing issue that is, as it exists in real life, persistently under-addressed.
I’M YOUR MAN – Pam Grady

A lonely anthropologist joins a radical science experiment that leaves her questioning what it means to be human in this captivating amalgam of comedy, sci-fi, and romance. Alma (Maren Eggert) agrees to live with humanoid robot Tom (Dan Stevens) who’s been programmed to anticipate and fulfill her every need. In reality, he’s too attentive, too romantic, too understanding – too perfect, as Alma frets over a love match that every fiber of her being screams is wrong. Eggert is sweetly conflicted while Stevens charm suggests that coupling with a robot is not just something to be considered but is, perhaps, inevitable.
LANGUAGE LESSONS – Susan Wloszczyna

At a time when so much of our country is filled with divisive politics and ugly, stupid and false rhetoric while selfish anti-vaxers and anti-maskers refuse to do the right thing, here comes along a charming balm of a two-hander in the form of director Natalie Morales’s Language Lessons, which she wrote with her co-star, Mark Duplass. It provides a perfect oasis of sorts from all the pain and agony of the news headlines of late. It also might be the best Zoom meeting you will ever experience as well. Read full review.
LES NOTRES – Marilyn Ferdinand

Director Jeanne Leblanc’s masterful feature Les Nôtres focuses on 13-year-old Magalie (Émilie Bierre), who has been sexually abused and made pregnant by a man trusted by her widowed mother and the Québec town that elected him mayor. What sets this film apart is its unwillingness to clean up the mess with inevitable discovery and satisfying justice. Instead, we get an in-depth look at its far-reaching repercussions. Suspicion, lies, bullying, and willful blindness and cruelty shred Magalie’s innocence. Bierre reveals the complex emotions of a confused, damaged teenager and foreshadows the troubled future of such children that should concern us all.
PASSING – Nell Minow

Rebecca Hall makes an impressive debut as a writer/director with Passing, a rare film that allows the interior life of its female characters to take center stage. She is an actor who knows how to get the best from her outstanding cast, who give layered and complex performances in a layered and complex film that fully realizes her artistic vision. Hall has enough confidence in her story, her actors, and her audience to frame her narrative with exquisite delicacy, skillfully avoiding the usual drama and confrontations in favor of far more compelling, subtle struggles. And Passing just might bring back cloche hats, which look fabulous on gorgeous actresses Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga.

Haifaa Al-Mansour’s latest feature film is, like her stellar debut Wadjda, a quietly powerful and moving feminist drama about a young woman who is striving for more. Protagonist Maryam is a small-town clinic doctor who ends up fighting systemic sexism and oppression by running for local municipal council. Al Zahrani is fabulous in the role of the outspoken, opinionated, and capable doctor. Although it’s a message movie, it’s not overly didactic. It’s amusing, full of heart, and a great call to stand-up to the status quo.

Talk about fighting the patriarchy. Pedro Kos’s Rebel Hearts introduced me to a fascinating story I knew nothing about. I won’t forget the group of extraordinary, courageous nuns documented in this compelling film. Like a more positive, but no less galling, companion to Ryan White’s 2017 Netflix doc series The Keepers, director Pedro Kos’s new documentary Rebel Hearts shows Catholic Church authoritarianism and hypocrisy from the point of view of nuns. The film is a lively and informative look at Los Angeles’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters, an order that ran their own college in Los Feliz outside of diocese rule. full review.
STOP AND GO – Liz Whittemore

Crisp cinematography and laugh-out-loud situational comedy make Stop and Go a gem. This classic two-character road movie on steroids deals with pandemic woes with wholly relatable hilarity. Whitney Call and Mallory Everton. who co-wrote and co-star, have been best friends forever, so it’s impossible to determine what’s scripted and what’s improvised. But they manage to find levity in how we’ve forced to adapt — to deal with people who’re less than committed to others’ safety, to find things to keep ourselves motivated, and to come to the rescue of our loved ones. Stop and Go provides much-needed cathartic relief from the ongoing stress of the continuing pandemic.

My pick for favorite MOTW of 2021 is the documentary Writing With Fire. So much is admirable about this documentary and the women it focuses on. These women are the journalists of India’s only women-run newspaper, but they also are Dalits (formerly called Untouchables), the lowest level in India’s caste system, and subject to discrimination both for being Dalit and for being women. Yet, not only do they practice excellent investigative journalism, covering stories no other journalists will cover, but they train and mentor other Dalit women in journalism and support their ambitions. Inspiring and uplifting, this is the documentary film we need now.
EDITORS NOTE: For further entertainment, enjoyment and cinematic inspiration, check out the complete catalog of AWFJ’s 2021 Movies of the Week.

AWFJ Movie of the Week Panel Members: Sandie Angulo Chen, Marina Antunes, Betsy Bozdech, Leslie Combemale, Marilyn Ferdinand, Pam Grady, Loren King, Cate Marquis, Jennifer Merin, Nell Minow, Sherin Nicole, Liz Whittemore, Susan Wloszczyna

Previous #MOTW Selections

Other Movies Opening This Week

Edited by Jennifer Merin

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association in the Film, Documentary and TV branches and a voting member of the Black Reel Awards. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).