2021: Year In Review + Top 10 Movies Watched

Well, it’s New Year’s Eve, everybody, and it’s time to take a look back at the year 2021. Like the rest of life, change happens here as well, so let’s dig into a couple of things that did change. We’ll start off with one relatively minor one that you probably wouldn’t notice if I didn’t mention it: I’m now making this post an annual thing for New Year’s Eve. Sure, I also did it on New Year’s Eve last year, but the reality is that, apart from my first year when I posted it on Thanksgiving alongside that year’s Top 10 Disc Release post (although it was technically a Top 5 post to start with), I was generally doing it the day after my last review for the year. Plain and simple, I felt this year that it needed to be a New Year’s Eve post every year. Simple as that. I’ve also been working here and there on logos for my various series, and renamed a couple (with one more renamed column making its debut in 2022). I’ve changed a few minor details with my review designs, and made some changes to my homepage’s look.

And there are a few more changes in store going into 2022. I don’t know if many noticed, but I had a HUGE number of posts this year, with my regular Sunday posts, almost every Wednesday (until the last couple of months) for my posts on new physical media releases, plus my newly named Film Legends Of Yesteryear column once a month, as well as entries in my series of The Long And The Short (Series) Of It, Original Vs. Remake, Coming Up Shorts! and Screen Team Edition. It was nice trying to push my limits, just to see how far I could go, but I can’t deny that, for the last few months, I’ve been feeling like I pushed it too far, with too many posts (normally, I like to have my regular Sunday posts written almost two months before they are published, but the last few months, I’ve been finishing a few within the last day before my scheduled publishing date). So, going ahead, I will be pulling back a little. As I mentioned in my last Film Legends Of Yesteryear post, that series will no longer be an extra one, and will instead be part of my regular Sunday or Wednesday posts (whenever I have films that are from 1939, include actress Rita Hayworth amongst the cast, feature screen teams or whatever else I decide to add down the line). I will also no longer be doing any more than two or three posts a month in my What’s Old Is A New Release Again series (if I have more, I’ll just lump all of them into one post with brief descriptions, with a later post to follow in November for titles included in my “Top 10 Disc Release Of The Year” post). How much I do for any of the other non-Sunday series will vary, but the main idea is that I want (and need) to pull back a little for now.

Of course, what we were all here for was the movies, and that didn’t change much. Most of the year has been focused on my various Star Of The Month blogathons, featuring actors and actresses like Doris Day (January), Clark Gable (February), Gene Kelly (March), Cary Grant (May), Claudette Colbert (June), James Cagney (July), Barbara Stanwyck (August) and Humphrey Bogart (November), with one detour in September focusing on the musical genre. Besides all those, I also saw a number of films from writer/director Preston Sturges, with a general emphasis on the comedies, and also had a once-a-month focus on actress Rita Hayworth. My biggest discovery for this year, though, would be the films of child star Deanna Durbin. I had barely heard of her before (but hadn’t seen any of her films), and now, I’ve seen at least six of her films (all of which I thoroughly enjoyed)! I think that more or less sums up my year of movie watching!

And with all that said, here’s my list of the top 10 movies that I watched/reviewed for the year 2021, culled from the list of 2021 reviews, plus 2020 releases reviewed after January 1, 2021 and 2021 releases reviewed before December 31, 2021 (also a few films released on disc in 2018 and 2019, but obviously they’re included in the 2021 reviews).  While I was able to enjoy watching a great many movies, some new and some I’ve seen before, the movies on this list are those I enjoyed the most, and would recommend to anybody that is interested!  And if any of these appeal to you, be sure to click on the movie titles to go to Amazon and support this site!

  1. Singin’ In The Rain (1952) (Warner Home Video, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Taking the top spot for 2021 is the rather obvious choice of Singin’ In The Rain! Very much a tribute to the film’s producer Arthur Freed and his songwriting partner Nacio Herb Brown, this film makes use of some of their best songs, while giving us a story set in the end of the silent film era (close to the time when the tunes were originally written)! Of course, with a cast that includes Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds, the whole affair is top-notch, from the acting to the singing (and especially the dancing!) and always worth seeing (or even just listening to)!
  1. Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In this biographical musical, James Cagney plays George M. Cohan as he rises to become a famous songwriter and producer. Much of Cohan’s music is here, including the likes of “You’re A Grand Old Flag,” “Over There,” Give My Regards To Broadway” and “Yankee Doodle Boy,” which adds to the fun! But it’s Cagney (in his only Oscar win) that makes the film, as he proves how good he was as a song-and-dance man! Always worth seeing (especially around July 4)!
  1. Naughty Marietta (1934) (Warner Archive, DVD, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The film that brought America’s “Singing Sweethearts” together for the first time! Jeanette MacDonald plays a princess who escapes to the New World to avoid an arranged marriage, and falls in love with the leader of a group of mercenaries (played by Nelson Eddy, of course). Their chemistry makes the film (especially when they sing the classic “Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life”), with aid from Frank Morgan and Elsa Lanchester as the Governor and his wife. An easy to recommend classic!
  1. Animal Crackers (1930) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • The Marx Brothers are back after the success of The Cocoanuts! Groucho plays Captain Spaulding (“Hooray for Captain Spaulding! The African explorer!”), who is the guest of honor at a weekend party hosted by Mrs. Rittenhouse (played by usual Marx Brothers foil Margaret Dumont). With hilarious comic bits from the Brothers, including “Take A Letter,” Harpo’s thievery, the bridge game and the interactions between Groucho and Chico, this is one of their funniest and most anarchic films (and highly recommended)!
  1. (Tie) It Started With Eve (1941) (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Now we have a three-way tie for fifth spot on the list! In It Started With Eve, Deanna Durbin stars alongside Charles Laughton and Robert Cummings in one of her earlier adult roles! She has to pretend to be the girlfriend of Robert Cummings’ Johhny Reynolds, Jr. when his father (Laughton) is on his deathbed (and Johhny’s real girlfriend can’t be found), but she has to maintain the charade when the elder Reynolds recovers! It’s a very heartwarming film, with the song “When I Sing” as its biggest standout tune, and one that I have no trouble recommending for a bit of fun!
  1. (Tie) Mad About Music (1938) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In the second film from the three-way tie, Deanna Durbin is the secret daughter of a Hollywood actress, who can’t tell anybody about her mother, and makes up lies about her father. Her lies catch up with her when, to meet a boy, she says she is meeting her father at the train station, and then has to pick somebody out to maintain her lie! It’s another fun musical from Deanna, with the song “I Love To Whistle” as the film’s big standout! Of course, the comedy works well, too, especially with Herbert Marshall’s composer who must “fill in” as the father! Overall, very fun, and worth seeing!
  1. (Tie) Nice Girl? (1941) (Universal Studios, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • In this third film of the three-way tie, Deanna stars as the middle daughter of a high school principal (played by Robert Benchley). She’s tired of her “nice girl” image, and when a handsome field man (played by Franchot Tone) comes to see whether her father merits a fellowship, she decides to try to do something about her reputation. There’s more fun here with the music, as Deanna sings songs like “Perhaps” and especially “Swanee River.” The comedy works well, especially as she (and her other sisters) try to make up to the field man! Like the other two Deanna Durbin films on this list, it’s a lot of fun, and I think it’s well worth giving a chance!
  1. Roman Holiday (1953) (Paramount Pictures, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Audrey Hepburn’s first starring role! She stars as an over-worked princess who decides to take a day to herself. Gregory Peck co-stars as a reporter who figures out that the girl he helped out is the princess, giving him a potentially big story. An overall very heartwarming film. Audrey’s Oscar win is well-deserved, and the film’s place as a classic certainly merits being on this list!
  1. San Francisco (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • San Francisco features the “team” of Clark Gable and Jeanette MacDonald in their only film together (with Clark being paired up with Spencer Tracy for the first of three films together). In the lead-up to the infamous San Francisco earthquake on April 18, 1906, nightclub owner Blackie Norton (Gable) falls for his new singer, Mary Blake (MacDonald). The earthquake finale is well-done, as we see the city torn apart by mother nature. The movie has some fun musical moments throughout, including the title tune, “Would You” (later used in Singin’ In The Rain) and beautiful renditions by MacDonald of the hymns “Nearer My God To Thee” and “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic.” Overall, a wonderful classic that I love to periodically revisit!
  1. Bringing Up Baby (1938) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray, My Rating: 10/10)
    • Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn star in this classic screwball comedy about a paleontologist who gets mixed up with a crazy young woman! I took to the film quite well the first time I saw it nearly a decade ago, and after seeing it for the first time since that initial viewing (and newly restored on Blu-ray, to boot!), I think the comedy holds up quite well! From a buried brontosaurus bone to panthers on the loose to time in jail, this film jut gets screwier and screwier (and ever more hilarious), making it one of the better films that I’ve seen this year!

Honorable mentions: The Lady Eve (1941) (Criterion Collection, Blu-ray), It Happened On Fifth Avenue (1947) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray), Libeled Lady (1936) (Warner Archive Collection, Blu-ray)

So thank you all for sticking with me in 2021, and I wish you a Happy New Year as we head into 2022! And please let me know what movies you’ve enjoyed this year as well (whether those you’ve seen or whatever movies I’ve reviewed, whatever works for you)!

Also, if you are interested in joining in on my first month-long “Screen Team Of The Month” blogathon for 2022 (which starts tomorrow) featuring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy, please be sure to check out my Announcing the Jeanette MacDonald And Nelson Eddy “Screen Team Of The Month (January 2022)” Blogathon post to sign up (or you can wait a few days to see who my star for February will be)!

Previous Years

2020

2019

2018

Thoughts From The Music(al) Man (2021) on… Naughty Marietta (1935)

This year, the Classic Movie Blog Association (CMBA) chose the Hidden Classics Blogathon as their Spring Blogathon, in order to feature forgotten films and underrated gems that may need more attention.  For me, one of the first films to come to mind would be the 1935 operetta Naughty Marietta starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy!

Princess Marie de Namours de la Bonfain (Jeanette MacDonald) is beloved by the people, but she has a problem.  Her uncle, the Prince de Namour de la Bonfain (Douglas Dumbrille), has arranged a marriage for her with Spaniard Don Carlos de Braganza (Walter Kingsford), whom she despises.  Sadly for her, the king approves of the marriage.  It looks like there’s no way out, until she learns about the casquette girls (a group of women being sent to the American colonies to marry the men there and raise families) from her scullery maid, Marietta Franini (Helen Shipman).  Since her maid was only going because she was too poor to marry her sweetheart, Marie gives her some money and decides to take her place as a casquette girl.  Her absence is quickly noticed by her uncle, and he sends men out to find her.  She narrowly avoids being noticed right before the ship leaves.  Before the ship can make it to the New World, they are attacked by pirates (who kill the crew and bring all the women with them).  On land (before anything can happen), a group of mercenaries, lead by Captain Richard Warrington (Nelson Eddy), pass by, and, hearing cries for help, fight off the pirates and bring the women to New Orleans.  There, the women are all introduced to the governor, Gaspard d’Annard (Frank Morgan), and his wife (Elsa Lanchester) before they are taken to the convent.  With some of the men vying for her hand in marriage, Marie tries to avoid it by essentially saying that she had lied when she signed her contract (and the only thing she could go with is that she was not a woman of strong morals).  So, she is taken to another house in the village by Richard (before she escapes from him).  He later finds her working in a marionette show, and takes her out for lunch.  However, while they are eating, they hear the town talking about how her uncle had arrived and was seeking her out.  Realizing that she was a fugitive, Richard tries to help her out, but they are quickly found, and she is taken to the governor’s mansion.  There, her furious uncle tells her that she is still to go through with her arranged marriage to Don Carlos, and they will leave as soon as possible.  In the meantime, the governor and his wife host a ball in their honor.  With her uncle threatening to have Richard executed for treason if he helps her, can Marie and Richard get away together, or will she be stuck married to a man that she despises?

Naughty Marietta was based on the stage operetta of the same name by Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson.  Jeanette MacDonald had recently signed with MGM after making a number of movies for Paramount, and Naughty Marietta was originally scheduled to be one of the first she did at MGM.  She wasn’t initially enthusiastic about it, and so the idea was delayed.  When they came back around to doing the movie after her success with The Merry Widow (1934), she wanted Allan Jones as her co-star, but he was busy working opposite the Marx Brothers in A Night At The Opera (1935).  So, Nelson Eddy was cast, and the makings of another famous screen team were born.

Naughty Marietta was once a fairly popular film (after all, it did create a new, popular screen team), but, to me, it seems to have been forgotten more and more as time goes on.  Some of that, I assume, has to do with its genre.  I know movie musicals are nowhere near as popular with audiences as they once were (at least, it certainly doesn’t seem like new films are released anywhere near as much as during the Golden Age of Hollywood).  Even worse, this film is based on an operetta, and I think they are even less popular.  I admit, I myself (a self-professed fan of film musicals) was originally quite hesitant to dig into ANY of the MacDonald-Eddy films for that reason.  After all, most people have enough of a hard time with the idea of people breaking out into song and dance in the movies, never mind people with such highly trained voices like this film’s two stars (no doubt a reflection of the changes in culture as time goes on).

Still, I did eventually come around to trying out the MacDonald-Eddy films.  I started out with their second film, Rose-Marie (1936), after seeing (and enjoying) the later 1954 film version with Howard Keel (a star I was much more familiar with), and that was my gateway into the films of MacDonald and Eddy.  Naughty Marietta ended up being the next film of theirs that I had the opportunity to see, and I enjoyed it quite a bit!  The film is at its best when Jeanette and Nelson are together, whether singing a duet or developing their relationship.  Their chemistry is what makes the whole thing work.  Of course, the film is also helped by another couple, that of Frank Morgan (who admittedly looks different without his mustache, which he had to shave, under protest), and Elsa Lanchester as his perpetually annoyed (and suspicious) wife.  The way they act together says SO MUCH about their character’s relationship, and provides quite a bit of humor in the process.  Of course, the music itself is wonderful, with “Ah, Sweet Mystery Of Life” being the biggest standout.  If you can push yourself to try an operetta, I would think this movie is indeed a hidden classic, and one that deserves to be seen (and enjoyed)!

This movie is available on DVD either individually or as part of the four film Jeanette MacDonald & Nelson Eddy Collection: Volume 1 from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 1 hour, 44 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #3 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

The Cat And The Fiddle (1934)Jeanette MacDonaldRose-Marie (1936)

Dancing Lady (1933)Nelson EddyRose-Marie (1936)

The Good Fairy (1935) – Frank Morgan – Balalaika (1939)

Elsa Lanchester – Murder By Death (1976)

Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy (screen team) – Rose-Marie (1936)

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