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

What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Nice Girl? (1941)

For today’s movie review, we’ve got a movie doing double-duty again, both as a recent Blu-ray release as well as starting off my Musicals: With A Song And A Dance In My Heart blogathon! That film, of course, is the 1941 musical Nice Girl? starring Deanna Durbin!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Bear Shooters (1930)

(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 1 (1929-1930) from ClassicFlix)

(Length: 20 minutes, 29 seconds)

The gang all go camping to hunt bears, but they unknowingly come across a pair of bootleggers who try to scare them off. While it’s not quite as good as some of the previous few Little Rascals shorts, this one was still quite entertaining. Of course, this one provides the laughs through two gags: Chubby (Norman Chaney) putting limburger cheese on the sick Wheezer (Bobby Hutchins) instead of the grease he was supposed to, and one of the bootleggers dressed up as a gorilla. The gang are also joined by Leon Janney as “Spud” (apparently a one-time appearance), who is a rather forgettable character. Still, like the others that I’ve seen so far, it was fun, and worth seeing!

And Now For The Main Feature…

In the town of Stillwater, Connecticut lives high school principal Oliver Dana (Robert Benchley) and his three daughters. His oldest, Sylvia (Anne Gwynne), is a wannabe actress. His youngest, Nancy (Ann Gillis), likes to flirt with some of the boys (to the point of them physically fighting over her). His middle daughter, Jane (Deanna Durbin), helps him out with some of his dietary experiments. Jane resents her “nice girl” image, especially since her boyfriend, Don Webb (Robert Stack), seems to pay more attention to his car than to her. Due to the dietary experiments that he is working on, Oliver is being considered for a fellowship by the Van de Meer Foundation. They send their field man, Richard Calvert (Franchot Tone), to see for sure whether he merits it. As Richard turns out to be younger (and better-looking) than they had imagined, all three girls start vying for his attentions. Jane in particular attempts to impress him, although her attempts don’t quite work out. When Richard has to go back to New York ahead of a proposed trip to Australia, Jane volunteers to drive him. Since Don is working on her car, he offers to let her drive his car. When Don tells her that he would trust her no matter what she does, she is infuriated and decides to try to do something about her “nice girl” image. Using an idea she had gotten from something he had shown her before, she delays the car (without Richard knowing), which causes him to miss his train. In the process, she offers to drive him all the way back. On the way, they encounter a rainstorm (and, of course, the car malfunctions), resulting in them getting drenched. At Richard’s home, they both change clothes, and she attempts to seduce him. However, when Jane overhears him on the phone with his mother (in which he says that she is just “one of the Dana girls”), she feels foolish and leaves immediately for home. She arrives in town in the early morning, where she runs out of gas and accidentally wakes everybody in town up when the car’s horn gets stuck. Of course, that sets everyone’s tongues to wagging, and she locks herself in her room. She manages to tell her father the truth of what happened later, to which he is relieved. However, at the town’s charity bazaar, the gossip continues to flow, with everyone coming to the conclusion that she and Richard are engaged. Don hears the gossip, but doesn’t believe a word of it, and tells Jane so when she arrives. Furious at the fact that he is taking her for granted, she proceeds to tell everyone that the news of her “engagement” is true. Richard has also just arrived in town to tell Oliver that he is getting the fellowship, but, upon learning of the gossip, decides to go along with it. With some now pushing for an immediate ceremony, though, can they get out of this jam (especially since Jane realizes that she loves Don)?

Nice Girl? was based on a play called Nice Girl by Phyllis Duganne. The slight change in title was a reflection of actress Deanna Durbin being cast in the film. The young Deanna, who had up to this point been playing young girls, turned nineteen during the production of this film. As such, she was now making the transition into adult roles, and the film’s producers decided to add the question mark to the title to make it more ambiguous about whether she was indeed a “nice girl” (as her screen image had essentially been). When all was said and done, the movie essentially had three different endings: one where she sang the song “Thank You America” (which was the original one shown to U.S. audiences), one with her instead doing the song “There’ll Always Be an England,” which was mainly intended for their audience in the U.K., and a third version with her singing “Thank You America” in Spanish (for the Latin American countries).

As I’ve previously indicated, I had very little experience with Deanna Durbin prior to this year (outside of her being mentioned briefly in That’s Entertainment). Earlier this year, I experienced three of her films for the first time (and enjoyed all three quite a bit). Now, two of them, I mainly enjoyed for the stories and the performances, with the music not really sticking with me that much (although she certainly had a wonderful singing voice to handle it). With It Started With Eve, however, I found myself not only enjoying the story and her performance, but also at least the song “When I Sing.” Nice Girl? follows the trend of that film, not only with a good story and good performances, but also some very enjoyable music! I certainly know I enjoyed her opening song “Perhaps” quite well. But, the film’s best musical moment for me, was when she sang “Swanee River.” I’ve been hearing that song (and numerous versions of it) since I was a child, with my favorite being Bing Crosby’s version from the film Mississippi. However, with her voice, the chorus, and the overall orchestration, I found myself REALLY enjoying this version, and I would say it’s one of my favorite moments from her films so far!

Of course, I’ve enjoyed the comedy from her films as well, and this one still had it in spades! Admittedly, the best moments are when Franchot Tone’s Richard Calvert arrives at the Dana home, and all the girls start making themselves up for him (and never let him finish his story). Then, there’s later that evening, where they’re doing their exercises before going to bed (and he’s in the next room doing the same), and they talk about him (and how old they think he is), when he knocks on the door to tell them his age (and they then scurry off to bed). Honestly, both of those moments left me in stitches! Overall, this was a wonderful film, well-supported by a great cast, and it’s one I have zero hesitation in recommending!

This movie is available on Blu-ray from Universal Studios. The transfer on this release is pretty good. Most of the dust and dirt has been cleaned up. There is an occasional speck or scratch, but nothing serious enough to ruin the enjoyment of this film. Sadly, of the three endings I mentioned, this release only contains the U.S. one (with her singing “Thank You America” to the troops), but, to be fair, this was one of nine titles originally licensed out to Kino Lorber Studio Classics (and one of the six that they dropped when the first set of three sold so poorly), so I’m grateful to be getting this one at all! It is a wonderful release, and highly recommended!

Film Length: 1 hour, 35 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #5 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Three Smart Girls Grow Up (1939)Deanna DurbinIt Started With Eve (1941)

Mutiny On The Bounty (1935) – Franchot Tone – Because Of Him (1946)

The Story Of Vernon And Irene Castle (1939) – Walter Brennan – Sergeant York (1941)

Robert Stack – To Be Or Not To Be (1942)

Dancing Lady (1933) – Robert Benchley – You’ll Never Get Rich (1941)

Swing Time (1936) – Helen Broderick – Because Of Him (1946)

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