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

“Star Of The Month (July 2021)” Featuring James Cagney in… Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942)

Well, it’s July 4, and we’ve come around to the film that is the reason I decided to feature James Cagney as the Star Of The Month for July! That, of course, would be the classic 1942 musical biopic Yankee Doodle Dandy, co-starring Joan Leslie, Walter Huston and Richard Whorf!

Coming Up Shorts! with… Beyond The Line Of Duty (1942)

(available as an extra on the Yankee Doodle Dandy Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 22 minutes, 1 second)

This short is a dramatization of the life and training of war hero Hewett T. Wheless. Ronald Reagan narrates, while Wheless acts as himself. It’s an interesting short, no doubt intended as a morale booster back during the war. Wheless certainly doesn’t strike me as being much of an actor, but he does well enough for what this short was intended to do. Probably not one that I will feel the urge to revisit much.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Bugs Bunny Gets The Boid (1942)

(available as an extra on the Yankee Doodle Dandy Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 7 minutes, 25 seconds)

When Mama Buzzard sends her kids after some food for dinner, Beaky winds up chasing down Bugs Bunny. An old classic Bugs Bunny cartoon that I’ve seen many a time. The gags are always funny, with Bugs taking advantage of Beaky’s intelligence (or lack thereof). It’s easy to tell who will win out in this cartoon, but I find enough humor in it that I always love to come back to this one!

Coming Up Shorts! with… You, John Jones (1943)

(available as an extra on the Yankee Doodle Dandy Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 10 minutes, 26 seconds)

John Jones (James Cagney) reflects on how lucky he and his family are to live in America. It’s another propaganda short, with Margaret O’Brien playing his daughter and reciting the Gettysburg Address, which makes him think. Obviously, it’s very pro-U.S., from a time when the country was not being bombed (but were certainly taking the precautions on the chance that it could be). Not the best short, but the talent involved makes it better than it should be, and gets its message across.

Coming Up Shorts! with… Yankee Doodle Daffy (1943)

(available as an extra on the Yankee Doodle Dandy Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection)

(Length: 6 minutes, 44 seconds)

Daffy is an agent for Sleepy Lagoon, and tries to get the attention of talent scout Porky. A fun cartoon I’ve seen many times. Most of what makes this one a blast is Daffy’s antics as he tries to demonstrate what his “client” can do (while Porky tries to make a run for it). It’s still very early Daffy, when he could be a bit screwy (just a little), and that works just fine for me!

And Now For The Main Feature…

Actor George M. Cohan (James Cagney) is summoned to the White House to meet with the President (Captain Jack Young). At first, he is worried it is about his portrayal of the President in the show he is appearing in on Broadway, but the President quickly assures him that there is no problem there. Then, essentially prompted by the President, George launches into the story of his life, starting with his birth on July 4 many years before to his parents, stage performers Jerry (Walter Huston) and Nellie Cohan (Rosemary DeCamp). A few years later, they were joined by his younger sister, Josie. The four of them worked on stage together, doing different acts as they traveled throughout the U.S. George developed a bit of arrogance and self-importance with regard to his own abilities, although that was tempered a little as he grew older. Eventually, they do a show in Buffalo, where he meets the stage-struck Mary (Joan Leslie). George is impressed with her talent (and her), and she joins them on stage with her own act. George writes a song for her, but when she tries to perform it, the theatre manager cuts it short and throws her out. When George tries to argue, he is effectively blacklisted from the stage (which also throws his family out of work, as they refuse to go on without him). George and Mary try to take his music and shows he’s written to various producers, but they are constantly turned down. He pushes his family to take some of the jobs they’ve been offered, by pretending to have sold one of his plays. While he’s been working the rounds, another hopeful, Sam H. Harris (Richard Whorf), has been trying to get his own play produced, without any luck either. One day, George overhears him trying to sell his manuscript to producer Schwab (S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall), who was turning it down. Since it sounds like his own show might be up Mr. Schwab’s alley, George decides on the spur of the moment to make Sam his partner on the show, and the two of them convince Mr. Schwab to do it. The show, Little Johnny Jones, becomes a big hit, and George brings back his family to join him. George and Sam produce a number of plays that become hits. After a while, George’s parents decide to retire on a farm while his sister Josie (Jeanne Cagney) retires to get married. George tries to do something different to appease the critics, but fails to do so. He decides to keep his reputation by trying to tell the public his new play is lousy, but war is declared against Germany after the Lusitania is sunk. George tries to join the army, but he is told he is too old and needed at home. Inspired, he writes the song “Over There,” which becomes the Army’s anthem as they go over to fight in Europe. After the war is over, George continues on for a while, producing more big hits. After the rest of his family passes away, he decides to end his partnership with Sam and retire. However, after a while, he gets restless, and decides to get into another show for his friend Sam.

The real George M. Cohan had been shopping around for one of the studios to do his life story on the big screen for a little while. Originally, there was to be a deal with MGM for a movie that would have focused on the Four Cohans, but it fell apart when Cohan was refused the approval on the film’s final cut. He tried producer Samuel Goldwyn, who wanted Fred Astaire for the role. When Fred turned it down, Warner Brothers took up the option for the story, and cast James Cagney. That worked out well for everyone, as the film turned out to be a box office success, and Cagney’s one and only Best Actor Oscar win.

Originally, James Cagney was opposed to doing a biopic on George M. Cohan, as he had ill will towards Cohan after Cohan had sided with the producers back in the Actors’ Equity Strike back in 1919. However, Cagney himself had recently been accused of being a communist sympathizer as a result of his own union involvement. So, Cagney determined to prove his own patriotism, and Yankee Doodle Dandy was just the film to do it. Indeed, his performance is what makes this movie. A song-and-dance man himself, Cagney had gotten typecast in gangster roles after The Public Enemy in 1931. For this movie, he made a very conscious effort to dance very much like the real George M. Cohan. To do so, he worked with Johnny Boyle, who was a choreographer for George M. Cohan, and faced injury as he tried to imitate Cohan’s style. It all worked out for him, though, and nearly a decade later, Cagney reprised his role as George M. Cohan for the 1955 movie The Seven Little Foys, and did a dance routine with that film’s star, Bob Hope.

As I’ve already admitted, this was the first James Cagney film I saw, and it’s one that I’ve enjoyed seeing many a time over the years. Now, obviously, this is a very Hollywood-ized version of the life of George M. Cohan, since, for example, he was actually married twice, and neither of his wives’ names was Mary (his second wife’s middle name was Mary, but she usually went by her first name). Still, it’s a film that has helped keep George M. Cohan from falling completely into obscurity as time has gone on (like one would expect to happen with most actors mainly known for their stage work). Like many others, though, I love watching Cagney sing and dance to songs like “Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Give My Regards To Broadway,” “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “Over There.” Honestly, if I have any complaints about this movie, it’s that James Cagney doesn’t do enough dancing! But seriously, whether it’s July 4 or any other time of the year, this film is a well-regarded classic by many for a reason, and I would certainly continue to add how much I think it deserves to be seen! So, give it a chance if you haven’t seen it (or, if you have, you know it’s time to give it another whirl)!!

This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection.

Film Length: 2 hours, 6 minutes

My Rating: 10/10

*ranked #2 in Top 10 Movies Watched In 2021

List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections

Each Dawn I Die (1939)James CagneyWhite Heat (1949)

Sergeant York (1941) – Joan Leslie – The Sky’s The Limit (1943)

Walter Huston – The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre (1948)

Sergeant York (1941) – George Tobias – Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

All-American Co-Ed (1941) – Frances Langford – Melody Time (1948)

S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall – Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)

Eddie Foy, Jr. – The Pajama Game (1957)

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Top 10 Dance Routines

Well, I seem to have made it to the 100 post mark for this blog, so I felt the need to celebrate! Considering I have always been quite fond of musicals, which originally inspired me to take up dancing, I feel like doing my top 10 dance routines from the movies! Now, I did set up a few limits. Mainly, I tried to limit the number of dance routines featuring any specific dancers to about one solo routine and one partnered routine per person (otherwise, I could easily list quite a few for some dancers with ease)! I should also mention, that it’s not just the dancing itself, but sometimes the music that influences my opinion as well. Again, this list is entirely my own opinion, and not necessarily even my favorite dance routines and/or songs, but those that just mesh well. They will be presented as song, dancer(s), movie.

1. “Puttin’ On The Ritz,” Fred Astaire, Blue Skies

Fred Astaire’s big tap solo that was originally intended to be his last, as he went into retirement after this movie (which, thankfully, was short-lived). This routine allowed Fred to show he still had some considerable skill, improved by using special effects, such as his cane flying into his hand from the ground. But most famously, we have Fred dancing with a background chorus that consisted entirely of him (long before the days of CGI), which demonstrates just how well-rehearsed and precise he could be with his movements!

2. “Never Gonna Dance,” Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Swing Time

While Fred Astaire partnered with a number of talented ladies over his career, few are better remembered than Ginger Rogers, who brought her talents as a dramatic actress to the table. It took a lot of thought to pick which one of their routines to add to this list, but I went with “Never Gonna Dance.” This wonderful dance showcases their dramatic abilities, coupled with superb dancing (not to mention beautiful music that also brings back “The Way You Look Tonight” and “Waltz In Swing Time”)!

3. “Singin’ In The Rain,” Gene Kelly, Singin’ In The Rain

Of course, no list of famous dances would be complete without this classic! You can’t help but smile when thinking of Gene Kelly’s iconic dance, joyful in what could otherwise be depressing weather! So grab an umbrella and start dancing (and singing!) in the rain!

4. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” Marge and Gower Champion, Lovely To Look At

For me, this one just HAS to be on the list. The husband-and-wife dance team of Marge and Gower Champion wasn’t renowned for their acting ability, and neither made a huge mark in the movies, but this movie (and most particularly this routine) was one of their best. From their kiss at the beginning of the routine that sends them “up among the stars” to the end of the routine, we are treated to some wonderful dancing, some superb lifts and one of the most beautiful orchestrations of this (or any other song) that I’ve had the chance to enjoy!!

5. “Barn Dance,” group dance, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers

Ok, so I’m simplifying things by calling it a group dance, but if I listed everybody, you’d spend too much time reading that list! But still, who can pass up the chance to watch the six brothers constantly one-up the men from town as they show off for the ladies! Between the music, the high-flying leaps and flips, this is always fun!

6. “Make ‘Em Laugh,” Donald O’Connor, Singin’ In The Rain

Yep, Donald O’Connor’s classic comedy dance is here, too! While the music might have borrowed heavily from the Cole Porter tune “Be A Clown,” Donald brought all of his abilities to hear, with pratfalls, and many different comedy bits (and some dancing as well)! Always fun to watch (and good for a laugh)!

7. “Ragamuffin Romeo,” Marion Stadler and Don Rose, King Of Jazz

As I’ve said before, a wonderful example of some old vaudeville style dancing! While neither of the two dancers here have any lasting fame, what they do is still impressive! She’s supposed to be a doll made up of rags, and, with her flexibility, she acts and moves just like it! The lifts are just phenomenal, and I could easily watch this dance time and time again!

8. “Yankee Doodle Boy/ GiveMy Regards To Broadway,” James Cagney, Yankee Doodle Dandy

While he was a song-and-dance man himself, James Cagney ended up being typecast as a gangster for a lot of his movies with Warner Brothers. But this movie (and most particularly these two songs paired together) helped change that. Cagney successfully portrayed George M. Cohan, making use of the real Cohan’s style of dance, while still maintaining his own!

9. “Honolulu,” Eleanor Powell and Gracie Allen, Honolulu

This is one of those dances I just love to watch! For me, it was this dance that proved to me what I had heard many times, that Eleanor Powell was one of the few women at that time who could out-dance Fred Astaire. The music is fun, as is watching Gracie Allen dancing with Eleanor, but once Eleanor starts with her solo section, that’s when the real fun begins! I love watching her tap dance and jump rope at the same time (personally, I would probably get tangled up in a hurry if I tried)!

10. “Heather On The Hill,” Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse, Brigadoon

As wonderful a dancer as she is, of course Cyd Charisse needed to be represented on this list! While there are other dances that she did that I enjoyed more (but can’t include because of my own silly rules), I can’t deny the beauty of this duet with Gene Kelly. With some beautiful music to help, this romantic routine with its lifts and balletic quality is certainly still worthy of inclusion!

Well, that’s my list! I hope everyone enjoyed it (and I’d certainly like to hear what everybody else’s lists would be)! Also, if there’s enough demand/ interest, later on I might just do a “Top 5 Dance Routines I Would Love To Learn!” But that’s all for now!