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2021 so far: the best movies and TV, the breakouts, the surprises

Halfway through the year, the big screen is a thing again, and film fans have the Oscars, ‘F9’ and even Stephen Dorff to talk about.

Spoiler alert: There’s some fighting in the big, dumb “Godzilla v. Kong.”
Warner Bros.

The Oscars were historic, shocking and a little bit schlocky, the Golden Globes spun into even more controversy and criticism before being given a timeout, theaters are no longer Quiet Places, the “other” music festival from 1969 was finally given its due, Jean Smart and Kate Winslet turned in career near-best performances in two wonderful new TV series, and in “F9,” for the first time in movie history, a Pontiac Fiero was launched into space. Thanks for keeping things interesting, 2021!

And we’re just at 50% capacity, meaning it’s time for my annual Halftime Report Card spotlighting the notorious and the noteworthy in the worlds of theatrical films (they’re a thing again!) as well as streaming, premium cable and broadcast TV.

In the immortal words of Dom Toretto in the ludicrous but wildly successful “F9”: “No matter how fast you are, no one outruns their past. And mine just caught up to me.”

How Dom’s buddies keep a straight face when he’s dispensing his fortune cookie wisdom is beyond me, but in any case, off we go.

How can we miss you if you won’t stay away?

After the Los Angeles Times published exposes about the lack of a single Black member in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and some ongoing ethically dicey practices, while Tom Cruise returned his three Globes and Scarlett Johansson announced she would no longer participate in HFPA press conferences after facing “sexist questions and remarks … that bordered on sexual harassment,” NBC announced it would not broadcast the ceremony in 2022.

Ever since their inception, the Golden Globes have been something of a joke, but Hollywood played along, and we all enjoyed those booze-soaked, loosey-goosey telecasts.

But hey: You can still throw an awards party and get a champagne sponsor without calling it the Golden Globes.

Weird ceremony, historic results

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” hair designers Mia Neal (left) and Jamika Wilson (right) join presenter Don Cheadle after winning Oscars.
ABC

The 2021 Oscars took place at Union Station in Los Angeles, and it was a weird affair, with presenters giving rambling speeches directly to the befuddled nominees. It was, however, an historic night, as Chloe Zhao (“Nomadland”) became the second woman ever and the first woman of color to win best director, Youn Yuh-jung became the first ever Korean acting winner and the “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” hair team was the first Black-led group to win. In one of the biggest upsets in recent Academy Awards history, Anthony Hopkins won best actor for “The Father” over the late Chadwick Boseman from “Ma Rainey.” A grateful and gracious Hopkins delivered his acceptance speech from his homeland of Wales the next day, via Instagram — a scenario the great Sir Anthony couldn’t have envisioned when he won for “The Silence of the Lambs” back in 1992.

Kate and Jean, the smartest

Jean Smart (left) in “Hacks” and Kate Winslet in “The Mare of Easttown.”
HBO

Two of our finest actresses were given plum roles in two very different series — and it’s no surprise they both knocked it out of the park. Kate Winslet was brilliant as a small-town detective with a soap opera personal life in “Mare of Easttown,” while her “Mare” co-star Jean Smart also killed as a Joan Rivers-esque, Vegas-based comic legend in “Hacks.”

Wanna take you higher, higher!

Sly Stone performs at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969, featured in the documentary SUMMER OF SOUL. Photo Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.
A 1969 performance by Sly Stone and his bandmates highlights “Summer of Soul.”
Searchlight Pictures

Arguably the most thrilling scene in any movie this year is when Sly & the Family Stone command the stage in “Summer of Soul,” an exhilarating look back at the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival.

Vibrating seats, ear-splitting sound and popcorn, oh my!

On Tuesday, March 16, I saw a screening of a film in a theater for the first time in nearly a year. That movie was the big, dumb, fantastically over-the-top “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the first of a steady stream (or should we not say streaming?) films I’ve seen in theaters, including such spring/summertime treats as “Cruella,” “A Quiet Place, Part II” and “In the Heights,” all of which played beautifully on the big screen.

As for “Godzilla vs. Kong,” when people ask me what it’s about, I can only say, “It’s mostly about Godzilla and, um, Kong. They might fight but I don’t want to give anything away.”

Original films and series, kind of

Just a partial list of the sequels, prequels, spinoffs, origins stories and reboots to come our way in the first half of 2021:

  • “A Quiet Place Part II”
  • “F9”
  • “Godzilla v. Kong”
  • “Cruella”
  • “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It”
  • “Mortal Kombat”
  • “Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway”
  • “The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard”
  • “Tom and Jerry”
  • “The Boss Baby: Family Business”
  • “Spiral: From the Book of Saw”
  • “Wandavision”
  • “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier”
  • “Loki”
  • “Monsters at Work”
  • “The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers”
  • “Blindspotting”

Better Call … Bob?

The seemingly mild-mannered Hutch Mansell (Bob Odenkirk, right) confronts a thug (Alain Moussi) on the bus in “Nobody.”
Universal Pictures

If you thought Chris Pratt and John Krasinski made surprising (and spectacularly successful) transitions from playing ordinary guys on TV to action heroes, they’ve got nothing on Bob Odenkirk, who kills as a seemingly average husband and father who has a very particular set of skills and puts them to great use in “Nobody.”

Stephen Dorff vs. Hollywood

Actor Stephen Dorff came down hard on his Hollywood colleagues.
Amy Sussman/Getty Images

In an interview with the Independent, the actor Stephen Dorff, a gifted artist who never reached his James Dean potential, said “Black Widow” looked “like garbage to me. It looks like a bad video game.. … I’m embarrassed for Scarlett!” and added, “My business is becoming a big game show. You have actors [and filmmakers] that don’t have a clue what they’re doing.”

Echoes of the mid-1990s, when Dorff was proclaiming he was the best of the new breed of actors that included Christian Slater, Mark Wahlberg, Matthew McConaughey, Leonardo DiCaprio and Will Smith.

FWIW, Dorff’s career-best performance was in Sofia Coppola’s “Somewhere” (2010), as a famous actor who’s a bit of an a--------.

The best films of 2021 so far

Anthony Ramos stars in “In the Heights.”
Warner Bros.

In alphabetical order:

The best series and documentaries of the year to date

Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany play married superheroes on “Wandavision.”
Disney+