The Atlanta Film Festival really selected a phenomenal slate of for its 2021 lineup, and several of their choices I already caught at previous fests. In total, I watched 16 of the narrative offerings, and honestly enjoyed the majority of the ones I watched. I rounded up all viewed from the fest, and provided links to previous coverage where applicable.
EVENTS TRANSPIRING BEFORE, DURING, AND AFTER A HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL GAME
This was one a little difficult to engage with, mainly because I found it lacking any dramatic or emotional stakes. An existential discussion on The Matrix becomes important locker room discussion. Even the titular basketball game doesn’t really feel that vital to any of the particulars for these characters. Even the players themselves aren’t exactly over the moon with their performance in the big game one way or the other. “This is one of those games we just forget about and move on,” one character muses near the end. While I appreciate the authenticity and simplicity of it all, this statement is basically how I felt about the film.
This one is surprisingly entertaining and quite fun. A bizarre cast of random people that the lead meets along the way all come together in a big explosive shootout near the end that makes all the random asides on the journey feel worth it. There are so many great quotes, and a surprising amount of violence that brought to mind the R-rated hijinks of Game Night and The Hangover. Each scene is crazier than the last. Just remember, we’d all fail in a Nick Cage National Treasure scenario. We all would.
I really adored the whole idea behind Firstness, and it broadly presents several intelligent ideas. Commentary about misgendering, not judging a book by its cover, and fascinatingly off-kilter character dynamics simmers on one setting the entire time. I felt it could’ve gone the extra mile to push the envelope a bit further, particularly in regards to my favorite aspect of the film, which was the relationship between Tavi and Julian. I felt the film should’ve focused more heavily on their friendship and a little less on the borderline-boring drama with the father character. I loved following little Allex Jording’s Tavi and wanted to see that platonic friendship developed further. It felt only half-complete to me at times and without an emotional payoff.
(Written by Allison Brown) Limbo is successful in its many unique quirks. American cultural references, like Farhad’s idolization of Freddie Mercury (he grew a mustache as an homage) and reruns of Friends watched and later referenced, are invoked to force the viewer to relate with each refugee. Omar’s peppered in calls with his family left behind pull on one’s heartstrings. His difficult relationship with his brother and financial hardships surely hit home for many. Farhad stealing a chicken as a pet because it reminds him of home, beautiful landscapes, and rude Irish locals driving through the area only to mock the refugees by calling them terrorists… the film is singular in vision and clever with its script. They’re stuck in limbo in this island, waiting for asylum that could take years to arrive. It’s a movie that feels achingly relevant.
MARVELOUS AND THE BLACK HOLE
Nine Days raises existential questions about what choices one would make in certain situations. What makes us human? I needed a second viewing to comprehend some of the complexities of the plot; I’m happy to report that it only strengthens the twisty narrative and the distinct performances of the interviewees. Winston Duke’s second absolutely killer performance in a row after Jordan Peele’s Us, is dynamic and ferocious. In a film exploding with phenomenal character acting, his emerges as the most powerful. An epic moment with the beautiful Walt Whitman poem “Song of Myself” seals the package of this perfect 2021 masterpiece.
Profile is almost like an episode of Creepshow or Tales From the Crypt that gives you a modern twist of a lesson: How far would you go for a story? Based on a true story, I was captivated from the second it started. The tense atmosphere it develops, particularly in the final act, filled me with anxiety. The themes are heavy—gun violence, the devastating realities of war, and journalistic integrity. What transpires in the final few minutes is far creepier and more modern in scares than I have seen in awhile.
SEE YOU THEN
WE’RE ALL GOING TO THE WORLD’S FAIR
I hope you enjoyed all my coverage on 2021’s Atlanta Film Festival, that ran from April 22nd – May 2nd. As far as quality goes, this was a consistent festival that valued merit and experimentation above quantity and subject matter. Out of the movies I watched, my favorites were Moon Manor, Marvelous and the Black Hole, Nine Days, and Profile. Keep a lookout for many of these films to roll out in theaters and streaming later this year!