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The best movies of 2021 prove film isn’t dead

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The best movies of 2021 prove film isn’t dead

For all the hoopla lately about how movies are on death’s door, 2021 was a gazillion times better than 2020. There were four Marvel films in theaters (“Spider-Man: No Way Home” bulldozed past the $1 billion mark) and in-person film festivals (Toronto, Cannes, Venice, Telluride, New York) resumed. We got a Spielberg, a Pixar, big-budget sequels, indie darlings and Bradley Cooper x 2. Other than “Spidey,” barely anything made a buck, but they were defiantly there.  

Like the old man who was mistakenly plopped on a pile of corpses in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the movies said, “I’m not dead!” These are the best films of 2021.

‘Licorice Pizza’

Cooper Hoffman, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son, makes an unforgettable acting debut in “Licorice Pizza.”
Courtesy MGM Studios

The most shaken up I was at the movies this year came after I saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s blissful, hysterical, romantic, youthful, nostalgic “Licorice Pizza” and realized that the unknown lead, Cooper Hoffman, is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son. Wow. Like his dad, Cooper is a brilliant actor, and at only 18. This 1973-set comedy will rub some people the wrong way — it’s about a flirtation between a magnetic 15-year-old actor and a down-on-her-luck 25-year-old woman (Alana Haim, a revelation) — but there was simply no better-written or -performed movie in 2021.  

In theaters

‘Dune’

Timothée Chalamet’s latest big-screen project is “Dune.”
Warner Bros./Everett Collection

This sci-fi epic could’ve been the Coke 2 of movies — an overhyped disaster. Frank Herbert’s novel is infamously dense and tricky to boil down into a “Star Wars”-like space opera, as poor David Lynch discovered with his unwatchable 1984 version that made Kyle MacLachlan look like a Mountie on Mars. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, however, wisely divided the tale into two films (Part 2 is due in 2023) and brought the titanic visuals and transportive storytelling that made “Blade Runner 2049” and “Arrival” so jaw-dropping. Oh, and Timothée Chalamet’s character can kill dudes with a whisper.

On demand

‘Mass’

Ann Dowd and Reed Birney play grieving parents in “Mass.”
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

This small, shattering drama was hard to watch — in two ways. One, its bold plot is about the parents of a school-shooting victim meeting the shooter’s parents years later. Ouch. Two, writer-director Franz Kranz’s film played in barely any theaters outside of New York and LA. But “Mass,” which premiered at Sundance, has some of the most forceful acting of the year, especially from the thunderous Ann Dowd and Martha Plimpton. Please rent it on Amazon.  

On demand

‘In the Heights’

“In the Heights,” starring Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barbera, is one of the most dazzling movie musicals in years.
Macall Polay

In two back-to-back movies, “Crazy Rich Asians” and “In the Heights,” Jon M. Chu has catapulted himself to Hollywood’s most reliably entertaining director. His screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway show is the finest movie-musical since 2002’s “Chicago” (yes, it’s better than Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story” by a mile), features a charming-as-hell star turn from Anthony Ramos, and helped reopen New York City this summer with its vibrancy and infectious joy.

On HBO Max

‘Free Guy’

Jodie Comer and Ryan Reynolds meet in a video game called “Free City” in “Free Guy.”
©20th Century Studios/Courtesy

What a refreshing surprise: A movie from Disney that isn’t a live-action remake of a cartoon or “Star Wars: Episode XCIX.” “Free Guy” stars Ryan Reynolds as a video-game character who discovers that he is … a video-game character. The high-energy actor’s shtick plays perfectly with Jodie Comer’s dogged hacker, and the delightful film showed how much originality and heart the House of Mouse is still capable of.

On Disney+ Feb. 23

‘Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar’

Kristen Wiig (right) and Annie Mumolo head to Florida in “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar.”
Cate Cameron/Lionsgate

Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo’s hilarious girls-trip comedy — the year’s funniest movie — sadly won’t land on many Top 10 lists or awards shows because of the industry’s pretention and narrowmindedness. But it’s made more of a cultural dent than what will. Find anybody who’s seen “Barb & Star,” shout “Trish!” at them and they’ll instantly know what you’re talking about. And laugh. Can’t say the same about any line in “The Power of the Dog.” 

On Hulu

‘Luca’

Pixar’s “Luca” is set in a beautiful seaside village in Italy.
©Disney+/Courtesy Everett Colle

It’s hardly groundbreaking anymore to say that Pixar makes animated films that have the same wit and sophistication of any live-action stunner. Whereas most of the studio’s works are too thinky or about bugs, though, “Luca” went emotionally deep. The main character, in fact, is a little sea monster who lives in the briny deep and escapes to the surface with his rebel friend and pretends to be human. The Italian setting, idyllic musical score and powerful ending are beyond lovely. 

On Disney+

‘King Richard’

The film “King Richard” traces how Richard Williams (Will Smith) took Serena (Demi Singleton) and Venus (Saniyya Sidney) from Compton to Wimbledon.
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Sports movies, by and large, tend to be about the athletes — not about their fathers. But “King Richard,” in which Will Smith returns to peak form, centers around Richard Williams, the controversial dad and coach of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams. On one side you have a well-constructed and consuming biopic, and on the other a layered, lovable, loathable portrayal from Smith that’s the actor’s best work in forever.

In theaters

‘Tick, Tick … Boom!’

Andrew Garfield plays Jonathan Larson in “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
MACALL POLAY/NETFLIX © 2021

For as good an actor as Andrew Garfield is, he gets trapped in a lot of garbage like “Under the Silver Lake,” “Mainstream” and the lousy “Spider-Man” reboot. But Garfield and this gem of a musical, about the downtown New York life of “Rent” composer Jonathan Larson, are a marshmallow-and-chocolate-perfect pairing. He embodies Larson’s artsy blend of charisma, eccentricity, persuasiveness and occasional petulance. And he sings pretty well too.

On Netflix

‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’

Denzel Washington plays the titular Scot in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”
A24

If you don’t like Shakespeare, Joel Coen’s captivating, black-and-white “Macbeth” probably won’t convert you. Still, it’s visually glorious and features one of the best interpretations of the witches you’ve ever seen, with an amazing Kathryn Hunter playing all three and contorting her body into bizarre shapes. Mackers — no surprises here — is also a role that Denzel Washington was born to play.

On Apple TV+ Jan. 14

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

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Sports world reacts to John Madden’s death

Legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning at 85, the NFL announced. News of the football icon’s passing hit Twitter on Tuesday evening, and athletes, coaches and broadcasters from across the sports world reacted.

Fellow broadcasting legend Dick Vitale, who is currently battling cancer, called Madden “the greatest analyst of all time of any sport” in his Twitter tribute.

Former Yankees pitcher and notable Raiders fan CC Sabathia said “your legacy will live forever.” Madden coached the then-Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a couple of years before Sabathia, a Vallejo, California native, was born. Lakers star LeBron James had similar words about Madden’s lasting legacy, adding an infinity emoji.

Former tennis star and social justice activist Billie Jean King recalled meeting Madden as a “privilege.”

Radio voice of the Rangers Kenny Albert, a five-sport broadcaster who’s been with FOX Sports since its inception in 1994, shared a photo circa 26 years ago to remember Madden.

ESPN’s Bomani Jones took a bit of a shot at current color commentators, noting that Madden “set an unreachable standard.”

Frank Caliendo, who’s made a career out of impersonations, including one for Madden, said he was surprised how emotional he felt.

Several football players, and others, including Saints running back Mark Ingram II and former Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant, credited Madden with being part of the reason why they love football.

Rams wide receiver and NFL MVP contender Cooper Kupp quote the late coach in his tribute: “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

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Miles McBride’s Knicks role will lessen with Kemba Walker’s resurgence

MINNEAPOLIS — The Knicks got back another body in rookie point guard Miles McBride, who was cleared from protocols Tuesday and rejoined the team in Minnesota.

But there is no longer any hype for the rookie’s return. Kemba Walker is back as the starting point guard and coming off winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors with four standout games, including his Christmas Day spectacular. The Knicks have gone 2-2 since Walker regained the starting job.

“It’s great,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He had a great week. He’s playing great basketball. The team winning helps him get recognized and he was a big part of driving that winning. It’s great for the team.’’

McBride was also spectacular in his last outing before getting COVID-19, when he played the entire second half Dec. 16 in Houston and seemingly earned a spot in the rotation. In fact, McBride had strung together two decent outings before he was ruled out. But things have changed since his emergence and McBride is likely back to being a bit player.

Without a practice, McBride wasn’t even expected to see time when the Knicks faced the Timberwolves to kick off a four-game road trip.

Miles McBride
NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, with Walker’s arthritic knee, anything is possible. The Knicks play Detroit on Wednesday in a back-to-back, so it’s uncertain whether Walker will complete both contests. In addition, Immanuel Quickley is out of COVID-19 protocols but Thibodeau wasn’t sure he was ready for meaningful minutes.

That left Walker against the depleted Timberwolves, who were missing their three top players (Anthony Edwards, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell), all because of COVID-19 .

Kemba Walker
Kemba Walker
USA TODAY Sports

When McBride got sidelined by the virus and Derrick Rose needed ankle surgery, Walker was resurrected by Thibodeau and it’s been a stunning comeback story.

Though Thibodeau has clear reservations about Walker based on his nine-game banishment due to his defensive malaise as an undersized point guard, he admitted after the Christmas Day triple-double against Atlanta that Walker is playing “much more aggressive.”

Walker’s triple-double that featured 10 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds was a lot different than his prior outing, when he scored 44 points against Washington.

“I thought his passing was terrific,’’ Thibodeau said before the Knicks resumed their schedule.

“Kemba had control of the game. The game tells you what to do. That’s what I loved about the way he played. I don’t think he forced anything. They puts size on him and were aggressive in their pick-and-roll coverage. He didn’t fight it. He attacked pressure the way you like to attack pressure. You don’t fight pressure with pressure. Don’t try to split it. Get rid of it, go to the backside. Let the game tell you what to do.’’

The Knicks coach is finally seeing all the elements of what Walker can do. Before his demotion, Walker was nothing more than a no-defense, 3-point shooter whose plus-minus was an abysmal minus-122.

Thibodeau was also concerned about his durability in sitting out two of the three back-to-back sets. The last load management game in Atlanta in late November triggered Thibodeau’s decision.

But now it’s only superlatives from Thibodeau in judging the last four games.

“Sometimes it’s going to be his shooting, sometimes it’s his penetration and getting in the paint to force a collapse and sometimes they’re being aggressive with their traps get rid of the ball quickly,’’ Thibodeau said. “The overall play, his rebounding. When your guards rebound, those are key to fast breaks. The more guard rebounding we get the better we can be. ‘’

The Knicks still have three players in protocols — centers Nerlens Noel and Jericho Sims and the newly infected Wayne Selden. Quickley and Kevin Knox were cleared on Christmas but were held out for conditioning.

No matter. The Knicks go as Kemba goes.

“He’s much more aggressive,’’ Thibodeau said. “That was the challenge. At the beginning of the year he and Evan were two new starters. Sometimes guys are trying to fit in. he’s being very aggressive which is the way we want him to play. Not deferring at all. When he and Julius [Randle] are aggressive like that our team is different.’’

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Bar raises dramatically for Zach Wilson in matchup with Tom Brady, Buccaneers

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Zach Wilson and Tom Brady

When Zach Wilson stares across the MetLife Stadium field at the opposite sideline this Sunday, it won’t be Trevor Lawrence he’ll be looking at as his game-day counterpart.

Lawrence, drafted by Jacksonville one spot before the Jets selected Wilson at No. 2 overall last April, is a contemporary.

This Sunday at MetLife, the Jets rookie quarterback won’t be staring at a contemporary on the other sideline. He’ll be staring at the GOAT.

Tom Brady.

The bar raises dramatically for Wilson and the Jets, who are coming off of their feel-good, get-well win over the woeful Jaguars and Lawrence this past Sunday.

Brady and Buccaneers, who are 11-4, NFC South division champions and seeking to repeat as Super Bowl champions, play the Jets, who are 4-11 and seeking more signs of development from their rookie quarterback.

To say this is a step up in competition for Wilson and the Jets going from Lawrence and the Jags to Brady and the Bucs is as obvious as pointing out that Tampa Bay receiver Antonio Brown has had a few off-the-field incidents during his otherwise stellar NFL career.

There hasn’t been a lot to keep the interest of the Jets fan this season — other than watching Wilson’s development. That took an unfortunate pause for the four games Wilson missed with a knee injury, but he’s been back for five games and has looked like a better quarterback, throwing only two interceptions in those games (none in the last three) since returning from his injury.

The problem, though, is that Wilson hasn’t been producing enough touchdowns, throwing for three of them and rushing for four others in the past five games.

Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
Zach Wilson and Tom Brady
N.Y. Post: Charles Wenzelberg; AP

Baby steps, though.

Wilson was the better quarterback this past Sunday when matched up with Lawrence, who threw for more yards than Wilson did, but Wilson ran for 91 yards, including his electric 52-yard scoring jaunt, and made key throws when he needed them.

Wilson will not win Sunday’s game against Brady and the Bucs throwing for the 102 yards he had against the Jaguars. He and the Jets will need more.

Consider this: Brady enters the game having thrown 37 TD passes and for 4,580 yards this season and averages a league-high 305.2 passing yards per game.

Then this: The Buccaneers average 29.5 points per game this season, second most in the NFL.

And this: Wilson doesn’t have a single 300-yard passing game, averages 183 passing yards per game and has thrown seven TD passes in 11 games.

Seven TD passes is a pedestrian two-game total for Brady.

Wilson and the Jets are playing with house money anyway in what always has been a developmental season, so Sunday against Brady should, at its very least, be a great measuring-stick learning experience for Wilson, who’s studied Brady on tape.

Wilson revealed this month that he watched film of Brady before the Jets played the Eagles on Dec. 5 in an effort to pick up tips on how Brady worked against the Eagles defense when he played them earlier in the season.

“I thought it was really cool to see kind of how he went through his whole process, how he navigated the pocket, different things like that,” Wilson said at the time.

On Sunday, Wilson gets to see that process up close as Brady tries to dissect a Jets defense that has yielded 29.9 points per game this season, the most in the NFL.

That puts an added onus on Wilson to produce on the other side of the ball, because he knows Brady is going to get his. Wilson will likely need to produce four TDs — any way he can — for the Jets to simply remain competitive with the Super Bowl champs.

That’s a lot to ask of a 22-year-old kid who’s produced just 11 TDs in his 11 starts, up against Brady, who’s thrown 618 TD passes and for 83,784 yards in his remarkable career.

It, too, is a lot to ask playing against an aggressive Tampa Bay defense that’s ranked No. 9 in the NFL in points allowed (20.8 per game) and is led by former Jets head coach Todd Bowles, who’d surely like to send a holiday message to his former employer.

If you don’t think Bowles will be blitzing the bejesus out of Wilson, then you probably think Antonio Brown is a living saint.

The good news for the Jets is that Wilson has shown incremental improvements, particularly when it comes to his decision-making and quicker releases on his throws.

“He’s coming along, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s calmer back there,’’ Jets coach Robert Saleh said Monday. “He’s in a great headspace and it’s going to be fun to watch him grow, continue to grow.’’

A big part of that growth will take place this Sunday as he watches the GOAT operate from the opposite sideline at MetLife.

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