SCREEN TIME: A ‘Pizza’ with everything

‘Licorice Pizza’ tops moviegoing in the New Year  

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BEST FILM OF 2021: Cooper Hoffman and Alana Him get their ‘coming of age’ on in ‘Licorice Pizza.’

The coronavirus sometimes seems like one of those inexplicably popular film franchises, like maybe the Kingsman movie turning around sequel after sequel faster than anyone wants or expects. The original Covid-19 lead to the Delta variant and then Omicron, which, like The King’s Man, is the newest installment. Here’s hoping there will be no more reboots or follow-ups in 2022.

As long as moviegoers observe safe practices, they have numerous options for celebrating the cinema of 2021 as well as breaking in 2021.

Licorice Pizza This amiable, ambitious coming-of-age story from writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is the best film of 2021, but don’t take my word for it. The 28 voting members of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle (which, admittedly, includes me) selected Licorice Pizza as the best film of 2021.

Set in Encino Valley in 1973, the loosely-plotted film traces a complicated relationship – more than a friendship, less than a romance – between two young people. Gary Valentine (Cooper Hoffman, son of Anderson’s frequent collaborator, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman) is a 15 year-old high schooler aging out of a successful career as a child actor, but remaining an entrepreneur comfortable in adult spaces. Alana Kane (Alana Haim of Grammy-winning trio Haim) is 10 years older, underemployed and still looking for her purpose in life. They become partners in unlikely ventures such as a waterbed business, and while they know they can’t be a couple, they seem unable to quit each other.

Licorice Pizza grooves on the nostalgic vibe of the early 1970s without glorifying the era, as Anderson matter-of-factly shows some casual sexism and racism that can be shocking to a 21st century audience. Occasionally, celebrities will come through their lives like wrecking balls, too narcissistic to notice the chaos they cause, particularly in Bradley Cooper’s turn as a high-strung producer.

Licorice Pizza covers similar ground as Anderson’s breakthrough Boogie Nights, but without that film’s violence or condescending humor. Licorice Pizza may or may not be Anderson’s best effort to date, but it’s definitely his most joyous.

Now playing at area theaters. Rated R.

The Tragedy of Macbeth — This chilly, stylish Shakespeare adaptation marks the possible break up of modern cinema’s greatest brother act. While the Coen Brothers have crafted modern masterpieces like Fargo since the 1980s, Ethan Coen has reportedly stepped back from moviemaking, making Macbeth Joel Coen’s first solo gig.

The brothers have long enjoyed exploring violence, greed and language in small-scale film noir terms, so a black-and-white take on the “vaulting ambition” of the Scottish king isn’t that much of a stretch. Denzel Washington plays the title role in an uncertain, often mournful key that fits the text, but is quieter than you’d expect from his volcanic work in the likes of Fences and Training Day.

Similarly, the supporting actors can seem overly restrained and the environments deliberately artificial looking, making The Tragedy of Macbeth feel more like an intellectual exercise than a crime of passion. Coen’s take really clicks with the performance of Kathryn Hunter, who plays all three witches with intensity and freaky body language of Gollum. And even on his own, Joel Coen remains a compelling cinematic craftsman who clearly delights in turning medieval Scotland into a haunted landscape.

Now playing at local theaters, debuting on Apple Streaming on Jan. 14. Rated R.

Fri. Jan. 14

Drive My Car — A grieving actor gradually bonds with his introverted driver in director Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s three-hour adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story of the same name. The winner of the Best International Film from the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, it’s one of the most acclaimed films of 2021.

$13. Opening Fri., Jan. 14. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce de Leon Ave.

Thu.-Sun., Jan 20-23

Buried Alive Film Festival, 7 Stages — The Atlanta-based horror film festival’s 2022 installment includes two feature films: Belgian found-footage chiller Duyster and the U.S. horror comedy What Happens Next Will Scare You. The line-up also includes a lively program of horror shorts, including entries in the Buried Alive Film Fest Sinema Challenge for films 5-8 minutes long.

Jan. 20-23. 7 Stages, 1105 Euclid Ave.

Fri., Jan. 21

Mystery Science Theater 3000 LIVE: The Time Bubble Tour, Coca-Cola Roxy — For the latest iteration of the esteemed movie-riffing franchise, Emily Marsh (co-star the show’s 2022 season) leads a cast of puppeteers and comics for live, rapid-patter mockery of a cheesy movie. For this tour, it’s reportedly 1985’s Making Contact, the first film from Roland Emmerich. “MST3K” is best-known as a TV show, but it can be very funny with a live audience.

$30-$55. Tue., Jan. 25, 7:30 p.m. Coca-Cola Roxy, 800 Battery Ave.

Thu.-Sat., Feb 3-5

SCAD TVFEST — For its 10th year, the Savannah College of Art & Design hosts a festival of television industry professionals. While last year’s event was virtual, this year offers an inperson gathering at Midtown’s IPIC Theater. The program had not been announced at press time, but previous festivals draw actors, directors, writers and producers from some of the Atlanta area’s most prominent TV productions.

Feb. 3-5. IPIC Theater, 1197 Colony Square.

Screen Time is a monthly column about film and video from the big screen to streaming services.