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My Favorite Movies- "West Side Story" (2021)

Ah yes, the movie that every "Lights, Camera, Barstool" listener said was the only one I ever liked. I am unapologetic about my love for "West Side Story." I also love the original, but I acknowledge that the original 1961 film has some very dated elements. It's a perfect film for its time, but I was very open to seeing "West Side Story" remade. At the same time, I was somewhat terrified by the possibility. I hold the original in very high regard. It's the greatest musical of all time, and the last thing I wanted was to see the remake be butchered. I had a ton of faith in Steven Spielberg, and in general, I don't have any issue with remakes as a whole. The original will always be there, but it hurts when you see something you care about being mutilated. I've seen many films and franchises I've loved over the last decade or so get beaten. But I had faith in Spielberg. And he rewarded my faith. This is the best Hollywood remake of all time. 

I saw this movie in December 2021. It was one of the first movies I reviewed on "Lights, Camera, Barstool." The juxtaposition between "West Side Story" and every movie I saw in 2021 is staggering. It belongs in its own subcategory. It's a movie made by an actual filmmaker, and that's where we'll start. This is my favorite Steven Spielberg movie. It is not his most iconic film (it flopped at the box office), And it won't be remembered as one of his most popular, but it's my favorite. He took something that I grew up on and made it better. And damn, this movie is so well-directed. Seriously, every shot is incredible. Every shot feels essential. These musical sequences take your breath away, and it helps that "West Side Story" possibly has the best collection of songs that any musical offers. The fact that this didn't win Best Cinematography at the Academy Awards is a head-scratcher. 

The original "West Side Story" took home a then-record ten Oscars. You had multiple actors who got nominated for awards, including Rita Moreno, who won an Academy Award for playing Anita. Ariana Debose became the second actress to win an Oscar for portraying that role. She's fantastic as Anita, but she is not my favorite performance in the movie. I feel bad for Rachel Zegler. She's been taking a beating on this press tour for "Snow White." Not many people saw "West Side Story," but her performance as Maria blew away those who did. She knocked it out of the park, and the movie does such a great job of giving her and the supporting characters more development. 

A lot of people complained about Ansel Elgort's performance as Tony. It is the least flashy of the ensemble, though Tony was the least interesting character in the original source material. I think Elgort is fine as a more reserved version of Tony. He lacks the wide-eyed optimism that Richard Beymer brought to the role, but it's a different character. It's established at the film's beginning that he is a reformed criminal trying to put his life back together. He's trying to remain calm in a very difficult situation, and you buy it when he inevitably blows up during the rumble sequence. And he nails all the singing sequences.


Riff in "West Side Story" has always been one of my favorite characters in fiction. I am trying to understand why this is. You could call it hero worship. Some kids grow up wanting to be Superman. I grew up wanting to be Riff. So I was nervous to see somebody else other than Russ Tamblyn taking on the role of Riff. I'm about to get roasted for this take, but Mike Faist as Riff is my favorite one of my favorite performances in any movie. There is an added layer to Riff's character that we have not seen in any other version of "West Side Story." Yeah, he's a scoundrel, prejudiced, and kind of an asshole, but he has a legitimate code, and he's a guy that feels like his life is being taken from him. The Jets are all he has, and Faist nailed it. Not to mention he is next-level cool in us. He belongs on my Mount Rushmore of coolest men, along with Daniel Craig in "Casino Royale," Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, and Dave when he repurchased the company for a dollar. It's an astonishing performance. 

I am aware of the fact that I tend to be critical of films. I still contend that I haven't changed, but the movies have. I am somebody who abides by the belief that movies are worse than they've ever been. But the trade-off is that when I see something I love, I will cherish it, praise it, and shout from the rooftops that everyone should see it. That's how I feel about this movie. I love the "West Side Story" remake more than any movie I've seen since "Whiplash." 

Musicals are not for everybody. You do have to suspend disbelief. The love story is slightly rushed, but Spielberg allows you to buy into this world. You believe in these characters and are ultimately heartbroken by the tragedy. For a movie with elaborate musical numbers and extravagant sequences, it's human at its core. I'll never stop praising it. It's the best film of the 20s so far.