After the enclosed, limiting year of 2020, I was ecstatic to see the world return to some vague semblance of normalcy, and that included opening theaters back up! This, coupled with studios reluctantly embracing VOD, made it much easier to see films this year, and damn, did I see quite a few. Below is my ranking of every 2021 release I saw this year. A few things to note before getting into it:
- This list includes films that got their WIDE US RELEASE in 2021, so there’s quite a few films that technically came out in 2020 (and even one 2019) that didn’t become readily available to the US masses until this year. If you take issue with that, feel free to exclude them and do the math yourself.
- As one should expect, I couldn’t see each and every movie this year, including some of the major releases. These “Honorable Misses” are as followed:
- Cry Macho
- The French Dispatch
- Being the Ricardos
- The Tragedy of Macbeth
- The Souvenir: Part 2
- Red Rocket
- Nine Days
- No Time to Die
- The Worst Person in the World
- King Richard
- The Harder They Fall
- Nightmare Alley
- Free Guy
- The Guilty
- Licorice Pizza
- House of Gucci
- Don’t Look Up
…and many others.
With that out of the way, here are all 73 films I saw this year, ranked!
Fun fact: these first three movies were watched nearly back to back to back, with each one progressively becoming the worst movie I had seen this year. The last I watched, Karen, was absolutely impossible to beat. I’ve seen some tone deaf, incompetent, embarrassingly bad films this year, but along comes a film that is all of these things yet is trying to make a statement about one of the biggest social arguments of modern times…if you can even call it a statement. Inspired by the good ol’ nickname given to nosy, racist white women, Karen is a satirical social commentary that fails to say anything of note and fails even harder at being entertaining. As a thriller its predictable and devoid of tension. As a “satire”, its a regurgitation of Twitter buzzwords that hit its stride over a year ago. The amount of people who proclaim “Black Lives Matter” in just common, everyday conversation is mesmerizing. It’s not shocking, thought-provoking, meditative or enjoyable to watch even in a “so bad, its good” kind of way. The only ideal it can muster is “racism bad”. Truly boundary breaking insight into this rampant social issue. Police brutality, institutional racism and abhorrent white shenanigans are spoon-fed to a truly mysterious audience. Who is this for, and in pursuit of what? Education? Entertainment? It fails to succeed in either of these avenues. An embarrassing, cheap, surface level attempt to write off its shortcomings behind intentionally bad comedy. The fact that this was shot near where I live only makes me seethe more.
#72. He’s All That
Believe it or not, it was actually pretty hard to pick the worst movie of the year. At the end of the day, it’s clear that He’s All That is a film seemingly created by Netflix to generate deliberate hate watches. Superficial, cliché and painfully unfunny, this unapologetic springboard for TikTok star Addison Rae is a chore to get through, rehashing tired ideas like “be the real you” while candy-coating it in the sickly sweet sheen of Gen-Z shallowness. There’s no character development, no engaging conflict and no shortage of narcissism. God forbid they actually try to make an actual commentary on the objectification of our youth through social media and the lasting damage it causes to one’s psyche. Screw that, watch me hit the Woah (or whatever the current flavor-of-the-month TikTok dance is. Written for a much older audience yet comes off so childish and immature, I can only pray the younger generation has enough self-awareness to avoid this blatant pandering.
Matthew Lillard, I sincerely hope that fat Netflix paycheck serves you well.
Just barely missing the bottom spot is the annoying, girl-bossing, Gen-Z pandering adaption of the done to death Cinderella mythos. The film is chock full of poorly auto-tuned singing, terrible writing, and the biggest cinematic sin of all…James Corden. There’s some actual good actors here fighting for their lives, but nothing can stop the sweltering wave of 2nd hand embarrassment that this film causes. Did we really need another Cinderella movie? And will this be the last tone-def, sloppily modernized fairytale adaption? Take a guess.
#70. Space Jam: A New Legacy
Space Jam: A New Legacy takes all that was bad about the original Space Jam (blatant consumerism) and amplifying that 1000% percent. Lebron James does little to make this film different enough from its predecessor, but the creative players behind the film also don’t give him much to work with. Overly stylized and painfully unfunny, yet the biggest sin this film commits is the purposeless and unoriginal integration of HBO movie properties into head-scratching cameos that do little to add to the story. A “product” by every sense of the world, I wouldn’t be surprised if this movie made Martin Scorsese drop dead if he were to watch it.
#69. Earwig and The Witch
The first 3D animated film to come out of legendary production house Studio Ghibli is unfortunately an uninspired stinker. Directed by the son of masterful storyteller Hayao Miyazaki, I’m not entirely convinced his son has ever seen one of his films in full. Earwig and The Witch plays out as if it was written by someone who only knew of Miyazaki’s films by their elements. Eccentric child? Check. Talking animals? Check. Witches and magic? Check. The story is by the numbers and unoriginal, while the animation, which is usually the most impressive thing about these films, is unappealing when the animators don’t allow their characters to be expressive, coming off plastic-like when not in motion. The film finally seems to be heading in an interesting direction after over an hour of blandness…then it ends. It just ends. An unsatisfying conclusion where nothing of note feels resolved. It may be fine for kids, but it maintains none of the magic that made Ghibli films so enjoyable in the first place.
#68. Army of the Dead
Leave it to Zack Snyder to turn an exciting idea like a zombie outbreak set in Vegas into an ugly, boring and blurry 2 plus hour long snoozer. Adding DP to his credentials this time around, Snyder’s scenes are out of focus half the time, and when they aren’t you get to see his glorious color palette of muted browns and greys in all their glory. Annoyingly uninspired characters top the film off, working with trademark laughable faux-intellectual dialogue to make you think you’re watching anything deeper than a tired attempt to keep the zombie genre afloat. While there are some genuinely good ideas berried here, they are all held back by the very stylistic choices that keep me from calling myself a Snyder fan.
#67. Chaos Walking
What an annoying concept: a future where your thoughts are amplified for everyone to hear. What this equates to is an hour and a half of Tom Holland letting us know how much he wants to bone Daisy Ridley as they trek through a stale sci-fi thriller. Concept aside, the decent performances work their hardest against the uninspired script to only minor success. It’s not as terrible as years in Development Hell would lead you to believe, but it’s certainly not worth thinking about ever again.
#66. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
I just want a good Venom movie. Is that really too much to ask?
Luckily the film is incredibly short (honestly not sure there’s even a 2nd act) and the Eddie/Venom old-married couple relationship can still be fun to watch, but ultimately this feels like a big step back. Woody Harrelson and Naomi Harris’s Cletus Kasady/Carnage and Frances Barrison/Shriek and laughably terrible, with goofily cringe performances and some absolutely terrible dialogue. There’s hardly any action and the character dynamics are even weaker this time around. It’s a big disappointment, and I only hope Venom’s eventual integration into the MCU will ultimately save him. But with MCU fatigue in full swing, its too soon to be certain.
#65. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
For me, this is the final nail in the coffin for The Conjuring franchise. With terrible spin-offs plaguing the market for years now, the mainline movies directed by James Wan at least managed to be remain competent in their presentation and scares. But, with no Wan to steer the ship this time around, The Devil Made Me Do It devolves into a sluggish exorcist film when it had the potential to delve deeper into the real-life occurrence of demonic possession being a usable plea in a court of law. Despite some fine performances from the seasoned cast, the film is by far the least scary of the trilogy and does little to expand upon its characters or storytelling.
#64. Red Notice
Factory generated, census tested white noise full of every action movie cliché in the book. Occasionally has some good lines but the pairing of three of Hollywood’s most consistently rangeless A-listers leads to a film you’ve certainly seen before. There’s some impressive production, with the opening chase scene being the highlight of the film (a great sign of things to come). From there it’s just a slew of uninspired, green screened set pieces full of gunfights where no one gets hit and stakes that never feel high. Gal Gadot materializes into rooms just to show how capable she is, Ryan Reynolds uses his scrapped Deadpool 3 lines and The Rock reaffirms it’s about DRIVE, IT’S ABOUT POWER, WE STAY HUNGRY, WE DEVOUR, PUT IN THE WORK, PUT IN THE HOURS AND TAKE WHATS OURS. A few bright spots of genuine ingenuity can’t shine through the heap of dung that Netflix proudly proclaims as their “most expensive film yet”. You get 3 guesses where most of that money went.
TW: Ed Sheeran jumpscare.
#63. The Woman in the Window
I had hoped that whatever curse that was placed on Amy Adams after Hillbilly Elegy that forced her into bad movies had lifted, but that does not appear to be the case. An overtly complicated and unnuanced Rear Window, the film’s biggest strength is Adams, delivering a fine performance as a paranoid peeping Tom who suspects foul play amidst her own deteriorating mental state. Yet, the film fails to maintain suspense, tossing in a few twists that you may not see coming, but will still leave you unsatisfied by the end. The writing makes no one sound like a real human, as every single character seems to lack even a shred of compassion. In conclusion, just watch Rear Window. And Amy, please, get a new agent.
#62. False Positive
I love A24, but even they are not immune to the rare misfire. False Positive submerges the complexities of childbirth and commentaries on the culturally entwined roles man and women serve in pregnancy under a sea of mediocre writing, acting and storytelling. Everything is predictable and unoriginal, with no real surprises or shocks you can’t guess ten minutes in. Pierce Brosnan is the best performance here, only because he’s allowed to be a pompous egotist to campy delight. The cinematography is competent, but the editing is a disjointed headache at times. Despite liking most of the parties involved, this is without a doubt the weakest A24 film I’ve seen thus far.
Not nearly as bad as expected given Disney’s recent live-action track record, but still remains incredibly one-note and forgettable. The costumes are great and most of the performances are passable, but the writing and excessive needle dropping does get tiring. It takes a weird direction for a character famous for skinning dogs, advertising her as an anti-hero when in reality she comes off more as a rebellious anarchist who is usually seen in the right. Not offensively bad, but nothing worth note on display here.
While the action is well choreographed and the film is decently stylized, the story is fairly uninteresting despite the premise, the writing is pretty substandard, and the Japanese aesthetic feels unnecessarily touristy. If it wasn’t for Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Woody Harrelson I probably wouldn’t have given this a second thought, and while they do fine with the material it doesn’t really amount to anything substantial. Luckily, 2021 has given us much better female-led action films that you can read about shortly.
#59. Fear Street:1994
Feels like a R-rated movie written for middle schoolers. I can appreciate some of the genuine surprises the film pulls off, but overall it feels too rooted in past films to really have its own style or identity. The dialogue gets super embarrassing and the story gets fairly predictable, but the soundtrack is fun and there’s at least one pretty great kill involving a bread slicer. If you’re a fan of classics like Scream and aren’t looking for much change in the formula, then this film may just be for you.
Dumb as all hell until the last 15 minutes, where the film transforms from a soapy, paranormal crime film into a gory, metal AF horror-action flick. These 15 minutes are the best part of the movie, really highlighting the film’s impressive camera work, heart-pumping soundtrack and a truly terrifying creature design. It’s a shame, because the rest of the film is laughable thanks to its poor writing and overabundance of music cues. If this was done in jest, it really doesn’t seem like the film is as self-aware as it thinks it is. After the snoozefest that was The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, this has to be the biggest horror shocker of the year considering James Wan was fully in the driver seat on this one. What happened?
#57. Wrath of Man
A structurally messy and surprisingly boring heist film with a phoned in Statham scowling and glaring his way through brushing off being murdered twice. Occasionally enjoyable when the guns start firing, yet the action scenes aren’t all that enthralling or memorable. The script is hit or miss. The banter between the characters is corny in a charming way, but the rest of the film is layered with either try-hard action one liners about assholes and pooping your pants and exposition dumps as subtle as a grenade going off in an emergency room. The score is fairly forgettable, blending in with every other dime a dozen action thrillers like this one. I’m not super familiar with Ritchie’s work outside of the Sherlock Holmes films, and I can’t say I’ve exactly been won over yet.
Cool Johnny Cash dubstep remix I guess?
Even with Avengers: Endgame being the most profitable movie in a decade, the Russo Brothers have been dead set on proving they can do more than just flashy, big budget superhero flicks. With Cherry they attempt to delve into serious issues like the USA’s military industrial complex, PTSD and the opioid epidemic. However, these themes are purely used for shock value and faux-gravitas while never really making a nuanced statement that hasn’t already been said before. Drugs are bad?? Who would have thought? The film can’t seem to nail down what it wants to say, evident in its erratic editing and overly stylized presentation. Tom Holland does his damndest to be taken as a serious actor, but he isn’t exactly working with great material. There are some brief flashes of competency in the storytelling style, but the movie is way too long to have so few moments of genuine attraction.
#55. Pieces of a Woman
Proof that a few impressive long takes can’t save your film.
The 20 something minute opening birth scene is genuinely tense and unsettling. Unfortunately, the film is never really able to capture this emotion or suspense again. While Kirby steals the show, her co-stars severely fall behind. LaBeouf’s line delivery feels amateurish while his emotional outbursts occasionally have unintentional humor behind them. I hate to do it to Ellen Burstyn, but she teetered between fine and unbearable in this. Her monologue about being hidden in the floorboards as a baby is so left field and jarring, coming out of nowhere to solely show what a great actor she is. I’ve never seen a more blatant “Oscar moment” scene than this. While the aforementioned long takes and cinematography and competently shot, I found the music to be annoyingly overbearing, adding nothing to the scenes other than to tell you “this is a sad moment, you should feel sad right now”. I appreciate the themes of dealing with grief in your own way and fighting against conformity in the eyes of your peers (very similar to Marriage Story), but its just so overly dramatic and silly at times.
#54. Malcolm & Marie
Malcolm and Marie?
More like Malcolm is a Mary Sue!
(I have now solidified the fact that I will never work on a Sam Levinson picture.)
So, if you ignore the performative blackface, the unrealistic 1 vs. 1 arguments that boils down to taking turns delivering monologues, and the uncomfortable realization that this script potentially all stems from a bad review from the writer/director’s earlier works, you get a well acted, theatrically aggressive film that discusses the validity of the critic’s perspective and motives as well as cooperative project known as a relationship. But if you’re like me and most of the world, you don’t ignore these things because they’re so glaringly aggravating. The wool is so thin that it’s impossible to ignore the artist’s intention. Film is about heart and electricity says John David Washington’s Malcolm, but its clear that Malcolm & Marie attempts to be the exception to this rule by lacking any genuine reason to exist. It’s so easy to say that every film doesn’t need a message, but from the most complex art house films to the cult classics, EVEYTHING that’s worth a damn is done with meaningful intention. You may not realize it, but it’s there. If it’s not, then why should I care? I found myself not caring about what happened over the course of this repetitive, overly self-indulgent film several times.
Why? Because the movie told me not to.
#53. The Little Things
I can’t believe Jared Leto is the best actor in a film with Washington and Malek.
Sometimes intriguing with its ideas, the film is unfortunately saddled with a relatively dull script full of crime drama clichés that make it feel like an elongated episode of Criminals Minds. Top it off with your Oscar winning actors sleepwalking through their phoned in performances, and you’ve got a film wanting to be Se7en so bad but can’t exactly figure out the recipe that made that film a success. Evidently, it’s the little things that make your movie underwhelming.
#52. Mortal Kombat
I’m a bit biased with this film since I’m a fan of the video games, but even I must acknowledge what a let down this film was. While it absolutely nails its trademark violence and characterizations, the film stumbles with a lukewarm story and some truly terrible writing. Taking a page out of every other big movie franchise today, the film seems to exist solely to set up the next, a trend that can’t die off soon enough. I had fun with this one, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t bored most of the time.
#51. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Still overly long with some truly ugly CGI and coloring, Snyder‘s vision at least shines through completely here as opposed to the mishmash of ideas and tones that were found in the original cut of this film. The characterizations are still done well and most of the cast still does a decent enough of a job despite the material they’re given to work with. It’s release marks a truly historic moment in the world of public influence, but I just wish something more monumental could have risen from this.
#50. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
Well acted and presented, but unfortunately it brings little to the conversation of the intoxicating power those in faith can have over others. Playing itself straight, I felt the film could have benefited from a more absurdist approach if it were to stick with its basic premise, something a’la I, Tonya. It’s a story you’ve certainly heard before told in a way you’ve most definitely heard before, but the transformative performance from Chastain can’t be ignored.
#49. Raya and the Last Dragon
While still brimming with Disney’s trademark charm and imagination, the film is unfortunately held back by a lack of variation in the Disney formula. It really feels like Disney is spinning their wheels, as many of their films begin to seem so similar in their presentation and writing. A mixed message unfortunately puts this film a bit lower than most from the House of Mouse, yet it’s undeniably cute and entertaining for many ages.
Impressive big ideas with less than impressive execution. The film desperately tries to be intellectual but just ends up being corny with its overtly metaphorical musings on memory and whatnot. A bit slow to start but thankfully picks up in the second half. The performances are pretty good all around and the setting and visuals are fairly interesting and unique. I only wish it would’ve really run with the idea without trying so hard to connect a deeper meaning to it, trying to look smarter than it actually is.
#47. I Care a Lot
The film never really nails its satirization of the evils of capitalism, as the idea is quickly swept to the side 20 minutes in and doesn’t resurface until the very end. Despite this, it’s entertainingly vile performances keep it afloat, along with a dream-like synth soundtrack and competent cinematography. While the characters are entertaining, I found them less to be products of a flawed system and merely opportunists willing to exploit others for financial gain. There;s nothing wrong with a character like that, but I feel as if they were meant for more than what we saw. All in all, a hell of a past few years for female-led thrillers.
#46. Gunpowder Milkshake
Stylish and well choreographed at times, but a slow first act and derivative script a bit too campy for my taste keeps the film from being something truly great. A lot of interesting ideas are utilized in the fight scenes, but sometimes the movements are suspiciously slow and safe like the characters are in on the dance. The dialogue is laughably bad at times, but it occasionally gets its humor to hit. Set design and lighting is queen here, making the film a visual rollercoaster best enjoyed with the brain switched off.
#45. Black Widow
While arriving far later than it should have, Black Widow manages to remain fairly entertaining thanks to its likable cast. Yet, the story and action is a bit of a letdown all things considered, making it one of the most “meh” films in the MCU despite competent presentation.
#44. Ride the Eagle
Truthfully I probably wouldn’t have paid this film any mind if I wasn’t such a big fan of Jake Johnson, but I found this to be a cute if not simple film about a son attempting to make peace with his dead mother. It gets off to a slow start, but the film eventually begins to land its comedy by the 2nd act. Simple and occasionally feeling like a student film, it still manages to be a cozy, lighthearted experience. Maybe we need more movies like this: fun actors hanging out in the mountains with their real life dog and J.K. Simmons.
A bonkers throwback to the police shootouts of yesteryear. This contained, often funny, often messy film may not bring many new ideas to the table, yet it still manages to be an enjoyable action flick that treads the line between thoughtful and mindless.
Despite its stylish camerawork and strong lead performances, the film buckles under the weight of all the themes and socio-political connections it tries to infuse into a fairly straightforward story. It tries to do too much, with the end result coming out as messy and inconsistent. It succeeds at building up dread and uneasiness, yet without satisfying payoff it unfortunately fails to bring the scares most of the time.
A neat little eco-horror that’s sure to get Naught Dog revving up those lawyers. Painted with interesting visuals and a haunting soundtrack, but squanders its potential with an underwhelming plot, flat characters and an overabundance of “IT WAS ALL A DREAM” scenes. Still, good to see Evil Dead‘s horny trees’ influence is still alive and well.
#40. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Ring
An instance of Marvel trying to take a step forward with highly choreographed fight scenes and ample representation, but manages to stay in relatively the same place due to their hesitance to break from their stylistic formula. A standout villain gives the film some needed depth, but it stumbles to properly build upon an emotional connection between the main character and the audience in a way that solidified many other MCU characters in the past. The potential is there, but after 20 something movies Marvel needs to find a way to mix up its presentation before audiences begin to tune out.
While its flaws hold it back from being the Phase 4 breakout star that I was hoping for, Eternals was nonetheless an over-hated Marvel film in my opinion. Chloe Zhao‘s directing style actually manages to shine through here in her landscapes and humanizing direction of these gods amongst men. Where the film falters is in its pacing and exposition, making the first act of the film feel like it takes centuries to get its point across. It thankfully picks itself up and delivers somewhat unique set pieces and character dynamics, yet still lacks the true oomph it needed to be the leading charge into the future that Marvel desperately needs.
#38. Ghostbusters Afterlife
Nostalgia is a hell of a drug; one that is constantly misused and abused by film studios in leu of writing new, original stories. While Ghostbusters Afterlife definitely relies on the past a bit too much, it still manages to remain a fun addition to the franchise through its likeable characters and surprisingly comedic script.
#37. Godzilla vs. Kong
This movie is proof I can still enjoy big, dumb action movies with the right elements. The film’s human characters are still the weakest parts of these movies, but this time around the monster action is increased to levels where there is rarely a dull moment. The fights are pretty creative in their use of the monster’s surroundings, and the effects are still top notch. Even with its basic story, the film still manages to entertain with the bread and butter that made people fans in the first place.
What if John Wick but old? The age old question is finally realized in this Bob Odenkirk shoot-em-up that’s just as dumb as one could imagine. Yet, the creative kills and Home Alone style traps make this a hell of a fun time despite not bringing anything new to the table. But come on, you’re just looking to watch Saul Goodman beat the crap out of thugs. This gives you just that and little else.
#35. The Matrix Resurrections
Ambitiously fun, even if it is overly tongue and cheek and unable to capture the revolutionary power of the original. Still, I thought it took an intriguing approach to meta commentary, sequels and the never ending chugging of the big budget blockbuster machines. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which may disappoint hardcore fans looking for something more traditional, but what could really be done with the franchise from here other than a self-reflecting divulgence into the IP and its status in pop culture. It’s a messy creature, but at least its one that comes from a place of earnest rather than an incessant need to milk an idea for all its worth.
We pig in a society.
It would be incredibly easy to overstate/understate the impact this film had on me. Void of constructed narrative, the film simply focuses on the life of farm animals and the small moments of wonder that comes with it. Cows swat flies from each other’s faces with their tails; piglets catch rain droplets in their mouths. Shot in beautiful black and white, the film somehow manages to put us on their level, capturing intimate moments of happiness and sadness we may never think about. Even without knowing the intention and the producers behind it, the message is clear: these are beings with families, emotions and lifestyles and should be treated with more respect than our world gives them. At the end of the day, this is 90 minutes of just watching animals go about their day. It’s a test of patience that might be too raw and unfiltered without being overly dramatized for most people. Beautiful for what it is, despite struggling to be consistently engaging.
#33. Listening to Kenny G
As someone with no connection or strong feelings to Kenny G and his music, I thought this was pretty insightful. Its interesting to frame a documentary this way, featuring both lovers and haters of the musician, getting both sides of the story and understanding why they feel the way they do. Kenny G is also such a fun subject to follow, with a magnetic, carefree attitude that isn’t afraid to face his criticisms head on. There’s no huge emotional swings or grand revelations, but its a terrific insight into the man behind the music you’ve definitely heard before even if you didn’t know it.
A neat coincidence that turned into a fairly interesting unraveling of an actor with a pretty publicized reputation. It doesn’t really do much to delve deeper into who he was rather than how he wants to be seen, but still has some nice sentimental moments and unique insight into an actor’s life.
#31. Bad Trip
How much longer can Andre get away with this before he has to go full disguise like Sacha?
Honestly, I had a real good time with this. The pranks and stunts were awesome and fit well into the context of the story. It can get real lowbrow and ridiculous at some points (how no one suspected the gorilla scene was fake is beyond me) but the setups remain constantly entertaining and engaging. The story is pretty basic but this film got me laughing in ways very few movies do. If your cringe tolerance is high, you’re sure to get a kick out of this.
RIP Electric Cowboys. Atlanta misses you.
#30. In the Heights
While I still can’t say I’m a huge fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s style, I can at least admit that he shows moments of genuine heart and passion through his words. In the Heights showcases some highly impressive dance numbers set to admittedly catchy beats, even if the lyrics get a bit overly-technical times. The performances are captivating even if the story doesn’t always focus on the more interesting characters enough. Even for someone who doesn’t always care for musicals, there’s plenty of foot tapping to be had here.
#29. Last Night in Soho
Because Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors working today, I can’t help but be critical when his latest film doesn’t live up to my own, ill-begotten expectations. The film is unfortunately missing much of the stylistic elements that made me love his other films, paired with one of his weakest film scripts to date. What saves the experience is when moments of Wright‘s flair shines through, creating a beautifully tense paranormal ride that manages to be predictable but enjoyable.
#28. The Card Counter
A film that simultaneously feels like it came from the mind of a seasoned veteran and a first timer. Oscar Isaac does a great job at exemplifying a tortured casino-hopper seeking redemption and decency through the only hobby he has. Yet the rest of the cast either underperform or are given too little to do. Schrader’s dialogue sounds a bit stilted and overtly direct, and the camera work doesn’t do much to engage through drier scenes, but his storytelling and pacing still manages to encapsulate a familiar yet nevertheless fulfilling narrative.
#27. The Last Duel
Despite taking a fairly predictable and straightforward approach, The Last Duel is undeniably well crafted in its technicalities and performances. The story of a woman fighting for justice in a man’s world is not a new idea, but the medieval setting lends itself to a unique take on a popular topic. The truth is constantly clouded not for the audience, but the characters, as prideful men seek to justify their wrongdoings at the harm of the women around them. The pacing is a bit weird at the beginning and the dialogue has its period-related inconsistencies, yet there’s plenty of action and drama that only works as well as they do thanks to the artful hand of Ridley Scott.
A clear cut example of a movie’s marketing emphasizing a particular element of a film and maximizing it to the point that the end product feels unsatisfactory. The film is still quite good, tackling parental grief and vengeful nature through the absurdity of a cute half-lamb-half-human child. Stunning scenery and eerie atmosphere only do so much, and those expecting a full fledge horror or maybe something a bit more philosophical may find themselves disappointed. Nonetheless its still a surprisingly calm, comforting thriller that at least manages to be unlike anything else I’ve seen this year.
#25. The Lost Daughter
An uncomfortable stomach churn that does a great job at attempting to generate understanding for awful people through the shared trauma that comes from one of life’s most rewarding and testing challenges: motherhood. Coleman is once again fantastic in everything she is given, and what a solid directorial debut for Gyllenhaal, both working in tandem to generate and unrelentingly stressful character study. The pacing does get shot in the knees a ton due to the flashbacks that sprinkle emotional exposition to the film. While they are well led by Buckley, it does disjoint the film to the point where I think more could have been done in the present.
#24. The Suicide Squad
It was essentially impossible for this movie to not be an improvement over 2016’s Suicide Squad, but James Gunn‘s style and presentation makes this an undeniable good time. Although the pacing is a bit all over the place and the characters aren’t incredibly captivating if not entertaining, the action, gore and humor is insanely gravitating, making this a film fans and casuals can enjoy with ease.
#23. A Quiet Place Part II
It’s rare a horror movie sequel can even match the same quality of the original, but A Quiet Place Part II is one of those rare exceptions. While not as emotionally compelling as the first and opting to repeat much of the same formula without expanding upon the mythos, the film still manages to be a tense tale with great performances and expanded settings that at least make this silent world a bit more fleshed out.
The common moviegoer most likely sees Nicholas Cage as an unorthodox, zany individual known for overactive facial expressions, bombastic line deliveries and notable financial troubles. But, don’t let anyone ever tell you Cage is not a fantastic actor. Pig is Cage at his most vulnerable; playing a recluse with a glorious past that wishes to live in solitude with his trusty truffle pig. When his loyal swine is pig-napped, Cage sets out on a journey of grief, self-sacrifice and deep reflection. A subversive revenge movie that, like You Were Never Really Here, plays against our expectations to deconstruct the anger and sorrow that drives us. A bit silly and over-dramatic at times, the film is nonetheless a triumph for Cage and a meditative experience for those who have ever felt loss before.
#21. The Power of the Dog
A more methodical take on the Western genre, disecting ideas of masculinity and what it means to be a man. The star power on display here is absolutely impressive, with everyone giving it their all in their many layered performances. Set in the backdrop of the gorgeous western mountains, the film is a bit slow to show what its all about at the beginning, but once the power dynamics and suppressed emotions begin to surface, the film truly gets uncomfortably wild. Truthfully I’m due for a rewatch here, so maybe I’ll find the film to be better than I initially thought.
#20. The Killing of Two Lovers
Like Pig, The Killing of Two Lovers subverts expectations in an engaging and tense way. Focused on the perseverance of love through heart-shattering tribulations, the film’s performances are uncut and down-to-earth as a family tries to find their way through a separation. Shot in a narrow aspect ratio that almost gives it a home-movie feel, the film feels deeply intimate and believably authentic. Some may find this a bit too subversive, but I found it to be a shining delight in a bleak world where love seems to be fleeting at an all time high.
Legend has it it took 30 men to hold Lin-Manuel Miranda down to stop him from voicing Bruno.
Nothing too revolutionary here but I enjoyed the message the most out of any Disney film from this year. The characters are fun if not a bit one note, and the story is straightforward with a few cliches, like elders just being too caught up in their ways to understand those darn kids. The songs are a mix bag, but when they hit, they hit hard (“We Don’t Talk About Bruno” has been stuck in my head since). Certainly the best Disney had to offer in the animation department this year.
Nothing short of a grand, sci-fi spectacle that chooses to focus on interplanetary politics more than large-scale laser battles. Because it chose to go this more character-driven route, I can’t help but feel disappointed by how little I felt for the characters’ journeys. There’s certainly bigger and better things to come, but the film can’t help but feel like a commercial for this promise. There’s still a lot to appreciate, from the visuals to the performances, but the film seems too caught up in its own grandeur to be the epic it was truly meant to be.
#17. West Side Story
My first Spielberg films in years, as his recent political thrillers haven’t interested me as much. But damn, its truly amazing to see the difference between his directing style compared to many modern directors. The cinematography is gorgeous and the choreography is mind blowingly impressive. While I wasn’t super invested in most of the songs, the visual flair on display alongside them more than made up for it. “Be Cool” is one of the most impressively meticulous scenes I’ve seen this year, further cementing the director’s status as a visionary capable of designing some of the most fluid and seamless scene progressions you’ll ever see. Everything about the film is masterfully done, and the fact that this is essentially a box office bomb is nothing short of depressing.
#16. Spider-Man: No Way Home
A film that shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. More of an experience than a film that will only resonate with those who have a prior connection to the MCU and the past Spider-Man films, which just so happens to be me. Despite its messy plot, I still had a blast with this, making it my favorite theater experience this year. Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has finally come full circle, embodying the morals of the character and feeling as close to the web-head as ever. The villains of the past were great to see again, with Willem DaFoe‘s Green Goblin stealing the show with unhinged maliciousness. Maybe this film sits a little high on the list despite its bloatedness, but I’d be lying if said I didn’t have a blast with this.
Although it feels like a movie you’ve seen before, it thankfully has much of the unnecessary BS you would expect cut out. Genuinely funny and tender yet rarely feeling artificial, CODA‘s coming of age themes mixed with the reliance on family takes on a refreshing form as a deaf family supported by their one able-eared daughter try to come to terms with change and reliance. The film’s portrayal of deafness as another modem of life rather than a debilitating disability is nice to see as an aspect to a character’s life without it directly being the central conflict. While some of the conflict does feel avoidable, the performances carry the film in such a heartfelt way that you don’t care. A perfect example of a tried thematic approach elevated by honesty, love and passion.
#14. No Sudden Move
While not exactly a needle-mover in terms of growth for the mob genre, No Sudden Move is still without a doubt one of the best in recent memory. Anchored by slick writing, engaging characters supported by an all-star cast, and a poignant political message that reminded me of The Nice Guys, the film is classic Soderbergh. Still can’t say I’m a big fan of the anamorphic lens use, but I can easily overlook something like that when the story manages to be so intricate and smartly written.
#13. Saint Maud
A film that took me nearly 2 years to see because of weird international release dates and a certain viral disease, Saint Maud was certainly worth the wait for my elevated horror loving self. A creepy and depressing reflection on the desire for a higher power to bestow purpose and meaning in one’s life, the film is concise yet pulls no punches in its terrifying presentation. The final shot is one of the most spine-chilling horror endings in recent memory, sticking with me to this very day.
I’ll be the first to admit when I don’t fully understand something, and for me, Titane is one of those film I enjoyed even if I didn’t fully get what the intention was. There’s certainly something deeper here, but the heartfelt performances, brutal violence and absolutely absurd plot points are enough to make it uniquely memorable and entertaining. The completely impressive and horrifying changes Agathe Rousselle goes through, both bodily and emotionally, are stunningly grotesque and surprisingly heartwarming. To place this film’s genre in one box would be a disservice. It goes through such a wide range of feelings and presentations that its impossible to truly define. Maybe one day I’ll actually understand it, but until then I can enjoy it for what my baboon brain allows me to.
#11. One Night in Miami
A meditative and terrifically acted “what if” scenario where some of the most influential modern Black public figures come together to tear apart the world they’re living in and how one another is handling their successes in a world where they still aren’t considered equal. Fantastic performances from our main 4 that don’t exactly hit at the beginning on their own, but really spark once they are all together. Driven by masterfully woven dialogue, their conversations about the civil rights movement, success, identity and weaponizing their talents create a growingly intense conflict that rarely ever steps outside a small motel room. We see the dynamics between each man, creating an ever changing mood that gives each main character ample amounts of screen time and conflicts with their hotel guest. Despite all these differing ideas and beliefs, the film never solely sides with one figure’s arguments over another. Each are valid and understandable as much as they are dismissible depending on your own ideals. The story’s theater origin is heavily apparent, but King does her best to utilize the medium of film to create a lived in world where admiration and hate coexist for all 4 men while also beautifully connecting them to the point where it makes you believe this really happened. It’s everything a contained film needs to be, ending with a final montage that illustrates the uncomfortable truth of how the most important movement in American history bred its perceived champions and martyrs.
#10. The Mitchells vs. The Machines
A film that mixes a timeless message with undoubtedly time sensitive humor is a bit of a gamble, but I think the film pulls it off! Way funnier than I was expecting and showcases some stylish animation (which I was expecting). The humor relies heavily on internet jokes and deliveries, yet refrains from being completely out of touch (I don’t think I saw a single character floss). The TECH BAD/FAMILY GOOD story concept is a bit tiring in this day and age, and while this film falls into these plot points with a fairly predictable progression, it still manages to poke fun at both sides of the argument. The humor may not be for everyone, but I see this as a great outing for Sony in a post Spider-verse world.
#9. Judas and the Black Messiah
Though structurally and narratively familiar, Judas and the Black Messiah is still an undeniably powerful piece of history that showcases the life of not only one of the most under-discussed, influential civil rights leaders in history, but also the man that would ultimately lead to his demise. Lakeith Stanfield and Daniel Kaluya are mesmerizingly outstanding, bombastic in their incarnations of struggle and passion. Not to mention that for a biopic, the film’s cinematography is outstandingly creative, alongside a powerful soundtrack that manages to capture the heart and the anger behind one of our nation’s most egregious crimes. While I wish the film would have portrayed the main characters closer to their actual age (can you believe they were actually barely adults???), there’s still no downplaying the film’s importance in history and a culture that continues to strive for equality.
#8. Shiva Baby
Like Uncut Gems but without the swearing and killing, Shiva Baby is a stressful, uncomfortable film set at a wake that still manages to be hilariously funny. Based off the short film of the same name, the film manages to perfectly balance depressing self-realization with cringe-inducing family interactions we’ve all experienced at one point or another. Secrets threaten to slip out at a moments notice, attempting to ruin entire lives simply through an off-hand comment. It’ll make you consider skipping out on your next family gathering for sure.
A haunting, ghost story of a biopic, opting to zoom in and analyze the nature of Princess Diana’s existence before her untimely death. Absolutely beautiful from top to bottom; masterful craftsmanship shining through in the cinematography, costume design and score. Kristen Stewart is obviously the biggest talking point here in an absolutely transformative take as the late princess. She exemplifies a laughter, an act of love and a cry for help doing its damndest to break away from the stuffy collars of the elite. Her experiences solidify a generation-spanning issue that continues to prevail in the royal family to this day. Yet the film manages to find an air of hopefulness despite knowing what’s bound to happen, but manages to make you think it was all a terrible dream.
Heartwarmingly honest and brutally tender, Minari is an earnest fish-out-of-water tale about an international family chasing their dreams in America, although they soon come to find out their dreams aren’t as universal as they may think. Striking a divide between integrating to the customs of their new home and yearning for the life they had before, the complex family dynamic is a beautiful and sorrowful thing to watch. The heart of the film is the trials and perseverance of the family’s love as they battle their own struggles, but with the family’s future always in mind. Simply put, its one of the most heartfelt movies of this year and is proof that love truly can grow anywhere.
#5. The Green Knight
Sure, I had to read up on Arthurian legends to full appreciate this film, but that should not take away from how fantastic of a fantasy tale this is. Beautiful visuals paint this medieval world in such a familiar and colorful way, while underlying themes of honor and glory gives the film the depth it needs to stand out among the many movies of knights that exist. Its been one of my favorite films to think about and debate with others on its deeper meaning, which is honestly what every movie should strive to do. A good movie can give you 2 hours of digestible fun, but a truly spectacular movie will live rent free in your mind well after the credits roll.
2020 was perhaps one of the most universally difficult years our generation had ever endured. With the world closing its doors and leaving many in a suspended animation of uncertainty, a reflective step back was needed. Nomadland came to me early into 2021, giving me a refreshed perspective on the world we choose to live in. This film was everything I expected it to be in the best ways. Quiet and honest. The kind of authenticity you can only get by casting people who actually live the film’s themes. Never feeling exploitative or trying to dissect the shortcomings that have landed these people in this situation (cough Hillbilly Elegy). Emotional without relying on manipulation or “misfortune porn”. So relaxing to watch yet makes me question a lot of my life choices at the same time. Truly something special.
#3. C’mon C’mon
So sweet, so tender, so honest. A beautifully quiet film about bridging the gap of understanding between the old and new generations. Helmed by a director with masterful patience and a cast delivering career best performances, its hard not to feel some type of happiness and comfort when watching this film. It takes its time, lets you settle into living with these characters, showing the growth in emotional maturity each of them develop as they learn to see the world through one another’s eyes. So simple, yet anything but.
#2. The Father
Closest thing to a horror movie nominated by the Academy this year.
I mean…Jesus. It’s just all so much presented in both the most simplistic and complex ways. The fractured timeline can be a bit confusing, but that’s entirely the point. We’re living this very real disease and are helpless to try to make sense of it all.
Infinite praise for Hopkins and Coleman, two of my all-time favorites. Despite the obvious theater origins of the screenplay, their interactions and emotions all feel genuine and authentic, refraining from being too overtly theatrical.
Set design is a huuuuge part of this film, and the subtlest details in the changes spoke so loudly to me. It’s such a claustrophobic, anxiety inducing piece of art that has to elicit something from you, you cynical assholes!
This review is a legally binding agreement that I be smothered with a pillow if this happens to me.
#1. Another Round
Now look, it would be very easy to be suspicious of the drinking-centric blog for picking this drinking-centric movie as its number 1. However, I do not mince words or over inflate myself when I say that this movie is nothing short of a masterpiece.
Drinking is a polarizing pastime that has created lifelong memories and completely ruined lives. The film knows this, and it doesn’t shy from showing the highs and lows that come with it. Yet, it never truly settles on a side because it all comes down to personal choice. Not everyone will have the same experiences, and this film is as much of a warning of drinking as it is a celebration. Our main characters travel across the spectrum of intoxication as their lives see both improvements and challenges, never all for not as they act from a place of vulnerability. They wish to have more passion in their careers, better relationships with their families and to reclaim a little bit of the youth they lost. It shows why many people turn to drinking while never applauding or demonizing them. We all just want to have a good time. We all just want to have a beautiful ride. Another Round is a deeply human movie full of laughs and tears that stuck with me personally.
I haven’t really talked about this publicly before, but from most of 2020 to early 2021, I was drinking every day. Part of this was due to the world crumbling around me, as COVID left me unemployed and confined to an apartment most of my days. It’s why I started The Martini Shot in the first place. I began to use the blog as a justification for my daily drinking, as I was constantly experimenting with different cocktails in order to come up with new drinks for my reviews. Some days I would start the morning off with a drink. Luckily nothing noticeably terrible came out of this (I’ll give you an update in a few years), but by the end of 2020 I knew something needed to change. So, for January 2021, I decided to give up drinking for the entire month.
Since then I have taken a step back and looked at my alcohol consumption, cutting back my intake significantly. I knew I needed to prove alcohol wasn’t controlling my life, and I was happy to prove to myself I could live without it. I still enjoy drinking and creating cocktails, but now I better understand that this is something I love to do and not something I need to do to be happy. I still have a lot to improve, but its nice to vilify that drinking doesn’t have the hold on my life that I had feared.
If you’re having 2nd thoughts about your drinking, watch this movie. If you know someone who is struggling with drinking, watch this movie. If you’re simply looking for a good time that can deliver multiple different emotions to you, then watch this movie.
Bottom line, if you need to watch one movie from this year, watch Another Round.
I know in my full review I gave it a 4.5/5, but screw it:
Phew. That was a lot. What did you think of my rankings? What should be higher? What should be lower? What was your favorite film of the year? What was your least favorite? Be sure to let me know down in the comments!