Top Favorite Films of 2021

Quite a few hotly anticipated films were released in 2021. Well, they were hotly anticipated by me. I didn’t spend a lot of time watching movies that were off my list of films because I was so busy dealing with my mother’s health issues, which was pretty stressful. (I’m not so much recovering from my Mother’s passing as I am from the sheer emotional stress of trying to keep her alive.)

As a result, I spent a lot of time watching a lot of stress- relieving TV series, standup comedies, or just things that simply weren’t very emotionally taxing. I just didn’t have the bandwidth for much more than that. This also meant that I watched a lot more escapist-type movies, MCU films, or just films without any heavy topics. But these were my favorites of all the movies I got to see.

Keep in mind, that I also tend to like a lot of what I watch because I’m not a professional critic, so don’t have to watch anything I don’t want to, and I tend to gravitate to movies and shows that I think will make me happy, or at the very least, make me think! Unlike professional critics, I don’t have to soldier through a movie that’s not working for me. I can always turn it off and walk away. I never hate-watch anything because life is too short to be subjecting myself to unpleasant movie-watching experiences as a form of fun! I love movies though, and can always find something I liked about most of the things I subject myself to.

And that’s the same aesthetic I carried into the TV series I watched this year. There were a lot of superhero shows, some comedies (a lot of standup), all of the MCU series except Loki, and lots of Youtube.

Spiderman: No Way Home

I do not as a general rule, rank things according to best to worst, or by numbers. My mind simply doesn’t work that way. For me, I either liked a movie, or I didn’t, and it starts with how the movie made me feel. If I didn’t like it, I won’t expend any more energy thinking about it, beyond what went wrong for me. That said, while this isn’t my absolute favorite movie this year, it is extremely high on my list of favorites because:

I went to the theater for the first time since 2019, and the first time without Mom. I took my niece and nephew instead. My nephew is ten and is a huge Spiderman fan, even though he doesn’t read comic books! It was so much fun sitting there speculating about the plot and characters with him, while trying to keep my youngest niece from eating all the popcorn and making herself sick. My oldest niece, The Potato, couldn’t make it.

I rated this movie at the top of my list largely because of the fun factors of going to the theater with my family, and the movie itself. My nephew and I are both huge Spiderman fans, so we were probably gonna like it regardless! And it was pretty neat watching him be excited about the two Spidermen that he wasn’t around to see that first time, as he’s only been alive since the Holland era!

I have a different attitude towards being a comic book/superhero nerd than a lot of other people. I do not engage in gatekeeping because the way I grew up I was wholly and completely alone in these geeky interests. There wasn’t anyone around to be geeky with, so I’m loving this thing where I get to share these interests with my nephew, who is also incredibly knowledgable, for one so young!

Expect to read more of my takes on Spiderman in the coming weeks.

Dune

I absolutely loved this movie, which has so much depth that, like most of Villeneuve’s movies, it’s gonna take a minute (and probably several posts and re-watches) to sort out my thoughts and feelings. If I had to rank this film I would put this at not only my most hotly anticipated film, but the best SciFi movie of the year.

Like Bladerunner 2049, this is a very immersive film, not just visually, but through plot, sound, and character. I’ve watched this multiple times, (it was on HBOMax), and the more I think of it, the more layers I find. Villenueve really did an exceptional job with this film, and I will be discussing this some more when Dune returns to HBOMax at the end of this month.

The Suicide Squad

And this is why it’s so hard for my brain to rank movies. I absolutely loved this film too, and would also count this one as one of the best movies of the year. This movie isn’t half as shallow as people think it is, considering it is a kind of grindhouse/found-family/superhero movie. I mean, if you’re a fan of the show Invincible, or the TV series The Boys, or Preacher, you might like this movie. It’s gory, fun, funny, utterly ridiculous, and has a surprising amount of pathos. I posted about this earlier. I am one of five people who are readily willing to admit that they actually liked the first movie too. I loved the characters mostly, and their interactions, and this movie built on that beautifully, even if I did miss Will Smith.

James Gunn has an incredible knack for taking characters you’re not supposed to like, characters who are villains, and making them nuanced and sympathetic. He even manages to make the final boss, Starro the Conqueror, a sympathetic character! He’s really good at getting you to care about them, and he’s done this in movie, after movie, after movie, from Dawn of the Dead, to Slither, to Guardians of the Galaxy. I trust him as a director, and can’t wait to see what he’s going to do next (probably Guardians of the Galaxy 3).

The Harder They Fall

I spoke briefly about this movie before it was released on Netflix. This movie just has a coolness factor that is simply unparalleled. It’s definitely the kind of movie Quentin Tarantino would’ve loved, except with a lot less use of the N*word. (That’s the difference between having a white director vs a Black one. White directors like Tarantino will throw that word around in the script, with no regard for Black audiences, because they think it’s more important to be edgy. Black directors almost never do this without considering that Black people will be watching it. Not that they don’t use the word, but when they do, it usually serves more purpose.)

That said, the movie’s focus is on style, and feelings, and not so much on truth or facts. Most of the characters in the movie lived in slightly different time periods, and never met each other, but that’s not a drawback, as far as I’m concerned, although some people seemed outraged at the idea. The movie is also a who’s who of Black cinema with Idris Elba, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Zazie Beetz, and my personal favorite (as an actor and a character) Lakeith Stanfield, who is very possibly, one of the coolest Black men to ever be seen in a Western!

The movie doesn’t just have a coolness factor, there are layers, and it pays to know a little bit about the time period in which the film is set, which is that little slice of time just after the Civil War. So much of the history of the West has been thoroughly whitewashed, but basically all the stories you either watched and or read about that only had white characters, well Black, Brown, and Indigenous people were all engaging in the same types of stories. They formed gangs, committed crimes, caught criminals, loved, fought, and died on horseback, too, and we never got any of these stories because a film industry run almost entirely by straight white men wasn’t interested in telling them.

Army of the Dead

For some reason, this movie caught a lot of flack from critics for being dumb, but I enjoyed it because sometimes the term dumb is being used in place of “fun”! That said, this is one of the more fun zombie films ever made. It’s not on the level of Shaun of the Dead, but it was a lot of fun, with a surprising amount of depth of feeling. I wrote about this movie in an earlier review, and I talked about Zack Snyder’s relationship to the film and its characters.

I do wonder why no one ever decided to combine the heist narrative with the zombie apocalypse, and I hope to see more of these kinds of zombie mashups in the future.

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

As I said in an earlier post, I wasn’t one of the people clamoring for the release of this movie. I was largely indifferent to the first version, and gave it no more thought after I watched it. There was a lot of the movie that, while watchable, just didn’t impress me much. But the Snyder cut deepened two of my favorite characters, who got short shrift in the theatrical version, and gave me mad respect for an old character that I just wasn’t feeling before: The Flash, Cyborg, and Wonder Woman, and I will always love this movie for that.

It doesn’t hurt that the villain was significantly more impressive, the plot was more coherent, and the action scenes looked excessively cool, especially Wonder Woman’s scenes. I discussed all of this in one of my mini reviews last year.

The Eternals

I generally liked The Eternals. I am a big fan of Chloe Zhao because of Nomadland, and I really “enjoyed” that movie, and I could definitely see her flavor of filmmaking here. It was a very “comfortable”, and “comforting” movie to settle into, because she has a different, quieter, and less “jangly” style of filmmaking than the other MCU films. The sounds, color, characters, all it just felt different.

As I said before, my way “into” a movie is often through its characters. The characters are quirky, or interesting, or sometimes I just see myself in them, and I think that’s why I liked the characters in this movie so much. They’re superpowered characters who just felt like people, and I actually liked all of them. I feel like the characters, and their relationships with one another was the movie’s strongest aspect.

The movie’s weakest aspect was the plot, which feels a bit disjointed at first, but then after a while, it just falls flat. I simply didn’t care about the plot, and I wasn’t invested in it. I will watch it again because the characters are all so likable, and the absolute best part of the film, but the plot didn’t move me at all!

Rurouni Kenshin: The Finale/The Beginning

I have an entire post dedicated to this five-part series of live-action movies, based on the anime. Keep in mind that that post will be only about the films because I never watched any of the anime, or read the manga. There is a lot to be said about this series, which is fun and action packed, and like a lot of Japanese projects has elements of everything: war, romance, martial arts, comedy. Right now, the last two parts of this series is available on Netflix, so check it out before I finish writing my review!

The Green Knight

I don’t have a whole lot to say about this movie. It’s very much a “were you feeling it”, dream sequence style of movie. If you’re not onboard with dream logic, magical plot points, and weird characters, or are simply unfamiliar with the original story of Gawain and the Green Knight, you’re not going to get a lot of mileage out of this movie beyond the visuals. That said, I didn’t get a lot of meaning out of it, although I’m sure it’s in there. I was simply too caught up in just following the story, and the cinematography, which is okay since it takes multiple viewings for me to get to the meaning of something at times, and I have not had the opportunity to re-watch it, since I haven’t rented it again. The movie is definitely haunting me though, so I may have to.

Candyman

A lot of people claimed that this movie was too slow, it didn’t have enough gore or killing in it, (as if that were the only criteria for a Horror movie), and that the plot made no sense, but Candyman is essentially a mashup of a slasher film and a ghost story, and I found it very satisfactory. Yes, it started off slow, but that is entirely in keeping with the narrative of the ghost story, where the foundation has to be set up before we can move on to the actual “haunting” section of the story, and I don’t mind slow-moving Horror.

I was impressed with how much of the original story was integrated into this one, and of course, there might have been some people who were confused about what type of movie this was, because knowing that makes it easier to slot it into a category they can understand. This definitely isn’t a prequel, and it’s not exactly a remake. It’s more of an updated sequel, continuing the story that was set up in the last movie, but with new information (since the Cabrini Green Housing Projects are now extinct), and new characters, and expanding the story to give it a kind of global mythology, and I really liked that.

Yahya Abdul-Mateen turns in a great performance, which is a sort of a reprisal of the role of Helen, in the first film. I’m getting really attached to this actor, because he keeps showing up in everything I want to watch. If you were hoping for more of Tony Todd, then you’ll be disappointed, because this version isn’t really about him, and he doesn’t turn up until the end of the movie. I feel like people’s mileage may vary regarding Horror movies depending on what expectations they bring into it. I’m not quite sure what I expected. I went into this having read the original story by Clive Barker, but only having watched the first movie a couple of times, and not being especially impressed by it.

As I said, this is a quiet, dialogue-heavy film that relies more on producing feelings of dread than gore and body counts, and I was here for it. Is it as good as Get Out, or Us? Maybe not, but I am here for this new wave of Horror movies featuring Black casts and mythologies, from the above named films, and movies like Vampires vs Brooklyn, to TV shows like Lovecraft Country.

Honorable Mentions:

Last Night in Soho

This movie made this list because I’ve always been fascinated by 1960’s London fashion and culture, which this movie captures beautifully. It’s not a great film, but it makes a really good effort at being great, it looks gorgeous, and it’s by one of my favorite directors, Edgar Wright. The drawback was that I wasn’t feeling the characters and plot that deeply. I just wasn’t very emotionally engaged with what happened to any of the characters, but that’s not to say you shouldn’t check it out. Its exceptionally stylish, and you may feel about the characters in a way that I didn’t.

Haloween Kills

There has been a lot of criticism of this movie as being stupid, and I feel I need to make the distinction here. The characters in the film are deeply stupid, which is par for the course when it comes to Horror movies, so I’m not sure why people are outraged about it here. The film itself has a point it wants to make, and I feel makes it beautifully. If the first film was about dealing with the aftermath of traumatic events, than this movie is about regret. I spoke about this in a previous post, and I stand by that. This was also the last Horror movie I watched with my Mom, who was, shall I say…unimpressed.

A GAME EFFORT:

These are movies that made a pretty game effort at being my favorites of the year, or at least the most entertaining, but for one reason or another just fell short. Not that I didn’t enjoy them, or that they were bad films, they just didn’t make it into the top ten.

These movies are all still well worth watching, and I watched a lot more movies than the ones on this list, but some movies stick in your memory, and others just don’t.

Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings

This is another movie where the plot fell flat for me, but I absolutely loved the characters and the action. The stand out character for me wasn’t Shang Chi, but his father, Wenwu, played by one of my favorite actors, Tony Leung. I think I may be in love with his heartfelt, soulful facial expressions, and that voice! He’s just dreamy…uhm okay…let move on.

Like I said, the weakest part was the plot. There are a few moments that pulled me right out of the film, or that I simply didn’t like, although the action scenes were very good, until the end of the movie, when all the fighting went on just a little too long, and so was a little bit tiresome. The same problem I ran into while watching Black Panther. It’s about people, until the end, then it’s just a too long action sequence with not enough “people” in it. Contrast that ending with the ending of The Eternals, or even Avengers Endgame, which still had some great character defining moments during the last fight scene.

But I do like Shang Chi, and the movie would’ve been higher on this list, except it got beat out by a couple of other films. It’s a fun, entertaining film, with two of my favorite actors, (Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung), and I’m really looking forward to whatever movie the “almost as likable as Spiderman”, Shang Chi shows up next!

Matrix Resurrections

I tried really hard to like this movie. I loved the action sequences, and one of the two primary characters was played by Jessica Henwick, who I was surprised to see got a lot (and I mean a lot!) of screen time. I loved her character, and Yahya’s version of Morpheus was great, and totally bad ass. I was less than impressed with Neo’s role, but Carrie Ann Moss’ character was good in the quieter, dialogue heavy moments, which I actually liked. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed her first meeting with Neo.

Where the movie fell flat, for me, was its treatment of mental illness, and parts of the plot. As I’ve said before, I’ve had some mental illness and suicide issues in the past, and parts of this movie were less enjoyable for me because they hit just a little too close to home, and kind of broadsided me with no warning. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad film, it just means it was especially triggering for me. I was very excited to see it, though, and will definitely watch it again, because the action scenes are really cool, and I really enjoyed the ending.

Also, I’m still not invested in Neo and Trinity’s relationship. They either have no chemistry or I’m still just not feeling it. The plot of the movie needs some work, and there were bits of it that felt a little soul-less, although there’s more humor in it than the last movies. I’m a big fan of the Wachowski Sisters, and I enjoyed Sense8, so I’m on board with anything else Lana comes up with in the future.

And Let’s Not Forget:

Black Widow

Once again, the characters were great, and I liked the action, but the plot didn’t impress me much, and I kept wandering off to do something else, while the movie played in the background. The best character in the entire movie, of course, was Yelena, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing her in the Hawkeye TV series. I

I’ve been really impressed by Florence Pugh (Yelena). The last time I saw her was in Midsommar, where she simply tore it up, and I’m really looking forward to seeing where her career goes in the MCU. She is a worthy successor to the old Black Widow played by Scarlett Johansson. Interestingly it’s the Yelena version of Black Widow that I’m most familiar from the comic books. I was well aware of the other Black Widow, but indifferent to her, never paying much attention, and I never read any of her adventures. I do remember some stories of Yelena and Hawkeye working together though.

Antlers

This is a pretty solid and gory horror movie that is yet again, about the Wendigo, and I’m here for it. It’s scary enough, but also a little predictable, the plot, and some of the acting didn’t meet my exacting criteria/s, so it didn’t make it very high on my list, but I just watched it, and it seems to be sticking with me, and I guess that’s a good thing. Not as good as Last Night in Soho, but better than Halloween Kills, I think.

Lamb

I really liked this one, but I didn’t love it. It’s about a couple on a sheep farm, who lost their daughter fairly recently, and have not moved on from their grief. When one of their sheep gives birth to a half lamb, half human creature (thanks to a large half man, half ram creature assaulting their flock), they steal it, and raise it as their own. You can guess that things come to a bad end.

I cannot say the movie is “enjoyable” because it’s just too disturbing for that, but it is dreadful, and haunting, and that’s enough to make it onto this list.

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