The Friendly Film Fan Makes Its First Pass at Predicting Next Year's Academy Award Contenders.
It is finally time. For those of you who have stuck around with me for a while, you know that there is one season I look forward to more than any other: Oscar season. Every year, the best of the best come out to show off what they can really do, and it’s always been fascinating to me to witness old legends mounting triumphant returns as new faces are celebrated and auteurs of all sorts crafting meaningful and provocative stories. Typically this season begins about halfway through the major festival circuit which occupies some of September and most of October. However, before that season begins in full force, it’s always fun to speculate what will make it through the sheer volume of content coming to theaters to contend for Hollywood’s highest honor. Of course, there are always great movies that get overlooked or passed over, whether due to lack of notoriety or simply how long it’s been since the initial release. But there are also films whose trajectories come out of nowhere, rocketing to triumphs no one expected and shaking up the hierarchy of what voters can expect. CODA won all of its Oscar nominations last year (including Best Picture), whereas mere weeks before awards were handed out, it landed firmly in third or fourth place on most predictions lists. Parasite was expected to lose to Sam Mendes’ 1917 for the big prize and ended up being the first non-English-language film to ever pull off that kind of win. There’s always something to keep film enthusiasts and voters on their toes, but for now, we’ll work with the playing field we have.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with how I make these predictions lists, they typically come in fours. The first three are all varying degrees of Nomination Predictions – one very early, one further into Oscar season when most of the films have been released and thus given either a boost or a humbling, and one just before the Oscar nominations are announced. Each of these feature guesses for every respective category in the Oscars program based on the number of nominees in said category, plus three “wildcard” picks that could steal a spot from one of the predicted nominees. For the first two of these lists, however, the Short Film predictions are not included, both due to lack of accessibility and the sheer volume of eligible or submitted Shorts remaining unknown until the Academy reveals their shortlists closer to Oscar night. (For those of you who do want an idea though, count on at least one of the Disney+ or Pixar shorts to make it in Animated Short.) The fourth predictions list is a set of Winner Predictions based on the field of nominees, typically posted the day before the Oscars telecast. We have a lot to get through, and a lot that could change very soon, so let’s get started. Here are my ridiculously early Oscar nomination predictions for the year 2023!
Over the past few years, Best Sound has become one of my favorite categories to reckon with in predictions lists, and one of my favorite aspects of film in general (so it figures that the Academy combines Sound Mixing and Sound Editing just as I had the difference between them figured out). The hum of Dune’s Ornithopters, the roar of Top Gun: Maverick’s F-18 engines, the subtle in-helmet vibrations of Gravity, the near-deaf acceptance of Sound of Metal – all of these things are some of my favorite elements of their respective stories, so predicting what will likely succeed in this realm and what will just miss the cut is very fun. There are, as always, the mainstays of the music biopic, a famous (and occasionally infamous) occupant of these nominations lists, so Elvis, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, and TÁR seem like smart choices here, as do the other genre mainstays in movies about moviemaking, such as Babylon and, to a less explicit extent, Nope. That leaves only the tentpoles for consideration, barring Empire of Light or White Noise having ridiculously good sound. And the tentpoles this time around are undeniable; Avatar is almost sure to get in, and while it’s not on the list at the moment, Black Panther’s previous chapter was nominated in both of the aforementioned sound categories before they were merged, so Wakanda Forever has a decent chance at repeat success. Frankly, Top Gun: Maverick is in the lead to win it all and shows no signs of slowing down, but let’s also not forget how thrilling it was to hear the Batmobile power on for the first time in The Batman, or how the dark knight’s boots were made to sound like an ominous demon was approaching. Both of these films more than deserve to be here at the end of the day, and honestly, I wouldn’t be mad at either of them taking the gold.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
This category can seem fairly easy to predict at first, but in reality, it’s difficult to tell beyond about three or four selections what fits the bill for a Visual Effects nomination in the eyes of the Academy. With Shazam!: Fury of the Gods now being pushed to 2023, we come closer and closer to having Thor: Love and Thunder appear in a VFX predictions list it has no business being near. That said, there’s still plenty left in its way that could break into the list instead. Avatar: The Way of Water, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, and Jurassic World: Dominion seem like forgone conclusions given how those films rely almost entirely on VFX to deliver spectacle, and the notion that no film but Forrest Gump has beat James Cameron at the VFX game since 1986, so it’s likely his movie wins this category again, especially as the advancements in VFX and Motion Capture tech made specifically for Avatar are one the film’s primary selling points. That leaves a number of things on the table, including Everything Everywhere All at Once, a film whose VFX seems relatively small or subsidiary to the story around them, but which are immensely impressive once one learns that the whole VFX team consisted of just five people. Other notable candidates include The Batman, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Bullet Train, Nope, and Netflix’s animated Pinocchio. Top Gun: Maverick is also an interesting case here, as Tom Cruise’s films are famous for their reliance on as much practicality and in-camera action as possible, but there are still plenty of digital effects in the film if you know where to look for them. With that in mind, I doubt Academy voters will bolster it to 1917 levels, as even the practicality in that film was thoroughly mixed with those VFX.
BEST ORIGNAL SCREENPLAY
Original Screenplay works largely in the opposite fashion from Adapted, where the number of options is ultimately what cripples certainty, but even then, there are pathways to follow and patterns to note. A class satire like Triangle of Sadness has its best shot at a nomination here, while this category is also often reserved for the wild indies and audience favorites that otherwise may not have made it to picture. Everything Everywhere All at Once will likely still land in Picture as it’s simply too good of a film to deny, but it’s still pretty out-there as movie premises go, so it would fit that second qualifier nonetheless. International films, too, have increasingly become mainstays in the screenplay categories over the past few years, with Parasite winning Original Screenplay in 2019 and Drive My Car being nominated for Adapted in 2021. In that spirit, Bardo and Decision to Leave both feel as if they have decent shots of breaking through. There are your mainstays, such as the Spielberg one (The Fablemans), the one about movies (Babylon), and the other one about movies (Empire of Light), but personally I’m more partial to rooting for those fringe picks to break in, even if TÁR is likely to suffer the same fate as Spencer by attaining a Lead Actress performance and little-to-nothing else.
BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY
Most of the time, the Oscar categories can be difficult to predict due to a wealth of options at one’s disposal with no clear path for which ones will end up staying the course all the way to the nominations announcement, but Adapted Screenplay is a different beast in that its difficulty is in finding more candidates beyond the obvious. A Harvey Weinstein scandal drama a la Spotlight, a Noah Baumbach adaptation of a beloved novel, a female-led ensemble piece built on conversation, and a follow-up to the 2021 Best Adapted Screenplay winner The Father from the same writer of that film all feel like choices destined to eventually hear their titles called, but once outside of those, it becomes difficult to find adaptations that could conceivably compete. This makes Darren Aronofsky’s adaptation of The Whale a candidate almost by default, as it’s the only Academy-like choice left that seems unquestionably of quality, at least on paper. Till may land here, but isn’t exactly a hot contender elsewhere, and Glass Onion may fall prey to a Knives Out curse, missing a nomination in its best-bet category. That leaves Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin left to shake up the race and not much else. McDonagh has been a welcome guest of the Oscars before, and has even been nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category twice, but hasn’t appeared in this one and hasn’t won an Oscar since his win for Best Live-Action Short with Six Shooter in 2006. That doesn’t spell great expectations or hot competition for a category with all but one near-guaranteed candidates; nevertheless, when the nominations do come, the winner may well be hotly contested.
BEST ORIGINAL SONG
This is the hardest category to predict nominations for because if you’re not in the music business or not watching literally everything that’s released in a given year and keeping track of whether or not there’s a song it has to show for itself, it’s the category to which pundits and predictors have the least exposure by far. There’s simply no way to tell which songs from which films will even be submitted, or even if some obscure film people haven’t seen has enough support to bolster a song nomination when it has nothing else to push for awards consideration. That said, there’s a decent amount to work off of so far. Almost every year, there’s an obligatory Diane Warren-written song attached to a film one isn’t considering that gets nominated and then loses her yet another Oscar (this would be the 15th loss for the icon), so one of the spots will go to that, and the team from The Greatest Showman has written the music for the upcoming children’s film Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile, which stars Shawn Mendes as a singing CGI crocodile (yes, that’s actually what I meant to write there), so that could very likely land at least one song on the board, although neither of their songs from Dear Evan Hansen made it, so it’s less likely than you might think. News was released on August 24 that Harry Styles had written a song for Florence Pugh to sing in their movie, the Olivia Wilde-directed Don’t Worry Darling, so that will almost certainly appear here if for no other reason than Styles being a mega-star and the fact that he wrote it for Pugh, who is inarguably the biggest young movie star of the moment.
For the others, there are the obvious picks, such as Lady Gaga’s “Hold My Hand,” and probably “Nobody Like You,” the boy band song from Pixar’s Turning Red. “Turn Up the Sunshine” from Minions: The Rise of Gru doesn’t seem like it’s heating up the box office or anything, but it could land a spot here if Illumination plays their cards right, and the same franchise has landed a nomination in this category before. Then, there are some more fringy, outlandish picks that nonetheless could break through in the way that “Husavik” from Eurovision Song Contest did two years ago. “Dosti,” which doesn’t appear on this list but does seem very prominent on many others, seems to be the most famous one from the Indian smash hit RRR, but it’s unclear whether it can clear the International Feature barrier in its way, and although “Good Tonight” from The Bad Guys doesn’t have the greatest lyrical ingenuity, it is – as the saying goes – a bop. It remains to be seen whether the rap-fused hybrid of “Hound Dog” in the song “Vegas” by Doja Cat from Elvis is too fringe for the Academy’s taste, but as it’s one of the only prominent songs still being played from a movie this year apart from “Hold My Hand,” I wouldn’t count it out just yet.
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
This is the only category where I have four wildcards instead of three. Hopefully the following will explain why.
Though both Hildur Guðnadóttir and the Avatar franchise have both been nominated in this category before (with Guðnadóttir having won for her work on Joker), the former’s work is on a film which will already contain a lot of other music with which it would have to significantly compete (and not likely win), while the latter’s first score was composed by the late James Horner; The Way of Water’s music, however, was composed by Simon Franglen, whose music I’m not familiar with enough to confidently assert that this category will be one of Avatar’s bevvy of nominations, though he did co-compose themes with Horner for Walt Disney World’s Pandora theme area. As it stands, the presumed competition is already stiff, with all five predicted nominees being previous winners, one of whom is John Williams, and two of whom – Justin Hurwitz and Ludwig Göransson – won their respective awards within the past decade, Göransson for the same franchise. This also may be the best chance for Michael Abels to finally be nominated for his work on a Jordan Peele project, having been passed up for Us, which is authentically a horror score, whereas Nope retains some further elements of old spaghetti western music to mix in with its more sinister moments. Göransson’s task this time around, though, is a bit more challenging this time around, as Academy rules stipulate that at least 35% of the music in a given film must be brand-new (original) score, and Marvel Studios does like to re-use a lot of themes for big moments, so it’s likely that the original Black Panther themes from the 2018 film play in Wakanda Forever’s most climactic segments, ditto Avatar.
Where this rule may come in handy, actually, is in assessing the chances of Top Gun: Maverick to break out of the wildcard category, as the new music composed for it by original Top Gun composer Harold Faltermeyer, as well as Hans Zimmer and Lady Gaga under production from Lorne Balfe, measures a little over 50% of the total music used, thus qualifying it for competition in this category. Gaga’s main contribution is essentially form the love theme of the movie in conjunction with her song “Hold My Hand” as the film’s closing anthem (the song also plays in the background during Maverick’s second visit to Penny’s bar, The Hard Deck, when he first encounters Amelia), whereas Zimmer and Balfe focused on the action scoring, and Faltermeyer ensured his themes were woven in appropriately. Scores that tie in with closing songs often have a good chance at selling their chances for nominations here, especially if the theme is as essential and befitting to its film as this one is to Top Gun: Maverick, so it’s within the realm of possibility that the score could be just flying under the radar until the time comes to begin the attack (campaigning). On the other hand, new scores based on pre-existing material don’t often land in this category, and Maverick’s themes may feel too tied into its predecessor’s legacy for the music branch of the Academy to consider honoring it over something brand new.
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
Another category where genre fare can actually score some pretty decent nominations in is Makeup & Hairstyling, though inevitably, there will come along a film with relatively plain, unassuming makeup that gets nominated over something more deserving, so watch out for The Fablemans or Don’t Worry Darling to knock out something The Batman or The Woman King further down the line. In fact, the latter may have a better shot at staying in, as the former could end up competing with the other design-heavy superhero movie this year in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. The original Black Panther was not nominated in this category, but with the introduction of Atlantis and Namor the Submariner, entirely new makeup designs and hairstyles for the underwater nation are sure to be one of Wakanda Forever’s many highlights.
BEST COSTUME DESIGN
The second of the two design categories Black Panther won in 2018, the Ryan Coogler follow-up to that film may well be competing with another that also centralizes its story on a tribe of African warriors in The Woman King. Then again, if the Academy simply isn’t feeling that they need to reward Marvel Studios with a second costume design Oscar and feels that the latter film’s looks aren’t distinctive enough, it could easily reward the fanny-pack-wearing looks of EEAaO or the period pieces of Babylon or Don’t Worry Darling. Truthfully, there’s not much in the way of outlandish costume design this year apart from Baz Luhrmann’s maximalist Elvis biopic, but it remains to be seen whether simply recreating the icon’s looks will be enough to push it past entirely new conceptualizations.
BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN
The last time a Black Panther movie was at the Oscars, it won three of them, and two of those three wins were in design categories. Production Design was one of those two, so even competing with all the design work in Avatar, Empire of Light, and Babylon, it should fit pretty snuggly into this category’s lineup. The shakiest prediction I have here is Everything Everywhere All at Once, but given the sheer level of creativity in the most minute details and frame background of every shot of that magnificent movie, I find it difficult to count it out. Other candidates with elaborate set designs could include the mysterious Don’t Worry Darling which is plastered in old-timey shiny 50s aesthetics and Amsterdam. The Woman King or Rian Johnson’s upcoming Glass Onion could also appear here, but the former is much more likely to succeed in Costume Design and we don’t really have any significant footage of the latter yet.
BEST FILM EDITING
A nomination in Best Film Editing is often an indication that whatever appears there makes it to the Best Picture lineup, but not always an indicator of winnings at the end of Oscar night. For the past three years, Film Editing and Sound have gone hand in hand, with Ford v Ferrari winning Best Sound Editing in 2019 (at the time, the category was split by Editing and Mixing – 1917 won Mixing but was not nominated in Editing), while Sound of Metal and Dune took home both categories in 2020 and 2021. One of the old adages about the Academy’s voting process for this category is that – rather than voting for the Best Editing – they vote for the Most Editing, which bodes well for the two most popular predictions in this category, the hyper cross-cut multiversal edits of Everything Everywhere All at Once and the frenetically fast-paced aerial sequences in Top Gun: Maverick. Top Gun has the edge in sound here, but as we’ll get to later, may not be as safe in this category as one might think, given that EEAaO is more likely to land a Best Picture nomination. Then again, the wildcard picks – with the exception of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – are widely expected to land Best Picture nominations as well, so any of these could be knocked out.
There are two simple truths when it comes to the cinematography category that every awards pundit worth their salt abides by as scripture: never bet against James Cameron or his team, and never exclude Roger Deakins when he’s in the race. While Avatar: The Way of Water and Empire of Light are the most obvious picks here, however, there’s also room for Janusz Kaminski to receive another nomination after unexpectedly breaking into a tough category last year for his work on Spielberg’s West Side Story. Given that The Fablemans has been dubbed “Spielberg’s Roma” by most people familiar with the project, it seems not simply possible but inevitable that Kaminski is capturing something special here, even if Linus Sandgren swoops in anyway for his first win since La La Land in 2016, which he also shot for director Damien Chazelle. Genre fare isn’t the most popular in this category, but it’s not unheard of, especially as two other Batman films – Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – did land nominations here, and as Greig Fraser is the reigning winner for his work on Dune, it seems likely that this is one spot where The Batman has a real shot at breaking through. Other possible candidates include Hoyte van Hoytema for Jordan Peele’s sci-fi thriller Nope, which seems the most likely to leave its spot for a nomination given that Hoytema has been nominated in this category once before for Dunkirk, but could also fall to Darius Khondji for Bardo. AGI is fairly picky about his cinematographers, and led his longtime shooting partner Emmanuel Lubezki to two back-to-back wins in this category, so it's not out of the question he could do it with someone new.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
Admittedly, Best Documentary Feature is a tough nut to crack if you don’t live in an area where people are talking about these sort of things all the time. I’ve only seen one of my predictions myself and only one of them besides that is even widely available for people to watch (Navalny is on HBO Max…for now). This makes predicting the category quite tricky, as one has to rely on the reputations of studios and their marketing campaigns for each movie when predicting it this early in the game. Other predictions are due to some films having fall festival debuts (such as Descendent) – which typically means the film is gearing up for an awards run once released – or on the notoriety of their subjects; Moonage Daydream, a documentary about David Bowie from Neon, is sure to make an impression on Academy voters, so it could have a real shot at a win here. Then again, this is the same branch that failed to nominate The Rescue, so what do I know?
BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM
Most submissions for Best International Feature have not yet been made in this category, apart from Decision to Leave and The Quiet Girl being official picks, so this one runs largely off of speculation, but it’s widely expected that Bardo, RRR, and Triangle of Sadness will appear here (the last being submitted by Sweden, as it was coproduced by both Sweden and France, but the latter has more options at their disposal for submission). Essentially everything else comes down to word of mouth and great campaigning, with no less than four possible choices for France (including Claire Denis’ Both Sides of the Blade) and a slew of other films which could also get in if submitted, such as Argentina, 1985 and Alcarras. That said, since Bardo comes from Alejandro González Iñárritu, and is on track to be an eventual Best Picture nominee, it’s most likely not to just get nominated for this category, but outright win it when all is said and done.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE
Yet another film I don’t understand how more pundits aren’t paying attention to is The Bad Guys, DreamWorks’ genuinely good animated film that released in April. It certainly isn’t likely to win the category, but its absence among predictions is curious, especially considering Animated Feature is the one category (apart from Best Picture) that the entire Academy is allowed to vote on for nominations, rather than it being decided solely by its own branch. The Bad Guys remains a fairly popular film post-theaters, and I don’t see that popularity waning enough for it not to be here. Currently, the leader of this race is actually Guillermo Del Toro’s adaptation of Pinocchio (the second of two Pinocchio films releasing this year), but as it’s released by Netflix, it remains to be seen whether the Academy will go for rewarding it over something more tradition, such as Disney Animation’s upcoming sci-fi flick Strange World. Lightyear may be Pixar’s better-looking candidate in this category, but given its lukewarm reception, box office failure, and the re-evaluation of Turning Red’s success amongst critical bodies, it’s likely the latter is the one that actually makes this category. The true curiosity is A24’s Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, which has been deemed eligible for Best Animated Feature, but remains uncertain as it would rely on Academy members deciding that there was enough animation within its live-action setting to feel appropriately placed here.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
There are only two categories where Triangle of Sadness seems to have the best shot at landing a nomination – this is one of them. That said, this seems like a race between Paul Dano and Ke Huy Quan more than anything. The former is starring in Steven Spielberg’s The Fablemans, which currently leads the Best Picture race, while the latter is tour-de-force of movement and emotion as Quan is put through the acting wringer multiple times in his stellar comeback performance. Dano could also be submitted for The Batman, but genre films don’t tend to ace this category – The Dark Knight notwithstanding – and it seems like the Academy would be more likely to go after Colin Farrell in that film instead (though he, too, has The Banshees of Inisherin to rely on for awards attention). The variable here is really Christian Bale, who stars in David O. Russell’s Amsterdam, and is supposedly the only real above-the-line push for that film. Russell’s films do have a tendency to be nominated for a lot of performance awards at the Oscars, so even if it land nothing else, Bale could easily get in here.
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
This category pretty much reflects the GoldDerby top five odds beat-for-beat, but of the wildcard candidates present, Laura Dern may actually be the most likely to break though on either name recognition or the Academy doing what the Emmys did and ignoring Sadie Sink for a nomination she most likely will deserve (especially since she’s acting opposite surefire Best Actor candidate Brendan Fraser). Two nominations for The Son here seems unlikely, and the same goes for Everything Everywhere All at Once, whose other contender is Jamie Lee Curtis in one of her most outrageous parts. Logically, Samantha Morton would be next in line for the Weinstein scandal drama She Said, as she appears to play a crucial role in getting the story out, and doesn’t have other competition in this category from her own film (barring an unbelievable Zoe Kazan performance). Then again, as with all categories, there may be a performance no one’s considering that could come in and shake things up significantly by the time we get to January.
This category seems the most locked-up at the moment, but don’t underestimate the presence of Bill Nighy here. Sony Pictures Classics, a studio which has always been sneakily good at getting their films into major Oscar races, in the distributer behind Living, a film whose trailer heavily features Nighy showing off his performing chops. GoldDerby currently has Nighy as the fifth most likely nominee, but I’m not quite ready to give up Adam Driver in this category yet, especially considering he was also nominated in this category for Noah Baumbach’s previous Oscar contender, Marriage Story, and has returned to work with Baumbach again for the New York Film Festival opener, White Noise.
Perhaps the category whose fifth candidate is most difficult to predict, Best Actress – per usual – is absolutely stacked with top-tier talent. The only predicted nominee about whom I’m not almost 100% certain is Naomie Ackie, who portrays music icon Whitney Houston in I Wanna Dance With Somebody, which releases in December. Portrayals of musical icons almost always land in this category somewhere, especially if said portrayal is the film’s main selling point, but it could very easily come about that one of the wildcard candidates takes that spot. Andrew Dominik’s Blonde stars Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe, so Armas could be that film’s only true contender, as she’s the most likely to break through the stigma of its NC-17 rating (provided costumes and hair & makeup don’t come through). Viola Davis, too, could break through here as the leader of an all-female African warrior tribe in The Woman King, though whether the performance can crack the top five we’ll know in just under a month. That leaves Danielle Deadwyler as Emmett Till’s mother in Till, a film which has stirred up some online debates around centering Black trauma in storytelling, and whose only shot at a nomination is likely to be Deadwyler herself. Very little of the performance has been seen, so for that, we’ll simply have to wait and see.
How most pundits still don’t have James Cameron in their running for Best Director, I will likely never understand, but it’s not as if this category is all-but-guaranteed. Sarah Polley could very easily squeeze in here for her female ensemble piece Women Talking and there’s no sure bet that Daniels or Iñárritu stay put. If New York Film Festival opening night pick White Noise hits especially hard, Noah Baumbach could see a slot picked up, and Sam Mendes is hot off a nomination in this category for his last film, 1917 (which was originally pegged to win this award and Best Picture), which had the unfortunate task of coming out in the Parasite year. Other unlisted candidates include Park Chan-wook, whose film Decision to Leave is South Korea’s official submission for International Feature, a category which has been known to cross over in Best Director any number of times. That said, it would be difficult for almost any of these predictions to be knocked out completely, so a Directing nod for Decision to Leave – while not out of the question – remains unlikely at this stage.
There are several contenders I did not list in this category, but not for lack of enthusiasm. Palme d’Or winner Triangle of Sadness is absent here, as is Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin and David O. Russell’s ensemble piece Amsterdam. The reason for these exclusions largely come down to the sheer number of Best Picture slots being capped at 10, per the Academy’s expansion of the category in 2010. Palme d’Or winners, as well, don’t have a stellar track record for being nominated in this category unless they’re considered outright masterpieces, such as Parasite (the latest Palme d’Or winner to Best Picture nominee translation before that was Amour in 2013). Neither Blue is the Warmest Color nor Titane were even nominated in the International Feature category in their respective years, and in fact it was Drive My Car – which lost the Cannes prize to Titane – which was nominated for Best Picture last year instead. Triangle of Sadness is not a foreign language film, so it doesn’t have that working against it as the aforementioned do, but it still seems unlikely to crack these 10 predictions, especially considering the wildcards at play. Black Panther: Wakanda Forever’s franchise predecessor was the first superhero film ever to be nominated in this category, and if it nails its farewell to Chadwick Boseman, groundswell support could carry it the rest of the way. Another film facing a similar fate is Top Gun: Maverick, which is Paramount’s highest-grossing domestic film ever and the sixth highest-grossing domestic release of all time, having recently passed the likes of Avengers: Infinity War. The Tom Cruise-starring blockbuster could land a nod here by knocking out Bardo or Avatar: The Way of Water, as those seem to be the shakiest candidates. Until such a time comes, however, where either Alejandro González Iñárritu or James Cameron are no longer Oscar darlings or unbelievably good filmmakers, their movies will remain on this list.
And those are my ridiculously early Oscar nomination predictions for 2023! Obviously, all of these guesses are pure speculation and pattern recognition at this point, and the final predictions list is bound to look quite different post-festival season, but for now, what’s there is all I can speculate about. What are you predicting in these categories? Is there anything I’m sorely missing? Am I putting too much faith in Avatar and not enough in Top Gun? Let me know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
2022 has been quite the ride so far. From superhero films that both exceeded and fell slightly short of expectations to the most unlikely of perfect legacy sequels and a few surprises along the way, the year in film has yielded some pretty great stuff, and (so far) not a ton of outright letdowns. Even the movies that haven’t really worked, such as Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis or Netflix’s Spiderhead, have at least had some interesting individual elements for viewers to dig into. Then again, I haven’t exactly sought out many of the year’s worst-reviewed films either, so for this piece, there will be no top five in that respect. Instead, I’ve opted to recommend five shows I’ve watched so far this year – although they are exclusively shows that were available to watch at the halfway point – as we begin the second half of 2022. There’s a lot more still to come, so let’s reflect, reassess, and revisit some of the year’s best efforts thus far.
5. Cha Cha Real Smooth
Cooper Raiff’s sophomore follow-up to his underrated debut Shithouse finds the young filmmaker attempting to expand his understanding of the dichotomy between purpose and passion, largely succeeding thanks to Raiff’s uncanny ability to make both himself and the other characters he writes extremely likeable. Both Raiff and Dakota Johnson have an easy chemistry with each other that makes their on-screen friendship engaging to watch, but it’s Raiff’s unexpected yet heartwarming connection with Vanessa Burghardt’s Lola that ultimately serves as the film’s most thoroughly beautiful non-romantic love story.
Cha Cha Real Smooth Review
4. The Northman
Robert Eggers is an uncanny filmmaker in that his ability to commit to absolute authenticity in storytelling can only be surpassed by the choices he makes when he desires to challenge that authenticity for the sake of story. A feature adaptation of the Norse tale of Amleth (the story upon which Shakespeare’s Hamlet is based), Eggers crafts a tale of vengeance which is blood-soaked mythos wrapped in a cloak of rage so boiled it could break open a volcano. Alexander Skarsgård is an absolute beast in one of his most thoroughly appropriate roles as Claes Bang and Nicole Kidman nearly steal the show right out from under him. If anything can be counted as a drawback for it, The Northman is relatively light on action sequences, and the sports segment towards its middle can take some of the wind out of its sails, but as that’s not the story it’s telling anyhow, it’s an easy thing to forgive. Plus, Anya Taylor-Joy is there to put the wind right back in anyway.
The Northman Review
3. Top Gun: Maverick
After multiple Covid-related delays and a general worry of whether the public might ever actually get to see it, 2022’s first $1 billion movie is still in theaters and thriving. And why shouldn’t it? The most perfect legacy sequel since Blade Runner 2049, Top Gun: Maverick is everything to loved about the original Top Gun wrapped in a better movie with a more emotionally-resonant story and a whole lot of “hell yeah!” filmmaking. The heart, the action, the humor – pretty much all of it works exactly the way it’s supposed to. Honoring the legacy of the original without sacrificing anything it needs to do in order to bring these characters into the modern day, Maverick finds the heart of its story and never lets go even as Tom Cruise and co. pull up to 10 Gs just trying to fly up the side of a mountain. To see these planes really flying and know it’s all there on screen is a special thing, and that combined with a healthy dose of honoring Anthony Edwards’ late Goose and Val Kilmer’s Iceman in the most appropriate ways it can makes Top Gun: Maverick one of the best movie of 2022, as well as one of the best legacy sequels ever made. I can’t wait to watch it again (and I’ve already seen it three times).
Top Gun: Maverick Review
2. The Batman
Matt Reeves near-perfect detective noir featuring the Caped Crusader has a lot more on its mind than just being easily one of the best-looking and best-sounding comic book movies ever put to screen (Greig Fraser’s cinematography really pops in this one and that Batmobile chase is an all-timer set piece). Accompanied by Michael Giacchino phenomenal score – an Oscar-worthy effort in my eyes – the story of The Batman redefines who the character is understood to be as a pop culture artifact, re-contextualizing his quest for vengeance not as a force for inspiration but for infection. Paul Dano’s unsettlingly plausible Riddler is the perfect foil for the Robert Pattinson version of the character, a near mirror image reflection of what Batman has been in his first two years on the job with a different target in mind and a purpose which challenges the viewer to reckon with whether or not the most-lauded kind of Batman in the mainstream is really all that much of a hero in the first place. Given all that, plus Zoë Kravitz’s instantly iconic Catwoman and the murderer’s row of character actors like Jeffrey Wright, Colin Farrell, and John Turturro just lining the edges of the frame around all the heroes and villains, The Batman is easily the closest any DC adaptation has come to capturing the lightning-in-a-bottle movie magic of The Dark Knight, even if it doesn’t quite get to that level (maybe one rung under on the ladder).
The Batman Review
1. Everything Everywhere All at Once
The only film on this list for which we never published a review, the second collaboration between A24 and the Daniels directing duo is an ingenious, creative, moving, and all-consuming effort featuring some of the most insane and original storytelling I have ever seen in my life. Given how brilliant its script is, how fun it is to watch Michelle Yeoh, Stephanie Hsu, Jamie Lee Curtis, and a resurrected Ke Huy Quan churn out some of the year’s best performances, and how insane this multiverse movie gets with everything that can happen via its stellar visual effects (from a team of no more than 5 people, I might add), it’s no surprise that it recently became the indie studio’s highest-grossing film ever. In fact, its only real drawback the first time watching it is that there’s so much to absorb, you might need to watch it a second or third time to truly appreciate everything it’s doing. And with A24 seemingly pushing some of their late 2022 hopefuls into 2023 according to recent press releases, it seems like they’re going all in on the Oscar campaigns for this one in every conceivable category, which they should – it could win as many as it wants to, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.
Honorable Mentions: The Bad Guys, Brian and Charles, Hustle, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On, Scream (2022), The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
5. We Own This City
A fast-paced, slickly-written investigation of the Baltimore PD’s corruptions post-Freddie Gray, We Own This City may not feel like something entirely new to those familiar with co-creator David Simon’s work on The Wire, but it is as excellent as it could be in its own right, and marks a triumph in direction for Renaldo Marcus Green. Jon Bernthal, Wunmi Mosaku, Jamie Hector, and McKinley Belcher III all excel in their parts, and even if it is a little hard to follow at first, this miniseries is one HBO’s mist thoroughly underrated.
4. Hacks: Season 2
While not as underrated as the previous entry, Hacks continues to feel like the best show that no one I know is actually watching. A shortened season does leave a little bit to be desired in terms of smoother resolution, but in season two, the writers bring out nearly all the stops they have, as each single episode has something new to offer all of its characters, both in growth and in absurdity. Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder continue to be inarguably the most iconic comedy duo on TV right now, and even if Carl Clemons-Hopkins isn’t given a ton to do this season, he’s still immensely fun to watch (and does eventually get things to do). Please bring season 3 fast!
3. Under the Banner of Heaven
When I started FX’s miniseries Under the Banner of Heaven, I thought for sure it would be just another run-of-the-mill detective story cosplaying a True Detective aesthetic and Mare of Easttown pace in order to disguise the fact that it just didn’t have much else to offer. But when the show started leaning – in its pilot episode – into exploring the depths of how organized religion can be used to warp minds searching for purpose and driven by ego, I became hooked. Having grown up in a religious household, I am familiar with a lot of the same beats this series touches upon, though this series explores the Mormon church rather than the Christian one, especially those by which religiosity is perverted under the guise of righteousness by those most eager to serve their own power, and what they’re willing to do (or not do) to attain and keep it. In many ways, but especially that one, this is a horror show. Andrew Garfield manages to wring gravitas out of his understated performance – yet another win for him – but although Daisy Edgar-Jones and Joel Edgerton (in fact, the whole cast) is excellent, it’s Sam Worthington who walks away from this series on everyone’s minds. We all wondered if there was more to the actor than simply having starred in the biggest movie ever made, and it turns out, there is more…a lot more. If you can stomach religious trauma and enjoy true crime storytelling that wants to explore something more than just the central murder mystery, this is definitely one you should check out.
2. Stranger Things 4: Part 1
Yes, I have now seen Part 2 and wrapped the season, but as Part 2 released a day after the halfway mark, I am not able to include it in my recommendations here, nor can I include season four of Stranger Things as a whole (but don’t worry, Part 2 is very good and I will be releasing my thoughts on it soon). For now, however, I can say that Part 1 of Stranger Things season four is an excellent return to form for the hit series, and easily the closest it’s gotten to capturing the proper Amblin horror vibes from the micro-miracle of season one. Yes, Sadie Sink is amazing and should be up for an Emmy. Yes, Eddie is a fantastic new character, and yes, Kate Bush’s resurgence into the mainstream of American music is something only this show could have pulled off in the way it did, but the best part of this season – for me at least – has been the editing, especially in episodes three and four. Each camera motion rolling right into the next, each scene cutting to the other at just the right time, each action directly reflecting or predicting the one on either side of it. They really popped off this season with how it’s all cut together. I’ll say more once I release my review of the season as a whole, but for now I’ll simply say: hell yeah, Stranger Things is back.
What is it with AppleTV+ and constantly giving us my favorite shows of each year that I honestly had no to minimal anticipation for before they aired? Between Ted Lasso and this, their track record with unexpected successes couldn’t be more clean, and yet, when watching the mostly Ben Stiller-directed Severance, one would never suspect its success as being unexpected at all. Everything in this series is so tightly managed, so thoroughly thought-out, and near-perfectly written. As good an actor as Ben Stiller has always been, he might be an even better director, and it’s a testament to his immense skill that Severance doesn’t feel as if it has to wrap up any story in its debut season just to tell a new one the next. There is an ending, absolutely, and one that rockets my anticipation for next season sky high, but it doesn’t resolve every little thing the season introduced so it could be somehow tied off into a miniseries if necessary. Apple is playing the long game with this one, and if they keep playing it this well, with something this well-designed, this well-acted, and this well-paced, this game could go on for a long time. In fact, I hope it does.
And those are my Top 5 Movies and Series Recommendations for the first half of 2022! (Unfortunately I haven’t yet seen RRR, so I can’t include it on this list, but maybe it will make an appearance somewhere down the line.) What are your favorite things you watched this year? Any I missed that you’d recommend? Let me know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
The Friendly Film Fan dives into the 2022 releases we're most looking forward to seeing on the big screen.
10. Don’t Worry Darling
Olivia Wilde came out of the gate swinging with her 2019 directorial debut, Booksmart, so we already know she has the potential to be one of the greats a little ways down the line. But, add onto that that this was the film where she met former One Direction member turned actor and MCU-entrant Harry Styles, then paired him with the incredible Florence Pugh for some sort of 50s-set thriller inside a utopian experimental community, and added the likes of herself, Gemma Chan, and Chris Pine to the cast? Now that’s a recipe for anticipation.
9. Knives Out 2
The first Knives Out was not just an awesome return to the world of whodunnits in its storytelling, but also in immense commercial success, and the film’s spinoff/sequel seems to be continuing that same thread, as we once again are paired with a killer’s row of ensemble cast members ready to go to sea. One single gif of Daniel Craig’s Benoit Blanc appearing in front of passengers boarding a boat was all it took to get me even more hyped for the follow-up; that, and the fact that Rian Johnson seems to be one of the only directors in Hollywood right now in active pursuit of anti-normalcy. That is to say, his films take the genres they occupy and twist them into something that elevates the mold. Whatever the case, if this Benoit Blanc adventure is anywhere near as goofy, fun, or successful as its predecessor, it’s sure to be a great time at the movies.
Damien Chazelle is one of filmmaking’s finest craftsman and most accomplished directors. Hollywood storytelling lead him to unparalleled success with La La Land (a movie I still love despite its overall souring in the critical community), so for him to gather the fantastic cast of actors from Margot Robbie to Meryl Streep to Samara Weaving to Brad Pitt to Tobey Maguire to Katherine Waterson and so many more to cover the era of film’s transition to “the talkies” sounds like an ace move. The film is scheduled for a Christmas day release, so one can bet there may be more than a few Oscar chances for it to break through. Whether or not it does, though, the Whiplash and First Man helmer is sure to bring us something really special.
7. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness
Sam Raimi returns to the Marvel sandbox over a decade after Spider-Man 3’s unexpected sting to mainstream superhero cinema led Sony Pictures to reboot that character twice, and the film he comes back with is a multiverse story about a wizard trying to fix his own mistakes without royally fucking over everyone around him and having to deal with a witch pushed too far – but this isn’t Oz the Great and Powerful. Doctor Strange 2’s multiversal story could fall prey to some of Raimi’s over-reliance on CGI, as with the aforementioned film, but frankly, it’s just nice to have someone working the MCU again whose primary mode of operation is earnestness rather than quippiness (there will still be lots of quips, I’m sure). Still, a multiversal narrative dealing with plot points from various Disney+ shows that Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t here to talk about could get pretty messy if not properly told. Luckily, Raimi knows how to tell great stories.
Following its Superbowl trailer debut, Jordan Peele’s latest feature film, Nope shot from the bottom section of this list all the way to #6, and it’s not hard to see why. Peele’s films have somehow found that niche movie audiences, and especially film enthusiasts have been begging for outside of the MCU – they’re events unto themselves. Get Out was a smash hit about the exploitation and fetishization of Black bodies, Us was a huge success that should have gotten Lupita Nyong’o a Best Actress Oscar win, and now Peele turns his eye towards…well, we still don’t really know yet. The best thing about the trailer (apart from the image of Keke Palmer just hurtling through the sky) is its incredible sense of tone, of an atmospheric terror stemming from not knowing what’s coming. If this one hits as hard as the other two, Jordan Peele may just be one of filmmaking’s greatest auteurs in history.
5. Avatar: The Way of Water
Underestimate director James Cameron at your own peril. The T2, Aliens, True Lies, Titanic, and Avatar helmer has always shown up to bat ready to swing for the fences, and while it’s taken over a decade to get sequels to his highest-grossing film of all time underway, the first of four is ready to release this December. While we don’t know a lot of specific plot details yet, we do know that much of the film takes place underwater, and when Cameron develops new technology just to accomplish making the film he’s envisioned, spectacular visual treats await. You can scream about how Titanic’s love story moves too fast or about how Avatar is just Dances With Wolves on a different planet, but there is no argument regarding either film’s box office takes. The fact is, no one understands film’s visual magic the way James Cameron does, and when he wants to make magic, the illusions are impossible to root against.
4. The Northman
In the same way that Jordan Peele’s films are mainstream events for moviegoing audiences, Robert Eggers films have become something of an event for cinephiles and critics the world over. This time around, the filmmaker who brought us The Witch and The Lighthouse – two masterpieces in their own right – sets his sights on the Nordic to craft a tale of Vikings. Bloody, brutal, and little surrealist, The Northman’s awesome trailers shows us that it looks to be yet another film where the world Eggers builds is entirely its own: unlike anything we’ve seen before, yet somehow intimately connected to every kind of epic we’ve previously witnessed. The cast is packed to the gills with talent, including Ethan Hawke, Anya Taylor-Joy, Björk, Claes Bang, Nicole Kidman, and Willem Dafoe, all led by the criminally underrated Alexander Skarsgård. Who denies a Viking in a hat made of a wolf’s head that can catch a spear in mid-air? Fools, I tell you. Fools!
3. The Batman
The soonest to release on this list, we are mere days away from The Batman’s opening weekend, and my excitement could not be more thorough, though not for the reasons you might think. Superman is actually my favorite superhero of all time, and for as cool as Batman is, he’s easily the most overrated superhero to use in almost any comic book adaptation – but not when he’s paired with a director like Matt Reeves. Reeves found success with viral marketing sensation Cloverfield, then again with his horror remake Let Me In, and proceeded at last to deliver two of the greatest sci-fi action blockbusters of the past two decades with his two Planet of the Apes films, rounding out the most underappreciated and underdiscussed movie trilogy perhaps in the entire 21st century. He is a master of tone and of storytelling, so pairing him with a beginner’s version of Batman may have been a stroke of genius on the part of WB once Ben Affleck decided he wasn’t going back to that well. Robert Pattinson’s career has had a massive resurgence following his appearances in films like Good Time and The Lighthouse, and the cast is stacked top to bottom with talent the likes of which comic book movies just don’t get this often. Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as The Riddler, Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Gordon, and an unrecognizable Colin Farrell as The Penguin? I’m in.
2. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Part One)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only one of the finest animated films ever made, it actually is the best Spider-Man movie, bar none. Reuniting the team that fostered that stunning innovation to make not just one sequel, but one that had to be split into two parts for just how expansive and detailed this is all likely to be? I cannot wait to experience what that all means. The film’s initial first look showed off once again a stunning transition from art styles with which we’re familiar to styles with which we aren’t, and Oscar Isaac joins the cast of characters we’ve all come to know and love. Whatever this multiversal story ends up being, if it’s anywhere near as good as its predecessor, it might just end up being the greatest animated movie ever made (but it doesn’t have to be).
1. Killers of the Flower Moon
If you’ve followed my writing around film for any length of time, then you’re already familiar with the work of my favorite director, infamous Marvel hater Martin Scorsese. There’s not a film the man has made that I haven’t at least found interesting, and he has more masterpieces or near-masterpieces on his resume than just about any other filmmaker in history. Even his least seen material – like the phenomenal Silence – is so brilliant, leaving his films anywhere off anticipation lists is a fool’s errand, and with Killers of the Flower Moon, he reunites with BOTH of his muses – Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. Add to that Lily Gladstone and newly-minted Oscar nominee Jesse Plemons leading the film, as well as appearances by Brendan Fraser and John Lithgow, plus a $200 million budget for an epic Western for Apple, who just won Best Ensemble for CODA at the SAG awards? Don’t just count me in. Put me in the best seat, in the biggest theater, at the soonest opportunity, and bring me Scorsese!
And those are our Top 10 Most Anticipated Movies of 2022! What are you looking forward to seeing this year? Anything not on this list (or below) that you’re looking forward to? Drop those titles in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Other Films to Look Forward to in 2022:
The Friendly Film Fan takes a look back at the absolute best films released over the past cinematic year.
Well, the time has finally arrived. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan for the penultimate piece of the 2021 movie season. It certainly has been a journey getting to this point, but I am so excited to finally bring you my picks for the absolute best films of the past year – or at least the ones that became my favorites. If you happened to read my Honorable Mentions piece, then you already know how tough a decision-making process putting this list together ultimately was, with several films I loved having to get cut from the top spots right at the last minute. I would certainly encourage you to check out all of those films as well, so I’ll leave a link to that piece here, as well as a link to my Recommended Movies of the past year that couldn’t quite make the cut for “Best Of” consideration. But now, it’s zero hour, so let’s get right down to it. Here are my picks for the Top 10 Movies of 2021.
10. Red Rocket
It’s difficult to describe just how thoroughly Sean Baker has become the most interesting indie darling in A24’s back pocket to watch, but what can I say? The guy just knows how to make movies. Chronicling the journey of a disgraced former pornstar as he arrives back in his Texas hometown, this tale of greed, ineptitude, and unbridled selfishness is one of the most incisive commentaries on the dangers of charismatic toxic people one can witness if it’s given a chance. Simon Rex turns in a truly Oscar-worthy lead performance here, with newcomer Suzanna Son nearly stealing the show as the redheaded Strawberry (the film makes a point about that being her name). What makes this odyssey so compelling is not that Rex’s Mikey is a real piece of shit, but that it’s still so fun to watch him work anyway; we know he’s a toxic personality, we know he’s not to be trusted, but Red Rocket sails on Rex’s charisma so much so that we can’t help but be pulled into his orbit anyway. The film’s careful balance of authenticity and storytelling inside a community seldom seen on the silver screen may be partly created, partly found, but it’s Sean Baker’s assured writing and direction that bring forth the rest of what makes this movie so damn great.
9. Licorice Pizza
Paul Thomas Anderson’s films have always had their lovers and their haters, and more than a few have shared problematic elements, but those elements aside, the guy still makes some of the most compulsively watchable films ever put to screen, and despite its own shortcomings, the rest of Licorice Pizza essentially coasts on that same level of quality. The more problematic aspects of the central romance and some of the movie’s weirdly-placed jokes are addressed in the writing, but they’re not really the point of the film. This isn’t so much a story about its central protagonists as it is about the world around them, and what it’s like to inhabit that world of 1973 Los Angeles, specifically Hollywood at that time. And boy, what a world it is to inhabit. Not only is Licorice Pizza a sweet, charming story about two people falling in love, it also features a whirlwind of memorable supporting characters, including Bradley Cooper’s show-stealing turn as producer Jon Peters in the film’s absolute best ten minutes of runtime. Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman are brilliant in the film as well, with Haim herself having come dangerously close to an Oscar nomination for her acting debut (the film itself only garnered three nominations total), and Hoffman doing his late father the proudest he could ever be. This film may not be the top of PTA’s filmography, but if this is coasting for him, that tells you by itself just how strong the man’s filmography actually is.
My most anticipated movie of the year, and boy oh boy, did it ever not let me down one bit. Spider-Man may have made more money, but Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of Part One of Frank Herbert’s iconic sci-fi novel is the defining epic of the 2021 movie season as far as craft is concerned. Massive in scope and towering in its worldbuilding, Dune is every bit the filmmaking-forward tentpole it needed to be in order to fulfill the promise of Villeneuve’s filmmaking potential. What was once thought unfilmable has been made tactile, and the performances of Dune’s massive ensemble cast set against its absolutely awe-inspiring production design, visual effects, sound, and perhaps Hans Zimmer’s best score since The Lion King cement even further that snubbing Villeneuve for a Best Director spot is one of the worst decisions the Academy has made in the 21st century. Maybe the biggest movie star under 35 in the world right now, Timothée Chalamet kills it as Paul Atreides, his performance as steely and reserved as it ever needed to be to pull off this character, which makes it a fantastic benefit to watch performances as strong as Oscar Isaac’s, Rebecca Ferguson’s, and MVP Jason Momoa’s work around him. There are so many things to say about the things Dune does well that noting its ending does feel like pure set-up for another film (which hadn’t yet been greenlit when it was released) and it’s not quite as emotionally involving as some of Villeneuve’s other works feels like a moot point. This is bid-budget, theatrical filmmaking as it should be, and if there is a chance to watch Part One and Part Two of Dune on a massive theater screen back-to-back, you can be damn sure I’m taking it.
7. The Worst Person in the World
This and my #6 spot have switched back and forth more times than I can count, and will probably switch again once I get a chance to watch them back-to-back, but placement really doesn’t matter where it concerns my #6 pick and The Worst Person in the World. Joachim Trier’s final film in his unofficial “Oslo trilogy” (which I still think the Criterion Collection should make available as a trilogy) is a beautiful, poignant ode to the time in everyone’s lives when they’re trying to figure out who they are and what that means for how they love. Featuring the best lead actress performance of the year by Renate Reinsve and a show-stopping supporting turn from Anders Danielsen Lie, the Nordic submission for Best International Feature is more than worthy of the award, regardless of whether we all know what it’s eventually going to Drive My Car anyway. Beautifully shot, wonderfully scored (when there is music), and chock-full of moments you’ll remember forever, this one is a real stunner and I would implore anyone who has a chance to see it in a theater to do so. Finding this film just before I made my Top 10 was extremely difficult, but I am so glad I finally did, because it’s just the most wonderfully cathartic experience to witness, and while it’s nearly impossible to describe why, it’s one of those films that best fits the old adage: you’ll know it when you see it.
Siân Heder’s CODA (which is an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults), a remake of the 2014 French film La Famille Belier, may not seem at first like one of the best movies of the year on its face, but the Sundance hit has a funny way of sticking with you all the way to the end, like a friend you’ve realized has just always been there. A landmark case in representation of deaf actors in mainstream American cinema, each and every moment of the film further emphasis the immense talents of its fantastic ensemble cast as its protagonist Ruby, the only hearing person in her family, simultaneously pursues her passion of music and acts as her families anchor for the hearing community that they live in. Emilia Jones is fantastic in this movie, as are Daniel Durant and Marlee Matlin, but the real show-stopper here is Troy Kotsur, whose tender and often hilarious father figure shares with Jones some of the film’s most emotional and moving moments (the truck bed scene is a real knockout for both). Truth be told, there is no grand revelation, no incisive commentary, no single big “a ha” thing that CODA brings to the table that other films haven’t also addressed, but when a film is this well balanced and watchable purely based on the strength of its cast telling a human story about human issues, that’s all it needs. The film is streaming on Apple TV+ right now, and I would encourage everyone to give it a shot.
5. West Side Story
Rounding out the Top 5 is Steven Spielberg’s definitive statement that everyone who ever doubts him needs to re-evaluate their appraisal of the legendary director (who’s now been nominated for Best Director for every decade in which he’s made movies). West Side Story isn’t just one of the best remakes ever made of a film that not only do movie fans already love, but that actually won 10 Oscars in 1962, it’s also Spielberg’s first musical ever. Factoring all that in, it’s frankly the biggest miracle in the world that this 2021 adaptation works at all, much less that it works at the level it does, which may cement Spielberg as the greatest filmmaker of all time. Every update to the story speaks to the modern world, everything that was cut doesn’t feel like it’s actually missing. Tony and Maria get updated characterizations that speak to the more nuanced conflicts of their central romance, Doc being Rita Moreno instead of someone we didn’t know adds so much weight to the part, actual Latinos and Latinas being cast as the Puerto Ricans takes care of the very obviously problematic brownface problem the original film had. Everything in the new West Side Story is working at the top of its game. There’s a marvelous debut from lead Rachel Zegler, show-stopping turns by Mike Faist and Ariana DeBose (the latter of which is in the lead to win an Oscar this year), a truly underrated David Alvarez, stellar production design, brilliant cinematography, phenomenal sound, immaculate costuming, and behind it all, masterful direction. This is the musical this year that most reminded me why I love movies and more specifically, why I’ve always loved musicals, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the way it all turned out (okay, except for Ansel Elgort, but we don’t need to open that whole can of worms right now).
4. Nine Days
Nine Days going nomination-less at this year’s Oscars was a tragic inevitability from the beginning; it had already been delayed from the summer of 2020 into August of 2021, and by that point, so many delayed films were already releasing that the stellar debut of writer and director Edson Oda got so lost in the shuffle, even many of the critically-decided awards shows seem to have forgotten that it even released at all. Sony Pictures Classics is sneaky good at getting their films into the Oscar nominations list when they have something to push, but it seems that may have been in vein, which is a shame, since it needn’t have been. Edson Oda’s life-affirming odyssey about living is one of the most beautiful celebrations of all the joy and the sorrow that is human life that I’ve seen in a very long time. There isn’t really another way to describe just how thoroughly this film sticks to one’s soul after the credits roll; it’s just beautiful. The performances of the ensemble cast are essentially perfect, the violin-centered score by Antonio Pinto is stunning, and the way the film crafts moments to both celebrate and examine the various facets of living life in the modern world, and how wonderful but also difficult that can be, as well as reckoning with the parts of it we don’t understand, is seldom this poignant. Nine Days may have fallen off the radar for many pundits and awards ceremonies post-Sundance debut, but for me, it will always have a special place amongst the films of 2021.
To truly understand what makes Flee rank so high when The Worst Person in the World might be a better International Feature or when Summer of Soul might be more successful as a documentary, one has to understand first as an Animated Feature, and then as the other two things. The first film to be nominated in all three of these categories at the Oscars, Flee is an absolutely stunning example of what makes animation such an essential medium in the filmmaking space. This is not a story one could do in live-action or pure documentary format; it needed the medium of animation to be properly told, and my god, was it ever properly told. By far the best animated film of 2021, the story of Afghan refugee Rashid Aitouganov, who is on the verge of marrying his husband, recounting his perilous journey fleeing to Denmark is told and recounted with such respect and reverence by director Jonas Poher Rasmussen that it never feels as if he gets in the way of the story being told. This truly is a remarkable feat of filmmaking for all involved, and the best case yet for why animation is not just an added benefit, but entirely essential to filmmaking itself. It is currently streaming on Hulu in both subbed and dubbed versions (but c’mon, you know the subtitled version is better).
2. C’mon C’mon
The absolute best film to go entirely nomination-less at the Oscars this year, Mike Mills’ latest feature, C’mon C’mon, might well be his absolute best yet, an absolute stunner in black-and-white with a screenplay so perfectly calibrated, it’s frankly insane that the film didn’t get awards attention from almost anyone. Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman’s chemistry if off the charts in this film, the latter of whom turns in maybe the best supporting performance of the entire year. Gabby Hoffman is also great for how little she actually ends up being in the film, but it’s really the connection between Phoenix and the apparently British Norman that keeps it going. As much as it’s a film about pseudo-parenting, it’s also about just figuring life out, whether as a kid or an adult. Chock-full of philosophical wonder and a genuine sense of deeply human vulnerability, it wraps the viewer in a warm hug and fills them with meaningful contemplation they’ll keep with them for as long as they possibly can. This is not just one of A24’s most inspired productions, it might well be their second-best film ever (still behind Moonlight, but then again, what isn’t?).
1. The Power of the Dog
Yes, its first half is slow. Yes, it’s not exactly the most exciting or even all that arresting Western you’ll ever see; this is not an action movie, this is not a thriller or in any sense a traditional Western. In fact, it’s almost an anti-Western in practice. But Jane Campion’s latest movie for Netflix is not only one of the best the service has ever produced, it’s one of the most layered in the resurgent director’s entire filmography. How does one not make a movie for 12 years, and then come back and make one of the most stunningly-crafted, expertly-directed, methodically-told works ever set in this genre which reckons with – in all the most difficult ways – the very subjects that this genre has always had its most bad-faith enthusiasts try to avoid? Apparently, like this. The Power of the Dog is more than just a stunning work of art in terms of its craft and the skill therein, more than just an expertly performed examination of generation-permeating abuses and how they infect everything around them, more than just an unshakably discomforting study on queerness in the Western genre unlike any other that has come before: it is a reckoning with all of these things, which it demonstrates in a single sequence near the film’s end in the biggest filmmaking flex any filmmaker in 2021 ever made. Brilliant from top to bottom, there is not one film from the past year more ready for re-analysis, more ripe for re-contextualization, or more apt to be studied in film studies classes for how it weaves so many things together with not so much as a few lines of dialogue and a shared look or two. This is a film anyone who truly engages with it will mulling over for a long, long time, and the one I’m most eager to revisit from 2021. Jane Campion didn’t just make one of Netflix’s best movies ever; she made the best movie of 2021.
And those are my picks for the Top 10 Movies of 2021! What did you think of these films? What are your Top 10 Movies of the past year? Let me know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading all of our content over the past year! We understand that things ran a little dry for a while, but we are working hard to get right back to it over the next year. We’re so excited to continue this journey with you all in 2022 and beyond. Stick around for more 2022 content, coming soon!
- The Friendly Film Fan
It’s almost here: the time to talk about my top 10 favorite movies of 2021. This has been a long time coming and it’s been quite difficult in some cases to get here, what with film delays, lack of accessibility for many international features, and a wealth of content both theatrically and over streaming that was so large, it was a challenge just to know where to start. But get here we did, and we are so excited to finally put out that list and see what you all think of it. However, there is one bit of housekeeping left to do before finalizing our Top 10 – we have to talk about what barely missed the cut. The Honorable Mentions candidates this year are all excellent works deserving of praise both in their craft work and in their storytelling; some are better than others, but all have something innately valuable to them, and we would happily throw any one of them in with the rest of the best if the list could be that long. Unfortunately, rules are rules, and with a Top 10, you can’t include 11 movies unless you have a tie somewhere (this year, there isn’t one). It was a very difficult decision-making process having to cut these from the top spots, but we thought we’d give them one last look in the spotlight before the champions take the title. Here are The Friendly Film Fan’s Honorable Mentions for the Best Movies of 2021.
A phenomenally-directed documentary about the uprising at Attica prison in 1971, Traci Curry and Stanley Nelson’s Attica is more taught than a lot of big-budget thrillers that get released theatrically. With such chaos erupting so suddenly throughout the film’s thorough detailing of this historical event, putting it all together into a clear and concise narrative is a feat worth celebrating, and its ending still feels like a real bombshell in the moment, even if you already know how the story concludes. Nominated for Best Documentary Feature at this year’s Oscars, and free to watch on YouTube and Showtime, this is one harrowing documentary you don’t want to miss.
Compartment No. 6
The most recently viewed on this list, Compartment No. 6 may at first feel like a Finnish/Russian version of Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, and in structure it is a lot like that wonderful film: the two main characters meet on a train, they get off the train together (though this one also has them getting back on since they’re en route to the same place), and the pair form a bond the viewer can feel is unshakable by film’s end. The main difference here is that the bond these characters form – unlike in Before Sunrise – is not necessarily a romantic one, though there is very clearly love between the two. Their connection is more spiritual, tied closer to the soul than to the heart, and to see a bond like that form on screen without the help of any romantic subplot or implied sexuality between the characters is a feat not many films are able to pull off while still feeling balanced or real. Emotionally, the film isn’t as involving as it perhaps could have been, but through its writing, directing, craft work, and excellent lead performances, it remains a journey well worth taking.
It’s pretty incredible that after having seen The Disciple at NYFF in the summer of 2020, it stuck around in my “Best of” list for as long as it did. It wouldn’t receive distribution until Netflix picked it up, and after quietly dropping it in January on their streaming platform, the film just disappeared from the conversation, which is a shame, because it is genuinely remains one of 2021’s best films, and likely would have made a better candidate for India’s International Feature submission to the Oscars this year. Chaitanya Tamhane directs the hell out of it, and the lead performance by Aditya Modak is outstanding. Plus, it gives you a deeper appreciation for Indian classical music, and what a hard form of music it is to actually master. Any film that can do that, let alone this compellingly, deserves the highest recognition.
Drive My Car
Likely the Best International Feature winner at the Oscars this year (and nominee for Best Picture), Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car will richly deserve the award. A three-hour epic meditation on grief and love as Hidetoshi Nishijima’s main character (who is a director himself) attempts to stage Chekov’s famous play Uncle Vanya, the film isn’t exactly a breeze to sit through, and that’s what makes it so compelling. It’s not that one doesn’t notice the passage of time while watching the film, but that the passage of time is so apparent one can’t help but stick with these characters all the way through their respective journeys. While not as immediately accessible as genre fair like Parasite, this is a film you have to let wash over you; you have to be willing to sit with it in order to reap its rewards, but oh how plentiful they are if one is patient enough to wait for them. Describing this to someone as a three-hour Japanese reflection on grief by way of Uncle Vanya may be the worst way to recommend it, but it’s practically impossible to describe how the film makes it all work, even when it shouldn’t. There’s a reason Hamaguchi is in that Best Director category, and if this film’s awards run is any indication, his chances for a second place finish have gone up significantly.
The Green Knight
In the eleventh hour of finalizing my Top 10, I ended up having to cut David Lowery’s towering achievement in fantasy, The Green Knight, from the tenth spot. Dev Patel’s performance in Lowery’s mystical, unique vision is fantastic. His Gawain is noticeably inept but eager to earn his place at Arthur’s table, and the nuance of that is not lost in Patel’s steely but shaken demeanor. However, it’s the filmmaking on display that truly takes the cake here (I already discussed the film’s ending montage in my Top 5 Scenes and Movie Moments piece). Lowery embodies and builds this world with a vision entirely suited to a story like this, so much so that not only could this story not be told any other way, no other story could be set within this world and fully work. We all remember that one…famous image...of course, but it’s the rest of the movie around it, paired with that particularly daring sequence, that makes The Green Knight such an excellent staple in fantasy filmmaking.
In the Heights
Perhaps the film that best defined the summer of 2021 in movies, In the Heights arrived with a heavy thud to almost none of the reception it deserved at the box office. Though an excellent musical adaptation and a critically acclaimed work, the film was an outright flop on opening weekend, which is a shame, since it was perhaps the movie best suited to reinvigorating audiences who chose to give it their time, to restore faith that not only were great movies back, great movie experiences were back. This film, while far from flawless, is as pure and joyous a celebration of Latino/Latina heritage, joy, dreams, and family as it ever could have been, buoyed by a breakout starring role for Anthony Ramos and a fantastic supporting cast, including the Oscar-worthy Olga Merediz. Musicals have always been tough to sell to modern audiences, but if there were any released in 2021 that deserved so much better than they got financially, In the Heights is at or near the top of that list.
An excellent sports film with an Oscar-worthy lead performance, King Richard is poised to win star Will Smith his first Best Actor trophy, and it’s not hard to see why after watching him in this. While it doesn’t do much different than many other inspirational sports movies of its kind, it does shine a much clearer light on Richard Williams as a tennis coach for his superstar daughters, and what a risk that ultimately was to take on. If don’t know about the Richard Williams story already, it’s a fascinating and supremely engaging introduction, but even if you do, the film finds ways to make you understand why people didn’t initially believe his plan for raising two tennis superstars would ultimately work and why it seemed destine to succeed. He made a lot of mistakes, he wasn’t always a great coach, but he also did a lot of good, and eventually, his plan worked out. The film is a full portrait of a man whose place in history – especially sports history – has always been a subject of fascination, and it doesn’t hurt that Aunjanue Ellis, Saniyya Sidney, and Jon Bernthal also turn in award-worthy work as Brandy, Venus, and Rick Macci respectively.
The Lost Daughter
Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut may not be the most perfect movie it could have been, but it is still an ambitious undertaking to make a movie about motherhood that does not ultimately come down on the positive side of things. An adaptation of the novel by Elena Ferrante, the film is decidedly cynical on the notion of parenting, asserting that the assumption that women will take on motherly instincts in the face of their need is not only false, but an unfair assumption for anyone to make. Olivia Colman’s work here is stellar, so much so that it’s frankly become underrated since everyone seems to be saying it’s “not her best” (not her best for Colman, though, is still leagues better than a lot of other actresses at their best), and Jessie Buckley’s now Oscar-nominated supporting turn as Colman’s younger self is some of the strongest work Buckley has ever turned in. This is not an easy film to love or connect with, but it is one of 2021’s finest debuts and best adaptations.
The fact that Mass of all things couldn’t quite make the cut for the Top 10 should be itself an indicator of just how contentious choosing those 10 was. Don’t be surprise if you see this on a lot of Top 10 lists for 2021, because it is more than richly deserved. Fran Kranz’s debut feature is a harrowing tale of heartbreak, grief, loss, trauma, and life-affirming forgiveness so strong and difficult to give, there is no possible way not to be moved by it. Putting four people in a room to talk for two hours may not seem like the ideal set-up for one of 2021’s most essential and powerful watches, but somehow Kranz manages to make every moment feel like the most important one in the film, and not in the obnoxious “where’s my Oscar” fashion. The conversation itself, between one set of parents who lost their child in a mass shooting and another set of parents whose son carried it out, is chock-full of nuance, with every aspect a conversation like it could have being explored. It’s a powerhouse debut script for Kranz and I sincerely hope it skyrockets his chances to get more things made.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Not quite the year’s best animated film but pretty damn close, The Mitchells vs. the Machines puts yet another win in the Lord & Miller producing belt. This movie is so full of creative energy, it’s practically impossible not to get swept up in it, regardless of whether some jokes don’t quite land as hard as other Lord & Miller-produced films have in the past. The film’s commentary on technological innovation and how it both alienates and unites very different people could have seemed far less nuanced in lesser hands, but the team behind this one really pulled through. The sequence with the giant Furby remains one of my favorite 2021 movie scenes. There’s not much else to say about what a joy this film is to experience except to tell you to go watch it on Netflix right now. You won’t regret it.
It is a real shame that NatGeo’s recounting of the harrowing rescue of a boys soccer team from a Thailand cave wasn’t given the same attention that Free Solo caught just a few years ago, especially since it may even be a better movie. There are whole sequences in The Rescue which are indistinguishable from documentary footage, having been re-created for the sake of detailing just how dangerous an operation the whole ordeal was. To pack as much detail into the initial crisis, to the planning of the mission itself, to how things went wrong and how things started going right, is an enormous feat but directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai are more than up to the task, even capturing some unexpectedly emotional moments along the way. If you ever get the chance to see this one in a theater, do not pass it up. I’m lucky I didn’t.
The surprise of the year award goes to the movie everyone thought we be Nicolas Cage’s John Wick, only for director Michael Sarnoski to ask: “why do you look for violence where tenderness breathes?” Cage is at his best in decades in this film about a former chef searching for his kidnapped truffle pig, and at every turn the film could get violent, it instead chooses to challenge why we want that so much. What is with our obsession with vengeance? Do we even like it, or are we simply following what the trends tell us to do? The restaurant interrogation scene is an all-timer for Cage’s career, demonstrating not only that he’s capable of great performances, but more than able to stare straight into your soul and deliver the best ones you may ever see. There’s a reason he has an Oscar on his mantle, and Pig – beyond its stellar writing, score, cinematography, and supporting performances – is the first movie in a very long time to not only show us why, but definitively say that it’s more than deserved.
There were a lot of documentaries this year that impressed me, moved me, and held my interest from the first minute to the last, but the one that pissed me off the most was Procession. It follows a group of lapsed Catholic men who were subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of priests, and having grown up in a religious household, the very idea of that has always made my blood boil. As these men come together, they decide to make short films based on their experiences, with young boys playing themselves, in order to take the power back from those who preyed on them by stealing it. But Procession’s greatest weapon isn’t rage or forgiveness, as lesser films would attempt to exploit – in fact, the film never once asks the subjects to forgive anyone involved in their trauma – it’s catharsis. Whatever closure these men are able to achieve is enough to move one to tears simply knowing that even though their pasts are tainted, they’re going to be okay. It's a very tough film to watch, especially if you grew up in any close proximity to this sort of idea that the church can’t be held responsible for their abuses because “God wants us to forgive,” but it is perhaps the least discussed amongst film circles post-Oscar nominations that deserves to stay in the conversation the most.
Great comedies are always a treat to watch. Great indie comedies usually feel like a genuine discovery. Great indie comedies that cost less than $500K to make that are this good are outright fucking miracles. There is no stopping Shiva Baby from being the little indie miracle that could once it gets the ball rolling, and boy is it a wild ride. Rachel Sennott is impeccable here as a college student whose sugar daddy arrives at a Jewish funeral service she’s attending (having apparently known the deceased) with her parents. If that sound like a recipe for anxiety and hilarity, just wait until Emma Seligman’s remarkable script, clocking in at just 1 hour and 17 minutes, really starts cooking by bringing in the incredible Molly Gordon. Beyond the stress-fest that is the central incident, however, the film is also about now knowing one’s place in the world, being uncertain about the future, and having to navigate the expectations of all the adults around you even as a new adult yourself. The film’s end may be a tad abrupt, but boy, there is seldom found a wilder ride to take from 2021.
Pablo Larraín’s chilly, pseudo-horror biopic about Princess Diana’s time in the royal family over a period of three days may seem stand-offish and pretentious at first, but it’s not long before the film envelops you in the world it creates, one where the house/manor/palace is a prison rather than a home and the royal family are the walls closing in all around Diana. They control what she wears to which meals at which times of day, constantly watching over her, attempting to control the life she was meant to live for herself. As she distances herself further from them and gains more freedom, so too does the film, with the frame becoming more welcoming, warmer, more full of joy. Spencer is a brilliant piece of claustrophobic filmmaking in the subtlest of fashions, and that’s before we get to Kristen Stewart’s Oscar-worthy and career-best performance as Diana herself, with each movement, each line delivery, each expression, each sigh of relief or exasperation perfectly tailored not just to reflect Diana but to fulfill her embodiment on screen. It won’t be for everyone, but for those interested in Diana or the royal family, or who are in the mood for a more formalistic approach to the story, Spencer is a real winner.
The Suicide Squad
Just after Disney fired James Gunn unceremoniously and at the behest of just the worst bad-faith critics online – who had coordinated a campaign to dig for problematic material from him (which he had already addressed) because they didn’t like how critical he was of former and disgraced U.S. President Donald Trump and wanted to get him “cancelled” – DC scooped him up to revamp their Suicide Squad property to phenomenal success…at least critically and audience-wise (Gunn eventually got re-hired to direct Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 3). Yet another of 2021’s least deserving box office flops, The Suicide Squad was so good and so successful at rebranding everyone’s favorite team of crass-mouthed villains that HBO Max greenlit a spinoff show for one of its best characters almost right away. That wouldn’t have been possible if not for the often blistering and unexpectedly emotional performances lining this movie’s halls up and down, from Margot Robbie’s return as Harley Quinn (a character I’m pretty sure no one else can play in live-action now), to Idris Elba’s badass Bloodsport, to Daniela Melchior’s scene-stealing Ratcatcher 2 to John Cena’s hilarious and now series-leading Peacemaker. Everyone in this film is clearly having a blast, and if the incredible gory action and fantastic jokes are any indication, so will any comic book movie fan willing to give it their time.
Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
Questlove’s directorial debut also happens to be the frontrunner to win Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars, and while there is one film in that category that I do like better overall, I will have no qualms about it winning the gold on awards night. Summer of Soul is pure celebration in its rarest and most joyous form. Affectionately dubbed “the Black Woodstock,” this recounting of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is chock full of never-before-seen concert footage filled with performances so legendary, it would make any musician’s head spin. It truly is a rarity amongst documentaries to encounter something so seldom discussed which was so huge at the time of being that it was as big as Woodstock, if not bigger. There’s an obvious reason for this to anyone with a brain, but it nonetheless is an astounding achievement to have told this story in this definitive a way, and have it be your first movie you’ve ever made. Once again Questlove, we are in awe of your talents.
While it just barely missed the Best Picture nominations at the Oscars, Tick, Tick…Boom! is a fantastic movie musical worthy of all recognition and praise. The directorial debut of Lin Manuel-Miranda, it tells the story of Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield) – the eventual writer of Rent – as he attempts to finish his first Broadway musical, Superbia. The editing in the film (Oscar nominated along with Garfield for his immaculate performance) is top-notch, simultaneously telling the story theatrically with the story itself playing out cinematically, and the music is of course fantastic; “30/90” is a particular favorite of mine. Robin de Jesus is also one of the year’s most charming supporting turns, easy to watch and fall in love with almost instantly. But what sets this film apart for me where so many others have gone wrong and failed is in detailing how difficult it can often be to come up with the right idea under the wrong circumstances, whether those circumstances are external or internal (often they’re a combination of both). Creativity and writing is a taxing discipline on the mind, and it can oftentimes feel like if one doesn’t get this word or that phrase or that idea’s expression just right – no, if you don’t get it perfect – it will feel inauthentic and disingenuous. This causes stress, anxiety, eons of panic if you’re on a deadline, and completely envelopes you until you get it right. As a writer, I can’t express how many times I’ve gone through the same thing (though with much less on the line, to be fair). Tick, Tick…Boom! is very much a theater kid/writer-friendly sort of movie, so it may not hit everyone the same way, but I felt more understood by it than I have by a musical in a very long time.
The wildest ride any movie in 2021 could ever take anyone on belongs to Julia Ducournau’s impeccably bold Titane. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, this film is impossible to describe under the banner of one genre, unless that genre is “holy fucking shit, what the fuck is happening.” Audacious, unpredictable, occasionally vile, unhesitant, ludicrous, and always arresting, Titane is a force of nature one never forgets experiencing for the first time, with Agathe Rouselle and Vincent Lindon’s immaculate performances ringing in one’s ears forever. To say anything more might be to spoil one of the most spoilable great works of art ever created, so I won’t say anything more here, but just know, this stuck around in my Top 10 for a long time (and the Academy should have included it in the Best International Feature shortlist).
The Tragedy of Macbeth
Being a huge fan of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth myself, I’m always fascinated to see how each new adaptation brings a different flavor to the best of the Bard’s tragedies; Joel Coen’s happens to exist in a whole different stratosphere, simultaneously theatrical and cinematic to a degree that would make tick, tick…Boom! embarrassed to be in its company, brought to life immaculately by the stunning black-and-white photography of Bruno Delbonnel. It’s not doing anything different story-wise, per se, but for Shakespeare fans, it is as arresting a viewing experience as any you’ll ever have. Denzel Washington turns in phenomenal work as the title character, with Frances McDormand more than capable of sharing the screen with him, but it’s Kathryn Hunter’s deeply unsettling take on the witches that ultimately steals the show. The sound design and score are also brilliant, and while I’m not sure if I liked it quite as much as Justin Kurzel’s 2015 take on the same play, it gets pretty damn close. Look-wise, it might be the most uniquely stunning movie of the year.
And those are all of my Honorable Mentions for the best movies of 2021! What did you think of these films? Are there any you’re going to now check out? Let me know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Hello, all, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! As a movie year progresses, we’re all very eager to see what the best films of that year will be, but sometimes movies worth checking out slip through even the Honorable Mentions selections under consideration. The Friendly Film Fan likes to take stock each year and highlight some of those films that, regardless of variance in quality, we think are nonetheless worth checking out. Some of these films may have appeared on other lists (such as the Underrated Films list or the Disappointing Films list), but that doesn’t disqualify them from appearing here if we think they’re worth another look. The only films not listed here are those in consideration for Best of the Year – or just the ones we didn’t like. All that said, there’s still plenty here to see. Here is The Friendly Film Fan’s list of Recommended Movies from 2021.
And those are my recommendations for movies from 2021 that didn’t quite make the cut for “Best Of” consideration (or that I just liked to a certain degree). Which of these are you most eager to check out? Are there any you’ve already seen? Let me know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
The Friendly Film Fan takes a look back at the scenes that made us laugh, cheer, cry, and fall in love with movies in 2021.
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! As we begin engaging with the movies of 2022, it’s nice to go back and reminisce on everything we got to experience in the previous year, especially specific moments that touched us, thrilled us, saddened us, and made us leap for joy. We all remember where we were when the Avengers first assembled in The Avengers, when Cap wielded Thor’s hammer in Endgame, when Charlie’s head hit the pole in Hereditary, when the Joker finally donned his smile in Joker, when the basement opens in Parasite, when the final drum solo of Whiplash happened, when Rey and Kylo fought together in The Last Jedi, when Miles took his leap of faith in Into the Spider-Verse, when Sex Bob-Omb led the best opening credits music sequence ever made…we all remember the moments. Those specific moments when we fell in love with movies, the sequences we constantly keep talking about once a film has ended and the credits have stopped rolling, those moments where we fell in love with whatever it was we were watching. And those are what The Friendly Film Fan is celebrating today. Of course, in order to discuss these moments in full, a HEAVY SPOILER WARNING must abound, so consider that the warning for this list. Here are our Top 5 Picks for the Best Scenes and Movie Moments of 2021.
(Disclaimer: Films which are considered for "best of the year" status but which don’t feature standout sequences or moments are ineligible for this list, for obvious reasons.
5. Paloma – No Time to Die
Easily the best final film in any Bond actors tenure according to those who have stuck with the franchise long enough (I haven’t seen enough of them yet to decide), No Time to Die was an overlong but worthy addition to the iconic series and a bittersweet swan song for Daniel Craig as its leading man. Not keen to leave us without a standout sequence, though, director Cari Joji Fukunaga also introduced us to a wonderful new character named Paloma, played by the incomparable Ana de Armas. The sequence itself is fun, sexy, loaded with action, and brimming with charm as Bond and Paloma work together to take out a host of gunmen in a Santiago bar where the film’s villain has just executed all of the shadow organization Spectre. Ana de Armas is flawless in this sequence, keeping up with Craig in the fight choreography and having a fun little rapport with the character between bursts of bullets. The worst part of the whole sequence, however, is that that’s her only one. The character never comes back and is never mentioned again after this fight takes place, which is a real shame considering how she’s easily the best part of the whole affair. Wherever the Bond franchise goes after this is anyone’s guess, but any major action directors should take note of how swiftly de Armas steals the show here.
4. America – West Side Story
Almost no one actually saw West Side Story in theaters when it released, but if its awards run is any indication, those people who passed it by missed out on something truly spectacular (and I would agree with this sentiment). The revamped musical, headed up by none other than the G.O.A.T. Steven Spielberg, updated a great many things from the original Broadway production, including deeper characterization for Tony and Maria, as well as the order and lyrics of a number of songs. Nowhere more clearly does this work to the film’s benefit than in perhaps the most famous of the musical numbers, “America.” The lustrous costuming by Paul Tazewell, the new choreography by Justin Peck, the performances of Ariana DeBose and a truly underrated David Alvarez, the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, and the updated instrumentation and lyrics all combine to create what is easily the standout sequence of the whole film, a joyous celebration and fun little quarrel between lovers, chock-full of all the things that make Spielberg a master of the craft. If ever there were an sequence most poised to show how Spielberg landed his Best Director nomination (and on his first musical, no less), “America” is it.
3. The Spider-Men – Spider-Man: No Way Home
This is where the HEAVY SPOILER warning comes into play most, as it’s revealed during the third act of Marvel’s latest superhero adventure that there are, in fact, two more Spider-Men in this movie than appear on the film’s posters. Andrew Garfield and Toby Maguire both reprise their roles as Peter Parker from the other Spider-Man films, and rather than quick cameos or small joke parts, the two actors are given full supporting character time, appearing in almost the entire third act of the film. Choosing the entire third act as a singular moment doesn’t really work most of the time, though (unless it’s the third act of Sorry to Bother You), so for this particular spot, I’m going with the moment in which they finally unite to fight as a unit. After resolving to cure the film’s villains of their various ailments at the Statue of Liberty, the three Spider-Men engage in a fight in which – at first – they don’t especially do very well, a fact which Tom Holland’s Peter Parker points out during a brief respite. But, after resolving to fight as a team and coordinate their attacks, the three Peters unite, and the moment is one any Spider-Man fan would be moved by. Three Spider-Men all jump from one of the structures, swinging together, and even swinging each other at a point on each other’s webs, as Tom Holland’s Spider-Man theme blares through the action. This truly is the moment “The Spider-Men” finally emerge, and to have experienced it in a theater – especially on the film’s opening day – was pure euphoria. (Plus, if you pay close attention during the fight that ensues afterwards, you can see each of the three Spider-Men fighting in their own unique styles from their own set of films. Pretty neat.)
2. Final Montage – The Green Knight
As with David Lowery’s other works, The Green Knight is better than it has any right to be for a quasi-faithful adaptation of a short fantasy tale about King Arthur’s supposedly most cowardly knight, but it’s the film’s final moments that catapult it from an excellent genre flick to one of the straight-up best films of 2021, bar none. As Gawain’s quest to find the titular Green Knight comes to a close, and time for repayment of the blow which he dealt the creature one year prior draws is at hand, Gawain is seen kneeling face down towards the forest floor. The music swells, the axe drops, and Gawain suddenly moves, narrowly avoiding the blow thanks to a protective piece of cloth around his waist; failing in his quest, and heads back to the castle from which he embarked on his journey, and the audience is shown his ill-sought rule as the kingdom slowly crumbles around him. He is eventually left with no one and nothing, removing his belt just before his head falls off his body and to the floor, a clean cut clearly made by the Green Knight but staved off until Gawain has had nothing left to bring to ruin. But it’s not until the film’s final few seconds that Lowery’s masterful trick is revealed, when the camera suddenly flashes back to Gawain’s face as he kneels before the Green Knight. It’s at this point that the audience realizes the montage of ruin which befell Dev Patel’s Gawain was not the ending of the film, but a vision of what the ending might have been without honor’s intervention. Gawain removes the belt, and the Green Knight spares his life for being honorable enough to play fair in this Christmas game. It’s a brilliantly edited knock-out of an ending that not only demonstrates Dev Patel’s masterful performance, but a director in full command of the story he’s telling.
1. The Spice Harvester – Dune
Even though it may not be as wish-fulfilling as the Spider-Men or as gobsmackingly unexpected as the Green Knight’s ending montage, from whence else could the best movie moment of the year come than the first chapter of Denis Villeneuve’s sci-fi epic, Dune. Though this is only Part One of a two-part adaptation of Frank Herbert’s iconic novel, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune packs a punch the likes of which sci-fi filmmaking hasn’t seen in decades. Everything, from the production design to the performances to the cinematography to that incredible score by Hans Zimmer, is working at its peak level, and nowhere do all of those things come together better than in the sequence where Paul and Duke Leto Atreides suddenly have to rescue an entire spice harvesting crew from the worm-ridden deserts of Arrakis. The sound design dropping out when the ship descends nose-first, the sudden resurrection of that sound when they find their lowest altitude, Hans Zimmer’s (once again) magnificent score, the editing, the camerawork, all come together to craft one of the most tense sequences in all of movies for 2021, and it’s this sequence in particular that showcases just how epic a story Dune really is and what a masterful director Denis Villeneuve has become (which makes it doubly criminal that he was egregiously snubbed for Best Director at this year’s Oscars). If ever there were evidence that Villeneuve was the right choice to adapt Dune, this whole sequence, with all its bells and whistles, is it. What a treat it was to experience this movie – and this scene – on a giant theater screen.
And those are our picks for the Top 5 Best Scenes/Movie Moments of 2021! What were some of your favorite moments in film over the last year? Any you don’t see here that should be included? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Hello, all, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! Films fall by the wayside often, it’s true. On many occasions, either the marketing for the film isn’t enough to interest moviegoers or the films themselves can’t quite stack up to what the actual best-of-the-year tallies render worthy of listing. Sometimes, however, a film receives a decent score, some nice viewership, and then disappears from the conversation for the rest of its theatrical life. This is the list for those films: the ones whose scores are just a little low, the ones that didn’t stick in the conversation for long enough, the ones that should be given more credit for accomplishing what they managed to do against whatever level of odds they faced. These are The Friendly Film Fan’s picks for the Top 10 Most Underrated Movies of 2021.
10. No Sudden Move
Boy, it sure is a fun time when Steven Soderbergh makes a movie, isn’t it? Starring Don Cheadle and Benicio Del Toro, this small little crime caper debuted on HBO Max over the summer, and – despite its issues – was a real blast to watch. Somehow Soderbergh just knows every star we love from Hollywood, and manages to get them all together to make a movie where they get to show off a little. Plus, it features a truly noteworthy David Harbour performance wherein the Stranger Things star gets to play a much less confident character than we’re used to seeing. Pretty good stuff.
9. The Courier
The Courier came and went with nary a splash as it left theaters just as quietly as it entered, but this Cold War thriller does just enough right to be worth at least one viewing. Benedict Cumberbatch is great in this film, portraying arguably his least assured character yet, and going from this to the world-class Power of the Dog showcases just how insanely talented the man really is. There aren’t many movies like this anymore, so take a chance on it, if only to see what may be one of the last of its kind, theatrically speaking.
8. Little Fish
Little Fish was released on VOD to not much fanfare, and its Rotten Tomatoes score was barely featured on the site’s main page long enough to register with more than the smallest audience, but those who did check it out were given a real treat. Set during a global pandemic (I know, I’m tired of it too) of memory loss, the film follows to young adults as they connect and find love with each other, only for things to begin going wrong as they predictably are meant to. Olivia Cooke is one of today’s finest unsung leading actresses, and her performance in this movie – plus her chemistry with co-star Jack O’Connell (also severely underrated) – is an easy example of just why. The script, too, is surprisingly nuanced for the subject matter it’s tackling, never feeling too drawn out or melodramatic in engaging the plot. If you’re in the mood for an indie you could really fall in love with, this is it (well, this and Together Together, but that one’s not on the list).
7. In the Earth
Of all the “Covid films” released between 2020 and 2022, Ben Wheatley’s quasi-horror film about a mysterious woodland area was the first to come out which was objectively…not bad. I still struggle to feel that the film tackles its third act in an interesting or engaging way, but the first two, at least, are quite well-done, and don’t hammer the audience over the head with the film’s setting. Eventual Cruella co-star Joel Fry manages to carry it to the finish line just enough to be worth checking out, and its center-most section provides some truly tense thrills.
Plenty of people will be pissed off by the way this film ends, and I can certainly understand that perspective, given that its finale is decidedly less interesting than its biggest turning point. However, that turning point is quite a powerful statement on its own, and this “screen thriller” largely lands as high as it does because of how much power that statement holds. Apart from that moment, specifically, the film is also wonderfully tense, and both its lead performances provide ample space for those thrills to grow over the course of the film. As with many screen thrillers, it’s a breeze to sit through – short and to the point as much as it is also somewhat misguided in its final moments, but there’s a lot of potential here.
5. The Paper Tigers
I couldn’t count on one hand the number of people I know that have seen this small movie about three middle-aged former Kung-Fu prodigies avenging their slain former master by balancing their quest for vengeance against their now largely ordinary lives, but that’s mainly because I don’t know anyone else who’s seen it…at all. Apart from its appearance towards the top of a few Rotten Tomatoes lists over the summer, I wasn’t really sure what I was getting into with this, but I quite enjoyed the experience of it. Sure, it’s noticeably low-budget and the fights don’t actually last that long, but there is some great comedy in here, and the heart is all over the film’s screenplay. A hidden gem if ever one film were to fit that definition entirely.
4. Dream Horse
From its trailer, it would have been easy to discount Dream Horse as some Seabiscuit or Secretariat wannabe project, but when Toni Collette shows up to something, you watch it anyway, and I ended up really glad I gave this film a shot. Though it doesn’t really do much of note outside of the usual beats for a story like this, Dream Horse is nevertheless a charming ride about a community not just coming together, but finding something they could come together for. Collette is excellent in the film, but it’s her supporting cast that make it worth sticking around, each of them capturing a different element of living in a close-knit community and all of them enchanting the viewer through their various whimsies and wants. True, the story could be more unique, but this one has a lot of heart, and is well worth seeing if you feel like something a little lighter.
3. The Dry
Pardon the pun, but The Dry is…well, it’s a little dry, emotionally speaking at least. But that doesn’t mean that this investigation into the murder of a local in small town Australia doesn’t still pack a punch in its plotting. Eric Bana is excellent as the lead detective who moves back to his hometown to head up the case, and it’s his interactions with the various members of the community – most of whom don’t trust him, believing her murdered a childhood friend and got away with it – that really make the film worthwhile. I might’ve preferred the ending left things more ambiguous in that regard, but The Dry is still every bit as worthy of your time as most mediocre actioners or almost anything in theaters right now.
9/11 can be a touchy subject to attempt tackling in film, though several have tried (and several more have brutally failed), but tackling the aftermath is a fool’s errand. How can one hope to capture both the grief and the strength of an entire populous losing something or someone so dear to them, even if they personally did not know or weren’t related to, the victims of such a heinous attack? Worth’s recounting of the subsequent victim’s fund setup could have been a trainwreck on par with Remember Me’s ridiculous ending, but in the viewing, one can tell that the filmmakers were really trying to tackle this in the best way they knew how. True, the film doesn’t really get going until Stanley Tucci shows up to spar against Michael Keaton in the acting battles, and the first five-to-ten minutes of the film don’t really add anything meaningful to the plot itself, but this movie is about as good as it was ever going to be working with such a small-scale topic, and for those of you willing to test that theory, it’s on Netflix for your viewing. Play away.
The single most underrated film of 2021 is the fourth-wall-breaking Covid project from Stephen Daldry that no one saw and everyone thought looked incredibly weird. To a point, they would be correct – the film is weird, unconventional, in-your-face, and very much a Covid-centric story about two people in a contentious relationship being forced to quarantine together over several months. Not exactly a recipe for anticipation in the summer of 2021. Yet somehow, Together is the film most attuned to just how hard the whole pandemic has been on a host of various people, including those who – for whatever reason – still don’t have access to the vaccine. It’s the human cost of all of this at the heart of the film, and James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan are more than up to the challenge of tackling what that cost means at the base level. Horgan, in particular, crushes a scene she has to deliver just after a hospital visit, and her aching words induce true heartbreak in the viewer. There’s plenty of comedy in here as well, so it’s not the bleakest of Covid-centric narratives, but it is the one most adept at navigating the bleakness of the whole ordeal so far when discussing the topic explicitly.
And those are our picks for the Top 10 Most Underrated Movies of 2021! What movies from last year do you think were unfairly overlooked or undervalued? Are there any we missed here? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Hello, all, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! As much as we love movies around here, it is an unfortunate reality that not everything can live up to expectations. Some movies come along that we’re all looking forward to, and no matter how good or even great they end up being anyway, they fail to rise to the level of craft or engagement that one hoped for based on their potential, whether this was shown through advertising or merely through the knowledge of who would be working on or in it. Often (but not always), the films that had the most potential are even more disappointing than those that otherwise looked good but didn’t generate the same levels of anticipation along their marketing runs. Whatever the case may be, there will always be films that surprise us (hint for the next list), and those that let us down. Today, it is time to mourn the latter. These are The Friendly Film Fan’s picks for the Top 10 Most Disappointing Movies of 2021.
10. Blue Bayou
Released without much in the way of fanfare, the indie drama Blue Bayou, which is centered around a Korean immigrant’s unjust incarceration and holding by ICE police forces, had all the right tools to make it something truly special. Unfortunately, the film itself is significantly less than the sum of its parts. Despite some solid ideas and performances, the film can’t help but shoot itself in the foot every time it starts to get emotionally engaging, so insistent on its own importance that it entirely bypasses one of the most important elements of storytelling – knowing when to take a breath. It’s hardly an outright bad film, but for an idea this solid to co-star Justin Chon (who doubled as writer/director) and Alicia Vikander and not succeed in what it sets out to do does make it quite the disappointment.
Antlers had so much potential as an adaptation of a folklore story, and to be completely fair, it does have some phenomenal creature design, but this Del-Toro produced horror vehicle starring Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons does hardly anything with the material it has other than introduce the tale to audiences. The film takes up half its own runtime just setting up everything the audience came to see, and by the time anything good is actually happening, we’re well into Act 3. This is the worst of Scott Cooper’s filmography thus far, and a deeply unfortunate entry in the “feel nothing” horror subgenre given how high it could have soared.
8. Don’t Breathe 2
No one asked for a sequel to Don’t Breathe, and no one wanted one even if they weren’t asking aloud. That does not mean, however, that the existence of one would be an inherently bad thing – the quality of the movie itself assures that. Far be it from horror Hollywood to consider how making the villain of the last movie the hero of this one may not be a very good idea. Don’t Breathe 2 takes everything about the first one and completely throws it away in favor of a shock value narrative that follows the least interesting paths to the least satisfying conclusions. And they even tried to tease a Don’t Breathe 3 in the film’s entirely unnecessary post-credits scene. Perhaps they should take a lesson from the bad superhero movies of the 2000s – don’t include a post-credits scene to a bad movie, because no one will believe a sequel is actually coming.
7. Dear Evan Hansen
Dear Evan Hansen, regardless of whether or not it succeeds at translating the stage show to the silver screen, is not a good movie (and, frankly, not a good story either). What makes it worse is that it has all the right tools to be a great one – a stacked ensemble cast, great music (I stand by that), and some really solid comedy that still makes me laugh whenever I think about it. The film just never uses these things to their fullest effect, or alters any of them in the process of adaptation to enhance the weaker aspects of the narrative at hand. No matter how good the music is or how much one enjoys watching Kaitlyn Dever own this whole movie or even how emotionally-charged certain moments are, the film simply never adds up to anything that works because it sticks too close to the source material. Justin Paul and Benj Pasek are phenomenal songwriters, but this is the second time in about 4 years that their music has been attached to something that doesn’t live up to anywhere near the potential it has.
6. Halloween Kills
David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween reboot/legacy sequel was quite a fun time, featured some great kills, and genuinely good performances. Its immediate sequel, Halloween Kills, only boasts one of those things – the kills themselves – as reasons to recommend it to either horror fans or movie fans in general. The film is so obsessed with the past that it buckles under the weight of the nostalgia it keeps trying to remind the audience of, and poor Jamie Lee Curtis is stuck in a hospital pretty much the entire film. No one has anything interesting to do in this movie except yell about how the original film took place 40 years ago (seriously, they say it like every 5 minutes), and its ending is genuinely one of the worst “fake-out” endings I’ve ever seen in a horror flick, especially slashers. And we still have one more of these things to go.
5. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
The first Venom film was not a particularly good movie, but it did boast some ironically fun stuff: the “turd in the wind” line, Tom Hardy jumping in a fish tank to eat a lobster…other stuff. And from what I had been told about the second one by those who had seen it, we were in for a whole lot more of that with Let There Be Carnage; perhaps those who had seen it sincerely meant that, but I watched an entirely different movie, one where the comedy didn’t work, the action was overcut and ridiculously difficult to follow, and almost everything else was about as bad as it could have been. This isn’t a disappointing film because it’s quite bad – it’s disappointing because the first one’s good parts were completely ironic, entertaining because they were stuck in the middle of something taking itself seriously; this one seems to think those parts were the whole movie.
4. Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Is Afterlife good? Is Afterlife bad? That depends on your patience for fan service without genuine purpose, nostalgic wish-granting without using it to enhance the story at play. For my part, I don’t have a lot of patience left for films whose narratives aren’t very interesting if the fan service is removed. There are certainly some solid elements to Afterlife’s overstuffed brand of product placement porn and Ghostbusters fanboy-isms, but they’re not solid enough to stand on their own without those things to prop them up. Jason Reitman’s distant sequel to Ghostbusters II boasts a couple of great sequences (namely the chase through Summerville), but doesn’t ultimately have anything to say about the original Ghostbusters franchise other than “hey, them original Ghostbusters sure were pretty cool in the 80s weren’t they?” And for some people, that will be enough; for me, there needs to be more substance.
3. Last Night in Soho
There has been no single fall so far as from the first teaser trailer for Last Night in Soho to the release of the actual film in 2021’s history of movies. That’s not to say that Edgar Wright’s latest doesn’t have anything to recommend, but disappointment is about the breadth of potential to execution, and unfortunately for me, this film’s is quite wide. A powerhouse duo of actresses, phenomenal production design, music, coloring, and a terrifically edited ballroom dance sequence are all well and good, but Last Night in Soho can’t seem to figure out how to balance all of this with a narrative about how women are exploited by men in power just for reaching for the stars…without exploiting some of its actresses within the story itself. There’s a lot to like on the surface, but digging deeper yields quite the mess, especially once the film gets into a cacophonously loud third act that insists its twist is an undoubtedly good thing without engaging with the post-twist actions’ morally grey areas. I am glad a film with this sort of original premise exists, but it remains my least favorite of Wright’s filmography.
2. House of Gucci
House of Gucci is not what I would consider a bad film, and in fact, it can be quite entertaining in parts, but it’s far too long and way too narratively stretched to remain compelling outside of a single watch. Movie stars this big doing a story with this much camp can only be successful for so long at once, or in spurts throughout – Gucci, easily the lesser of Ridley Scott’s two 2021 releases, opts for the latter of these options. Along with the fact that it seems only Lady Gaga and Jared Leto really understood what kind of movie they were in, House of Gucci was the biggest Oscars frontrunner the year had to offer, and then it squandered almost all of the potential it had above the line. It’s unfortunate that The Last Duel went mostly underseen, because that is the Ridley Scott epic that deserves the awards attention this year.
Reigning Best Picture and Best Director winner Chloé Zhao released her first (and likely only) MCU feature in 2021, which was meant to come out in 2020, and boy was it disappointing to see such top tier talent with such a top tier trailer get tossed into a narrative that’s far too ambitious for its own good. Don’t get me wrong, Eternals is still what I would consider a good movie, and does a lot of things far differently than many other MCU projects in terms of how it’s made more as a journey piece than an action narrative, as well as having a spectacular visual presence. However, the film itself can’t quite manage to juggle introducing so many characters at once, and the narrative is stretched across such a vast expanse of time, it’s difficult to be invested in what happens to most of them by the film’s end (even Kumail Nanjiani – the best eternal in the film – leaves before it’s over). Hopefully the MCU is able to salvage some of the film’s better ideas to include in other films, but truth be told, this works much better as the MCU’s introduction to Chloé Zhao than it does as the introduction to its own set of characters. Eternals had the potential not just to be a hit within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but to be its greatest entry ever. Instead, it’s just “pretty good.” And that’s what makes it the most disappointing movie of 2021.
And those were our picks for the Top 10 Most Disappointing Movies of 2021. What did you think of these films? Were you disappointed by any of them, or still like some anyway? Were we too harsh on some? Let us know in the comments section below, and stay tuned for more end-of-year movie coverage coming soon. Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! 2021 was certainly a year, and with that passage of time came the passage of advertisements by all manner of studios attempting to get us to watch their movies, whether in theaters or on streaming services. Trailers are an art form all their own; a bad one can kill a good film’s box office before it even opens, and a good one can lend a financial/hype-wound hand to even the most dismal of features. We all remember watching trailers that excited us as we sat in the dark waiting for our feature presentation to begin, so without further delay, let’s go ahead and talk about the best ones we got to see in 2021. These are our picks for the Top 10 Movie Trailers of 2021!
10. The Matrix Resurrections – Official Trailer 1
The fourth installment in the live-action Matrix franchise was a big swing from the get-go, but Warner Bros really did put a good deal of marketing power into promoting it, hence its two very successful trailers. Whilst the latter may have largely sold the film as a new Wachowski action vehicle, Resurrections’ first trailer let us in on the event of it all. The grandiose visuals, the music selection, and some pretty sweet action teasing let us all know that the Matrix franchise was back in a big way; what a shame the film itself only about half lived up to it.
9. The Batman – The Bat and the Cat Trailer
Both iterations of the caped crusader’s advertised return to the silver screen deserve their own levels of acclaim, both providing new angles and grime through which to look at everyone’s favorite non-superpowered superhero as Robert Pattinson dons the cape and cowl to fight crime in the earliest days of The Batman. It’s the latter of the two, however, that works best, giving us more of an idea of the story, showing off some really cool new footage, and teasing Paul Dano’s Riddler as a genuinely antagonistic force. The trailer also gives us a lot more of Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman, her rapport with Bruce informing some of the sexier elements of both the film and the character. Whatever secrets the movie holds only the movie itself will tell, but I do wonder if Matt Reeves has something more ponderous up his sleeve than anyone expects, as he did with his two Planet of the Apes prequel films.
8. West Side Story | Official Teaser
Its second trailer may have been more thematically appropriate, what with us actually getting to hear some of the stars sing, being re-introduced to the characters, and that gorgeous orchestral version of “Tonight” blasting over beautiful imagery, but it’s the first trailer for Steven Spielberg’s take on West Side Story that generated a hype machine amongst film and theater fans like no other (at least it did for me). Our first glimpses of the new Jets, the new Sharks, the film’s protagonists, and the design of the whole shebang premiered during the 2021 Oscars ceremony, and right up to the moment of release, the idea of whether Steven Spielberg could pull this off hung on a knife’s edge. Thankfully, the film is indeed amazing, but if one paid attention to this trailer and all it promised in just under 2 minutes, there need not have been any doubt of that.
7. Spencer – Official Teaser Trailer
Many trailers released in 2021 sold their films purely on star performances paired with tragic horror vibes, but none fit that bill quite so well as Spencer. The teaser for Pablo Larraín’s Princes Diana semi-biopic is near-wordless, right up to the point where we first hear Kristen Stewart’s voice as Diana at its tail end. There’s really not much to say about this one; it’s just a great teaser for a great movie. See for yourself!
6. Dune | Official Main Trailer
While the initial trailer teaser released alongside Tenet in September of 2020 may still be the best trailer this film has, it actually released 3 more – one on September 9, 2020, and the other two earlier in 2021. The first of those is the winner here, as it gave us a better understanding of what the story was meant to be, teased stellar visuals with an epic sci-fi scope, and let us hear our first notes of Hans Zimmer’s pretty much guaranteed-to-win-the-Oscar original score. The final trailer released for Dune also has merit, but even it can’t quite cope with this behemoth of advertising released beforehand.
5. The Green Knight | Official Trailer
The initial teaser trailer for David Lowery’s Arthurian adaptation of the Arthurian legend was interesting but not especially engaging outside of promising us an A24 fantasy tale; it’s the second trailer for The Green Knight that truly teased the epic journey the film would take us on. Visions of giants, talking foxes, trippy visuals, Ralph Ineson in a lot of makeup as the titular character with that booming voice, and a whole lot of Dev Patel wearing a yellow scarf made us all look twice at what was coming, and the film delivered on almost every promise it made, eventually cementing itself as one of the very best of 2021. There aren’t many non-MCU films that could use “Lapse” as well as this one did.
4. House of Gucci | Official Trailer
You’d be forgiven for assuming that because House of Gucci was largely a disappointment in execution, that must have meant the marketing team didn’t quite get it right, but both trailers for Ridley Scott’s second 2021 film are amongst some of the best 2021 had to offer. While the latter certainly excited Scott fans with “Sweet Dreams” driving the whole thing forward, it’s the first trailer set to Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” that announced the film was coming in a big way. Lavish costuming, weird accents, Jard Leto looking…like that, and a stacked cast all ensured that no one looking forward to awards season would miss this one. And it worked so well, they basically just did the exact same thing again the next time.
3. The Hand of God | Official Teaser
Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God is a good movie, but if the entire film was nearly as stunning as its initial teaser trailer, it may well have been a masterpiece. The cinematography for the teaser alone is some of the most gorgeous one will ever see in a 2021 trailer, the music is appropriately epic yet melancholy, and it goes on for just long enough in its final clip to actually make a lasting impact. The film itself is still good, but it’s not nearly as in-tune with the best parts of itself as this trailer is.
2. Eternals | Final Trailer
Chloé Zhao taking on an MCU project seemed like a dream come true for Oscar lovers and MCU fans like myself, and from how well this trailer is cut together, one might have expected it to be the best MCU film ever made. The lighting, the epic visuals, the incredible score, and the whole edit made it feel like an epic destined to take over the cultural zeitgeist for generations; unfortunately, even though I still find it interesting and mostly good, the film falls way short of those expectations. Lucky for all of us, this trailer still exists as a vast improvement over the film’s first teaser, and even if the film is one of the MCU’s weaker entries, this trailer is one of its very strongest.
1. Last Night in Soho – Official Teaser Trailer
I’ve gone on record as not really being a huge fan of Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver follow-up, Last Night in Soho, but I was a huge fan of both trailers that were put out, and no trailer made more of an impression on me personally than this official teaser trailer. Sold purely on its design, and Anya Taylor-Joy’s deeply enticing singing voice, this one moves right along for nearly two and a half minutes without a single word but for the line Thomasin McKenzie speaks at the end to tease what might be going on. Stellar, almost Argento-esque visuals sold every shot, and by the time it was all over, everyone who knew who Edgar Wright, Thomasin McKenzie, or Anya Taylor-Joy was new that they had something to get ridiculously excited about.
And those are The Friendly Film Fan’s picks for the Top 10 Movie Trailers of 2021! What were some of your favorite trailers from the previous year? Did they advertise movies from 2022 or from 2021? Let us know in the comments section below, and thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan