Top 10 Movies of 2021
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
Recommended Movies of 2021
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
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.