Hello all, and welcome back to The Friendly Film Fan! You may have noticed a lack of new content (even more than usual) lately, and that is because I recently accepted a full-time Assistant Manager position at the theater I work at, so a lot more of my time is taken up by that and doing review work for Bitesize Breakdown, which you can keep up with and follow here. It’s been a whirlwind in the world of movies over the past year or so, what with Covid-19 and the response to it going in every possible direction, and many movies that were postponed to 2021 starting to open up. To that end, it might be nice to look back on the year in movies thus far and reflect on how it’s gone. Thus far, there haven’t really been any masterpieces in my view, and the stinkers aren’t offensively bad either (just poor quality in the expected ways). That being said, there are both films to celebrate and films to avoid, so let’s get right into it. Here are my picks for the Top 5 Best and Worst Movies of 2021 So Far!
5. Here Today
Billy Crystal returning to the director’s chair for the first time in over 20 years should feel like something of a renaissance for the comic icon. Unfortunately, it mostly just feels like someone trying to stay relevant past their time. Perhaps this movie would have been a bigger hit in the 80’s or 90’s, but the comic styles of Tiffany Haddish (who’s allowed way too much room to improv here and is wanting in the dramatic scenes) and Crystal just don’t match up, leaving the film feeling like an awkward hodge-podge of ideas that never congeal into something focused. Here Today has some things to like, but nonetheless feels like a DOA dud in a year full of films just above that.
4. Tom & Jerry
This movie is bad, no question about it. However, I don’t know if it’s the worst child-centric cartoon adaptation I’ve ever seen. It finds itself more in line with movies like War With Grandpa (maybe a little worse) than Songbird; kids might enjoy it as entertainment, but anyone with half a sense of story mechanics or character will see right through this cash-grab style-hybrid to its nonsensical plot underneath. The amount of things in this movie that come out of nowhere and go nowhere would make anyone’s head spin, but it’s not like the little girl from The Exorcist is showing up anytime soon or anything.
3. The Unholy
It’s tricky to find a spot in this list for a horror film that doesn’t work at all but isn’t as noticeably bad as some of the other entries, so it lands at #3 – not noticeable enough to be higher, not good enough to be lower. Even Jeffrey Dean Morgan can’t make a script this uninterested in its own characters work as he stumbles from scene to scene without so much as a follow-up on anything outside of the central conceit (his character is a journalist, by the way). The film isn’t scary, barely follows its own rules, and ends with one of the most anticlimactic resolutions a film can for its main character. I’m actually having trouble remembering it; that’s how forgettably bad it is.
2. False Positive
The one A24 movie thus far that I genuinely didn’t like almost any part of comes in the form of a quasi-Rosemary’s Baby Hulu film starring Pierce Brosnan, Justin Theroux, and Ilana Glazer in which Brosnan is the only one who even seems like he’s in the right movie. One can see what the writers were trying to do with this one, but it keeps hitting the same beat over and over, so many times in fact that one wonders if “mommy brain” was just their only shorthand for “we need something scary and confusing to happen here but we have no ideas.” Like most movies on this list, it’s not one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen or anything, but it is certainly the lowest quality I’ve seen from A24 thus far, and the one movie on this list that I can’t imagine improvements for; it’s just a bad script, and sometimes that’s all it takes to sink a decent concept.
False Positive might be the most disappointing movie on this list relative to the context under which is falls, but Paramount+’s Infinite takes the cake for what’s actually worse. It’s not like this movie doesn’t have decent ideas, but it never follows through on them, and one can see pretty much every plot point coming from right after the opening prologue. None of the performances match up to each other or are able to overcome a script that doesn’t really seem to know what it wants to be or the ugliest color palette of any movie released so far in 2021. The idea of constant re-incarnation has its upsides, but the film doesn’t do all that much with it, and what it does do, we’re only ever told about, never shown. If this is the kind of original programming Paramount+ is frontloading, they have a long way to go.
5. The Sparks Brothers
Those of you who read my review for Bitesize Breakdown already know most of what I’m about to say here (which isn’t much, but still); nonetheless, it must be said that Edgar Wright’s epic journey through all 25 Sparks albums is way. too. long. There is absolutely no reason that any documentary needs to be 2 hours and 20 minutes long, no matter what the subject. That said, it is still an excellent film and chronology of Sparks, told with a great amount of craft, a few jokes that genuinely land, and an energy you can only capture by studying them with as much reverence and insight as Wright does here. For anyone interested in seeing just how much influence Sparks had over all their favorite bands, definitely check this one out (but beware the length).
4. The Mitchells vs the Machines
Certainly the most imaginative and creatively infused movie of 2021 thus far (and certainly in animation), The Mitchells vs the Machines certifies Phil Lord and Chris Miller not just as comic geniuses but as producing gods. After the Jump Street movies announced them to the world and Lego Movie and Into the Spider-Verse blew us all out of the water, the pair decided to take on technology and moviemaking as their next story, and manage to hit just the right notes at just the right times to make it work. I don’t think this is quite as groundbreaking or energetic as Into the Spider-Verse was, but the Lord & Miller trademarks are all over it, and if you’re familiar with their work, you know how high a compliment that is. Check out my Bitesize Breakdown review for more of what I have to say on it.
3. The Disciple
I first saw The Disciple at the New York Film Festival when it was virtually held last year over the summer (more virtual festivals so more people can participate please). At the time, it didn’t have a distributor, but soon Netflix picked it up for a 2021 release, and given how impressed I was by it on that initial viewing, I figured it would be on this list barring an enormous wave of better films. All that being said, I don’t remember much about the film itself since it’s been so long, but I do remember being enamored with both the cinematography and the lead performance of Aditya Modak. I also remember really loving the exploration of Indian classical music, how precise it is, and how respectfully the movie handles its place in the story. This isn’t exactly Whiplash, music-wise, but it’s well worth your time if you’ve been wondering about it, and I plan to re-watch it again soon.
2. Shiva Baby
A short and sweet panic attack of a movie, Shiva Baby is better seen than explained, but since the explaining part is what I’m here to do, you’ll just have to go with it for now. This movie is so incredibly stressful from start to finish, with a tight, razor-sharp Emma Seligman script elevated by the lead performance from Rachel Sennott. It never goes in the direction you expect, and when it’s all over, you’ll think of Uncut Gems as a light and fun time. Molly Gordon is in this movie playing the ex-girlfriend of Rachel Sennott. What more could anyone want?
1. In the Heights
Yes, it’s too long even with all the songs that were left out. Yes, the structure leaves something to be desired. No, not every number in here really works as well as the others, especially since the first half is so front-loaded with hits. And yet, seeing In the Heights for the second time in a giant movie theater has to be count as my best moviegoing experience of 2021 so far. This is the kind of movie giant theaters were made for, and despite all its problems, I haven’t been able to stop myself from returning to my favorite scenes in it on HBO Max just so I can watch a giant group of (sometimes comically large) people dancing in the streets, singing about how Latin people are resilient and powerful. Colorism controversy aside, and despite not having much in terms of directorial style, this portrait of a disappearing neighborhood seeps into your skin the more you think about it, and is packed with technical and non-technical talent across the board. All the actors kill it (including a newly-minted movie star in Anthony Ramos), they’re all game to make it work, the costume and production design are absolutely stunning, and if the Academy can find it within themselves to remember a box office disappointment from the summer once Oscar voting begins, one can assume this has a great shot at Best Picture. It would certainly have my vote.
And those are My Top 5 Best and Worst Movies of 2021 so far! What’s the best movie you’ve seen so far this year? Worst? What do you think of this list? Let me know in the comments section below! Thanks for reading!
- The Friendly Film Fan