I, uh… I already broke my own system.
See, I’m writing this on December 30th, and I’ve had the article and the Letterboxd images up for a day or so thinking “Well, surely I won’t watch any more 2021 new releases by the first!”.
And then I watched Encanto today.
But no matter; it would be on this end of the list anyway (as opposed to part one), so I’ll just ad lib where it should be fitting in*.
It’s fine. I’m fine. This is fine!
Let’s see what the best** of 2021 had to offer.
**Not actually the best; just what my stupid taste loved the most. Your subjectivity is likely to change.
Number sixteen on the year feels really high for the relatively middling Black Widow, BUT it did gift us Florence Pugh’s Yelena Bolova, and the Disney Plus series Hawkeye has retroactively made that even more worthwhile. She was a gem in that series; especially in her interactions with Hailee Steinfeld.
Even aside from that, there was nothing wrong with Black Widow; it just never felt important because it was set between movies that already existed. I waver on if I think it was actually better than Eternals, but you know what? It was. At least it wasn’t 5 years long.
Ah, the much-maligned Halloween Kills. It’s not good, no, but come on… very few movies in this franchise can be considered “good”, and I personally thought it was a huge step up from Halloween 2018 at least. I’m grading this movie a bit on a Halloween Curve, which I usually try not to do, but it had been twenty-plus years since I at least enjoyed a movie in this series.
Also: Big John and Little John. Come on; that was fun.
Dawn of the Beast is a SUPER low budget indie horror flick. It’s not good, but as opposed to stuff like Honeydew, it felt like it was trying harder, at least. It knew its constraints and worked within them. The first two acts of the movie are… well to say INSPIRED by Evil Dead 2013 would be really generous. It clearly wants to be that movie for a while, though.
And then–AND THEN–the flick turns on its ear with legitimately one of my favorite movie scenes of 2021 when A SASQUATCH EMERGES TO FIGHT AN ARMY OF WENDIGO! What? If you just told me that a movie contained that sentence, I would already be all the way in, and this flick GIVES US THAT, and I laughed and laughed. Dawn Of The Beast is Malignant, except it’s not putting on airs. It is what it is.
*That was a short wait! Right here, between DotB and Vacation Friends, is where Encanto would slot in if I felt like taking new screen grabs. Unless my research is going awry, this is NOT a Pixar movie, just a straight Walt Disney Animation flick. It’s fun and has a good story and heart, but the resolution feels rushed, and it kind of has a cop-out ending. I recommend it for a watch, but I am pretty sure I’ll forget all about it soon. Kind of like Onward from 2020.
John Cena continues embracing playing the anti-Cena with things like Vacation Friends, a perfectly fine comedy that he carries on his massive shoulders. The leader of the Cenation (I just said that unironically!) is probably pigeon-holing himself in these raunchy comedy roles where he’ll be playing variations on the same character forever (see also: Trainwreck, Blockers, etc), but you know what? It’s like a Ryan Reynolds thing. If he’s THIS good at one role, then keep doing it.
Fear Street 1994! More on that later***…
(There are a lot of asterisks in this article)
Remember in Part 1 where I said third movie in The Conjuring franchise was my return to cinema after over a year due to COVID? But I wasn’t sure that was true? That’s because I can’t remember if I saw that or A Quiet Place 2 first.
AQP2 was a movie I was prepared to hate. Never before did I think a movie needed a sequel LESS than the original A Quiet Place. I know the ending sets something up, but it’s not something we ever needed to see, you know?
That said, this was a really good follow up to the brilliant first offering, maintaining the terrifying atmosphere and top notch acting. If they keep up the quality, I guess any sequel can be warranted.
I know folks who love–just LOVE–Psycho Goreman (which was technically a 2020 movie, but I’ve seen a ton of folks counting it towards 2021 new releases due to various streaming goings on, so I was bullied into it, too). I will admit to getting a huge kick out of it–it DOES squeeze into my top ten here after all–but I also think the people behind it were probably way too proud of it. Then again, I guess they deserve to be because this was a treat. It was somewhere between Malignant and Dawn Of The Beast, but pulling the best aspects from both.
It never pretends to be anything but an absurd comedy with throwback aspects, and by embracing that, it does itself a lot of favors… even if it feels so damn smug and obnoxious.
Oh, and if “Hail Raatma” isn’t my Top Line Of Dialogue from 2021, then “Well, this TV won’t stop bleeding” is.
Godzilla Vs Kong! Is this movie very loud and very dumb? Yep! Does it eschew having a sensible plot entirely? Yep! Is it just a visual car crash? Yep!
But you know what? I enjoyed the absolute piss out of this. It does exactly what it promises: it shows Godzilla fighting King Kong. Like three times! And it doesn’t puss out on giving us a definitive winner! And it looks god damn gorgeous. If you are going to make a special effects laden plotless mess, it might as well be this damn beautiful. Both Godzilla and Kong looked flesh-and-blood real here.
***This Fear Street trilogy, man. There was no reason whatsoever for this series to be as good as it was. Three feature length films, farted out over the span of three weeks, by NETFLIX of all places; I had every reason to go in assuming they would suck.
And then… they didn’t! At all! They were surprisingly well made little horror treats! I could not believe it. I cared about the characters. I was engaged in the overarching plot. The nods to flicks like Scream, Friday The 13th, and, like, I dunno… The VVitch or The Crucible or some combination of the two?… were respectful while also dedicated to building their own worlds.
I’m sure if they make any more of these, they will stink. But this initial offering was a huge surprise.
THE Suicide Squad was a ton of fun that really helped redeem the movie that came before it. I actually never thought Suicide Squad was AS terrible as many others did, but it made so many weird choices, and most of the roster of characters have just blended together in my brain because the movie clearly only cared about Harley and Will Smith Gun Guy.
The sequel here had a lot more flavor, and I’ll take James Gunn’s versions of King Shark, Ratcatcher, Peacemaker, Bloodsport and Polka Dot Man over the original’s iterations of… Diablo(?), Killer Croc, Enchantress, and whoever else was in that.
Last Night In Soho occupies this nice little space in Edgar Wright’s filmography where it is definitively better than Baby Driver or The World’s End, but still well off the greatness of Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim, or Shaun Of The Dead. It had some third act problems, but it was a movie that kept me leaned forward and fully absorbed, so I didn’t mind so much. Thomasin McKenzie and Anna Joy Taylor are such stars.
Nobody and Free Guy are both similar enough that I’ll remark on them together. Both are action flicks that are happy–nay, THRILLED–to pour in loads of comedy, and both star a wildly charismatic front man as their protagonist. The differences being that while Ryan Reynolds is playing Ryan Reynolds and being great at it, Bob Odenkirk went in a truly different direction in his John Wick-ian turn here. I never saw Odenkirk as an action lead, but… here we are.
Free Guy probably has more heart. Nobody has more bombast. They both have at least one mark-out moment each, with Guy’s coming by way of a Chris Evans cameo, and Nobody’s coming via Christopher Lloyd
Shang-Chi SHOULD have been the best movie–and best MCU movie–of the year… until mid-December happened. It is BEAUTIFUL, and it does so much right. Simu Liu was a star. The action sequences of the first two acts are glorious. Awkwafina is her usual perfect self. IT REDEEMS IRON MAN 3 BECAUSE KEVIN FEIGE WANTS US TO HAVE NICE THINGS!
Even when the third act goes Full MCU CGI Fest, it does so in the very best of ways. The action is ALL OVER THE PLACE and everyone has something to do.
It should also be noted that Xu Wenwu is an upper echelon MCU antagonist. GREAT characterization there.
And then there was that mid-December movie…
No Way Home just obliterated even the unrealistic expectations set up for it. It would have been SO EASY for the MCU to say “Hey, we got three Spider-Men, we don’t need to try”. But they gave us a terrific story to go with the gimmick they had built. There were so many cheer-worthy moments here; it was a mini-Endgame. Or maybe not so mini.
And that was it; the 36 (37!) movies I saw this year that were released this year. What are your Top 5 of the year? And your bottom 5? Let me know in the comments.
Until next time… take care!