Good question, mint-green font! I’m not an affiliated reviewer, so I don’t have the advanced screen passes to watch some of the indie movies that released in 2021. Some of these films won’t be available in my area or on streaming services until March! Something might come along that tops the whole list, or I might get recommended a 2021 film five years from now that I missed. Long story short, I’m hedging my bets. (Edit 2/11/22: Case in point, I finally saw Nightmare Alley last week. I was floored and, had I seen it last year, would’ve put it in the number four slot.)
If you want to fall down a days-long rabbit hole, I use the website Flickchart. This site complies a list of every movie that I’ve seen in my entire life, then asks me to rank them. Rather than rank the movies I saw this year against each other, I rank them against EVERY movie I’ve seen. Once that’s done, I filter out every year that isn’t the one I want, and Voilà! my list appears. While I’m always surprised by the result (I thought I’d be writing about James Bond today…), I’ve not disagreed with it yet. So, without further delay…
Bloodsport was a great bounty hunter, but a bad father. Now he’s neither and stuck in Belle Reve, a max security prison for supervillains. Concerned for his daughter’s future, he’ll do pretty much anything to get out. Enter Amanda Waller, leader of the black-ops organization A.R.G.U.S. If Bloodsport and his crew can pull off an insanely dangerous, off-the-books mission, he’ll get ten years off his sentence. With utterly insane teammates like Harley Quinn, Ratcatcher 2, and King Shark on his side, however, there’s no way they’ll win—but they’ll take a lot of people down with them.
I think that a pitfall with shock comedy is that, by its nature, it must continually push outwards, so many comedians choose to push down, debasing themselves or an audience with tasteless, increasingly cynical jabs. While there are plenty of shocking moments, jabs, and cynical attitudes in The Suicide Squad, the film never forgets its heart. Our ragtag misfits simply want safe connections; they’ve just been twisted and wounded so often that they don’t know how to express that desire. Thankfully, the resident rat queen is there to show everyone the right path. James Gunn’s direction is superb, awash in gray and grime not present in his Marvel films, and his rhythm constantly subverts and wows. A certain lovably terrifying Pacific royal character made me nauseous from laughing—then just nauseous from graphic dismembering. Margot Robbie once again charms as Harley Quinn, and Viola Davis continues to tear into the amoral vortex that is Amanda Waller. Do you need to see 2016’s Suicide Squad to make sense of this one? Hardly. And the memory of that atrocity had been vivisected from my brain by this movie’s finish.
Katie Mitchell is on her way to college, high off of her acceptance as a creative filmmaker. While she loves her family, they’ve begun to suffocate her, especially her father. In a misguided attempt to bond with her, Katie’s dad decides to move his daughter to college via a cross-country road trip. Meanwhile, PAL, Apple’s Siri on steroids, has decided that humans are no longer worthy of existing, much less serving. Using her maker’s vast fortune, PAL sends robots to subdue every human on Earth and launch them into space. For some reason, though, Katie Mitchell and family have continually evaded capture. For how long, though? And how can they stop this diabolical plot if they can’t even function as a family?
Due to the craziness of COVID-19, I’d seen a trailer for this film back in 2020, then forgot about it after becoming awash in the deluge of madness that was quarantine. Thank you, then, Netflix, for delightfully surprising me back in April with this gem of a film. I’m envious that this movie manages to fit five genres into its comfortable runtime when I can barely manage two in my own writing. The Michells deftly pivots from “family drama,” to “road trip,” to “sci-fi,” to “80s mall pastiche,” as gracefully as the irritatingly perfect neighbors that live next door. The characters are drawn from archetypes, sure, but they’re filled in with such pointed idiosyncrasies that the result lands in the coveted “uniquely familiar” zone. Top it all off with Olivia Coleman as a grouchy A.I., and the end result is a wonderfully entertaining ride.
Eloise Turner has been accepted into the London School of Fashion because of her uniquely retro eye. Ellie’s grandmother is concerned, though, because Eloise has “visions” of people who have passed on—especially Eloise’s mother. Eloise’s visions also preclude episodes of mania and delusion. Unfortunately, Grandma was right to be concerned. Not long after entering school, Eloise begins having visions of a songstress from the ‘60s. Even worse, her killer was never caught. Things escalate when a mysterious elderly man begins taking an interest at the bar where Eloise works. Can Ellie solve her mystery, or will she get lost in her visions of the past for good this time?
Edgar Wright once again shows us that he’s a lover of genre. What I mean is that, when he makes a film, he fully revels in the conventions that film belongs to. Shaun of the Dead, of course, was an excellent subversion of zombie films while being a love letter to them. The same goes for Hot Fuzz with cops, Scott Pilgrim with comics, Baby Driver with heists, and now Last Night in SoHo with giallo—the Italian thriller/horror of the 1970s. Wright takes a handsome mystery and dresses it to the nines with style and atmosphere. Anya Taylor-Joy luminates as a 60s lounge-singer hopeful, Thomasin McKensie delivers as a fragile but resilient hero, and Diana Rigg shines in her final role as a kindly yet stern landlord. As with all of his work, Wright’s film dances with smart editing choices to a killer soundtrack.
A remake of the ‘50s musical, West Side Story is an update of Romeo and Juliet set in New York. Tony is the former leader of the Jets; Maria is the niece of the leader of the Sharks. The Sharks, transplants from Puerto Rico, are trying to find a place in the city while the Jets consist of white “trash” desperate to keep their dwindling territory. The two gangs are at each other’s throats when Tony and Maria meet at a dance and fall in love at first sight. Can their love flourish in an environment filled with hate?
I haven’t talked about Steven Spielberg on this blog yet because I’ve seen nearly every movie that he’s made. Those who know me, however, must be exhausted by my constant griping about his work. Hot take: I don’t think Spielberg’s made a great movie since Munich. While many of Spielberg’s films are entertaining and enjoyable, he has the unenviable task of topping his existing work. Yes, Lincoln contains a great performance, but is it as good as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, or Jurassic Park? Unfair expectations, yes, but only because he’s taught us to expect them.
I am pleased to say that this film not only belongs with Spielberg’s best, but it’s better than the original West Side Story—a task hitherto thought impossible! Obviously, this version did away with the uncomfortable whitewashing from the original, but any director (I hope) would’ve made the same decision. Contrasting bold mid-century neon and gorgeous “Old Standard” New York style against the impending urban ruin of the 60s and 70s, Spielberg creates a feast for the eyes. The camerawork is more dynamic, and the choreography crackles with energy. The film’s race and gender messages have been given appropriate attention, and, in the case of Anybodys, been amplified for a current audience. I haven’t even started on the electric performances from Maria (Rachel Zegler), Anita (Ariana DeBose), and Riff (Mike Faist). Rita Moreno returning as Doc’s wife is nostalgic icing on a Betty Crocker cake. This film is such a treat, even high-school freshmen won’t mind being forced to watch it during their Romeo and Juliet unit.
Paul Atreides is the son of a planetary duke and his lover, a space witch. Paul’s been having strange dreams of the planet Arrakis, which is disturbing because immediately after these dreams begin, his family is asked to take over the mines of Arrakis, the ones that power hyperspace travel. This makes his family a political target, especially to the Harkonnens, the previous owners of the mines. Paul will have to use his powers and wit if he is to live on this strange planet and help his family survive.
When I first heard that Denis Villeneuve was adapting Dune, I was hopeful. The man had hit consecutive sci-fi home runs with Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. Could he accomplish the impossible and film the supposedly unfilmable?
Not only did he, he’s given our current generation its Star Wars. Stunning, wondrous scale; ravishing sets and costumes; a “what the heck is that cool thing” moment every five minutes—Dune has it all. Its scope, vision, intrigue, and grandiose character arcs radiate every frame of the film. Each actor seems to readily and joyfully inhabit their character. Hans Zimmer brings appropriately grand sounds without relying too much on his previous successes. I have adored every Villeneuve that I’ve seen, but, having watched it twice now, I feel like I’m only beginning to appreciate it. Two years from now, upon Dune: Part Two’s release, I may be singing a different tune as to this one’s legacy, but I haven’t felt this awed and absorbed by space opera in at least a decade.