Corrye’s 2021 Movie Year In Review!!!
One of the many things that the pandemic robbed film fans of was the ability to actually go to the movies. It was a total of 504 days between the time I saw 1917 on January 10, 2020 and A Quiet Place Part II on May 28, 2021. Not surprisingly, most of the new releases in 2020 came via streaming services. One of the articles I relish writing every year is my annual year in film review. However, when it came time to write one last year, I just couldn’t motivate myself to do so. Call it a combination of ennui and a significant decrease in the number of new films I’d actually seen, but the task just felt like a hollow exercise.
But that was last year! And this is now!
All together I saw a total of fifty movies released in 2021 so I have more than enough cinematic sensations to compose a proper year in review article. So without further ado, here are the overrated, the underrated, the worst, and my top ten favorite films of the year!*
*As always there are plenty of 2021 films that I just have not had the good fortune to see yet. These include West Side Story, Licorice Pizza, Belfast, Drive My Car, King Richard, Being the Ricardos, Parallel Mothers, The Lost Daughter and others. So, unfortunately, none of the aforementioned films made this year’s list.
MOST UNDERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR
Directed By: Josh Ruben
Starring: Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub
This little gem from IFC Films flew almost completely under the radar when it released last June, due mostly to its limited theatrical run and a pretty lowkey VOD release. Based on a video game of the same name, Werewolves Within breaks the videogame adaptation movie curse by succeeding on almost every level. Funny, whimsical, and terrifying, Ruben’s film strikes the perfect balance of all three. The strength of the movie rests solely on its two leads. Sam Richardson delivers a heartfelt and empathetic performance as the good natured but insecure forest ranger Finn Wheeler. Meanwhile Milana Vayntrub’s Cecily comes off perky, quirky, and endearing and will make you forget all about her role as Lily in the AT & T commercials. If you want a film that’s just a pure delight, check out Werewolves Within.
MOST OVERRATED FILM OF THE YEAR
Directed By: James Wan
Starring: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson
Let me make one thing crystal clear: James Wan is one of the best horror directors working in the business today. The Conjuring easily ranks as the scariest movie I’ve ever seen and say what you will about the sequels, but Saw is a benchmark in the horror genre. However, even though critics and fans responded positively to Malignant, it landed with a profound “Thud!” for me. I understand that maybe the movie was meant to be cheesy, but the acting in this film is just atrocious, with Annabelle Wallis leading the way. I figured out the twist within the first fifteen minutes of the film and the screenplay may as well have been written in crayon. I’m sorry, I just can’t behind a film where deep-fried fecal nugget lines like “Did you forget we share the same brain!!??” and “I played a psychic in an episode of a cop show, and they said it’s a real thing” actually exist. Gory Malignant may have been, but it was too dumb to be scary.
WORST MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Space Jam: A New Legacy
Directed By: Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: LeBron James, Don Cheadle, Sonequa Martin-Green
Growing up I was a huge Michael Jordan fan but even I never understood the fascination with Space Jam. Granted the film was released when I was seventeen and I was definitely not the target demographic, but even I’m surprised at the cult following it has attained over the years. Space Jam: A New Legacy was the most unnecessary sequel ever conceived and had the added bonus of being an atrocious movie to boot. From LeBron James’ horrible acting to a garbage gumbo script that consisted of no less than six screenwriters, A New Legacy was terrible from start to finish. The film came off as nothing more than a two hour thinly veiled attempt for Warner Bros. to name drop every IP they own. And if you’re going to trot out the Looney Tunes you may want to insert them sooner than halfway into the movie. At 115 minutes, Space Jam: A New Legacy was 115 minutes too long and I felt every minute. Don Cheadle should be embarrassed for associating himself with this movie. Good thing he redeemed himself with Soderbergh’s No Sudden Move. This movie was a trashfire that should never have been lit.
And now friends and neighbors, it’s time for my top ten favorite films of the year!
Honorable Mention: The Harder They Fall
Directed By: Jeymes Samuel
Starring: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, Lakeith Stanfield
The conclusion of the 1970s heralded the end of the great Hollywood Western era that dominated four decades. In the years since the output and quality of Westerns have been drastically reduced. Moreover, with few exceptions, most Westerns do not focus on the plight of black cowboys despite them accounting for at least ¼ of the group. That’s why it was an absolute delight to discover not only a quality Western but one that gave real-life black cowboys (Nat Love, Rufus Buck, Stagecoach Mary) a platform. While the tropes (revenge, robbery, tests of pistol proficiency) are familiar, the film works because the cast is so dynamite. Elba, Lindo, King, Beetz, and Stanfield all deliver but in a film chockfull of amazing performances, Jonathan Majors stands out. He’s getting to the level for me where I’ll watch him in everything. His Nat Love is charismatic and coarse but also deep and surprisingly emotional. The gunfights are top-notch, Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s cinematography rocks, and the soundtrack is next level excellent, featuring everything from CeeLo Green, to Pretty Yende, to Jay-Z. Hollywood needs more of this and so do I.
10. The Suicide Squad
Directed By: James Gunn
Starring: Margot Robbie, Idris Elba, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, Viola Davis, Peter Capaldi, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior
After the suck-fest that was 2016’s Suicide Squad, I was hesitant to revisit this cast of characters. However, with James Gunn at the helm, I never should have feared. Bold, brash, unabashedly violent, hilarious, and chock full of heart, The Suicide Squad was everything I was hoping for and more. Gunn’s film is perfectly paced and sports some excellent cinematography from Henry Braham. The chemistry between the squad is phenomenal, especially between Rat Catcher 2 (Melchior) and King Shark (Stallone). Gunn’s action set pieces are top-notch, and everyone gets a chance to shine whether it’s John Cena’s murderously funny Peacemaker or Robbie’s maniacally magnificent Harley Quinn. Starro also proves to be one of the most empathetic villains I’ve seen in a long time and I can’t overstate the brilliance of David Dastmalchian’s Polka-Dot Man. Do yourself a favor and watch this sucker immediately regardless of if you’ve seen it already.
9. Nightmare Alley
Directed By: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Cate Blanchett, Toni Colette, Willem Dafoe, Richards Jenkins, Rooney Mara
Director Guillermo del Toro is one of those rare filmmakers who is absolutely perfect when it comes to setting a mood. Every film he makes casts a spell over the audience whether it’s Hellboy or Pan’s Labyrinth. Nightmare Alley is no different. Both a remake of the 1947 film and an adaptation of the 1946 novel, Nightmare Alley is a true film noir in the classic sense. It’s dark, stark, cynical, and looks at the blacker parts of the human condition, particularly greed and the desire for implicit or real power over others. Dan Lausten’s camerawork complements the overall tone and is nothing less than stunning. Whereas previous Del Toro films examine aspects of humanity through monsters, the monsters in Nightmare Alley ARE the humans. While this is a true ensemble cast and everyone gets their moment to shine, this is Bradley Cooper’s vehicle from start to finish. While his Stanton Carlisle is in many ways reprehensible, you can’t help but feel sympathy for him by the end of the film.
8. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Directed By: Mike Rianda
Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Coleman
“Dog, pig, dog, pig, dog, pig…loaf of bread.”
If you’ve ever seen Mike Rianda’s debut film from Netflix you know the significance of this line and how damn funny it is. While there may have been 2021 films I liked more, The Mitchells vs. the Machines gave me the most joy. A heartwarming tale with a sci-fi spin, it’s an excellent examination of the enduring power of family and a celebration of outcasts. While other members of your family might not share your passions, there’s always room to find common ground. It’s also impeccably animated and consistently hilarious. Also, not for nothing, the main character just happens to be queer and it isn’t a giant virtue signal. Katie is a quirky, film-loving nerd who just happens to be gay. It doesn’t define her and at the same time is an excellent example of representation for the LGBTQIA community. I’m really rooting for this one at the Oscars.
7. The Last Duel
Directed By: Ridley Scott
Starring: Matt Damon, Adam Driver, Ben Affleck, Jodie Comer
Man, talk about a movie that came and went with almost zero fanfare. A $100 million film that completely flopped at the box office. If this film had been made twenty or twenty-five years ago it would have cleaned up at the box office and been nominated for ten Oscars. Unfortunately, we live in 2022 where a medieval period piece about different perspectives regarding a rape is a bit of a hard sell. It’s really a shame because this is one of Ridley Scott’s best films and very much in the vein of Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. There’s an authenticity about The Last Duel that transports you to 13th century France. Affleck, Damon, and Nicole Holofcener deliver a brilliant script that examines fragile male egos, the agency of women, and how stories about the same events can be vastly different depending on the person. Superb cinematography, impeccable pacing, and a dynamite performance from Comer make this one of Scott’s best. Forget House of Gucci, The Last Duel is where it’s at.
6. A Quiet Place Part II
Directed By: John Krasinski
Starring: Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe, Djimon Hounsou, John Krasinski
A Quiet Place Part II is always going to have a special place in my heart because it is the first movie I saw in the theater after the pandemic started. In fact, my friend John and I were set to go watch it the week everything shut down. We kind of made a pact that we would see it together once theaters re-opened and there was something worthwhile to see. Thankfully, we were able to fulfill that pact and it was well worth the wait. Taunt, terrifying, and superbly directed, A Quiet Place Part II is the perfect complement to the first film while adding to the lore. Great horror films are always talking about something other than monsters and psychos with knives. A Quiet Place Part II along with its predecessor are excellent examinations about what it means to be a parent and how you ultimately can’t protect your children from the dangers of the world. Krasinski proves again what a powerful and dynamic director he is and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
5. Last Night In Soho
Directed By: Edgar Wright
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Anya Taylor-Joy, Matt Smith, Terence Stamp, Diana Rigg
I think the best compliment I can pay to any director is that whatever the subject matter or genre they tackle, I will be there on day one. (Or at least when I can get to the movie theater or stream it. I am a husband and father with a full-time job after all.) Edgar Wright is one of those directors. With Last Night in Soho, Edgar Wright reaches outside of his comfort zone to produce a terrifying horror/thriller that contains some of the most stunning imagery of 2021. McKenzie gives another dynamite performance while Taylor-Joy continues to amaze me at how someone this young can be this talented. The film elegantly captures the style and flair of 1960s London and is almost dreamlike in tone. Alongside Krysty Wilson-Cairns, Wright again delivers a top-notch script with an excellent twist that had my jaw on the floor. I can’t wait to revisit this movie again.
Directed By: Sian Heder
Starring: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Marlee Matlin
As I stated in my review of CODA, Sian Heder’s movie about a daughter of deaf parents that discovers a burgeoning talent for singing, was just the kind of feel-good film I desperately needed. The movie rises above some tired tropes due to an excellent script by Heder and a career-making performance by Emilia Jones. Meanwhile, Troy Kotsur steals every scene he’s in and proves equally adept at delivering laughs as well as tender, heartfelt moments. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer – you’ll want to watch CODA multiple times.
3. The Green Knight
Directed: David Lowery
Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton
If Guillermo del Toro casts a spell with Nightmare Alley, David Lowery’s The Green Knight is a full-on fever dream. Seriously, from start to finish it is like falling into another world for 130 minutes. Not only is it an excellent adaptation of the Arthurian legend, but cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo bewitches the audience with some of the most distinctive and intriguing shots I’ve ever seen. The costume design, sets, and makeup are second to none with the Green Knight being particularly harrowing. In a just world, Dev Patel would be the toast of the awards scene right now as his Gawain goes from a philandering wastrel that can’t think of a single compelling story about himself to a flawed human being tested by fire. It’s his best performance to date and you simply can’t look away. The last twenty minutes of the movie are astounding and a true testament to David Lowery’s directing ability. Many people discuss the idea of recency bias when it comes to the Academy Awards as usually the high-profile films released at the end of the year tend to get the most love. The reverse is also true as The Green Knight was released in July and has been all but forgotten this awards season. Awards or no awards though, this one is definitely worth your time.
Directed By: Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Timothee Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Dave Bautista, Zendaya, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem, Rebecca Ferguson
With Dune, Denis Villeneuve pulled the movie industry equivalent of the early 1990s Chicago Bulls. Whereas Michael Jordan led the storied basketball franchise to three straight NBA titles in ’91, ’92, and ’93, Villeneuve has now delivered three straight stone-cold sci-fi masterpieces with Arrival, Blade Runner 2049, and Dune. I understand that the David Lynch 1984 film has its fans but Villeneuve’s Dune is an objectively better film across the board, whether you’re talking about cinematography, score, direction, acting, costumes—you name it. Even setting aside all of that though, Dune is considered by many to be one of the most difficult novels to adapt, and yet Villeneuve makes it look easy. Chalamet was born to play this role and steps into Paul Atreides like an old glove and Hans Zimmer once again delivers a compelling and epic score. I cannot wait for part two.
And now for my #1 favorite film of the year…
Riders of Justice
Directed By: Anders Thomas Jensen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro
“It’s a dessert topping!” “It’s a floor wax!” “Stop! Wait! You’re both right!”
When I think about Riders of Justice I think about this classic 1970s skit from SNL starring Chevy Chase because Jensen’s film is no one set thing. It’s a moving drama…and it’s a thriller…and it’s a mystery…and it’s dark comedy…and it’s an action film. Riders of Justice somehow manages to be all of these things and pulls it off. It is really a feat of filmmaking led by an incredible performance from Mads Mikkelsen. This is a movie that examines grief and existential crises in new and profound ways that also happens to be very, very funny. It also contains a third act twist that caught me completely off guard and added another delicious layer to an already amazing film. This movie is a straight up masterpiece from the opening lines to the closing perfect shot. I will be watching this movie for years to come.
Well that’s a wrap on 2021! Here’s hoping for an even better lineup of films in 2022!