Favorite Films of 2021
"Spencer" was a beautiful portrait of one woman with perhaps one of 2021's most incredible performances by Kristen Stewart. We need to see a lot more of what this director and what this actor has to offer. When you see it, you'll understand why it's done so well at the festivals this season.
"King Richard" is the story of Richard, the father of Serena and Venus Williams and their journey of becoming some of the world's most prominent tennis players. Yes, I can be a sucker for a solid sports movie but this one broke just enough conventions to feel fresh while also having great messages and a career-best performance from Will Smith
Ok, "Inside" isn't technically a movie but rather a comedy special but the gray zone is so blurred it's like a movie anyway. Regardless of what it is, it needs to be on this list. It's a work of comedic genius the perfectly encapsulates the absurdity, panic, stress, depression, and humor of the pandemic. It's also creatively a tour de force thanks to Bo Burnham's deft grasp on dark humor and independent filmmaking.
10 "No Sudden Move"
This one reminded me why I love Steven Soderbergh. I've been a fan of his work ever since "Ocean's Eleven" (yes the remake and yes, it's better than the original). Even his work that I don't love on first viewing (Contagion) tends to grow on me and increase in watch-ability. "No Sudden Move" takes about every twist and turn you can think of and then a few more just for good measure. It's also made technically with old vintage lenses which makes the inner low-budget indie-filmmaker jump for joy. I love to see some of the industry's biggest directors go back to basics by considering older technology to tell modern stories. Even when some of these "gimmicks" don't narratively make the most sense, I deeply appreciate established talent push limits and experiment with different techniques as opposed to much larger projects playing it safe.
9 "Zack Snyder's Justice League"
I had to. As a massive fan of Zack Snyder and a big fan of "Man of Steel" and "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice" I was incredibly excited for "Justice League" to release. Upon seeing the theatrical cut in theaters, I left feeling not only disappointed, but hopeless that we would never see what Snyder originally intended. The sheer fact of intense fans willing this film into existence is something to behold in and of itself. I can't praise HBO Max enough for taking on this project and allowing Snyder to finish his film completely unrestrained. What became of this film was a comic book film of epic proportions and I couldn't have been happier with the film. Snyder's definitive version takes the great potential the "Whedon cut" had and expands in deeper fashion. Snyder also imposes his own stylistic approach and brings much more heart and an emotional core to the story to make it a much deeper experience. Were there some unnecessary elements? Absolutely. But since we likely will never see more of this universe (never say never), better to have more than less!
8 "The Tragedy of Macbeth"
"The Tragedy of Macbeth" by Joel Coen is just art. Pure and simple. Coen takes the best of both film and stage as mediums and creates something that is unique and fresh to the canon of Shakespeare. And in 2021, one would think there would be nothing left to add.
7 "The Green Knight"
It took a while to see "The Green Knight". I heard mixed things. Mainly it was "slow burn" and "artsy" but not very entertaining. I saw high critic scores and lower audiences scores which indicated one thing: "I'm probably going to eat it up" and eat it up I did. "The Green Knight" was beyond a story and became an experience long after the credits rolled. I didn't think I've have a desire to watch it again but as time has gone on. Something draws me back to the impeccable craft on display here. This is absolutely a worthwhile experience and a truly original take on an ancient Arthurian legend. I'm looking forward to seeing more from this director as he has not disappointed me yet.
If there is any current filmmaker I idolize more than Scorsese, it's Villeneuve. "Dune" is a part one so to speak and assuming this story finds its end, I have to recommend this sci-fi miracle with everything I have. Villeneuve once again demonstrates absolutely command of his craft and creates a memorable and piercing adaptation of the great novel. While you're at it, check out Villeneuve's work such as "Arrival" and "Sicario", you won't be disappointed.
5 "The Card Counter"
Not many really saw this one and even less has seen any Paul Schrader films. Unfortunately, they're missing out because Schrader has more to offer the world of cinema than just his script of "Taxi Driver" (which honestly would be enough). "The Card Counter" is a hypnotic odyssey of one man wrestling with his past demons while trying to bring redemption to a young man who desperately needs him. What unfolds here is a brilliant story with an unbelievable performance by Oscar Isaac. Will he be looked over for an Oscar, unfortunately yes. Does he deserve a nod? 100%.
4 "The Last Duel"
This was a fantastic year for Ridley Scott. His release of both "House of Gucci" and "The Last Duel" demonstrate that Scott is one of the great filmmakers of all time. Not just from what he's done in the past, but his remarkable work even now. "The Last Duel" combines career-best performances, top-notch writing, and experienced direction to deliver one of the year's most important and well-made films. Too bad hardly anyone saw it because wow! Just wow!
3 "Don't Look Up"
Speaking of important films, Adam McKay's "Don't Look Up" might be a cry to be heard. I found the film so absurdly comical and dark that it reminded me of "Dr. Strangelove." Not only in its approach to dark comedy, but in its balance of goofy/silly, and dramatic. I found McKay's film to be relentlessly entertaining, agonizingly frustrating, and deeply soul-crushing. Everything I want in a powerful film with lots to say about our culture and how we handle situations that require humans to work together.
2 "Judas and the Black Messiah"
Okay, so this film participated in 2020's award seasons but it technically released in 2021 and since I haven't talked about it anywhere, I have to here. "Judas" was flat out amazing. I can't say enough good things about Shaka King and the two main leads. They knocked it out of the park in every scene. The only thing I didn't like about the film was that it wasn't longer so I could enjoy the remarkable energy and deft storytelling on display.
1 "The Power of the Dog"
I have a genuine talent every year at predicting the Best Picture Winner before I see the actual film. When I saw the poster for "The Shape of Water" I thought it would win. Nomadland poster? Same Story. Green Book? Hello no but that's the exception. Moonlight? 100%. Birdman? No doubt. This year? The Power of the Dog. And the honest truth is, I believe it absolutely deserves it. Jane Campion proved herself a force to be reckoned with when she released "The Piano" and this film might be her best work yet. It's not the easiest watch but it is a pure masterclass in filmmaking and inspired me. When people say "they don't make them like they used to" they're wrong and this is living proof. Films like these is what inspired me to pursue filmmaking professionally and films like these continue to inspire me and motivate me to tell better stories with meaning and depth. I've thought long and hard about it and I think The Power of the Dog is virtually flawless. Yes. I said it.