2021 had a great comeback from 2020 in many ways. Specifically, 2020 was a bit of a let down in terms of movies, but thankfully 2021 returned strong with some solid productions.
This year I had a few suprises, namely: The Last Duel, The Eyes of Tammy Faye, The White Tiger, and Cruella. The Last Duel came out of nowhere and I went into the movie theater with only having seen the poster and casting list. Thankfully, I was happily suprised by the incredible dedication the actors had to adapting this immersive, creative story with powerful themes. I was consequently saddened when the box office numbers and Academy Award nominations released and I saw that The Last Duel had been denied what it deserved. The Eyes of Tammy Faye had some truly incredible acting. It hit all the major points it was trying to make while still focusing on the story it was trying to tell. The White Tiger was a book adaptation that didn't get a lot of spotlight and had an intial trailer that gave it a Bollywood soap vibe that made me highly concerned. Nonetheless, I went ahead with watching the film and was extremely pleased I did. Not only was it a well told narrative without any dramatic flares that might take the audience-member out of the story, it brought many of the celebrated themes from the original book onto the screen. Unfortunately, The White Tiger was not a closer. It couldn't finish well, and rushed the conclusion to an otherwise fantastic exploration into the modern Indian caste system. Still, a surprisingly good movie. Finally, Cruella surprised me in that I walked into it hating that Disney made it, but walked out with a new appreciation for both fashion and Emma Stone's acting. The costume design for this movie was absolutely incredible. Even though I was predisposed against the premise, the movie avoided any justification into the evilness of the 101 Dalmatian's antagonist, and instead simply created a rebellious account of a young adult woman who slowly cascades into madness due to an abusive boss; this story, unlike any desire to skin beautiful dogs, is totally relatable.
To wrap up some quick thoughts on 2021, I also wanted to highlight the movies The Green Knight and The Harder They Fall. I loved The Green Knight because it is my favorite Camelot tale, and because I got to feel what all my language arts teachers always hoped for me- excitment and enjoyment from being fully engrossed in the symbolism of a creative work of art. On the other hand, The Harder They Fall was a movie where someone said, "Let's take all the tropes from an old western, crank up the dials to 10, and do it with an all-black cast". Not looking for quality here, just a ton of fun and I am all about it.
Overall, I was happy with the creativity that came out of 2021. Movies are back!
The Last Duel - 8.5
Incredible movie (favorite of the year). Shows 3 perspectives of the last official duel of France, resulting in an alluringly film with strong themes that add to the viewing instead of distracting. Phenomenal cast, high quality filmmaking, and cleverly crafted. Strongly recommend, but note there should be a trigger warning.
Dune - 8
Great cinematography and incredible renditions of sci-fi worlds. Fantastic cast. Some small choices in adaptation from the books I didn't love, but overall a great job.
Spider-Man: No Way Home - 8
Both humorous and heartbreaking superhero blockbuster. They did a great job full sending the nostalgia and callbacks, so if you've seen the previous Spider-Man movies then this will be a great watch!
No Time To Die - 7.5
Good stuff. Exactly what you wanna see. It tied a lot back to all the other films. Not the best bond film, but definitely a nice wrap up to Daniel Craig’s tenure as Bond. Very glad I watched it.
King Richard - 7.5
Solid biopic about the William's sisters (mostly Venus’) childhood. Will smith does well, would recommend if remotely interested in tennis or sports training.
The Eyes of Tammy Faye - 7.5
Great attempt at portraying an interesting story through the eyes of Tammy. Conveys the motivations and themes of multiple main characters in an impactful way. Would recommend, especially an important watch for Christians.
CODA - 7.5
Feel good movie about the deaf community and a children of (dependent) deaf parents. Shared some common tropes with coming of age stories, but was a unique look into an overlooked scenario. Loved it, strongly recommend.
The Green Knight - 7.5
Unique movie about my favorite Camelot story. They made some interesting choices when crafting this story version, and overall I loved the vibe. Let me add a note here that this movie might not be for everyone. A lot of the reason I liked this movie so much was its strong use of symbolism and its extremely interesting cinematography / film-making. It is definitely artsy and brought me back to language arts class, which might not be for everyone.
The White Tiger - 7
Interesting movie narrating a fictional journey from servanthood and poverty into a successful businessman. Explored insights into Indian culture and the caste / class system. Solid cinematography. Overal, it was produced and shot well with some pretty good acting. In fact, it was produced so that it felt light even though it is portraying hard, dark truths. I’m sure the book was better and what not, but I’d definitely recommend it if you’d rather prioritize other books and catch this movie instead. The ending was a little rushed and didn’t tie together the way I was hoping for with all the themes and criticisms that had been developed throughout the film / were swirling around. This is the only reason I didn't rate it higher than a 7. Besides that it is great, give it a watch.
Tick, tick… BOOM! - 7
Story of Jonathan Larson, creator of Broadway musical Rent. Solid story of a New York City artist while highlighting Larson's lesser known works. Worth a watch, especially if you are a Broadway musical person.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - 7
Phenomenal fight choreography. Super fun Kung-Fu vibes, novel and interesting story. Just a little cheesy, over the top fight at the end, and relied too much on comedy breaks when things became serious. Solid marvel movie watch.
Luca - 7
Cute Disney movie that went under the radar for most. Lots of childish excitement, notable character development, and playful regional flares that I enjoyed watching.
The Harder They Fall - 7
Western shoot em up. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Fun experience and wild ending fight. Love subplot was bad. Still, I loved the overall vibe of the movie.
Operation Varsity Blues - 7
Told the story of varsity blues scandal through some well done recreation. I really liked the clear explanations while still being a storyline documentary.
Encanto - 7
Another strong hit from next-gen Disney about a girl with a family full of powers. I thought it was nice that the antagonist wasn’t a scary bad person, but more of an internal struggle of family dynamics (probably much more relatable to a normal child). Definitely worth the watch. And, while we don’t talk about Bruno, what an absolute legend.
West Side Story - 7
Modern iteration of the classic musical. Decent cast, notably strong performance from Anita. Some minor, helpful tweaks made the plot much cleaner as well. I thought they did a great job remaking, and the original was already pretty good.
Macbeth - 6.5
Dramatic rendition of Shakespeare’s classic play. A standout cast with some clever cinematography made it a worthwhile screen adaptation.
Cruella - 6.5
Came in with low expectations because I wasn't a fan of the premise of the movie. However, ignoring the premise, Emma Stone did a fantastic job and I was surprisingly pleased with the movie. Fun fashion movie with "complicated" protagonist.
The French Dispatch - 6.5
100% a Wes Anderson film. It is difficult to describe if you’ve never seen one, but it is incredibly unique. This one is a bunch of short stories that are encapsulated in the idea of publishing a newspaper. The artistic creativity shown by switching from black and white to color is interesting to mull over. I don’t know if I like the movie, but I’m always glad I watched a Wes Anderson film. Would recommend for that reason.
Swan Song - 6.5
A futurisitc movie on being able to replace yourself with a perfect clone to prevent loss for your family. Interesting idea, great production. At minimum, all the cool tech proposed for future, daily life was neat to see. Sometimes the movie seemed like a big ad for a dream-state future. While not a lot happened, the movie drew tons of emotion and built connection through powerful cinematography. There is some great acting, and interesting ethical questions arise. All in all, an interesting movie I would recommend.
I Care A Lot - 6.5
Solid cast that gives an actually fair rivalry, in which the viewer has two terrible options to cheer for. Entertaining.
Being the Ricardos - 6
A glimpse into the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, stars of “I Love Lucy”, during one of the most stressful and pivotal weeks of filming the show. Highlighted a variety of themes from their lives and society at the time. Good watch if you like movies about Hollywood or are a fan of “I Love Lucy”.
Finch - 6
A man, his AI robot, and dog traverse the dangers of post apocalyptic USA. Not particularly special, but I enjoyed the personality / direction of Jeff (robot) and Tom Hanks is always great.
Black Widow - 6
Fast-paced action movie, finally giving this avenger the backstory she deserves. Some incredible fighting choreography, but also some cheesy explosions that go over the top for a movie that attempts to be serious at times. Entertaining and a decent watch.
The King’s Man - 6
Entertaining action flick that acted as an origin story for the series. In contrast to the first two it wasn’t quite as funny/goofy, but had a more serious tone with a less predictable plot. I personally enjoyed the original Kingsman better as it had a lot of fun knowing exactly what it was; whereas this iteration attempted to reach a higher level but didn’t quite hit.
Nightmare Alley - 6
Captivating movie about a mentalist and his rise from the humble circus to in-over-his-head. It draws you in and the style of filmmaking feels classy, but it wasn’t exactly spectacular. I’d say good, but not a must watch.
Don’t Look Up - 6
Strong parody of climate change with heavy political themes. The exaggerated parallels were a little too over the top without quite enough comedy. The movie concept itself is hilarious yet simultaneously frustrating. I’m glad I watched it, but it’s exactly a must watch.
Into the Heights - 6
Movie adaptation of the Broadway musical. Lots of fun, super cute. Some good NYC scenes. Not necessarily incredible, but would recommend.
Belfast - 6
Period piece about life for a family in the middle of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Impressive acting and some creative cinematography. While more of my grandma’s movie than mine, it was definitely quality storytelling.
Drive My Car - 6
Deep, extremely introspective story of a theater director and stranger’s traumatic life. The interweaving of Uncle Vanya themes within the movie created a variety of artistic parallels with the “play within the play”. Extremely clever for theater fan: themes and tropes abounding! While obviously good, it was a bit too slow, long, and sad for me. Academy’s dream, and worth a watch if you are in a literary mood.
House of Gucci - 6
Quality movie that portrayed powerful family struggles. I sorta understood the casting / acting complaints, but if you ignored that it was solid. It didn’t hit any major themes besides money corrupts, and since it wasn’t anything special I wouldn’t necessarily recommend.
Judas and the Black Messiah - 5.5
The narrative of Fred Hampton, told through the point of view of an FBI informant. Well done storytelling if you've never studied the Black Panthers, but nothing particularly special as far as movie making.
Pig - 5.5
What is a more time honored classic than the story of a man who loves his pig. A different kind of movie for sure. Artistic style, quality cinematography, lacking excitement, but I mean… sure?
The Guilty - 5.5
Intense single acting (basically) performance from Gyllenhaal. Lots of emotion through purely phone calls. Highly captivating, albeit you'll probably feel tense and upset for the entire hour and a half.
Woman in the Window - 5.5
Intense psycho thriller remake that didn't really add anything novel, but kept my attention thoroughly.
Red Notice - 5.5
Fun heisty action movie. If you would watch a movie simply for constant Reynold quips, then this is right up your alley.
Free Guy - 5
Story about an NPC that becomes self aware. Interesting overarching plot outside the game world that I wasn’t expecting. There were some fun and interesting themes that the movie touched on, but it was too cheesy to really profoundly deliver them. For a teenager who plays videos games it was a definite watch, but I’d guess it lacks the quality to have staying power with most demographics. Sweet special effects though!
The Power of the Dog - 5
Slow, grueling story of ranchers that focuses on intimidating relationships and sexuality in that period instead of ranching. Good academy movie, impressive directing, but plot moves a little too slow for me.
Raya and the Last Dragon - 5
Had high hopes going into the movie, but was mostly disappointed. Solid animation as expected (loved the clothing), but too cheesy even for children. The dialogue hurt at times.
Spencer - 5
Unique psychological biopic on Princess Diana highlighting her discontent with the royal life. Focused primarily on the mental health of the princess, the movie almost felt like a psychological thriller rather than a biography. I didn’t particularly like it, but I won’t deny it was quality acting and production.
Munich: The Edge of War - 5
A period piece right before WW2 on the Munich agreement and surrendering Sudetenland to Hitler. Held strong tension throughout the movie and was educational, but nothing actually happened. Interesting parallels to Russia in the early 21st century. If you like history and suspense then you can add it to the watchlist.
Nobody - 5
Pew pew. Senseless violence with a man who only wanted out. Not bad, def not good.
The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf - 5
Backstory to Vesemir and the slaughter of Kaer Morhen. Impressive and modern animated action, but a little cheesy in some lines. Worth a watch if you are into the Witcher world, but otherwise pass.
Venom: Let there be Carnage - 5
Kinda dumb plot. Basically just an excuse to watch some sweet symbionts action. The bromance between Venom and Tom Hardy is fun, but most other aspects of the movie are hard passes. Fun if you are bored, but feel no need really.
Eternals - 5
Had some pros and had a lot of cons. On one hand, the dialogue and plot were pretty bad at times, but on the other hand there was some awesome fight scenes. I liked some of the characters, but then many other characters were cheesy or one-dimensional. All in all, it was one of the not-so-great marvel movies, but there were indeed some positive qualities to it.
Army of Thieves - 5
Goofy heist movie. Enjoyed the actors although the movie itself was without considerable plot depth. Fun, non serious watch for most.
The Many Saints of Newark - 5
Classic mafia movie featuring the violence, family dynamics, and eventually the karma of being in the Italian mob. What this movie did that was new was add the topic of race (race riots and rivalries) to the story. I didn’t think it did anything superb as far as filmmaking or novel plot points. All in all, it was decent.
Cinderella - 4.5
Cheap, live-action version which clearly targets the younger audiences. Some of the cast was great; some, not so great. Not great, but kinda fun.
The Tomorrow Wars - 4.5
Entertaining alien shoot-em-up movie. Great alien graphics and intensity, but annoyingly bad plot-holes.
Kate - 4.5
Typical guns-a-blazing assassin movie but in Japan. Lead actress did well and I liked the movie style but not a particularly quality movie.
Licorice Pizza - 4.5
A childhood actors version of a coming to age story. To me this is one of those movies Hollywood loves because they portray themselves, but is very eh. Showed exploitative influence and internal conflicts of one’s own maturity, but the main plot of the movie centered on a stupid, spite-driven love relationship. Definitely not a bad movie, but really not my thing personally.
The Summer of Soul - 4
Solid documentary on the often overlooked Harlem culture festival of ‘69. I understand why the academies hyped up the documentary based on its subject, but honestly it was a pretty standard documentary. There wasn’t anything novel or particularly clever / quality about the documentary construction, and the scenes were just cuts from the festival and commentary from participants (admittedly cuts made it look like a lot of fun). If the music / history is interesting to you absolutely watch it, but I don’t see a reason otherwise.
The Dig - 4
Historical drama about an archeological find. The movie was decent, I liked the cast, but the drama and conflict appeared concocted and weak.
The Suicide Squad - 4
Attempted remake of a movie that had a lot of potential but was terrible. Unfortunately, this one was basically the same thing. Better directing made some really fun changes (no spoilers but the intro is great), but overall was still a disappointment.
Blue Bayou - 4
Movie about a man struggling to work for his family and stay together. Spoke on deporting people in the US who were adopted as children whose parents never finished the proper citizenship paperwork. Great job bringing attention to the issue and the complexities of doing the right thing for one’s family. However, it was predictable without a lot of real plot depth, and it didn’t really touch on anything that hadn’t been done before. Good, but not the highest quality filmmaking either. Glad they made a movie about the issue, but it wasn’t stellar or a must watch by any means.
The Matrix Resurrections - 3.5
On principle, I'm typically not a fan of the reboot; it feels cheap, easy, and often falls short. Thankfully with a movie like the matrix they self aware enough to address this in the movie itself. Movie was a continuation of the original trilogy, in both plot and style. Not good enough to make me enjoy it, but it wasn't terrible.
The Lost Daughter - 3.5
Introspective movie on a woman who found out motherhood wasn't for her: "I'm an unnatrual mother". The movie portrayed the relentless demand for attention that children put on a parent and hammers that point home. There were some interesting points on motherhood, parenting, and marriage that were touched on, but honestly they didn't have the impact they might have for me because the execution wa so confusing. The movie was sad and slow, and didn't have any characters to like. There were a few plot areas that just didn't make any sense. Would not recommend.
Axis Sally - 3
Historical film about the trial of Axis Sally, the woman who spread Nazi propaganda to US soldiers throughout WW2 over the radio. The lead lawyer had a fun and sassy personality with a great closing argument, but overall the movie was pretty eh.
Gunpowder Milkshake - 3
Poor assassin scorned movie. Has a fun comic book style, but meat of the movie is bland and recycled.
Mortal Combat - 2.5
For some reason I thought there was a chance that they'd finally make a decent video game movie but again it was unbearably cheesy. Better than other video game attempts I will admit, and parts of the movie were cool, but all in all real bad.
The Card Counter - 2.5
Terrible. It tried to mix a dramatic CIA interrogation backstory into a typical card counting movie. However both were executed poorly. The CIA aspects were out of place and the casino plot was boring and fell flat. The dialogue physically hurt to listen to at times. Many of the artistic choices in production worsened the quality rather than adding depth. The goal was a meaningful gambling movie but it completely missed.
Space Jam: A New Legacy - 2
I wanted to like this movie. I told myself that I had to come at it from the perspective that it will be different from the first one, and that nostalgia wouldn't help me out as much. But oh boy did it stink. They could have made so many different plot choices to not make it so… ya… I will say I liked the fully animated part when King James was purely a voice actor…
Movies I am excited to watch, but haven't yet:
- Parallel Mothers
- Hand of God
- The Mitchells vs. The Machines
Other maybe movies: C'mon C'mon, The Marksman, The Truffle Hunters, The United States vs. Billy Holiday
Movies I intentionally didn't watch: Jungle Cruise, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Godzilla vs. Kong, Sing 2, F9: The Fast Saga, The Worst Person in the World, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
I feel the need to add some qualifiers to a post in which I give so many ratings with only snippet reviews for context.
I am human. Therefore, I have biases. My preference in movies includes a bias. I combat this bias by trying to don my critic hat while watching a movie. My critic hat does its best to judge a movie based on the merits of its cinematography, plot, screenwriting, editing, sound / music, acting, themes, and its ability to engage the audience while presenting insight into the human experience. It is impossible to completely put aside my personal preferences in genre, subject, or style of movie while wearing my critic hat, but I do my best. Additionally, when viewing movies that are typically not "my type" I try to be generous with the rating I give them; vice versa, I aim to be a little extra critical of movies that are "junk food" movies for me.
While I do my best to be concious of my biases and combat them to give the best review I can, my reviews are ultimately a personal opinion. And that is ok! The benefit of a single individual's opinion is you can quickly understand how many of my opinions map to your own. You can then use that mapping as a sort of filter when reading my reviews, and find some great movies to add to your watchlist in future years.
Regardless of these qualifications, I hope you get something out of my reviews and discover some amazing new content! Make sure to check out additional reviews and media articles below: