For as much as people swear up and down that I don’t like anything, I actually had a harder time building a best of list than my worst of one. Not because I couldn’t find films I enjoyed, but because I had too many that I enjoyed. For all the flops, disappointments, and lackluster franchise attempts, 2021 gave us some truly magical films. While I didn’t get a chance to view everything that came out (as that would be damn near impossible), I was able to catch a large majority of the award season front runners as well as all of the major blockbusters. There’s a lot of movies that made the list, so let’s get into it quickly.
As well as all lists and reviews, there are few disclaimers to go through before we officially dive in. First, these are only pulled from the list of films I have watched and reviewed this year. There is bound to be a film that you absolutely loved that didn’t make the list, and it probably has more to do with me having not seen it or it barely made the cut. I simply can’t include something I didn’t see. I was hoping to be able to consider “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” but the marketing decided to lie to me so it unfortunately cannot be considered.
Secondly, art is subjective, so there will more than likely be films that I loved that you hated. That’s show business, baby. Thirdly, The list is in no particular order. This seems unnecessary to qualify, but I just don’t want anyone coming at me wondering how in the world I could think “Titane” is better than “Spiderman: No Way Home” because of where it lands in the listing. Lastly, this is not an award season contender list where it purposefully excludes blockbusters because they won’t be on a best picture nomination list. My best of is comprised of films that I truly and genuinely enjoyed regardless of their award implications. I have focused this list to only include films I not only enjoyed and rated really high, but also films I would watch again and recommend.
With that out of the way, let’s dig in to this longer list than I ever intended.
I don’t think anyone would’ve thought that one of the best films of year stars Nicholas Cage trying to recover his stolen truffle pig. On paper, this sounds like a budget “John Wick” about a man and his pig, but what transpires in “Pig” is nothing short of amazing. It sports one of Cage’s most subtle and subdued performances of his late career, and serves as a reminder that he is really good actor when he wants to be. This film is simply amazing and I can’t recommend it enough. And the less you know the better, as your misconception of the what the film’s synopsis implies vs what the film is actually about is part of its charm. This film is touching, heartbreaking, and beautiful, and I can’t recommend “Pig” enough.
Catch it on Hulu.
“The Suicide Squad”
One of the first major releases to be apart of the day and date release for HBO Max, “The Suicide Squad” had a lot working against it. Not just the remnants of a pandemic, but also the weight of our own expectations. Luckily, the return of James Gunn was the best thing that could’ve ever happened to DC, and “The Suicide Squad” ends up being one of the most enjoyable films of the year. I’ve actually watched this film multiple times, and while the third act is a little too abstract, the balance of humor and heart shines through. Paired with Gunn’s irreverent flare for hyper, grotesque violence and his biting wit, the comedic timing of Idris Elba and John Cena make for a wonderful, blood soaked, anti hero blockbuster. The film isn’t perfect, but “The Suicide Squad” is far better than it ever should be, and it gave us the glory of King Shark, so of course it makes the list! All Hail King Shark!
You can still catch it on HBO Max.
This is one of the most surprisingly enjoyable films of the year for me. I was actually exhausted by the “Free Guy” marketing campaign, and couldn’t wait for this movie to come out so I could stop seeing trailers for it. I admittedly went into “Free Guy” with a bad attitude, and emerged from the film overjoyed. This is hands down one of the best films of 2021; it is fun, funny, packs tons of heart, and is wholly original. The fact that “Free Guy” managed to get so much right in a sea of reboots and franchise entries is a feat all on its own, but Jodie Colmer and Ryan Reynolds nail every second of this film. Packed with tons of well placed cameos, a great critique of the video game industry, and just damn good writing, “Free Guy” is just wonderful and joyous filmmaking. I adored this film, and its inclusion here is a no brainer.
Catch it on Amazon.
I’m trying to arrange this list in a switch off of blockbuster to indie film, as both comprise this list. “Titane” is a strange inclusion mainly because I don’t know that I could recommend this film to anyone. it is harrowing, violent, thought provoking, and difficult to stomach for even the most staunch cinephile. But I can’t exclude a film I haven’t stopped thinking about since I saw it. “Titane” isn’t really a film I would watch over and over again like “Free Guy,” but it is easily one of the unsettling but well made films I’ve seen all year. Though it is a very difficult film to sit through, it is expertly made, terrifically acted, and tells a story of the power of connection among broken people. Seriously, “Titane” is a rough watch, and I mean it when I say I don’t think this film is for everyone, but it is a damn good film and I stand by its inclusion.
Catch it on Amazon and Apple TV+.
“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”
What a way to reinvigorate the MCU franchise. While I enjoyed all of their releases this year, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a terrific return to form while also moving the MCU forward. The first act of the film is some of the best and most unique work we’ve seen in a Marvel Studios film, and “Shang-Chi” really sells its premise and dazzles with compelling characters and visuals. Simu Liu is a bonafide star, and is more than capable of carrying the franchise further. The film is just damn good fun, and really delivers on even the highest expectations from Marvel fans. While the third act falls a part a bit and becomes another loud, CGI heavy kaiju battle, the rest of the movie more than makes up for it. “Shang-Chi” is the risk/reward ratio this new, strange, weird phase of the MCU is striving for, and it’s the perfect film to start streaming now on Disney+.
“The Harder They Fall”
Netflix has ramped up their original feature film content to cement themselves as being an award winning streaming service in some of the most prestigious awards. “The Harder They Fall” may not show up on any early award contender list, but damn is this movie amazing. Brilliantly acted and expertly crafted, this start studded cast of black excellence is the kind of film we need much more of. It is both cliche and original at the same time, with director The Bullitts displaying tremendous skill to not just get the most out of his actors, but including set pieces and cinematography as characters in the story that convey deeper meanings beneath the standard revenge story unfolding. “The Harder They Fall” is spectacular, and worth a watch on Netflix.
“Tick, Tick…Boom! “
This one is more personal for me, as Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” has had a profound effect on my life and love for musical theater. “Tick, Tick…Boom!” is a wonderful celebration of broadway and artistry, and Andrew Garfield is simply dazzling here. I’ve long been a champion of Garfield, but he taps into something truly incredible in “Tick, Tick Boom!” and deserves all of the award praise for the role. It is just a wonderful film, and I can’t recommend it enough. Especially if you’re a fan of musical theater and broadway. The film is the ultimate love letter to those of use who cherish that world, and Lin Manuel Miranda proves that he’s actually a very capable director when given the right material. Don’t be afraid. “Tick, Tick Boom!” isn’t “Hamilton” and Miranda withholds his flare for hip hop to honor his creator and the world he loves. The film is just a damn good time at the movies, and I highly recommend it.
Catch it on Netfilx.
The film for the hopeless romantic, “Cyrano” is fantastic. Peter Dinklage steals the entire show, and cements himself as a true leading man instead of just a stand out in an ensemble cast. He is dazzling here, and film sports beautiful production design and choreography. Though the songs are a little lackluster and not all that memorable, but “Cyrano” is crafted well enough to render that a non issue. For anyone in love with love, “Cyrano” is a film tailor made for you. It is brilliantly acted and gorgeously crafted, and worth checking out as soon as you get the chance to check it out. “Cyrano” doesn’t release until December 31st, so it just barely makes the cut. But I’m glad I got to see it early and include it in the best films of 2021, because it deserves it.
“The Green Knight“
Yet another screening for meaning type film, “The Green Knight” makes the list almost for simply being as visually visceral experience. There is nothing out there quite like this film, and it has stuck with me for months after watching it. It is truly one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen all year, and David Lowrey once again defines himself as one of the most unique, visual directors working today. I get the sense that “The Green Knight” may have been released too early to be an award season front runner, which is a shame because I can think of a number categories this film should sweep. It’s not for everybody, and requires the film to wash over you and transport you to a very odd, strange, and visually unique world with extremely limited exposition. But for those that can access it and allow the film to do its work, “The Green Knight” is a visual treat for any film buff.
Catch it on Amazon and Apple TV+.
Paul Thomas Anderson is an iconic director with a very special vision and storytelling methods that dazzle critics and polarize audiences. He is the kind of director you associate with critical darlings, and can often cause casual film goers to tune out. “Licorice Pizza” is PTA’s most accessible film yet. Powered by terrific newcomers as the films leads and telling the most lighthearted stories from the director yet “Licorice Pizza” is just a wonderful and funny romp through Los Angeles. You do have to recognize that this is a hang out film, with the focus on our two leads experiencing their coming of age stories together that can feel unimportant and listless. “Licorice Pizza” is a celebration of growing up and experiencing first love, and takes everything that comes with that story into account. This will be an award front runner, so see it while you can. It’s great.
“West Side Story “
For a remake no one asked for from a director we never really thought would helm it, “West Side Story” somehow manages to be one of the best cinematic experiences of the year. It is so expertly crafted and visually stunning, it actually manages to be better than its predecessor in some places. This is a big deal considering “West Side Story” is considered an untouchable classic. But this new version is just magical, breathing new life into a timeless tale and makes it an unforgettable experience. I’m partial to “West Side Story” as I have adored this show and film for as long as I can remember, but this new iteration absolutely wowed me and was easily one of the best experiences at the movies I’ve had all year.
“Spider-Man: No Way Home”
It would be probably be a big mistake to not include the most financially successful film of 2021 on the best of list. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is what box office franchise films are made off, and delivers on every single expectation you could possible put on it. “No Way Home” is why we love movies, and it is a close to perfection as you can get. It’s really just a great film, packed with humor and heart that runs the gamut of emotions that every audience member most experience. It is just a great film, and may be on of the best films of the year. I laughed, I cheered and I cried. “No Way Home” has it all, and you’re crazy if you haven’t seen it yet.
I probably could’ve 20+ films on the best of the list, but for the sake of not droning on and on with films I think you should watch, here’s a quick list of contenders that just barely made the cut. “Nine Days” is a long forgotten film that flew too far under the radar but was absolutely fantastic. “King Richard” was better than I thought it would be considering I don’t care for sports biopics and Will Smith Oscar vehicles. This one does both well, and is worth seeing. Look for “Belfast” to be a front runner at the Oscars next year. It is a surprisingly funny and joy filled coming of age film that I really, really enjoyed. “Don’t Look Up” may hit a little too close to home, but it’s the film we need right now. “Power of the Dog” is an early best picture winner, and it may not be for everyone but damn is it wonderful filmmaking.
So there you go. My favorite films of 2021. What were some of your favorite films this year?