2021 in the year of movies reminds me of the year 2019. Exceptional film released one after the other with so many powerhouse directors giving their best work. Since I’ve really paid attention to movies and have become more involved in this ever growing and expanding community, 2019 was my favorite year for releases – in fact, some of my all-time favorites were released that year. Parasite & JoJo Rabbit to only name a couple. 2021 gives 2019 a run for its money. Yes, there are the not so favorable films that looked promising from their marketing campaign but ended up being duds (looking at you Snake Eyes and Matrix Resurrections); that happens just about every year but the good far outweighs the bad this year.
Sure, the blockbusters were fun to watch in an actual theater instead of on a tv screen where the escapism aspect (my favorite part about movies and film) is lost completely. Whoever watched Godzilla Vs. Kong on HBO Max instead of in IMAX or Dolby – you really missed out on the experience of that. The movie as a whole is turn off your brain fun (no chance it ends up on top 10 lists) but the community aspect of seeing it with strangers for the first time is what made it thrilling to see.
Another reason why 2021 was so magical is due in part to the return to theaters. Though many may still feel uncomfortable with being in a theater full of strangers rather the comfort and safety of their home, being in a theater again on an opening Thursday or Friday night was sorely missed. Christopher Nolan should have pushed Tenet back to 2021.
Reminiscing (man that was a movie to forget) on the past year is fun for a short while but really looking forward to what the year 2022 has in store is enough for any fan to salivate over. Easily my most anticipated movie is Matt Reeves The Batman. I can’t wait to finally see the Se7en inspired neo noir comic book film with Robert Pattinson as the caped crusader. A new Game of Thrones series plus The Lord of the Rings will make any fantasy fans head explode. Ewan McGregor is finally making his return in Obi-Wan with Hayden back as Anakin Skywalker. Plus, all what Marvel has in store for us (please I need a Fantastic Four announcement). 2022 will be a year to remember and I can’t wait to experience off this content and let it wash over me.
But for now, let’s finish with my top ten of 2021 with the top half of number 5 to number 1. But first, here are some honorable mentions that didn’t quite crack my top of the year, but I still rather enjoyed in no particular order.
Raya and the Last Dragon
The Card Counter
Being the Ricardos
The Last Duel
The Green Knight
The Harder They Fall
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Bo Burnham: Inside
A Quiet Place 2
Wrath of Man
Those Who Wish Me Dead
No Time To Die
The French Dispatch
Army of Thieves
House of Gucci
Pig is probably the most underrated film of the year that no one saw but everyone should see. It’s a film that blindsides you unexpectedly but in the best ways. Marketed as a revenge thriller, I’m happy to say Pig is nothing like John Wick or the countless films that follow that formula. Instead, Pig is about friendship, love, and loss. Friendships mainly with four legged animals we call family and form only the strongest bond with. Experiencing Pig is unlike any other 2021 film that was released, in theaters or on streaming. Coming in at only 92 minutes, waves of emotion keep crashing into the viewer that will leave an impression well after the credits roll. When Robin “Rob” Feld (Cage) a reclusive former chef living in the woods of Portland Oregon, loses his truffle Pig to thieves who leave him for dead, Rob goes on a journey to find his Pig with the aid of his customer Amir (Wolff). The point of Pig isn’t to show how greedy Rob is because truffles are a prized possession in the art of cuisine, the point is about the bond we share with animals. He loves that pig, cares about it and it makes him whole. Without that pig, Rob feels empty and it’s a feeling we all go through as pet owners. Each act is told in chapters named after food dishes that add more flavor to the slow-paced drama. Nicolas Cage gives the best performance of his career with a quiet, sincere fury in his quest full of love and heartbreak.
4) WestSide Story
Is there anything Steven Spielberg can’t do? Any genre of film that’s off limits that may intimidate him? Certainly not a musical. No, Spielberg can take one of the most popular musicals in Broadway history and make it flawless, almost improving upon what came before it, like he’s done it a thousand times. To add more pressure and expectation on top of it, the first film adapted in 1961 was nominated for 11 Academy Awards, winning 10 including Best Picture. To Spielberg, that’s a walk in the park and boy does he pull it off. If you haven’t seen the stage version or the 1961 film, you don’t need to. Spielberg’s West Side Story is a masterpiece, plain and simple. The fourth of the musicals to be adapted and released in 2021, West Side Story will be many people’s favorite film of the year. The story itself is as relevant today as it was way back in the 1950’s when legendary composer and writer Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Jerome Robbins, and Arthur Laurents crafted this story. Inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, West Side Story is a love story of Tony (Elgort) and Maria (Zegler) who fall in love despite being associated with two rival gangs the Jets and the Sharks. Despite the flatness of Elgort, Rachel Zegler is a star who steals the spotlight with her endearing performance. But really every aspect of this film down to the supporting ensemble and production design is breathtaking.
3) The Tragedy of Macbeth
Reading Shakespeare as a teenager is difficult enough in grade school but adapting it into a film capturing the essence that William crafted for the story is even harder. Not for Joel Coen, one half of the directing duo the Coen Brothers. This time, Joel is solo while Ethan not involved at all. The Tragedy of Macbeth is one of the best films of the year and it just so happens to be an adaptation of Shakespeare. Coen does what he does best – tells a complete story of a flawed, villainous human being and somehow makes him sympathetic despite all his wrongdoings. Coen takes what Shakespeare created and adds his Fargo and No Country for Old Men flavor to it. When Macbeth (Washington) hears a prophecy by three witches (Hunter), he usurps the throne held by Duncan (Gleeson) and killing anyone in his path that may challenge his position. Lady Macbeth (McDormand) goes along with Macbeth’s plan but the two become paranoid, make mistakes fall sick and become full of fear that the power they took will soon be taken from them. Denzel looks completely comfortable in his leading role – he’s a force of nature as Macbeth, giving easily one of the best performances of the year. The pairing of McDormand and Coen (husband and wife) continues to be a fruitful engagement on screen as her and Denzel are magnetic together. But with all that talent in the two leading roles, my favorite is Corey Hawkins as Macduff. Coen makes Shakespeare look easy, shot in black and white, the contrast of every frame pops off the screen making the film look like a painting.
CODA or Child of Deaf Adults is a film that released too early in the year. A festival darling (and for good reason) CODA is easily one of the most profound stories told last year by writer director Sian Heder. Much like 2020’s Sound of Metal, CODA is an inclusive film for an underappreciated and misrepresented community that deserve to have their stories told – the Deaf Community. Rubi Rossi (Jones) and her family Frank (Kotsur), Leo (Durant) and Jackie (Matlin) are a family of fisherman and women. Frank, Leo, and Jackie are all Deaf while Rubi is the only one who has her hearing making her life more difficult because of the responsibly placed on her shoulders. While her family tries to keep Rubi in the family business, she has other plans and aspirations – Rubi is a talented singer who has potential to make a career and life out of her talent. With the help of Mr. V (Derbez) Rubi breaks out of her comfort zone and auditions for Berklee. Even in its cliched approach, CODA is a beautiful story of family, chasing your dream and responsibility to not only your loved ones but to yourself and your happiness. Full of heart, the underlying theme of acceptance is speaks louder as the film progresses. Heder proves that people in the Deaf Community have voices of their own, we just need to stop and listen to what they have to say.
1) Tick, Tick…Boom!
Continuing to add to his resume, Lin Manuel-Miranda can now say he is a director among his other unfairly given skills and talent. The man can sing, dance, act and now direct. And he directed my favorite film of the year in Tick, Tick…Boom! Every year Netflix has a handful of films out of hundreds that are truly worth watching while the former can be thrown on in the background and forgotten about. Not Tick, Tick…Boom! Out of the 5 musicals, it’s the most well rounded. It just so happens to be Manuel’s 3rd project of the year with In the Heights and Encanto (if you don’t think Encanto isn’t a musical, guess again) being released. Tick, Tick…Boom! Is the story of Jonathan Larson (Garfield) before he made Rent (one of the biggest Broadway musicals of all time). Larson is a struggling writer and singer who moonlights at a diner to pay the bills who also has the potential to make the next big thing but can’t find the right words. He’s about to turn 30 (the end of his youth) and he has nothing to show for it – constantly comparing himself to others like Stephen Sondheim. To add to that frustration, Larson’s girlfriend Susan (Shipp) is leaving him and his best friend Michael (de Jesús) among others in their friend group has contracted AIDS. Larson tells his story while performing Tick, Tick…Boom! along with Karessa (Hudgens) while reminiscing on his big break and how he got to that point of writing Rent. Miranda and Garfield are dynamic together both behind and in front of the camera. Garfield resurrects Larson, fully embodying his determination and motivation while channeling his spirit. It’s the best performance of his career proving his talent as a lead actor (he didn’t need to prove anything IMO). With its formula, Tick, Tick…Boom! does a wonderful job of showing us what made Jonathan Larson such a special person. The songs, though not as memorable as In the Heights or West Side Story are sung with passion by Garfield who no one knew he could sing with “Sunday” being the best out of all the songs.