I had a pretty rough year. 2021 might actually have been one of the hardest years of my life thus far. I’m also married and have kids and am typically on a tight budget, so it’s hard for me to get to the theaters (as if that were a thing for a chunk of this year anyway) or really watch any movies that don’t also interest at least one other family member. This is why you won’t be seeing all the indie darlings, critics choices, and even a few mainstream I just haven’t had a chance to see yet though would definitely have cracked my Top 10 (lookin’ at you, Free Guy). But I’ve just seen 22 films from this year, so I figured I’d rank them all together.
22) Finding Ohana
I’d forgotten we’d watched this. Honestly, I couldn’t even tell you if we finished it. I couldn’t tell you anything about it. It was that unmemorable, which is why it’s going in last place automatically. If I can’t even remember 100% if I watched you or not…
21) Army of the Dead
…which was the only reason this movie didn’t end up in last place. I was really rooting for this movie prior to watching it. The trailer looked really fun. I’m not a Snyder fanboy or anything, but I like a fun zombie movie and a fun heist movie, and this was both. Sadly, while it had some good ideas, the movie was absolute garbage in the worst ways. It was full of very clear plot holes, unfinished ideas, rules it didn’t follow, tons of shit that didn’t make sense, and an infuriating ending. This movie is almost offensively bad, which is probably the most maddening from this list, as it had such potential to be fun, even if it were still schlocky and not-good.
20) Bob Ross: Happy Accidents, Betrayal, and Greed
The only movie I actually fell asleep during on this list. My wife and I watched this together, and she agreed it was overall a boring dud that really didn’t get interesting until the last maybe 20 minutes, and even then, I was over it. I think it has the potential to be an interesting story, but it just wasn’t handled well here, and probably because it was built on second-hand experiences, as the “villains” of the story–to which they very much are–refused to be a part of it and scared (lawsuit-wise) everyone else into dropping out, so there wasn’t a whole lot to go on.
19) The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It
Honestly, I remember nothing about this movie except it was very clearly subpar in connection to the other films in the franchise, which seemingly just got worse as they went along.
18) Fear Street 1666
The first half of the film (the 1666 part) was okay. Nothing inherently against it except it just wasn’t super interesting, and it wasn’t much we already hadn’t picked up on. The second half of the film, which wraps up the main story from the first film and book-ends the second film is much better. But the two halves are vastly different and kinda push it towards the middle.
17) Fear Street 1978
The Friday the 13th aspect was fine, but it really did just feel like every other summer camp slasher. I also called the twist from the beginning.
So I’m gonna get a little hate for this, I’m sure, but Pixar has been way more inconsistent lately. I’d say over the last decade or so, half of Pixar’s output is subpar. And I’ll admit, I absolutely loved Onward. I know some people didn’t care for it or thought it was just okay, but me and my family were super into it. However, we all didn’t care for Soul and had plenty of issues with it, so we were a little trepidatious. So how was Luca?
Cute and harmless but also frustrating and full of holes. This film starts off as a flagrant Little Mermaid ripoff (I mean, there are parts that are literally beat for beat). The friendship is nice albeit run-of-the-mill–same with the spunky girl that joins them later. There are so many plot holes and inconsistencies and things that just straight-up don’t make any sense (including the part where he willingly participates in mass fish genocide) that it was really hard to get into this film. Even my 12-year-old agreed it wasn’t that great.
15) Raya and the Last Dragon
I really wanted to like this more than I did. I love the concept, the character designs, the action, etc. I liked the LGBTQ-ness of the primary characters. But the overall execution of the film left me wanting more. Something about it just didn’t connect with me or the rest of my family.
14) Fear Street 1994
It was fun. Of the three films, this was the storyline I liked the most and always wanted to go back to in the other films. It’s also the one that surprised me the most, killing off specific characters (and in gruesome ways) by the end that I didn’t see coming.
13) Godzilla vs. Kong
Again, I couldn’t tell you about the plot of this movie. I could barely recount the action scenes. But I do remember at least liking the action, even if the rest of the film was overall unmemorable.
12) Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Rushed and nearly lifeless, Venom 2 is fun but ultimately empty. Because the story and characters were so bone dry in depth, because Carnage doesn’t really come in until the second half, because there’s only 1 fight scene between Venom and Carnage, which is at the climax, and because the film is so short, the only part of the movie anyone felt was worth mentioning was the post-credits scene that brought Tom Hardy to the MCU. However (mild spoilers for No Way Home), even that ultimately rang hollow as it just connected to another credits scene that quickly dashed any of that excitement by sending him away just as fast, leaving only a dab of symbiote behind.
I don’t dislike Eternals like everyone else seems to. I think it’s a fine movie–a gorgeous movie–that has quite a few problems. One of those is introducing a ton of characters and literally making that the plot of the movie: finding and introducing each character one at a time for 2 hours. And then a 30-minute climax that totally wastes the evolving deviant storyline it had been building up the whole time, destroying the one good storyline it was doing. That being said, the film is melodramatic and doesn’t always make perfect sense, but it isn’t a bad movie. It’s just not super exciting and is basically exposition to expand the MCU more cosmically.
10) The Tomorrow War
I know this movie got some mixed reviews, too. Honestly, I kinda dug it, but I can also see some of the criticisms. We’re still in ‘movies I don’t remember a ton about’ territory, but I do remember enjoying it while I watched it.
9) Black Widow
Another film that got more flak this year than it deserved. I do agree that it was oddly released. It’s a Phase 1 movie that takes place in Phase 3 and was released in Phase 4. The supporting cast is what makes the movie worth checking out, in particular Yelena, one of the newest MCU favorites and who is seemingly taking over the role as the new Black Widow. (Though that appears to be the Phase 4 calling. WandaVision had another witch. “Captain America and the Winter Soldier” had multiple Captain Americas. Loki had multiple Lokis. Hawkeye introduces a new Hawkeye. Eternals, there’s 10 of them. And No Way Home, well… anyway, Black Widow is a fine movie that was just poorly handled and timed.
8) Mortal Kombat
I know I’m gonna get some flak for this one, and I agree it isn’t a great movie and faltered quite a bit. But I’ll tell you what: I remember almost all of the movie all this time later, Kano was hilarious, and the beginning 10 minutes or so, plus the Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero fight near the end, are all strong enough to pull this movie ahead of the others.
This was one of my latest editions to the list, and let me just say… I went into this movie being cautiously optimistic. After the last few animated things we watched, primarily Raya and Luca–and of course Frozen 2 is one of the worst things Disney has put out theatrically in decades. (Nobody really talks about Ralph Breaks the Internet, which came between Moana and Frozen 2.) And even Moana, I have some (minor) issues with as a whole.
So what about Encanto? Guys, this is really good. My gripes with it are almost entirely misguided expectations, but that’s not entirely a fault of the film. I sat there for over half the film waiting for it to start before realizing this wasn’t an adventure movie or “let’s go on a quest to fix the miracle!” This is a family drama. It takes place entirely (well, 99.9%) in and immediately around this magic house and is all about understanding each other and realizing everybody has their issues and needs help. In fact, this film is a great example of why mental health and talking out your issues (whether that’s with a therapist or just each other) is important. The themes are great, the characters are fun, the songs are really good, and the animation is really fantastic. My biggest issue was the story just kind of happens and then resolves without any major tension or development. It’s a movie about an hour and 45 minutes long, feels shorter, and probably needs to be a bit longer to flesh some things out.
6) A Quiet Place Part II
I loved the first film and was really excited to see this one. While a totally different kind of movie from the first, it was still excellent (though those kids really do mess up everything). The film-making here is outstanding, and I loved the parallels between the kids’ stories, especially near the end.
5) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Great action. Great comedy. Great characters. And what a crazy ending. Not to mention one of the best MCU villains in the “Mandarin.” I’m really excited about where this character and the story threads built here are gonna go, especially into the larger MCU.
4) The Suicide Squad
I was stunned how much I adored this movie. It was hilarious, fun, and a total blast. I mean, yeah, you knew it was coming in those first 10 minutes, but the rest of the film continues the insanity and just gets more and more fun and zany as it goes.
3) The Mitchells Vs. The Machines
This was the final film I watched of the year, and what a way to send it off. This movie was hands down the best animated film of the year and one of the best films in general for me. Not only was it heartfelt, hilarious, and super creative, it was insanely real. This is like 98% my family. With the exception of the dad’s outdoorsmanship and whatnot, and a few other minor details, this is us. I’m pretty sure I cried from laughter and emotions the entire second half of the movie and then hugged my 12-year-old when it ended. This one is good, guys. Really, really good.
Some people might not consider this a movie. Those people are wrong. Inside is a masterclass of film-making that should be studied. It’s a thematically loaded character study of a comedian with severe anxiety and depression grappling with the pandemic, his own mental state, the state of society as a whole, and the Internet’s positive and horribly negative qualities to be used during such times while being stuck inside for a year. It’s basically a darkly comic and existentially depressing musical fantasy documentary that peaks inside a brilliant though fractured mind while teetering on the edge of real and fiction.
1) Spider-Man: No Way Home
I mean, what else was it going to be for me? It’s the movie event of the year, and it was worth all the wait and speculation and theorizing. I spoke about this for 2 hours on our podcast, Navigating the Multiverse. Not sure I need to say much more. Sure, there are a couple plot holes, but aren’t there always? This film is a blast from beginning to end and so well done, wrapping up not only the Homecoming trilogy but also multiple films from multiple franchises from over 20 years. No Way Home is easily my #1 of the year.