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Sunday, 23 January 2022

TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2021

 
 
Cinema is back! Kinda. I may not have had as many trips to an actual theatre as I would've done pre-pandamic, but I still managed a handful of truly entertaining outings. Despite their doors opening, most of what I saw were innings, viewed at home on streaming platforms or Blu-Ray. The majority of distractions from real life happened on Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon Prime and on the whole, I'd say it's been a pretty good year. Good enough for me to ramble about my Top 10 favourites in the following post which you can read after the jump...

While by no means back to normal, big movies did make their return this year, even if the expectations of busting blocks had to be a little tempered. Marvel came back in a big way with the introduction of the MCU's Phase 4. Black Widow, Shnag Chi, Eternals and Spider-Man: No Way Home all entertained but in my eyes it would be the Disney + shows that really solidifies what direction they seem to be going in: weird. WandaVision and Loki teased the multiverse much better than Spider-Man's weaving of its cinematic history. Hawkeye and Falcon and the Winter Soldier portrayed the changes to the Avengers' major players and what that means much better than Black Widow's swan song. Even the world-ending stakes of Eternals seemed to exist in a separate universe like it was its own What If? episode. I still got a kick out of each one of them (although some more than others), but it was the TV shows that really got me excited about what's to come.

While I did see a fair number of movies this year, I also binged on a lot of TV shows. As well as the aforementioned Marvel shows, I enjoyed Clickbait, The Irregulars, Jupiter's Legacy, Locke & Key season 2 and The Chair on Netflix, What We Do in the Shadows season 3, Terry Pratchett's The Watch and Around the World in 80 Days on BBC, Invincible, Stargirl season 2 and Doom Patrol season 3 on Amazon Prime and What If, Monsters at Work and The Beatles: Get Back on Disney + but in case anyone asks, my Top 10 goes thusly; 

    10)   Wheel of Time 
            Not the most faithful adaptation, with some clunky editing and script choices, but it does get better the further 
            in you go. The books are far more deeper and grander than a TV show could ever be but I still enjoyed the
            imperfect season we got. Being a fantasy nut, I'm loving the battle to find the next Game of Thrones. Despite 
            its scope, this sadly isn't it, but I still very much enjoyed it.
    9)     Schmigadoon
            A love letter to movie musicals of the golden age with a cynical edge that reminded me of Pleasantville. And
            much like one of his earlier steps into TV - Pushing Daisies - Barry Sonnenfield's direction is sublime.
    8)     Chucky
            Don Mancini's back doing what he does best: keeping the Chucky franchise alive. Just as camp and gory as
            the originals and much better than the ill-advised feature-length remake from a few years ago.
    7)     Arcane
            I have no previous love for the lore of League of Legends or the free-to-play game series, but Arcane may just
            change that. The lore, not the F2P guff. A decidedly grown up action fantasy with an animation style to kill for.
    6)     The Witcher - Season 2
            You gotta know I love my fantasy, and nothing has been quite so fantastical on the small screen as The Witcher.
            An improvement over the weirdly paced first season, but no less bombastic at the end. All involved seem
            to be having more fun with the property now they know it's a hit. It's the perfect fantasy franchise to 
            go anywhere and run with it.
    5)     Only Murders in the Building
            A fun whodunit that has a better central murder mystery than most full-on thrillers. The cast filled with
            recognisable names old and new do a wonderful job as a group of True Crime podcast nuts playing detective.
    4)     Squid Game
            Netflix's little series that could. And for good reason. One part Battle Royale, one part The Running Man,
            all parts political and social allegory. A cultural phenomenon.
    3)     Sweeet Tooth
            A much needed dose of post-apocalyptic positivity. Genetic mutations are blamed for the impending 
            extinction of humankind, but one half-deer hybrid child proves to be their salvation. Surprisingly sweet
            and bleak at the same time but always absorbing and endlessly watchable.

    2)     WandaVision
             Marvel's first home-grown MCU movie had me gripped each week. The fourth phase hasn't really established
            it's own identity quite yet, but this kicked it off with sheer inventiveness.
    1)     Midnight Mass
            Mike Flannigan created a perfectly spooky and thoughtful small-town horror that has a lot of Steven King
            in its DNA. Some have complained about the lengty monologues, but I found each one of them enthalling. 
            Seven of the best episodes ever to grace a streaming service.

But then, this post isn't about TV shows, it's about movies. So here are my Top 10 movies of 2021....



 10

Edgar Wright's newest feature is the kind of throwback to slick, 18-rated Hollywood thrillers multiplexes have long been yearning for without really knowing it. It is slick, stylish and full of twists and turns yet thanks to a keen directorial vision feels modern and fresh even if one could argue it's plot isn't exactly original.

Up-and-comer Thomasis McKenzie stars as a timid small-town university student whose first time living in London takes her down some dark paths. She keeps having dreams of the swinging 60s and of a beautiful socialista named Sandie played by the ever-watchable Anya Taylor-Joy. The two lives mirror each other up to a point when the excitement of the big city turns into dread.

Every time Taylor-Joy is on-screen in the meticulously re-created London, she is electrifying. Her presence elevates the shocking revelations of who she is and what she's been through. It could've easily turned to schlock but her committed and nuanced performance, along with Wright's direction, works to take it far beyond that. I do feel like the final act does drop the ball a tad as if it were from a more typical horror but regardless, The Last Night in Soho proves all involved are high-quality fillmakers and Edgar Wright in particular is one of the most visually distinct directors of our time.



09

I was unsure about Love and Monsters when it belatedly went straight to UK Netflix in January. It seemed like a cheesy straight-to-video movie that used to clog the shelves of Blockbusters when that was a thing. The post-apocalyptic premise and a need for some monster-loving escapism convinced me to try it out and I'm glad I did. What we got is a fun, light-hearded adventure about a seemingly useless nerdy kid braving the mutant-ravished surface of the earth to find his true love. Dylan O'Brian plays the hapless, hopeful hero proving he's a winning lead beyond the teenage demographics of The Maze Runner or TeenWolf. It's nothing particularly deep, but I was certainly left smiling when the credits rolled. Just what I needed.



 08

The Kid Detective seems like it would be a fluff, throwaway title like I thought Love and Monsters would be before seeing it. Again, it couldn't be further from the truth. It was scheduled to be released in cinemas during November of 2020, but new lockdown rules and the ongoing strangeness of our lives meant that streaming services were the ones to give it to UK audiences in January.

Adam Brody plays Abe Applebaum, a grown up loser hanging on to his childhood dream of being a private detective. Being the male equivalent of Nancy Drew or Harriet the Spy in his youth earned him good will and minor celecbrity status as a boy when he solved such cases like that of the missing fundraising money or who broke into the ice-cream shop. It's not so cute now that he's in his thirties, still solving the same trivial mysteries. That is until his first 'adult' case drops in his lap; murder.

While very much a comedy with homages to Film Noir, the film has more to say about childhood celebrity, PTSD and post financial-crisis depression than it does about a schlub making good. The comedy is very dark and it does go to some of the blackest of places but that just makes this movie much better than it had any right to be.



07

Comic book movies came back in a big way in 2021. James Gunn's polite F.U. to Marvel was my favourite of the year but Marvel's F.U. to a consitant continuity comes close. The Suicide Squad, in my eyes, is the funniest film of the year. No other movie came close, not even those with the gall to call themselves an actual "comedy". The plot is much the same as the first; a bunch of captured D.C. supervillains are plonked into a potentially deadly situation to save the government some bad publicity. Naturally, this leads to a giant starfish taking over the brains of the local populace. Every single character - of which there is a lot - gets their stand out moment, whether it be King Shark gleefully making friends or Peacemaker in his tighty-whities. As an aside, there's currently no plans for anyone to air the latter's small-screen iteration in the UK which is infuriating, but I hear this John Cena starring show shares the same screwy Gunn-ness of it all.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is weird in a whole different way. Every big-screen iteration of the webslinger is merged as Doctor Strange opens up the multiverse by fucking up a spell. This leads the big bad of each previous movie from the Green Goblin to Elektro to enter this timeline wreaking havoc as they do. At times, it borders on cheesy, particularly when some new faces to the MCU show up, but the concept is so gleeful and gleefully executed it just doesn't matter. This current iteration of Spider-Man is arguably the best of a good bunch and I cannot help but love every nostalgia-lovin' minute of it.



06

It was only a few years ago when I heard of the band Sparks. This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us was such a huge hit in the 70s that it was still in the public consciousness when I was around to remember it, but I never cared to pay attention to the artists behind it. It would be when their Hippopotamus album came out in 2017 when I would put them on my mind map.

Much to my delight, the idiosyncratic brothers who made up the band were heavily involved in a musical directed by the equally weird Leos Carax (read my review on Holy Motors back when I used to regularly feature movies too). Annette tells the story of Henry, a famous stand-up comedian (played by Adam Driver) whose marriage to an up-and-coming opera singer named Ann (played by Marion Cotillard) begins his descent into rageful jealousy. Ann's fame and stature is quickly eclipsing his own and attracts an obscene media frenzy that unearths every private event in their lives.

Caught in the middle of all of this is Annette, their child. She is portrayed as a carved, wooden marionette and is often purposely sidelined to fit in the raging egos of the combustable leads. The performances are enthralling and perfectly balanced, being just over-the-top enough to fit in the almost fable-like morality play. As ever, Leos Carax's doesn't know how to frame an ugly shot and presents his off-kilter style that perfectly matches the high-concept experimental rock-opera Sparks provided. The result is that there is no other film like Annette.



05

Written and directed by Emeral Fennell, the woman who played Camilla Parker-Bowles in two seasons of The Crown, Promising Young Woman is a vital revenge thriller for our current times. Despite the British talent involved, including Carrey Mulligan in what I consider to be the best female performance of the year, the UK weren't able to see it until much, much later. In fact, it reached our cinemas a mere two weeks before it would inevitably be rewarded at the belated Oscar ceremony in April. The only win was for Fennell who got the first award on the night for Original Screenplay but I still stick by Mulligan over McDormand.

Carey's Cassandra (named after the Greek priestess who fortold tragic events) is traumatized by the suicide of her friend and roommate after she was raped at a frat party while in college. She then puts in motion a set of events to take revenge on those who not only raped her friend, but who dismissed and failed to help her in her time of need. What follows is an intense, original revenge thriller that gripped me from beginning to end.



04

Lupin III was one of my first loves in Japanimation, specifically Hayao Miyazaki's feature-length debut The Castle of Cagliostro. There have been countless sequels and shows of various quality since, but Lupin III: The First is rather aptly the first to be fully computer animated.

In many ways it reminds me of Steven Spielberg's extremely underrated Tintin movie. Character models have been lovingly re-recreated in 3D without a single loss to their personality or design. A historic McGuffin sets in motion an ultra-cool, 60s-set adventure with lots of big explosions and inventive action. There's even Nazis lingering around in there to hiss at and some extremely apocryphal technology. While not as great as Miyazaki's early masterpiece, it is arguably the best the series has been since.

It's currently not streaming anywhere on the British Isles. The only way to watch it at the moment is to buy the Blu-Ray or DVD which came out in September. I don't tend to buy as many as I once did, but Lupin III: The First is more than worthy to be a part of my or anyone's collection.



03

You can't mistake a Wes Anderson movie. In fact, each subsequent movie is getting more Wes Anderson-y than the last. The French Dispatch is comprised of highly staged locked off shots with a deliberate visual style almost like a single-panel cartoon found in newspapers or magazines. It fits perfectly here as that is what The French Dispatch is - a magazine.

Being a cultural French publication that features general interest articles, much like The New Yorker or Time Magazine, the articles contained within the fictional gazette are here presented as vignettes in an anthology feature. There are three in total, with a wraparound taking place at the Dispatch's offices. Each one speaks of highly focussed figures on the periphery of public interest. The first is narrated by Tilda Swinton who recounts the life of an imprisoned splatter artist played by Benicio del Toro. The second features Frances McDorman's relationship with Timothee Chalamet's college-aged radical. Lastly, Jeffrey Wright's food column just so happens to involve a kidnapping plot and poisoned beets.

While not the best Wes Anderson has to offer - The Royal Tenenbaums will always take my top spot - it's still the kind of fun and quirky comedy that only he can make. He can only get more Wes Anderson-y from here.



02

Riz Ahmed (who deserves every accolade he's received) plays the believably conflicted drummer named Ruben Stone who throughout the course of the film is coming to terms with a drastically changed life trajectory. Just as his band is getting the recognition they've been striving for, a debilitating disability kicks in. He suddenly goes deaf.

What is refreshing is that the conflict in the movie is not external. His girlfriend, compassionately portrayed by Olivia Cooke, is also the lead singer and supports him the best that she knows how. The same goes for his family and the small-town retreat for people coming to terms with hearing loss. The struggle is entirely within Ruben himself.

While being a story of a rock drummer losing his hearing, Sound of Metal is ultimately an uplifting tale. While ostensibly a 2020 film, I again have to put down the disclaimer that the UK public was first able to watch this in April - just in time for the Academy Awards broadcast. That delay wasn't enough to keep it in the short memory of Oscar voters, but at least it got the nominations. It was my choice to win in both acting and film categories.



01

At this point Denis Villeneuve can do no wrong. This will be my 7th end-of-year rundown for this site and he has featured in over half of them, and got the top spot in three. There's something about his effortlessly perfect movies (that I'm sure took a lot of effort to produce) that makes me confident whenever he chooses to broach a much-loved IP. He did that for Blade Runner 2049 (2017), and he's now done that for Dune.

It's been a long road to theatres. Originally due out in December of 2020, it was delayed when the world at large had other things on its mind. Then it was announced that the U.S. release would arrive simultaneously for HBO Max thanks to a decision by Warner Bros to curb potential damage from the on-going distraction. It was solely a theatrical release over here, but I did worry that this decision could negatively affect its ticket sales to be considered enough of a failure enough to reneg on promises of a sequel. I did my bit by seeing it twice.

Thankfully, enough people saw it to convince them to greenlight the sequel to the exhale of fans everywhere. I do feel a little sorry for those who were unable to see it on the big screen. Dune is one of those movies that demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible so that when you first visit the desert planet of Arakkis, witness the betrayal of House Atreides, or come face-to-face with a sandworm it has the grandest sense of scale possible.

Villeneuve juggles the complex plot of the book well, much better than David Lynch's 1984 film (which I do have a soft spot for but no one can honestly say its storytelling was its best attribute). It helps that it is only the first half of the first book, ending in a somewhat muted cliffhanger in much the same way as The Lord of the Rings did two decade earlier. Just like that fantasy opus, Dune is must-see event cinema. Bring on the next one!



HONORABLE MENTIONS


A couple of very decent Christmas movies that raised my spirits this Holiday season. 8-bit Christmas sees a group of friends in the 80s strive to get a Nintendo Entertainment System in their stocking. Financial woes and anti-gaming hysteria cannot convince the parents give it to them so it's up to this group of 12-year-olds to find another way. Cue light-hearted hijinks free from the usual saccharine.

A Boy Called Christmas is more of a traditional yuletide fantasy that ret-cons the Santa Claus myth yet again. A boy living in the snowly forests of Lapland is convinced to find the village of elves as told to him by his mother. The mother has since died, of course, and his father went missing trying to find it too thanks to a fanciful decree from the King, but the forced conflict and contrived schmaltz makes for a winning (if not spectacular) festive family film.


Animated sequels galore! And the only one of them that wasn't disappointing isn't really a 2021 release. The Addams Family 2 is what the first one threatened to be; a weak series of slapstick skits. The family go on a holiday in a misguided attempt to save Wednesday's teenage angst from distancing her from her familial bonds. There's also a thing about the woeful child's true parentage that leads to a final act not out of place from a Scooby Doo or Jimmy Neutron cartoon. I love the IP, and if you do too give this one a wide birth.

The first Boss Baby wasn't much cop yet it did gangbusters financially. Regardless, I still wasn't expecting a sequel to come about from it. I remember very little, and neither do the 9-year-olds I saw it with. That doesn't bode well.

Releasing over here in July, The Croods 2 is actually the best animated sequel of the year. I was surprised by how warm and funny the film is considering the first was only a bit better than average. The cavemen in their continuing struggle to survive the fantastical wild discover other humans. Intelligent humans who've invented farming, house building and a pompous attitude. Much better than you're probably thinking it is.


Depending on who you speak to, Zack Snyder had both a great year and a terrible one. His vision of Justice League was finally realised (more on that later) and he re-invigorated the franchise that kickstarted his whole career. The Netflix exclusive Army of the Dead doesn't live up to the bombastic awesomeness that was Dawn of the Dead (or the disquieting awesomeness of Romero's originals for that matter) but it was an OK couple of hours watching Netflix.

It did get a prequel later in the year which I did enjoy slightly more. Army of Thieves focusses on Matthias Schweighöfer's master safecracker Ludwig Dieter as he travels the globe unlocking a series of famed safes while a zombie apocalypse gestates on the periphery. Snyder only produces this one, leaving Schweighöfer to affably direct himself. The result is a fun time.


In any other year, I probably wouldn't have clicked on Barb & Star's play button, but it seemed like a bright time if nothing else. It is actually pretty damn funny. Written by and starring SNL alumni Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, the two go on a sunny beach holiday to escape their drab lives and lovelives and continue to do what they do best: babble. A handsome man and a spy plot get in the way of that. Silly fun.

Coming to America 2, on the other hand, isn't nearly as good as the first. Eddie Murphy again proves he has charisma, but the storyline here lets it down. Prince Akeem is to become King after his father dies, leaving him to reflect on his own heritage. Conflict arises when an illegitimate son sired during the events of the first film get in the way of his wife and daughters. Zamunda is a little sexist it seems. It's as if he forgot all of the lessons learnt from the first.


Marvel kicks off the cinematic side of MCU's Phase 4 in an interesting way. All three are very good, but they do seem like a prelude to something else. Black Widow's Natasha Romanov finally gets a solo outing in a spy action thriller. It's a great time, but there is one plot point that un-suspends my disbelief (if you've seen it, you'll know). The action is sublime as always.

Talking about sublime action, Shang-Chi has some of the best in the entire franchise. That fight on a bendy bus! That scrap on high-rise scaffolding! That ending! Spectacular doesn't come close. The leads are winningly likable with Akwafina going one step further in cementing her superstar status. Out of all the MCU, it is the film that revels in fantasy the most thanks to its reverence towards Chinese legend, Wuxia movies and Michelle Yoah. It would've done gangbusters in any other year,

Eternals gets a bad rap, but is probably the best of the three from an artistic standpoint. For better or worse, that's entirely down to Oscar-winning director Chloe Zhao. Going by the second trailer, which convinced me more than the dire first, I was expecting something closer to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in tems of mythic quality and emotional vibes. That doesn't quite come through in the final film, but we do have a dense storyline that rewards multiple viewings. Definitely worth a re-appraisal if it left you cold first time round.


The Disney remakes have mostly been hibernating this past year (watch out 2022, they'll be back with a vengeance) but we did get Cruella. Much like Maleficent, the Disney Villain gets re-imagined as something other than what their first appearance showed them as. Emma Stone's Cruella isn't as maniacal as in 101 Dalmatians, or as much of a dog hater, but she does make for a compelling lead. It plays like a mixture between Devil Wears Prada and Ocean's 11 as she takes on the fashion world's greatest sociopathic star, Emma Thompson. The result is a winning film I found to be immensely enjoyable.


A politcal satire that's too close to reality to be truly funny. Two scientists discover a planet-devastating comet that will hit Earth in 6 months. World leaders prove too self-centred to care. The media focus on stories that drive ratings and viewership. Business moguls just see dollar signs. The people at large are too fractured by fear, politics and money to see the truth while those that do scream into the void.

Director Adam McKay conceived the story as a prable to the world's approach to the climate crisis. The events seemed silly to him, but then the pandemic happened and we are seeing in real time how accurate his predictions were. Trump dismissed the virus for months, while our own Prime Minister didn't think it worthwhile enough to attend Cobra meetings on the subject. Fox "News" speads lies to stoke division and drive up ratings while others just do the former. Financial interests drove Bill Gates to reneg on his promise to give his funded vaxine patent to the public. Many regular citizens still do not believe the science and believe the virus doesn't actually exist. It's one thing to question the motives of Big Pharma, quite another to question peer-reviewed scientific studies.

Pretty depressing for a comedy. Good film though.


A teen angst comedy drama with an interesting spin on mental health. James Whitman is suffering from anxiety and depression and wishes more than anything to see a professional about it. This is exacerbated by the disapprearance of his sister which pre-occupies all of his parents time and thoughts. As a result, he conjures up his own therapist - an imaginary, seemingly wise pigeon who advises that he investigate and search for his sister himself. Part teen comedy, part emotional drama, part mystery thriller, it all comes together in a quirky yet clunky whole that deserves future cult status.


Studio Ghibli's first forray into full computer animation seems unfinished. Some shots may look beautiful at time, with moments of astute animation, but the shiny plastic quality that remeans disappeared from other animation studios years ago. It's not helped that other aspects got no attention at all such as the unmoving Lego hair placed on each character. Couple that with an abrupt ending and a story where the most interesting revelations happen in stills during the closing credits and you get a movie that tries to be Kiki's Delivery Service yet end up more like Caca's Delivery Service. Ghibli's worst, and the only ony I truly didn't like. Stick with traditional ink and paint.


I contrast to Ghibli, Disney's animation studios were on fire. Not necessarily an all-engulfing blaze, but a satdifyingly warm log fire. On the small screen we got Star Wars: The Bad Batch, Visions and Monsters at Work while big-screen outings (which I saw on the smallscreen thanks to a little bug going around) retain what makes the company a behemoth.

First up was Raya and the Last Dragon. A fun adventure, though not exactly original. I dread saying this for fear of getting cancelled (like Lindsay Ellis needlessly did) but there was a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender in there. And wisps of Disney's own Aladdin and Mulan too. You have five themed regions, a warrior daughter and a manic magical creature played by a charismatic named actor (a jubilent Akwafina in this case). Highly entertaining and highly derivative at the same time.

Luca is a smaller picture by comparison. Pixar delivered a quaint, stylistic reverie to small-town Europe as the young titular mer-creature runs away from home to live amongst the humans. He finds another of his kind - the orphan Alberta - and together their curiosity and friendship grows, changing everyone's lives for the better. While little ones may not be so enamoured, it was my favourite Disney offering of the year. It is the closest the company has come to Ghibli-like contemplation found in films like Kiki's Delivery Service or the opening moments of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Add a dash of Italian neorealism (The Bicycle Thieves, La Terra Trema, Cinema Paradiso) and you have a lovely holiday of a film.


A trilogy of horror features based on R.L.Stines young adult books that made for a nice diversion this past Halloween. There's nothing particularly grand is here, but entertainingly told, acted with charisma and the attention to detail from each of the three time periods is spot on. Well worth a watch.


One of the first major theatrical films I went to the cinema to see this year. Starring Ryan Reynolds in full-on Ryan Reynolds mode, it is more of a satirical comedy than an action film. Reynolds stars as an NPC in a GTA-style MMO game who becomes self aware when he sees the avatar of his code-writer on the digital streets. It broaches subjects such as gaming addiction, corporate business practices and videogame culture in a plot about stolen video game code. It's done in such a hyper-kinetic way that it shouldn't work, but it gleefully does.

Space Jam: A New Legacy, on the other hand, doesn't. It tries similar themes as basketball player LeBron James (uncharismatically playing himself) is coerced into an advertising contract thanks to a sentient algorithm named Al G. Rhythm (a clearly embarrased Don Cheadle). Cue an excuse to reference every intellectual property Warner Bros. owns to a point where even the Looney Tunes themselves can't lampoon them and finish with pretty much the same ending as the underwhelming original. Poor.


I wanted this to be better than it was. After Ghostbusters 2016 completely missed the mark by rebooting the franchise as an unscripted slapstick comedy with bad improv, Afterlife at least returned to its roots as a light-hearted horror fantasy for the family. It began strong too, with McKenna Grace giving one of the best child performaces I've seen. The new small-town setting proved that New York isn't a necessary for a sequel and Harold Ramis' post-humous appearance as Egon in the opening set the exciting tone.

It takes a while for the story proper to being, and once it does the big name star disappears. Paul Rudd is a great fit for the franchise, being a nerdy teacher obsessed with the supernatural and the events of the first film he provides a tangible and knowledgeable  link to the role of Ghostbusting. When he's not there, the focus swings wildly until the unweildly ending that shoehorns in the surviving original characters. Beyond an exciting car chase with a Slimber stand-in, the action itself is also strangely muted. It's almost as if indie director Jason Reitman (son of original helmer Ivan) is more interested in the character development than choreographed chaos and destruction which ultimately does the film a disservice. He does treat the subject matter with respect, even goin so far to add the odd throway nod for the fans, but I do wonder whether the helmer of Juno and Up in the Air was the right fit. At least on the action side of things.

Overall, it's not completely unredeemable like that last one. No doubt it will certainly have a place in my Blu-Ray collection. It is one of the better blockbusters of the past few years, but I did want more.


Godzilla vs Kong has the opposite problem to Ghostbusters Aferlife. I comes after a dour yet decent first film and a just dour second one (not to mention the fantastic fantasy of Kong: Skull Island), but this time some levity has wisely been added. There isn't much plot or character development, but boy is the action bombastic. That's all the pulpy likes of Godzilla vs Kong needed to be in order to be good, but I've wanted some of the other stuff so it could finally be great.


A so-so sequel to an ok reboot of an undying franchise. It suffers from some over-the-top moments that undermines the scares and a contived plot that necessitates people act stupidly. Still better than Zombie's stint.


An underwhelming musical that was probably better suited for the stage. It's written by Lin-Manuel Miranda so you know the musics good - and the stage version was probably excellent -  but this slice of New York life is no Rent.


Despite the pandamic, the Academy Awards were filled with excellent movies. The two films focus on Black history in two very different yet compelling ways. Judas and the Black Messiah is an angry call to arms. It stars Daniel Kaluuya - who deservedly won an Oscar for the role - as Fred Hampton, leader of the Black Panthers and the FBI informant who infiltrated the movement.

One Night in Miami is more thoughful. It is a fictionalised account of a real event where boxer Muhammad Ali, American football player Jim Brown, musicial Sam Cooke and human rights activist Malcolm X gather to discuss the Civil Rights Movement in February of 1964. Based on a play of the same name, the film largely takes place in the same room with rousing dialogue that eloquently speaks of the black experience at such a tumultuous time. Within a year, two of them will be shot to death Sam Cooke in a motel incident and Malcolm X would be assassinated at a speaking event.

Both of these are compelling accounts of an important time in US history that most outside of the country don't know too much about. Each one is a must-see and more than worthy to be celebrated during awards season for their quality and subject matter alike.


Two horror movies that have grown in my estimation the more I think about them. James Wan's bonkers big-budget horror, Malignant, didn't connect with me for much of its run time. It seemed like a generic supernatural slasher with a mystery element that we've all seen before. When the twist drops, I found it more akin to the 90s mini-movement of visually dark Goth movies I loved during my mini-Goth days. I can see elements of Dark City, The Crow, Mimic and In the Mouth of Madness here yet Malignant proves to be intentionally battier than any one of them. And it's all the better for it.

Much like Malignant, there is a lot of comedy within the horror of Werewolves Within, though this one is down to its writing more so than its premise. It is based on a Ubisoft party game where online players have to discover which one is the wolf by guessing who the liar is (Andrew Garfield referenced it when dodging questions about Spider-Man: Far From Home). The movie is a short and straightforward romp that has an entertaining twist towards the end making it one of the best video game adaptations out there. In fact, only Detective Pikachu beats it in my eyes.


Small movies about struggling American citizens did well during awards season. In its tale of a Chinese mother-in-law moving in with the family as they build a farm from scratch, Minari quietly and poignantly showcases familial conflict and bonds. Worthy of its praise.

Nomadland is worthy of it too, though with its many award wins and overly-glowing reviews is overrated in my estimation. It is a clever mix between documentary filmmaking and a scripted feature set in the community living in vans and other mobile homes. It highlights the effects of the 2008 financial crisis that, coupled with 9/11 and the current pandemic, as seen three major blows to working people in a single generation.

As a film, I do have some issues with it. The fictional story starring Frances McDormand in Oscar-worthy form as Fern, a widow re-structuring her life after medical expenses take everything from her. It's an emotional and compelling story, so much so that the real-life stories told by real people come in, it gets in the way. Then, as soon as you're invested in the real people recounting their lives and philosophy to the fabricated Fern, the story shifts again the other way. Basically, the documentary side sits uneasily alongside the fictional side which derails the whole film for me.


The voice of beloved Bristish actress Olivia Coleman is featured in both of these animated cautionary tales of modern technology. The Mitchells vs The Machines, which premiered on Netflix, is one of the better animated movies of the year, playing with the medium in much the same way as Spider-Man: Far From Home. It helps that they're both from the same studio, with creatives Phil Lord and Christopher Miller taking on a producing role. Robots suddenly become violent and begin kidnapping all human life thanks to a new, all-encompassing AI played by our gal Olivia. Only the bumbling, tech-adverse Mitchell family are left standing to save the world.

Ron's Gone Wrong is somewhat different in that Olivia plays a Russian granny stuck in the goulash-loving old ways. Her grandson, Barney, is an outcast at school where every student owns and interacts with their "best friend out of the box", the part smartphone, part robot, part substitute for human contact B-bot. Barney has to make do with a defective one that fell off the back of a lorrey and the two form a great friendship - so much so that it becomes almost sentient. Naturally, big tech don't want this to go unmonetised.

Both films make for fun family entertainment, but be prepared for Mitchells to disappoint fans of Encanto come awards season. Possibly.


A spooky family film that's not afraid to go dark and scary. A boy is kidnapped by a witch for his storytelling abilities, but soon finds out that a new tale each night isn't so early. While technically and anthology tale, the wraparound story takes up most of the runtime and is where the real scare take place. It reminds me of those 80s movies that aren't afraid to traumatise. Think The Dark Crystal, Return to Oz or The Witches.


Daniel Craig's swansong as 077 is croud-pleasing for cinema lovers but much like his entire run, doesn't quite satiate Bond fans. At least not Bond fans like my father. You could say that there are more traditional Bondian tropes found here - the gadgets, the girls, the car - but at the same time other, more radical touches are also present. For starters, this is not a stand alone mission. It carries on from the previous film where James is no longer an agent. The rest is more spoilery than I'd like to give, but those who've seen it to the end will no what I'm talking about. As an avid cinema-goer, Craig is my favourite Bond to date, and No Time to Die ends his reign with a bang. Just make sure you skip past Billie Eilish's dirge of a theme song.


Low budget horror was well catered for over tha past twelve months, and that's mostly down to Shudder. The service brought us two of the three movies I want to talk about in this section, starting with Psycho Goreman. Two kids find a interstellar gem that controls one of the universe's most dangerous criminals. Playing like a Troma version of Whistle Down the Wind, the two kids get the monster to do their bidding which in some cases is more psychotic than anything the bloodthirsty alien can come up with. Like a lot of in-your-face Troma movies, it can grate a little, but the sheer chutzpah of it all is mindblowing.

Vicious Fun, also on Shudder, is more of a straight-faced than P.G. In many ways, it is a comedy of errors as a hapless loser finds himself accidentally attending an AA type meeting for serial killers. It's budget is obviously low, with direction that's more often seen on a television show, but everyone involved does their best to make it work. And they wholeheartedly succeed.

While not available on Shudder, Willy's Wonderland fits right in with the other two. It may have a bigger budget as evidenced by the casting of Nicholas Cage in the mysterious and mostly mute starring role, but it's ultimately a lesser film. Credited simply as The Janitor, Cage gets caught up in a small town where he is forced to clean up and do maintenance to a local disused restaurant called Willy's Wonderland. During the night, the Chucky Cheese-like animatronics come to life to attack him and some meddling teenagers too. Think Five Nights at Freddies: The Movie, except there's an aging A-lister who can easily defeat each and every one of them (unlike the teenagers who are only there for a body count). Like the games that no doubt inspired it, Willy's Wonderland is something of a one trick pony. The trick is decent for a time, but quickly gets old.


I spent a lot of time this past year watching movies with my young nieces and nephews. Not that I'm complaining, I like a good kids flick and spending time with them, but these three did test my patience.

Peter Rabbit 2 is just as obnoxious as the first while Wish Dragon is a fairly harmless yet competant re-hash of Disney's Aladdin. Beat for beat, almost. Yes Day was a bit different, being a family friendly comedy with some nice skits here and there, but the characters are all so obnoxious I worry it might rub off on their young minds.

A couple of forgettable sci-fi flicks that suffered thanks to the pandemic. Reminiscence is the best of the two, being a derivative neo-noir detective story. Hugh Jackman records memories for a living, playing them back to paying customers. One femme fatale's memories give clues to a recent murder, and Hugh investigates. It may be visually stunning but if that brief synopsis sounds interesting to you, go watch Kathryn Bigelow's Strange Days instead. It's a far better film.

The Tomorrow War is simply bland. I forgot most of what happened in it and I don't care enough to refresh my memory. It know it stars Chris Pratt as a macho army dude and some aliens, but that's about it. Naturally, Netflix felt it did well enough to greenlight a sequel. I'd rather the money be spent on a second season of The Dark Crystal.

Beyond a 70s chart topper popular enough to live on when I was a kid in the 80s and 90s, Sparks wouldn't be on my radar until their 2017 album Hippopotamus. I subsequently devoured their entire idiosyncratic back catalogue but the band members might have been performance artists for all I knew. This year, they blew up, not just penning a movie musical so weird it had to be one of my favourites of the year but also being the subject of Edgar Wright's documentary feature. Like their time in the spotlight, the film blurs fact from fiction in such a way only they can. If you don't know anything about them, this is a great starting off point.


A short and sweet comic book movie that's better than the original, but still a far cry from the consistant output of Marvel's own-made films. Andy Serkis directs in a workman-like fashion with a script that deserves a more off-kilter approach. Some scenes, like Venom's coming out party or Carnage an Shriek's chappel wedding seem to have been written like a gleefully comic dark fantasy. The kind that the likes of Tim Burton would relish in. Here, it's just another scene in a competent movie. Nothing particularly stands out, but it's a good time nontheless.



WORST 5 OF 2021

The past year was not devoid of stinkers. Some I count myself lucky to have not seen, such as Sia's ode to mental disability misrepresentation Music or the misuse of British comedy legends (and James Corden) in Cinderella. Thankfully, I got the message before I clicked play on whatever streaming service they were stinking up. What follows are the worst to ever pass by my eyeballs.


A dire attempt to add a story to a Disney ride that didn't have one, so it instead pilfers from the convoluted Pirates sequels. An attempt to rekindle that billion-dollar franchise perhaps? The Rock stars with a more-annoying-than-you'd-expect Emily Blunt and a mildly-less-annoying-than-usual Jack Whitehall on a river adventure to find a lost McGuffin that can heal people of some shit. Ancient conquistadors fell foul of this fountain of youth, turning them into human monsters usually found in the locker of Davey Jones. Awful.

 
There's a badly filmed pirate copy of the Broadway version of Dear Evan Hansen somewhere on the internet. I randomly came across on YouTube a few years ago and depite looking like a theatre kid's attempt at The Blair Witch Project, the power of the production still came through. What happened with the movie?

The obvious answer is that the talented Ben Platt inexplicably looks a lot older playing a teenager than he does in real life, but the reality goes deeper than that. Stephen Chbosky, who is known for affecting teenage dramas such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower, was chosen to direct it. His literal style doesn't mesh well with a movie that needs fantasy to separate reality from the delusions of a troubled mind. This ironically makes Hansen and his actions far less sympathetic than the show. The story falls on a socially awkward teen with severe anxiety issues pretending to have been a close friend with a boy who recently committed suicide. This lie, originally told as a pathalogical need to get out of an uncomfortable situation, spirals out of control beyond what is deemed ethically acceptable. The stage show portrays this through a minimalist set design coming alive with thoughts and tweets and mental anguish through song. The film cuts this out, including the show's most important number. As a result, the realistic direction doesn't make you root for Evan's wellbeing (if not his actions) like the show does, it instead makes you think he's an effing jerk. And despite the intention, thirty-five-year-olds should know better.

 
I'm not a Monster Hunter fanboy, but I liked the time I spent in Monster Hunter World. It's very little compared to true fans, but even I could tell no one in the cast, crew or writing team had any interest it. The creature designer maybe, but that's it. Our Earth should not exist in this world and at no point is it in any way a war film. Then again, what do you expect from the blight on event cinema that is Paul W. S. Anderson.

 
I had high hopes for this movie when it belatedly hit digital rental services in early January. It's December 2020 release had been cancelled thanks to that ongoing blight scouring the globe and it turned out to be one of the worst big budget films I've seen in some time. So much for thinking the first film would end D.C.'s run of terrible movies.

The setting and style is a good one. You can get a lot out of this character by jumping around in time. The thing is, she hasn't grown bit since losing "the love of her life" during the events of the first film. If Chris Pine's Steve Trevor is dead, then why is he in this one? I hear you cry. Well, an ancient stone that grants wishes has been uncovered and Gal Gadot's Diana Prince somehow managed to wish he was back while in its presence. He does, but in the body of a stranger who she quickly shags without thinking of the ethics.

This wishing stone causes all kings of havoc. Kristen Wiig's meek Barbara inexplicably wishes she was a cheetah. Pedro Pascal's down-on-his-luck Maxwell wishes he had the power of the stone, and immediately grants wishes wherever he goes. The problem is, making these wishes zaps away at your very soul, causing Diana to lose her powers, Barbara to turn psychotic and Maxwell to conjure up a plan to suck the souls of everyone on Earth. It's all very silly, immediately taking the genre back 25 years to when Joel Schumacher cheesed up the Batman franchise. A far cry from the dour likes of Justic League.

Speaking of which, the Snyder cut still sucks and no one can convince me otherwise. It's an over-long, bleak attempt at a comic book movie that does nothing to fix the true mistakes of the original. Add a completely pointless end scene that does nothing beyond give the director and actors something to do in a pandemic year, and you get four hours of my life I'll never get back. Six if you coun't the time spend watching it in 2017 too. A terrible dirge of a movie. Sorry not sorry.


Two dire kids movies take my top spot as the worst movies of the year. You could argue they're low hanging fruit being aimed at a much younger audience, but if anything my Honorable Mentions list each year tells you is that I'm not adverse to a good family film. Neither of these are it. They're the worst the genre have to offer. In fact, I'd argue there's something unintentionally sinister in their very conception.

Tom & Jerry are both opportunists in the film. Jerry takes it upon himself to take up residence in thee floorboards of a posh hotel, while Tom escapes his busking career to be hired as said hotel's mouser. Chloë Grace Moretz, our human lead, is also a con artist, blagging her way into employment by lying and taking advantage of the cartoon feline. All three are portayed as heroes as the cat and mouse antics detroy expensive rooms and furnature. This isn't a grifter does good plotline, but down-on-their-luck does dirty. A great message.

Home Sweet Home Alone does the worst thing a reboot of Home Alone can do; make you hate the kid. To be fair, this isn't child actor Archie Yates' fault, or any of the cast really. It's down to a simple, perhaps innocuous decision made by the screenwriters. They made the villains sympathetic. Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney are great comedy actors, and I'm positive they would both make excellent bandits kids of all ages would love to boo at. There's one problem - they're not bandits. In fact, they're not criminals of any sort, just a couple looking to take back a valuable doll they thought the little brat stole when visiting their open house. A house they put on the market due to financial woes. Financial woes that a valuable doll might just help save.

On the other side of things, Aisling Bea, one of Ireland's best exports, has little to do as the mother. She doesn't have her own mini-adventure while desperately trying to get home to her child. All she has to endure is a fart on a plane. The only good thing about it is an extended cameo of a grown up Buzz who is now a cop but even his two scenes have no bearing on the overall plot.

What's worse is the lesson both of these movies have on their young audience - be selfish and you will get everything that you want with no repurcussions. A lesson to live by it seems.




Like this? Try These...

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5 comments:

  1. Thanks for the write up. Regrettably I've learned more about the titles on this list from the likes of Red Letter Media than I have actually seen them. I couldn't quite get on with Dune, and I'm struggling to put my finger on why. It could just be that I'm overly familiar with the source material, and the return to the cinema wasn't entirely welcome - being blasted with sound so loud you can feel it in your bladder; bad enough to being with, but when you're in that cinematic state of 'how long 'til I need the loo' anxiety...

    Fully agree with you on Midnight Mass, however. Great series, monologues and all. Really got under my skin, reminding me of the church community I grew up with and eventually apart from, and also nailed that strange, ambivalent, melancholic agnosticism that settles over me whenever I'm given enough time to sit still and think about things. And I'm weirdly in love with the guy who plays the priest - his performance was fantastic.

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    1. Yeah, I always take a recommendation from Red Letter Media. They're one of my go-to YouTuber channels. They may be a bit too harsh on big blockbusters IMO but they're still great.

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  2. No Titane on your list,missed a lot.

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    1. It's on my to watch list. I'll wait until it comes to Netflix or Prime before I see it though. Sounds insane.

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  3. Hi,Lupin III The First released at 2019.

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