Warning: major spoilers ahead for Spider-Man: No Way Home. It’s amazing, go see it before you get spoiled.
Movies I haven’t seen: West Side Story, Pig, Encanto, A Quiet Place Part II, The Mitchel’s vs The Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon, Drive My Car, Luca, The Green Knight, Licorice Pizza, The Tragedy of Macbeth, King Richard, A Hero, Spencer, CODA, Belfast, House of Gucci
Honorable Mention: The Suicide Squad
James Gunn’s quasi-sequel-spinoff-soft-reboot, 1970’s-style, gritty war movie was a surprisingly great comic book movie, blending the director’s signature style with a plethora of obscure C and D-tier villains from the DC mythos. After seeing how good this movie was, it’s kind of hard to imagine that we had such a terrible Suicide Squad not so long ago. If only this fantastic do-over made as much money as it’s predecessor, we could have had plenty more great Suicide Squad adaptations.
Honorable Mention: Inside
This is really only an honorable mention because I don’t know if it counts, but Bo Burnham’s Inside deserves all the praise it’s getting for his internet breakdown alone. I love how it goes further than being just a comedy special, it becomes this really introspective window into this person’s mind, which clearly really struggled during the pandemic. When I watched this a second time, everything clicked for me and I found myself genuinely empathizing with Burnham’s subtle “haha this is fine” attitude while the world around him burns.
Barely missed #10 by a hair: Tick, Tick… Boom!
Boy that Andrew Garfield can ACT! Seriously, the MVP actor of this year 100% deserves the Best Actor win at this year’s Oscars, and the only reason this didn’t crack the top 10 is just because I liked the other 10 movies more. However, Tick Tick Boom is another amazing film from Lin Manuel Miranda.
Alrighty, onwards to our Top 10 movies of 2021:
10. The Power of the Dog
Directed by Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog is one of the best recent insights into toxic masculinity. For being set in a far past time period of the late 19th century, it’s a weirdly timely movie. Campion raises the anxiety levels of this film to a ten and somehow makes a massive Montana ranch feel claustrophobic. It’s quad-fecta of characters are all extremely well acted with definite, well-earned Oscar nominations from Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smitt-McFee, and Jesse Plemons. It’s a bit of a slow burn, but much like one of the best games I’ve ever played, Red Dead Redemption 2, slow burns can often be more effective than a faster film if the film’s match strikes its massive powder keg at exactly the right time.
9. Don’t Look Up
Adam McKay’s latest film, Don’t Look Up, is more than the smart, well acted, big budget studio comedy that we rarely get these days. It’s a sobering reminder of mankind’s current futility to tackle a global crisis head on without injecting self-centered politics and prioritizing consumerism despite immanent doom. The film is about two scientists who discover an asteroid that will wipe the planet entirely in six months. From there, they venture out to convince the world of the situation and urge global leaders to react quickly. Despite the depressing concept, the film is actually hilarious thanks to its outstanding cast. Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, and Jonah Hill give incredible performances designed to make you cringe as you slowly realize in disbelief what’s about to happen to these characters. Its thinly veiled allegory on climate change makes it a must see because if we don’t act upon these global issues, we’ll all be looking up.
8. The Last Duel
It’s genuinely confusing to me how this movie made as little as it did at the box office. The Last Duel is not only director Ridley Scott’s best movie in years, but also one of his most important. It’s also the second movie ever written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, who both last won career defining Oscars for their incredible work on Good Will Hunting. On top of that, the film had an amazing ensemble with Damon, Affleck, seemingly Oscar perrenial Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer. The film presents three perspectives on a horrible incident that leads to a duel between Damon and Driver. The actual fighting in this is brutal and at times even feels like a step up from Gladiator. Scott is one of the last great directors of his generation, and though it feels like no one saw this, I think in time this will be seen as one of his best.
7. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
This is director Zack Snyder’s magnum opus. You can tell every decision in this movie was a director’s singular vision, and whether or not I liked it, I have to acknoledge the importance of artistic freedom. The film feels like a culmanation of everything Snyder worked, uncompromised by studio interference and you can tell. It’s four hours of comic book goodness, and I loved about three hours of it. While film is sort of a mixed bag, it’s such a massive bag that the highs are some of the best superhero moments in the entire genre. Just from a filmmaking standpoint, if you want to see what editing too much can do your film, check this out and compare it with the original 2017 Justice League. After years of build-up from some pretty loud fans on Twitter, I think Zack Snyder’s Justice League actually lived up to the hype.
I didn’t know anything about Dune leading up to this movie, but I was told that it had one of the most difficult stories to adapt. My friends would all agree that there’s absolutely no way that director Denis Villenueve could condense this incredibly important sci-fi landmark into one movie, which is why I felt a sigh of relief when the film made it very clear that this is Dune Part One. It’s been a minute since I’ve seen a film that was able to portray the epic galaxy-wide scope of its landscape. Every shot in Dune feels calculated like someone really took that famous Kubrick quote to heart (that every frame has to be a painting). The film does suffer from some very very slow moments, but I can overlook that because of how beautiful those moments look and sound. I cannot wait for Part Two to blow us all away because if this is the boring part, then we’re all in for a real treat.
5. No Time To Die
I’m definetely not the first person to acknowledge out of touch Bond tropes, especially as the action-spy genre has moved past 007 with franchises like Mission Impossible and Bourne. However, Daniel Craig is the James Bond that I grew up with, and I’ll always remember my dad taking me to see all of his entries into the franchise since Bond was actually his introduction to Hollywood growing up. After Spectre, I didn’t think that Bond had a place in modern Hollywood so I was pretty cautious going into No Time To Die. I’m happy to say this film exceeded all my expectations by a mile. Daniel Craig honestly delivers an Oscar worthy performance here, and the film not only caps off 50 years of British cinema history, but also subverts and elevates itself beyond the usual Bond constraints. Here we see a remorseful, more caring 007, a relic of the past who has to enter the world for one final time. It’s a nearly three hour film, but the incredible stunt work and amazing action set pieces make it feel around half that. I still love Casino Royale way more and Skyfall a tad bit more, but this is still one of the best Bond movies and a fitting end to Craig’s tenure as 007.
4. In The Heights
Written by Lin Manuel Miranda, this musical was perfectly shot and had amazing, lively performances throughout. I actually sort of liked this more than Hamilton, which I know is a hot take, but I also kind of liked Tick, Tick… Boom! more than Hamilton as well (not saying I dislike Hamilton). There’s just this great frenetic energy to the movie that makes it so fun to experience, and it sucks that more people didn’t see it. I think in any other year, this film would have been a massive box office success because it’s just so crowd pleasing. Director Jon Chu took the best aspects of his previous film, Crazy Rich Asians, to new heights and balances several overarching narratives without making the film bloated and confusing. I believe that over time In The Heights will probably be seen as one of Miranda’s best works.
3. Free Guy
It’s very rare that we get a big budget, crowd pleasing original movie these days and Free Guy was exactly that (in a pandemic no less). Ryan Reynolds is fantastic in this movie as a video game NPC who figures out he’s an NPC in a Grand Theft Auto style game. It’s probably the best video game movie ever made and it’s not even adapting any games. It took all the ideas from popular games and put a commentary on all of it, and I loved it. More importantly, the movie was just super cute (especially at the end), and that’s kind of all I needed this year. It kind of turns into a Lifetime movie eventually, but this is like the one instance that I’m perfectly okay with that. 2021 was’t easy for anyone, and more big original movies like Free Guy would be much apreciated as the pandemic continues indefinetely.
2. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
This was probably the first MCU movie ever that I had literally no idea who the main character was beforehand. I think Marvel has found a hidden gem in Simu Liu, who plays Shang-Chi with such an air of excitement. The fight scenes in this movie are the best in the MCU by a long shot and feel like they were ripped right out of a Bruce Lee movie. Moreover, as an Asian myself, it felt awesome seeing an entirely Asian cast without the breadth of tokenism. Liu and co-star Awkwafina are great in their roles, but it’s Tony Leung that steals the show as one of the best modern comic book villains. Leung plays Wenwu with a regretful undertone and never feels like the typical world-seizing MCU villain. You genuinely feel for this guy, and I’d argue that he’s the best MCU villain besides Thanos. If the movie hadn’t come out during the pandemic, I think this would have easily been a billion dollar grosser and the fact that it made half that even in a pandemic is a testament to how much people loved this unknown character. Shang-Chi is my favorite of the new Phase 4 heroes, and I can’t wait to see what Kevin Feige and team do with him.
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
It had to be Spider-Man. It had to be. While No Way Home doesn’t reach the heights of Spider-Man 2 or Into the Spider-Verse, it’s absolutely insane how well this movie pulled off its ambitious premise. I laughed, I cried, I cheered, I feared, and at the end of two and a half runtime, I walked out of that theater silent. I didn’t talk for hours because I just needed all the joy I felt settle in. After having seen this film a few times, I feel like I can actually look at it from a critical lens. Tom Holland and Zendaya are incredible as Peter Parker and MJ, and they both really act their hearts out on this one. Yes, this movie includes Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield as their versions of Spider-Man, but neither of them detract from the core story and only serve to elevate Tom’s (or Peter 1’s) narrative arc. It’s just really nice to see what happened to them after their respective film series never saw definitive ends. Andrew Garfield (Peter 3) in particular has two standout moments that perfectly sum his years since The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Tobey Maguire (Peter 2) feels like a way more mature version of the man he ended up as in Spider-Man 3 and serves as a mentor figure for the other two. Alfred Molina as Doc Ock feels plucked straight out of Spider-Man 2 in the best way, and Jamie Foxx’s Electro is a vast improvement over his previous outing. However, the absolute best performance in the movie is Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin. Dafoe is genuinely scary and maniacal, and the way he contorts his face is brilliantly unsettling. There’s just this draw to every moment he’s in, and you almost feel your own Spidey Sense tingle whenever he’s mentioned. He’s not in the movie as much as as he was in the 2002 Spider-Man, but his performance here might actually top his original one. I often get really worried when I see these types of films doing fan service because it’s usually really forced and jarring, but this is much more Avengers: Endgame than The Rise of Skywalker in that the fan service feels like a natural progression of the story. The ending to this movie is just so perfect and sets up so many awesome possibilities for the future of Spider-Man, and 5 year old me would be beyond excited to learn that all this was happening in the future. There are several reasons that Spider-Man has resonated with me all these years, why when things feel tough, the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler has my back. No Way Home soars because it so perfectly catches all those reasons in the franchise’s biggest web yet, and is not only my favorite film of the year, but also one of my favorite comic book movies ever made.
So yeah those are my top 10! What do you think about this list? Like I said, please feel free to let me know your thoughts! Thanks so much 🙂