Best and Worst Movies of 2021

As the year comes to a close, it’s time for movie critics to pick their best/worst of the year. And as usual, there are a lot more bad movies than good. Yet, it’s never hard to find 10 great films that should be lauded. Here are mine.

10. SUMMERTIME. This movie didn’t make my list just because the studio asked me to interview the cast after a showing in San Diego. Speaking of San Diego, former resident Kelly Marie Tran, went from Star Wars fame to producing this interesting story with a lot of slam poetry. I know, I thought the same thing. Yet it really moved me. 

9. CODA. I’ve tried talking about this movie to people that haven’t seen it, and I become a blubbering mess, standing there crying like I just lost a relative. I tried talking about this movie to people that have seen it, and they all love the same scene. Again, I become a mess. With singer Joni Mitchell having so many health problems these days, I sure hope she was able to see this great film and how wonderfully her song “Both Sides Now” was used in it. In a day and age where filmmakers think they can just needle-drop us into liking their movies (I’m looking at you, P.T. Anderson, Edgar Wright, and Tarantino)...this is how you find a great song and use it wonderfully in your film.

8. I’M YOUR MAN. Great Joe Jackson album, great German movie. I saw a tweet from Edgar Wright the other day saying how charming it was. The premise sounds goofy – a stuffy woman is giving a male robot that was perfectly designed to be her ideal man. She has to spend three weeks with him and write about the experience. When he starts off with goofy lines about how beautiful her eyes are – and she merely rolls her eyes – you think you can tell where the movie is going. And sure, maybe you can, but it’s so much better written than that. Don’t let the subtitles scare you, seek this film out.

7. BEING THE RICARDOS. There are a few things that really bother me about this movie (one being that the events depicted here didn’t all happen in one week); but with Aaron Sorkin’s sharp screenplay, and Javier Bardem being so damn charming…this is just a really entertaining picture. For those, like me, who didn’t think Bardem and Nicole Kidman looked enough like the people they were playing, Anthony Hopkins didn’t look anything like Richard Nixon, and he got an Oscar nomination playing him.

6. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE 10 RINGS. I first saw Simu Liu in a little show Kim’s Convenience out of Canada, and I just loved the sexual tension with him and his boss, and his easy going relationship with his sister (actress Andrea Bang, who was in my favorite movie of 2019, Luce). What a score for him to get a Marvel movie with so little under his belt. This film blows the latest Spider-Man away. Two of the best fight scenes I’ve seen in years, and a villain that isn’t one-dimensional.

5. RIDERS OF JUSTICE. A second foreign film on my list. Nothing like a man getting revenge on the biker gang that killed his wife while bombing a train to take out a witness that was going to appear in trial against them. That sounds like the script from a ‘70s Clint Eastwood picture, but this movie goes down some really interesting paths while exploring the morality of vigilantism.

4. NIGHTMARE ALLEY. After all the critics went nuts over The Shape of Water, which looked great but was a mess of a story, I figured I’d never have a Guillermo del Toro film on my list. But he knocked it out of the park with this noir remake, in what many critics are saying is the best performance of Bradley Cooper’s career. Watching the life of carnies in the ‘40s – with Ron Pearlman playing the Strongman, and Willem Dafoe running the freak show – what more do you need?

3. MALCOLM & MARIE. At first, I thought Zendaya looked too young for this character. But her acting was so great, I let it slide. John David Washington, with this performance, I’m sure made dad Denzel very proud. And props to writer/director Sam Levinson, who may never give us as many great films as his dad Barry, but this is a strong start. His dad must also be proud.

2. THE POWER OF THE DOG. Ah, the power of Jane Campion. She’s a champion. She shouldn’t take so long between films (see this movie, and also seek out the conversation she had with Guillermo del Toro in Variety, which is an incredible read). Many critics are calling this the best performance of Benedict Cumberbatch’s career. I agree. And this movie, while very similar to There Will Be Blood, actually works better than that P.T. Anderson flick.

1. IN THE HEIGHTS. It’s amazing to me that critics are giving all the love to West SideStory. It was okay, but this was so much better. And for me to name this the best movie of the year, when I’m not even a big fan of musicals, tells you how great it is. I saw it multiple times in the theatre, and fell in love with each character in it. The fact that there was controversy about casting choices is ridiculous. It’s a Lin-Manuel Miranda movie, and he cast a black man as a white President in what became the biggest musical of all-time, so give him a break on whatever you may think the neighborhood racial ethnicity was in Washington Heights, New York (not to mention the fact that one of the females was Afro-Latina, and Corey Hawkins is African-American!). Oh, and people complaining a Spaniard was cast as Ricky Ricardo in Beingthe Ricardos. If these are the things people want to have beef with, the film industry has a lot bigger problems than Spider-Man being the only movie to make a huge profit this year. Anyway, we all remember that musical we saw as a kid and memorized every song on the soundtrack. For me, it was Grease when I was in 5th grade. For this generation, it should be In the Heights. I saw this at the beginning of the year, and still keep bugging my wife when I go to the kitchen to get ice cream and start singing “Piragua” as I dance around the house. This film is pure joy.

Honorable mentions: Mass, The Letter Room, and Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time.

Now, for the last 20 years of making these lists, I always do the Top 10 Worst of the Year. There are always a lot more bad movies than good, unfortunately for movie critics (and moviegoers). This year though, I’m sitting here with a fever writing this list. And I didn’t want to spend any more time than I had to thinking about these horrid films. So, I’m going to give you 20, and you can put them in the order you see fit. It pains me to see that the talented Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Julianne Moore, Anthony Hopkins, and Ralph Fiennes all have films that made the list.

The worst of the year are: Land, Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar, Pixie, Test Pattern, Coming 2 America, Boogie, French Exit, Godzilla vs. Kong, Vanquish, The Virtuoso, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard, F9: The Fast Saga, Black Widow, Midnight in the Switchgrass, The Green Knight, Blue Bayou, Dear Evan Hansen, American Night, Finch, and The King’s Man.

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