The year 2021 was a lot of things, but I wouldn’t say it was a great year for films. Much of our entertainment industry is too busy trying to check socio-political boxes than actually craft solid escapism that people would line up for. That said, there were a few gems, and I think it would be a solid idea to go back over the releases this year and pick out at least five that I thought were actually good.
By the way, feel free to include your own top 5 picks in the comments.
Nobody is a film that lived in the real world much as its protagonist lived in the movie. It scooted under the radar for many, but those who were lucky enough to be convinced to see it had their expectations surpassed.
Bob Odenkirk (Better Call Saul) plays Hutch Mansell, a middle-aged family man who’s something of a pushover. His monotonous day-to-day is soul-crushing, his kids don’t respect him, and his wife has clearly lost any attraction toward him. Yet, underneath the meek and overly-passive personality, you sense there’s something Mansell’s character is hiding. A break-in of the Mansell home sets events in motion that bring out some secrets of Hutch’s, including the fact that he’s a much more dangerous, calculating, and well-trained man than many people realized.
If you’re a fan of John Wick, then you’ll like Nobody. It’s an action romp that starts slow, but once the film really begins to pick up speed it becomes a thrill ride you don’t want to get off of. Odenkirk rides the line between dull and beaten suburban dad and action hero surprisingly well, and the film indicates that there’s a much deeper world beneath the film that you haven’t seen yet, much in the way of the Wick series. However, while the Wick series drifts into an almost fantastical territory, Nobody keeps the action at home.
2. Boss Level
I can only describe the movie Boss Level as “dumb fun.” Like The Edge of Tomorrow before it, it takes elements from the ability of video game characters to die and try again until the player gets it right.
The movie revolves around Roy Pulver (Frank Grillo) who finds himself reliving the same day over and over again ala Groundhog Day, however, no matter what he does he somehow finds himself dying at the hands of highly trained assassins. He doesn’t know how he’s in the predicament he’s in, and all he has to go on is something his scientist ex-wife Jemma (Naomi Watts) told him before the loop started. His goal is to get to the lab and have Jemma reverse whatever time distortion a machine she was building is doing to him. However, standing between him and the lab is the aforementioned army of assassins who kill him over and over again.
For a movie about having to fight your way through assassins to stop a time-traveling issue, Boss Level manages to have a lot of heart. Pulver’s character grows over the course of the movie to become a far more caring man, especially to his son. It’s definitely a film with a lot of dark humor and it probably won’t win any awards for its acting, but you definitely come away feeling fulfilled in many ways.
3. Spider-Man: No Way Home
I just saw this movie recently and you can read my full review here.
Marvel movies are a dime a dozen nowadays and frankly, they just don’t have the magic they once did. I didn’t rush to the theaters to see Shang Chi and the Black Widow movie didn’t interest me at all. I’ll get to them eventually, but more me, the MCU went from being a must-see titan to a side-show. However, the Spider-Man movies being put out by Marvel are still delivering.
Spider-Man: No Way Home doesn’t just deliver, though. It really does everything a movie should, hits all the right notes, and contains a story that is far more nuanced and touching than a superhero movie has any right to be. It’s the first Marvel movie in a long time that has me saying “I really can’t wait for the next one.”
4. The Suicide Squad
As I mentioned above, I’ve been less than excited about Marvel movies. In fact, the entire superhero fad has taken something of a dip lately, yet we have two on this list. Whereas Spider-Man: No Way Home proved that Marvel can still do a solid superhero movie when it really tries, The Suicide Squad embraces the decline.
I’ve also done a review for this movie.
This may be a controversial pick, but the film accomplished something that many DC movies had failed to do, and that made me like them at all. In fact, I not only liked the film, I thought it was pretty much the roadmap for studios in this post-End Game world. While I’d be proven wrong by No Way Home, I still think Gunn’s Squad movie was exactly the shot in the arm DC needed and managed to do it despite its name being attached to two other movies that failed miserably.
It doesn’t take itself seriously and, as evidenced by its final villain, it’s mainly out to take the audience for a fun ride without the need for MacGuffin stones, villains that make you think, or finding deeper meaning. It’s just a bunch of character growth between ridiculous action sequences. This doesn’t mean the movie doesn’t contain any heart. To be sure, the bonds the characters form over the course of the movie make you grow attached. Director James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) manages to weld a broken property together with all the things it lacked, and like its characters, it’s both ridiculous and hilarious.
I’ve reviewed this movie more in-depth as well, and you can read it below.
Of all the movies I watched this year, I think Dune takes the top spot, and not just because it’s a great movie. It’s partly because it’s a good movie despite all the complications and expectations that were put on it. Director Denis Villeneuve did the equivalent of hitting a toothpick at 500 yards with a rifle using iron sights. The movie was carefully crafted, well written, well cast for the most part, and despite the overwhelming amount of information needed to form a coherent story, the cast and crew managed to pull it off.
Dune is a spectacle to behold. Every shot details some epicness, and whether you’re watching it on an IMAX screen or your living room television, the scale of it comes across well. The designs of the outfits and the functions of the ships are impeccable and despite my doubts about some of the actors, I never once found myself wishing they were replaced with someone else.
I can’t wait for the second part of the film to come out, and when it does I’ll be one of the first in line at the nearest IMAX theater.
Side note: Who knew bagpipes fit so well in sci-fi?