In 2021, we saw theaters begin an overdue recovery, getting some pretty solid releases along the way! Here's hoping 2022 will be an even better year, with a fuller return to normalcy.
This is my annual "Best of the Year" list, which highlights both of the best and worst movies of this calendar year.
Movies that were not screened for critics, either in the form of a theatrical screening or a streaming link, are not on this list, regardless of their quality (or lack thereof).
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way. Here are my picks for the 10 Worst Movies of 2021:
10) The Protege
Martin Campbell directed two of the greatest JAMES BOND movies, so I had hopes for this work that included the likes of Maggie Q, Robert Patrick, and Samuel L. Jackson. What we get is a movie that has literally no idea what it wants to be. When there's not an action scene on camera, it's just not that much fun to watch. Disappointing given the talent on both sides of the camera.
9) Space Jam: A New Legacy
Honestly, this movie wasn't even bad. But it earns a place on this list for having what are probably the most questionable intellectual property placement choices in the history of cinema. A PG family-friendly film that directly references R and TV-MA rated properties like GAME OF THRONES, THE MATRIX, and MAD MAX? And spectators for the big game that include Pennywise the Clown from IT and the Droogs from A CLOCKWORK ORANGE? Apparently Pepe Le Pew was cut from the final film because of cancel culture, but it's perfectly all right to put rapists and murderers in a family-friendly movie. Go figure.
8) No Time to Die
Daniel Craig comes back to play James Bond a fifth and final time.... and the results are strikingly unmemorable with a nearly three-hour running time that feels like an eternity with almost no memorable scenes or emotional impact despite its content (though this isn't the actors' fault). Some dramatic scenes fair surprisingly well, but the movie makes many questionable choices, and the villain is one of the most boring and bland of the franchise. James Bond will return (the end credits literally say so), and it can only get better from here.
Even the nearly-flawless MCU can't get it right every time. This film drags on forever with a dozen or so one-dimensional and unmemorable characters, ironically making the same mistakes of many of the early DCEU movies. Bland and lifeless without anything really worth remembering, this is an MCU movie I won't find myself returning to very often.
6) The King's Man
The idea of doing a prequel for the KINGSMAN franchise is a good idea. The end result, however, was frustratingly bland. Ralph Fiennes disappoints as a nagging and overbearing father, and the plot shamelessly rips off other movies like 1917 and THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN. The movie lacks the memorable characters and over-the-top action sequences of its later-set predecessors. Won't deny that Rhys Ifans' Rasputin is a ton of fun though; I just wish he played the part in a better movie.
The title character in this movie is beautiful, but she may be the most annoying character in the history of cinema. Every single time she spoke, I wanted to leave the theater.
4) Coming 2 America
COMING TO AMERICA was a classic Eddie Murphy film that didn't need a sequel. The watered-down PG-13 nature of this unnecessary follow-up and the lazy shoe-horning of it into the mythos of the first movie speaks for itself. Don't make sequels to classics that don't need them.
3) Cry Macho
I love Clint Eastwood and I admire the hell out of the man for working well into his 90s. But this movie suffers from a lack of urgency and anything to make it compelling or interesting. Imagine GRAN TORINO with none of the character development or R-rated elements, and this is what you might be left with. I think Clint's got one great film left in the tank, but this ain't it.
2) The Lost Daughter
I was ecstatic to hear that Maggie Gyllenhaal was trying her hand at directing for the first time, but this is a slow-paced, boring, and bland attempt at a character study that's never involving or interesting. The supporting cast is wasted, in the movie just enough to remind us that they're in the movie. You're better off imagining yourself on a Greek vacation than actually watching this movie. Gyllenhaal has some definite talent, and I'm confident her next movie will be better.
1) Dear Evan Hansen
Hollywood seems obsessed with trying to make the musical a major cinematic art form again. This one scores a big zero from me, turning what could be a compelling and relevant tale about teen suicide into an unintentional laugh riot with jokes that are frustratingly out of place. A running time of well over two hours and bad, lackluster writing will leave audiences looking at their watches. There are better movie musicals and more interesting and hard-hitting stores about the dangers of suicide and the impact it has on those close to them. Skip it.
And now that we've got the not-so-favorable stuff out of the way, let's look at my picks for the 10 Best!
10) Venom - Let There Be Carnage
Hands down the most fun I had at the movies all year. Director Andy Serkis ditches everything about the first movie that didn't work, and he cranks everything that did work up to 11. The action sequences and hilarious one-liners make this the ultimate popcorn movie.
9) The French Dispatch
It took a while to get a new film from Wes Anderson, but his latest doesn't disappoint. Beautifully shot with an ensemble cast and as an "anthology" film of sorts, it's got a lot of stories to tell, and it tells them all brilliantly.
8) West Side Story
When you combine one of the most iconic musicals of all time with one of the greatest film directors of all time, the results can only be good. Stephen Spielberg gives us the definitive version of this musical tale, surpassing even director Robert Wise's earlier adaptation.
7) The Mitchells Vs. The Machines
In a year that got plenty of big animated films, this little direct-to-streaming movie defied all expectations. A hilarious road trip meets technology gone amok, and the results are entertaining to watch for young and old alike. With its message of dysfunctional families and over-reliance on technology, it'll hit close to home.
Nicolas Cage stars in a character study that surprised me as one of the year's best films. Sharply written and a far cry from the JOHN WICK rip-off you may be expecting, this one beautifully demonstrates what makes Mr. Cage a damn fine actor I look forward to seeing on the big screen for years to come.
5) King Richard
A great true story with Will Smith playing one of the defining roles of his career, it's a gripping true story of the origins of Venus and Serena Williams, and the eccentric, determined, hard-driving man who got them onto the court in the first place.
4) The Tragedy of Macbeth
With its black-and-white 4X3 cinematography and haunting Ingmar Begman-esque atmosphere, this is one of the greatest adaptations of a Shakespearean work I've ever seen. It scared the hell out of me without even being a horror movie. This film easily earns a place in the annals of great adaptations of The Bard's work that include Olivier's HAMLET and Zeffirelli's ROMEO AND JULIET.
3) Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
After the MCU took an unintended break in 2020 from theaters due to the pandemic, Marvel Studios came back with a vengeance with FOUR theatrical releases, but this was the best of the lot. With its gripping mythology, Eastern cinematic influence, terrific cast, and some of the best action sequences on the big screen this year, I'd easily rank it in the Top 10 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Looking forward to seeing these characters on screen again soon!
2) Summer of Soul
Often dubbed the "Black Woodstock", this is equal parts an incredible concert film and a cultural landmark. That this footage hasn't been seen since the original festival makes it all the more of a revelation. A must-see.
1) The Sparks Brothers
I'm a sucker for a good music documentary, and this may be the best one I've ever seen. Told by Edgar Wright with unique methods that include revealing interviews, animation, and archival footage, it's as hilarious as it is informative. I've since been hunting down Sparks' albums. This movie made me a fan for life; how I never heard of these guys prior to this I will never know.
We had plenty of good and bad releases alike this year, and it's great to see theaters recovering with plenty of stuff on the horizon for 2022. Let's hope for another great year of quality cinema with plenty of solid offering on the big screen to go around!