Hey readers, I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Not because I’ve been falling down on the movie watching gig. Far from it. Think I’m up to 455 as of this writing. You should follow me on Letterboxd (@hammervision) – I’m very active there!
Anyway, it’s been a great year for movies, especially compared to 2020, so it was quite easy to fill up my list. Let’s get to it.
Honorable Mentions: The Suicide Squad, King Richard, No Time to Die, The Beatles: Get Back, Last Night in Soho, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Nobody, The Last Duel, Raya and the Last Dragon, I’m Your Man, Annette, House of Gucci, Red Rocket, tick, tick…Boom!, Bad Trip, and The Worst Person in the World.
10. CODA (Apple TV+). A familiar tale told from a different perspective. This Sundance fave plays just as well outside of the festival. The four central performances by the actors playing the Rossi family are each terrific and Oscar-worthy. A sentimental tearjerker that certainly jerked some tears from me in the final 30 minutes. Also made me want to revisit The Perfect Storm, for some reason.
9. WEST SIDE STORY (in theaters). Never doubt Spielberg. Apparently it was a great idea to remake a Best Picture-winning classic. Has some of the same fundamental story flaws as the original but, amazingly, is just as good if not an improvement in almost every way. Spielberg was born to direct musicals, with camera movement and framing that captures all of the song and dance numbers in widescreen glory, and his love for this particular one is evident in every frame.
8. THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (in theaters and HBO Max). Inventive, meta take on the Matrix-verse, and a clever commentary on the state of the film industry and IP nostalgia bait. Not the Matrix sequel many may have expected, but it’s exactly the one we needed. Lacks the jaw-dropping action set pieces of the original trilogy, but stuns and surprises in other ways. It may have divided audiences, but I loved it!
7. THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES (Netflix). Another home run from producers Lord & Miller (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs), who seem to have become synonymous with stellar feature animation at this point. Heartfelt and hysterical, the movie keeps one-upping itself as it goes along. An instant classic and, for my money, the best animated film of the year by a mile.
6. MALIGNANT (iTunes or HBO Max). So good and so bonkers in so many cult classic ways that I had to watch it again immediately after it was over. The last 30 minutes do NOT disappoint. The score thumps and the twists tickle the pleasure center of the brain. A perfect midnight movie.
5. THE HARDER THEY FALL (Netflix). Coolest movie of the year. The cast is ridiculously stacked and, within the first 5 minutes, Jeymes Samuel establishes himself as a huge talent. If he can imbue the same kind of style, musical flair and confidence in other genres as he does here with the Western, then watch out moviegoers – you’re in for a treat.
4. BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR (Hulu). Unbelievably funny. Best comedy since 2016’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. If you’re looking for the next comedy classic, in the mold of such absurdist gems as Zoolander and Austin Powers, look no further. This is the kind of comedy that gets memed and quoted ad nauseum, and will be discovered and appreciated for years to come. I laughed to tears at least 3 times. Comedies this good come around once or twice a decade. Don’t sleep on it.
3. BO BURNHAM: INSIDE (Netflix). Does this count as a movie? Don’t care. I’m treating it like one. Perhaps the best piece of art to come out of the pandemic and one of the most invigorating comedy specials I’ve ever seen. Between this and Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham proves he’s got dare-I-say visionary directing chops to spare. Inside is a love letter to creativity and a sobering reminder to care for your mental health. The songs are instantly catchy and often hilarious (“White Women’s Instagram” is quite the jam).
2. DUNE (iTunes). Liked it, but still had to process after first viewing in theaters. Saw it again in theaters a few days later – verdict? Impressive, most impressive. Puts the Lynch version to shame. Yet, as technically proficient as it is, it still left me a bit emotionally cold. I couldn’t shake it though. Saw it a third time on HBO Max, and everything clicked. The scope, the scale, the world building, the sheer PRODUCTION of it all. Big-budget sci-fi actioners don’t get much better than Dune. The kind of movie that improves upon subsequent viewings – my favorite kind!
1. LICORICE PIZZA (in theaters). You know that feeling you get when you realize you just saw the best movie of the year? Yeah, that’s Licorice Pizza. Alana Haim gives my favorite performance of 2021. P.T. Anderson directs with such effortless command of the craft. It’s his warmest film yet – full of choice moments, memorable supporting performances, and a rollicking soundtrack. I got major Once Upon a Time in Hollywood vibes, which certainly didn’t hurt either. In a year full of great movies, Licorice Pizza ends it on an exhilarating high.