You know, I kind of hoped 2020 was going to be the only year where the pandemic was going to make this little hobby obscenely difficult. Not gonna lie, 2020 was not the best year to be a movie lover (and just a person living on the planet in general) so surely 2021 would be better, right?
Well, not much. 2020 had a several month period where the cinemas were closed, 2021 had a several month period where the cinemas were closed. 2020 had a brand new disease that made the concept of being in a group of people into one of the most terrifying things ever, 2021 had a new variant that did that exact thing. 2020 had a large number of its big films moving to 2021, 2021 seems to be doing that already with a bunch of films getting new 2022 dates and while I want to believe 2022 will be better… well, the Omicron variant found at the end of November looks like we might get a third year of pandemic hell. This system is fine, no notes here.
But, despite all that, there were some films that came out this year that were genuinely great and this is my list of 10 of them, along with a couple of honorable mentions I can’t resist putting in because they deserve extra praise. So, let’s set up the ground rules (Sure they’re the same every year but always worth repeating)
- I didn’t get to see every film. Factoring in availability, cinema closures, location and lethargy induced by the goddamn plague, some films escaped me (and some I missed due to not wanting to support certain actors… that’s why you haven’t seen West Side Story be brought up on this blog, just google “Ansel Elgort Allegations”. it’ll only be watched by me if it gets Oscar nominations and even then, I probably won’t review it). I’ve managed to review over 200 films in 2021, which should be enough to provide a decent list. Basically, If I didn’t review it, I didn’t see it. If there’s a film that you think I missed that should be here, list them in the comments and I’ll happily try to find it over the next year, watch and probably say “Yeah, that should’ve been here”.
- Only films released in Australia in 2021 are going to be on this list. We’re talking mainstream releases that I could access either by VOD or my local cinema (there might be a few festival films thrown in, because a lot of them were online, but only festival films I could get hold of). So if you see a film you think is from 2020, check and see when Australia got it because that’s what I have to go with. Also keep in mind some films that came out in 2021 in the states are slated for 2022 in Australia, so things like House of Gucci, Ghostbusters: Afterlife or King Richard will all be eligible for next year’s lists.
- Any video on demand movie is eligible for all lists. If they sent it out to be viewed by an audience, then they should be ready for critique.
- Remember that “Best” and “Worst” really means “Film I liked the most” and “Film I disliked the most” because quantifying art by actual best and worst is impossible and all lists of this nature are merely using the titles that work best for the search engine and makes you sound like some form of an authority.
- These are merely my opinions at the time I made the list and you are absolutely entitled to disagree with me for any reason, hell I’ll probably disagree with me in a matter of months. Go nuts, make your own list in the comments or question my order or even what I had on the list. That’s fine. What’s not fine is just saying “Your list sucks” with no reason behind it, critique is fine but blind attacks with no justification aren’t. If you leave a comment that’s a critique I will happily discuss it with you but if it’s an insult… well, I’m the one with the delete button.
Boss Level: A Groundhog Day-style comedy action film that relies heavily on the pure charisma of Frank Grillo. Wall-to-wall action, incredible fight sequences and more cheese than most can handle, it’s a pure delight that’s practically made for a drunken movie night.
Shit & Champagne: One of the films from the Sydney Underground Film Festival (and currently on DVD via Vinegar Syndrome), this delightful drag parody of classic crime dramas goes for every joke it can think of and mostly they land. Hilarious and compelling from start to finish, it’s a laugh riot.
Ninja Badass: The best movie of the year that only misses the list proper because it would be unfair to everyone else to put it there because it is the greatest thing I’ve seen this year and I cannot be objective about it. I stand by my description of it as a film that does everything wrong in the exact right way, it’s the kind of glorious indie film where every frame is filled with love of entertaining and it would make for a fabulous midnight movie in any theatre cool enough to let its audience get stoned out of their mind before the film starts.
Psycho Goreman: Power Rangers for adults. There’s something in this for absolutely everyone, especially those who enjoy stupid looking aliens tearing people apart while proclaiming their love for hunky boys. It’s a brilliant throwback film that anyone who grew up in the 90s is destined to love… so guess I was destined to love this one.
Free Guy: A glorious love letter to video games, it’s a film that clearly understands the medium of video games and uses it to mine as many jokes as possible while also letting Ryan Reynolds do the thing he does best. This was the original number 10 when this list was drafted but then a last minute spot of brilliance came along and knocked it off the list… still a great film, probably one of the most fun viewing experiences of the year.
And now, the proper list
10: Spider-Man: No Way Home
No Way Home was THE big MCU movie this year and it instantly went into everyone’s top five favourite films from the Marvel studios juggernaut. It has the same impact as Endgame did on the franchise, changing several major events that are integral to the series. We now live with an MCU that isn’t afraid to bring in characters from pre-MCU incarnations of certain projects, as evidenced by the glorious return of Sam Raimi-era villains and a few other important characters.
Honestly, I could probably put this one much higher, somewhere in the top five, but it’s so recent that I don’t want pure fanboy joy to impact where it lands so it goes here because I need time to let it settle… but god was it nice to sit in a cinema and hear crowds lose their minds again when certain characters turned up on screen.
9: I Care A Lot
I Care A Lot is what happens when Wolf of Wall Street gets set in a world that most people are more intimately familiar with, the world of old age homes. A deliciously dark crime comedy that wants to show off the seedy side of guardianships (People who are hired to handle the affairs of the elderly who need help), it’s one of those films with an incredibly hateable lead who is also endlessly compelling, surrounded by a bunch of absolute bastards who end up looking like decent people in comparison to the lead.
It’s a film that has a cast that could be reading the phone book and it’d be impossible to look away, but instead they’re reading a relatable dramatic script that will have you rooting for anyone but the lead. It’s fascinating and obscenely fun, in a dark cruel bastard sort of way.
8: tick, tick… Boom!
The film adaptation of the lesser known musical by Jonathan Larson is one of the best musicals in a year with more than a handful of really good musicals. With a perfect cast, incredible songs and more than a few sequences designed to show off the directorial talent of Lin Manuel Miranda (who had better be working on his next musical adaptation right now). The film’s secret weapon is Andrew Garfield who displays talents that no one knew he had until now and it turns out, he’s one of the best movie musical actors working today.
Just his performance of 30/90 alone should be enough to get him in a dozen more musical movies. On top of all that, in a year where we lost the iconic Steven Sondheim, it was nice to have a movie that showed us just how much he inspired those who came after him. I have no doubt that tick, tick… Boom! will inspire someone else to take their chance at writing their own musical and I can’t wait to see what that looks like.
Nobody came out of nowhere and kicked the audience in the head with an instantly iconic film. If you want some high quality action sequences then Nobody has probably some of the best to be put on film this year. Anyone who has seen this film could go on for hours about the glory of the bus fight scene but every single minute of this film is jaw dropping.
Bob Odenkirk has always been a pretty amazing comic and dramatic actor but this is another case of a lead pulling out another skill we didn’t see coming, this time Bob Odenkirk proves he is an absolutely amazing action hero. This movie is to Bob Odenkirk what Die Hard was to Bruce Willis, a film that should propel him to new career heights and redefines what an action film can look like.
6: Fear Street 1-3
It’s impossible to pick a favourite film in the Fear Street franchise so I’ll just cheat and throw them all together (my list, I can do things like that). Hell, if we’re being honest this is the only fair way to talk about this franchise, since each film is linked to create a horror epic that honours the long history of slasher films while also creating some new iconic villains that will undoubtedly be listed as some of the all-time horror greats.
This was a fantastic breath of fresh air, a modern spin on the genre that was effectively Scream for the 2020’s. For three weeks, Netflix delivered a terrifying trilogy of some gloriously brutal slashers that were brilliantly woven together to create a true horror epic… also the fact that it was gay as hell didn’t hurt.
5: The Mitchells VS The Machines
The Golden Globes decided to try and be a thing again this year and their biggest mistake is not nominating this cultural landmark in the Best Animated category. A love letter to the weird families of the world, Mitchells VS The Machines is a bright brilliant bubbly animated comedy that was easily the best that genre had to offer this year (which is saying a lot since this is the year we also got Luca, Encanto and Tom & Jerry) that is so overflowing with great jokes and pure content that it’s hard not to love something about it.
The truth is that this one might be the film I’ve seen the most people talk about this year, everyone who has seen it absolutely adores it and it deserves that level of obscenely high praise.
4: The Suicide Squad
The DCEU has not exactly been consistent, it’s only recently that things have started to pick up. I’m going to call it now, The Suicide Squad is the best thing that’s come out of the DC brand name in a very long time. A raw edgy action comedy that pushed the boundaries of good taste without ever being mean about it, this is the kind of glorious adult action comedy we deserve.
Flooded with brilliant visuals, hilarious comedy and some of the best action scenes put to film in the last decade, The Suicide Squad understood the assignment. It had to be so over the top that it would be impossible to hate it and damnit, it pulled that off. This film is why we all need to just let James Gunn make whatever film he wants, the man has the exact right sensibility to create some amazing films and if there’s a chance we get another film like this out of him, it’s worth it.
3: The Father
When I first saw The Father, I couldn’t help but think about my grandfather who was in a very similar position to Anthony Hopkins character in this film. That personal connection made this one hit even harder and actually made me tell a few people to not see it because I knew they’d have the same connection I did and it would be too much… since then, my grandfather has passed away and one of the millions of thoughts that I still have regarding that (most of which I can’t really share because they’re personal… way more personal than this paragraph already is) is that I don’t know if I can ever watch this again because I will be broken even harder by it than I was before.
The Father is a truly emotionally devastating film, the kind that will make you bawl your eyes out even without an intimate connection to the bastard illness that the entire film works around… but if you know someone who went through that, it’ll devastate. It’s a brilliant film, I will never watch it again because I know I couldn’t mentally handle it, but it’s too good to not get up here.
2: Promising Young Woman
Dear Hollywood. Now that this film exists, if Emerald Fenell walks into your offices and asks to make a movie you hand that woman a blank cheque and let her go wild, because she made Promising Young Woman and therefore should be allowed to make whatever she wants until the end of time. Sure this film can be a hard watch sometimes, mostly due to the subject matter of a woman trying to get revenge for a previous sexual assault, but oh god does it handle it with flair.
Everything this film does is brilliant, from the ability to switch between comedy and drama to the genius casting of people we consider ‘nice guys’ to play the inevitable bastards to that lead performance by Carey Mulligan that honestly should’ve just had her getting all the awards and then some. Awards should’ve been invented just for this film, it’s almost impossibly good and almost nothing made me happier about the state of cinema in 2021… almost nothing.
1: In The Heights
Dear Evan Hansen, Music, Cats, we’ve had a bad time when it comes to musical adaptations. There was a long period where it seemed like everyone forgot the pure joy this genre used to bring… everyone except the makers of In The Heights. If you want a film that knew what it was, embraced it and delivered from start to finish there isn’t a film that was better than In The Heights. Criminally underseen, this film has enough joy and passion in every frame that even a person who only mildly enjoys the concept of music will love this.
Every performance is stellar, every musical number is gloriously performed and filmed in a way that takes full advantage of the medium. There is a reason why the director of this film has been handed the reigns of the Wicked movie, because they clearly understand how to make a musical work on film. It’s equal parts hilarious, emotional and toe tapping. This was the most unexpectedly joyful film of the year, and a film that reminded us of the importance of community and family in a year when we were denied the ability to truly enjoy either.
In The Heights was the last film I saw before the big lockdown happened in my state and I’m not going to say that it kept me going, but the memories of it were enough to make me know that the cinema would be there waiting when we could go out again because the medium can still pull off great things sometimes. Not only that but it felt like the moment when musicals remembered they could be fun and we were blessed with a bunch of incredible musical adaptations in the months since this came out. In The Heights deserved a bigger audience, but it definitely had the biggest impact on the cinema I enjoyed this year.
And that was the Best Of list, if there’s any I missed let me know but otherwise, go enjoy a good movie or two while you can.
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