I saw some movies this year and then made a list.
Has Nicole Kidman ever seen Jurassic World?
That’s the question I ask myself (and my unlucky film compatriots) before every AMC movie. It’s a terrible ad, and it doesn’t really make sense. We’re already in a theater; why would you be telling us to go to a theater?
Anyway, I love it. I love the sentiment despite the hokeyness, and I hope to see the weird lighting and hear the bizarre monologue before every movie for the rest of time.
Editor’s Note: Since I wrote this, AMC updated the ad and cut the Jurassic World clip. This should be illegal, and we will be ignoring this disgraceful, wretched sin.
You can say a lot of things about the movie theaters, but you can’t say they’re not trying. God, are they trying.
I’ve been doing my best to keep the big-screen model afloat, and I’ll continue to do so. It’s no surprise that I saw most of my favorite movies while eating Buncha Crunch and lounging in a recliner that reclines a bit too far.
In need of a balm, it’s movie theaters that are always there. For every putrid Old or Eternals or Dear Evan Hansen, there was a … Well, keep on reading.
Not all of the movies were good this year, but plenty of them were. A few were even great.
And so, this is my ranked list of every 2021 movie I saw this year. I watched everything I could — trust me — and with the weird global release schedule, there are still some that I need to catch up on.
Hopefully in a movie theater.
If we’re going by unintentional comedy, this leads the pack. It’s baffling to me to see people put this atop their lists. It was poorly written, confusing and (worst of all) boring. It was entertaining in how unentertaining it was.
79. The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Biopic: The Film. As forgettable as a movie can be.
78. Dear Evan Hansen
I got swept up by the musical on Broadway but feel weird in retrospect with its screwed-up portrayal of mental health. This was a much worse version of that with the addition of Ben Platt looking like he served in Vietnam.
77. Don’t Look Up
Smug, lazy and treats its audience like shit. The cinematic equivalent of mansplaining.
76. Malcolm & Marie
An interesting idea with a compelling cast and perhaps the worst script of the year. We get it, Sam Levinson. You can’t get over a negative review. Don’t make us relive it with you.
75. Army of the Dead
A paint-by-numbers zombie action movie that took me multiple sittings to finish. I’m not sure why I followed through.
This one made me rethink how much time I’ve given Marvel over the last decade. A nothing movie that thinks it has something to say.
73. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Slightly better than Eternals, I guess. Four hours though? Enough.
One of the few movies I’ve ever wanted to walk out on while in a theater. Just a hodge-podge of scenes that go on too long. A true middle finger to the audience from Leos Carax, but I still have respect for Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard committing to the bit.
71. Being the Ricardos
You can say a lot of things about this movie, but you can’t say that it’s not a collection of scenes featuring famous actors.
70. The Card Counter
Like Annette, this movie thinks it’s curing cancer. Its anger and the mismatched cast didn’t do much for me.
69. Godzilla vs. Kong
I honestly can’t tell you a single plot point from this movie except that Brian Tyree Henry was a conspiracy podcaster of some sort.
68. I Care a Lot
Do you know those Twitter threads where a bot writes a short story or screenplay? This was that and then they got the Gone Girl girl to star in it.
67. In the Heights
My one complaint is that there weren’t enough people listening to their block.
66. One Night in Miami…
Great performances and directing, but the stilted dialogue and this is important sentiment coursing through the film turned me off.
65. The Eyes of Tammy Faye
You gotta respect Jessica Chastain and Andrew Garfield going for it. Actually, I take that back. I’m not sure if you have to.
64. Bad Trip
Just not for me. I can’t do awkward comedy. I never finished The Office.
63. Bergman Island
It’s bizarre seeing this one on so many Best of 2021 lists. I love a movie where little happens but literally, nothing happens in this one. We need to give Vicky Krieps a good role again.
62. The Little Things
I can’t stand Jared Leto and I enjoyed that this movie hates him too.
61. Black Widow
She’s great in it, but it’s a bummer watching Florence Pugh shoot to the top of the MCU when she could be making better stuff. Glad she got PAID though. More cooking videos, please.
Would’ve been more fun if it was simply Emma Stone and Emma Thompson in a The Devil Wears Prada-esque movie without the lore and dalmatian backstory, but we’ll take what we can get, I guess.
59. Free Guy
It was kind of nice in that brain-numbing trash way.
58. House of Gucci
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Tis movie is-a garrrbage, boot god is-a it foon garrrbage. No one as any clooe what dey’rrre doing-a. It’s-a poifect-a.
57. Pieces of a Woman
Every 20 minutes this movie showed you a bridge being built. It probably should’ve been a short film, just the first 15 minutes or so.
56. The Hand of God
It’s so weird that you can watch this and then watch Holidate on Netflix.
55. Cry Macho
I’ll never think about Clint Eastwood the same after John Mulaney and Pete Davidson said that his more-recent movies are superhero flicks for senior citizens since they’re now always about an old person that’s able to drive.
A mediocre horror movie with some good scares is always enjoyable.
53. tick, tick…BOOM!
The fact that I kind of liked this when it’s in the upper echelon of theater kid movies is a minor miracle.
52. The Guilty
*Taylor Swift smiling watching Jake Gyllenhaal cry in the bathroom*
Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga are rightfully receiving plaudits for this one, but let’s not forget André Holland who has never been less than great in a single performance. Give him a spy franchise or a legal thriller or literally anything you can think of.
50. The Harder They Fall
You can tell everyone had fun making this one.
Remember when Michael Keaton lost Best Actor to Eddie Redmayne. What the fuck was that?
Worth it for the last 10 minutes alone where it goes from a meandering mess to a hahahahah, hell yeah gem.
47. Werewolves Within
I saw this with my friend and his dad who was on his phone throughout and then afterward he said he really enjoyed it. I don’t understand people.
Has there ever been a more attractive movie couple than Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe? Probably, but this is still a pretty good one. I thought this movie was pretty good, but it’s ridiculous that it’s anywhere near the awards conversation.
Doesn’t totally pay off but it has a fun premise with interesting performances and Stephen Root Stephen Rooting.
44. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
God, this one REALLY doesn’t pay off with an incomprehensible and lame ending, but it’s so entertaining up to the dragon showdown stuff.
Bob Odenkirk rules.
42. The Last Duel
This was billed as the Return of Matt Damon & Ben Affleck and it quickly turned into the oh, Jodie Comer is a star movie. Really lagged in the middle but makes up for its lapses with a stellar final battle and whatever was done to Ben’s hair.
41. A Quiet Place Part II
One of the first movies I saw back in theaters, went to IMAX. Big, loud, awesome first act. Sometimes it’s just that simple.
40. Derek DelGaudio’s In & of Itself
Maybe my greatest sin: I really liked magic growing up.
38. Red Rocket
I still don’t know how I feel about this one.
37. The Mitchells vs. The Machines
I watched this solely because a few critics I respect recommended it, and I’m glad I did. It’s a really nice family movie with real laughs. I would’ve loved this one when I was in middle school.
36. Spider-Man: No Way Home
This movie was somewhere between fine to good. Stop applauding during movies, though. God, I’m so old.
35. King Richard
The rare biopic that worked for me. Will Smith is a bit too Will Smith going for an Oscar, but everything else does what it needs to do. The Venus & Serena Story was great, as was Jon Bernthal.
34. The Suicide Squad
I like when movies know what they are. The Suicide Squad knew it was dumb as hell and built from there.
33. Summer of Soul (…or when the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
There were very few scenes better this year than Mavis Staples and Mahalia Jackson singing together.
32. No Sudden Move
This was a bit disappointing because I was really excited, but second-tier Soderbergh is always fine with me. Great actors doing great acting with a witty script.
Zola, The Devil All the Time, The Lodge, Under the Silver Lake, Logan Lucky, It Comes at Night, Mad Max: Fury Road, Magic Mike. Riley Keough is quietly becoming one of the best actors we have.
Thought this was going to be Taken with a pig. It’s definitely not that. It’s smart, compelling and kind of beautiful?
I know I’m in the minority here, but I really liked Stillwater. It has a captivating Damon, a fun setting in Marseille and an Amanda Knox-ish narrative that had me hooked.
28. The Tragedy of Macbeth
All movies should be shot in black-and-white in 1.19:1 frame. It’s gorgeous.
27. The Father
Kudos to everyone involved. I will never watch this again.
26. The Lost Daughter
25. No Time to Die
This may or may not have risen 5–10 spots because of Ana de Armas.
A really sweet movie with a dynamite ending after a hit-or-miss first half. Hoping Troy Kotsur can sneak into the Best Supporting Actor race.
23. The Power of the Dog
This is a weird one because I couldn’t fully immerse myself into the movie until the last 30 minutes or so where everything comes together. Been thinking about it since I saw it, especially the Benedict Cumberbatch performance.
LUCA! Nothing looked as good on screen this year as Massimo’s Trenette al Pesto.
21. Parallel Mothers
A beautiful movie about motherhood and my dream apartment.
20. Nightmare Alley
Went in with low expectations and then remembered a few minutes in that it was Guillermo del Toro directing a noir with Bradley Cooper, Rooney Mara, Cate Blanchett and Willem Dafoe. This movie’s so entertaining.
19. Last Night in Soho
I’m a sucker for Edgar Wright’s directing. Probably my least favorite of his films, but still a fun time and legitimately scary in the second half.
17. West Side Story
It’s wild that there’s a new Hollywood law requiring Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose to star in every musical for the next 20 years.
16. Drive My Car
Three hours of talking? Sign me up.
The most what the fuck thing I’ve seen this year. A B-movie with the directing and action of a Hollywood blockbuster. I loved it, every single stupid second of it.
14. Judas and the Black Messiah
This somehow came out in 2021. It feels like three decades ago. Good movie, though.
13. Saint Maud
Best final scene of the year. That’s all I’ll say.
12. C’mon C’mon
Mike Mills just hits hard. 20th Century Women is one of my favorite movies and although this doesn’t quite get to the same point, it’s still so, so good. Prefer this Joaquin Phoenix to the boring Jokerfied version.
11. The Empty Man
Yes, this is technically a 2020 release, but Disney botched the rollout so badly that I’m counting it here. I don’t care; it’s my list. A true horror epic with a gorgeous vignette to start it all off and a cult scene that legitimately freaked me out.
Despite my pleading that we try to see all movies in theaters (when possible and safe), I can’t imagine seeing this one anywhere but on the biggest screen possible. A sci-fi epic based on the critically lauded novel (that I read in the early COVID days), Dune was one of the few blockbusters that met and exceeded all expectations. The story isn’t anything you haven’t seen before: a messiah-esque figure, an interplanetary schism, cool robots; but the work done by director Denis Villeneuve is truly visionary and one of the more impressive things I’ve seen all year. The acting meets the high bar of the cinematography with Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Zendaya, Javier Bardem and Jason Mamoa all matching the tone of the book, and Oscar Isaac gives Dune the gravitas it requires as the emotional fulcrum.
9. The French Dispatch
All of Wes Anderson’s movies feel a bit like a Rube Goldberg machine, and The French Dispatch is Wes Anderson at his most Rube Goldberg-y. A triptych of vignettes, this film takes the shape of a faux-French iteration of The New Yorker in the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé, which literally translates to Boredom-upon-Apathetic, and if you don’t like that cutesy name, you won’t like this movie. This doesn’t have the momentum and grand storytelling of The Grand Budapest Hotel or The Royal Tenenbaums or Fantastic Mr. Fox, but it’s still a master of the craft doing what he does best with an all-star coterie of actors all buying in. Shoutout to Jeffrey Wright who is easily the MVP of this one and will be in Anderson’s next movie. That one will be called Asteroid City, because of course it will.
I’m just going to put it out there: The synopsis for this movie is “a serial killer has sex with a car and then fakes her identity to hide out from the authorities after getting pregnant.” So, uhh, yeah. It’s certainly an … eccentric film. It featured plenty of walkouts (including my +1) and is not for those with a weak stomach. With all of that said (and I just said a lot), this is one of the best movies of the year. The French Julia Ducournau is one of the most interesting directors we have right now — I’m a big fan of her movie Raw — and Titane tells a kind of beautiful story about gender and found family in the most fucked up way possible. At the very least, it’ll be a memorable experience.
7. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar
I remember watching this trailer in theaters pre-COVID and rolling my eyes. Kristen Wiig’s comedy had rarely worked for me and this movie felt like an SNL sketch gone awry. Well, I was wrong. Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar — this is meant in the most generous of senses — is dumb as hell. It’s also the hardest I laughed at any movie this year and features some of the best performances of the year from Wiig, Annie Mumolo and Jamie Dornan. This is the movie Dornan should be winning awards for. Not Belfast. Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the premise, but I can’t believe this movie is real. It’s a real screw it, we’re going to make what we like move from writers Wiig and Mumolo and it’s one of the more quotable things from the past few years. This is a perfect midnight movie.
6. Bo Burnham: Inside
Is it a movie? Sure. Why not? This Bo Burnham “comedy” special is the piece of pop culture that will best represent the last few years of isolation and fatigue despite never actually mentioning COVID. The songs are (of course) great. My personal favorites are “Welcome to the Internet,” “That Funny Feeling” and “30.” But it’s the interstitials and the creation of the act of creation that puts this so high on the list. Nothing in Burnham’s fictional worlds is real but the feelings are, and the artist walks such a tightrope between fact and fiction. What really makes it a movie though is the sense of time and place buoyed by the insane camerawork and Dexter’s Laboratory-esque machinations that give it a real sense of urgency. I don’t think anyone understands the 21st century quite like Burnham. I hope he’s doing okay. Sidenote: Thanks for this.
5. The Green Knight
Add this one to the “Best Christmas Movie” debate. An Arthurian legend mixed with a look at masculinity and what it means to live a fulfilling life, The Green Knight is one of those films that shocks you on the first watch and gets even more interesting on the second. Led by Dev Patel, this isn’t your usual drinking-and-jousting medieval flick. It has bigger ambitions than that. Instead of a straightforward narrative, it’s more meandering and takes its time to lead to one of the better finales of the year. I like watching a filmmaker figure out something over the course of a movie and it seems like David Lowery (or maybe it’s just me) has a breakthrough of sorts during the third act. I grew up reading about King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, and this is the perfect clash between that beautiful prose and what the best movies can do.
I think my favorite part about this film portraying Diana’s Christmas with the British royal family is how little it cares about the concept of the royal family. This isn’t The Crown or one of the countless other creations holding a mirror up to the ruling class. Instead, it’s a more insular breakdown of someone having a breakdown. It’s just your average holiday with the in-laws except the entire world is watching your every move. Kristen Stewart gives one of the best performances of the year, which is bolstered by Pablo Larraín’s genius filmmaking and Jonny Greenwood’s explosive score. It knows that you know the ultimate ending to the story and wants to just show you a small snippet of what could’ve been, although there is a knowing glance near the end of the film that really highlights the true tragedy of what’s to come.
3. Shiva Baby
“Shiva Baby is Uncut Gems for hot Jewish sluts.” That’s pretty much all I knew about this independent movie before seeing it. And it really lives up to that billing. Anchored by Rachel Sennott playing the most exhausting girl in your Hebrew school x1000, Shiva Baby is uproarious, bleak, a little bit hopeful and so Jewish it hurts. The logline is about a clueless college grad who runs into both her old ex and current sugar daddy at a shiva, and it somehow gets worse from there. It’s not even 90 minutes (thank god) because that’s when the hives would probably start showing up. It’s terrifying to watch and also one of the best things I’ve watched this year. Director Emma Seligman is one of the breakout stars of the year and I hope she keeps trying to give me a heart attack. In kosher ways, of course.
2. Licorice Pizza
The master. Paul Thomas Anderson is as good at making movies as anyone out there, and Licorice Pizza is just the most recent example of that. Starring Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman with cameos for the ages from Bradley Cooper, Sean Penn and Tom Waits, this 1970s love letter to the San Fernando Valley is pure cinematic bliss from the opening scene to the last. It’s PTA’s funniest film to date and features various vignettes that ultimately blend together into another masterwork. Haim is what makes it all work as a neurotic and over-it-all 20-something looking for something to make it all matter, and it’s her short fuse that quickly turns to fury that keeps the audience on its toes. Even with the light material and rapid procession of jokes, there’s creeping anxiety throughout Licorice Pizza and a sense of imminent danger that keeps everything in balance. I can’t wait to watch this one over and over again.
1. Petite Maman
This is the best movie of the year. For some of you, it’ll be the best movie of 2022. Petite Maman, a Céline Sciamma film out of France that is both small in scope — while also simultaneously taking on the big questions in life — comes out in the U.S. this February after a short stint at the New York Film Festival back in October. With a 72-minute runtime, Sciamma does the impossible and follows Portrait of a Lady on Fire (a classic) with an equally mesmerizing story. Centered on an eight-year-old directly after the death of a family member, this sci-fi-adjacent existential treatise on growing up, grief and the bond between a parent and child is as beautiful as the movies can get. It’s not fussy, moving from scene to scene delicately, and it’s kind of perfect for what it is and the story it’s trying to tell. I love that this movie exists. I can’t wait to see it again.