THE Films of 2021…
(Good Films Released This Year)
Shadow in the Cloud
Part “Memphis Belle” (1990)… Part “Locke” (2013)… Part “Sucker Punch” (2011)… This insane, adbsurd film somehow manages to pull it all together and makes for a relentlessly entertaining thrill ride and one of the best surprises in years. Chloë Grace Moretz is outstanding as the mysterious stowaway aboard a 1943 WWII bomber plane. Prepare yourself for utter cinematic lunacy… in the best way imaginable.
9.4 / 10
I must admit that I went into this film expecting mediocrity… A weak-sauce version of Jason Bourne in Liam Neeson’s “Taken”. Instead, I got a meditative story on the nature of family and the acceptance of fate. And I have to give special credit to everyone involved for avoiding every single cliché that I thought I saw coming. The only negative to this film was the trailer and promotion — which completely misleads audiences with a shameless money-grab.
9.4 / 10
Bo Burnham: Inside
I don’t count most stand-up comedy specials as films. Eddie Murphy’s two 1980’s classics are very rare exceptions. Bo Burnham’s latest Netflix special feels like it belongs as an exception. It is part documentary, part sing-a-long into the madness and isolation of a genius during Covid quarantine. I laughed hard. I ruminated hard. I empathized hard. This is a special special.
9.3 / 10
Rachel Sennott plays a college girl who leaves a night spent with her sugar daddy to head to a traditional Jewish wake. At that wake, she runs into her not-so-secret “scandalous” ex-girlfriend… and that very same sugar daddy, fully in tow with his wife and newborn baby. The first-time feature from director, Emma Seligman, plays like an awkward comedy and a claustrophobic horror. Sennott is spectacular in the lead role… and the extensive supporting cast is fakakta brilliant.
9.3 / 10
Anthony Hopkins delivers what has to be the most emotionally devastating performance of the year as “The Father”. Olivia Colman and Olivia Williams play the same character, the daughter, to a man who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. It may not be a joyful film… but it is a crushing analysis of the end-of-life issues that await us all to some degree. Pencil in another Oscar for Hopkins.
9.0 / 10
Shades of the Heart (KOR)
This is an introspective meditation on life, loss & loneliness. The film is a sequence of half-a-dozen conversations between the main character, Chang Seok, and the various people he encounters on his walks around Seoul. Each of them plays like a short film within a themed narrative. Each was poetic. Each was beautifully acted. Each was shot by an old soul… for old souls.
9.0 / 10
Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain was one of my favorite people. At least the persona he gave us on travel shows and interviews was. The real Bourdain, somewhat showcased in this documentary, was obviously darker than our adventure guide around the globe. Nevertheless, many of us identified with the tortured soul… the curious poet… and the conflicted observer. It is a shame that the final months of his life were probably his least fulfilled, least independent, and most lonely.
8.8 / 10
Leos Carax directs Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard in this cinematic opera that explores the nature of family, fame, jealousy, exploitation, obsession and madness. To describe the plot would be madness itself. This is best described as an experience that you will either adore or despise… and possibly both in equal measure. There were times during the film that had me doubting… but somehow, it weaved its magic and had me truly caring about all of the insanity.
8.7 / 10
The Girl and the Gun (PHL)
This thriller from the Philippines (“Babae At Baril”), stars Janine Gutierrez in a mesmerizing central performance. If there is one small complaint, it is that the film veers away from her character at the halfway mark… just when we reach a climactic point. If we had stayed with her from start to finish, this would have been a masterpiece.
8.6 / 10
The White Tiger (IND)
The comparisons to “Slumdog Millionaire” will inevitably arise because the film is set in India, and it is about a poor young man on his journey to success. However, this film doesn’t reach those heights because it lacks emotion, and it doesn’t have the panache of Danny Boyle’s masterpiece. Nevertheless, it is a consistently interesting and entertaining story of a servant’s awakening to the real world.
8.1 / 10
A Quiet Place Part II
Very similar to the original, in terms of quality, tension and visceral discomfort. This was the first film I saw in a theater in over a year (due to Covid), and perhaps it benefitted from missing the theatrical experience. Nevertheless, this is a sequel that is well worth the price of admission. It is good to have movies back!
8.0 / 10
The Killing of Two Lovers
A low-boil thriller that starts hot and ends a tad hotter. This is the story of a marriage falling apart, with one of the two parties moving on, and the other clinging to what’s left. There is jealousy and pent-up rage. There is a nice balance between vengeance craved and responsible parenting. I have very few complaints about this small indie film.
7.5 / 10
No Sudden Move
A 1950’s mob-heist-gone-wrong thriller with a stellar cast and directed by Steven Soderbergh. Perhaps that description promises more than the film ultimately delivers. I have no complaint, other than its general insignificance. The tacked-on “grander themes” message at the end added nothing to the story. However, I liked it. It is a quality production from top to bottom… But, I will never remember to watch it again.
7.4 / 10
This isn’t up to M. Night Shyamalan’s best standard (“The Sixth Sense”, “Signs”, “Unbreakable”, “The Village”)… But it is a solid mystery thriller that almost has the balls to be great. Unfortunately, the ending is a tad underwhelming in its explanation. I would have appreciated if he had gone even darker and more ambiguous with the final scenes… perhaps ending at the coral.
7.3 / 10
What starts off as a fascinating peek into the gross injustice of Guantanamo Bay, soon dwindles into a slightly formulaic true-story biopic about one of the tortured prisoners who spent 12 years inside. The film is well-intentioned, but slightly self-congratulatory and uncinematic. The central performances carry the project.
7.3 / 10
Doug Liman takes full advantage of the Covid-19 pandemic and films a socially distanced story about a failing relationship and a small-time heist plot. The movie has a refreshing simplicity to it and the two central performances are impressive. Perhaps, it starts to come off the rails with the silliness toward the end. However, it is an easy watch.
7.2 / 10
I Care a Lot
The first hour of this film is so good that it manages to carry the ridiculous implausibility of its second hour to a satisfactory conclusion. If it had not tried to become “Mission: Impossible” and stayed confined to the small-time grift of elderly care abuse, this would have been one of the best films of the year. However, like the characters in the film, the writer / director gets greedy, and pays for it.
7.0 / 10
This film is marketed as a sci-fi, altered reality adventure. It isn’t. “Bliss” is a drug-induced hallucination from the perspective of a man who has lost touch with reality and fallen in love with an enabler. This is his struggle to regain his sobriety and reconnect with his estranged daughter. The film is a bit messy and the acting is simply passable… However, it is fresh and inventive, and it moves along swiftly.
6.8 / 10
The Stronghold (FRA)
Also known as “BAC Nord”, this French cop drama is a hard look inside the world of the poverty-stricken Marseille projects and its culture of drug crime and lawlessness. The film is well paced and very nicely acted by the entire cast. If there is one complaint, perhaps it is hard to find anyone to like or respect or admire amidst all the corruption.
6.4 / 10
This is a ludicrous “Groundhog Day”/ “Edge of Tomorrow” style action flick starring Frank Grillo, Mel Gibson and Naomi Watts. Its inherent absurdity only works because it doesn’t take itself at all seriously. The movie is directed without an ounce of cinematic nutrition… instead relying on fatty, greasy, tasty stupidity laden with ketchup and mayo.
6.3 / 10
A reasonably well made, paint-by-numbers, cold-war espionage flick with a solid cast. There are no real complaints about this true story, but it all feels a tad stale and has the look of something we have all seen before. It is professionally presented, but slightly forgettable.
6.2 / 10
(Forgettable Films in the Middle of the Pack)
Night in Paradise (KOR)
For the bulk of its running time, this Korean gangster thriller sets a tone that promises a poetic and subtle conclusion. Unfortunately, the final third lands with the delicacy of a sledgehammer to the skull. The two central performances deserved a more intelligent screenplay.
5.8 / 10
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
As with all Marvel movies, the ending tries so hard to be enormous that it becomes visually impossible to comprehend. I would like it if just one of these superhero movies had a character think and talk their way out of a threat to humanity. Nevertheless, this is one of the better attempts… Primarily because it is a well acted origin story with a minimal amount of heart and soul. Be thankful for small mercies!
5.7 / 10
Melanie Laurent awakes trapped inside a cryogenic chamber. Her memory is almost erased. She has no idea why she is there. It is a familiar cinematic premise. The film finds a handful of interesting ideas within its own limitations. Laurent is very good. I just wish I cared more. It just feels like a cold exercise in screenwriting.
5.7 / 10
The Little Things
With a cast of Denzel Washington, Jared Leto and Rami Malek, you’d expect this serial-killer, police-procedural to be a gripping mystery. Instead, the final third of the film meanders into strange unnecessary directions. It tries too hard to be about something more than what it is. The last thirty minutes disappoints a decent set-up.
5.5 / 10
The Woman in the Window
A stellar cast all work well… A seasoned director shoots beautifully… A classic premise made famous by Hitchcock. It all seems set up for a great film. Unfortunately, the final-third pay-off is dull, predictable, unimaginative and cliché. It promises amazing things… and delivers a run-of-the-mill TV-movie thriller.
5.4 / 10
An intriguing, claustrophobic premise propels this sci-fi thriller. It is well shot and features solid performances all around. Unfortunately, the film is mired in self-serious moral quandaries. It all leads up to a final third that thinks of itself as a lot more profound than it actually is.
5.2 / 10
This Dwayne Johnson action-adventure is a direct rip-off of Brendan Fraser’s “The Mummy” franchise. Emily Blunt plays Rachel Weisz… and Jack Whitehall plays John Hannah. Unfortunately, none of it matches its blueprint in terms of excitement or comedy. It isn’t a bad film… but it does feel like it was directed by Disney’s computer algorithm for making bank.
4.9 / 10
This sci-fi thinks it is thoughtful and deep. Instead, it plays dress-up and runs through all of the familiar film-noir tropes like a young girl trying on mommy’s make-up. None of it really feels authentic. The bars aren’t particularly seedy. The flood waters are cleaner than my nightly bath. The trilby hats don’t feel lived in. It is a pretend version of “Inception”, directed by another first timer who was given too many toys to play with.
4.9 / 10
A truffle farmer’s beloved pig is stolen in the backwoods of Oregon and he will stop at nothing to retrieve it. The premise sounds original and fascinating. The actuality is a stale, and often boring, introspection on the meaning of memory and lost connections. “Pig” isn’t a bad film… just one that confuses minimalism with depth.
4.9 / 10
A movie that delves into the life of a successful fitness influencer. The trappings of fame… The loneliness of online popularity… The dangers of opening yourself up to public obsession… All of those are interesting subjects that could make for a riveting story. “Sweat” doesn’t quite hold the attention well enough to recommend. It all feels shallow and underdeveloped. A decent try — well acted — but hollow.
4.8 / 10
I watched this primarily to get a glimpse of Irene in her feature acting debut. The film is cute, but slight. Irene is really good, and assuredly has a fantastic secondary career ahead of her. I wish the film delved a little deeper. I wanted more character development. I wanted more food porn. I wanted more drama. Unfortunately, not much is on the line.
4.8 / 10
Listen, I hate Trump and the Republicans as much as the next sane guy… However, this thinly veiled critique of those conservative maniacs is simplistic and dumb. Every character feels one dimensional. Every scene is stale and predictable. Every turn is overtly foreshadowed. There is nothing to hate here. It is just distinctly sub-par.
4.6 / 10
Split into five sections, with a central narrative tying them together, this film feels a tad disjointed. Each section has a separate director… and each is named after a specific phobia. “Robophobia” & “Hoplophobia” are the two best sections. The others leave room for improvement. Camilla Belle, makes her directorial debut with the latter of those two… and she shows tremendous cinematic control and storytelling.
4.5 / 10
(Movies That Just Didn’t Work on Any Level)
Is it possible to be in favor of everything a film stands for… but think the way it stands is cheesy and lame? “Moxie” is an after-school special with the most diverse, inclusive and woke cast imaginable. While, technically, it is right about all the issues, the screenplay is so on-the-nose that it will give you a nose-ache. It isn’t as deep as it thinks it is.
3.5 / 10
Good On Paper
Iliza Shlesinger writes and directs this odd little film that doesn’t really know what it is. Early parts of the story work relatively well… as the ‘catfish relationship’ starts to develop. However, once the conceit is revealed, the plot falls apart. None of the side characters bring anything to the table. Margaret Cho is especially heinous as the best friend. It all devolves into a cackling, cheap-sitcom, mess with no connection to any real human emotions.
3.3 / 10
As a huge fan of lead actress, Seo Yea-ji, I was really hoping this film would be thrilling. However, despite a very good performance in her central role, the plot just became too ridiculous to tolerate. I simply didn’t believe all the twists and turns. “Recalled” plays more like melodrama than actual drama.
3.2 / 10
With “The Marksman”, Liam Neeson branches out and plays a bad-ass who takes on a gang of thugs in order to protect someone. You might as well call this film “Taken 8”. The lack of originality is so cynical, that they even directly lift the famous “he will find you and he will kill you” line… practically verbatim… while on the phone!!! This is an instantly forgettable movie with generic stereotype characters and a cloned plot that should embarrass Neeson and everyone involved.
2.5 / 10
The Ice Road
Liam Neeson delivers his second disappointment of 2021, after “The Marksman”. The first half of the film seems headed for pleasant mediocrity, but then power slides off the ice in the latter stages. Ludicrous set pieces… Un-killable bad guys… Cheap trick direction… Truly lame dialogue. It recycles every cliché in the book.
2.5 / 10
Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse
This is lazy movie-making. Jam packed with clichés, and riddled with poor performances and stock characters, this movie fails to generate one moment of excitement or tension. Some might be tempted to give it a pass, because it arrives on Amazon Prime near the end of a global pandemic that has seen a dearth of action entertainment on the big screens. I didn’t believe a moment of it. Poor casting. Cheap looking sets. A script intended for Dolph Lundgren in 1988.
2.4 / 10
This is marketed as a ‘Hitchcockian’ wrongly-accused-man thriller. Instead, “Beckett” is a dull fugitive-on-the-run snooze-fest with a central figure that we don’t care about… and a resolution that seems intentionally absurd, so the audience won’t question the logic of it all. John David Washington is a total blank in the title role. Alicia Vikander is virtually unused and killed off inside 15 minutes. Everything about this dud feels empty and meaningless.
2.3 / 10
The Suicide Squad
Something ceases to be cool the moment it becomes aware of its own “coolness”. This trillionth superhero movie gets miniscule credit for attempting some new things… but is all too aware of itself (“Deadpool”-style) to actually work. The sole purpose of this film is to be cool… and thus it fails to be exactly that. It is another in a long line of infantile blockbusters. A drab commentary on what sells at the box office these days.
2.3 / 10
The underrated Olga Kurylenko isn’t given much to do in this low-budget, low-stakes, action-revenge plot. The fault lies in a 74-minute running time and a story that seems to skip a handful of meaningful and necessary scenes. It all feels so empty and simplistic.
2.2 / 10
You would think that Jason Momoa would have enough clout to avoid having to work with a first time director who clearly has no idea what he is doing yet. The plot even falls back on the “it was all a dream” technique. Everything about this story is desperately dumb. Momoa and his co-star, Isabella Merced cannot save a ludicrous screenplay.
2.2 / 10
Kate Beckinsale is the only thing that rescues this otherwise garbage movie. There is so much wrong with this, it is hard to know where to start. This is the billionth “John Wick” clone. It is the 25th movie, in the last 20 I have seen, to feature an underground fight club. Laverne Cox is particularly horrendous in a supporting role. The dialogue would only sound cool to a teenage boy. The final scene cameo from Susan Sarandon is unnecessarily ludicrous. This abomination is about as moronic as it gets.
2.1 / 10
Imagine “Jane Wick” directed by a low-rent Tarantino rip-off artist. This movie so desperately wants to be cool that it completely forgets to be good. The wokeness is strong with this one too. Nothing is remotely believable. The attempts at humor are embarrassing failures. The acting is more about posturing. This entire project has about as much nutritional substance as a milkshake… and it leaves the aftertaste of gunpowder.
2.0 / 10
The Green Knight
Featuring metaphor and symbolism on steroids, this film thinks it is desperately deep, but it fails to deliver a compelling, or even a comprehendible, narrative. Instead, we are treated to an aimless, meandering mess that asks the viewer to do all of the work. It is so vague and random that anyone could claim to read anything into the pointlessness of it all. A dreary, dismal misery.
1.9 / 10
When it comes to superhero movies, I have come to expect cheap, clichéd plots and poorly directed action sequences. Lame, self-serious dialogue and mailed-in performances are the norm in this genre. “Black Widow” adds to a long list of films that are infantilizing mainstream moviegoers… rehashing the same tired material with the cinematic equivalent of fast-food junk.
1.8 / 10
Coming 2 America
There is exactly one laugh-out-loud moment in this weak-sauce 30-year-old sequel. Essentially, you can expect some greatest-hits call-backs along with a tacked on woke message… much along the same lines as the “Bill & Ted” sequel from 2020. Lame and tired.
1.7 / 10
Below Zero (SPA)
“Con-Air” on wheels, in the snow. You know what kind of movie you are in for when the highly dangerous inmates’ cells can be unlocked from the inside by sticking an arm through the handcuff hole to reach the deadbolt. It is every bit as dumb as “Con-Air” without any of the star-power or budget.
1.6 / 10
Blood Red Sky (GER)
The first hour of this film is reasonably tense and somewhat intriguing. After it turns into a gory creature flick, the director loses all control and simply gives us run-of-the-mill bloodbath. It promises heart and hints at depth… However, it devolves into throat-ripping nothingness.
1.6 / 10
A Disney disaster that is too dark to entertain children… and too childish to entertain adults. The soundtrack is clichéd and on-the-nose. The performances are intentionally hammy… but it plays like a cheap stage production. No one creates a single real emotion of any kind. I didn’t laugh. I didn’t care. I didn’t buy any of it for one second.
1.5 / 10
The Worst of the year
(Hate-Filled Pieces of Crap)
A European version of the “Ocean’s Eleven” style of film… Only this one makes the Clooney heist look like a walk in the park. The jaw-dropping absurdity of this plot would insult the intelligence of a 7-year old dog. At no point does this film ever resemble real life or real drama. It is an exercise in teenage screenwriting 101.
1.4 / 10
A Perfect Enemy
I was sucked in by a misleading trailer. I thought I would be watching a slick European thriller… Instead, I was treated to a cheap, poorly-acted, melodrama with some of the most absurd twists and turns imaginable. Everything about this hideous movie feels amateurish.
1.3 / 10
Godzilla vs. Kong
Make no mistake, this is an animated movie. Sure, there are some actual humans screaming “Oh My God!” at green-screens. However, this movie is just filled with ones and zeros punching each other, while tens of thousands of digital humans are slaughtered against the backdrop of a ludicrous plot that would make a seven-year-old roll their eyes. The extraordinarily expensive special effects look cheap. Simple minds will guffaw at the spectacle.
1.2 / 10
The Card Counter
Having lived half of my life in poker rooms, I can assuredly tell you that “The Card Counter” rings false on almost every detail. Nothing about this morose character study has any authenticity. It also features one of the most woefully inept performances in the 5000+ films that I have seen — a stiff embarrasment of a turn from Tiffany Haddish. Oscar Isaac tries to hold all the disparate pieces together… However, director Paul Shrader misjudges every frame of this dismal film.
1.0 / 10
A low-rent “John Wick” rip-off with absolutely none of the cinematic panache or thrills of Keanu Reeves’ franchise. Odenkirk fails to deliver a character that we can believe is capable of such single-handed destruction. The supporting cast is riddled with clichés. “Nobody” is a cheap nothing… lacking cool… lacking joy… lacking thought.
0.9 / 10
This sci-fi has the budget of my last KFC run. But hey, you can tell it is set 500 years in the future because it has neon lights. Bruce Willis and Frank “How the Hell Did I get Famous” Grillo are tantamount to cardboard cutouts in this cheap nothing-burger. I have already forgotten the plot… and I watched it ten minutes ago.
0.7 / 10
Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie (The Worst Director of All Time) simply doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand cinema. To him, it is all about cheesy one-liners and cheap violence. Jason Statham is perfectly cast in this emotionless, brainless, wet dream for a moronic teenage boy. This is pure trash, made by trash, for trash.
0.6 / 10
Red Dot (SWE)
A vile humans hunting humans plot, with despicable people on both sides of the sniper rifle. The only three creatures in the film who die are an innocent child, a beautiful dog and the black girlfriend who was only guilty of being a bitch. The people who live are all murderous sickos. This is a morally reprehensible film… amateurish and horrid.
0.3 / 10
Yes… There is a Section Lower than the Worst Movies of the Year!
I Present a List of Films That I Absolutely Refuse to Watch… (Because I am a Pretentious Film Snob).
“F9: The Fast Saga”
I became tired of the F/F franchise about 15 minutes into the first one… Point blank refuse to watch the rest.
“Space Jam: A New Legacy”
I have zero nostalgia for the original… and the NBA has become a joke in recent years. Not at all interested.
I cannot believe they still make these.