The Best and Worst Films of 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, it’s natural to reflect upon the year that was and to ponder how this period of cinema will be remembered through history.

With the start of the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacting the film industry in 2020, this year marked a slow return to some semblance of normality, though studios are still recovering from the damage generated by the temporary closures of movie theaters worldwide.

2021 was a year of transition. It was an eclectic mixed bag. Independent cinema still ruled supreme at the start of the year, either showing in the theaters that managed to remain open or enjoying an online release. As the vaccine spread, so too did the film industry’s confidence, with B-grade movie properties enjoying their time to shine on the silver screen as the studios tested the box office waters with trepidation. It’s only been the last few months where we’ve seen the typical tentpole blockbuster Hollywood fare return.

With still so much chaos within the industry and the constant navigation between online and theatrically released content, one can be forgiven for overlooking some of the better films this year. Hopefully GUG can help!

Below, three of GUG’s film critics will rank both their top ten films of 2021 along with the five worst movies they came across during the year. Obviously these lists are very subjective, not only influenced by their personal preferences and scoring techniques, but also impacted by the number of films they managed to see, i.e. the more they watched, the greater the selection and ability to judge, and naturally if they didn’t see a particular film, then it can’t possibly be considered. While everyone’s tastes are different, hopefully you will come away with a good idea of what films are worth a look and which ones might be better to avoid. To feature on this list, a film must have been released in 2021, or if they were largely inaccessible last year, their wider US release occurred from December 23rd, 2020 onwards (to cover the week that wasn’t really included in last year’s article). Short films and television movies have also been taken into consideration.

So let’s leave the good news till last, as we first take a look at some of worst films we watched in 2021!

When you’re having a blast with a movie but then something bad enters and kills the mood.

THE TOP 5 WORST FILMS OF 2021

5

Tyler Hummel

Tom and Jerry:  I thought we had sincerely worked past the age of the CGI animated character movie, but here it is… Somehow Rocky and Bullwinkle, the Bill Murray Garfield movies, and the Alvin and the Chipmunks films haven’t taught society this is the worst genre in Hollywood filmmaking. Thanks to Sonic the Hedgehog, we may have to endure a half dozen more of these thanklessly awful films.

L.J. Lowery

The Green Knight: I knew what I was getting into when I went to see The Green Knight at my local theater. I enjoyed the way it started and how it ended. However, the middle of the movie was where I was left wanting something slightly greater. The pacing dragged to a crawl and there were moments that I simply couldn’t see anything. The lighting in some scenes felt unnecessarily dark and I feel like I would’ve appreciated this movie much more if that wasn’t the case. Audience reception is already mixed on this film, and while I believe it is one of the most creative films of the year, it’s on my worst 5 list because of the underwhelming experience I had with it.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Fear Street: Part One – 1994: Netflix’s Fear Street trilogy is like R.L. Stine’s teenage version of Stephen King’s IT, where a group of teens and young adults face off against a plethora of different iconic-inspired slasher-based killers across several generations. If I were to judge all three films together, then this wouldn’t be here on the list, as the two sequels clarify a lot of the ideas and home in on the film’s central themes a lot better. Yet on its own, Part One – 1994 is a doozy of a film that wildly meanders from one idea to the next, barely staying coherent in the process. Funnily enough, Netflix’s Awake was my sixth worst film in 2021, and both these horror films really fell hard at the end due to the same stupid decision. Both films require their protagonists to perform the same risky action to solve their problems, yet they both pick the absolute worst methods possible. Fear Street: Part One – 1994 is the worse culprit of the two since the most obvious and safest solution was readily available to them and had been referenced heavily throughout the story until that moment. The trilogy is B-grade fun and somewhat rewarding, but this first movie is just dumb.

Tom and Jerry seems to exist to remind us that CGI animated character movies rarely work out well.

4

Tyler Hummel

The Woman in the Window: This adaptation of the relatively successful recent novel of the same name was 2021’s most infamous sleeper failure. The film was sold to Netflix unceremoniously and received with a thud after it became clear that it was a failure. The film borrows heavily from the premise of Rear Window but never manages to make its large budget and cast feel huge. It’s a small, dying story with a minimal arc and a premise that’s been done a dozen times better than this. 

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Home Sweet Home Alone: I didn’t intend on watching this movie, but just happened to catch it while we had family at the house one night. Today’s kids might like it, but those of us who grew up with the originals will inaudibly groan the whole time. The ending was easily the worst part of the film. One bit in which I found funny was a Scarface reference, but for that to be in a kids’ movie feels awkward. Unfortunately, this series has been a victim of cash-grab sequels, and even the short callback doesn’t save Home Sweet Home Alone from being one as well—even if it is on Disney+.

Juliana Purnell

Caveat: It’s difficult to call Caveat a movie when it’s clear the filmmakers had one strong idea for a single scene and then listlessly built up the rest of the runtime around it. The film does a few things right, mostly in terms of creating a creepy setting. In this incredibly slow burning horror film, a man is tasked with a nice paying job though there’s a caveat attached. Since there’s no good reason why anyone wouldn’t just nope on out of there right from the start, this movie snaps the audience’s suspension of disbelief hard and early, struggling to regain the viewer’s focus for the rest of the film. With characters whose motivations barely make sense, Caveat limps to its end credits with little to no payoff for the audience, even when factoring in that one decent scary idea.

Don’t mess with a classic unless you want to get hurt.

3

Tyler Hummel

Hunted: I reviewed a surprising number of low budget horror movies earlier this year, thanks to getting screener copies for them, and of the lot Hunted was the most pretentious and unbearably dull of the lot. A Nightmare Wakes was dull and The Funeral Home felt overplayed, but Hunted was aggressively irritating. The film was a Little Red Riding Hood parable retold for the age of fourth wave feminism and it took itself SUPER seriously to the point where whatever merits it could’ve engaged with drowned under the cheap, overly serious production. 

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Mortal Kombat: It saddens me that Mortal Kombat is on my list here. The movie is best when it focuses on Scorpion and Sub-Zero, but is full of odd creative choices. The concept of Cole Young isn’t a terrible idea, as he works as a way to introduce the audience to the world of Mortal Kombat. Where Mortal Kombat fails is changing the lore and roles of each character. All of that source material is already available, but the filmmakers cherry-picked it and did their own thing. What we got was a mess of an origin film. The film’s producer has recently teased that the sequel will still happen; we can thank its success on HBO Max for that and I hope it will be better. You’re still better off watching the original ’95 movie but stay away from Annihilation

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Lucky: When a woman finds her home invaded by a mysterious man that must be killed night after night, it makes for an interesting horror movie premise. With bizarre events that remain unexplained, it doesn’t take long to realize this film is operating solely on an allegorical level, which normally would be fine if it didn’t present such an insulting worldview. While Lucky taps into a woman’s innate sense of wariness around unknown men, it doubles-down and suggests that for women every day is a battle against the men in their lives. That just sounds exhausting, and I genuinely feel sorry the screenwriter views the world through that lens. It’s a cool concept and their heart is in the right place in regards to wishing that all women felt safe, but some much-needed perspective is required by the filmmakers.

See our review here!

The feminist-slanted messaging in some horror films, like Hunted and Lucky, are too heavy handed to be treated seriously.

2

Tyler Hummel

Karen: With the success of Get Out still sharp in the culture, we are now going to have to work through the horror of its inferior imitators. Karen released its trailer this spring to widespread condemnation across the political spectrum, and the final released film ultimately proved the condemnation right. The film is an attempt to recreate the formula of Get Out with none of the panache or subtly. It’s cheap, lazy and condescendingly preachy to the point where I don’t think anyone who agrees with its premise will like it. 

L.J. Lowery

The Matrix Resurrections: The Matrix series deserves to be more than a nostalgia cash-grab, but that is what this is. The first thirty minutes of the movie make an effort to act as commentary on such a recent Hollywood trope, though by doing that it becomes the very thing it’s trying to parody. I nearly turned off the movie but pushed through to give it a chance. The rest of the movie feels much closer to a proper sequel, but Keanu Reeves doesn’t seem like he cares to be there. The last few scenes of the movie are where it shines, and feels more like Trinity’s movie than Neo’s—it was nice to see Carrie-Anne Moss come back and own that role. Despite my grievances, there were some cool ideas in this movie that were poorly executed.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Shadow in the Cloud: Shadow in the Cloud is yet another horror film that tries to blatantly pander to female audiences with its hopelessly blunt feminist ideology. To its credit, the film is a decent, almost one-set location movie, where Chloë Grace Moretz spends most of the runtime operating the ball turret of a warplane whilst it’s being slowly ripped apart by a screw and bolt loving gremlin. I love the concept, but the film’s central mystery concerning Moretz’s secret cargo overtakes the focus of the film. The reveal is ultimately disappointing, and soon afterwards the story devolves into an “I am women, hear me roar” diatribe filled with action sequences that quickly snap the rest of the audience’s suspension of disbelief. It’s nice the film wishes to honor the women that risked their lives by serving their country, and I’d love to see that movie one day, but this wasn’t the story to do it.

While delivering a solid performance, Chloë Grace Moretz’s films in 2021 have been lacklustre.

1

Tyler Hummel

Roe v. Wade: Little did a film try so hard this year and fail so spectacularly. As someone who agrees with the pro-life movement, I believe that we need to be able to put our opinions about it out there intelligently so that we can fairly present ourselves in the culture and this film does NOT do that. It makes us look like paranoid conspiracy theorists who believe our entire political opposition are violently murderous, cruel, uncaring and politically corrupt monsters who will break the law specifically because they want to kill babies. Maybe that’s hyperbolic, but show this film to someone with sincere pro-choice opinions and they will NOT be responsive to it. They’ll think they’re being villainized and wrongly maligned. Such a film doesn’t help anyone. It sets back the pro-life cause. 

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Space Jam: A New Legacy: Having just realized my five worst movies list carries the theme, let’s talk about the biggest culprit of nostalgia cash grabs this year. Space Jam: A New Legacy is a movie that barely includes any basketball—the single game that is played in the movie is barely basketball. This sequel servers as a roller coaster through the Warner Bros. multiverse rather than a Looney Tunes movie. Bugs and the rest of the crew shine when they get to be themselves, but LeBron spends the entire movie telling them to do the opposite. This movie spends more time trying to be a follow-up to Ready Player One than its predecessor. The bottom line of Tyrone’s review is spot on, “The first film turned a commercial into a movie. This one turned a movie into a commercial. Take that as you will.” While I’m able to find some merits to the previous films I mentioned, there are none here.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Chaos Walking: Chaos Walking told the story of an off-world colony where men, and only men, were inflicted with a condition that broadcast their every thought and depicted their imaginative visions for everyone else to see. It was an interesting concept that went absolutely nowhere. A lot of potential ideas felt unexplored, to the point that the main gimmick lost the audience’s suspension of disbelief due to playing things too safe. Most annoyingly, the story’s antagonists felt one-dimensional; they seemed to be evil for the sake of being evil, where their actions did not seem justified, particularly when they could have easily worked alongside the protagonists and everyone would have achieved their goals. The conflict was too manufactured and didn’t seem to be naturally birthed, rather it existed merely to tick off basic storytelling beats. With so much potential, it’s sad to say Chaos Walking is nothing more than an aggravating hot mess of a movie where characters travel from point A to point B, and that’s about it.

Even LeBron James can’t save a movie filled with CGI animated characters.

Those were our worst picks for 2021. Now onwards to some of the best!

THE TOP 10 BEST FILMS OF 2021

10

Tyler Hummel

Run Hide Fight: The Daily Wire’s first foray into cinema probably would’ve been more highly regarded if it didn’t feature Ben Shapiro’s name in the executive producer credits. The film was produced by the late Cinestate—a production company that was destroyed in 2020 due to a #MeToo scandal within the company—the same company that produced amazing films like Bone Tomahawk, Brawl in Cell Block 99 and Dragged Across Concrete. Without the political stink of a partisan streaming service attached to it, it likely would be well regarded as a grindhouse/indie remake of Die Hard with an edgy premise, being set in a school shooting scenario.

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

8-Bit Christmas: This is one of the more recent movies on my list but I felt it deserves to be here. As I said in my review, it won’t be considered a modern classic but might be a staple in some households. I greatly appreciate that this movie isn’t driven by the nostalgia of its MacGuffin, instead, it feels more like a homage to the Christmas classic of the old days. This movie is simply a good time, and the cast does a fantastic job too. It’s available on HBO Max for you to catch next Christmas, or you could still watch it right now if you want to be weird.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Minari: Minari performed strongly throughout the festival circuit in 2020 before gracing us with its presence with a wider release in 2021. It then went on to win a Best Supporting Actress award for Yuh-Jung Youn. Following a young Korean family as they immigrate to the United States to try and fulfill the American dream, it’s a film littered with boundless hope and crushing heartbreak. It’s a subtly told drama that deals with the realities of pursuing one’s dreams, in some ways challenging the claims of the Land of Opportunity but also taking the topic of race relations in a refreshing direction, positively affirming the American spirit. It’s a well-rounded story told well surrounded with strong performances.

See our review here!

Run Hide Fight marked a successful film production debut for The Daily Wire.

9

Tyler Hummel

Voodoo Macbeth: One of 2021’s most interesting films was a studio feature with almost a dozen writing and directing credits to its name. That should mean it’s a mess but Voodoo Macbeth ended up being one of the year’s most quietly competent dramas. The film explores the real life history of Orson Welles’ first staged Shakespeare adaptation early in his career; an all black cast performing a version of Macbeth set in Haiti.

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Free Guy: When I saw trailers for this movie, it was clearly up my alley. I had low expectations and didn’t make time to see it in theaters. Not long ago I purchased it on VUDU for $10 and was pleasantly surprised. Rather than parody or diminish gaming culture, it accurately portrays it in a way that didn’t make me cringe. The plot was also more interesting than the trailers made it out to be. You know what you’re getting into with Ryan Reynolds in the starring role, but be on the lookout for some fun cameos as well.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

Nomadland: Can’t have a top 10 list without this year’s Best Picture winner! Like Minari, Nomadland made a name for itself in 2020 on the festival circuit before finally enjoying a wider US release in 2021. It’s the film that shot director Chloé Zhao into fame and earned her the job of helming a MCU movie (Eternals); a career move that was a little surprising given her style. Nomadland is unassuming, quiet, ponderous, nuanced, and doesn’t wish to hold the audience’s hand. As the film explores the little-known life of grey-haired nomads as they travel across the United States in their retirement years, it’s a narrative that’s strung together not through dialogue but rather with masterfully edited glances, character actions and cutaways. It’s incredibly difficult to construct a story almost purely through imagery, and some viewers will dislike this style of storytelling, but it creates an alluring, mesmerizing tone that starts off fresh and invigorating as the protagonist sheds her life’s trappings and embraces her newfound freedom, but soon the distinctive silence and isolation turns into a brand of loneliness that forms yet another cage. A subtle and sometimes misunderstood character study, I appreciate the skill Zhao has on display here.

See our review here!

Free Guy had no business being as good as it was, but we’re not complaining.

8

Tyler Hummel

Dune: I still have reservations about the new adaptation of Dune, being that it feels incomplete and it doesn’t stand on its own as a complete story without the upcoming Part II to be released in a year and a half. Still, this film felt like it actually managed to perform the impossible of making the unfilmable story of Dune into something accessible and tangible. It took a massive story and delivered half of it with some of the best visual spectacle and panache of any blockbuster in years. With the completion of Part II, we’ll eventually be able to gauge if this first part is a piece of cinematic history or a fluke.

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Willy’s Wonderland: I don’t know how it does, but this movie just works. Take the plot of Five Nights at Freddy’s, put Nicholas Cage in the starring role, and you get Willy’s Wonderland. Is it a spoiler for me to say that Nick Cage doesn’t say a word in this movie? For me, that was a sales pitch, and I had to see it happen. This movie wears cheesiness and camp on its sleeve like a badge of honor. If you come out of this movie disappointed, you came to it for the wrong reason. As someone who doesn’t watch many horror movies, this is a strong recommendation. 

Juliana Purnell

Don’t Look Up: If internal screaming could be represented on film, the result would be Don’t Look Up. This film certainly isn’t shy with its messaging. In less capable hands, this overt satire could’ve easily been on the nose, patronizing, and incredibly cringe-worthy with its moral preaching. Yet Don’t Look Up nails its tone, though some of its success must be attributed to the timing of its release. Some films just come at the right time in history; if this came out five years ago, I could imagine this would have been critically panned due to the unbelievability of the movie’s events… but then 2020 happened and now Don’t Look Up’s story is comically depressing. This movie feels like the next generation’s Idiocracy. The most obvious comparison to the film’s apocalyptic-sized asteroid plot is the apathy towards the problem of global warming, though the film lampoons a lot of different industries and social groups in society and satirically analyzes the growing political divide, developing a narrative that feels universal enough to reflect a number of issues, both left and right. Ultimately it’s like a Rorschach test—no matter where you stand, the film’s message will speak to you on some level, one that’s not simply Woke or pandering in nature.

Featuring Nic Cage fighting possessed animatronics, Willy’s Wonderland is the film you never knew you needed.

7

Tyler Hummel

Last Night in Soho: Edgar Wright movies are special. We only get one every four or five years, so when they come out we need to take them seriously. Sadly, the critical press was lukewarm on Last Night in Soho, which is a shame because it’s one of 2021’s most energetic and wonderful experiences. It’s a slow burn compared to the hyperkinetic films of Wright’s filmography, but it’s revelations and introspective look into female violence and objectification are excellently and carefully realized!

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

The Suicide Squad: When I started watching this movie, I hadn’t expected to grow attached to any of these characters. While marketing told me to think that way, the unimportant characters were weeded out fairly quickly. Characters such as Peacemaker, Polka Dot Man, and Rat Catcher II steal the show while Idris Elba’s character is basically a replacement for Deadshot. While Margot Robbie did a great job too, I appreciated that this wasn’t the Harley Quinn show like David Ayer’s movie was. Speaking of shows, I’m excited about the upcoming Peacemaker HBO Max series. James Gunn had struck gold with Marvel and does so with DC too.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

The Power of the Dog: I must admit that my attention span depleted drastically when online streaming became the more dominant film release method during the pandemic. I started watching only five or ten minute stints of Netflix’s The Power of the Dog, at first completely baffled as to why people were praising this production. But I stuck with it, and while it took some time to ease into it, soon my perception of these characters shifted and I became awestruck by this dramatic journey. A brilliant character study, each of the four main characters are distinctive and well-developed, each having their own flaws, goals and motivations. Villains will turn sympathetic, and the abused will turn into abusers. It’s a satisfying and reasonably complex journey which will have viewers questioning as to what point certain decisions were made, and how that answer will recontextualize our feelings and perceptions towards them.  

The Suicide Squad managed to right past wrongs.

6

Tyler Hummel

Mass: Speaking of expertly realized, the tensest film of the year was one of its most modest; a drama of four people in the back room of an Episcopalian Cathedral trying to come to terms with the real life cost of a school shooting. This movie is almost an inverse of Run Hide Fight, in that instead of delivering on a highly cinematic old school revenge story it chose to go smaller, deeper, and more angry. The film takes us deep into the hearts of a group of deeply, DEEPLY broken people and makes us sort through every painful detail of how a young man with decent parents grew into a murderous sociopath.

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Vacation Friends: The cast of Vacation Friends is easily the highlight of the movie, especially the performances of John Cena and Lil Rel Howery. These are two actors that I didn’t follow much, but I will now be doing so. What I didn’t expect to hit as strongly as it did was the overall lesson that the movie was teaching. I recently learned that a sequel is in development; I don’t think we need one though I am fully on board for more wild antics. This movie premiered on Hulu and you can still catch it there, but know that it is an R rated comedy.

Juliana Purnell

The Last Duel: With Rashomon considered a film classic, and with Hero (2002) being a personal favorite of mine, the appeal of The Last Duel’s multi-perspective story just felt natural to me. It’s the tale of a crime told from the point of view of three different people. While at first the movie seems to assess the crumbling of a friendship, it’s the final version that elevates the story to greater heights, not only recontextualizing all the other characters, but also highlighting this battle is bigger than a duel to the death between two men. Nicely plotted, acted, and paced, the final act is nothing but riveting as the stakes dramatically rise to a tense conclusion. It might be a tad long, but it’s a solid story.

See our review here!

The Last Duel brings together a fantastic cast to tell a multi-layered story.

5

Tyler Hummel

The Vigil: Here’s another particularly underrated and underseen film from this year. The Vigil has a premise like many others but it’s executed in a way that’s very different. It’s your classic exorcism story, but instead of relying on the well-trodden path of Catholic mysticism, it switches that imagery out for Jewish mysticism. The film is a grim, dark, and occasionally terrifying and disgusting journey about one man who discovers he’s being haunted by a demonic entity, where the only way he can overcome it is to grapple with his trauma from an anti-semitic hate crime. It’s a semantically loaded premise but it’s executed with amazing detail and control.

L.J. Lowery

The Mitchells vs the Machines: Thanks to Netflix’s acquisition of this film, this movie was on quite a few times in my household. Being that it comes from the minds of The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, this movie does not disappoint. I remember first hearing about this movie when gathering news for the Geeks Under Grace Podcast and thought I missed the theatrical release when it popped up on Netflix. My whole family enjoyed this movie on multiple viewings and I think yours will too.

Juliana Purnell

Spider-Man: No Way Home: There isn’t much to say which hasn’t been said about his film already (and I also don’t wish to spoil anything for you if you haven’t seen it yet). I’m not sure how this film will age. To be nit-picky, the opening act is tedious and it takes a while for the plot to start rolling. The story itself is also rather simplistic, with its flaws propped up by gimmicks. But the reason why this movie ranks so high on my list is because of what it symbolizes in cinema history. It would be incredibly unlikely to see this level of studio interaction and the interconnecting of several film productions ever again. Not only does it wrap up current character arcs, but also ones from the past, making it a highly cathartic and satisfying experience. As someone who came into the superhero genre through the original Sam Raimi trilogy, and then kept following every Spider-Man film iteration afterwards, Spider-Man: No Way Home delivered everything I could have ever wanted as a fan.

See our review here!

Netflix’s The Mitchells vs the Machines is a fun animated ride.

4

Tyler Hummel

West Side Story: Naturally, Steven Spielberg makes the best list. One should probably expect his first serious foray into old school Hollywood musical filmmaking would be good, but here he accomplishes something spectacular, feeding new life into a story that was already masterfully adapted in the golden age of cinema. West Side Story is a bitter, tragic story but it’s realized here with every ounce of the emotion and pain that informed the original story and achieves the joyful, campy highs of a proper Broadway musical while also being an epic work of filmmaking in it’s own right! 

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Spider-Man: No Way Home: Writing a spoiler-free review of Spider-Man: No Way Home was quite a task. While I won’t spoil anything here either, I will say that it delivered above and beyond my expectations along with everyone else’s. We picked it apart in the most recent GUGcast episode, and most of what I had to say feels nitpicky at this point. It is by no means a perfect movie, but in the comic book/superhero genre it comes very close. If you haven’t seen it yet, mask up and go to the theater, because it won’t be coming to Disney+ any time soon if at all.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

The Mitchells vs the Machines: While 2020 featured deeply thematic and complex animated films, such as Soul and Wolfwalkers, 2021 seemed to mark a return to more light-hearted fare. Yet this didn’t signify a drop in quality as their zest and love for life was contagious, as seen in Luca and the underrated My Little Pony: A New Generation. The Mitchells vs the Machines was a standout though, with its intriguing style, hilarious tone, sincere heart, and just a downright entertaining journey with weird yet oddly relatable characters. It hit all the right beats and never managed to disappoint.

Spider-Man: No Way Home pleased many geeks at GUG.

3

Tyler Hummel

The Last Duel: 2021 was a strange year for medieval films. The three best examples of the form were The Green Knight, Benedetta and The Last Duel, which all approached the Middle Ages with an air of condescension, post-enlightenment snobbery and self loathing. The result was three works of pure post-modern politics that feel more modern than medieval. Of the three, Ridley Scott’s effort was my favorite if only because it resurrected much of the epic sand and sandals mastery he achieved in films like Gladiator and Kingdom of Heaven. Bolstered by masterful performances by Ben Affleck, Adam Driver and Matt Damon, the film comes to itself as a great work of epic filmmaking even while it mocks everything it’s depicting. 

See our review here!

L.J. Lowery

Nobody: This movie starring Bob Odenkirk of Better Call Saul/Breaking Bad fame was easily my biggest surprise of the year. Upon its release, it looked like a run-of-the-mill action movie. While it becomes exactly that by the end of the movie, the journey there is worth the watch. My best pitch is that it feels like John Wick for dads, which fits since Derek Kolstad wrote the film, who also wrote that franchise. With the inclusion of that factoid, I shouldn’t be surprised that Nobody is this high on my list since the John Wick franchise is one of my favorites in recent years. You can add this movie to the list of sequels in development we don’t need that I’m still on board for.

Juliana Purnell

The Green Knight: The more I reflect upon this movie, the more I love it. Visually striking and beautiful, it’s an epic character journey that subtly tests the virtue of a hedonistic medieval knight. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen regarding the topic of what it means to be an honorable man, and how it’s a trait that cannot be self-proclaimed, rather it’s something that must be earned. At first I thought the plot to be meandering and even somewhat tedious, and yet after some reflection, it becomes clear that every single interaction is a test of chivalry for our protagonist, and how he keeps falling short. It all leads up to a confronting yet thematically satisfying ending which brilliantly concludes the knight’s quest for honor and redemption.

See our review here!

Nobody managed to punch above its weight.

2

Tyler Hummel

The French Dispatch: Wes Anderson is a great filmmaker and it shouldn’t surprise me when he makes a great film. As his 2014 masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel shows though, he’s got plenty more surprises for us yet. His newest work is an epic anthology film that explores the concept of journalism through three short stories set in 20th century France. It’s quirky, sad, introspective and sweeping while meticulously crafting a beautiful fictional city for all of these strange events to happen against. Add that it has at least a dozen of the funniest jokes of 2021, and it’s a complete, fully realized package with a surprising amount on its mind!

L.J. Lowery

Dune: I previously mentioned a few of my top 10 films getting sequels we don’t need. However, Dune’s is one I am highly anticipating. I’m ashamed to say I watched Dune on HBO Max because I was worried about the length and the possibility that I’d be bored enough to fall asleep in the theater. My experience was the opposite as I found myself on the edge of my seat at home the entire time. This movie is a visual treat, greatly paced, and has a soundtrack I ended up listening to after I saw the movie. Viewers who aren’t aware this is only the first part of a story may be disappointed with how it ends, but this feels like the next big epic franchise since Lord of the Rings and I’m here for it. Part 2 is coming in 2023 and I look forward to that release date.

Juliana Purnell

The Dry: The Dry was a really special film for me for a number of reasons. My home country of Australia fell out of step with the rest of the world when it came to the impact of the pandemic. While most places around the world were forced to close their cinemas, Australia managed to remain relatively unscathed throughout 2020, meaning theaters were open due to society being effectively virus free at the time. With Hollywood blockbusters grounded to a halt, it meant that for the first time in a long time Australian films could enjoy the silver screen, finally regaining some support for local content. Alongside other great movies such as High Ground and Penguin Bloom, The Dry was the Aussie movie that stood out from the rest. After a long stint in Hollywood, Eric Bana returned to Australian cinema to play a police officer that’s asked to investigate the double murder suicide of his once close high school friend. As he questions whether his friend had the capacity to commit such a deed, he finds himself needing to resolve a troubling mystery that occurred in his youth. It’s two murder mysteries for the price of one, beautifully intertwined with deeply satisfying conclusions. It’s almost a pure mystery film with a haunting yet hypnotic tone, coupled with the problems of living amongst the drought-ridden Australian bush. I’m not sure how much this movie will resonate with other nationalities, but I found The Dry to be a good tale told well.  

Since when does a Wes Anderson movie not make a Top 10 list?

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Tyler Hummel

Pig: Nicholas Cage gets the award for starring in what is arguably the best film of 2021. It’s hard to gauge what was the BEST this year, if only because a handful of Oscar contenders still haven’t received wide release, like Joel Coen’s The Tragedy of MacBeth and Paul Thomas Anderson’s new film. Admittedly there were a few critically acclaimed Netflix movies like The Power of the Dog and The Hand of God that I missed as well. Still, Pig really did feel like it struck at something more emotional and original than anything that came out this year, and that’s saying something considering this is a directorial debut for Michael Sarnoski. What’s initially billed as a John Wick ripoff with Nic Cage turns into a surprisingly spiraling drama about a traumatized man who has poured all of his grief and failure into a pure love for his pet truffle pig, which is stolen one night. The result is one of the most mature and emotionally resonant films of 2021! 

L.J. Lowery

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: This was the most fun I had with a movie all year. Marvel Studios successfully blended a variety of martial arts genres into a standout film. So many of the action scenes stood out to me, especially the bus fight. Whereas, the fight scenes in No Way Home were good but not a highlight for me. Simu Liu and Akwafina were two actors I recently became familiar with thanks to Kim’s Convenience, Crazy Rich Asians, and Raya and the Last Dragon. I look forward to seeing more of them in the MCU, though we don’t know when that will be. The two movies aren’t in competition, but Eternals was fighting an uphill battle by coming out after Shang-Chi, even with an Oscar-winning director behind the wheel of that one. If you somehow missed Shang-Chi, it is currently available on Disney+.

See our review here!

Juliana Purnell

The Father: Enjoying a stellar run on the festival circuit in 2020, The Father finally gained a wide US release just two months shy of the Oscars. It was worth the wait. It’s a film that seeks to portray the harrowing journey of a person succumbing to Alzheimer’s from the perspective of the patient themselves. As the story loops, repeats and gradually becomes more disturbing, it’s clear that not a scene or shred of dialogue is wasted. Anthony Hopkins delivers the best performance of his career (which is saying something) and presents a masterclass of acting. It’s phenomenal and inarguably deserving of the Academy Award. There’s nothing I can nit-pick to improve, making The Father a ten out of ten star film for me.

See our review here!

Who would’ve thought that two Nicolas Cage films would end up in our Top 10 lists?

Do you agree with our lists? Which films do you believe should have made the cut? Were there any films this year that you regretted watching? Let us know in the comments!

Juliana Purnell

After obtaining a Bachelor of Dramatic Arts, Juliana Purnell has enjoyed a successful acting career, working within theme parks, businesses, and on film sets. She has also taken on crew roles, both in film and theatrical productions. When Juliana isn't working, she enjoys watching movies of all genres at the cinema, writing, and playing with Samson, her pomeranian.

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