2021 may not have been as sparse as 2020 as far as releases, but it was still a rough year to get out to the theater and so I didn’t as many movies as I had hoped; hence why I did a few pieces trying to catch up on a few things that I missed. If I didn’t get a chance to review it, I didn’t put it on this list so keep that in mind as we go through the best films that I saw last year! Let’s get started!!
I like to give the unofficial eleventh spot to something that may not have been a great film but clicked with me in some strange way and held my interest throughout the year. For 2021, it was two movies that managed to do something new with existing franchises that I had written off a long time ago; GI Joe being a series I’ve never been a fan of and Saw having run itself into the ground a decade ago. Both films are significantly flawed in some fundamental areas with Snake Eyes having some terribly shot action and Spiral losing a lot of tension whenever Chris Rock starts in on his shtick, but I’m genuinely impressed at how both brought their respective franchises back from the dead by getting to the heart of what makes them work in the first place. Saw as a police procedural feels more in tune with the strengths of the series than any of the Bigger is Better sequels, and Snake Eyes focusing on a handful of key players instead of throwing the entire GI Joe/Cobra war at us from the outset allows us to actually develop these characters and make us care about their struggles and motivations. In a year that gave us hollow and cynical nostalgia bait like Space Jam: A New Legacy and Ghostbusters; Afterlife, it was refreshing to see movies take a sincere and stripped-down approach to build us towards something new instead of rehashing the same old nonsense as blatantly and obnoxiously as possible.
Now that we’ve got the bad movies out of the way, it’s time for us to focus on what was good because despite EVERYTHING that went oh so wrong this year, there were more than enough highlights to help us get through it all. With hope (and a lot of hard work) on the horizon, we’ll take one last look at the films that made 2020 more than just a dumpster fire before jumping into 2021 with renewed vigor and a spring in our step (and a few prosecutions against the outgoing administration wouldn’t go amiss either)! Let’s get started!!
Honorable Mention: MOVIES IN THEATERS
In the US we got about three months of movies before everything shut down, and while there were some absolutely DREADFUL ones (particularly in January), it was actually shaping up to be a pretty darn good year! There were movies that looked good and lived up to those expectations like The Gentlemen and Birds of Prey, but we had a LOT of surprises; not in terms of movies that turned out to be five star classics, but movies that SHOULD have been terrible but were actually pretty decent! I mean think about it, can you imagine a world prior to 2020 where a Sonic the Hedgehog movie WASN’T going to be in everyone’s worst list or that a Vin Diesel vehicle would have decent writing? Sadly the COVID pandemic cut everything short; not just the big blockbusters we know about like No Time to Die, Black Widow, or Dune, but all the other movies that don’t get months of buildup and turn out to be great regardless. For years I had been seeing two to three movies a week and while a lot of them weren’t great there were more than enough to make it all worthwhile. Now that everything is either streaming or pushed back, it’s difficult for me to find that passion to just try and watch everything when I could just as easily watch reruns of It’s Always Sunny or The Simpsons with just as much effort and without spending an extra penny. Maybe the days of rushing to the theater every other day are gone for good and I won’t be returning to it even after this is all over, but that’s how I saw a lot of the movies I still love to this day and that’s how I saw some pretty darn good movies this year!
As with the good list, so must come the bad. Except… maybe not quite, this year? There’s been a lot of blow back to WORST OF THE YEAR lists and especially WORST OF THE DECADE ones that have been coming out as well, and I do understand why. These things can come off as snarky and mean spirited and there’s just not a lot of constructive criticism to be had when trying to make clickbait WORST OF lists. Personally I’m not too happy with how my list came out last year as it felt a bit performative which is not what you want if you want to be taken seriously and not just someone looking to chase down easy views. I still firmly believe there is value in recapping bad movies as I’ve already said negative things about them already in my reviews, and there are certainly films with horrible messages that are worth deriding as well as technical failures that are worth learning from. The lessons from last year have definitely been learned however and so instead I’ve narrowed it down to films REALLY worth talking about instead of just trying to round it up to ten, and I’ll avoid using overly superlative language; hence why this is a NEEDS IMPROVEMENT list instead of a WORST list. Without further ado, lets’ get started!!
Honorable Mention: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
If we’re gonna approach this as a NEEDS IMPROVEMENT list, I don’t think we could have asked for a better example than JJ Abrams’s attempt to stitch the Star Wars fan base back together which may average out to a good movie (hence why it’s only an Honorable Mention), but it’s flaws are ridiculously glaring throughout. I could sit here and list all the reasons this movie’s slapdash narrative fails to connect both in terms of the previous Disney Star Wars films as well as well as what we expect from movies in general, but you should already know by now how rushed the pacing is, how many plot points are shoved in here, and how much backtracking they did to paper over basically everything I liked about The Last Jedi. And yet, what’s most interesting to me is that for all the effort JJ Abrams and company clearly put into this Frankenstein monster of an ending, no one seems particularly happy with it! Certainly not the fans who were more or less clamoring for something more familiar than The Last Jedi provided, so what was the point? Was the vocal minority of obnoxious fans (not all people who didn’t like The Last Jedi; just the ones who wouldn’t shut up about it) loud enough to scare the most powerful entertainment company in the world into spending half a movie apologizing for it? Was JJ Abrams not able to square the circle that Rian Johnson left him and just reverted back to his original plans that no longer fit with the new paradigm? We probably won’t know for sure exactly went wrong for some time, but as far as I’m concerned the answer is clear on how this could be fixed. Do something different! It worked for The Force Awakens, The Last Jedi, Rouge One, The Mandalorian; heck, even Solo felt like its own thing within the Star Wars universe! By being so referential and tied to the original trilogy without properly examining it or making it feel like a modern interpretation of its core themes, we ended up going through the motions but in an utterly directionless fashion; knowing the steps but not knowing where they were gonna take us. Maybe that Rian Johnson trilogy will work out a lot better. I’m sure some fans will hate it, but I think we’re officially done giving the obnoxious subset of that group the time of day. Their moment came and went, and all they got was an okay movie that they can’t stand either.
Another year has passed and as usual we have to spend the first few days of the new year looking back at what came before; usually ranked from ten to one in some fashion! Well, let no one ever say that I’m not a part of it too as we’re here today to look at my favorite films of 2019 which turned out to be a pretty good year all things considered! I mean… for movies at least as we’re still facing the overwhelming threats of fascism, climate change, and bigotry every single day with a commander in chief that’s only bee fanning those flames even further, but at least we have these movies to provide us with a modicum of relief and escapism between trying desperately to fix it all before it’s far too late! Will YOUR favorites be reflected on here, or will this prove once and for all that I have absolutely no taste? Let’s find out!!
Honorable Mention: Dolemite Is My Name
I have no particular fondness for Rudy Ray Moore as I only know his films by reputation, but boy was this a fun little story about yet another artist yearning to get his vision out there; and make a few bucks along the way of course! I’ve always been a sucker for films that take place on a movie set and I even put The Disaster Artist on my 2017 list, but what sets this one apart is just how different its subject matter is from other films like it. A lot of times these movies about artists are essentially a reflection on the creation of art itself, but few come from the world that Rudy Ray Moore came from with the priorities that come with it. Guys like Tommy Wiseau wanted a creative outlet and the adulation of the public. Rudy Ray Moore certainly wanted that as well, but there was more at stake with the creation of this movie (namely his career and financial stability) and there’s something a bit nobler about making a movie for an underrepresented audience than making a movie out of sheer ego. I have no idea how accurate this movie is and you should take any biopic with a grain of salt, but for what it’s trying to do and the story it’s trying to tell, it succeeds with a whole lot of style and a whole lot of heart!
Are we done with the good stuff of 2018 already!? It’s really starting to get a bit annoying how lopsided things have gotten with just how much bad there is to get through compared to the good, but as your travel guide through the highlights of the year that came before I will be here to fulfill my duty and give you an idea of just how bad movies had gotten in 2018! Okay, it wasn’t a SPECTACULARLY bad year at the movies as my initial assessment of good versus bad films I reviewed this year came out to pretty even split, but it’s not as much fun making these WORST THINGS EVER lists when everyday life is pretty much that already. At the very least, I hope that I turned at least some of the negativity you’re about to see on this list into something that’s at least informative enough to justify my salty attitude! Anyway, we might as well dive in head first and hope we come out on the other side no worse for wear! LET’S GET STARTED!!
Dishonorable Mentions: Robin Hood & Holmes and Watson
I figured I’d start this list with something a little light as both of these movies are utterly DREADFUL, but I really couldn’t get too mad at either one of them. Robin Hood is certainly the more watchable of the two as its mistakes are downright laughable, but even with Holmes and Watson being an unfunny and painfully boring slog to sit through it at least didn’t have some really messed up message or an utter scumbag on screen. If nothing else, these two are more or less the baseline for what would qualify as a WORST OF THE YEAR contender. These movies are terrible, but they don’t have something extra to make it a MEANINGFUL selection for highlighting on these lists. Robin Hood’s earnestness and some decent (if utterly anachronistic) designs as well as how much fun I had laughing at its many ridiculous ideas such as crossbows that work EXACTLY like pistols or making a visual allegories between the Crusades and the War on Terror balanced out its worst moments. Holmes and Watson is a terrible comedy but ultimately a harmless one which means that even if it doesn’t make ME laugh it’s not something that is active detriment to the genre; something we GENUINELY have to worry about now with more comedians coming out as rather terrible people in recent years. I don’t recommend you watching EITHER of these movies, but if you did and your baffled why they didn’t actually make it on the list, just know that it has to be a lot worse (or at least terrible in a uniquely specific and off-putting way) for it to be listed below. Speaking of which, let’s get the click-bait one out of the way first!
At this point, the only thing more cliché than being thankful that the preceding year has finally come to a close is whiny Star Wars fans being wrong about The Last Jedi. Yes, I am in fact THANKFUL that we have finally gotten out of the horror show that was 2018, but 2019 looks to be a lot more of the same, albeit with a SLIGHTLY less destructive Congress and a lot more speculation on the 2020 election. Jeez, the idea is so deflating to me that I’m actually kind of glad to take one last look at the preceding year before charging face first into whatever nightmares 2019 will surely have for us. Anyway! Let’s take a look at the GOOD movies that came out and hope that the year ahead of us will bring us even more great films to love! ON WITH THE LIST!!
Honorable Mentions: Black Panther & Ant-Man and the Wasp
While Marvel’s usual output is at a consistently decent quality, this was a year of great highs and one PHENOMENAL low for the company which we’ll get to on the bad list. On the good side though, these are the first two movies they’ve released since I’ve started doing these lists that have come close to making it on the top ten, and frankly they are my favorite films that they’ve released in some time with the exception of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 which arguably should have been included on last year’s list. Black Panther, while still feeling a bit too conventional to the Marvel Formula and having a few oddly placed ideas here and there (how does a civilization THIS advanced still determine their leader through DEATH MATCHES!?) was quite the revelation and became something of a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the year which we’ll get to further down on this list, and while I’m not quite on board with it winning for Best Picture, I do see where a lot of people who are advocating for it are coming from. Ant-Man and the Wasp on the other hand felt like something new as well, albeit in a much less radical way as Black Panther, and is the template I’d like to see from Marvel films going forward; where there’s room for films that don’t take themselves QUITE as seriously and don’t hinge the fate of the world on the outcome of their adventure. Sony and WB might be gathering a bit of steam with their recent films, but this year showed once again that it’s gonna take a lot more to unseat Marvel and Disney from their well-deserved throne of money, and hopefully THESE are the kind of films we’ll be getting from them going forward instead of… well we’ll get to that one later.
The Predator and all the images you see in this editorial are owned by 20th Century Fox
Directed by Shane Black
It’s been a few weeks since The Predator graced the multiplexes in all its confused glory, so I think now’s a pretty good time to really get into what exactly is SO fascinatingly wrong about this movie that I couldn’t fit into a proper review. The last time I did something like this was all the way back when The Mummy was supposed to be the next big thing which sadly didn’t end up being the case despite making four hundred million worldwide and so The Dark Universe is more or less dead on arrival. A shame because, despite the film’s ASTOUNDING amount of flaws, it was compelling in a way that very few terrible movies can be and I’d have loved to see a DCCU style nightmare come out of it. Predators though still has a chance to be the next (albeit smaller) version of this with its incredibly pronounced sequel bait at the end and comparatively lower stakes, so why not give it the proper WTF treatment? Unlike my last list however, this isn’t ranked in an ascending order of absurdity; rather it’s structured in a way to try and get across the ESCALATING sense of absurdity that builds as the movie goes along, so while one thing may not be as out there or ridiculous as the thing before it, it all adds up into this ludicrous mishmash of ideas that either should have been left on the cutting room floor or given the time it needed to not feel so inexplicably jammed into an already overly tight runtime. Let’s get started!!
10) Lock him up and throw away the key! – Why the heck is Quinn being railroaded!?
So the movie begins with The Predator (at least the first one of them) crash landing on Earth basically within spitting distance a squad of army dudes out on a mission. Our lead dude is Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) who finds the escape pod The Predator used as well as part of his armor; including his mask and one of his arm bands that both have VERY advanced computer systems in them. His men die at the hands of The Predator, he manages to escape, and then he mails the pieces of armor to his home in the US. Now why would he do that? Well apparently he correctly assumed that he would be arrested by THE HIGHER UPS and sent to a mental institution as a way to keep him quiet about the alien… because reasons. Now to be clear, this is not just ANY army dude; the mission he was on was to assassinate a drug lord on an ally’s soil (Mexico) and the US Military isn’t about to send someone on that kind of job who doesn’t know how to keep his mouth shut and play ball. How is this guy not an ASSET to The Stargazer Project considering his sterling military record, and for that matter why are they so intent on keeping HIM out of the loop when they IMMEDIATELY bring a civilian scientist on board (Dr. Casey Bracket played by Olivia Munn) to run tests on the darn thing!? Speaking of which…
Alright everyone! Now that we’ve had our fun with the GOOD list, it’s time to put on some work pants as we start wading through the unimaginable dreck that was yet another “fun” aspect of the abysmal year that we all had to suffer through. You know what though? Most of us made it through to the other side, so if looking back at the year that couldn’t beat us and having a laugh (or one last bitter tirade) at the pathetic excuses for entertainment that made daily life just a little bit worse, well I think we all deserved it, don’t you?
Anyway, let’s not beat around the bush any longer! WE’RE DIVING RIGHT IN!!
Dishonorable Mentions: Death Note & Bright
Since I didn’t even bother trying to watch another Adam Sandler movie this year, this dubious distinction goes to two OTHER Netflix features; albeit it for very different reasons. The truth of the matter is, I didn’t particularly mind either of these films as I think they had some good ideas buried within their mediocre (and cheap looking) execution with Death Note having an interestingly different take on its main character (a whiny little punk with issues of inadequacy instead a megalomaniacal genius) and Bright having an ALRIGHT set up for what is essentially a weaker version of 16 Blocks. That said… yeah, these films are REALLY flawed and in glaringly offensive ways. As much as I like the idea of taking some of the pomp and circumstance out of Death Note and reframing Light Yagami to be a less foreboding figure, I don’t see why that necessitated him to be white since they never play with that change in his identity within the text of the film. There could have been a component of White Privilege to the story (especially with L being black), but that seems to have never been the intent on the part of the filmmakers who simply seemed to associate AMERICAN REMAKE with WHITE AS DEFAULT. Similarly, the half-baked and ham fisted social commentary in the script for Bright creates one of the most cringe inducing screenplays of the year which has Orcs standing in for Black People in a world that still has Black People, and it even finds an excuse to get Will Smith to say “Fairy Lives Don’t Matter” before beating said fairy to death. Sure, the movie picks up once it gets away from its proudly ignorant views on race and becomes a straight up chase film with Will Smith and Joel Edgerton (who’s under a decent enough make up job), but that’s hardly enough to excuse everything that it gets wrong in the process. Now I don’t want this to come across as Netflix bashing because they DO put out quite a bit of decent content as I’ve heard good things about First They Killed My Father, Beast of No Nation, even The Babysitter, and while it wasn’t my favorite King Adaptation this year I thought Gerald’s Game was pretty good too. That said, they’ve had quite a few stumbles over the years, pretty much starting with their awful Adam Sandler deal, and these two movies are just further examples of their awkward steps towards becoming a media empire of their own; something they’ll need to keep working on now that Disney is gonna own everything else in the world and will eventually come out with their own streaming service to try and crush them. If Netflix wants a chance to survive the Disney/Fox merger, they’ll need to avoid having clunkers like this clogging up their service.
Hark! Is it that time of year again!? Yes, it is time for the film critics to have their yearly ritual of ranking the films we saw in order of how much (or how little) venom we can summon up for it, and while I would love NOTHING more than to get this crap-tastic year over with and race towards the future, we can at least afford one more look in the rear view mirror before leaving it all behind. Also, it’s worth pointing out that I didn’t get a chance to see all the movies that came out this year like The Florida Project, and there were films that I couldn’t have seen even if I wanted to like The Post, Phantom Thread, and I, Tonya, due to them getting extremely limited releases in the last weeks of the year. If the studios can’t be bothered to let me see the movie, then I can’t be bothered to wait several weeks to finish up this list. This is a 2017 list, so I’m finishing it in 2017!
Sure! Let’s start this off with a pairing so disparate that it’s likely to cause whiplash! Then again, it’s a probably a good indication of what to expect from the rest of the list as I try to find room for a little bit of everything… and by everything I mean legitimately good movies that everyone likes and amazing B movies that only I seem to like. The Big Sick was one of the better comedies of the year as I’m sure it’s been mentioned on several best of the year lists other than this one, and rightfully so! It didn’t quite make my top ten due to a bit of shaky structuring (time is a bit elusive in it) and the fact that it’s hard to overlook how much of this story is coming from only one viewpoint within it (being written by Nanjiani and Gordon who DID end up working out, it feels a BIT antagonist towards his parents who are drawn more broadly than hers are in the telling of this story), but there’s genuine heart in the way that Nanjiani is trying to navigate such an awkward situation where the right thing to do is kind of murky and his feelings about it all are even more so. It’s a situation, like many in life, that could have ended VERY badly for everyone involved but Nanjiani and Gordon’s script is smart enough to walk that line between genuinely trying to express one’s feelings for someone and having a character realize when that’s not enough and when they need to walk away. It ended up working out for these two but only after Nanjiani left her to live her life and to make her own choices which is certainly a worthwhile lesson for many of us to learn and for Hollywood to pick up on considering how much the BIG ROMANTIC GESTURE is still a staple in so many so called romance films. Kidnap on the other hand… look, I just really had a lot of fun in it, alright!? I know it’s not going to be to EVERYONE’S taste (hence why it didn’t make the list) but it’s damn near perfect in being exactly what it wants to be. Calling something a NON-STOP ACTION THRILLER is about the most hack bit of marketing imaginable, but in this case it’s quite literally true and the film’s greatest asset. Halle Berry is chasing after the people who have kidnapped her son and she can’t stop moving. She can’t lose focus, can’t lose momentum, otherwise she’ll lose everything; and she knows that. Yes it’s over the top and barely makes any sense (there’s maybe three cops in the ENTIRE state) but the tension is there and if you’re willing to get behind its rather ludicrous concept you’ll surely stay engaged all the way to the bloody end of her bloody quest to save her son. Yeah, it’s goofy and has a few less than stellar editing shortcuts (why do they keep reminding us how low on gas she is when she NEVER RUNS OUT OF GAS!?), but they did a lot with what they had to work with which is often the sign of a great film more so than a film with many more resources not taking full advantage of them. Not a bad double feature if you ask me!
Alright, well we got through all the GOOD stuff, so now it’s time to remember 2016 the way it SHOULD be; as one never ending nightmare of awfulness and broken dreams. There were no shortage of bad films this year which admittedly is true of ANY year, but the yearly ritual of remembering the worst of the worst must be maintained, and so I present the worst of what I had to sit through in the hopes that I can spare some of you the anguish that these films have caused me. Well there’s no point in dragging it out. Let’s get this over with.
Dishonorable Mention: The Do-Over
How bad is this movie? It is so blisteringly awful that I couldn’t even finish the damn thing. At one point (when I was truly naïve), I had decided to review all four of the Adam Sandler Netflix films as they came out and I managed to get through The Ridiculous 6 mostly unscathed. This proved to be quite the fool’s errand however as the film they did AFTER that is so much worse. I’ve got two thousand words already written about the movie, and I just abandoned that shit when we got to the part where Adam Sandler was fucking a blow up doll for no reason. I managed to see MAYBE ten minutes or so after that where David Spade was creepily (and successfully) macking on the window of the guy who’s identity he stole before realizing that there’s no way in hell I’m finishing the rest of this even for the purposes of a review. Neither of the main actors, Adam Sandler and David Spade, give the smallest of shits about this movie (the latter is straight up smiling during an emotionally distressing moment), the film is shot like a REALLY bad porno (Stormy Daniels is clearly a far better director than Steven Brill considering how flat and under lit everything is in here), and the film is just so unbearably mean spirited without the tiniest bit of legitimate humor to back it up… unless of course you think that Luis Luis Guzmán’s ball sweat dripping on David Spade’s forehead is the height of comic genius. Adam Sandler is just going to continue regressing further and further into his own comfort zone; not unlike someone else on this list, but we’ll get to them soon enough. Look, everyone knows better by this point than to take Adam Sandler seriously ever again, so you don’t need me to tell you that he’s made another crappy movie. If you’ve already managed to avoid this one, then keep on doing so; especially considering how much great content Netflix produces that you can be watching instead of this garbage fire from a bunch of lazy hacks.