After a bleak 2020, 2021 turned out to be a semi-decent, rallying year for film.
Here’s a final look back at the best and worst before we proceed into the (hopefully) wide-open territory that is 2022.
The 10 Best
1. The Beatles: Get Back: I normally don’t put documentaries on top of my overall list (I instead do a separate list for docs), but this year, I am making an exception. Peter Jackson went through some archives and came up with the definitive portrait of the greatest band that ever was. Every second of this newly found footage is captivating, especially for Beatles lovers. It’s the movie (OK, it’s the three-part miniseries) from 2021 that I will return to again and again.
2. West Side Story: Steven Spielberg’s take on the all-time classic is also an all-time classic. That darned Spielberg! It’s shocking how easy it was to take in a remade classic that should’ve never been remade. As it turns out, the story was ready to be told again by the right storyteller.
3. Don’t Look Up: It’s the year’s funniest film, and it’s also the year’s most truthful film. Director Adam McKay aims at a lot of targets and blows them all away with his apocalyptic satire.
4. Lamb: The year’s most uniquely original film. A couple on a farm in Iceland can’t have children, but one of their sheep provides them with an interesting conundrum. This plays like something David Lynch could’ve done; it’s an impressive directorial debut for Valdimar Johannsson.
5. The Power of the Dog: Benedict Cumberbatch is the year’s best actor in Jane Campion’s spellbinder.
6. Spider-Man: No Way Home: Easily the most fun at the movies this year. The Spider-verse got super wacky, and there was more than one legit stand-up-and-cheer moment in the latest crowd-pleasing Marvel blockbuster.
7. Licorice Pizza: Paul Thomas Anderson makes a solid movie that falls somewhere in the middle of his repertoire—and that’s still good enough to make a lot of Top 10 lists, including this one.
8. The Beta Test: Jim Cummings is one of filmdom’s best-kept secrets. His Thunder Road was a masterpiece that nobody saw—and virtually nobody saw this near masterpiece, either. Plan a double feature (or a triple feature with his solid werewolf movie, The Wolf of Snow Hollow), and get to know this nut.
9. The Suicide Squad: Feels like this came out a million years ago but, nope, it was a 2021 release. James Gunn rethought The Suicide Squad in a hilarious way … that bombed at the box office. As a result, this particular strain of the Squad may very well stop here. If so, too bad, because that could’ve been a fun series of movies.
10. Nobody: Bob Odenkirk had a very bittersweet year. He got to deliver his best performance yet (as an action guy, no less) in this sinister action thriller, and he had himself a scary hospital stay. Here’s to 2022 being healthier—and a fantastic final season of Better Call Saul.
The Five Worst
1. Cry Macho: Clint Eastwood’s latest came out in theaters and on HBO Max the same day. I paid to watch it in a theater, but left halfway through, because it was so caustically bad. I then went home and watched the rest of it on my TV, where it still managed to suck.
2. Halloween Kills: Just in case you didn’t get the message watching the movie, “Evil dies tonight!” The good will built from David Gordon Green’s 2018 reboot of the classic horror series has gone the way of Dr. Loomis.
3. Old: M. Night Shyamalan has regressed back into a man who makes movies that are messy, self-indulgent and entirely implausible (even in the fantasy world).
4. The Many Saints of Newark: We don’t have James Gandolfini anymore, but the Sopranos beat must go on, I guess. His kid stepped in to play Tony Soprano during the character’s high school years and, while that is indeed interesting, the rest of the film is not. It doesn’t even measure up to the weakest of the TV episodes. There was just too much stuff jammed into one movie.
5. Free Guy: Too much sweet Ryan Reynolds can cause extensive damage to your colon.