Last year, I wrote a list going over some of my favorite movies that I saw for the first time while cooped up under quarantine, only one of which was actually from the year 2020. This year, thanks to vaccinations and streaming exclusives, I was able to see a few more 2021 releases, some of which became all-time favorites. I figured it would be a good idea to put together a list of some of these favorites to wrap up the year and give some of you some suggestions for the remainder of the year!
Euphoria: Trouble Don’t Last Always and F*ck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob
Trouble Don’t Last Always was actually released in 2020, not 2021, but I see the pair of these special episodes as one narrative feature. I even tested this theory on my mother, who had never seen Euphoria, and she agreed with me that it works, so, there you go!
These episodes together are meditative and raw, a commendable experience of human feeling and communication, making up one of my favorite films of all time. They feel distinct from the show they stem from, focusing on complex conversation rather than the high-energy drama of the program. They’re somber works of reflection that I recommend you give a try. They’re also technically Christmas specials, so, ‘tis the season!
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Yeah, this! I’m not someone who is incredibly invested in the current superhero movie landscape. I didn’t feel one way or another as I watched Warner Brothers scramble to try and catch up to Marvel. Hell, I even enjoyed the 2017 Justice League (I was only 17. Be nice). That being said, I found myself kind of excited for the 2021 release of the fabled Snyder Cut, if only for the mere spectacle of its existence. And, boy, was I pleasantly surprised!
The Snyder Cut is made with a gargantuan amount of meticulous care and love. Unlike its disastrous “predecessor”, no character is left in the dark. Most notably, Ray Fisher’s Cyborg gets a masterful arc that does the character great justice.
Despite being about a wide-reaching franchise that has touched millions of people, there is something about Justice League 2021 that feels profoundly personal. Zack Snyder clearly values familial love, and it’s a theme that surfaces a fair bit in his work (also notably in Army of the Dead). Here, it is used in a way that feels more accessible to me than other family-centric stories. It’s varied, making room for an equally varied audience to connect with it. It’s a lengthy epic, but one worth the time.
Bo Burnham: Inside
I wasn’t expecting to even consider this a movie, but it certainly is. As a comedy special, it’s pointed and dry in the best of ways. As a film, it’s non-traditional but remarkably creative and effective. It takes something special to create cinematography like that all on your own.
What might seem like a simple standup performance with a dash of political commentary is actually an expansive art piece with far more to say. Others have examined this film far more efficiently than I ever could, so I recommend you give some proper analyses a look (I recommend this and this)—after watching the special itself, of course.
A brilliant work of hellish circumstance and satisfying perseverance. It’s one of those movies that thrives on delivering infuriating villains that you can’t wait to see get their asses kicked—or worse, since this is a horror movie. It takes a general premise that’s been used before but applies the formula in a more than effective manner. It’s cold, suspenseful, and sad.
Also, it’s Megan Fox! How could you not wanna see it?
Wow, wow, wow. Nicolas Cage never ceases to amaze me. Pig is a somber escapade through vague legends and a town of passionate chefs lost in the thick of bougie emptiness. Its beauty is quiet but never lost, and haunting long after the credits roll.
Back to its vagueness, it never gives us a typical expository moment where we learn exactly who Robin (Cage’s character) is, or why he knows about all of these seedy places and strange folks. Rather, we get puzzle pieces throughout the runtime leading us to a more complete picture of this man and how he ended up the way he did. With both its complexity and simplicity, Pig will rip your heart out.
The Suicide Squad
I was worryingly pumped for this movie. I know all too well the dangers of being too hyped for something and then getting disappointed, but I couldn’t help myself with the 2021 release of The Suicide Squad. It appeared to offer everything I was searching for in a superhero flick: comedy, gore, bright colors, and ridiculous characters. And, by God, it gave me all of that and more.
This movie is a shameless romp that takes every opportunity to go HAM with consistently fabulous cinematography, creative action sequences, and near-flawless performances all around. Not unlike Zack Snyder’s Justice League, I could feel the love etched into its fine details. It’s not afraid to get real, experimental, or silly. Both violence and downtime are windows into characters that help build personality and connection. Blood plumes feel more like fireworks in this playground of a movie. It’s another one that became a member of my top films of all time.
This is one of the most unique historical dramas I’ve ever seen. Rather than attempt to be a biopic, it focuses on the concept of Diana Spencer as a character. It doesn’t try to convince us that any of what we see is a part of reality and instead invites us to simply empathize with Diana, to be human beings for a little while.
So much is said without doing a lot, with scenes drowned in Jonny Greenwood’s woeful score but devoid of dialogue. The film is haunted by longing and a mourning of oneself, desperation wrapped around our central character like barbed wire, mostly thanks to Kristen Stewart’s suffocating (complimentary) performance. She absolutely disappears into this role, so much so that I forgot it’s even her.
This is a genre challenger that won’t be what everyone is looking for, but if you’re into cinema used as an art medium to its fullest extent, it might be for you. Regardless of anything, it is a beautifully told story that is also beautiful to look at.
tick, tick… BOOM!
I used to think I didn’t like musicals. I can’t remember why I became so averse to them, but after seeing Into the Woods when I was 14, my opinion almost instantly changed. That being said, I don’t seek out musicals and am not more attracted to them than over other sorts of movies. But those tides might be turning in leu of tick, tick… BOOM!, another new all-time fave.
I don’t know anything whatsoever about Jonathan Larson and I have never seen RENT, but this film really speaks to me as a writer and artist. The characters are complicated, messy human beings all trying their hardest to make their dreams work, even when it conflicts with their other loves. It delivers that harsh reality of sometimes not being able to balance everything you value in your life, and it says it with potent feeling.
Andrew Garfield’s performance is astounding. It’s easy to tell he was so into what he was doing, and I imagine he was truly empathetic toward his role. And man, that boy can sing!
Having that traditional movie experience is hard right now. I miss being able to go to any ol’ cinema at the drop of a hat and engage with a film in that special way. But if I’ve learned anything from these last two years, it’s that I don’t need the cinema experience to fall in love with a movie. The movie itself will do that, in any size, shape, or format. That being said, I’m still a theater lover, so support your local locations if you can!
2021 was great for movies, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to see all of the above and more. If you haven’t seen some or any of them, I highly recommend you seek them out and give them a chance; it might be your only option if you can’t get into one of those packed Spider-Man: No Way Home screenings!