For some reason, I decided to rank all 106 2021 movie releases that I saw and write a blurb on each of them. This is the most new releases I’ve seen in one year, and overall, I thought it was a great year! Thanks to so much being pushed back from 2020, we had a top heavy 2021 with lots of films that moved me, inspired me, excited me, or some combination of the three. So without any further ado, here’s my countdown of every movie I saw in 2021:
Strongly disliked it
106. Cherry— The Russo brothers and Tom Holland just went absolutely wild with this one, and barely any of it worked.
105. A Quiet Place Part II — John Krasinski took what worked about the first movie and threw it out the window, only keeping what didn’t work for the sequel.
104. Black Widow — Perhaps one of the most boring and bland superhero movies I’ve ever seen, even with Florence Pugh turning on the charm.
103. The Suicide Squad — This tries to have its cake and eat it too, which really doesn’t work when it’s trying to be empathetic, while stripping away any shred of potential empathy.
Some things worked
102. Dear Evan Hansen — There’s good music, but this is mostly a bizarre picture of a “kid” (the lead actor is in his late-twenties) who comes across more as a sociopath than an empathetic character.
101. The Voyeurs— This is a wild ride with about 1,000 twists and turns, but it could be seen as fun schlock.
100. The United States vs. Billie Holiday — I watched this at the beginning of 2021, and it’s a good story to adapt, but I literally can’t remember a thing about the movie.
99. Snake Eyes — Maybe one day Henry Golding will be a star. Sadly, it won’t be as a result of this movie, in which his character, who’s supposed to be the hero, comes across more as the villain.
98. Zola — As with any film that A24 distributes, this movie based off a tweet thread has a lot of style, but beyond the fun performances, it’s really not saying anything at all.
97. The Little Things — Even with Denzel Washington being Denzel Washington, this adds up to little more than the John Lee Hancock version of Zodiac.
96. Chaos Walking — There are some interesting ideas and visuals here and there throughout the movie, but even Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley’s natural charm and charisma couldn’t save this form being boring.
95. Being the Ricardos — Writer-director Aaron Sorkin includes some fun lines of dialogue, and Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem are never bad, but that’s about all this has going for it.
94. The Card Counter — I think I prefer Paul Schrader more as a screenwriter only than a screenwriter and director combo. But Oscar Isaac and Tiffany Haddish save this from being a total slog.
93. Army of the Dead — Zack Snyder is his own cinematographer in this zombie heist flick, and it looks awesome, but it’s overlong and the story doesn’t really work.
92. Stillwater — An interesting premise does not a good movie make. Even though Matt Damon is good in this, it leaves a lot to be desired.
91. American Underdog — A faith-based film about the NFL combines two of my least favorite topics, but its earnestness wins it a few points in my book.
90. The Woman in the Window — This continues Amy Adams’ questionable run of feature films, but there are still aspects of the mystery here and there that I did enjoy.
89. Jungle Cruise — It tried to be Pirates of the Caribbean, but forgot to be Jungle Cruise. This can’t be that bad since The Rock and Emily Blunt are just oozing charisma, but beyond that, it’s entirely bland.
88. Last Night in Soho — At face value, it’s not a bad idea for Edgar Wright to transition into horror, but the way in which he attempted it just didn’t work whatsoever for me, apart from its visual aesthetic and two lead performances.
87. Malcolm & Marie — Speaking of lead performances, that’s about the only thing I enjoyed about this pretentious, borderline whiny story.
86. Nobody — It’s Bob Odenkirk’s turn to do Taken, and he does the action well, but I’m just not a fan of “grizzled old man kills people” for the sake of itself.
It was okay…
85. The Lost Daughter — This is one that I would likely get a lot more out of if I were a parent, especially if I were a mother. As I am neither, I just find myself appreciating it from afar, mostly due to Olivia Colman being the MVP of movies.
84. Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway — What can I say? I have a soft spot for these movies. Even though I can’t stand James Corden, everything else about the movies is good, harmless fun for the family.
83. I Care a Lot — I actually was really loving this movie for about the first half, but then it completely went off the rails and crashed by the end. The first half was good, though!
82. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It — James Wan sadly didn’t return for the threequel, but there are still solid scares and the same heart from the first two Conjuring movies.
81. In the Heights — Lin-Manuel Miranda’s style of music just isn’t for me, but you can’t deny the great themes that infuse this movie.
80. West Side Story — Since this appears to be the mediocre musical section of the list, I love how Steven Spielberg directed this film — it has incredible visual language — but the lead performance and central love story just don’t work at all for me.
79. Titane — This is the most scarily tender movie you’ll ever see. It’s violent, brutal, and gory, but it’s a surprisingly heartfelt story about accepting people for who they are, no matter what.
78. Joe Bell — While this movie doesn’t work overall for a variety of reasons, its heart is in the right place. Its message of acceptance, regret, and parent-child relationships is great and worthy of thought and discussion.
77. The World to Come — This was just the latest addition to the growing canon of female love affairs set in the past. Sadly, despite its deliberate tone, I never felt any connection to the lead couple.
76. Malignant — This is the horror movie that James Wan did direct this year, and I just didn’t enjoy a lot of the brutal horror violence within. That being said, it has good messages about family and siblings, if you can stomach the horror.
75. Wrath of Man — This is a dark, dark movie that is exactly what it wants to be all the way through. Its simple, yet complex message is what has it so high on the list, but its unrelenting tone is what keeps it so low.
74. House of Gucci — This isn’t all bad, and that’s mostly because Ridley Scott directed it. Adam Driver and Lady Gaga each give good performances, but the tonal dissonance between their scenes and the scenes with an awful Jared Leto are just too much to handle.
73. Stowaway — Much like I Care a Lot, another Netflix original with big names, this only really works in the first half, which includes lots of moral questions. Sadly, they’re all thrown out the window by its midpoint and it pivots to something infinitely less compelling.
72. Boogie — If anything Boogie is worth your time because of its subject matter. The more diverse voices that we see, the better. I just wish it was executed a bit more compellingly.
Hey, this is kinda good!
71. Passing — Much like The Lost Daughter, I think I would have had a stronger reaction to this if I could relate more closely. But instead, I’m left with a deep appreciation for what it’s doing.
70. Godzilla vs. Kong — It was a fun movie! Monsters and explosions and stuff!
69. The Dig — Even though it’s not particularly exciting, The Dig is anchored by excellent acting and great thematic work.
68. Old — Simultaneously the most and least surprising movie of the year, Old wasn’t very good, but it completely committed to its premise and took it seriously the whole time. Yet I was laughing, but in a good way.
67. America: The Motion Picture — This is only so high up because I had a decent time watching it. It’s funny, stupid, silly, way over the top, and solidly satirical.
66. Bad Trip — I enjoy hidden camera stuff when the performer is making themselves the butt of the joke (Impractical Jokers is a favorite), and Eric Andre is just a funny dude. With some genuine heart packed in on the end, this is a solid flick.
65. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things — I like to see when filmmakers are still able to come up with fairly new ways to use the time loop genre. This one hits on one of my favorite themes explored in film and is a fine little dramedy.
64. Those Who Wish Me Dead — Nicholas Hoult as an out and out villain isn’t something I realized I needed. In fact, the performances are what makes this movie memorable at all. It starts to lose focus by the end, mostly due to how it focuses on spectacle rather than characters.
63. Fatherhood — Kevin Hart, love him or hate him, is surprisingly competent in this movie, which is more of a drama than a comedy. He plays the drama well, though the story doesn’t do anything especially worth noting.
62. Raya and the Last Dragon — One of two Disney animation features from this year, Raya is good. It’s got a standard story with entertaining visual action, but nothing ever really takes it above and beyond.
61. Reminiscence — Anything that feels cut from the same cloth as Inception will always have me at least a bit interested, but even Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson can’t save this from being bland overall.
60. Venom: Let There Be Carnage — I’ll always back a creative endeavor from Andy Serkis, so that’s one reason to see this. i’ve also heard that Tom Hardy wanted to make the Venom movies more fun and kid-friendly so that his son could watch them. That’s just too sweet.
59. Free Guy — This movie has taken a lot of crap lately, and for good reason, but thinking about it as a film and not a piece of corporate propaganda, you’ll find lots of heart and humor. And Jodie Comer.
58. Eternals — It’s no secret that this is no Nomadland, but Chloé Zhao does what she can to make this movie watchable. And it sure is a beautiful film to look at, even if its themes are all over the place.
This is a good, solid movie
57. The Night House — Better than your standard horror, but not as good as some other really good horror to come out in the last few years. Rebecca Hall is great — I just hope that she gets a big, meaty role one day.
56. F9 — Yeah, yeah, this is a product of my enjoyment of the franchise as it is. No, F9 isn’t a very good movie, but it’s a quintessential Fast and Furious movie, which gets decent praise in my book.
55. Voyagers — I’m higher on this movie than most people, if only for its interesting atmospheric tone throughout. It has some interesting things to say as well as some solid performances to boot.
54. The Guilty — This is a remake of a much better film (the 2018 Danish film, also titled The Guilty) with an added wrinkle of the California wildfires. The film works at all because of Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance and what it takes from the original immaculate script, but falters where it tries to go in a new direction.
53. The Rescue — A documentary about the value of human life and the triumph of will and determination, The Rescue will have you riveted and on the edge of your seat from start to end.
52. Mainstream — Even though it’s very on the nose with its commentary, Mainstream is fun to watch and features a couple great performances from Andrew Garfield and Maya Hawke.
51. Who Are You, Charlie Brown? — This is a sweet, short little documentary about Charles Schulz, the creator of the Peanuts comics. It shows what he meant to people of past generations, and what he means to younger generations still.
50. Kevin Garnett: Anything is Possible — As a big time Boston Celtics fan, of course a documentary on one of the most important players in the franchise’s recent history was intriguing to me. While it’s not particularly anything special and mostly just tells a basic story of Garnett’s life, I still enjoyed a lot of it.
49. Fake Famous — Another movie I’m higher on than most people, this is an interesting documentary from HBO that shows the varying effects that social media stardom can have on people.
48. Blue Bayou — This has stuck with me due to its earnestness and truly heart-wrenching ending. It gets lost in the weeds somewhere in the middle, but this is truly a moving piece of art.
47. Swan Song — There’s a lot to really love about this movie, most notably its central idea about death, grief, and moving on, but it tends to forget about the threads that it had initially begun to pull, leaving it ultimately unsatisfying.
46. The Eyes of Tammy Faye — Sympathizing with Tammy Faye Bakker is not something I’d prefer to do, but that’s what this movie makes you do, at least with its fictionalized version of the disgraced televangelist. Jessica Chastain is acting, which is both good and bad for the story as a whole.
45. Benedetta — In this back-to-back of movies that deconstruct religious systems, Benedetta is the better film, if only marginally. Its shocking imagery can tend to take precedence over a genuinely compelling story.
44. Procession — Worth watching for the ways in which it portrays grief, and of course, procession, this Netflix documentary has a lot to say about those topics as well as art and religious structures.
43. Derek Delgaudio’s In & Of Itself — A deeply moving piece of performance art and what feels like real magic, Derek Delgaudio gets at the heart of what it means to be truly human.
42. Falling — Like my neverending support of Andy Serkis, the same can be said and then some for Viggo Mortensen. In his directorial debut, he explores aging parents, memory loss, and the effects they can have on loved ones.
41. Encanto — The better of the two Disney animation releases this year, Encanto is just so much fun. It’s a visual treat, has great, fun music, and some really poignant themes about finding your place in the world and in your family.
40. King Richard — Of course Will Smith is getting a lot of deserved praise for this movie, but Aunjanue Ellis is incredible here as well. It’s a very good sports movie that feels like Moneyball if baseball was tennis and the Oakland A’s were Billy Beane’s daughters.
39. Finch — This is a much more personal and intimate film than I ever would have expected from Miguel Sapochnik, who directed many of the biggest episodes of Game of Thrones. He weaves a small, and sincere tale about the things we value in life through Tom Hanks’ excellent lead performance.
38. Cruella — Cruella is a whole heck of a lot of fun, and Emmas Stone and Thompson own the show. It hasn’t really stuck with me over the course of the year, but I wouldn’t be opposed to popping it on at any given time, just due to its sheer joyous feel.
37. Pray Away — This movie will hopefully enrage you, but of course, that’s the point. It shows the nasty evils of religion, specifically Christianity, and the downright destructive attitudes to something as simple and natural as homosexuality.
36. 15 Minutes of Shame — A good and balanced look at cancel culture and what it really means, this HBO documentary has a lot of good things to say about the online mobs that can really mess up someone’s life, oftentimes undeservedly.
35. Spider-Man: No Way Home — There’s a lot to love in the new Spidey flick, but there’s also quite a bit that still frustrates me. But if you’re able to focus on the fun that’s there in spades, which it seems like most people are, then you’ll have a good time regardless of your history with the character.
Bordering on great
34. The Power of the Dog — I didn’t particularly enjoy this the first time I watched it, but the moment it ended, everything that hadn’t made sense previously suddenly clicked. It’s stuck in my head ever since, and I’m sure it’ll be there for a while.
33. The Alpinist — Reminiscent of Free Solo, if only because they’ve come out in a fairly short amount of time, The Alpinist explores humanity, love for your craft, determination, and so much more through the lens of young climber Marc-André Leclerc.
32. Nomadland — The 2021 Best Picture winner won the award for a reason. There’s a lot to love about this movie including, but not limited to, the performances, the cinematography, the themes, and the overall feeling it brings out.
31. CODA — A film about love, family, and the barriers we overcome to understand those who we love, CODA is one of the best feel-good movies of the year.
30. Don’t Look Up — I didn’t appreciate the overly cynical and smug satire on display here and I don’t think the film was that funny, but those last 15 minutes hit me like a ton of bricks.
29. Judas and the Black Messiah — The title of this movie suggests so much about what makes it great, and that’s the top reason why I loved it. On top of that, thanks to an Oscar-winning performance from Daniel Kaluuya and an Oscar-nominated performance from LaKeith Stanfield, Shaka King’s film stands out as an out and out masterpiece.
28. Nine Days — If this movie had caught me on a better day, it might have landed higher up on my list. It’s all about appreciating the little moments that make life special and focusing on the positive over the negative. I loved the film; it’s just that the message didn’t hit me the way it does in other films.
27. Encounter — While I’m just wishing for the day when I get to see Riz Ahmed be happy in a movie, I’ll settle for his incredible performances in movies like this. All about the importance of peace instead of force and meeting people where they are, Encounter is much more than meets the eye.
26. Belfast — Kenneth Branagh’s small, personal film works because of its autobiographical nature. It feels nostalgic in so many different ways, and as you experience the difficulty of the world through the eyes of a child, you’ll start to rethink the way you see it yourself.
25. C’mon C’mon — Mike Mills has crafted intensely intimate family dramas before, and C’mon C’mon is no different. Joaquin Phoenix gives one of my very favorite performances of his — he doesn’t have to be intense or dark. He’s just sweet, caring, and genuine, which plays off young actor Woody Normal perfectly.
24. The Mitchells vs. the Machines — This film is about so many things, on top of being some of the best and most exciting animation we’ve had in years. It’s sweet, hilarious, and uplifting, and easily one of the best Netflix original movies ever made.
23. Our Friend — Even though this tells its story in a frenetic, sometimes unfocused way, there’s so much earnestness in front of and behind the camera. Gabriela Cowperthwaite crafts something deeply personal and moving that will have you tearing up, if not absolutely bawling, by the end.
This is great, without question
22. Annette — Along the lines of La La Land, but also not at all, this incredibly unique musical from Sparks and Leos Carax dives deep into the perils of fame and how it corrupts already broken people. Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and especially Simon Helberg are absolutely astonishing as the three main characters.
21. Spencer — A movie about feeling trapped, Kristen Stewart absolutely owns her interpretation of this character version of Princess Diana. Specifically, she’s trapped inside the British royal family, but everything is executed so that it feels intimate and personal beyond just the institutional commentary.
20. The French Dispatch — Wes Anderson is one of my favorite filmmakers, and his latest film did not disappoint. This anthology film is structured like a magazine, and each section has something unique and special to offer.
19. The Harder They Fall — Perhaps my biggest surprise of the year, The Harder They Fall is one of the best modern westerns I’ve seen. It’s all-star cast steals the show, but its themes are where it ultimately hits home for me. I just wish this was more widely seen and talked about.
18. No Time to Die — As a big fan of the previous installments in this iteration of James Bond, I was pretty excited to see this. And while it’s about half an hour too long, there is loads of exciting action as well as a truly emotionally resonant ending. The last 45 minutes of this film singlehandedly elevated it at least 10 spots on this list.
17. Lamb — This is one of the most bizarrely great movies of the year. A farming couple raises the child that they find, who has the head of a lamb, but the body of a person. But the thing is… it really works! It’s dark and atmospheric like you might expect from this kind of movie from A24, but that’s exactly why it’s so good.
My absolute favorites of the year
16. The Humans — Another tone piece from A24, The Humans examines the complexities of a family relationship unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen. The main family’s dynamic at their Thanksgiving dinner is a marvel to behold as it slowly evolves over the course of the evening, building to a final shot that will long stick with you.
15. Nightmare Alley — Guillermo del Toro crafts movies about how people suck, and this is that turned up to 11. Bradley Cooper plays a crafty con artist who garners more power and influence than he deserves, and with del Toro’s atmospheric tone and set design, you can’t help but draw real world parallels.
14. Zack Snyder’s Justice League — I’m as surprised as anyone to find this on my list, let alone so high up, but Zack Snyder crafted something special here. Amidst the horribly cynical superhero fare that we get from most of these kinds of movies, this version of Justice League is genuine, earnest, and has a palpable reverence for the characters.
13. Luca — One of only three Pixar movies that I absolutely adore from the last 20 years, Luca is something special. It’s about accepting who you are, finding your family, and getting in touch with what you deem to be important. It’s funny, engaging, and a downright charm.
12. Minari — With Minari, Lee Isaac Chung has gifted us with a story about the importance of understanding one another and meeting each other where we are. And with three absolutely killer performances from Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, and Yuh-Jung Youn, this is not one to miss.
11. The Last Duel — By far the better Ridley Scott film of 2021, The Last Duel is the medieval knight movie for the #MeToo era. Featuring the Rashômon style of storytelling with unreliable narrators and seeing the same events multiple times, it says, “BELIEVE WOMEN!” in big letters.
10. Licorice Pizza — Paul Thomas Anderson has been fairly hit-or-miss for me over the years, but I absolutely loved Licorice Pizza. It tells the story of a difficult relationship between two young actors with loads of potential. The film is episodic, nostalgic, and doesn’t pull any punches, making for the kind of insanely watchable, yet complex cinema that I gravitate towards.
9. The Matrix: Resurrections — As not a huge fan of the Matrix franchise, I wasn’t expecting much from this, but it totally blew away any expectations I might have had. It’s an unapologetically meta commentary on the movie business, it explores what it means to create art and whether you can have ownership over it, and, like all the best Wachowski movies, is as earnest as you can get.
8. The Green Knight — I was expecting to like The Green Knight, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to blow my expectations out of the water and live in my head for the following six-plus months. David Lowery’s medieval fantasy tone poem is so layered and deep that I feel like I could watch it 10 more times and still be getting more out of it. Dev Patel’s lead performance is one of my favorite of the year, as it explores maturity and responsibility in such a unique way.
7. Pig — Instead of Nicolas Cage’s Taken, we got something even better. Cage’s character Rob doesn’t go around killing people to get back what was rightfully his — instead, he basically kills with kindness. The icing on the cake is that this features my favorite single line of the year: “We don’t get a lot of things to really care about.” It’s deeply affecting and superbly made.
6. tick, tick… BOOM! — This is a movie where it bugs me how much I relate to the main character, but that can be a good thing for personal growth. Among all of the obviously heightened scenes since this is a musical, there is a real down to earth way about this movie that’s very relatable. Andrew Garfield and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s portrayal of Jonathan Larson, the struggling artist trying to balance work, artistic output, and the difficulties of real life, was incredibly moving, making for one of the best movies of the year.
5. Supernova — What makes Supernova so special is the way that it’s stuck with me all through the year. I saw it early in the year based off Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci starring, and its deep and profound ideas have stayed with me ever since. It’s about the value of human life, the importance of choosing for ourselves, and appreciating every moment we have. This one will crush you, but in a good kind of way.
4. The Father — This film is especially moving for me as I’ve had multiple family members endure similar afflictions to Anthony Hopkins’ character. If there was ever a way to help you get in the mind of a dementia patient, The Father’s method would be perfect. Enduring, heartbreaking, yet with just a glimmer of hope, The Father is not only a great movie, but an important one, too.
3. Dune — I have literally never been blown away in a theater the way I was by Dune. I didn’t experience Star Wars, The Matrix, or The Lord of the Rings in a theater, so this was a completely singular experience. I was blown away. Dune is a once-in-a-generation epic, and we shouldn’t overlook how Denis Villeneuve was able to pull it off. Full of great performances, jaw-dropping visuals, an all-time great score from Hans Zimmer, and layers upon layers of thematic work, this is indeed unlike anything I’ve seen in the last five to 10 years.
2. Bo Burnham: Inside — It’s a marvel that this movie was able to stay with me as long as it did. It’s an astonishing piece of art, creation, and anxiety from Bo Burnham that simultaneously inspired me, created an existential crisis, and wowed me with the sheer talent on display. We’ve always known that Burnham is extremely talented, but his intelligence is what really shines through the most here. It throws out so many questions and barely answers any of them through the endlessly catchy music, but that’s kind of the point.
1. Mass — If you were to ask me to describe my movie tastes using one movie, Mass would be it. It’s poignant, powerful, character-focused, full of depth and insight, and completely earnest. It puts four characters in one of the most difficult positions possible and tells them to work through their problems. And they do. It’s emotionally draining to watch at times, but Mass shows you where real life can be found, and for that, it’s my favorite movie of the year.