Most films tend to be very average. They are fun to watch and a good way to spend an evening, but pretty unremarkable save a scene or two. Then there are the ones that stick with you all year for better or worse. They are the ones with great acting or a nonsensical story, they make you feel uncomfortable, they are the ones you want to tell people to rush out and see – or to avoid at all costs. Here are our picks for the best and worst movies of the last year.
This year’s best horror film is also the one I’ve heard the least about. The Feast is a strange slow-burn, about a wealthy family’s dinner party, and the strange young woman who’s come to assist them.
The Welsh-language film is an uncomfortable experience. Taking place over the course of a single evening, Cady (Annes Elwy) is a lingering specter, out of place in the wealthy home, being bossed around by the wealthy matriarch. How did Cady end up there, and what are her intentions? The Feast takes it’s time leading us to it’s brutal final act with gorgeous cinematography and a few downright jarring performances.
While The Feast is an eco-horror film, Lapsis, my other favorite of the year, is an eco-sci-fi/satire that is absolutely worthy of mention. Riffing on the gig economy and the certain instability of our near-futures, Lapsis is clever, entertaining, and a fun sort of film that makes you a little less bummed out about our planet’s uncertain doom.
Kate Siegel has been great in a number of roles – The Haunting of Hill House, Hush, Gerald’s Game, to name a few – so when I saw the trailer for Netflix’s Hypnotic starring her, I thought at the very least, it looked like a fun thriller. Well, a fun thriller it is not. When Jenn (Siegel) starts seeing a therapist for hypnotherapy, at first she both enjoys the sessions and feels she is benefitting from them, but over time, bad things start to happen to those around her.
Hypnotic is predictable, sure, but it’s worst offense is that with lackluster writing, it becomes entirely forgettable. So forgettable, that after watching this movie in full, a month or two later when I stumbled across the trailer on Netflix again, I’d entirely forgotten that I’d watched this.
2021 gave us a number of bad and/or forgettable movies; Those Who Wish Me Dead, Deadly Illusions, Spiral, The Forever Purge, and Prisoners of the Ghostland are just a few of the films that I watched so you don’t have to.
Shang-Chi was the second major Marvel theatrical release since Spider-Man: Far From Home and gave me, as a Marvel fan, what I was hoping Black Widow would have. Walking into the theater, I had no idea what to expect since Shang-Chi is one of the Marvel properties I am not super familiar with. To make a long story short, I loved it! This movie was as much as a surprise hit to me as the first Guardians– putting it instantly in some good company.
Shang-Chi is visually breathtaking. This movie had some of the most creative and breathtaking fight sequences in any Marvel movie to date. The fight on the outside of the skyscraper might honestly be one of my favorite fight scenes I’ve seen. The humor was perfect- I belly laughed through the entire film. The character development also worked extremely well, giving us important pieces of background story without diving deeply into the origin story tropes we have seen time and time again. I especially liked the cameos thrown in throughout the movie.
I cannot speak highly enough about Shang-Chi as a whole. I saw it in theaters at least three times and loved it just as much. This movie cracked into my Top 5 Marvel Movies, which says a lot. I wish Black Widow was half as good as this.
Worst: Don’t Breathe 2
I loved the first Don’t Breathe. I saw it on a whim on a random Thursday night at the theater and walked away wanting to see it again. While the premise of a blind man attacking people who were trying to rob his house isn’t necessarily a new concept, the way it was done (and to the extent he went to protect his property and fortune) was! The original held nothing back. It was full of twists and turns and some great horror movie kills and surprises. The ending was especially great, leaving a whole world of possibilities open for a potential sequel.
The sequel we got in August was not what we wanted nor expected. To be blunt, this movie sucked to the point I almost left in the middle of it. The cruel and untouchable antagonistic Blind Man from the first movie was (laughably) turned into a disabled underdog hero in the second. After watching the first movie, there is literally nothing that they could have done to turn The Blind Man into a hero. It almost felt like everyone involved in making this movie never watched the first one. The decision to completely change the character was and still is super puzzling to me.
The grit that was found scattered throughout the first film was replaced with crappy dialogue, overly throughout ‘kills’, horrible CGI and a plot so predictable the Blind Man himself could have seen it coming.
By the end of the movie, my friends and I were laughing like a bunch of idiots at a comedy show, the effect I’m one hundred percent sure was what the director and producer was looking for. Some movies fall into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category, but Don’t Breathe 2 is definitely not one of those.
Best: The Mitchells Vs. the Machines
Worst: Spirit Untamed
Best: The Suicide Squad
I did not expect my pick for best film of the year to be awarded to The Suicide Squad, but that was my best experience at the cinema in 2021. I was truly blown away by how great this film was. My runner up for best film of 2021 is The Last Duel.
Worst: Cry Macho
My pick for worst film of the year was super easy to identify. Cry Macho is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t expecting too much but I sure wasn’t expecting it to be as god awful as it is. The runner ups for worst film would have to be Space Jam: A New Legacy and The Starling.
We may have had a Fast & Furious movie released this year, but if there is a movie that has a greater mixture of family and “car porn”, it would have to be Julia Ducournau’s Titane. During its initial movement, it pushes the level of violence to both an extreme and comical level. However, given the director’s fascination with body horror throughout her work, which owes a debt to David Cronenberg, there is something thematically riveting in the storytelling.
Sure, Titane has moments that we haven’t seen before and can’t unsee afterwards, but at its core, is a weirdly heartwarming family drama about reconnecting, even in the most unusual circumstances, anchored by two brilliant performances from Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon. There is nothing like Titane and that is truly a great thing.
Worst: Venom: Let There be Carnage
Since its initial announcement, my expectations were low towards Venom: Let There Be Carnage, largely on the basis that I wasn’t a fan of its predecessor. And those expectations were met. In its defense, the sequel knows what it wants to be compared to the first film, but I just never got on board with this approach to the symbiotic character and his 90s aesthetic, which feels so out of place in the modern comic book movie world.
Despite the interesting choice of director with Andy Serkis, you end up with a frantic piece of superhero fiction that just throws a lot of stuff in with zero resonance; whether it is the various actors trying to top one another with their over-the-top performances, or the same pitfalls that plagued the first movie, such as a generic CG-ridden climax.
No matter what, Sony is pushing forward their cinematic universe featuring characters that appeared in Spider-Man comics (only without the web-slinger), and if we’re getting more in the vein of the two Venom movies, sign me out. Well, at least that teaser for Across the Spider-Verse (Part One) looks cool, right?
I had a great time following films in 2021, from Cruella, which I liked much more than I thought I would, to Dune, which I liked much less than I thought I would, to The Green Knight, which I liked almost exactly as much as I thought I would. There were a lot of films that I waited for, and a lot of films that I fully enjoyed.
None were like Judas and the Black Messiah though, a film that I greatly anticipated, and somehow still cleared my expectations. The way the narrative presents itself in such a grounded way, all the while mythologizing itself with its titular metaphor is beautiful in its simplicity. At it’s core, though, it’s two of the best actors today delivering noteworthy performances about some of the most important events in recent American history.
Worst: This clip from Free Guy
This trended one day and it made me like movies less.
Best: Venom: Let There Be Carnage
I knew going into the theater that I was highly likely to enjoy this movie more than many critics, as evidenced by its polarizing reception here. I can’t say that there’s something intrinsic to the film that I feel like others are missing, but rather that it simply comes down to taste. Most of the reasons that the Venom movies have been criticized go firmly in my “Pros” column.
Venom as a character works best for me when the writing is campy, and Let There Be Carnage managed to be even campier than Tom Hardy’s first outing in the goop-suit. We open with an introduction to Eddie and the symbiote’s new status quo, cohabitating in a small apartment complete with pet chickens. Hardy’s dual-vocal performance as both halves of Venom is impressive as he single-handedly sells the pair’s campy yet deadly antics. The symbiote coming out scene is easily the funniest of the year, and the supporting cast also does a good job of playing straight to Venom and Carnage’s insanity.
Speaking of Carnage, his introduction as well as that of Shriek. Are they the deepest characters in the world? No, but we still get a great sense of who they are and how they’ve managed to forge a bond with the rest of the world against them. The Carnage symbiote is adequately differentiated from Venom in both appearance and fighting technique, and the general pacing and action throughout are also great. All in all, this movie was the furthest thing from Oscar Bait but it was the most fun I had with a film all year.
Worst: Mayor Pete
On the opposite end of my picks, this was the epitome of hate-watching. Frankly, the movie never had a chance with as morally repugnant as the idea of painting this man in a positive light is. Nonetheless, I was not prepared for just how poorly made this propagandistic puff piece is. How on Earth did anyone involved look at this product and think it made Peter look good?
Structurally, the film is a hot mess. It essentially goes in chronological order from the beginning of the 2020 presidential campaign up until the (more or less) present, but it does so without ever trying to link its disparate parts in a way that makes sense. The film is meant to be triumphant and endearing, but all it does it portray a (literal) loser’s defeat.
We see coaching and debating of how best to reach out and sway a political audience, an acknowledgement or artifice that is never once tempered by any conveyance of sincere care for America or the advancement of gay people. What’s most striking is the degree to which Peter frequently looks like a robot booting up or down between scamming sessions.
Ultimately this is my worst film of the year for two main reasons: 1) its moral repugnance, and 2) its complete and utter failure to meet its prime objective of presenting its subjects favorably ahead of future political endeavors.
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