When it comes to raw, hard hitting, devastating dramas, 2021 may have been the best year for movies in a long long time. My top 3 are all dramas, easily earning a 5 star rating from me. There've been previous years I hadn't seen a single 5 star movie, therefore I can't complain when this year gives me three. My top three movies may not be easy to sit through, but I really think that by the end...after all the tears are shed, you'll be glad you sat through it. They all tell beautiful stories about fighting through the worst pain that life could possibly throw at you, and the friendships and human connections that keep us going.
On the other hand, 2021 was not the greatest year when it comes to blockbusters and escapist entertainment in general. I made many trips to the theatre and found myself in those cool Dbox seats for a lot of them...sadly, none of those movies made my list. Enough of my pointless talk, let's get to the list.
In the Same Breath, Titane, The Harder They Fall, Raya and the Last Dragon, One Night in Miami, Eternals, Sleepless, Dune, The Last Duel
10. Zola ****
It truly is a strange time we're living in when the source material for one of the best movies of the year is not a book, but a stripper's twitter thread. How much is true vs. how much she may have fabricated, I don't know, but it's one of the most intense movies of last year, and what feels like the most authentic movie about the world of sex work. This is the first feature film directed by Janicza Bravo; it's such a stylishly shot and edited movie, and who knows how good she'll get moving forward? If a small part of me felt let down by the ending, it's maybe just because I could have spent 3 hours with these characters.
9 TIE: In the Earth **** and Prisoners of the Ghostland ****
I can almost give the same review to both movies as they are both easily the most, "what the fuck did I just watch?" (but not in a bad way at all) movies, but also the trippiest, batshit crazy, visually stunning fever dreams. In both cases, I won't pretend that I understood everything or deciphered all the symbolism and metaphors, but I had so much fun going along with the ride. Both movies are fucking hilarious and boy do both movies get some great sick comedy out of how much our protagonists suffer. Nic Cage's performance stands out the most of the two movies as he gives the exact over the top batshit crazy Nic Cage performance we all love from him, but the entire cast of In the Earth are also fantastic. These two would be a great double bill after you've blazed some really good shit.
In the Earth:
Prisoners of the Ghostland:
7. Night Books ****
Just a quick note...the opening 10 minutes of this movie are fucking awful. Stick with it. It gets a whole lot better after. Alright...
Perhaps my love of this movie is a bit of a bias due to being a writer, but a horror movie about writer's block? Fucking love it! In my case, laziness is easily winning the battle over my writer's block...it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if a witch kidnapped me and said that I better get the fuck back to writing, or she'll kill me. Kristin Ritter is maybe my favorite villain of the year. Hilarious when she shits all over the writing of the protagonist; on the other hand, ominous as fuck when you piss her off.
I saw a few critics compare this to Coraline and I agree. It's a kids horror movie, but I can see it being too intense for kids. I found this more suspenseful than most R rated horror movies this year. Especially those fucking spiders. Jesus.
Most of all, I think the movie delivers a wonderful message to kids. The horror in this movie isn't just about writer's block, it's...imagine people throw away their true passions in life and who they truly are just for the sake of fitting in and being popular? Imagine the horror of that.
I think it's a great message for kids...if they're not shitting their pants.
6. I Care A lot ****
5. The Climb ****1/2
What a unique comedy this is. It's kind of like an arthouse version of Step Brothers (sometimes as silly, but much funnier), with the filmmaking aesthetic of Children of Men or 1917, with the script formula of Boyhood. The opening scene of the movie may be one of the most impressive one takes I've ever seen.
It's a rare laugh your ass off while marveling at the absolutely stunning one takes of the movie (every scene is a one take). If there's something that maybe hindered this movie's chance of making it higher in my list, it did kind of lack an emotional connection to the main characters.
4. Riders of Justice ****1/2
3. Mass *****
Talk about a drama that will stay with you well after its runtime. Just to set up the premise, here's a one location movie that very well could have been a stage play. It's a meeting of four people; the parents of a kid who was tragically killed in a school shooting meet with the parents of the school shooter.
I love the awkward beginning; the church workers trying to figure out a good place to put the table and tissue box. "Do have enough food for them?" "Trust me, they're not going to touch the food." . Hell, even the small talk between the parents is awkward as fuck as the audience knows that once all that shit is out of the way, it's going to get intense as fuck, and it truly does.
It's truly captivating once it gets going and it never lets go. I found myself hanging on every word, and felt the complex mix of emotions from both parents, experiencing a different kind of pain, and resentment. It's raw, uncompromising, poignant, but by the end, cathartic. The solution to it all is kind of beautiful, and as tough as it may be sit through, I almost felt a sense of relief that they all felt at the end.
2. Language Lessons *****
This is definitely 2021's biggest tear jerker. I did not expect the movie to hit me as early as it did, and once it does, it doesn't let go. I had to pause this movie on multiple occasions, take a short break then get back to it. With that said though, I think it's such a fitting movie for the pandemic. The world has done an awful lot of grieving over this fucked up time we live in, but what's the best way to get through grief? Friendships and human connection, and that's what this movie is all about.
I wasn't all that excited to get into a movie that's about a long distance friendship that's almost entirely video chats, but they are so creative with how they pull it off. I hope I don't make this sound like it's a misery porn movie. There's a lot of good comedy, and the chemistry is so good between these two unlikely friends who maybe never would have become friends if the tragedy had never hit. I think it's ultimately how you feel at the end, and I think I watched one of the most beautiful friendships in the history of cinema unfold.
1. Our Friend *****