Welp, you know what time it is... my annual wrap-up of my favorite films of the year! Or, to be more accurate, my favorite films that I actually saw. Which is still not as many as usual, thanks to my loathing of crowds and residual COVID threats, but here we are.
THE EIGHTEEN BEST...
These are my favorite movies from this year that I actually saw.
#1 John Wick: Chapter 4 (Lionsgate)
I don’t know that this is the best “John Wick Flick” but it’s a fantastic addition to the franchise and has me longing for more (despite this being billed as the final chapter). Sure enough this is more of the same as we were blessed with in the first three films... but there’s all new layers added to the mythology of The Table and some really nice action sequences that don't feel stale or a retread of what's come before. Nope. All new. All fresh. All good. All Keanu. The rumor mill is churning with talk of a fifth movie (in addition to the Ballerina spin-off that's coming next year), and I seriously hope that it's true despite events in this fourth installment... because it seems like there's plenty more areas to explore of this universe.
#2 Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Sony)
It seemed impossible that they could top the first movie with it’s inventive, lush, gorgeous visuals... but they did it. This movie was pitch-perfect, incredibly (overwhelmingly?) entertaining, and a wild ride that's worth watching. Even better? Beyond the Spider-Verse is coming next, and if it's anything like this one, it's going to be a treat.
#3 Past Lives (A24)
Drama/Romance movies have to do some serious heavy lifting to make my best films list. This one does that in a way so effortless as to really makes me reconsider my viewpoint on this genre of film. Making it all the sweeter an experience for me is that the movie quite literally came out of nowhere. I was looking through Apple TV, It popped up with some critical acclaim. I took a chance. And then could not get it out of my head ever since. Only the best movies do that. And this is one of those films. Well worth your time, I'm a bit more than shocked that it hasn't built the buzz like Everything Everywhere All at Once did. It's that surprising and good.
#4 Jules (Bleecker Street)
If I were to sum up this movie in one word, that word would be "wonderful." And that's surprising, because the whole "UFO landed in my back yard" trope has really been done to death. It would be tempting to write this one off as "E.T. with old people" and ignore it, but it really deserves more than that because it was just so well put together. Between an exceptional cast (including Ben Kingsley, Harriet Sansom Harris, and Jane Curtain) elevating every scene, a genuinely sweet story, and an alien that's wonderfully realized with practical effects, everybody involved was going for broke and the result doesn't disappoint. My favorite movie in this genre remains Paul, but this one is so delightfully different that it can stand on its own.
#5 Mission: Impossible - Dead Reckoning, Part One (Paramount)
This franchise should have been run into the ground four movies ago. And yet here we are with is what’s arguably one of the best installment in the series. Think what you will about Tom Cruise, but he gives this film his every effort and lays it all up there on the screen. Smart, thrilling, and having a story that's geared towards action beats which are relentless, this movie would be great on its own... but is even more rewarding if you've seen the previous installments. No idea what Part Two has in store, but odds are it will be even bigger and more entertaining. That seems to be how this franchise works.
#6 Dream Scenario (A24)
My fourth favorite movie of last year was The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent because I just can't get enough Nicholas Cage. The guy has been on a roll after Pig dropped, then this year we get a slew of new films. All of them good. Three of them appearing on this page! Arguably his best Dream Scenario, which is highly enjoyable dark comedy fare that dips into the surreal in interesting ways... all while commenting on our obsession with celebrity and pop culture. They didn't really nail the ending, which is a mess and leaves some things unresolved, but the ride is entertaining enough to make it worth your while.
#7 Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (Marvel Studios)
If there was any film that was destined to be a lock for my Number One spot, it was this one. The previous two Guardians films were fantastic entertainment with great characters and interesting stories to tell. The fact that they were literally the most important movies leading into the Infinity Saga was just icing on the cake. And then I saw the film. The horrific amount of torture and death that permeates the movie kinda ruins what would otherwise be a fun capper on the trilogy.
#8 The Killer (Netflix)
David Fincher adds a stylish flair to everything he touches, but somehow manages to not repeat himself in obvious ways. But the star of the show of a hitman done wrong is Michael Fassbender, who is detached in a fascinating way that really has me hoping the character continues in another movie.
#9 Asteroid City (Focus Features)
I'm anxious to see everything Wes Anderson releases because he has an aesthetic and a sense of humor that hit me the right way. This time he's gifted us with my second-favorite film in his career. You'd think that his visual style and quirky dialogue would have diminishing returns, but this flick proves that's not even remotely true. Not only is it a gorgeous visual feast, it's unique and interesting in all the best ways. Plus what might be the greatest role of Jeff Goldblum's career (despite it lasting mere seconds).
#10 Ghosted (AppleTV)
YES, IT'S AN ADVERTISEMENT FOR APPLE PRODUCTS! YES, IT MADE MY LIST! Savaged by the critics, this is a movie that didn't seem to make anybody happy. And yet... I tuned in wanting nothing more than a fun ride, and that's exactly what I got. Chris Evans, who can essentially write his own ticket, has been beautifully taking memorable supporting roles that play against type for him. Knives Out and The Gray Man made you believe he could do whatever he out his mind to following his epic run as Captain America... then he jumped yet again, landing in Ghosted where he played the literal opposite of Cap, who is somehow forced into becoming an action hero despite it all. Plus the incomparable Ana de Armas. And, like I said, it's fun. And hilarious. With great action beats. What's not to love?
#11 The Creator (20th Century)
This was a gorgeous film with very good performances and incredible visuals that could have been so much better if it just had a stronger edit to keep it from being somewhat confusing and entirely too long. As it is, however, it comes across as an emotionally manipulative, drawn out story that left me hoping a director's cut comes along to shape it into the film it could have been. Even so, I enjoyed it quite a lot. Remarkably, the film was made on an $80 million budget, but looks more expensive than what we've been getting out of films with quadruple the budget. Just goes to show that throwing gobs of money at something doesn't mean you're going to see it on the screen (see: the recent slate of Marvel Studios movies).
#12 They Cloned Tyrone (Netflix)
Scathing social satire is something that has to be done well in order to be entertaining. Trying to make it funny adds another level of complexity that has scuttled many an effort. Juel Taylor's film managed to do both very, very well. It's smart sci-fi that's actually trying to say something, and I'm still surprised they managed to pull it off.
#13 Nimona (Netflix)
Last I heard, this animated adaptation of the graphic novel was at Disney. Which was a bit of a head-scratcher because it has LGBTQ elements baked right in. But then Disney shuttered Blue Sky Studios where it was being developed, and that was that. Until it wasn't, and Annapurna Pictures picked it up. Clever and fun with beautiful animation, it's everything you could want from a motion picture, and I'm actually a bit relieved that Netflix ended up with it so that more people ended up seeing it than would have if Disney had buried it somewhere.
#14 Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania (Marvel Studios)
Sigh. The first two Ant-Man movies were escapist fun that were imaginative and fun to watch. The entire thrust of the stories were to show how a teeny-tiny character navigates the Real World. And it came with a lot of surprises that made them far different than other movies in the Marvel Studios stable. So what did they do with the third film? Take everybody to the "Quantum Realm" where they’re mired in weirdness that completely destroys what makes them unique and special. This is not a bad movie. It’s just a huge waste of time that could have been far better spent with a better script (what the fuck happened to the quantum powers that Janet had in the previous movie?). No idea if we’re getting another sequel, but if this is the new normal, I’ll take a pass.
#15 Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour (AMC/Cinemark)
Some artists just know how to put on a performance. P!nk is probably my favorite that I've seen in person. Taylor Swift's tour films make it seem like she's in that same echlon of entertainers. Blowing through some of the best-known tracks of her career's various "eras," the movie does a great job of showcasing why her fans (like me!) enjoy the spectacle of her live shows... even if they can't attend in person. Production values on the show and the film are top-notch, and makes me wonder just how she will ever be able to top it.
#16 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem (Nickelodeon)
I didn't grow up with the original (and brilliant) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. But it feels like I did. No... this is one of those cartoons which I watched as an adult just because it was a show I wish I had as a kid. And now we get a movie which both honors the cartoon... yet strikes out on its own in fun new ways. First of all, the animation is just fantastic. Stunning, really. Having a fluidity of motion that makes the action even more compelling. Second of all, it's just funny. Joyously so. I loved every frame, and am excited at the prospect of the characters continuing onward from this direction.
#17 Red, White, & Royal Blue (Netflix)
Gay rom-coms are so often neutered to the point of being sexless pap. In which case you had really better nail the humor. This is one of those rare films that somehow manages to be very funny, but also manages to treat the lead characters as complete humans with challenges and a sex life to boot.
#18 Extraction 2 (Netflix)
The first Extraction film seemingly left no room for a sequel, but here we are. And it's actually better in just about every way. Especially with the action, which is intense and relentless. But most importantly, we got more Golshifteh Farahani, who could really, really use a spin-off with her character "Nik."
- A Haunting in Venice (20th Century)
My main problem with the first two of Kenneth Branaugh's Hercule Poirot films was that they were essentially remakes of better films. This time around they decided to do something more original based on a lsser-known Christie novel, and the results are much better. Featuring yet anoher all-star cast, Poirot gets to explore the supernatural to interesting effect. I just wish the mystery would have been a bit better.
- Renfield (Universal)
I would have bet serious money that any attempt to keep up with Nicholas Cage playing freakin’ DRACULA would fail miserably. And, indeed, Cage kills the role, as you knew he would. But, surprisingly, Nicholas Hoult playing Renfield manages to hold his own, which makes this movie a bloody fun affair. A part of me truly wants a prequel which goes into detail about Renfield and Dracula’s early years, but the film was pretty much a flop so that's likely not going to happen.
- Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (Paramount)
Probably because the D&D IP has been shit on for forever was why I held out zero hope for this one. But then... a miracle. They held onto what makes D&D so compelling while building a great story around it. Then hired a great cast to make it work.
- Air (Amazon Studios)
You wouldn't think a movie built around the advent of Air Jordans shoes would have enough meat to build a film around it... but they did it. They definitely did it. And Ben Affleck managed to star and direct his way into something respectful.
- Wham! (Netflix)
Otherwise known as the band with George Michael and that other guy, Wham! was an absolute sensation from the 80's that I remember well. Alas, it wasn't meant to last, and the band seemed to disappear in no time at all so that George could pursue his solo career. Based on the biography of "the other guy," Andrew Ridgeley, it's a compelling documentary that adds a new level to what was happening
- The Retirement Plan (Joker Films)
The third Nicholas Cage gettiing a mention on this entry is the weakest... and yet had moments of entertainment value that could have ranked this higher if they had only stuck the landing. Which was essentially a non-ending. A woman is in deep, deep trouble thanks to her husband stealing a very important thumb drive. The only place her and her daughter have to go is her dad, who used to be a "problem solver" for the government. Hilarious over-the-top violence and action ensues.
- Pinball: The Man Who Saved the Game (MPI)
I have to admit... I didn't know the half of it when it came to the history of pinball... and how it almost didn't survive here in the USA. Fortunately, this documentary lays it all out in an entertaining fashion and has very good performances to drive it home.
- Creed III (MGM)
I fully admit to not being much of a fight fan. But I am a very big fan of the Creed franchise, and the third installment is yet another great movie thanks to another stellar performance by Michael B. Jordan... plus Jonathan Majors making me once again lament that his impending (rightful) cancelation will likely halt his career.
- We Have a Ghost (Netflix)
In a year where you'd imagine the ghost movie to beat would be Disney's The Haunted Mansion reboot, along comes a far more clever and entertaining entry that was far from great, but a lot of fun to watch.
- Quiz Lady (Hulu)
I fully expected that this was going to be a forgettable, disposable movie that wouldn't have much of a lasting impression. But it's actually pretty good despite feeling about average.
- Genie (Peacock)
Melissa McCarthy is incredibly hit-or-miss to me, but Genie hits more than it misses and ended up being a fun diversion for the holidays.
- Love at First Sight (Netflix)
This is what Hallmark movies would be if they had a budget. And Jameela Jamil as a magical character fostering a romance between an unlikely couple. Charming, sweet, and wonderfully performed by a capable cast, this is a movie that hits all the right notes for rom-com fans. There's also a bit of a twist that adds a bit of sadness to it that makes you rethink what you thought you knew.
- Round and Round (Hallmark)
The Hanukkah Hallmark Channel movie this year features 80’s music, geek culture, comic books, and a hefty nod to some time travel movies which came before. It’s like somebody wrote this one just for me! But anyway... a woman has a disastrous 7th night of Hanukkah... that keeps repeating. Just like in Groundhog Day, which they are quick to acknowledge in the story. And just like in that film, she has to figure out why she's stuck in a time loop and how she can get out of it. That alone would be worth watching, but they toss in a twist at the end which has you completely recontextualizing everything you've seen. I had to go back and see if I missed some clues. Turns out I really didn't, which was disappointing. The only way this could have been better would be to have made the twist apparent when you rewatched it. Then there's the fact that the twist is kinda-sorta from one of my all-time favorite time travel movies, which I can't mention because it will give it away.
DIDN'T SEE, MIGHT HAVE MADE MY LIST...
- The Marvels (Marvel/Disney)
Everything I've heard from anybody who matters says that this was a fun and entertaiing movie. I didn't make it to the theater to see it, but if I did I am fairly confident it would have ranked higher for me than the other two Marvel films this year.
- The Boy and the Heron (Studio Ghibli)
My hands-down favorite animator of all time is Hayao Miyazaki. I've been a massive, massive fan since I first discovered his films on my many trips to Japan. This was long before the Disney partnership that gave the director widespread acclaim in the USA. But anyway... as with every other thing he's ever done, I'm sure this movie is an absolute masterpiece. How could it not be? Miyazaki keeps retiring, then coming back. Now, apparently this will not be his last film (again!) and he's got one more in him. No complaints from me, and I can't wait to see this one.
- Godzilla Minus One (Toho)
I am a fan of all the Godzilla movies... from the earliest, cheesiest releases... to the modern misfires... to the animated stuff that really deserves more recognition than it gets. Then along comes this Takashi Yamazaki affair which has been so critically lauded that it very likely would have been high on my list had I managed to actually see it this year. No idea when I'll get to it because you can't even pre-order it on iTunes, but I'll be tuning in on Day One of its digital release, bet on it.
- Oppenheimer (Syncopy/Universal)
Christopher Nolan may very well be one of the most brilliantly consistent directors going, and the critical praise that's been lauded on his story about the father of the atomic bomb is sure to be another great film.
- Wonka (Warner Bros.)
Hugh Grant as an acerbic Oompa-Loompa? Sign me up. I honestly had zero expectations about this Willy Wonka prequel, especially since it was made as a musical, but critical reception has been very generous, so who knows?
- すずめの戸締まり (Suzume) (Toho)
Makoto Shinkai, who seems incapable of making a bad film, hit the big time with his movie 君の名は (Your Name)... and rightfully so. It was brilliantly charming and smart. Then came the follow-up 天気の子 (Weathering with You) which was equally as good. It seems the critical response to すずめの戸締まり is just as good, which means he's blessed us with another genius movie.
- Poor Things (Searchlight)
When I heard that they were going to adapt the Alasdair Gray novel Poor Things, my first thought was HOW?!? It seemed like it was just a setup for disaster. But then it got released. People loved it. Critics loved it. And suddenly something I was pouring doubt upon was looking like it might actually be worth watcing.
- A Million Miles Away (Amazon)
I rotate through all my streaming services, and Amazon isn't coming for me until January. Mostly so I can watch the second season of Reacher, but also so I can see A Million Miles Away. Michale Peña, who knows his way around a script, plays Mexican-American astronaut José M. Hernández. The guy's story is ripe for a screen adaptation, and I am really excited to see this.
OVERRATED BUT STILL GOOD...
- Barbie (Warner Bros.)
I wanted so badly to love this. Mostly because the Barbie Land visuals are beyond amazing. So much thought went into every last detail of their existence and how things work that the movie is worth watching just to see it. And it's impossible to overstate how flawless the casting of Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling were to the film. Plus I think the overall message was good, and the way that the Barbies triumph over Kendom was funny. But, visuals aside, this didn't seem like enough (Kenough?) to carry an entire film. At least not for me. I know this was a critical darling and people loved it, but I was hoping for something... more? else? different? I honestly dunno what could have made this be a home run for me. But this whole "toys come to life in the real world" concept is really getting played out after The LEGO Movie, and I'm really hoping we're done with it.
- Heart of Stone (Netflix)
Good Lord. They hired a great cast. Had an interesting concept. Staged some terrific action sequences. Went to some fantastic locations. THEN MIRED EVERYTHING IN THE MOST BY-THE-NUMBERS SPY STORY IMAGINABLE. Who in the hell is calling the shots at Netflix? Is it too much to ask to get something that's not an inferior wannabe expensive Mission Impossible clone? And the absurdly silly AI computer's constant recalculation of the mission's chance of success is just fucking stupid and unneeded. Does the AI computer have God-vision to be able to calculate infinite variables of unfolding events like this? Why does every movie have to drop in some kind of AI computerized crutch to up the tension instead of just WRITING SOMETHING WITH ACTUAL TENSION? Having C-3PO, oops... I mean "The Heart"... saying "YOUR MISSION ONLY HAS A 35% CHANCE OF SUCCESS" means NOTHING and does NOTHING... especially if Gal Gadot is going to ignore it. "DON'T TELL ME THE ODDS, 3PO!" Everybody involved in this film deserves better than this stupid shit. Thank you Netflix for spending a ton of money on this crap while increasing our rates. Jesus.
- Triangle of Sadness (Lionsgate)
The trailer looked right up my alley and the critics loved it, so I bought it the minute it had a price drop on the iTunes Store. Turns out that $8 was too much to pay. I don’t get it. This movie was flashes of genius sandwiched between long, boring stretches of meaningless nothing. Didn’t hate it... but most certainly didn’t care for it much.
- Elemental (Disney/Pixar)
Blergh. Ten minutes in and I was already exhausted. Beautifully animated and a lot of imagination into the concept, but it beats you over the fucking head with artificial sentimentality and a painfully forced take on immigration stories. It's like Pixar is so far out of ideas that they figure they can just hit you in the face with the obviousness and hope that the blunt-force trauma will make you not realize it. Even putting the insane lapses in logic aside (things randomly burn or don't burn depending on whether the story needs them to) this movie is a mess. With the exception of Luca, which was amazing, Pixar has been forgettable since Toy Story 4 in 2019.
- 65 (Sony)
How can a survival movie with Adam Driver fighting frickin' dinosaurs be this frickin' boring? Maybe it was my lofty expectations over loving the concept that put me in the wrong frame of mind, but I was beyond puzzled that I couldn't get invested no matter how hard I tried.
- Leave the World Behind (Netflix)
If "meh" was a movie, it would be this. And I don't get it, because the talent behind it is off the charts. Seriously, this is a master class of acting right here. But even the best actors couldn't save an apocalypse survivor scenario this meandering and slow. I understand that they were trying to slowly build the tension, but it didn't really come to a head. It just kinda went for an ending that was meant to be provocative, but fizzled for me. I dunno. Maybe if I revisit the film one of these days I'll find that the parts are greater than the whole and appreciate it more, but right now I feel really let down by the whole ordeal.
TOTALLY SHIT THE BED...
- Rebel Moon Part One: A Child of Fire (Netflix)
Holy fucking shit. For reasons I can't even contemplate, people Keep. Giving. Zach. Snyder. Money. To. Keep. Making. Shitty. Movies. This one, which apparently began as an idea for a Star Wars film, may very well be his absolute worst. Which sounds impossible, I know. In what I can only describe as a boring pile of shit that steals every last idea from far, far superior films... including Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. The story (if you can even call it that) is about a woman who refuses to grow grain to feed evil Imperium troops, and has to assemble a ragtag team of heroes so that when the bad guys return to her moon home and find all their fellow bad guys dead, they can fight them. And as she makes her way from boring planet to boring planet, the movie just devolves into a bigger and bigger mess. Snyder has said that there's a "director's cut" that's at least an hour longer on the horizon which will make the film actually makes sense. But who the fuck is going to want to watch more of this? I had to fast forward through half of this as it is now. Count me out for Part Two, although I might have to fast forward to the very end to see if it actually has an ending. That way I can put this mess behind me.
- The Flash (Warner Bros.)
Christ. Where to start? After the glowing preview comments by "industry insiders" calling this one of the best super-heroes movies ever made, I thought it might actually be worth watching. Nope! It was beyond shitty. Not only does it start Ezra Miller... who should be in jail, shouldn't he?... it has some of the worst special effects I've ever seen. NOT due to the artists who created them, but because they were instructed to make them look that way. Seriously... try not to laugh your fucking ass off when Ezra deep-throats a burrito in free-fall or, and this is a biggie, actually runs anywhere. But that's just the start. Barry Allen meets himself as a younger college-age guy and, if you can believe it, he's even MORE annoying. I ended up fast-forwarding through the Barry & Barry scenes because it was fucking unwatchable. The only bright spots were Michael Keaton's Batman and Sasha Calle's Supergirl. But that's it. The rest is forgettable, annoying, crap that makes me glad the DCU is being rebooted.
- Blue Beetle (Warner Bros.)
I was excited that a Jaime Reyes Blue Beetle movie was in development. He's a fun character in the comics, and the fact that we'd finally get a Latino-centric super-hero movie meant it might be different from the same old thing. Until I saw the trailers. They made it very clear that this was a "power of family" movie instead of a Blue Beetle movie. And who gives a shit about that? Turns out the movie is even worse. It is boring as fuck. It takes a half-hour... A HALF-HOUR... before you even see the Blue Beetle, for crying out loud. This is the most boring, uneventful, slog of an origin story which ends up being just a frickin' Iron Man/Spider-Man hybrid clone, and not in a good way. I hope to God that James Gunn gets the DCU turned around so we avoid more of this idiotic crap. Because... HA HA HA! HOW FUNNY! HE CAN'T CONTROL THE SUIT AND HE'S RUNNING INTO EVERYTHING FOR TEN MINUTES! is just... Jesus. I know Greatest American Hero was a while ago, but this has been done to death. From there on it's just talk talk talk talk talk with action beats that are equally boring. And then? "HA HA HA! LET'S SEE GRANDMA WITH A MACHINE GUN AGAIN!" What a frickin' waste.