This is a live list where I rank the movies of 2021. If something isn’t on the list, I haven’t seen it. Leave your comments and we’ll talk. I favor scope, scale, and depth. If something is higher than you’d expect, it’s probably because it did one of those things very well. If it’s lower, it’s probably because I thought one of those things was lacking.
Rankings: updated 2/14/2022
NO TIME TO DIE
There were stretches where I really enjoyed No Time to Die. But that had more to do with Daniel Craig than the story or action. He elevates the material so much. The core cast is very likable. But I’ll forever be sad and a bit bitter that none of Craig’s Bond films ever surpassed Casino Royale. I still remember seeing Royale opening weekend. I was legitimately blown away and so hopeful for what would come next. Then we got Quantum of Solace. Yuck. Skyfall had flashes of that Casino Royale spirit but I wasn’t quite as high on the second half as the first. Then Spectre was a mess. All the patience and craftsmanship that went into Casino Royale and Skyfall went right out the window in order to appeal to the more traditional Bond audience.
No Time to Die is closer to Spectre than it is to Skyfall. I started the movie thinking it was still Sam Mendes directing, but within the first few minutes I knew that wasn’t true. I didn’t expect Cary Joji Fukunaga. This is the first thing I’ve seen by him since True Detective in 2014. And…eh? True Detective had such style and tone and artistic presence. I felt that with Martin Campbell in Casino Royale and Sam Mendes definitely made his presence known in Skyfall. I didn’t get much sense of Fukunaga in No Time. Which is unfortunate.
Lastly, I kind of hate the ending. I mean, it was emotional and made me cry and I get the case for the tragic ending. I just don’t think the character deserved that. Let him go be happy. Unless you’re really leaning into the judgment aspect and Bond not deserving a normal life after all the things he’s done. Like this is the fate of 00s. This is the fate of those who traffic in death. They don’t get a happy twilight. That feels a bit more justified. As is, it struck me as kind of arbitrary. And you could even make that work. Like all it takes is one misstep on this job and you’re done for. And Bond finally made his. Something like that. A half-earned noble sacrifice is lackluster to me. I just think this movie could have be something special. Especially as a conclusion to what has been a 5-film epic journey. What we got was just aggressively okay.
It’s so weird to me that Neal Purvis and Robert Wade wrote Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and No Time to Die. How is the narrative quality so all over the place?Watch on:
7/14/22: List begins
We’re just getting into the whole ranking concept. So this list is starting off with 21 entries. Didn’t see enough things in 2021 because we were busy with our Kanye podcast. But now that we’re more focused on movies, it’s I have some catching up to do.
In this initial version, I have a top three of Memoria, Spider-Man: No Way Home, and Dune. Though, in hindsight, I could be talked into The Green Knight being in the top three rather than at four. But these all represent what I value most in movies: big scope, big scale, and thematic and emotional depth. Memoria is just so methodical and existentially outrageous. And has a twist that’s kind of mind breaking. No Way Home is has that epic quality about it and pays off on decades worth of investment. Dune is Villeneuve continuing to show off. Has the visual aesthetic of an art house film but the budget of a Disney movie. And then The Green Knight is fantastical and unnerving and more challenging than No Way Home and Dune. My inherent bias for Spider-Man and Villeneuve movies is probably unfair to Green Knight.
Inside is a personal favorite. If I was just think in more purely subjective terms, I could put it in the top three. But the production value and larger filmmaking undertakings of the other movies have me rank those higher. Even though I think what Bo Burnham pulled off with Inside is very special. Some of the songs still haven’t left my head.
Then we have another collection of superhero movies. I wasn’t a fan of the theatrical Justice League. That would be ranking near the very bottom. But I think the Snyder cut addressed a lot of the critical story flaws. It also had better action sequences. I’ve always liked Snyder’s filmmaking style. The sheer scope alone has me ranking it above the other movies even if I think Justice League might have some lower lows, the sheer number of highs earns it an elevated ranking. Shang-Chi was very surprising. Loved the cast and the action sequences. Especially the final fight. It’s the best live-action Dragon Ball Z movie in existence (for now?). I’m in the minority it seems when it comes to appreciating Black Widow. The criticisms actually kind of shock me. Black Widow is essentially a Captain America: Winter Soldier remake and people still herald Winter Soldier as one of the best movies in the MCU. But they find all these flaws in Black Widow? I just don’t see it. I liked the performances, themes, and payoff.
We come up to really the tipping point of the list. West Side Story, Nobody, and Eternals are the last three (for now) that I think highly off. There’s a middle group where I’m pretty neutral and then the doldrums. West Side Story had great performances and cinematography but the story is so familiar that it just doesn’t make me feel much of anything at this point. The last 20 minuets didn’t feel quite as impressive to me either. So it ended on, I think, the weakest scenes in the movie. Nobody surprised me with how awesome the action was. I’m a huge Better Call Saul fan so am excited for anything Bob Odenkirk does. The only reason this isn’t higher is the ending. I didn’t think the big climactic showdown was all that great. Especially with how intimate and creative a lot of the other action sequences were. It felt clunky in comparison. Maybe I’ll change my mind on a rewatch.
Eternals was very flawed. And having a character named Icarus fly into the sun is just something that should never have happened. It’s one of the worst decisions in the entirety of the MCU. I don’t know if Disney demanded that happen or Chloé Zhao and the writing team honestly loved that choice? Regardless, it’s truly terrible. Also truly terrible, ending the movie with a Celestial frozen in the middle of the ocean. Especially since four more Marvel movies have come out and no one has even mentioned it. So there are a lot of flaws. But I appreciated the arc of the movie, even if some of the details bothered me. Enjoyed the concepts, the visuals, the action, and the different attitude a lot of these characters had than others in the MCU. So I didn’t dislike this as much as others but it’s also very frustrating.
The rest of the list is full of movies that, in one way or another, upset me. Don’t Look Up is the most neutral of these. I thought it was just a little too superficial in its commentary and that a lot of the existential stuff it could have gotten into suffered because of where the narrative focus was. It ended well. But it was so boring getting there. It just left me wanting to re-watch Another Earth. Mortal Kombat and Antlers had some stretches where I could enjoy what was happening. But then they’d do something that made me roll my eyes and sigh some insult. Antlers is arguably better than Mortal Kombat, but I just like Mortal Kombat more.
Godzilla vs. King Kong, Matrix Resurrections, Old, Spiral, The Suicide Squad, Free Guy, and Halloween Kills all either bored me, frustrated me, or left me regretting keeping my eyes open. There will obviously be people who find these movies charming and interesting and that’s great. Despite my dislike, I can see where there’s appeal. It’s just what I’m looking forward in terms of narrative execution is so far from existing in these movies that it’s making me angry writing this right now. Godzilla vs Kong is mostly just harmless nonsense.
Matrix was actually interesting for 30 minutes then it veered off onto a highway of bad choices befitting a Saturday morning cartoon show rather than honoring the high quality of the original Matrix. Old‘s twist was so anti-climactic I regretted watching everything leading up to it. Spiral is the most overwritten thing I’ve seen in a while. I heard very good things about Suicide Squad and was pretty let down. Especially since I was already watching the Peacemaker TV show and impressed by what Gunn did with that. Suicide Squad just felt very lifeless to me. Didn’t care for any of the characters. Didn’t think the deaths were particularly interesting. Final fight did nothing for me. I thought Free Guy would be a fun movie for all ages but very quickly realized it was more of a kids movie than anything else. With such a cool premise, the story felt a little too paint-by-numbers.
Halloween Kills is legitimately one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. Which baffles me. I loved what this team did with the 2018 Halloween movie. It was smart, interesting, visually appealing. I love what Danny McBride and David Gordon Green have done with HBO with Eastbound & Down, Vice Principals, and The Righteous Gemstones. I know they’re capable of doing great work. So what happened here? There are good ideas but the execution is about as bottom tier as it gets. I couldn’t stop myself from yelling at the TV. Like, legit standing up and going, “WHY IS THIS HAPPENING?!” To this day, I’m truly baffled. If Danny or David ever read this, I’m sorry. But what the f***?