Hello kings and kweens. It’s time for my top 10 films of 2021. I think it was a good year for movies. It’s nice to see studios have confidence they can release new films in theaters. I feel pretty strongly about all the movies on my list this year. They’re all fantastic movies and in addition to that a lot of them are very unique. The art form continues to morph to the times and it’s very exciting. I unfortunately do not have a video review of each movie on this list, but when I do, I’ll be sure to mention it. My views on all the movies on this list haven’t changed since the original reviews, so you can check out my full thoughts in those original videos.
I hope to do more videos next year on a more consistent basis when my employment situation stabilizes. If you want to support these videos, check out my ko-fi page in the description. I use the money donated to this channel to buy movie tickets and I just put up a new goal to purchase a new camera — this one is almost 10 years ago.
But enough of the plugs, on with the list.
At number ten we have potentially the most influential film of the year, it’s Bo Burnham’s Inside. This film is probably closer to a comedy special or an extended music video, but it really took a life of its own after release as a raw depiction of life during the pandemic. It’s a very interesting piece, because I really don’t think Burnham started this project with the intent of creating a historical time capsule or anything like that. However, it is undeniably a product of the unique moment we’re living in right now and that’s why I find this film to be so special.
Shot entirely in a single room, we see Burnham dress up the space in different ways while singing comedic songs about whatever topic came to mind while he was making it. The production of this film started at the very beginning of the pandemic back when we were supposedly “bending the curve” for two weeks. Burnham quickly introduces a running joke about how long the special is taking. It’s taken more than six months, it’s taken so long he’s turned 30, it’s taken more than a year, and then eventually he says he’ll never stop working on it. He’ll stay in this room forever pretending to work on a special that will never end. I think the production delays are a lucid allegory to the unbelievable length of the pandemic itself — but again, I don’t think it’s something he intended.
Burnham has proven himself to be an incredibly insightful artist and it’s no surprise his introspection into what he was thinking during the pandemic — and while he was making this special throughout it — was shared by many of us, the audience. His songs focus on topics we all thought about during this experience. They cover things like the damage social media has done to us all, the ceaseless performance inherent to content creation these days, a growing cynicism for the future, and a rising resentment for the one percent — who did phenomenally well while the entire world got sick and died. I don’t think Burnham is alone in any of those views or feelings — some of which we may have discovered in the past year two years. The fact he was so in sync with our culture and this moment made Inside really special.
I’m sure Inside defined a lot of people’s year in 2021. I know his songs were streamed hundreds of millions of times on Spotify. The only reason this film isn’t higher on this list is because I’m not a big fan of comedies and I’m especially not a fan of musical comedies. Inside is not a movie I would typically like, but it’s significance and artistry are simply historic.
9. The Matrix Resurrections
Next up, we have the most personal action blockbuster in film history — The Matrix Resurrections. Anyone who’s followed the production of The Matrix Resurrections likely had reason to be cynical about its existence. Warner Brothers has been very blatant about their desire to reboot the franchise to create a cinematic universe to compete with Disney’s Marvel. Warner Brothers already tried this with the DC Universe and Harry Potter, but both those franchises are experiencing diminishing returns. So, we had no reason to think The Matrix Resurrections would be anything but a cynical cash grab. What is really unique about this movie is Warner Brothers recruited Lana Wachowski to come back to direct the film and gave her complete creative control on what the movie would be about. The Matrix Resurrections is a crazy movie because Wachowski made the decision to turn this franchise reboot into a self-aware, meta-analysis of its own existence.
In Resurrections we see Neo back in the matrix where he now leads the life of a famous video game programmer who made a trilogy of games called The Matrix. Early on in the movie, Neo is told by his boss at Warner Brothers to make a sequel to the trilogy. Neo is very distraught by this because he does not want to make a sequel to The Matrix. This premise allowed Wachowski to make this movie’s plot an articulation of why making a sequel to The Matrix is so soul-deadening. Eventually this movie attempts to be a proper sequel and introduces some traditional continuations to the story — which honestly was the weaker part of the movie. I talk more about that second half in my review, but I’ll focus on the good things here.
I really loved the first part of this movie where we see Wachowski share her thoughts on the process of making Resurrections. It’s not like anything I’ve ever seen in mainstream film before, — certainly not anything I’ve seen in a billion-dollar franchise — and especially not when it’s supposed to be the reboot for launching a series of sequels and spin-offs. The early scenes of this movie are intensely personal in a way blockbuster cash cows are not. I know a lot of people were hoping for a more traditional sequel to The Matrix, but I think those people need to accept that was never going to happen. I mean, did these people see Reloaded and Revolutions? Those movies were already barely traditional sequels, what did they think this movie was going to be? So yes, the action of Resurrections isn’t as good as the other films and we didn’t get a proper continuation of Neo’s story, but we got something else that’s really quite unique.
Whatever misgivings I have about the second half of Resurrections or what this movie could have been, I keep returning to the fact this is the movie that’s setting the tone for whatever comes next for The Matrix. I have to imagine this means the future of the Matrix franchise is limitless. If you’re making a Marvel movie, or a Harry Potter movie, there’s a list of things you can’t do. For example, you can’t make an adult-orientated Marvel film. Same with these other cinematic universes. I don’t think anyone in Harry Potter has ever had sex. There’s a lot of adult topics you’ll never be able to broach with those franchises. For better or worse, studios’ obsession with cinematic universes isn’t going anywhere. There’s some likelihood that we’ll have a period of time where the only big budget movies that get funding are part of a cinematic universe. With The Matrix Resurrections as the bedrock for whatever the Matrix will become, there’s really nothing a future creative can’t do in that creative universe. I mean this movie openly resents its own existence, what could possibly be off limits after that? I think that’s really exciting. If my prediction on how movies will be funded in the future is true, then in a way Lana Wachowski basically saved us from having to put up with exclusively mass-market family films from Marvel and Harry Potter for the next decade. Of course, there will always be independent films, but you get my point. That’s a lot of the reason why I liked Matrix Resurrections enough to call it one of the best this year.
8. A Quiet Place Part II
If you were looking for a traditional action franchise sequel, then my next pick may be more your thing. A Quiet Place Part II is a direct sequel to the action-horror film surprise hit from 2018 directed and starring John Krasinski. I think Part II technically came out in March 2020, but it had a very limited theatrical release due to the pandemic, so I — like many others — did not see it until this year.
A Quiet Place is based in a post-apocalyptic world where aliens that react violently to sound have ushered in the destruction of modern-day civilization on earth. The story focuses on a family that includes a child named Reagan who is deaf. The concept of sound-sensitive monsters against a deaf protagonist is one of those pitches that is just so effortlessly intriguing, it’s no surprise this franchise has created some of the tensest sequences in the action-horror genre. This sequel definitely continues the franchise’s competency creating tense set pieces, but it also continues the concept of sustained optimism in the face of catastrophe.
The first film gained a following among conservative audiences due to the belief it was an explicitly pro-life film. The first movie has a mother character who is pregnant, even though she clearly got pregnant months after the apocalypse began, which some critiques responded to quite strongly to as an expression of being pro-life. Krasinski has expressed excitement people have engaged with his film on such a deep level. He hasn’t clarified if the movie was meant to be read a certain way, but it is clear he wanted to continue those themes of optimism for the future in this sequel.
This film has a character who essentially lost everything in the apocalypse and has become a nihilist. Much of this movie is about his worldview contrasted with Reagan’s worldview, as a young person who hasn’t been corrupted by cynicism for the future despite the world’s circumstance. I really connected with the story in this film. I think it is especially relevant in the current context of our world. Even if you’re not looking for that element in a movie, I think the action and drama in this movie are very effective. It’s not as tense as the first film, which I think is a little bit better than this sequel. I go into my full thoughts in my review from earlier this year. Even with my critiques, it’s still one of the best action-horror films in recent memory and one of my favorites from this year
7. Red Rocket
Number seven is likely the movie on this list that will be the hardest sell for mainstream audiences. Red Rocket is about a washed-up former porn star who returns to his hometown to freeload off his ex-wife and convince a teenager to join him in the porn industry. This is the latest film from Sean Baker, who’s known for his other films Tangerine and The Florida Project. Baker has committed himself to telling stories about people who have been described as part of the “underbelly of American life.” Tangerine was about transgender sex workers, and The Florida Project centered on a person you could describe as a welfare queen. Both of those movies were uncompromising in their portrayal of the highs and lows of their respective characters — as well as the harsh reality of their existence — and Red Rocket is no different.
What is unique about Red Rocket is its tone is closer to Tangerine by being a largely blasé and uninterested in moralizing its main character Mikey Saber. Mikey is a freeloading, lying, grifter, and he is repeatedly called out for freeloading, lying, and grifting. We tolerate him because his unfailing charisma makes each of his failures quite entertaining. This relationship between the audience and Mikey is replicated in the movie as a statement on how people like Mikey are allowed to exist.
Virtually everyone in this movie knows who Mikey is. They’re not fooled by his lies, and they don’t trust him, yet he finds some modicum of success in this world. Mikey is a character who exists at the bottom of American life where there isn’t a lot of opportunity for anybody. His ex-wife is another washed-up ex-porn star, his neighbor is a burnout, and his main form of employment is selling drugs to construction workers — another profession that isn’t exactly a life of glamor. This is a segment of our country that is largely forgotten about and almost certainly some people would like to believe it does not exist. Red Rocket reminds us of this in a way that’s almost too obvious by taking place in 2016 and inserting political ads for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton throughout the film.
Which isn’t to say the point of the movie is “the reason Clinton lost is because she didn’t appeal to washed up porn stars.” I highly doubt any of the characters in this movie have ever voted. I really liked Red Rocket because it spotlighted a segment of American life that is too often ignored. The fact this movie was shot in real locations, over a few weeks, using largely non-actors, suggests this movie has some neorealism appeal. It’s capturing a moment in time and documenting it in film. For many people, this movie is what it means to live in America. It’s an uncompromising look at a portion of our country and seeing that image reflected on the big screen was one of the more thought-provoking experiences I had in film this year. It also helps watching Mikey’s travels are much like a car crash, you’re so appalled but can’t look away. Definitely not a movie for everyone, but it’s one of the more interesting films from this year.
6. Drive My Car
At number six we have the only foreign-language film on my list. Drive My Car is a Japanese film based on a short story written by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is one of the greatest writers of our era and he is known for stories that have been described as magical realism — including surrealist elements in an otherwise down-to-earth setting. I think that description fits Drive My Car, a movie that doesn’t have any fantastical elements, but the tone of the film feels like an extended out-of-body disassociation.
The reason I connected with this movie so much is because it did an incredible job drawing you into its characters without a lot of theatrics. The main character gets a residency for a theater program where he interacts with the actors he’s cast in the show, as well as the support staff for the production. A lot of the interactions in this movie are simply two characters getting drinks at a bar or having dinner, but at times these outings can turn into very deep dives into the character’s psyche or the circumstances that brought them to cross paths with the main character.
There’s one scene toward the end of the movie where the main character agrees to give one of the actors a ride home. They start a conversation during the ride and seems benign at first but slowly grows larger in significance by bringing up elements of the main character’s past and the actor’s circumstance that color our interpretation of both of them very differently than what we assumed about them up until that point. Without noticing it you realize this conversation goes on for what feels like half an hour. It keeps your attention because the complexity of the characters is evident through these conversations and these characters are ultimately what makes this film so interesting.
Drive My Car is a long movie and although it feels like a lot of time passes over the course of the film, it’s not a movie that overstays its welcome. The introduction sequence feels oddly self-contained for a bit, but they tie it back into the rest of the film in a way that went against my expectations. I really enjoyed spending time with all the characters in this movie. I especially liked the assistant theater director character. He’s played by this actor who just looks like the friendliest absolute bro of a man. Really, all the characters have a complex depth to them. It’s not an overtly dramatic film — there’s not one scene I’d point to as more significant than the rest — but it’s very well written and remains engaging through its long runtime. Definitely one of the films that will stay with me after this year.
5. C’mon, C’mon
Our next film is another deeply sentimental character-focused story. C’mon, C’mon is a great with a horrible title, and it quickly became one of my favorites for the year. This is a movie from Mike Mills, who’s developed a following due to his other emotionally impactful films such as Beginners. This movie focuses on the story of Johnny — played by Joaquin Phoenix — a documentary filmmaker who offers to take care of his nephew when his sister Viv is forced to resolve a situation with her mentally ill husband. Johnny gravitates to his relationship with his nephew because he’s working on a documentary project where he interviews kids about their perception of the world. He asks questions like: do you think adults understand you? Johnny’s caretaking becomes a way for him to deepen his relationship with his family and take a moment to assess where he is in his own life.
I really liked how the characters in this movie — and their various interactions — felt genuine and believable. We’ve all seen hundreds of movies where they manufacture a whacky interaction between the carefree kid and grumpy adult for laughs. This movie really isn’t like that. This movie feels like a truthful depiction of a slice of life among characters who are notably thoughtful about their own actions and how it may influence the future of their loved ones.
I really appreciated how much importance the movie put on the relationship between Johnny and his sister Viv. I don’t know if people realize this, but adult brother-sister relationships are almost never in movies. If you want a clear example of the sexual degeneracy rampant in filmmaking, look at how our stories treat the relationship between familial men and women. Not only are there rarely normal brothers and sisters, but there are more incest examples than I can count. Movies like Gladiator, Cruel Intentions, Crimson Peak, Star Wars, Game of Thrones, Dexter, and I could go on. If you want just normal siblings, there’s Donnie Darko, Skeleton Twins, and this movie. That’s really it.
Anyway, I thought this movie did a great job portraying the dynamic of this adult brother-sister relationship. Johnny and Viv share a sense of camaraderie when they’re trying to understand their parents or how their upbringing messed them up, but they also just as quickly turn on each other for their divergent views on what’s best for the family. At the same time, they’re comfortable sharing deep concerns about their own lives — if they’re doing what’s best for themselves and the people they love. I thought this hot-and-cold dynamic was relevant to my own experience as an adult sibling and a rare accomplishment in this film.
Beyond their relationship, this movie is great at depicting family for the complicated web of emotions that it is. The stuff with Johnny, Viv, and the nephew is great but also Viv and her husband or the siblings and their mother all feel very honest and real. I think a key element of this movie’s success is portraying its characters as regular people. They’re not hyper introspective or notably capable at resolving conflict. They stumble through their problems with various degrees of success. Movies typically treat family as a way to raise the stakes for artificial drama, but this movie is very sincere. It’s down-to-earth and relatable. There’s not a lot of high stakes drama in this movie, but it made a big impact on me and it’s one of my favorites from the year.
4. No Time to Die
It’s becoming a tradition of mine to include a dumb action movie in my top five and this year’s entry is the latest in the James Bond franchise. No Time to Die was a movie I was worried about, but I’m happy to say it quickly won me over. I became a contrarian Bond fan during the Craig era. I liked Casino Royale like everyone else, but I also liked Quantum of Solace. It didn’t seem that bad to me. However, I thought Skyfall was way too self-serious, but Spectre was a nice return to the sillier elements of Bond I’ve always liked. I know most people love Skyfall and hate Spectre, but whatever that’s my opinion — sorry. No Time to Die was hyped as the epic sendoff for the Craig era and I was worried it’d take that task a bit too seriously, but my worry was dispelled in the first action set piece of this movie.
No Time to Die begins with Bond visiting the tomb of Vesper — the Bond girl from Casino Royale — as a way to tie the arc of Bond’s character throughout the Craig era. He’s had trust issues, he’s become more cynical and vengeful, but now we’re bringing this arc to a close. While he’s visiting Vesper’s tomb Bond discovers it is rigged to blow and has to fight off assassins. This is a great introduction to this movie because I thought it was a good mix of what people liked about this era of Bond. You have the very serious and important plot development with his relationship to Vesper, but you also get the nonsensical whacky plot device of a tomb rigged as a bomb.
No Time to Die keeps this dynamic between seriousness and fun leveled for the rest of the movie. There are a lot of serious elements such as Bond’s relationships with M, Felix Leiter, and Madeline Swann — the Bond girl from Spectre returning in this movie to continue their relationship. But there are also a lot of set pieces designed around classic Bond antics. I loved the Cuba sequence in this movie. The reversal with the deadly gas during that sequence is a lot of fun. I really liked Ana de Armas’ character as a bubbly CIA agent who helps Bond on the Cuba mission for a little bit. I also really loved the rivalry between Bond and Nomi, who takes his title as 007 after Bond falls out of favor with M during this movie. There’s even a vaguely comical sub villain in this movie who Bond dispatches with a classic one-liner that’s really an all-timer for the franchise.
I also really liked Rami Malek’s portrayal as the villain Safin. He is meant to be a serious and intimidating character and I think Malek is successful in his portrayal, despite being maybe 20 years younger than the character is meant to be. Like he’s the same age as Lea Seydoux, which… doesn’t make any sense. They used his character very sparingly in this movie which I think was a good decision. He only has a handful of scenes but each one accomplishes a significant development in the story or establishes new stakes for Bond. I think he’ll go down as one of the more memorable villains, especially because his villainous plot is both terrifying and borderline comical. The guy basically invents nanobot herpes
I thought No Time to Die was peak Bond. It may have an unfair advantage to other Bond films, because it’s written as a movie with a conclusion — something Bond films rarely get to have. This movie achieves a level of finality that makes it feel significantly more impactful. The sense of finality is not because of any one creative decision, but rather the whole movie felt like the stakes were real and that heightened the drama of the action. Maybe this movie got to be so much better because it was made under circumstances that allowed for it to be more bold. With that acknowledgment out of the way… I think this might be one of the best Bond films of all time. It’s up there with Goldfinger, Goldeneye, and Casino Royale. I’ll revisit it in a few years to reassess, but for now I think it’s one of the franchise’s best which of course makes it one of the best films this year.
3. You Can’t Kill Meme
Next we have undeniably the most obscure film on this list. You Can’t Kill Meme is a documentary film that is bizarre. The film is about explaining the concept of “meme magic,” the idea that memes shared on the internet can manifest into real life consequences. Meme magic has been compared to classical divergent magics such as voodoo or wicca rituals. I don’t know how many people watching this are familiar with things like the Brooklyn wicca gathering that sought to cast a hex on Brett Kavanaugh when his nomination to the Supreme Court was debated in the Senate. That event is the type of intersection between memes, magic, and political action that this documentary is attempting to examine and explain to all your normies.
Successfully examining this topic means taking a deep dive into some of the most bizarre people on the planet. This documentary has been criticized for platforming alt-right troll tactics, as well as taking advantage of people who are potentially mentally ill. I can’t speak to either of those claims. Obviously, the term “meme magic” was coined on 8chan which is a place so toxic even the creator of 8chan has said he regrets making the website and has distanced himself from it. I don’t think that means the concept of “meme magic” is inherently right wing or problematic. In fact, this movie points to the Ice Bucket Challenge as one of the first examples of meme magic. The Ice Bucket Challenge was not only not political, but it’s also one of the more convincing examples of meme magic referenced in this film. But yes, it’s true that most of the examples given and people interviewed in this documentary are really fucking weird. There is a scene in this movie where a woman casually references Barack Obama is a time traveler who has been visiting Mars and working for the CIA since he was 5 years old. Despite those truly deranged comments, there are moments in this documentary that feel like it has tapped into something that is undeniably true. There does seem to be a strange power among internet dwellers to take a cultural sentiment, distill into memetic images, and have that eventually influence the real world.
I don’t know if I would call this “magic,” though there are some people who’ve seen this movie that suggest the phenomenon being examined in this movie has always existed in different forms and that’s what “magic” has always been. I don’t know what to think about that claim. I also don’t think any one person interviewed in this documentary is an oracle for the future. There’s one guy toward the end who’s credited with writing a very long book about meme magic. He claims to have otherworldly powers to influence the universe and let’s just say I don’t buy it. He seems like an intelligent guy who’s had a rough life. He may have picked up a deluded sense of grandeur to compensate for his lack of standing in the world. With that said, it’s impossible for me to discount the entirety of this documentary as hogwash. To the contrary, I think this movie is closest to explaining the true power of memes which are largely discounted as funny images on reddit rather than potential methods of large-scale mobilization.
I’ll leave it to you to decide. This movie isn’t widely available, but it should be coming to traditional streaming services in 2022. It is easily the movie that left me the most “shook” of the entire year. There’s definitely nothing else like it, so I consider it one of the best this year.
2. The Green Knight
My second favorite film from this year is one that probably needs a lot of explanation. The Green Knight is a really special movie because it is a faithful adaptation of a story from more than 700 years ago. It is a movie that accomplishes the near impossible task of taking an irreverent tale and making it relevant for the modern era while maintaining its authenticity with the original story. I talked a lot about the significance of this movie in my review from earlier this year, I’d recommend you check that out if you’re interested.
In short, this movie may potentially spawn a new genre of historical films that take centuries-old myths and adapt them into modern film. I know there have always been adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays or other old stories, but this movie felt distinct from those examples. I’ve always felt Shakespeare stories were vaguely unapproachable. That’s unavoidable given the structure of how those plays were written, but The Green Knight is not like that. I found this movie to be very approachable and resonant to modern audiences. However, it undoubtedly a very different movie compared to any available examples. It’s not a medieval action film like Braveheart or Kingdom of Heaven. It doesn’t have that sense of adventure or excitement to it. At the same time, I don’t think it’s accurate to say this movie is “slow” or “boring,” though I wouldn’t be surprised if someone felt that way. I found it to be an incredibly engaging story with a really strong narrative that spoke to timeless themes across generations.
It may not be a movie for everyone, but there’s something significant going on with his movie. I’m not going to retread my review from earlier this year. The short version is I liked this movie a lot. It may be one of the most significant film accomplishments in recent years. If that interests you — check it out — or check out my review where I explain my thought process a bit more. If you can appreciate what this movie wants to do it’s easily one of the best films this year.
1. Licorice Pizza
It’s been a big year for movies, but my favorite from 2021 was easily Licorice Pizza. Paul Thomas Anderson’s coming-of-age teenage romance flick is simply put — a beautiful movie. Anderson has a long career assembling heartfelt and emotional films about complicated relationships. His movies are usually difficult films. They don’t typically have a conventional plot structure, his characters are very unique, and he puts a lot of emphasis on visual storytelling. As a result, his movies are very dense. I don’t always appreciate them on the first watch I have to see it a few times to mull it over.
Licorice Pizza is unlike Anderson’s previous work because it is such a well-known genre that I found it spellbinding on my first viewing. This is a simple story about when a boy likes a girl. The fact this movie is more approachable than Anderson’s other work does not for a second take away from its greatness — if anything it makes the movie even better.
Licorice Pizza follows the story of Alana Kane, a 25-year-old woman who works for a company taking yearbook photos for high school students. Through her job she meets Gary Valentine, a 15-year-old student who has a lot of charisma and high ambitions for himself. The two have a quippy interaction and this is the beginning of their year-long courtship. This movie is all about both characters negotiating the terms of their relationship. It’s a romance that is never explicitly sexual so it exists entirely in that phase of performative games with each character getting the best of the other in different ways.
I love this movie because it is so fun. Gary and Alana have a natural chemistry and prove to be each other’s equal to such a degree it sometimes feels like they are rivals. They run into a variety of insane characters — most of whom are bizarre historical figures from Hollywood — and despite the gravity of some of these characters, all of them are used to further the development of Gary and Alana’s relationship. No matter what crazy scheme Gary has concocted for the both of them or who they run into, these two characters are always the star of the show. Anyone who’s had a crush knows how that experience can make it seem like the whole world is revolving around your relationship and that’s what this movie feels like.
This movie has a lot of great moments, but the real reason I love it so much is because of Anderson’s command of the filmic language. This is a movie that is pure kino, it can only be consumed as a film you watch. It’s not the dialogue, or the performances, or the script, or whatever movies can be. This is a movie that tells its story through its moving pictures. It is the most film film this year. There are a ton of visuals that stayed with me when I watched it. Even if it’s something as small as Gary getting into a car with Alana and seeing the camera whip to her expression just as she’s just discovered he’s a little more conniving than she knew a moment ago. There are a lot of those visuals that even now I can see them in my mind’s eye. That’s really the most you could hope for when you see a good movie and that’s what Licorice Pizza accomplishes.
I don’t think my words can really do the film justice, so I’ll just say Licorice Pizza is the best movie this year. You should check it out. And I’ll leave it at that.
That’s it for my list. Thanks for watching my videos this year guys. I took this channel a lot more seriously this year. I bought some equipment like green screens which I eventually abandoned because it looked bad and the sound was terrible, but it’s been fun. As always if you liked this video leave a comment, otherwise I’ll see you in the next review. Stay strong royals!
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