Happy 2022! Mostly A 2021 Wrap Up! Part 1
Hello! Welcome to 2022! Sorry it’s five days late already. Surely this bodes well, right?
Before we jump into the old stuff, let’s debut something shiny and new for 2022! I’ve got a new logo - which means this site has a new logo! You’ll see it rolling out onto the site in a significant way in the coming weeks, but for now, here’s a peek:
Also want to shout out that both CAPTAIN MARVEL #35 and BLACK WIDOW #13 — after much waiting and anticipation — are finally out today! So please pick those up and let me know what you think! Jordie Bellaire’s coloring on BLACK WIDOW #13 in particular is incredible.
So I’ve been putting off recommendations for weeks (okay, fine, months!) but we’re at the end of the year so it sorta feels like it’s now or never (the end of the year was 5 days ago. Sigh).
You may want to strap in as this got LONG (so long that I had to break it into two parts!) But I caps/bolded all titles I talked about in the hopes it would be easier to skim for things you’re actually interested in.
Also, please check for ratings/trigger warnings on media yourselves before indulging. I never know how much of that I should do, but I do ingest a lot of dark/complicated stuff and I know not everyone wants that. So if that’s an issue for you, please check before diving into any of these recommendations!
We’re getting this one of out the way first, because, well, I just didn’t watch a lot of good films this year. I’m know they’re out there — hell, I have a list as long as my arm of movies I wanted (and still want) to see from not only this year, but last year (hell, all the years!) — but for a variety of reasons we just didn’t watch as many movies this year, and in a constant search for GOOD comedies (my god I need some relief from the real world!) we watched A LOT of shit. It was disappointing. Especially when you look back on it.
But there were still some standouts I’m happy to recommend — so I picked a few I wanted to talk about a little more (only films released in 2021) and then below that I touch on some other notable films we watched this year (released any time).
RIDERS OF JUSTICE (2021 — US release) This was an unexpected (if insanely violent) delight. I really loved it. It takes a pretty basic revenge movie AND a “build your team” concept and subverts it in terrific ways. You find yourself attaching to characters quickly, there are legitimately good jokes, and the revenge action is INTENSE. One of the true delights for me is when a piece of media (books, comics, movies, TV, music, whatever!) zags when you expect it to zig. And ROJ has that in spades. If you don’t mind intense violence, I definitely recommend it. 4.5/5
KATE (2021) - This was not a 5-star film and has some problems (plot’s a bit tired, blah blah blah) but what it does right, it does very very right. It moves like a freaking freight train with a ticking clock device — which isn’t revolutionary, but not everything has to be revolutionary — it just needs to work. And this does. It’s also one of the few female lead action films where the action REALLY lands for me — I’d say Charlize Theron in ATOMIC BLONDE — and maybe OLD GUARD — are the only things that comes close to both the choreography approach and Mary Elizabeth Winstead (and her stunt doubles) performances in KATE. This is the action scene where I knew I was having a great time and didn’t care if the movie was “perfect” or not. I think in a year where I made a better effort to see more great films, this definitely doesn’t make the cut, but it’s a solid little action movie that gets A LOT right. 4/5
BO BURNAM: INSIDE (2021) — I’d never normally put a special like this in with “films” (and I’m not even a Burnam fan! What is happening???), but this came at a moment when I REALLY needed it. I laughed, I cried, I laughed again. I was genuinely moved. I thought about it a lot in the days and weeks that followed our watch and still think about it now. It left a significant impression…and more than that, at a dark time (for me personally, and the world at large generally), it had a lot of hope in it, but not in that treacly way that makes you want to choke, more in that way that makes you want to hold tight to whoever you love for just a minute more and believe that things will maybe get better. 4.5/5
THE LAST DUEL (2021) - Nobody was talking about this, and the few people I heard talking about it, weren’t saying good things. THOSE PEOPLE SHOULD SHUT UP. This movie is great. Ridley Scott working from a Nicole Holofcener script (sure, sure, Matt and Ben helped too — but if I’m honest I mostly see Holofcener in the script) and a perfect cast, plus a story told “Rashomon Style” from three different perspectives is an impressive blend of great things. It’s not the genius that is RASHOMON (but what is?) But it IS a great exploration of that same kind of idea — events told through a series of different perspectives. The violence is magnificently done — realistic and brutal and powerful. And the story is absolutely gutting, but in the way that makes you think, that challenges you. I also think that there is some masterfully subtle work being done (again, I find myself wanting to give credit to Scott and Holofcener) in the reaction shots of the women (mostly supporting/ minor/side characters) as they watch these horrific events unfold. There’s a whole other story there, bubbling under the surface, and I think, that’s played exactly right. Done the way it is, in this context, it’s a pitch perfect commentary on how women (even today) are left out of the conversations that are ABOUT us (and our bodies). Jodie Comer continues to be one of the most gifted young actresses we have. Adam Driver is magnificent (as always). And Matt Damon is very good too - he’s not terribly likable here - but that’s deliberate and I admire his willingness to lean into that. It really makes it all work. All that to say, if you can handle the subject matter, it’s well worth the watch. 4.5/5
DUNE (2021) - Beautiful and powerful. I’m not a big Dune fan (despite much urging I have never read the book(s), and have only toe-dipped in any of the earlier adaptations), but Villeneuve is one of my absolute favorite directions (ARRIVAL, SICARIO, ENEMY, etc) so I was pretty locked in on this for a while…and it still managed to blow me away. What is there even to say? It’s stunningly shot, the world building feels massive and yet effortless. It’s also an amazing testament to “Chosen One” stories still being possible. I feel like we’re all feeling the tiredness of “Chosen One” narratives these days — and with good reason — but this was proof that you can still do it and still absolutely nail it. The casting is impeccable. Chalamet is physically the perfect casting and he has a quiet emotional center that almost hums it’s so palpable. I feel like we’re all so in love with Zendaya (duh, of course we are) that we sorta forgot to look at Rebecca Ferguson but she is SO hypnotically powerfully here. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. Like mother like son, I suppose. Cannot wait for the next installment. 5/5
Also notable (not necessarily released in 2021):
PIG (2021) — I didn’t love PIG as much as everyone else seemed to — I very much appreciated the unusual ending, but I didn’t quite believe it/feel it. It was a REALLY tough thing to do though — like REALLY tough and I love that they went for it despite how hard it would be to land it. And regardless of whether the movie totally came together for me, that scene in the restaurant really is one of the best scenes of the entire year. Incredible.
NATE BARGATZE: THE GREATEST AVERAGE AMERICAN (2021) — Comedy specials sometimes felt like they have saved my life this year. Bargatze is one of my favorite comics now after discovering him just last year (there are definitely two specials available on Netflix and lots of clips on YouTube) and this special is fantastic. He’s got a very relatable quality that’s appealing. And for bonus points this made my mom laugh more than I’ve seen a very long time. Highly recommended for fans of stand up.
THE GUILTY (2018) ← this would have made my list if it had released this year. You guys all probably know about the Jake Gyllenhaal remake on Netflix (I plan to watch that one too as I love Gyllenhaal and I think he’ll be great in the role) but I really encourage you guys to watch the original, preferably before you watch the remake. It’s incredibly powerful stuff and really hooked Adam and I right away and never let us go. Reminded me a lot of LOCKE (2013) in that way, even though they are very different films. Both are great examples of wildly powerful storytelling with limited environments/limited budgets/limited cast.
NIGHTMARE ALLEY (1947) - yes, I’m excited to see the new Del Toro version - but I urge any of you that love film to take the time to watch the 1947 adaptation which is magnificently dark and shockingly cynical (but in the best ways) - it really blew Adam and I away. We talk about it a lot since watching it this year - always the mark of a great film.
THE SERVANT (1963) - Talk about dark. Jesus. The cynicism and darkness in this one. Just fascinating to watch. I loved it, totally took me by surprise.
THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) - I heard a lot of chatter that this wasn’t good. Bullshit. It was a great little film and deserves credit for merging incredible psychological horror with physical horror in fantastic ways (and with some truly awesome opening title credits as a bonus).
TENET (2020). Did I love it? Did I hate it? I…really don’t know? It’s a beautiful and interesting film and some of the twists are magnificently good, but it’s just so fucking confusing. I know Nolan loves this kind of stuff but I personally wish he’d push a bit more toward DUNKIRK (2017) — powerful, emotionally devastating, clever with time/space while still being accessible — and a bit less in this direction, where I end up spending more time trying to figure it out than I do getting invested in the characters and narrative.
UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1947) We saw this quite randomly and it was so goddamn delightful it sent us on a really fun Preston Sturges watching kick. Sadly none of it lived up to this one for me (much of it was great, but this, for me, was the best of the bunch). UY is a real testament to more old school filmmaking where due to limitations of what you could show between a couple, your leads REALLY had to have chemistry and your script had to absolutely pop with witty charm in order for it to be believable that characters liked, let alone loved one another in 90 minutes. Wish we could bring some of that back to our modern filmmaking to be honest. For anyone that loves dialogue that absolute snaps or wants to get better at it, this is highly recommended!
BLACK WIDOW (2021), it’s not a perfect film by any means, but I really enjoyed it. And I think the messages within are exactly what they needed to be for both the character and her solo film. It’s often hard for me to talk about (or keep perspective on) stuff I’m actively writing… which makes it a bit hard to parse BLACK WIDOW for me, but I thought it worked in all the ways it really needed to (before you ask…I haven’t watched ETERNALS or SHANG-CHI yet since they just recently showed up on Disney+ and I haven’t been doing the theater thing, but hoping to get to them soon!)
THE BETA TEST (2021). This has got one of the most powerful opening scenes I’ve ever encountered. And A LOT of the film is equal (or close to equal) to that opening. But it just doesn’t quite all come together in the end - doesn’t quite stand up/make sense. For that, it just misses the list of favorites of the year, but I still think it’s a worthwhile to watch if you like interesting and complicated films with bizarre but fun concepts.
The only movie I got to see in a theater in 2021 was THE GREEN KNIGHT (2021) and I really disliked it, which was a huge bummer since I was excited to finally see a theater movie and had been excited about TGK specifically for a while…and then we went back into lockdown. SIGH. It was beautiful and Dev Patel was terrific, but it just didn’t land in any of the ways that really matter to me.
Worst Movie I Watched This Year? Ooof. Got a lot fighting for that title to be honest, in the search for good comedies a lot of absolute shit got watched in this house. But definitely in the hunt for that worst spot is BARB & STAR GO TO VISTA DEL MAR. I love a lot of the people involved in this movie but it is borderline unwatchable. :(
Jeez. What a terrible note to end on!
In fact, let’s change it up a bit and let me tell you that to start the year off right — aka me making better movie choices — we watched THE SOUND OF METAL as our first film of 2022 and it was — as expected — MAGNIFICENT. In fact, I wept like a baby, but in the best way that only the best films can manage. Riz Ahmed is such a powerful actor with such incredible vulnerability, which is perfectly used her.
Okay — look for part two tomorrow — which includes my recommendations for TV and Comics, as well as a little look back at my own work in 2021. Thanks for bearing with me everyone, let’s get this new year started already, right?