It's 2021 now, isn't it? Not for long though. We've got a little over two months left, and then it'll be 2022.
I spent all of 2021 living and working in Fangliao Township, Pingtung County, Taiwan. There has been a lot of job-related uncertainty. I've lost a couple friends. I've gained a couple new ones. All in all it isn't a terrible year, but I've had better years for sure.
I can't say what the top movies of 2021 are because it's not over yet.
I can't say what the critical favorites were.
I can't say which movie I liked the least, because I'm sure I'll see other 2021 movies in the future.
BUT I can list the movies I've seen so far. Keep in mind that release dates are different in Taiwan. Some of the movies below might have been released the year before in the States, some might not have been released there yet.
1. Godzilla vs. Kong
I like big stompy monsters. That's kind of my thing. This movie isn't perfect, but it features a few big stompy monsters stomping a lot of stompable things. I appreciate that. The people I went with were all rooting for Kong. I was rooting for Godzilla.
Some Good Ones
1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
In case you're unfamiliar with the comic books, Shang-Chi was always a street level character, tied to the neighborhood where he lived and isolated from most of the rest of the Marvel Universe. He was very much a product of the 1970s, an era in which Bruce Lee was blowing people's minds.
The more recent movie incarnation is a whole other character. It's not just that they retooled the Mandarin's backstory, but also the scale of Shang-Chi's powers, the magical elements, and the fact that he's untethered to any single (urban) location. The MCU Shang-Chi is just a whole lot bigger, and I think this change of scale makes sense given the MCU films that have come before him. Giving us another street level hero along the lines of the Netflix shows would have been disappointing. It also wouldn't have made as much sense given the kind of continuity Marvel Studios is creating.
I enjoyed this movie a lot more than I thought I would. I wasn't super excited going in, but by the time the fight on the bus started I was fully invested. Simu Liu is a good actor, and Tony Leung, who's carried more movies than I can count, was an ideal choice for the villain. If someone explained the ending to you beforehand you'd probably make up your mind against it, but as it is they do an excellent job of building up to that fantastical conclusion.
Awkwafina? I think she was miscast. She was great in The Farewell - a movie in which she plays a similar character - but her humorous dialogue in Shang-Chi lessened the movie. The actress playing Shang-Chi's sister - a woman I found insanely attractive - could have just as easily filled the same function in the plot.
Fun Fact 1: Actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, almost starred in a Shang-Chi television show in the 1980s. Bruce Lee was the visual inspiration for Shang-Chi back in the 70s.
Fun Fact 2: Movie martial arts legend Yuen Woo-Ping almost directed a version of Shang-Chi for Dreamworks Pictures back in the early 2000s. Yuen Woo-ping choreographed the fights in the The Matrix.
2. Zack Snyder's Justice League
Is it akin to the Second Coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Of course not. It's unquestionably better than the Joss Whedon version, but I won't argue that it's not too long. It does fill in some blanks with regard to the earlier version, and I especially enjoyed the added scenes with the Flash, but after watching it I had no desire to see it again. I think the best version of Justice League is somewhere between Snyder's (far more cohesive) vision and Joss Whedon's more "commercially acceptable" substitute.
If nothing else I'm happy this movie was released because it diffused all the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut agitation. I'm sure all of those people have moved on to some other cinematic cause, and I'm happy to NOT know what that cause is.
Fun Fact: That scene with Martian Manhunter in the end originally featured John Stewart/Green Lantern.
3. Suicide Squad
SO much hype, but yeah, it's a solid movie. I wasn't a big fan of James Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy films, but this one worked much better for me. I liked "the fakeout" in the beginning, I enjoyed the gratuitous violence, and in Bloodsport Idris Elba seems to have found a comic book character worthy of his acting ability.
My favorite parts of this movie were Bloodsport and Peacemaker's assault on the rebel camp, and also the scenes involving King Shark. Harley Quinn shouldn't have been given so much screen time, and Joel Kinnaman - as in the first movie - doesn't have enough to do. Starro was well done, and making his origins more gruesome was a great idea.
Future: At the present time Gunn seems to have drifted away from the DCEU. He's been helping the Peacemaker series along, but after production on The Suicide Squad wrapped he'd already started work on the third Guardians of the Galaxy. There's even a Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special on the way in 2022.
Some Bad Ones
1. Black Widow
I hated it. Warmed-over Winter Soldier nonsense. I never thought Black Widow deserved her own movie, and this movie is proof of that. Spider Woman? Bring it on. Ms. Marvel? I'd love that. Captain Marvel 2? Bound to be better than the first one. But Black Widow? Why?
I liked David Harbour, Rachel Weisz and Florence Pugh though. They outshine Scarlett Johanssen in every scene they're in. The rest of it? Not doing anything for me. The worst bit is the villain explaining his entire plot aboard the sky base near the end, and that skydive from said base after it gets exploded is pure impossibility.
Calling this "the seventh highest-grossing film of 2021" also isn't saying much. That designation is probably untrue now anyway. Many films had release dates delayed and even pushed to the following year due to the pandemic.
In a Parallel Universe: Emily Blunt almost played Black Widow in Iron Man 2.
2. Army of the Dead
I wanted to like this movie. I really enjoyed Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead. I just wasn't feeling it. It tries a couple novel things: the zombie birth, the zombie animals, but those two gimmicks aside it's very dark and very boring. I like the kind of actor Dave Bautista's shaping up to be, but this movie isn't that entertaining.
3. No Time to Die
People who entered the series alongside Daniel Craig will probably love it, those who've been a fan for longer probably won't. For me this wasn't a Bond movie. It's overlong, it's depressing, and it misses the point of the character. He's a heterosexual male fantasy after all, and not many heterosexual males fantasize about beautiful women we can't have, villains who plan on torturing and/or killing our loved ones, or the personal sacrifice Bond has to make at the end of this movie. I think Craig was a good Bond - maybe not the best Bond, but definitely good - and I don't think this was the right way to say farewell to his character.
What? I didn't like Dune? No, I didn't. Like No Time to Die above I thought it was too long, TOO LOUD, and a burdened by the impression it was trying to make. If the sequels ever get made I'll happily consider this movie the first half of something better, but taken on its own it doesn't present a very compelling narrative.
I still think Denis Villenueve is one of the best directors out there, but he needs to back away from this "small character against an enormous background followed by loud, unidentifiable noises" thing he keeps doing. It really worked in films like Sicario and Blade Runner 2049, but it's getting repetitious. I'll agree that there's not much character development in the book, but this movie makes David Lynch's version look concise by comparison.
Movies I'm Looking Forward To
1. Venom: Let There Be Carnage
Woody Harrelson does "evil" well. I probably won't see it in the theater but I'm sure I'll see it at some point.
2. The Jesus Music
I know this is a weird choice, but this documentary on the Christian music scene sounds interesting.
3. The Last Duel
Ridley Scott does well with historical epics. I recently saw the director's cut of Kingdom of Heaven and really liked it.
4. The Velvet Underground
Documentary on the band. I've been a fan for a long time.
I've been a fan of Ruth Negga since Loving.
Anyone who likes comic book movies will be lined up to see this next month. Director Chloe Zhao won an Oscar last year for Nomadland and this movie has everything else going for it.
7. House of Gucci
Another film by Ridley Scott. Lady Gaga, Adam Driver and Jared Leto in the same movie. It should be interesting if nothing else.
8. Don't Look Up
Director Adam McKay tackles science fiction with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and several other famous names in tow.
9. A Journal for Jordan
Denzel Washington is one of my favorite directors, and he'll be directing Michael B. Jordan in this one. Should be good.
10. Spider-Man: No Way Home
Multiversal madness! No, Sam Raimi's not directing, but this movie will hold you over until Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness appears. It's probably a solid film. I just hope the speculation on who is and who isn't in it doesn't prove more fun than the movie itself.
11. The Matrix Resurrections
If we're lucky it'll blow our minds, if we're unlucky it'll be a derivative sci-fi action movie with good fight scenes. I'm a huge fan of the 1999 original so of course I have to see it.