HYD’s (and GSC’s) Favorite Films of 2021

2021 marked a glorious return to the movies. Like my guy TC, I could not wait to get back into theaters as soon as the powers that be told me I could. Was it unsafe? Possibly. Did I care? No. Life is brutally short and difficult as it is. The art of cinema has kept me going on this third planet from the Sun for decades and will presumably keep me in gravity’s rotation for another half century, if I am lucky.

With every new film announcement, we are still given the disappointments of forever delayed films. I will be the first to say that a new film announcement, trailer drop, and AMC A-List ticket drop inspires the phrase “something to live for.” In these dark times and with a depressed mind, the theater is where I will continue to go to escape the realities of everyday life, log off the internet, and let the art of storytelling take me wherever the creatives go. 

2020 had some good films, but 2021 was a whole different beast. We got a little bit of everything and if you cared to hit the theater you would have found some gems that streaming services still haven’t touched. 

I went to the movies over 30+ times in 2021 and I wish the number was higher. Below is my list of the must-see movies of 2021. But first let’s be kind to the movies that tried.

Honorable Mentions:

Ghostbuster: Afterlife, Candyman, Halloween Kills

I was super hyped for two outta three (ain’t bad, RIP Meat Loaf) of these movies, but in reality the one I cared for least was the most fun. Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a testament to how horny, lame, and out of touch adults are capable of destroying the world, and it was shockingly good. I can hardly believe it still. I want more and I thought I was done. Rock solid movie for the family. 

Candyman and Halloween Kills are part of my favorite horror franchises not named Scream and they were alright. Fun, memorable, but shaky. Sometimes that happens, but it’s still worth the watch. Especially when Halloween Ends is around the corner this Halloween and should do better than the second film in the new trilogy. 

30. Matrix 4

This film is trippy as hell and confusing as fuck, and that’s saying the least. In the end I was glad to be back, back to the Matrix. A middle finger to major studios, a shrine for love, and new Keanu content is always appreciated. I am a firm believer we live in a simulation and Matrix 4 only bolstered my absurd claims. 

29. Bergman Island

What dead filmmaker had a better 2021 than Bergman? Master of None szn 3, Scenes from a Marriage  (HBO bad remake), and Scenes from a Marriage (OG Swedish version) were some of the better viewings of the year. Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps did a good job in scaring me out of marriage so the film definitely hits. It’s slow and strange, and that makes good cinema. 

28. Old

M. Night is a king. Never take yourself too seriously and maybe your career in art might pan out. I’m still cringing at some of the kills in this movie. The typical twist ending is classic M. Night. Not his best, not his worst. Just fun, fun, fun. Take a trip to the beach. 

27. The Card Counter

Following up on First Reformed, Paul Schrader is once again taking on the darkness of man. Torture, gambling, an isolated lifestyle? Count me in. This shit is slow and you will leave the theater confused. That’s okay. Sit with it. Be uncomfortable. No one said everything should feel good when you hit the cinema. 

26. Val

My childhood Batman got a documentary that really shows the wide spectrum of the beauty and pain in this mad existence we call life. Not a huge fan of Val Kilmer but this movie made me cry, and it was the second to last NYC theater experience I had in NYC. I will never forget it. Get hyped for Top Gun Maverick.

25. Belfast

Irish people singing “Everlasting Love” is worth the price of entry. 

24. King Richard

Will Smith is getting Oscar buzz for this flick despite the fact he can’t stop talking about his bedroom problems with his wife Jada. Turns out Serena and Venus’ dad wasn’t the best guy, but he turned his family into millionaires so shout out to him anyway.

23. Shiva Baby

Believe it or not, I once shared a stage with Rachel Sennot. She’s a fucking star in the making and I’m going to be her biggest fan forever. Maybe the best movie under 85 minutes I have ever seen (hyperbole but this is my blog so). 

22. Pig

I will admit, I did not get ~it~. But I know I felt something. Nic Cage continues to be the worst and best actor ever. A beautiful tale that kept subverting my expectations. In this life, you take what you get.

21. Passing

I saw this for Sundance and it fucked me up. The book the film is based on is still in my Amazon cart. One day I will buy it. Until then, give Dev Hynes more films to score. Do it. Thank me later. 

20. Summer of Soul

Another Sundance flick, first time director and archival extraordinaire ?uestlove really did his thing here. It made me proud to be Black and proud as hell I spent 4 years in Harlem. A must-see for any music fan. 

19. Copshop

Saw this on a whim without ever seeing the trailer. Expected copaganda but it wasn’t. Turns out most cops are either crooked, dumb, or lucky. A thrill front to back with the main hero being a relatively fresh face. Turns out less is more sometimes, but it is wild how dumb some of these cops are in this movie.

18. The Lost Daughter

Maggie Gyllenhaal’s debut on parenthood is solid but the anchoring by the incredible Olviia Colman brings the trophy home. Not my favorite performance of the year, but I’m always down to see Colly win another trophy. She fucking rules.

17. A Quiet Place II

One of the craziest trailers I have ever seen, Johnny K delivers in his follow-up and proves auteur status. A fun and scary flick, I cannot wait to see where Part III goes!

16. Licorice Pizza

Age Gap Twitter is in shambles that this weird and fun movie had the best guest feature of the year (Bradley Cooper as Jon Peters talking about how tail will kill him was actually just HYD’s stand up comedy). The HAIM girls are talented (and hot), but I cannot get over why the fuck everyone kept running nonstop in this film. 

15. The Power of the Dog

Brokeback Mountain meets Call Me By Your Name, this slowburner got a lot of the old head cowboys confused about their own lives. 

14. House of Gucci

No director had a better 2021 than Ridley Scott. This ensemble cast picture was stupendously funny. Lady Gaga remains elite (and sexy), Al Pacino was in Irishman form, and somehow Jared Leto was good. I did not see this one coming.

13. C’mon C’mon

Joaquin “born in Puerto Rico” Phoenix movies may sometimes be boring or too strange, and C’mon C’mon has a little bit of both but just enough to make it super real. But why was it in black and white? 

12. Don’t Look Up

Many “smart” liberals hate this and many alt-right people hate this. In the end, Leo and Jonah delivered and I laughed. If you didn’t laugh: Relax, take it easy

11. Zola

Jeremy O. Harris is tall, dark, and handsome. Plus this man can write a fucking story. From Slave Play to Zola, he has a knack for the small funny moments. I look forward to his career progression. The actors did their damn thing as well.

10. West Side Story

My mother was obsessed with this film and soundtrack as a kid. I didn’t even want to see this. The trailer disgusted me. I admit I was wrong. Beautifully done from start to finish. Spielberg can make a movie about anything and it’ll be worth your time.

9. No Sudden Move

Another ensemble cast heist flick. Did we need another? No. But Steven Soderbergh did this one so you know it’s good. More Don Cheadle in lead roles, please. He has the chops. He has them! 

8. Many Saints of Newark

HYD fans would know this list is bullshit if the Sopranos movie didn’t make the list. Is the film good? Maybe. Is the plot good? You betcha. Ray Liotta is electric and the call backs work. I wish it was a 6 hour mini-series, but I also wish I ran North Jersey. You take what you get.

7. Dune

Timothy is no Rob Pattinson, but this flick is super fun. Denis V should go back to making movies like Prisoners and Sicario, but until then I will be content with his sci-fi marvels. 

6. No Time To Die

My roommate accidentally spoiled this film for my parents before my third watch. I will never forget it. The villain is bad (Malek is not a good actor, how the fuck did he win an Oscar?!), but Craig is superb. I will miss him, but the show must go on. 

5. The Tragedy of Macbeth

Daddy Denzel of Fordham U is master class in this one. Joel Coen also did a fantastic job. Seeing all these Black actors recite Shakespeare lines got me a little emotional, I won’t lie. Definitely helped to see this one with subtitles at the AMC in Boston Common, something the NYC AMCs never offered. 

4. Drive My Car

I fell asleep during this 3 hour epic and still cried multiple times throughout. It’s slow, painful, and downright heartbreaking. With a beautiful message of resilience, I will wait a half decade before I try again. You can never go wrong in films about storytellers. 

3. Spencer

K-Stew should win the Oscar for best actress. If she doesn’t, it’s bullshit. This Christmas ghost story has everything you need in a story. Fits, set design, and menty b’s aka mental breakdowns. I like to think I can relate. 

2. Red Rocket

If you woulda told me a decade ago the loser brother in Scary Movie 3 would have one of the best and most heartfelt performances in recent memory I would not have believed you. Sadly, Age Gap Twitter did not see this one or they would have been big mad. Sean Baker is one of the best creatives in the industry right now. I hope a major studio throws him a huge budget soon for a project of his choice. 

1. The Last Duel

Ridley Scott, you mad man. A humongous flop as the movie of the year? You’re goddamn right. With a script from Ben and Matt, the Boston boys making a medieval Me Too should not work, but it does. Judie Comer anchors this perfect film with her nuanced portrayal in all three stories in the triptych. Great battles, tension, Ben Affleck scene stealing, and an incredible, you guessed it, last duel make this movie a must watch. If you have to watch any movie from 2021, it’s this. Don’t believe me? Too bad. 

Follow me on Letterbox if you want to keep up with my film journey. 24 days into 2022 and I’m already 41 films deep. Mental illness? Maybe. But at least I’m living!!! Keep on keeping on people. 

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