Top Films I Saw in 2021

I saw a lot of films this year. I always post my immediate responses in the form of Twitter film reviews, which I round up here every quarter.

In looking over my “favorite” films this year, I decided to make a bit of a change to my rankings from years past. This year, I’ll rank my Top 12 not solely based on the initial ratings I gave, but how much time I’ve spent thinking about them since I watched. Then, below, I’ll offer all of the films I rated 4/5 or better this year.

Reminder: These are the films I saw for the first time in the 2021 calendar year. So there’s some older films thrown into the mix as well.

Without further ado…JACK’S TOP 12 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2021

1. #LeaveNoTrace The way that Debra Granik pulls you into the world and develop empathy for these characters is nothing short of astonishing. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie deliver Oscar-worthy performances. Compelling, timely and heartbreaking. Everyone should see this film. 5/5*

2. #AnotherRound is a poignant twist on the midlife crisis story that everyone can relate to. Finding a way to spice up daily life, looking for joy in banality and coming to terms with the choices you’ve made all come into play in this tragic, yet comedic and even sweet film. 5/5*

3. #BeingTheRicardos A masterclass in witty interplay and sparkling cast chemistry that manages to capture its time and place while bringing the context forward through the decades to today. Absolutely brilliant from start to finish and a must-see. 5/5*

4. #LanguageLessons A beautifully simple and charming story about friendship and true connection with another. Refreshingly spare with a pair of spot-on performances and confident direction which, after 18 months on Zoom, gives us new hope in digital connection. 4.5/5*

5. #NineDays I walked into this knowing nothing. The first act was slow. But when it started to turn, my mouth started to drop. And when it all came together – just STUNNING. Etherial, evocative and yet still compelling, with a series of pitch-perfect performances. Must see. 4.5/5*

6. #CODA What a beautiful film this is, and what a breakout, star-making performance from relative newcomer Emilia Jones. A classically-crafted crowd pleaser with few surprises to be sure, but something for everyone to relate to, and so perfectly well executed. 3.5/5* (Note: Raised to 4/5*…this film sticks with you).

7. #Minari Pure cinematic emotion. This film lives in the hearts of its characters, each played perfectly. Kudos to the filmmakers for letting it all breathe. Outwardly showing the immigrant experience, on a deeper level, shows us what we all long to hear: We’re all the same. 4.5/5*

8. #TheLastDuel Scott’s best since The Martian. Full of excellent performances, and is Affleck’s best in years. The story takes some time to settle in, but it builds into a complex and layered meditation on misogyny while leaving you with a lot to think about. A must see. 4.5/5*

9. #DontLookUp Hilariously, depressingly, painfully accurate. 4/5*

10. #JudasAndTheBlackMessiah Kaluuya delivers a transformative performance in this illuminating and compelling look at Black Panther Fred Hampton. The story unfolds at a deliberate pace, giving it a meditative quality. Would’ve been helped by a 2nd half acceleration of pace. 4/5*

11. #SpiderManNowWayHome (Spoiler free review) Surpasses the hype at every level. One of the greatest Marvel films of all time, not only for its thrills, but its committed performances, cast chemistry and a surprising amount of depth and heart. 4.5/5*

12. #TheMatrixResurrections Unlike its predecessors, this is not an action film. This is a philosophical romantic drama with action, and it’s all for the better. The freshness of the original comes through in the nuanced character development, perspective and soul here. 4/5*

And, in chronological order in which I watched them, here are all of the films 4/5* or better…

#NewsOfTheWorld Solid western elevated by the expert direction of Greengrass and the nuanced performances from Hanks and Zengel. The perfect allegory to come at the end of the Trump Era – fake news, bullies and a divided America. Beautiful photography to boot. 4.5/5*

#OneNightInMiami Highly compelling meditation on race and politics in 1963 which is still just as prevalent today. These men met that night – what did they talk about? The questions asked are huge. The acting top notch. What a directorial debut for Regina King..must watch. 4.5/5*

#Nomadland An interesting mix of Into the Wild and The Dust Bowl, which feels both nostalgic with an odd longing for a better future at the same time. Frances McDormand has never been better. The photography is stunning. It’ll make you ask big questions about your own life. 5/5*

#JudasAndTheBlackMessiah Kaluuya delivers a transformative performance in this illuminating and compelling look at Black Panther Fred Hampton. The story unfolds at a deliberate pace, giving it a meditative quality. Would’ve been helped by a 2nd half acceleration of pace. 4/5*

#LeaveNoTrace The way that Debra Granik pulls you into the world and develop empathy for these characters is nothing short of astonishing. Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie deliver Oscar-worthy performances. Compelling, timely and heartbreaking. Everyone should see this film. 5/5*

#ThunderRoad An emotional high wire act. Few filmmakers and actors could balance the gut-wrenching drama with the off-beat comedy as well as Jim Cummings, and it just about works all the way through. It’s compelling and elegant, even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing. 4.5/5*

#PromisingYoungWoman There’s a lot to unpack here, and viewers should resist the urge to stick a label on this film. At its core, it’s about finding a way to deal with all-consuming grief, in the face of a system that won’t give you closure. Carey Mulligan is simply amazing. 4/5*

#Minari Pure cinematic emotion. This film lives in the hearts of its characters, each played perfectly. Kudos to the filmmakers for letting it all breathe. Outwardly showing the immigrant experience, on a deeper level, shows us what we all long to hear: We’re all the same. 4.5/5*

#SoundofMetal Pensive, evocative and soulful. Great to see Riz Ahmed finally break out with his gritty and compelling turn as Ruben, whose challenges go far beyond the loss of his hearing. Olivia Cooke’s Lou is heartbreaking – she’s never been better. Stunning photography. 4/5*

#AnotherRound is a poignant twist on the midlife crisis story that everyone can relate to. Finding a way to spice up daily life, looking for joy in banality and coming to terms with the choices you’ve made all come into play in this tragic, yet comedic and even sweet film. 5/5*

#LoveandMonsters Refreshing; this is the kind of movie we don’t make anymore. Genre-bending, plenty of action, and something pretty original. The core of this film lies in its beating heart and strengthening emotional bonds in wacky and trying situations…sound familiar? 4/5*

#TheFather A stunning (and devastating) performance from Anthony Hopkins in an incredibly challenging role. There’s been a lot of films on this subject but can’t think of one that creates such empathy for its subject while remaining so very compelling. In a class of its own. 5/5*

#TheWhiteTiger Kinetic, gritty and compelling, the film plays simultaneously as a drama, farce and social commentary. Beautifully crafted at all turns and incredibly well acted. Gets a bit long in the middle with some repeated beats, yet a remarkable film. 4.5/5*

#TheDig Feel good film with top-notch performances from a talented cast, with just enough introspection and historical context to keep the film anchored in light drama without devolving into melodrama. And then there’s the beautiful scenery…if nothing else, watch for that. 4/5*

#TheCourier An old school spy film that’s suspenseful and compelling, while made all the better by the presence of the trio of leads, Cumberbatch, Ninidze and Brosnahan. A big tonal shift in the second half is handled masterfully, a tribute to both director and writer. 4/5*

#InTheHeights is the film we need right now. Topical and vibrant, joyous and timely, well acted, incredible direction, fabulous music and just enough story to keep a non-musical guy like me happy. See this film in the theater on the biggest screen possible. You deserve it. 4.5/5*

#Limbo A compelling and unique portrait of the refugee experience, this film gets under your skin and there with sharp writing, well executed photography, top-notch acting and most importantly, a lightness of touch that brings humor, depth and light to what could be dark. 4.5/5*

#Midsommar I’m late to the party on this one and I don’t usually dig on horror but…damn. This film is so well written, directed and acted that at no point did I feel its length (long) or pace (slowest of burns), just a mounting creepiness that was every bit of compelling. 4/5*

#STILLWATER Praise for the performances all around: Matt Damon has never been better, and everyone on the screen more than kept pace with him. A compelling narrative that unfolds at a meditative pace make for a wonderfully told story with intelligent themes that surprise. 4/5*

#NineDays I walked into this knowing nothing. The first act was slow. But when it started to turn, my mouth started to drop. And when it all came together – just STUNNING. Etherial, evocative and yet still compelling, with a series of pitch-perfect performances. Must see. 4.5/5*

#TheSuicideSquad Completely ridiculous, over-the-top, gleefully violent, gory, funny and just downright entertaining. Love the risk-taking filmmaking here – has some of the most insane set pieces in history. A bit overlong – 20-25 minutes out of Act 2 would’ve done wonders. 4/5*

#CODA What a beautiful film this is, and what a breakout, star-making performance from relative newcomer Emilia Jones. A classically-crafted crowd pleaser with few surprises to be sure, but something for everyone to relate to, and so perfectly well executed. 3.5/5* (Note: Raised to 4/5*…this film sticks with you).

#FreeGuy The most fun I’ve had in a movie in quite some time. This one has a little bit of everything: Great action, wonderful special effects, solid performances, lots of humor and a compelling story with a bit of a message. Overall, a good-hearted, feel good film. 4/5*

#TheLastDuel Scott’s best since The Martian. Full of excellent performances, and is Affleck’s best in years. The story takes some time to settle in, but it builds into a complex and layered meditation on misogyny while leaving you with a lot to think about. A must see. 4.5/5*

#LanguageLessons A beautifully simple and charming story about friendship and true connection with another. Refreshingly spare with a pair of spot-on performances and confident direction which, after 18 months on Zoom, gives us new hope in digital connection. 4.5/5*

#TheMeyerowitzStories A beautiful, bittersweet and distinctive family drama that does a wonderful job of creating three dimensional characters and allowing them room to run without getting too heavy-handed. The interactions are some of the most true-to-life I’ve ever seen. 4/5*

#Eternals It’s an ambitious reach for Marvel and it’s great to see an existential superhero film for a change. Performances are all top notch; particularly loved Jolie’s Thena. Critics got it wrong here…though I guess it’s cool to shit on Marvel for trying something new. 4/5*

#KingRichard Anchored by the best performance from Will Smith in a long time, and one of the best of the year, the film brings refreshingly balanced and layered storytelling to the inspirational sports drama genre. 4/5*

#SpiderManNowWayHome (Spoiler free review) Surpasses the hype at every level. One of the greatest Marvel films of all time, not only for its thrills, but its committed performances, cast chemistry and a surprising amount of depth and heart. 4.5/5*

#BeingTheRicardos A masterclass in witty interplay and sparkling cast chemistry that manages to capture its time and place while bringing the context forward through the decades to today. Absolutely brilliant from start to finish and a must-see. 5/5*

#DontLookUp Hilariously, depressingly, painfully accurate. 4/5*

#TheMatrixResurrections Unlike its predecessors, this is not an action film. This is a philosophical romantic drama with action, and it’s all for the better. The freshness of the original comes through in the nuanced character development, perspective and soul here. 4/5*