10 - Stillwater
If I’m being honest, this won’t make my list come the end of the year. I tasked myself with coming up with my ten favorite films of 2021 so far, and here we are.
Stillwater sneaks into the tenth spot because I honestly haven’t seen as many movies as I should have by now. This is a good movie, just not a great one.
Tom McCarthy (more on him in a minute) directed Spotlight in 2015. That revelatory movie won Best Picture and remains one of the best news-centric films of all time.
With Stillwater, McCarthy tries to reclaim some of the dramatic tension and socio-political presence that his former film contained, and by that metric, he failed.
Stillwater is a strange beast of a movie with drama, thriller, and action beats that never come together to make a convincing piece. The drama elements are sometimes spectacular, but then some of those thriller elements try to burst in and threaten to ruin the entire thing.
Matt Damon has never been better. He’s fantastic here as a father fighting for the freedom of his estranged daughter.
Abigail Breslin, famous for Little Miss Sunshine and Zombieland, is just not convincing here. I’ve had enough of her whiny shtick, it is no longer effective. She’s an actress of some talent, but I can’t help but think someone else would have been better suited for this role.
Stillwater is a good movie, nothing more, nothing less. It exists to make white liberal Hollywood elites feel good about themselves and it just so happens to be an entertaining flick as well. Watch it if you want to see some serious Damon fare, just don’t expect to have your life changed.
9 - Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Look, I’m not going to lie to you. I’m a massive superhero fan. I’ve been engrossed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since it began, and I happily scrape up every comic-centric offering that studios have to push out.
So, when you find two superhero movies on this list, don’t be surprised. These two, however, are actually really good.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League, the nearly four hour long experiment in filmic re-release, is a triumph. It’s a beautiful film stacked with (mostly) three-dimensional characters, an effective dramatic arc, and enough different things to distract from the more derivative parts of the plot.
As most know, Zack Snyder released this film after immense fan support when Joss Whedon’s version of Justice League disappointed just about everyone on earth. Here, Snyder reclaims the DC throne and puts out a superhero film that won’t be toppled for sheer audacity any time soon.
The bottom line is, if you’re a superhero fan, this is the most superhero movie of all time. If you are not a superhero fan, don’t watch it.
I, for one, really enjoyed the attention to detail, refusal to be boring, and majestic visuals that ZSJL provides. I’ve only seen it once, but I can’t wait to see it again.
8 - Worth
In the vein of Tom McCarthy’s (see?) Spotlight, Worth tackles the serious subject matter of insurance settlements in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. This film follows Michael Keaton’s Kenneth Feinberg as he and his team sift through the harrowing stories of 9/11 and decide just how much the dead’s lives are worth.
This true story is likely to have you sobbing at various points. As the plot moves along, various true stories of actual people’s deaths on 9/11 are shared, and man are they just as sad as you’d think they’d be.
This movie would be a lot better if Spotlight hadn’t been released years prior. It takes basically the same structure and filmmaking technique to a story equally as important. It’s effective, sure, but it sometimes feels like Spotlight 2.
Just because a filmmaker, here the multi-talented Sarah Colangelo, borrows another director’s style, doesn’t mean the message of the film is at all muted. Worth shares an important story and does it with an incredible cast.
It sounds strange to say, but Michael Keaton is one of the most exciting actors working today. Keaton is as magnetic as he’s ever been and movies are better off when he’s on screen.
He’s even better here than he was in Spotlight, but that’s perhaps the only area where this successor beats the former Best Picture winner. Worth is a sobering, important, and relevant film. It’s on Netflix for your viewing pleasure.
7 - A Quiet Place Part II
Sequels rarely work, but John Krasinski has made sure that his first one absolutely does. The second film in the Quiet Place franchise, this is the Aliens to A Quiet Place’s Alien.
Set immediately after the events of the first film, Part II follows the Abbott family as they reel from the loss of their patriarch and attempt to survive in the terrifying monster-strewn landscape that is North America. With some vital back story and a responsible continuation of the first film’s story, this sequel is just about all one could ask for in terms of getting more out of this universe.
Avoiding the pitfalls that usually overtake horror sequels, Krasinski uses his incredibly talented cast to anchor a tense but slim story to full effect. Cillian Murphy is added to the cast this time around, and he proves to be just as invaluable as anyone else.
Equal parts emotional, terrifying, and exhilarating, A Quiet Place Part II takes what was good about the first one and blasts it through a PA system (get it?). You heard that right, this one is better than the first.
One of many John Wick clones to be released this year, Nobody was certainly a surprise. Taking Bob Odenkirk out of the comedy and Better Call Saul worlds and throwing him into a ridiculously fun action-centric story was a great idea.
Odenkirk kills it here (literally) as a retired gunman who now must protect his family after some bad stuff goes down. Yeah yeah yeah, it’s more of the same, but here it really works.
Nobody is as thrilling an action film as any of the John Wicks and it is perhaps less self serious. It’s a fun ride with a great cast, and that’s good enough to make it the third best action movie of the year.
5 - The Suicide Squad
The second best action movie of the year just so happens to be another superhero movie. And guess what? It’s also a sequel (sort of).
The Suicide Squad is DC’s second attempt to bring the titular crew to life on the big screen. After one of the most embarrassing films ever to be released in theatres, 2016’s Suicide Squad, WB wisely decided to go in another direction with their next interpretation of the famous source material.
Keeping Margot Robbie, Joel Kinneman, and Viola Davis and excising most of the other stuff, The Suicide Squad is a weird, bloody, funny, and overall effective ride. With more action, comedy, gross out gags, and flat out jaw dropping set pieces than you can shake a stick at, The Suicide Squad flat out rocks.
The cast is game, the director has never been better, and the soundtrack is superior. Again, if you like superhero movies, check out The Suicide Squad. Just one thing, don’t let the kids watch.
4 - No Sudden Move
Steven Soderbergh, the guy that directed all three Ocean’s movies, has been quietly directing HBO Max movies for a couple of years now. Regardless of release platform, No Sudden Move is his best movie since Logan Lucky.
Starring Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Brendan Fraser, David Harbour, and more, this is an old fashioned crime caper that feels like late 90’s releases like Jackie Brown and (Soderbergh’s own) Out of Sight. Set before, during, and after a home invasion, the story is... Complicated.
No Sudden Move is a breezy, violent, and rough edged thriller that finds the cast and director in fine form. This feels like the best version of a movie you’d watch when home sick or when lazing on the couch on a Sunday afternoon.
I apologize for making this movie sound insufficient, it’s not. It’s an entertaining and sometimes brutal depiction of classism and revolving perceptions. It has a lot to say, it just says it in a really fun package.
3 - Our Friend
Undoubtedly the saddest film of the year, Our Friend is an emotional roller-coaster of a movie that combines laughs, tears, and more tears to tell the true story of a tragedy stricken family and one great friend who tries to help them. When his wife gets sick, a man’s best friend moves in with the family to assist in day-to-day life while struggling with his own life troubles.
Our Friend stars Jason Segel as the titular friend and Casey Affleck and Dakota Johnson as Segel’s best friends. Affleck and Johnson are great here, but it’s really Segel’s film.
Johnson is the film’s emotional center. As she goes through her journey with the big-C, she throws herself from mood to mood and brings the audience with her. Segel is the counterpoint to that, as he struggles to keep her happy while trying to make sure Affleck’s character doesn’t dissolve into nothing as his wife gradually loses her life.
Our Friend is a tough journey of a film. Picture Terms of Endearment combined with You, Me, and Dupree, and that’s the best summation I can come up with. This is a moving film that will most likely stay with you after the credits roll. If you’re in the mood to cry, this one will do it for you.
2 - The Protégé
Call me basic, I don’t care. The Protégé is the best action movie I’ve seen in quite some time. Directed by Martin Campbell (Casino Royale) and starring Samuel L. Jackson, Maggie Q, and Michael Keaton, the film follows a ruthless assassin on the prowl for blood after her mentor is killed.
I know, this sounds like a run of the mill actioner. For the most part, it is. But it’s a damn good one.
Bringing to mind the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Smith and The Long Kiss Goodnight, this movie feels like a remnant from late 90’s and early 2000’s mid-budget action spectacles. It is lean, mean, and truly, deeply enjoyable the whole way through.
While I have two superhero films down a ways on this very list, I am sick of the lack of originality in films these days.
It is derivative, sure, but The Protégé was so much fun because it doesn’t have anything to do with any IP out there. It is just a straightforward action flick that features some incredible performances.
Maggie Q is fantastic here. Flirty, charming, bada**, and beautiful, she’s the perfect foil for Keaton’s villain. Keaton, by the way, is the best part of the film. Remember how cool it was to see Keanu Reeves kicking butt in the first John Wick? That same thing happens here, but with Michael Keaton, and it’s something I didn’t know I wanted.
Samuel L. Jackson is also good here. Considering that the other two movies he was in this year are no bueno (Spiral: From the Book of Saw, The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard), it’s nice to see him actually try in a role.
If you’re in the mood for something to take the sting off of any given week, The Protégé is a great time at the movies. I loved it.
1 - Pig
I can’t get this movie out of my head, and I don’t want to. Pig is the best movie of the year so far, and it will take something that blows my socks off to take its spot.
Starring Nicholas Cage as a hermit who lives alone with a truffle pig who is later kidnapped, Pig is a revelatory picture that will undoubtedly leave its mark on the year. An intelligent, free wheeling, sad, funny, tragic, gripping, life-affirming trip of a movie, Pig is exceptional filmmaking.
Scenes from the film run through my head on the daily and nearly bring tears to my mind every time. The lessons in this film are important ones, and ones that aren’t often taught, at least on the big screen.
I will give one warning to those that seek this one out: do not expect John Wick. This is not an action film, rather a ponderous rumination on what it is to be human and what it is to survive a life.
My advice? Put your phone away, let your partner know it’s time to be quiet, and let the movie wash over you. Give Pig an hour and a half and it could give you a couple of real lightbulb-like moments.
It’s the best movie I have seen since 2015’s Boyhood, and that’s the highest praise I can give it.
It deserves your attention. Go watch Pig.