There should quite literally be something for everyone.
Don't Look Up
Don't Look Up will be the first movie in a while from Academy Award-winner Adam McKay (Vice, The Big Short) to not be based on true life events. Instead, this will find Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence leading an absolutely stacked cast (*deep breath*: Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Matthew Perry, and Chris Evans, among others) as low-level astronomers who need to go on a media tour to warn viewers of an incoming asteroid that threatens to destroy the whole planet. McKay always brings humor into his work, even when, like Big Short and Vice, it can be a horror movie in its own real-life way.
The Matrix Resurrections
The Matrix Resurrections doesn’t refute the events of The Matrix Online, but it’s not entirely clear if it all still lines up 16 years later. So did Lana Wachowski pull a Yoko Taro/Nier move and weave a now-dead MMO into the broader mythology of the The Matrix Resurrections? As Niobe tells Neo in the new film, after the events of Revolutions, Morpheus was elected the high chair of the council. But when rumors started up that there was a “new power” taking over the machine world, he ignored them. “He was certain what you had done could not be undone. All of these people never stopped believing in miracles, believing in you.”
In way, we do see Fishburne’s Morpheus in Resurrections: As a statue, built in the honor of a man whose legacy is more complicated than any hero. And as for everyone being crushed to death when The Matrix Online went offline in 2009, well, chalk that up to a reboot.
Spider-Man: No Way Home
Picking up right where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off, Spider-Man: No Way Home is so much more than just another continuation or sequel. No Way Home may eventually prove to be the definitive take of Tom Holland's Spider-Man; it's the Infinity War/Endgame level take on the MCU webslinger series. And while it doesn't all land, with the benefit of time, you'll be thinking about the great moments (and there are a lot of them!) for far longer than anything that didn't entirely land. Any Spider-Man fan from any era of the character will be thrilled.
Let's break the equation here down quickly and simply:
Guillermo Del Toro's first directorial effort since The Shape of Water won Best Picture and won him Best Director at the Oscars ✔️
An evil couple played by Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett ✔️
A psychological thriller/horror that deeply embodies GDT's signature aesthetic ✔️
The movie also adapts the 1946 novel of the same name. We don't need much more than that.
Two newcomers—Haim member Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman, son of Philip Seymour Hoffman—take center stage in Licorice Pizza, the coming-of-age Hollywood story directed by absolute maestro Paul Thomas Anderson. Anderson is easily one of the best directors in the business; ever since his first films, Hard Eight and Boogie Nights, his movies have been events.
And Licorice Pizza delivers. The movie is something of a return to PTA's Boogie Nights energy, but almost also feels like his sort of take on a Dazed and Confused, set in the world of show business and filmmaking. Haim is particularly great, but Hoffman is also a revelation; it really feels, at times, like you're watching a continuation of his late father. The mannerisms, the facial expressions, the confidence—it's uncanny, and delightful.
And one more thing—Bradley Cooper is only in the movie ever so briefly (maybe 10 minutes or so) as Jon Peters, but he is magical. Oscar for Bradley, please? He's been nominated 8 times before and never won, so maybe this could be a streak-breaker.
The Power of the Dog
What a year for Westerns on Netflix, huh? The Power of the Dog is a film from Academy Award-winner Jane Campion (The Piano) about a rancher (Benedict Cumberbatch) who owns and operates a ranch with his brother (Jesse Plemons). When that same brother is smitten with a woman (Kirsten Dunst) and makes her his new wife, Cumberbatch's character torments her, jealous of losing his brother's affection.
Just that cast should be enough to convince you, but the story is compelling, and the visuals are stunning. Campion has complete trust in her cast to carry the film not only with the dialogue on the page, but with all sorts of brilliant, unspoken, subtle, moments. It's a film that you can't be looking down at your phone at all for—it demands viewers' full attention.
House of Gucci
The second Ridley Scott film of the year (the man has had a busy quarantine!) was House of Gucci, which was certainly long, but turned out to really be dramatic, chaotic, and beautiful in the best ways. The movie, set in 1995, tells the true-life story of the murder of Maurizio Gucci (Adam Driver).
It's rare that a director can achieve success twice in the same year, but Scott did just that with a pair of vastly different movies in The Last Duel and House of Gucci in 2021.
The Harder They Fall
The Harder They Fall is a longer movie—with a run time of 2 hours and 19 minutes—but it's so well-paced, filled with action, drama, gunfights, and visually compelling through all of it that it never ever feels long. Nat Love (Jonathan Majors)was a real person, but the story of vengeance presented here (where Nat seeks vengeance on an outlaw named Rufus Buck (Idris Elba) who killed his parents) is ficional. It's a tricky line, but one that works. It's a fun modern reinvention of the western, and one that we suspect people will watch over and over and over again. And the cast is stellar: in addition to Majors and Elba, it's also got Regina King, Zazie Beetz, Lakeith Stanfield, and Delroy Lindo, among numerous others.
Last Night In Soho
Director Edgar Wright has made some of the most fun movies of the last two decades, from his trilogy with Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End) to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and 2017's Baby Driver. Wright returned this year with Last Night In Soho, which was another huge role for The Queen's Gambit star Anya Taylor-Joy, alongside Jojo Rabbit's Thomasin McKenzie and former Doctor Who Matt Smith.
While Wright has explored horror before through the lens of comedy with Shaun of the Dead, Last Night in Soho goes full psychological horror/thriller/mystery. The acting is great, the visuals are great, and as we always expect with Wright, the soundtrack is just fantastic. Last Night in Soho is a visual experience that marks yet another unique chapter in Wright's impressive resume.
We were waiting for director Denis Villeneuve's take on Dune for a long-ass time. And, well, it's just so damn good. This movie lived up to the hype and then some. The cast is all stellar in their roles: Timothée Chalamet leads, with Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Josh Brolin, Zendaya, Stellan Skarsgård and Dave Bautista all pulling their weight.
Villeneuve's film is easily the best adaptation of Frank Herbert's novel of the same name (even though it didn't get everything from one of the best Sci-Fi books ever); the movie is an absolute epic in just about every way, and should be watched (and rewatched, and rewatched) on the biggest screen you can find. Thankfully, Dune: Part Two is coming in October 2023. We won't have to wait long to head back to Arrakis.
The Last Duel
Ridley Scott is still in high-gear at age 83, and he's proved it in 2021, delivering audiences not one but two epics. The first was The Last Duel, a star-studded historical drama (based on a nonfiction book of the same name) that pits Adam Driver against Matt Damon after the latter allegedly raped the wife of the former. That wife is be played by Killing Eve star Jodie Comer, who gives an Oscar-worthy performance and Ben Affleck absolutely hams it up as a horny lord in the movie. (Yes, this is a long-awaited Affleck/Damon reunion; the two also wrote the script together with help from Can You Ever Forgive Me? scribe Nicole Holofcener).
Mr. Scott sure does capture some of his Blade Runner/Alien magic here—or, well, maybe we should say the Gladiator magic. What a director.
No Time To Die
No Time To Die was the first major blockbuster to have to move its release date due to coronavirus concerns in 2020, and kept moving until it finally landed in theaters in October 2021.
And guess what—it was worth the wait! No Time To Die is a well-paced, action-packed blast. Daniel Craig delivers, obviously, and it's great to check in with the rest of his crew (Léa Seydoux, Jeffrey Wright, Ben Whishaw, Naome Harris, and Ralph Fiennes) one ore time. The movie wraps things up in a very satisfying manner.
The Card Counter
Legendary writer/director Paul Schrader (who wrote Taxi Driver and Raging Bull and wrote and directed First Reformed) is back with The Card Counter, a slow-burn thriller about a man (Oscar Isaac) who gets out of prison and starts a new life making money and playing cards. We slowly learn more and more about the man's past, how he got into prison, and find him involved with new motivation—and potentially seeking some revenge. The rest of the cast includes Tiffany Haddish, Willem Dafoe, and Tye Sheridan, all of whom make the most of their time on screen. Perhaps the most interesting detail in the movie is the fact that as much as we see Isaac's character playing cards throughout the movie, we never know if his bets are bluffs or not—and that's by design. Isaac is one of the best actors of our era and he once again proves it here.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Shang-Chi is an absolute blast of a Marvel movie, introducing us to a brand new hero (played by the wonderful Simu Liu) in a movie that has a great story and even greater action. Awkwafina plays her role wonderfully, and you'll be thinking about Tony Leung's Wenwu for a long time.
The Suicide Squad
Just about everything that went wrong in the original 2016 Suicide Squad went the other way with 2021's The Suicide Squad, which is one of the most fun superhero movies of all time. Everyone from Idris Elba, to Joel Kinnaman, to a career-best John Cena, to, of course, Margot Robbie, delivers here, and it's clear to see the biggest difference in movies: writer-director James Gunn. Here's hoping we get more fun like this in the future from the DCEU.
No Sudden Move
Steven Soderbergh's star-studded return to crime capers (with a cast led by Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, and Brendan Fraser, among others) is almost like a quasi-follow up to his beloved Out of Sight. It's fun, thrilling, and filled with tension—everything you want in expect in a movie of this genre from this director.
In The Heights
Anyone who still had Hamilton fever after the legendary musical made its Disney+ debut in July 2020 was happy to learn that the film adaptation of In The Heights, Lin Manuel Miranda's previous musical would be hitting theaters in 2021.
The movie, which was released simultaneously on HBO Max and in theaters, follows a Washington Heights bodega owner (Anthony Ramos, not only a star of Hamilton but a rising star in She's Gotta Have It and A Star Is Born) who wishes for a better life. You expected the catchy songs, but director Jon M. Chu also brought a bright, optimistic color palette to the movie, which came with a ton of heart too. It's one of the feel-good watches of 2021.
Zola is the first movie ever based on a Twitter feud/thread (yep, we're serious). Not that we're hoping that starts a trend or anything, but the movie adaptation was heavily buzzed for quite a while, and it absolutely delivered. Centered on Taylour Paige as the titular Zola and with supporting turns from Riley Keough and Succession legend Nicholas Braun, this is one of 2021's most fun movies. Think Spring Breakers meets Uncut Gems. Janicza Bravo, who directed the "Juneteenth" episode of Atlanta and 2018's underrated Lemon, is behind the camera for this one. It's chaotic, fun, funny, and perhaps most interestingly, true.
Fear Street (1994, 1978, 1666)
OK, so this is really a trilogy of movies (released on three Fridays in a row in July), but they're a love-letter to movies of all different genres. 1994 is sort of Scream-ish, while 1978 goes to Friday the 13th land, and 1666 is sort of like The VVitch (but that part doesn't really work). The movies are super fun for any horror fan, though, and have a great soundtrack, and a simple-enough storylines, and well-written characters. It's a good time.
Army of the Dead
While Zack Snyder's superhero movies—Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman, and his surprisingly-good Justice League cut—are generally dark in both color and tone, his remake of the classic zombie movie Dawn of the Dead in 2004 was actually super fun. So when we learned that he was returning to the genre for Army of the Dead, we got excited. And the movie more than delivered. Look, it's a big-scale, big-budget, zombie heist movie, set in Las Vegas. Add a lead who can be both badass and funny in Dave Bautista, and it's hard to mess that up, really. Snyder knows how to make a zombie movie—that's for damn sure.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
Are you a fan of Zoolander? Or maybe Austin Powers? If you like that sort of zany comedy where things get kind of weird in a larger conspiracy kind of way, you're 100% the target audience for Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, which is a throwback comedy that we really need more movies like. The cast is led by Kristen Wiig (in two roles) and Annie Mumolo as the titular two characters, while Jamie Dornan has a show-stealing, and absolutely hilarious supporting role (think Jason Statham in Spy). Worth watching multiple times for all the laughs.
This indie comedy is almost like a horror movie in some ways. Let's backtrack though: Shiva Baby is about a college-aged woman (Rachel Sennott) who makes money on the side of her studies quietly working as a sugar baby. When she returns home to attend a shiva (Jewish funeral service) with her family, she runs into her Sugar Daddy and her ex. And things get awkward. Imagine The Coen Brothers' A Serious Man meeting Uncut Gems. And it's great.
Speaking of Eric Andre, if you want to see what kind of thing he's usually known for when not doing the voice in a surprisingly-charming animated movie....just keep scrolling through Netflix until you find Bad Trip. Done in the style of Borat or Bad Grandpa, this is a narrative film centered around real-world pranks that Andre, Lil Rel Howery, and Tiffany Haddish pulled on real people. The movie is raunchy and out of control—but also, of course, super, super funny.
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Sometimes you get animation that's just sort of...pandering to children, and other times you get stuff like The Mitchells vs. the Machines, which is not only a delightful and fun animated venture from Sony and Netflix, but also super sharp, funny, and smart throughout its runtime. With references to movies like Dawn of the Dead and with a surprising bit of social commentary about big corporations and tech giants, this movie is just really enjoyable. And the voice cast—with Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Olivia Colman, and Eric Andre in some of the main roles—is just delightful.
Director Chloé Zhao is scheduled to make her Marvel debut later this year with Eternals, but first she took a minor detour with Nomadland, which only won her the Oscar for Best Director, helped win lead actress Frances McDormand her third Oscar, and won Best Picture for itself.
Based on the nonfiction book of the same name, Nomadland follows a woman (McDormand) who travels from short-term-fix job to short-term-fix job all across the country after falling on hard financial times; the film features real-life nomads playing versions of themselves within the movie's story. Zhao's stunning direction, combined with an undertold, true-to-life American story (and some good old fashioned raw feels) make this a movie you won't forget anytime soon.
Judas and the Black Messiah
Three of the best young actors working today come together in Judas and the Black Messiah, which tells the story of Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton and the circumstances that led to his eventual demise. Daniel Kaluuya, who's done nothing but incredible work over the last few years (in Get Out, Widows, Black Panther, and Queen and Slim) won this year's Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Hampton, while Lakeith Stanfield plays William O'Neal, the FBI informant who inflitrated his world and betrayed him. Jesse Plemons plays O'Neal's FBI handler. Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7 tangentially touched on Hampton's story, but Judas, from director Shaka King goes way deeper—and does it right.
Shaka King is especially impressive as director, finding drama, romance, tension, and action all within the confines of his film.
Minari continues the post-Walking Dead career rise for Steven Yeun, who leads an impressive cast here as a father of a Korean-American family looking to make their way after moving to Arkansas from California. Director Lee Isaac Chung based the movie on his own life, and crafted it with a slow-burn story that gets into the mind of every character in the family along the way. This is a slow-buring, tender movie that has characters who will stick with you. One particular breakout? Alan Kim, who plays the family's adorable son (and is a treasure on Instagram)
Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman was only released widely to audiences 15 days into 2021, but we feel comfortable saying it's going to be one of the very best movies released all year. The movie follows Cassie Thomas (an incredible Carey Mulligan), a medical school drop out whose life was derailed when her best friend and classmate was sexually assaulted by another classmate.
You're best off knowing as little as possible about Promising Young Woman before going into it—but the movie does a brilliant job with its casting; aside from Mulligan, the rest of the cast is also led by a fantastic Bo Burnham performance and a series of familiar comedic faces being used in a manner you might not expect. This is a movie everyone should see—and you're going to want to talk about it afterwards.