Last year had an impressive run of movie releases. Through good fortune and the kindness of others, I was able to see a lot of movies. I certainly missed some big ones like Belfast and Drive My Car so if you see major omissions it’s nothing personal. Tough to pick and rank a top 25 but I went with the heart. 

25. In The Earth 

Directed by Ben Wheatley 

The woods are not your friend. I remember this movie being bleak, set in a future devastated by a virus. Or maybe it was the near-present. Scientists enter the woods for research and things go awry immediately. A psychedelic spin to the terrors of the forest. The movies of Ben Wheatley can be violent and upsetting, this one is not his roughest. Kill List takes the cake on that front. For fans of horror, In The Earth is a worthy watch.

24. The Harder They Fall 

Directed by The Bullitts 

Big fan of the talented ensemble and stylized action. Regina King starring in a Western is the kind of content that gets me to a screen. Idris Elba and Jonathan Majors give strong opposing performances. I am always partial to LaKeith Stanfield and Zazie Beetz. Everyone is the coolest cowboy or bandit possible at every moment. I need to do a rewatch of this one soon. Good work by Netflix in making this movie. 

23. The First Wave 

Directed by Matthew Heineman 

Not the easiest watch and rightfully so. Matthew Heineman continues to be one of the best documentarians working. Bringing a sobering view of the first four months of the pandemic in one hospital in Queens. Doctors are overwhelmed at the amount of patients. Many of which sadly will not get to go home. Heineman finds moments of hope in the midst of crushing loss. The resilience of the human spirit comes through in this movie. When you’re ready, this is definitely an important one to see. 

22. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings 

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

When I saw the legendary Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh were in the cast I was immediately sold. Absolute icons adding their gravitas to superhero popcorn cinema, one of my favorite delights. Simu Liu carries the movie well as Shang-Chi especially in the fight sequences. One of the better MCU introductions in my opinion. The best scenes are when Leung and Yeoh are together. Their story has more resonance than everything else. The climactic battle didn’t land well for me. Not a deal breaker, it is what it is with some MCU movies. Looking forward to more Shang-Chi in the future.

21. Nobody 

Directed by Ilya Naishuller

Always open to a retired hitman plot, especially if the hitman is Bob Odenkirk. Who at some point near the start of the movie starts brawling and then never really stops. He teams up with RZA to bring down the gangsters after him. Stellar performance by the always great Christopher Lloyd. Lloyd is on a bit of a run as he is also wonderful in the recently released Tender Bar. Great chemistry with Odenkirk. The action is relentless in Nobody. I hope we get a sequel. 

20. Bo Burnham: Inside 

Directed by Bo Burnham 

I was able to see this one in theaters and it was a memorable experience. I thought it was hilariously impressive. Tremendous variety by Bo in front of the camera and behind it. Great songs throughout. Highly enjoyed this creation. Go for Bo.

19. Tragedy of Macbeth 

Directed by Joel Coen

Though I am not the most ardent Shakespeare fan, I am an ardent fan of both Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand. Which is why I was in theaters on Christmas Day for this one. Unsurprisingly both Washington and McDormand are stunning as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. I found the cinematography and production design to be one of the best of the year. Great work by Joel Coen in his first solo directing without his brother. Pure Shakespeare dialogue through and through. Give this one a watch out of respect for all involved.

18. Blue Bayou 

Directed by Justin Chon

A beautiful and heartbreaking movie about a family at risk of being split apart. Justin Chon directs and stars as Antonio LeBlanc, a Korean adoptee who grew up in Louisiana and finds out he’s under threat of deportation. Playing his wife is Alicia Vikander who is as talented as ever. I will always appreciate when the stories of immigrants get portrayed on screen. Based on true accounts, this movie highlights adoptees who find out as adults their US citizenship was in question. Chon’s character gets into legal trouble which quickly turns into a shocking deportation threat. As the audience you feel the crushing weight of the system in this movie. Moments of tenderness and joy are found in the story. At one point Alicia Vikander sings and it’s one of my favorite scenes last year. Expect to feel it all when watching this movie, I believe it’s worth it.  

17. Last Night in Soho 

Directed by Edgar Wright

London in the 60s is a perfect setting for a paranormal thriller. Especially when all the best songs of the time are used for the soundtrack. Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin McKenzie bring strong performances to the movie. Wonderful singing by Anya in this role. I’ll take another night in Soho after this movie. 

16. The Last Duel 

Directed by Ridley Scott

Movie with a capital M. There are multiple full pitched battles in this movie. Adam Driver and Matt Damon in opposing roles neither of which is backing down. Adam Driver is an awful person in this movie. Ben Affleck is the blondest I have ever seen him. Jodie Comer is doing brilliant work in this movie and is carrying the story through difficult subject matter. She will continue to do great work in future movies. The climactic duel does not disappoint in the slightest. Ridley Scott is relentless in movie creation. The low box office numbers are not a true indicator of the quality of this movie. 

15. The Matrix Resurrections 

Directed by Lana Wachowski

Let’s go back. Back to the beginning. Back to when the earth, the sun, the stars aligned. This movie is not a perfect creation. Nor a particularly memorable action movie. Having said all that, I really enjoyed this movie. A sense of nostalgia but also light disdain at the original creation is felt in this movie. Trinity and Neo trying to be together is enough for me to get invested. Although everything looks quite different than the original three, I felt the original soul of the Matrix throughout Resurrections. Lana Wachowski directed it exactly in her own way. I found it to be a good time all around. In the end love will find a way. 

14. The Humans 

Directed by Stephen Karam

I went in not knowing much about The Humans. Quickly I realized something special was happening on screen. I was pleasantly surprised at every turn with the material. Haunting cinematography clashing with some of the funniest dinner banter I’ve heard in a long time. The strength of the ensemble is seeping through in every scene. I strongly recommend this Showtime creation. A truly memorable movie and one of my favorite ensembles of the year. 

13. Cruella 

Directed by Craig Gillespie

A dance of Emmas. We have Emma Stone going toe to toe with Emma Thompson. In a pair of riveting performances which significantly elevate the material. Everything looks incredible in this movie. There’s multiple scenes where I asked myself how limitless the budget had to be. If you worry less about the intricate details of the plot, it’s a wicked good time. Bring on Cruella 2, let all the dogs out. 

12. Dune 

Directed by Denis Villenueve

Villenueve is my absolute guy, I’m in theaters whenever he releases something. I was impressed with the craftmanship of Dune from start to finish. The ensemble is locked in. The chemistry between mother and son in Rebecca Ferguson and Chalamet is memorable. Zendaya floating in the background giving riddles and wisdom. The source material happens to not be my particular jam or this movie would likely be higher on my list. Eternally serious is the aura of Dune. As long as Villeneuve is making these, I’m there for every sequel. Sand me down.

11. The Novice 

Directed by Dominique Arnold

A surprise late entry into this list is a movie about obsession, in this case the athletic kind. Isabelle Fuhrman is captivating as Alex, a college freshman who is determined to make the varsity rowing team. A sport she did not have a background in. She puts it all on the line to achieve her goals. Determined to the bone. I was transfixed by her character’s arc. Waiting for a crash but also hoping she pulls it off. A lot to parse through in this story. The sound design in this movie deserves award considerations. I have the soundtrack in rotation already. Get in the boat, grab an oar and go watch The Novice. 

10. The Night House 

Directed by David Bruckner

The night is coming from inside the house. Anytime Rebecca Hall shows up in a movie, I know it’s about to go down. From hits like The Gift to The Town, Rebecca Hall is one of the best currently working. Which is why I found The Night House to be so memorable. Hall is dealing with the sudden loss of her husband and night terrors ensue. Challenges abound and all the while something is very wrong in the house. Good scares in this movie and I thought the plot was well thought out. The sound design is the main contributor to the sense of dread. I enjoyed this horror movie a lot. Book a stay at the Night House soon. 

9. King Richard 

Directed by Reinald Marcus Green

Will Smith is transformative in his performance as Richard Williams. Gives it his all in playing the patriarch of a soon to be famous family. The entire cast brings a great performance to the story. Demi Singleton is really impressive as a young Serena Williams. She has the scene of the movie in my opinion. The whole thing feels like traditional cinema in the best way. Get in the game and watch King Richard. 

8. Power of the Dog 

Directed by Jane Campion

Slow burns and cold hearts in the old west. Benedict Cumberbatch is mesmerizing as the gruff Phil Burbank. Polar opposite is his brother played by Jesse Plemons. A lot of characters are battling with their own misery in this movie. My kind of genre when done right. Kirsten Dunst is divine as always as Rose Gordon. Her integral brother in the story is played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. Any one of the cast members could win an Oscar and I would be fine with the pick. Early pulse feels like Kodi Smit-McPhee has the best odds to win. The power of a great movie is portrayed in full by The Power of the Dog. 

7. Pig 

Directed by Michael Sarnoski

Where is my Pig? A simple and true sentiment. I went in expecting something special out of Nic Cage. What I didn’t expect was the entire movie being so heartfelt and powerful. There’s depth in every scene. I found the movie to be oddly grand in scale despite the small cast and slow burn plot. There’s much to be intrigued by in this story. A performance for the ages by Nic Cage, I thought he deserved major awards consideration. Whatever you do in life, find your Pig.  

6. The French Dispatch 

Directed by Wes Anderson

A collage of short stories instead of an overarching tale. Wes Anderson is doing impeccable work in this movie. I was delighted with every performance, in particular Jeffrey Wright and Frances McDormand. You can trust going in that you will see beautifully-symmetric set designs and cinematography. One of my favorite movie watching experiences of 2021. Grab your passports and head out to watch The French Dispatch. 

5. Titane 

Directed by Julia Ducournau  

Can a movie induce a panic attack? A French panic attack to be exact. My goodness this movie is an absolutely jarring experience. Some tough scenes from the jump and throughout. I had to look away at parts. Truly bold and mesmerizing work by director, Julia Ducournau. Agathe Rousselle gives one of the best performances of last year as Adrien. Surprisingly there’s tender moments, in one of the most intense movies I have ever seen. This movie gives the best scene of people dancing at work I have ever seen. Something about this movie latched onto me, it’s not an easy one to shake off. I like that in a movie. Be warned upfront this one is not for the faint of heart. While this may not be my favorite movie, no other movie left a larger imprint last year. Vive le cinéma français.

4. The Green Knight 

Directed by David Lowery

No frame is wasted in this magnificent movie. Scenic and grand from start to finish. My favorite cinematography of the list. A powerhouse performance by Dev Patel. Who is surrounded by talent with Sean Harris and Alicia Vikander giving their best and succeeding. I am a big fan of medieval pieces and this one is a bit quieter than most but easily one of the best. Gather round the table and enjoy the tales of knights and kings. The knight is always greener on the other side. 

3. C’Mon C’Mon 

Directed by Mike Mills

As an uncle to two wonderful nephews, this movie played right to my heart. Joaquin Phoenix gives an Oscar-caliber performance as an uncle stepping in to help out his sister. Gaby Hoffman is incredible as a mom dealing with a lot and having to rely on her brother to help. Scoot McNairy is heartbreakingly good in his performance as a husband and father struggling with mental health issues. The star of the show is the young Woody Norman playing Jesse. A remarkable performance by the child actor. I am in utter disbelief that this kid is English because the American accent is perfect. I hope this movie gets Oscar consideration. Mike Mills is quickly becoming one of my favorite filmmakers. 20th Century Women being a movie I think so highly of already. I can’t wait to see what other movies Mills will make. C’Mon, go see my third favorite movie of the year. 

2. Spencer 

Directed by Pablo Larrain 

I must have Larrain on the brain because I love all his recent movies. A triumvirate of portraits of ladies on fire as I call them. Jackie and Ema are both stunning movies which deserve more writing from me in the near future. Larrain’s latest hit in Spencer is a magnificent third entry into this arc. Kristen Stewart is the best I have seen her in her role as Princess Diana. I definitely forgot it was her at times. Her accent is spot-on-solid in my opinion, it’s what you want, nothing too bold. The ensemble is one of the best of the year. In particular Sally Hawkins and my main man, Sean Harris. This movie is elegant, lived in, and intensely suffocating at parts. As intended to showcase the crushing weight of the royal monarchy. The Jonny Greenwood score is pitch perfect for every scene in the movie. Run a list of movies scored by Jonny Greenwood and it’s only hits. I’ll be floored if Stewart doesn’t take Best Actress in the Oscars. This movie deserves multiple awards. Watch Spencer and watch it soon. 

1. Spider-Man: No Way Home 

Directed by Jon Watts

I love all kinds of movies, especially the independent and arthouse kind. Having said that, my childhood was filled with superhero cartoons, in particular Spider-Man. I’m all in on Marvel movies. They do it for me. The buildup to No Way Home was a crescendo, I did my best to control expectations. As soon as the movie started, I knew something special was cooking. Tom Holland is always endearing and impressive as Peter Parker. Zendaya is in back to back blockbusters coming off of Dune. She’s way more featured in No Way Home and is carrying some of the best moments in the story. I’m rooting for these crazy kids. What an entry into the Spider Man canon. I caught this on opening day and was back a couple days later, I had to feel it again. My favorite time at the movies all year. I can’t wait to see where else they go with Spider Man. My dream request, bring in Mahershala Ali’s Blade into future movies with Spider Man. In Spider-Man: The Animated Series (1994) the Blade crossover episodes were a masterpiece. The top blockbuster took the top prize for me in 2021. 

Last year was a great one for the movies and this year is shaping up to be impressive too. I even made a list of the ones I’m looking forward to. If you haven’t seen some of last year’s movies on my Top 25 list, I hope you check them out. Let me know if you hate my rankings. Movies for the win.