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Laramie Movie Scope:
Top, bottom films, etc. of 2021

Best, worst and ruminations on 2021 films

[Strip of film rule]
by Robert Roten, Film Critic
[Strip of film rule]

January 28, 2021 -- Here is my list of the best films, best actors, and the most disappointing films from the year 2021.

There are the usual caveats. I saw most of the year's top films with the exception of a few films which had limited distribution or promotion in this country.

So where are The Power of the Dog, Tick, Tick … Boom!, The Tragedy of Macbeth and The Lost Daughter? I saw them. They are good films, but didn't think they were quite good enough to make my Top 10 list. I did not see C'mon C'mon, Parallel Mothers, Ascension or Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom, Writing With Fire. While I did see The Tragedy of Macbeth, the video quality of the copy I saw was poor, although the audio was adequate.

Due to the pandemic, the production dates of some of these films is quite different than the release dates. Also because of the pandemic, some of these movies are available only from streaming services. I personally prefer blu-ray disks to any streaming service, and hope all these top films will eventually be released on blu-ray.

Below this list of top films, are honorable mentions, followed by lists of my picks for top director, top actor, top foreign film, etc. Those lists are followed by lists of the worst films, overrated films, funniest, saddest, most romantic, etc. I've included a Dubious Distinction award for a film of “bad faith”. My top 10 lists include more comedy and films starring black actors, two varieties of movies absent from most top 10 lists. Drama is easy, but comedy is difficult.

Page navigation: Commercial Links Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movies,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movies Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Most disappointing movies,   Dubious Distinction.

Best 10 films of 2020

1. CODA[4 stars]
Romantic comedies are hard to perfect. It requires a skillful balance of elements, excellent writing and a cast that is up to the challenge. I enjoyed watching this movie more than any other 2021 film. I laughed and I cried. Writer-director Siân Heder pushes all the right emotional buttons in her smart and witty screenplay, and the cast is perfect.
2. Pig[4 stars]
A movie starring Nicholas Cage about a hermit living in the woods who goes to town looking for his stolen pig — that's my idea of a top 10 movie? You bet it is, and I was surprised as anyone by it's strange, unpredictable story, and Cage's tremendous performance.
3. The Rescue[4 stars]
This brilliant National Geographic documentary uses some re-enactments and computer graphics, along with wonderful interviews with some remarkable people to give us a compelling account of a tremendously difficult underwater cave rescue. It gave me a much needed boost to see the cooperation of thousands of people from different countries pull off what seemed to be an impossible rescue.
4. Belfast[4 stars]
This heartfelt movie about the “troubles” in Northern Ireland is a labor of love and humor from writer and director Kenneth Branagh. Inspired by Branagh's childhood memories and powered by great performances, it depicts his old Belfast neighborhood with heart, wit and wisdom.
5. Escape from Mogadishu[4 stars]
Officials from the South Korean embassy and from the North Korean embassy in Somalia overcome their mutual mistrust in order to work together to escape from Mogadishu when the country suddenly descends into civil war. In these dark times, this is a welcome story about political enemies discovering their common humanity.
6. Being the Ricardos[4 stars]
Another blast from the past by writer-director Aaron Sorkin is powered by great performances from a talented cast. Although Sorkin rearranges history, as he did last year in The Trial of the Chicago 7, almost every dramatic incident in this film is factual, for a change, and he's mining more entertaining humorous and dramatic source material this time around.
7. West Side Story (2021)[4 stars]
Steven Spielberg's reimagining of the Stephen Sondheim/ Leonard Bernstein classic musical has a more adult, gritty and realistic feel to it than the 1961 film version. The cast is great, and so is the direction and cinematography (Janusz Kaminski). When Sondheim himself saw this film, he said Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner nailed it. Nuff said.
8. Licorice Pizza[4 stars]
The dreaded coming-of-age story gets a refreshing twist in this romantic comedy set in the San Fernando Valley in 1973. A very mismatched couple's on-again, off-again relationship is set against the backdrop of Hollywood types, business startups and politicians with dark secrets. Bradley Cooper playing the over-the-top Hollywood power player Jon Peters is worth the price of admission alone.
9. Don't Look Up[4 stars]
Hilarious, and sad, this apocalyptic satire about modern politicians faced with a calamity that requires science instead of scapegoats, provides plenty of laughs and groans. The satire extends to the risk averse news media and the silliness of popular culture. Once again, we are reminded that Leonardo DiCaprio, who leads a talented cast, is one of the best comic actors working today.
10. Pray Away[4 stars]
This emotional documentary about leaders of the anti-gay Exodus International organization and its role in passing California's Proposition Eight, is mainly about people having a change of heart. It also raises questions about how the story of this failed organization might have relevance to religious-based anti-abortion laws.

Top 10 Documentary/Honorable Mention movies

Found[4 stars]
An emotional journey to China is at the center of this story about three adopted American girls searching for their roots in China. The three were given up for adoption because of China's one-child rule. Their reactions to seeing where they came from, the reactions of those who once cared for them as infants, and the reactions of parents searching for their lost children, convey volumes about heartless government policies that tear families apart.
Mass[3.5 stars]
This brilliantly-written story by writer-director Fran Kranz features compelling performances by four actors playing the parents of two high school students involved in a school shooting. Even though almost the entire movie is filmed in one small room, it reveals a world of emotions about the aftermath of tragic murders.
Drive My Car[3.5 stars]
A very clever screenplay by writer/director Ryûsuke Hamaguchi combines dialog from the play Uncle Vanya with the personal stories of two characters who suffer tragic losses. The result is an emotionally powerful film about guilt, sorrow, and the will to carry on.
King Richard[3.5 stars]
Compelling performances by a talented cast combine to illustrate what it took to make Richard Williams' dream a reality. His dream, of course, was to see his daughters, Serena and Venus Williams, overcome long odds to become the best tennis players in the world.
I'm Your Man[3.5 stars]
This movie delves much more deeply than most science fiction films do into the emotional relationships between humans and machines. It depicts a relationship which develops between a human being and a robot who is also a sentient being, aided by two excellent performances. It explores issues of free will versus intelligent design in a thoughtful way.
The First Wave[3.5 stars]
This powerful documentary follows health care providers on the front lines of the battle against Covid in the early days of the pandemic in New York. It is an unblinking stare at the awful toll of the disease on the afflicted, and upon those who care for them. There is a lot of misinformation about Covid, but this film shows us the reality of this disease.
Summer of Soul
(...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
[3.5 stars]
This is a film that is important from a historical standpoint, and there are some amazing rare musical concert performances in it. It also captures the essence of important events ignored and long forgotten by most. It also shows us why the Harlem Cultural Festival should be remembered.
Luca[3.5 stars]
This is my favorite animated film of 2021. It is kind of a fish out of water story combined with a coming of age story, featuring a cast of interesting characters — nerds and outsiders versus the town bully. It is also a story about overcoming fear of the unknown. Excellent artwork by the famed Pixar division of Disney Studios provides great visuals.
Vivo[3.5 stars]
This is my second favorite animated film of 2021, a year which saw a better than usual crop of cartoons, including Encanto, The Mitchels vs. The Machines, Raya and the Last Dragon, Luca, Flee and Ron's Gone Wrong. This is a very tough category to pick a winner from, but I chose Vivo because it is a very emotionally powerful story about missed chances and love lost.

More lists below

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Links to reviews of all the films on this page are indexed in the following web pages:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Best director

1. Siân Heder — CODA
2. Michael Sarnoski — Pig
3. Kenneth Branagh — Belfast
4. Seung-wan Ryu — Escape from Mogadishu
5. Steven Spielberg — West Side Story

Best leading actor

1. Will Smith — King Richard
2. Nicholas Cage — Pig
3. Peter Dinklage — Cyrano
4. Bradley Cooper — Nightmare Alley
5. Benedict Cumberbatch — The Power of the Dog

Best leading actress

1. Lady Gaga — The House of Gucci
2. Jessica Chastain — The Eyes of Tammy Faye
3. Rachel Zegler — West Side Story
4. Emilia Jones — CODA
5. Jennifer Hudson — Respect

Best supporting actor

1. Troy Kotsur — CODA
2. Ciaran Hinds — Belfast
3. J.K. Simmons — Being the Ricardos
4. Jason Isaacs — Mass
5. Reed Birney — Mass

Best supporting actress

1. Ann Dowd — Mass
2. Martha Plimpton — Mass
3. Ariana DeBose — West Side Story
4. Aunjanue Ellis — King Richard
5. Kirsten Dunst — The Power of the Dog

Best child actors

1. Mckenna Grace — Ghostbusters: Afterlife
2. Joséphine Sanz — Petite Maman
3. Gabrielle Sanz — Petite Maman

Best adapted screenplay

1. CODA — Siân Heder
2. West Side Story — Tony Kushner
3. Escape from Mogadishu — Ki-cheol LeeSeung-wan Ryu
4. Drive My Car — Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Takamasa Oe
5. Dune — Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth

Best original screenplay

1. Pig — Michael Sarnoski, Vanessa Block
2. Belfast — Kenneth Branagh
3. Being the Ricardos — Aaron Sorkin
4. Licorice Pizza — Paul Thomas Anderson
5. Don't Look Up — Adam McKay, David Sirota

Best animated feature

1. Luca
2. Vivo
3. Flee
4. The Mitchells vs the Machines
5. Ron's Gone Wrong

Best foreign language film

1. Escape from Mogadishu
2. Drive My Car
3. I'm Your Man
4. Flee
5. The Hand of God

Best cinematography

1. Dune —Greig Fraser
2. No Time to Die — Linus Sandgren
3. West Side Story — Janusz Kaminski
4. Nightmare Alley — Dan Laustsen
5. The Power of the Dog — Ari Wegner

Best editing

1. Dune — Joe Walker
2. No Time to Die — Tom Cross, Elliot Graham
3. Don't Look Up — Hank Corwin
4. West Side Story — Sarah Broshar, Michael Kahn
5. CODA — Geraud Brisson

Best Original Score

1. Dune — Hans Zimmer
2. The French Dispatch — Alexandre Desplat
3. Don't Look Up —Nicholas Britell
4. Encanto — Germaine Franco
5. No Time to Die — Hans Zimmer

Best song

1. Just Look Up — Don't Look Up
2. Dos Oruguitas — Encanto
3. No Time to Die — No Time to Die
4. Beyond the Shore — CODA
5. Here I Am (Singing My Way Home) — Respect

Best visual effects

1. Free Guy — Swen Gillberg, Bryan Grill, Nikos Kalaitzidis, Dan Sudick
2. Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings — Christopher Townsend, Joe Farrell, Sean Walker, Dan Oliver
3. Dune — Paul Lambert, Tristan Myles, Brian Connor, Gerd Nefzer
4. Spider-Man: No Way Home — Kelly Port, Chris Waegner, Scott Edelstein, Dan Sudick
5. Ghostbusters: Afterlife — Alessandro Ongaro, Sheena Duggal, Aharon Bourland, Pier Lefebvre

Links to reviews of all films on this site are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through L
M through Q   R through S   T through Z

Funniest films of the year

CODA[4 stars]
Free Guy[3 stars]
Licorice Pizza[4 stars]
Don't Look Up[4 stars]
The Mitchells vs the Machines[3 stars]
Ghostbusters: Afterlife[3 stars]
Luca[3.5 stars]

Saddest films of the year

The Card Counter[3 stars]
A Cop Movie[3 stars]
Cyrano[3 stars]
Drive My Car[3.5 stars]
A Hero[2 stars]
Mass[3.5 stars]
Passing[3 stars]
Pig[4 stars]
The Power of the Dog[3 stars]
Pray Away[4 stars]
Prayers for the Stolen[2.5 stars]
Procession[3 stars]
Titane[2.5 stars]

Best love stories

CODA[4 stars]
Free Guy[3 stars]
I'm Your Man[3.5 stars]
In The Heights[3 stars]
Licorice Pizza[4 stars]

Scariest villains of the year

Carnage (his alter ego, serial killer Cletus Kasady, played by Woody Harrelson) murderous megalomaniac alien hybrid in
Venom: Let There Be Carnage[2.5 stars]

Rufus Buck (played by Idris Elba) the emotionally wounded serial killer with a hidden agenda in
The Harder They Fall[3 stars]

Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) megalomaniac killer determined to rule the world in
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings[3 stars]

Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek) mass murderering megalomaniac bent on revenge and world control in
No Time to Die[3 stars]

The year's most overrated films

All of these films have won awards or have been highly rated by some critics groups, but I don't think they are top 10 material. They are mostly good films, but not that good.
The Green Knight[2.5 stars]
Memoria[2 stars]
The Mitchells vs the Machines[3 stars]
The Power of the Dog[3 stars]
Prayers for the Stolen[2.5 stars]
The Lost Daughter[3 stars]
Spencer[2.5 stars]

The year's best films you've never heard of

CODA[4 stars]
Pig[4 stars]
The Rescue[4 stars]
Escape from Mogadishu[4 stars]
Being the Ricardos[4 stars]
Pray Away[4 stars]
Found[4 stars]
Mass[3.5 stars]
Drive My Car[3.5 stars]
I'm Your Man[3.5 stars]
The First Wave[3.5 stars]
Summer of Soul
(...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised)
[3.5 stars]
Vivo[3.5 stars]

Most disappointing 2020 films I've seen

While I saw most of the best films 2020, I purposefully missed nearly all of the reportedly bad films, including Sweet GirlTom & JerryThe UnholyAwakeThe VirtuosoMusicHe's All ThatHome Sweet Home AloneVanquishCosmic SinMainstreamOut of DeathApexDeadlockFortressThunder ForceAmerican SiegeDemonic and A Journal for Jordan, among many others.
The Green Knight[2.5 stars]
This movie got good reviews, so I went to the theater to see it. I found it to be overlong, depressing and slow-moving. I would not have minded so much, if I had not paid good money to see it.
Eternals[2.5 stars]
Marvel Studios has an excellent track record for making entertaining movies, and writer/director Chloé Zhao, who made the best film of 2020, Nomadland, is at the helm of this one. What could go wrong? Plenty, it turns out. This movie has a lot of heavy lifting to do, introducing a dozen characters and their back stories, a whole new history of the universe and how it works. That is a lot of comic book clutter for one movie to clean up, and it is too damn serious.
Space Jam: A New Legacy[2 stars]
I am a big fan of LeBron James, and I was hoping, despite the bad reviews, that this film would be better than the first Space Jam movie. Unfortunately, it is not any better. It is about the same.
F9: The Fast Saga[2 stars]
I am a big fan of the Fast and Furious franchise, but I fear the series has finally jumped the shark. A car that swings on a cable like Tarzan? Cars in space? Really? The craziness of the action sequences in this series has been getting sillier with each film. I could put up with it until this one. This has gone too far. C'mon Mr. Diesel, it is time to do that Hannibal movie. At least the elephants really did go over the Alps.

Dubious Distinctions

Bad Faith Award

The Bad Faith Award this year goes to Spencer[2.5 stars]

This film is in bad taste, it is exploitative, and it takes too many liberties with the facts.

While not as bad, or as tasteless as Diana: The Musical. This is a film that did not need to be made. There have already been more than enough movies made about Diana, Princess of Wales.

If you feel you really must make another movie about Diana, couldn't you at least bother to make it more accurate? Did you really have to gin up the tragic angle with specious links to Anne Boleyn? The addition of fabricated dramatic events to the plot is further evidence that this movie did not need to be made.

If you want to make a movie about the royal family, how about doing a movie about a fictional sexy trip with Prince Andrew, Donald Trump and Bill Clinton to Jeffrey Epstein's Caribbean Island, stocked with underage girls? It doesn't even have to be accurate, but it would still generate a lot of free publicity.

I am prejudiced against the British Royals, and I don't feel sorry for any of them. Diana should have known what she was getting into when she married Prince Charles. The marriage didn't work out and she moved on. She was unhappy and was relentlessly pursued by paparazzi. I get it. At the same time, she was a long way from being an impoverished single mom with starving kids.

I'm not saying this is a bad movie. There are some fine performances by Kristin Stewart, Timothy Spall and Sallie Hawkins. The production values are first-rate, along with the costumes. It is a pretty package, but it smells bad to me. It seems too much like an Oscar bait movie intended to make some money by exploiting the tragic death of Diana Spencer.

Links to all my reviews are indexed below:

A through B   C through D   E through G   H through I
J through L   M through N   O through Q   R through S   T through Z

Page navigation: Commercial Links  Honorable mention Best of by category Funniest movie,   Best Love Stories  Saddest movie Scariest villain Overrated movies,   Best movies you haven't heard of,   Most disappointing movies,   Dubious Distinctions.

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Copyright © 2021 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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