2021 was a massive step up in film quality compared to what we got in 2020. Now that I have dug through all the trash, this year we begin 2022 with the best films of 2021. Most people reading this will be unfamiliar with a few of these movies so I suggest you check them out as they are worth the watch. Character Studies, foreign films, Americana, and narrative films led the pack in this year’s best of so let’s start with #10.
My boldest pick of the year is a film that comes from Netflix of all places. “Afterlife of the Party” is one of 2021’s most pleasant surprises. Director Stephen Herek has a solid background of memorable films under his belt such as “The Mighty Ducks” and “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” With the help of Victoria Justice, who is extremely charismatic in front of the camera, “Afterlife of the Party” is a wholesome yet contemporary story of the concept of grief. “Afterlife of the Party” for a platform like Netflix, is a blessing to have a modestly entertaining comedy with an overall grounded and positive message.
If you haven’t heard the name Taylor Sheridan yet, then you better start paying attention because you have missed out on arguably the best screenwriter in Hollywood today. Sheridan has a knack for writing strong protagonists with equally strong antagonists. Jolie excels in one of the best roles she has played in years: a firefighter who is one of the best at her job, but a costly mistake has made her both vulnerable and relatable. On the flip side, you have a pair of killer brothers who have to complete their job no matter how messy it gets. In the game of international espionage, failure makes them just as expendable as their targets. The industry should take notice of who is the gold standard — nobody writes a better character-driven drama than Sheridan. “Those Who Wish Me Dead” solidifies Taylor Sheridan’s spot as Hollywood’s best modern screenwriter.
8. Spider-Man: No Way Home
A film that is purely driven by nostalgia and past Sony films still makes the list for the best of 2021 given how enjoyable it is. A film that breaks the chains of the mediocre MCU system dramatically cuts out the filler and steers the franchise back in the direction of what Spiderman is all about, engaging storylines, life lessons, and Peter’s rouge gallery of foes. Spider-Man: No Way Home without question is the best Spiderman film with Tom Holland behind the mask but it is Andrew Garfield’s return that will have the most people talking. It took a while, but having three different Spidermen in the span of 15 years finally paid off.
7. Zack Synder’s Justice League
A four-hour superhero movie that was technically completed in 2017? I understand some may have issues with this pick but for those who have seen the 2017 film, there is no question that Snyder’s vision is a tenfold improvement over the original. Snyder’s version emphasizes character development and backstory that was left on the cutting room floor nearly four years ago. Having to cut so much from the film, audiences never connected with characters such as Cyborg (Fisher) and The Flash (Ezra Miller). Snyder’s “Justice League” not only solves all of those problems, but it also takes the marginal character Cyborg and makes him crucial to the movie. With all the original footage intact, audiences will completely change their view of the characters. Patience will be a virtue for the 242-minute time investment.
“Pipeline” is a film about the corporate war to control Korea’s 745 miles of an oil pipeline, the lifeline of the country. A young drilling engineer nicknamed Drill-Bit (Seo In-guk) is hired to lead an oil heist mission for a wealthy oil refining company owner Geon-woo (Lee Soo-hyuk). Pipeline puts together a colorful cast of characters who have great chemistry and deliver many laughs along the way. “Pipeline” is a film that plays its story straight to the arrow but doesn’t lose its entertainment value in translation. Well-paced and well-acted thriller full of fun and humor making it one of the most entertaining films of years.
5. The Protege
A slew of female-assassin films has been dumped into theaters attempting to gender-swap the genre following the #MeToo movement. The same can’t be said for “The Protégé” due to the X factor known as Maggie Q. Under the direction of Martin Campbell, a man who is also overqualified in being at the helm of action films, you have a film that sets a new standard in the femme fatale genre. The script is far smarter than a misguided revenge flick. Screenwriter Richard Wenk, who has written “The Equalizer,” gives “The Protégé” a well-crafted story of revenge, love, and tragedy carried by the incredible chemistry of Keaton and Maggie Q. “The Protégé” stands as one of the best female assassin films of the modern era. The right people are in the right roles here, which makes “The Protégé” a strong top film for the year.
4. Wrath of Man
“Wrath of Man” is the type of action thriller that makes watching movies fun again. “Wrath of Man,” much like Ritchie’s catalog of work, tells a story within a story full of vantage points and time jumps until we get all the pieces of the puzzle. The common theme for all the characters’ motivations is family, whether the sin is greed, pride, or wrath. The film has a great supporting cast, including standouts Scott Eastwood (Jan) and Jeffrey Donovan (Jackson). All characters, including our heroes, live in shades of gray; no one is pure in their intentions or actions, but the various motivations allow audiences to make their own judgment about with whom to sympathize. A movie that proves if a formula isn’t broken, don’t try to reinvent it.
3. A Journal for Jordan
The Overton Window has moved so far to the left, that some mentally deranged individuals on LetterBoxd labeled this film “Fascist Propaganda” because it is pro-Christian, pro-military, and pro-America. For those of you who aren’t God-hating Stalin apologists, Denzel Washington directs the film “A Journal for Jordan” which is a dead father’s guide for his son on how to be a respectable man. Michael B. Jordan stars as a US Army 1st Sergeant who falls in love with the mother of his child played by Chanté Adams. Based on the true story of Former New York Times writer Dana Canedy, A Journal for Jordan is a story of love, tragedy, family, and setting an example even if it’s from beyond the grave. Miserable tankies be damned, this film is one of the best tear jerkers of 2021.
A South Korean film about the North Korean diplomatic conflict during the Somali Civil War of the 1990s. North Korean officials are not even allowed to associate with South Korean officials over fears that their representatives will defect to the South. Conspiring with the South is punishable by death, making the stakes of working together in secret that much more dangerous. “Escape from Mogadishu” raises the bar for multinational political thrillers in the world of global filmmaking. A film that displays high-level geopolitics and intelligently written dialogue. South Korea’s Lotte Entertainment has produced arguably the best film of the year at a fraction of the cost of American big-studio stinkers.
1. American Underdog
The top pick of 2021 goes to a film that if it weren’t a true story, you would never believe it was real. The life story of NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner is a true testament to the statement, you can do anything you want with enough drive. From dirt-poor bag boy to Super Bowl MVP, Zachary Levi shines in one of his best roles to date in a film that is part Biography and part Christian film. Anna Paquin is a great co-star as Warner’s wife Brenda. This inspiring story tells audiences that no matter how bad things are, the tough times never last and there is always light at the end of the tunnel if you are willing to reach it.