The 5 Worst Movies of 2021

Last week I shared my Top 20 films of 2021 (you can check them out HERE). This week is a less joyous occasion. In keeping with tradition, today I’m sharing my picks for the five worst movies I had the displeasure of seeing in 2021. There were far more bad films to choose from than last year, but I was finally able to whittle them down to five? So here we go. Enjoy….I guess.

Before I get into 2021’s five worst, here are a few of the year’s bigger disappointments:

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” – It’s not that I was a huge fan of the first “Venom” movie, but the pieces were all here for something great. Unfortunately, it’s far from great. [REVIEW]

“House of Gucci” – I don’t dislike this movie. In fact I like a lot about it. But with with a cast like this and subject matter so juicy, you would expect better results. [REVIEW]

“Eternals” – Marvel Studios has had a pretty stellar track record. But this turned out to be a dull and uninteresting slog. Easily among the weakest from the MCU catalog. [REVIEW]

And now I present to you the biggest stinkers of 2021

#5 – “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions”

In addition to having one of the worst titles of 2021, “Escape Room: Tournament of Champions” is one of the most pointless sequels of the year (or any year). Sure, it throws in more wacky puzzles for its group of boring and uninteresting participants to solve. But that’s literally all we get. The story is shockingly shallow and none of the questions from the first film are answered. A ludicrous plot “twist” is thrown in, but even it can’t bring a spark to this utterly lifeless exercise. [REVIEW]

#4 – “Cinderella”

I don’t remember anyone clamoring for a new “Cinderella”, but we got one anyway. There’s no nuance, subtlety or cleverness to be found anywhere in this laughably heavy-handed reinvention that seems to have a poorly veiled distaste for the fairytale that inspired it. A flat story, bland characters, weird cover songs, a sparkless romance – it’s all there. But the biggest casualty is Camila Cabello who has noticeable charm and even a little swagger. Sadly she’s smothered by some truly horrible material. [REVIEW]

#3 – “Fear Street Part 3: 1666”

Talk about a trilogy with loads of squandered potential. The “Fear Street” films started on shaky ground, got a tad better with the second film, but then crashed and burned with this truly awful finale. This mess of a movie is plagued by baffling creative choices, haphazard storytelling, and scattershot pacing. And while this superficial backstory tries to add some depth the the ongoing drama, it ends up being the death knell to a trilogy that should have and could have been better. [REVIEW]

#2 – “Space Jam: A New Legacy”

Look, I know I wasn’t the target audience for a new “Space Jam” movie. But that didn’t keep me from recognizing how terrible “Space Jam: A New Legacy” turned out to be. In this embarrassing cash grab, story, characters, good humor, and heart take a back seat to corporate self-promotion. And no one expected star LeBron James to be an Oscar contender. We would have settled for him being forgettably average. Instead, we get a performance that should have the Worst Actor Razzie locked up. [REVIEW]

#1 – “Karen”

I saw a lot of bad movies in 2021, but none were as mind-numbingly awful as “Karen”. I’m still confused about what this movie wants to be – a horror thrilller, a dark comedy, a stinging social satire? Whatever it’s going for, this bewildering mess wildly misses every mark it aims for. Hampered by ridiculously on-the-nose dialogue and unintentionally hilarious performances, “Karen” is astonishingly bad from start to finish. It literally left me speechless (and not in a good way). [REVIEW]

And those are my picks. I’d love to hear your picks for the worst movies of 2021. Let me hear from you in the comments section below.

Happy New Year!

Well, we’ve done it again. We’ve came to the end of yet another year. For many people 2021 was a tough one. For me it was a year of several highs but some significant lows. On the down side, I lost two uncles and one aunt in 2021 and I considered myself close to all of them. Many others have lost loved ones as well. My heart goes out to you.

But on the positive side, 2021 was a great year for movies. I was worried for the first several months, but there were some really strong releases in the second half of the year. Personally, 2021 saw some exciting doors opened up. I was brought on as a film critic for a newspaper I’ve known my entire life, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It marks the first time I’ve actually been paid for reviewing movies. Also, this site received more traffic than any year since it began back in 2010.

In a very real way I owe both of those accomplishments to you all – the readers, the engagers, the commenters. Every visit, every ‘like’, every conversation I’ve had with you all has been an encouragement. I’m also grateful for the film friends I’ve made through this goofy little website. You all add an extra layer of enjoyment to watching movies.

So with another film year in the books, I just want to say THANK YOU. Also, I want to wish all of you a Happy New Year and may 2022 be full of rich blessings for you and your loved ones. I can’t wait to see what kind of movies we get to talk about in the coming year.

Top 10 Films of 2021

It seems I say this too much, but I can’t believe another movie year has come and gone. 2021 was a strange yet hopeful year for cinema as we looked to make our way back from a global pandemic and (hopefully) closer to some semblance of normalcy. Movies still found themselves in a unusual place, with several big delays especially in the early part of the year. But some of the heavy hitters finally came to theaters while independent films continued to show their resiliency and importance.

That brings me to this annual ritual of looking back at the movie year that was. In the grand scheme of things, these lists are pretty silly. At the same time I always enjoy doing them and comparing them with others. Before I get to my Top 10 films from 2021 I always like to give some love to the great movies that just missed the cut. So without further ado, here is my #11-20….

  • #20 – “Lamb”
  • #19 – “Oxygen”
  • #18 – “Old Henry”
  • #17 – “The Lost Daughter”
  • #16 – “The Dry”
  • #15 – “Being the Ricardos”
  • #14 – “The Card Counter”
  • #13 – “Memoria”
  • #12 – “Cyrano”
  • #11 – “The Last Duel”

And now my Top 10 Films of 2021

#10 – “CODA” [REVIEW] One of the most talked about movies to come out of Sundance 2021 was Sian Heder’s joyously earnest and deeply affecting “CODA”. This heartwarming coming-of-age story followed a 17-year-old (played by a fantastic Emilia Jones) who is the lone hearing member of her culturally deaf family. It also features sublime supporting work by Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin. And while it has a pretty familiar exterior, underneath is a warmth and authenticity that’s hard to resist. It’s also genuinely funny with plenty of laughs that come naturally and frequently. What a treat.

#9 – “The Tragedy of MacBeth” [REVIEW] Adapting William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “MacBeth” is nothing new. But leave it to one-half of the Coen brothers to give us a version unlike any we’ve been treated to before. Joel Coen’s visually arresting approach gives us scene after scene of striking imagery, creating a grim and forbidding atmosphere in the process. And then there’s the amazing cast led by Denzel Washington who (if there’s any justice in the world) should be in line for another Oscar nomination. I wasn’t sure if we needed another “MacBeth”, but I’m sure glad Joel Coen gave us one.

#8 – “No Time to Die” [REVIEW] Daniel Craig’s last hurrah as James Bond had potential to both sink or shine. It turned out to be everything I hoped it would – a sprawling blockbuster with eye-popping action and rich with characters that over the years I’ve grown to love. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga attempts to tie up most of the loose ends while also fully embracing the elements that made Craig’s run so memorable. Most importantly it makes for a fitting conclusion to a story arc that will be hard for the next Bond to match.

#7 – “Nightmare Alley” [REVIEW] More than any other movie on this list, “Nightmare Alley” is the one I wrestled with the most. But in wrestling with it I quickly realized just how much I loved it. Guillermo del Toro’s pulpy neo-noir thriller is a visually stunning throwback film with a captivating cast and a story that digs deep into the dark side of human nature. Del Toro’s world-building is unmatched and I found myself transported by what he creates here. This is top-notch cinema, bursting with style and grounded in the kind of grim and grimy atmosphere that left me giddy.

#6 – “Mass” [REVIEW] After first seeing “Mass” at Sundance I knew I had seen something special. After seeing it a second time later in the year, I knew it was one of the best movies of 2021. Not only is “Mass” powerful and moving, it’s also intensely timely as it attempts to tackle a difficult subject from a unique and distinctly personal point-of-view. Each of the four stars at the center are emotional forces and they’re key to making it all work. Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney give nomination worthy performances in a movie that cuts deeply and honestly.

#5 – “A Hero” [REVIEW] For my money, Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is among the handful of must-see filmmakers working today. He’s a consummate storyteller with a cinematic vision and voice so profound that I’m compelled to see every movie he puts out. “A Hero” embodies everything I love about a Farhadi film. It’s yet another deeply human story grounded in everyday life that uses its characters to pose a number of thought-provoking moral questions. With its seamless naturalistic dialogue and engaging story structure, this makes for a wonderful addition to Farhadi’s already impressive filmography.

#4 – “West Side Story” [REVIEW] Now here’s a movie that I went into with no expectations and left on an emotional high. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story” swept me away with its incredible production design, rousing songs, high-energy dance numbers, and some performances that are easily among the year’s best. Spielberg captures all the style and verve of the classic movie musical and fuses it with a modern day sensibility. It all comes together in a joyous and at times heartbreaking big screen experience that has stuck with me in ways I never imagined.

#3 – “The Man in the Hat” [REVIEW] Sometimes it’s the gentlest movies that moves you the most. Such is the case in this delightful and warm little yarn from John-Paul Davidson and Stephen Warbeck. It’s a simple and savory road trip movie that is a feast for the senses and feels plucked out of a bygone era of cinema history. It’s driven by the wonderfully expressive Ciarán Hinds who conveys everything we need through his gentle manner, tender smiles, and melancholy gaze. This movie had me under its spell from its opening scene and it’s a movie more people need to see.

#2 – “Belfast” [REVIEW] Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is a warm and tender reflection on his time in the city of his childhood. Set during the tumultuous late 1960s, Branagh’s story plays out to the backdrop of violence and unrest, yet it maintains a heartfelt focus on family and community. It features incredible performances top to bottom and is flavored with the deep personal touches of a filmmaker giving a full-hearted thank you to the neighborhood and the people who shaped and molded his life. “Belfast” may not be for everyone, but I found it to be one of the most beautiful movies of 2021.

#1 – “Dune” [REVIEW] While I’m a proud Denis Villeneuve fan, admittedly I didn’t really know what to expect from his incredibly ambitious “Dune”. I have no real history with the source material or with the past attempts at bringing it to the screen. What I got was an exhilarating and transporting blockbuster that sucked me into its world from its opening shot. Not only is “Dune” the best movie I saw in 2021, it was also the best theater experience I’ve had in a long time. It was truly made for the big screen. I loved everything about “Dune” and I can’t wait for the sequel to usher me back into Villeneuve’s breathtaking world.

And that wraps up another movie year. Please take time to share your thoughts on what I got right and what I got wrong with this year’s list.

First Glance: “The Batman” Trailer 2

The first full trailer for Matt Reeves’ “The Batman” was an exhilarating stunner. Now Warner Brothers has dropped yet another killer trailer to wet our appetites for the upcoming superhero adventure. Set to release in 2021 but postponed due to the pandemic, “The Batman” gives us a new iteration of the Caped Crusader, one that may be the darkest take on the character to date.

The new trailer gives a deeper look at the tension between the brooding Robert Pattinson and the mysterious Riddler (Paul Dano). We also get to see more of Zoe Kravitz’s Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman). There are some cool lines from Andy Serkis who plays Alfred as well as another glimpse of that intense car chase between Batman and the unrecognizable Colin Farrell who plays a new version of the Penguin. I love everything Reeves has shown us so far and I can’t wait for this to hit theaters.

“The Batman” opens in theaters March 4th. Check out the trailer below and let me know if you’ll be seeing it or taking a pass.

Merry Christmas!

I just wanted to take a second to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas. I hope everyone who celebrates had a wonderful day full of food, family, and festivities. Thank you all so much for another great year on this silly little site of mine. Your reading, likes, comments, and conversations have helped make this whole movie review gig worthwhile. I can’t wait to see what 2022 gives us to talk about. God’s blessings to each of you, your families, and your new year.

Best of 2021 – Lead Actor

Today I’m wrapping up my look back at the best performances of 2021. All that will be left is my Top 10 Films (look for that next week). We finish with the Lead Actor category, one that is brimming with Oscar-worthy leading work. Several big names as well as a few unexpected ones made this a really hard group to narrow down. But such are the silly rules. So here we go, starting with a few honorable mentions.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Oscar Isaac (“The Card Counter”), Eric Bana (“The Dry”), Tim Blake Nelson (“Old Henry”), Bradley Cooper (“Nightmare Alley”), Joaquin Phoenix (“C’mon C’mon”), Luke Kirby (“No Man of God”), Ciarán Hinds (“The Man in the Hat”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“The Power of the Dog”), Denzel Washington (“The Little Things”), Jude Hill (“Belfast”), Adam Driver (“House of Gucci”), Don Cheadle (“No Sudden Move”), Tom Hanks (Finch), Harvey Keitel (“Lanksy”)

#5 – Will Smith (“King Richard”)

I’ve always found Will Smith performances to be pretty hit-or-miss. But his portrayal of Richard Williams in “King Richard” tosses aside any hesitation I may have had. Williams was a complicated man and Smith transforms to shed light on the determined father of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. I wasn’t particularly excited for “King Richard” but it really surprised me. Smith was a big reason why.

#4 – Andrew Garfield (“Tick…Tick…Boom!”)

While the script and direction for “Tick…Tick…Boom!” was a little shaky, there was nothing lacking in Andrew Garfield’s lights-out performance. Both when acting and singing, the magnetic Garfield infuses the film with an infectious energy. He quite literally carries the movie on his shoulders and it’s impossible not to be drawn in by the enthusiasm and the emotion he brings.

#3 – Nicolas Cage (“Pig”)

While these days he’s probably known more for the unbridled nuttiness he brings to so many of his roles, sometimes we forget that Nicolas Cage is actually an immensely talented actor. Look no further than “Pig” for proof. He turned a lot of heads with his restrained and affecting portrayal of an off-the-grid hermit who sets out to find his stolen truffle pig. It may sound silly, but it’s hard not to moved by his performance.

#2 – Peter Dinklage (“Cyrano”)

One of the great surprises of the 2021 movie year was Peter Dinklage in the brilliant musical “Cyrano”. Anyone who follows Dinklage knows he’s a terrific actor. But here, not only does he get to showcase his acting chops with a meaty dramatic leading role, but he also gets to sing too. And it does it extremely well. Mix the two talents together and you have one of the best performances of the year.

#1 – Denzel Washington (“The Tragedy of MacBeth”)

I learned a long time ago that in the world of acting there’s nothing Denzel Washington can’t do. And through the years he continues to prove that to be true. His latest film “The Tragedy of MacBeth” is even further evidence. Washington’s take on Shakespeare’s classic character is utterly captivating and he offers a perspective that honors the Bard’s vision yet still feels strikingly fresh. This is Denzel at the top of his game. Then again, when is he not?

Thanks for following along. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.