Best of 2021: Jeff Ames’ Favorite Movies of the Year

Best of 2021: Jeff Ames’ Favorite Movies of the Year

The end of 2021 means its time to look back on the year and discuss our favorite movies — a difficult feat considering the lack of content in the first three-quarters of the calendar.

Even so, I managed to scrape together a list of my favorite movies of the year, albeit with a few caveats: first, I have yet to see some of the Oscar heavyweights such as Licorice Pizza, Spencer, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Green Knight, and Belfast, many of which are only playing in select cinemas; and second, with the admission that my favorite bit of “cinema” was actually Mike Flanagan’s stunning Netflix series Midnight Mass — a show I implore everyone to watch!

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Anyways, remember, this list comprises the films that entertained, dazzled, moved, or enlightened me, and doesn’t necessarily make them the “best films of the year.” Feel free to share your list of favorite movies in the comments below!

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Zack Snyder (sort of) completes his grand vision and delivers an astonishing four-hour epic that merges two genres — comic books and fantasy — with wondrous results. The cast, led by Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, and Ray Fisher, are superb in their respective roles as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Cyborg, while Snyder’s flair for action and spectacle remains unmatched in the ever-expanding superhero cinematic landscape. Justice League stands out from similar blockbusters thanks to an emphasis on characters and relationships, resulting in an incredible experience from a visionary director that simultaneously blows your mind and moves your soul.

King Richard

I love a good sports movie. Lucky for me, King Richard is a great sports movie. Will Smith’s virtuoso performance as the titular father of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams anchors the film (and tops anything the actor has ever done), but what makes Reinaldo Marcus Green’s pic really pop is the engaging — often endearing — look at the Williams’ carefully constructed family dynamic. Aunjanue Ellis’ turn as Richard’s ever-so-patient, ultimately devoted wife is one of the year’s best, while the hopeful message about hard work and perseverance should inspire budding sports stars for years to come.

Last Night in Soho

Edgar Wright is one of my favorite directors. The man just has it, whatever it is. Whether he’s tackling comedy, action, or drama, his grasp of cinema is unfettered. This year, the man gave us the mysterious, dramatic thriller Last Night in Soho, a film that is equal parts electrifying and downright terrifying. Starring Thomasin McKenzie and budding superstar Anya Taylor-Joy, Soho spins a masterful web of psychological horror brimming with stunning visuals, award-worthy performances, and one of the best soundtracks you’ll hear all year. This was a film that captured my attention and didn’t let go until the credits rolled. Not to be missed!

West Side Story

Steven Spielberg directs this wondrous remake of the classic 1961 musical that delivers a timely and important message of acceptance and racial tolerance. Performances are solid all around, but Rachel Zegler as Maria and Mike Faist as doomed Jets leader Riff ultimately steal the show. Spielberg’s staging of the musical numbers, particularly the song “America,” which begins in an apartment and pours out onto the streets, is exquisite, while Janusz Kamiński’s breathtaking, Oscar-worthy cinematography captures the grit and grim of New York’s underbelly. A terrific example of how to update a beloved classic.

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Dune

Dune is the blockbuster of dreams, an astonishing achievement in VFX and sound crafted by an artist with a vision. The characters are terrific, the action often eye-popping, and the pic certainly leaves you craving more voyages to this fascinating universe. Lucky for us, we get a sequel. Unfortunately, we have to wait two years to see it.

The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog offers a fascinating deconstruction of character archetypes, specifically those found in western movies, via the relationship between Benedict Cumberbatch’s rugged and vile cowboy Phil and Kodi Smit-McPhee’s mild-mannered Peter. While the meat of the plot hinders around Peter’s attempts to save his ailing mother (Kirsten Dunst) from Phil’s objectionable behavior, Campion’s interest lies in exploring the inner workings of two men with conflicting world views. Well acted and engrossing.

No Time to Die

The most eye-popping action pic of the year, No Time to Die quite literally rocks you to your core with thunderous, well-executed stunts, shootouts, and mayhem, whilst also delivering powerful moments of character reflection. No doubt, Daniel Craig’s best performance as James Bond, but the actor is aided by a tremendous supporting cast, including Léa Seydoux’s terrific Madeline Swan and Ana de Armas’ scene-stealing Paloma. The ending is both shocking and entirely appropriate.

The Last Duel

Ridley Scott directs this intense, brutal, but captivating drama centered around the famous duel between former friends and allies Jean de Carrouges (Matt Damon) and Jacques Le Gris (Adam Driver) — a conflict brought on when Carrouge’s wife (a stunning Jodie Comer) accuses Le Gris of rape. What follows is a harrowing examination of misogyny, jealousy, and corruption set in a time of ignorance and violence. Well acted and executed, but really hard to watch.

The French Dispatch

Few directors make me laugh like Wes Anderson, and while The French Dispatch remains on the lower end of his amazing body of work, it remains a fun and extremely well-crafted look at art, journalism, and the eccentric personalities behind both mediums. There’s a lot to take in here, and certainly, The French Dispatch warrants multiple viewings to take it all in, but Anderson’s unique, endlessly creative vision is always welcome in this modern age of mindless fodder.

Antlers

Horror films are a dime a dozen, but Scott Cooper’s Antlers is one for the ages: a meticulous blend of horror and drama that simultaneously works as a thoughtful examination of grief and trauma. There’s plenty of gore and scary monsters to keep genre fans at bay, but enough subtext to give the whole affair more meaning.

Tick, Tick… Boom!

Andrew Garfield’s charismatic performance as broadway wunderkind Jonathan Larson is just one of many joys found in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s energetic exploration of the creative process; a film as enamored with the relentless dedication and passion needed to achieve fame as the problems and burdens that stem from such devotion. A real eye-opener.

Nobody

Somehow, Bob Odenkirk out-John Wicked John Wick in this violent, gritty, but undoubtedly exciting action thriller that has as much fun breaking bones as it does taking jabs at middle-class suburbia. Props for finally giving the great Christopher Lloyd another solid role to add to his resume.

Boss Level

I probably had more fun with Joe Carnahan’s Boss Level than anyone else in the world, which just means a lot of people are missing out. Frank Grillo delivers the goods as a Roy, a beer-guzzling, muscle-bound soldier of sorts who must relive the same day over and over again until he saves his estranged wife (Naomi Watts) and son from the clutches of Mel Gibson’s ruthless Colonel Clive Ventor. While the action and humor certainly pop, it’s the quieter moments between Roy and his son that really lead Boss Level to victory.

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