The number “500” is significant for many reasons. For one thing, in Empire Magazine, they listed 500 movies as the greatest films of all time. In Tarot readings, the number “500” represents completeness: a sign that you have lived a fulfilling life and that it will only become more adventurous and exciting from here. Heck, at my current publication, we have a monthly section called “In 500” where readers can submit their own opinion columns in, yup, you guessed it, 500 words.
All my life, the number “500” has followed me in one elusive way or another. This month, the number “500” has a different meaning to me. As of this moment, I have published 500 articles on my website.
Yes, that includes the very same article you’re reading right now.
This is a very strange milestone for me because it’s one I never thought I would reach. Or perhaps more specifically, not one I would have reached on this website so soon.
When I started David Dunn Reviews in 2013, I launched this website as a way to express my thoughts and opinions on movies and entertainment when I couldn’t express them through other avenues. Before I even published my first byline on here, I was writing movie reviews under the notes tab on my Facebook page.
I’ll sometimes read through my old reviews, and they were… rough, to say the least. I both cringed and cackled as I went into long-winded monologues diving into director’s filmographies and characters’ comic-book origins, completely unaware that neither of them are relevant when talking about the quality of the film you’re reviewing. And man, the caps. All of the caps. I can’t tell you how many times I wrote words in all capitalizations whenever I was excited, WHICH NEEDLESS TO SAY, WAS WAY MORE OFTEN THAN IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN. After seeing it for the 50-millionth time, I can definitely see how my reviews might have been exhausting for my readers at the time.
But after joining my college paper, it didn’t take long for me to become a sharper, more concise writer. It definitely wasn’t without its own learning curves or creative differences, but after doing it enough times, my writing became more professional, polished, and easy to read. I still remember seeing some of the comments, with readers chiming in on how they wanted to see a particular movie because of my review, or laughing at one of my more scathing critiques.
But the proudest achievement of my college career remains to be winning Best Review in 2015 at the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association for my review of the DreamWorks animated film Home. My proudest line in that review was where I criticized the main alien race for having “the intelligence of a kumquat and the personality of a doormat.” And most importantly, I got rid of those blasted capitalizations.
I graduated from college a year later, which seemed scary at the time but eventually became something I adjusted to quickly. I started freelancing for every publication that I could (shoutout to MoviePilot) until I got my first official reporting gig for a local community newspaper. A year later, I was hired to work at a lifestyle magazine, which is the publishing job that I have always wanted.
This website — and the articles therein — is one of many reasons why I was hired. So in many ways, this website is a big part of my success to this very day.
I must admit, it hasn’t always been easy maintaining this website — especially during my first year out of college, where I was hopping from one freelance gig to another all while working my day job. But throughout it all, I maintained my love of movies and writing through every new release that came out. I kept reviewing movies whether they were good or bad. I continued my coverage of the Oscars even when writing my recap would take me well into early Monday morning. And every year, I kept ranking my favorite films of the year and sharing the movies that made the biggest impact on me — even those that didn’t make much money at the box office. Especially those movies.
Now don’t be mistaken — I am still not where I’m at in my publishing career where I thought I would have been. At this point in my life, I thought I would have been writing film reviews for either a newspaper or a magazine, hosting my own podcasts, and talking to movie stars and filmmakers on the red carpet. That dream as it stands has not yet come to pass, although I look back on my experiences interviewing Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Aaron Paul, and Vanessa Hudgens quite fondly.
But new dreams have taken its place that are bigger and better than I would have imagined. I’m still doing what I love, whether I’m writing for this website or for my magazine. I’m still watching movies, playing video games, and live-streaming on the weekends. And later this year, I’ll be marrying the love of my life. It’s crazy how fast and how hard life hits you, and I’m happy to say that, well, I’m happy at where I’m at in my life right now.
It certainly hasn’t always been that way. 2020 was a particularly rough year for this website since, you know, no new movies came out. Then in 2021, my mental health took a drastic decline to the point where I had to step away from this website for a time being.
What saved me and what pulled me out of my depression was, as always, the movies. Specifically, a 2021 musical comedy by Bo Burnham called Inside, which touched on issues such as depression, anxiety, and self-worth through a clever and creative lens of a comedian trapped inside his room during a pandemic. That film inspired me, made me feel seen, and made me feel less alone in a cruel, callous, and crumbling world that will probably burn up in the atmosphere a few years down the line. But I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, and seeing that film and the reactions to it reminded me that there were many others that felt the same way that I did. Indeed, I was way less alone than I could have ever realized.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m grateful. Grateful that I have this website. Grateful that I have my life. Grateful that I have you, my fellow readers, who keep coming back here to read my thoughts and opinions despite how infrequent they may be. This life of mine is not perfect, but whose life is? I find that the key to happiness is contentment: not in feeling disappointed in what we don’t have, but rather in feeling thankful for the things that we do.
And I am so, so thankful for you — for any click you made on my website, for any words that you took the time to read, for any comment you left (provided it wasn’t a smartass one), and for any laugh or emotion you experienced while reading my reviews. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you for being a loyal reader of mine. You’ve made writing 500 bylines on this website more valuable than you know.
It’s funny how differently people can experience the same thing. When 2021 ended, thousands of people swarmed the internet as they celebrated the end to yet another quote-unquote “horrible year.” “Good riddance 2021!” some online commentators quipped. “Thank God that’s over with,” others remarked. My favorite comment had to be one person saying that 2021 was “2020 Part 2.” Geez, tell me you hated a year without telling me you hated a year.
And you know, as bad as 2021 was, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was as awful as everybody was saying it was. Don’t get me wrong: it was still insufferable, with various morons still pushing conspiracy theories about masks, COVID-19, the vaccine, the 2020 election, and everything else in between. But when you compare it alongside how arduous, painful, and mind-boggingly stupid the past five years have been, 2021 felt relatively… normal? At least when compared to the likes of 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and of course, the accursed year of 2020.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that compared to the last decade, 2021 felt like a step in the right direction, if ever so slightly. And the biggest step of improvement we’ve seen this past year was easily with the movies. While 2020 saw many movie releases get canceled, rescheduled, or removed from theaters left and right, 2021 saw a steady release of fantastic movies throughout the whole year, including many that were originally supposed to come out in 2020.
That’s why for the first time on this website, I won’t be doing a top 10, a top 15, or even a top 20 list for the year. For one time and one time only, I will be ranking my Top 21 Movies of 2021.
I’m expanding my best-of list this year from 10 movies to 21 for a few reasons. One is because, as you might remember, I obviously didn’t do a top 10 list last year, so doubling my list this year only seemed fair given how many more movies came out in 2021. Another reason is that as I started building out my list, I noticed that a lot of my favorite movies were getting knocked out of my top 10, and I still wanted to recognize them in some way.
But more to the point, I just feel like 2021 deserved the extra love. It had the difficult task of rebounding from the trash year we got in 2020, and even with big box-office successes in No Time To Die and F9, the film industry still hasn’t quite recovered financially from 2020. Nevertheless, these filmmakers, actors, and artists have given us great films to admire over the past year, and I want to give them their fair due despite the challenging time we’re living through.
Few disclaimers to go through as per usual. First of all, this list is obviously my opinion, and some of the opinions I have will frustrate you. I know critics have said The Power Of The Dog and The Green Knight were mesmerizing cinematic masterpieces that deserve to be lavishly praised until the end of time, but I’m sorry to say that both of those movies sucked and neither one will be appearing on my list.
Simultaneously, despite how many more movies I’ve seen this past year, many still slipped past my radar. You won’t find Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story here, especially since it had the gall to come out during the same month as Spider-Man: No Way Home. You will also not find Belfast on this list either despite the amazing things I’ve heard about it. Perhaps most disappointingly is the fact that I didn’t get to see Licorice Pizza before the year ended, and that’s especially ironic given how many Paul Thomas Anderson films I’ve brushed up on this year, including Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and There Will Be Blood.
And lastly, this will also be the first of my best-of list that will not have any honorable mentions, mostly because it’s 21 FREAKING MOVIES. There doesn’t need to be any honorable mentions this year. All of these movies were amazing.
Okay, enough with the intro. Time to hop into my favorite 21 films of 2021, starting with…
A sleek, sexy, and stylish account of the Gucci family and the wealth and power that drives them to do horrible things. Ridley Scott directs a stunning all-star cast in this thrilling crime-drama including Jeremy Irons, Al Pacino, and who my girlfriend calls Adam “Daddy” Driver himself. The standout performances belong to Jared Leto, who disappears into the biggest Italian idiot alive in Paulo Gucci, and Lady Gaga, whose ice-cold demeanor gives her an edge so chilling that she could be mistaken for a mob boss. As someone who couldn’t give two rips about the Gucci brand name and family, House Of Gucci kept me engaged and interested in a way that few films have this year. That alone is an accomplishment in of itself. Three and a half stars.
A lively and joyous celebration of family, love, and Latin America. This Walt Disney fantasy tells the story of the Madrigals, an incredible family endowed with supernatural abilities and a sentient home they affectionately refer to as their “Encanto.” But when their abilities and their home begin to collapse, the Madrigals need to rely on their powerless granddaughter Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz) to save them. This endearing little delight warms both heart and soul, bursting with personality and a deep appreciation of Colombian culture. Disney’s animation is as lush and beautiful as ever, and Mirabel is an endearing little underdog that’s easy to love and root for. Like its main hero, Encanto shows how powerful we can be, even in the moments where we feel powerless. Three and a half stars.
A stunning, spectacular showstopper of a film that leaves just as much an impact as its real-life singer did. Jennifer Hudson commands the screen as Aretha Franklin in this rousing biopic about her life. First-time director Liesl Tommy tells a provocative story about Aretha and how she changed the course of the music industry forever. But the movie isn’t just about her hit singles and chart-breaking records: Respect also shows the darker, more grim sides of Aretha’s life that she had to persevere through. And Hudson gives one of the best performances of her career, shining with as much life and vibrancy as she did in her Oscar-winning role in Dreamgirls. A powerful testament to the Queen of Soul and the millions that she inspired. Three and a half stars.
There’s absolutely no reason why Zack Snyder’s Justice League should work as well as it does, let alone even exist in the first place. Yet despite studio interference from Warner Bros. and the general stigma surrounding remakes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a comprehensive and fully realized vision of these characters that comic book fans have come to love. This four-hour epic brings weight to these character’s arcs and decisions, and every moment the film builds up to feels earned and intentional. Yeah the movie does feel a little bloated, but I’d rather a longer, denser narrative that fully believes in itself rather than a shorter, more diminished experience for everybody. If Warner Bros. has any sense, they’ll announce a sequel as soon as possible. Three and a half stars.
Pixar knocks it out of the park yet again with this sweet and sincere little gem of a movie that shows people to not be afraid of what makes them different. Director Enrico Casarosa pulls from his childhood experiences to tell a literal fish-out-of-water story about a pair of sea monsters trying to fit in to a small town on the edge of the Riviera. The animation is colorful, vibrant, and beautiful, feeing like a luscious blend of Finding Nemo and The Little Mermaid’s art styles. Dan Romer’s blissful soundtrack shines with serenity, with its melodies moving you to the tunes of its sweet strings and accordions. A beautiful and simple little story that serves as a heartfelt love letter to Italian culture and childhood. Three and a half stars.
A biting satire on the current state of politics and how all of the division can do nothing but harm us. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as a pair of astronomers that sound the alarm on a comet hurdling toward the Earth. But instead of unifying the public to divert the comet’s trajectory, America’s leaders instead trivialize the threat and pretend it doesn’t even exist. Writer-director Adam McKay uses the comet as an allegory for climate change, but the metaphor is so flexible that it can apply to several issues, including COVID-19. The all-star cast is equally impressive, with Leonardo DiCaprio in particular shining during a rant akin to Peter Finch’s “I’m mad as hell” speech in Network. A highly critical look at our nation’s political discourse that feels less and less like fiction the more it goes on. Three and a half stars.
An eerie, captivating, and unsettling psychological thriller that dives deeply into the lust and greed that drives men to commit heinous, sinful acts. Bradley Cooper stars as an ambitious carnie who wants to take his act across the world. But as he gets involved more and more with the wrong people, his life turns into a downward spiral that spins out of control. Guillermo Del Toro crafts a brilliant and ingenious world fueled by tricks, deceptions, and theatricality. The production design by Tamara Deverell is mesmerizing, and Dan Laustsen’s cinematography is straight-up hypnotic with its expansive, wide photography. But it’s Del Toro’s vision that makes Nightmare Alley sizzle with its own intrigue and implication. An atmospheric neo-noir drama that reveals the monsters that live in men. Three and a half stars.
A wicked, wacky, and wildly entertaining redemption for both The Suicide Squad and James Gunn. In this standalone sequel to the 2016 supervillain film, The Suicide Squad follows Amanda Waller as she assembles a new crew of misfit villains for a dangerous mission, including Bloodsport (Idris Elba), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), and Polka-Dot Man (David Dastmalchian). This violent, over-the-top action flick subverts your expectations at every imaginable turn, with unique, funny, and endearing characters stealing your heart in between all of the hot-blooded action. Newcomer Daniela Melchior in particular shines as the pure-hearted thief Ratcatcher, and casting Sylvester Stallone as the talking King Shark was a stroke of pure genius. The Suicide Squad is James Gunn and DC at their best. Four stars.
An imaginative and awe-inspiring animated fantasy that moves and flows with the feel of a live-action epic. Chronicling the legend of five clans from the ancient land of Kumandra, the film follows a warrior princess named Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) and the water dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) on their quest to banish the evil Druun spirits and save their home. The animation is Disney at its best, with characters’ lightning-quick action and reflexes driving the plot forward with vigor and enthusiasm. The caliber of the voice cast is equally talented, with Kelly Marie Tran shining the most as a young adventurer torn between her grief, guilt, and her desire to trust others. An exciting, funny, and heartfelt adventure that shows that it’s never too late to do the right thing. Four stars.
A bold deconstruction of the James Bond mythos that portrays him not as a generic action hero, but as a tragic character trapped in a cycle of violence and self-ruinous choices. Daniel Craig plays Bond one last time in his rawest and most human portrayal yet, showing who the man behind the license to kill is when he isn’t 007. Director Cary Joji Fukanaga makes every action sequence feel fast-paced and impactful, raising the stakes and the tension every minute that passes. Yet the most incredible thing about No Time To Die is how it shows Bond reacting to a world shifting and changing all around him. It’s funny how the movie is called No Time To Die, because by the time the end credits rolled, all we can think about is how James Bond lived. Four stars.
An electrifying musical experience that breathes with its own heartbeat and life. In his feature-length directorial debut, Questlove assembles never-before-seen archival footage of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival and masterfully restores it with a crisp and clear picture quality that makes you feel like you were really there, with featured artists including Sly Stone, Gladys Knight, and Stevie Wonder. But it isn’t just a simple concert film: Questlove contextualizes a lot of the concert-going experiences through the lens of racial unrest in the late ’60s. For many, the Harlem Cultural Festival wasn’t just a musical event: it was a powerful statement for freedom, civil rights, and equality, one that The Summer Of Soul embodies proudly. Four stars.
A vibrant, colorful, and beautiful love letter to immigrants, Puerto Rico, and America itself. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu team up to bring Lin-Manuel’s musical debut to the big screen, and it’s bursting with so much soul and energy that at times it makes your heart stop. The music is infectious upon first listen, with the actors singing and rapping with such articulation that it rivals the intricate lyricism of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s very own Hamilton. The film is lined with an impressive all-star cast, with Anthony Ramos in particular shining in the lead as Usnavi. But the cultural statement the film makes is the most powerful, telling audiences to not be ashamed of where you come from, who you are, and what dreams you are pursuing. You’ll fall in love with In The Heights so much that you’ll never want to leave. Four stars.
One of the most inventive, funny, charismatic, and heartfelt animated films of the year, and it isn’t even by Disney or Pixar. Sony Pictures knocks it out of the park yet again with this witty and wacky science-fiction comedy about a dysfunctional family fighting a robotic takeover. Developed by the same creative team behind Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, The Mitchells V.S. The Machines’ animation style is razor-sharp with stunning watercolor quality, flawlessly replicating a visual aesthetic similar to a children’s storybook. But the animation is only half of the puzzle. The other half lies in writer-director duo Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, who craft an incredibly sweet and sincere story about family, fatherhood, and following your dreams. The Mitchells V.S. The Machines is an animated smash hit that pops with its own style, pizzazz and personality. Four stars.
A wonderful and moving tribute to the biggest legends in tennis history and the family that rooted for them all the way there. Will Smith stars as Venus and Serena Williams’ father in this dramatic retelling of their journey to becoming tennis champions. I initially thought it was weird that a movie about Venus and Serena would focus on their father rather than themselves. But to my surprise, the movie isn’t about Venus, Serena, or Richard — it’s about the Williams family and how their love and dedication to each other propelled their daughters to unimaginable success. Everyone was amazing in this picture, from Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as Venus and Serena to Aunjanue Ellis as their mother. But Will Smith steals the show in one of his most passionate performances to date — maybe even his best ever. The best family drama of the year that hits you right in the feels and in the heart. Four stars.
A gritty, bleak, and violent recount of a rivalry between two knights and the woman caught up in the middle of it all. In one of his best historical epics since Gladiator, Ridley Scott directs an all-star cast including Matt Damon, Adam Driver, and Ben Affleck as he tells a true story about two men’s cold-blooded conflict that eventually leads into one of the last duels in human history. Ridley Scott guides his viewers through the plot’s many perspectives, masterfully building up the stakes so you understand where every character is coming from. But the real surprise is newcomer Jodie Comer, who delivers a performance so firm and immovable that she steals the spotlight from the film’s bigger stars. A layered and intricate narrative that keeps its viewers engaged until it arrives at its pulse-pounding, heart-racing conclusion. Four stars.
A hard, harrowing, and haunting portrayal of black America and the man who tried to lead his people to liberation. Daniel Kaluuya plays Black Panther Party chairman Fred Hampton in his final years leading up to his eventual betrayal by FBI informant Bill O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), who infiltrated the Black Panthers to gain Fred Hampton’s trust. Director Shaka King crafts a compelling, mesmerizing thriller from the pages of the Lucas Brothers’ intricate screenplay, eerily recounting the events of late 1960s Chicago and the racial and political divisions that laid deep within. But it’s Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield who steal the show, with Stanfield playing a tortured, conflicted character torn between two different worlds while Kaluyya embodies the fierce revolutionary fighting for his future. An intense and layered narrative that leaves you feeling hollow, yet hopeful by the end. Four stars.
Yeah, the marketing was horrible, the trailers were released way too late into the year, and this film was plagued with more leaks than the R.M.S. Titanic. Still, despite all of its promotional pitfalls, Spider-Man: No Way Home lives up to every single impossible expectation fans had for it. Tom Holland is the best that he’s ever been as Spider-Man, offering a gripping, mature, and emotional performance in a role filled with depth and complexion. Spider-Man’s all-star villains also make a triumphant return, with Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin being the most chilling and unnerving out of all of them. Trading the jokes and the quippy one-liners for compelling human drama, No Way Home is the most realized version of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-Man to date. A beautiful and heartfelt celebration of Spider-Man’s cinematic legacy. Four stars.
A heartfelt love letter to Jonathan Larson and the amazing legacy that he left behind. Andrew Garfield plays the Tony Award-winning playwright long before “Rent” became the Broadway hit that it is known as today. In his feature directorial debut, Lin-Manuel Miranda make an impact as he flawlessly replicates Larson’s style in this emotional and hard-hitting rock musical about the life of a struggling artist aspiring to be more. All of the songs in this smash hit were posthumously written by Larson himself, giving the movie a layer of authenticity that few films possess. Garfield especially shines in arguably one of his best performances ever, portraying a musician filled with love and passion even as everything crumbles all around him. In a world full of derivative, soulless musicals, Tick, Tick… BOOM! explodes with its own personality and life. The last melody will leave you in tears. Four stars.
The grandest, rawest, most epic cinematic event of the year. Based on Frank Herbert’s classic science-fiction saga, Dune tells a galactic story about warring factions fighting over the desert planet of Arrakis, which carries the most valuable asset in the universe: the spice. Director Denis Villenueve (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) creates an engrossing and absorbing experience that immerses you in a way no other film has to date. This is a film that makes you feel the harsh sun beating down on you, the dry desert air as it parches your mouth, the heat from explosions radiating off of your body. The cinematography, the editing, the music, the visual effects: even the sound design helps create a flawless experience unmatched in its presentation. But the characters and the setting are just as fleshed out as the rest of the production is, weaving a dense and complex narrative that guides you through every twist and turn. The best blockbuster we’ve seen this decade, and we haven’t even gotten to the sequel yet. Four stars.
A deeply personal and profound dedication to cinema and the powerful emotions that they make us feel. Using camcorder footage recorded by Val Kilmer and stored away in his personal achives for several years, Val stunningly captures Val Kilmer’s entire life from his early childhood to his later years long after his blockbuster career. The film feels surprisingly vulnerable, showing sensitive and intimate moments from Val’s life that are very hard to show on camera. But that’s the life that Val and directors Leo Scott and Ting Poo wanted to show — not the celebrity in front of the movie cameras and red carpets, but rather the father, husband, and son resting at home watching as his life passes him by. On the surface level, Val is a simple film about the life and career of the star behind Top Gun, The Doors, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, The Heat, Tombstone, and many more. But on a much deeper level, Val is about loving unconditionally, sharing our stories passionately, and expressing our truths fearlessly. A brilliant, brilliant little gem of a picture that you owe yourself to experience at least once. Four stars.
And finally, my number one movie of the year. A lot of people are not going to understand my favorite film of 2021. A lot of people are going to be shocked. A lot of people are going to be surprised. A lot of people are going to be very, very confused. Quite honestly, there will be many people who will strongly disagree not just with this title placing at the top of my list, but this title placing on my list at all. All I can say is that this is hands-down the best experience I had at the movies this year and it isn’t even particularly close. And that is…
Where do I even begin with this one? After taking a five-year hiatus, Bo Burnham returns to comedy in this feature-length project that he wrote, shot, directed, performed, and edited while we were in the middle of one of the most unprecedented events in human history. The film is brilliant in Bo Burnham’s traditionally dark comedic style, breaking down complex issues into clever and witty lyrics that remain poignant and thoughtful, yet equally self-deprecating and entertaining. My favorite of his songs are “How The World Works” where he debunks social misconceptions with the help of a sock puppet, “All Eyes On Me” where he portrays mental illness in a heart-wrenching symphony of sorrow, and “Welcome To The Internet” which portrays the internet like a millennial supervillain that aims to take over every intimate, personal, and chaotic moment out of your whole life. The visuals are equally striking, with Bo playing with color and lighting in a unique way that makes each sequence pop with its own stylistic appeal. I especially liked the visual sequences of “FaceTime With My Mom” and “White Woman’s Instagram,” both of which mimic the shapes of a smartphone and Instagram posts.
But these elements alone make Inside merely an amusing experience. What makes it special is its emotional complexity, looking at deeper issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicide and how the pandemic worsened the symptoms that were already there. More than any other film released last year, Bo Burnham’s Inside made me feel seen, heard, and validated for the emotions that I experienced in 2020. Fear. Frustration. Loss. Loneliness. Regret. The soft-spoken sympathy that Bo Burnham provides here is quietly empowering — a sort of silent solidarity that reminds us all that it is okay to not feel okay.
Inside moved me and changed me in ways no other film has — not just from this past year, but from the past several years. It broke through my writer’s block, inspired me to stay creative, and encouraged me to keep doing what I love just because it makes me happy. I really can’t understate how significant of an accomplishment that is. I’ve never experienced something as deep and powerful as Inside before, and I doubt I will experience anything like it ever again. Thank you, Bo Burnham, for bringing us this mesmerizing masterpiece. You’ve given us all something to believe in. Four stars.
Thank you to all of the amazing filmmakers, actors, and studios that brought us these amazing movies in 2021. Here’s to 2022 and hoping that we continue to look toward the future.
It’s always easier to focus on the negatives, especially during a decade as dismal and pathetic as the 2020s. While 2021 generally feels like an improvement over the previous year, that’s only because it didn’t have as many unprecedented events as 2020 did. But don’t get it twisted — most of the things that were wrong in 2020 continued into 2021. The COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage on, misinformation kept spreading on the internet like wildfire, and millions of Americans still refuse to admit that the 2020 election was not stolen. That doesn’t even include all of the celebrities that we have been losing left and right, including Betty White, Sidney Poitier, and Bob Saget. I thought this was 2021, not 2016.
Even the movies suffered. While there were generally more movies released this year compared to 2020, that by extension does also means that we have seen more bad movies come out than usual. That’s why for the first time on this website, I will be covering my 10 least favorite films of 2021.
I’ve never published a worst-of list before for several reasons. One reason is because I usually don’t see that many bad movies in a given year, and definitely not enough to make a bottom 10. Another reason is because I generally don’t like spending more energy on a film that has already wasted enough of my time. But perhaps more simply, I just like focusing on the positive more. Even during a year as catastrophic as 2020, I love looking back and reflecting on the movies that made me feel the most throughout the year. After all, year-end lists should be about celebrating the year’s biggest accomplishments — not beating down its biggest failures one last time.
But I’m doing a worst-of list this year for many different reasons. One reason is that, unlike most other years, I actually have seen a lot of bad movies, which made filling out a bottom 10 list much easier. But more importantly, these abysmal films should serve as a call of action to all filmmakers out there — a general guideline on what not to do when making a movie. After all, the pandemic is still going strong, and the box office still hasn’t fully recovered from 2020. If there is ever a time for movies to justify their existence, it’s now. The movies on this list just simply didn’t do that.
So without further adieu, here are my 10 least favorite films of 2021, starting with…
Just as soon as the quality of video game movies was beginning to pick up with the likes of Detective Pikachu and Sonic The Hedgehog, here comes the newest reboot of Mortal Kombat to remind us all that at the end of the day, video game movies just suck. Mortal Kombat is lined with a massive all-star cast, with Hiroyuki Sanada’s Scorpion, Joe Taslim’s Sub-Zero, and Josh Lawson’s Kano being among the most memorable characters. And when the action is fast and free-flowing, the movie is at its most fun and exciting. Unfortunately, its script is straight-up nonsense, with one character after another dropping into the plot to offer their trademark fatalities before being violently removed from the story. It also doesn’t help that the film rests squarely on Lewis Tan’s shoulders, because he’s so bland and unappealing in the lead that he makes Jean Claude-Van Damme look like a good actor. Hopefully the sequel will be better, because until then, Mortal Kombat’s mediocrity is its biggest fatality. Two stars.
A failed fusion of genres if I’ve ever seen one. The Harder They Fall starts with a disclaimer saying that while all of the characters are real, the story that they’re in is fictional. Glad they clarified that, because the story is absolutely unbelievable in every sense of the word. This revisionist hip-hop western blatantly rips off Quentin Tarantino in a desperate bid to mimic the success of Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. But what those movies had in wickedly clever dialogue, humor, and character is everything that The Harder They Fall lacks. The characters are dumber than a sack of potatoes, throwing themselves into needlessly dangerous situations just because the screenplay calls for it. At two hours and 19 minutes, the movie drags on at a glacial pace and does not pick up until the third act. And the movie predictably leads exactly where you thought it was going to go: into a larger-than-life shootout that they could have just jumped into an hour earlier. The Harder They Fall could be considered a misfire if the gun was ever loaded in the first place. One and a half stars.
A dull, boring, and lifeless film that thinks filling a movie with an overabundance of gunfights and sharp snapshots of the hero’s jawline can replace a clear and coherent story. In this prequel to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, Michael B. Jordan plays John Kelly, a Navy SEAL who seeks vengeance after his pregnant wife is murdered by Russian mercenaries. Michael B. Jordan is as intense as always, but the premise is so shamelessly generic that you could copy and paste the screenplay from other and better movies. It doesn’t help that the editing is so choppy that it leaves you dizzy while watching it, with characters coming into and out of the narrative so frequently that you forget who’s who by the time you arrive at the film’s confused and incomprehensible ending. Without Remorse is the third time Hollywood has tried to reboot Tom Clancy’s characters for the big screen, and it’s such a disappointment that I’m okay with never seeing another Tom Clancy production ever again. That includes the Splinter Cell movie that’s currently stuck in development hell. One and a half stars.
Contrived, convoluted, and unbearably cliche, The Little Things commits the most cardinal sin the movies should never do: it wasted our time. Denzel Washington and Rami Malek star as a pair of detectives tracking down a serial killer that’s rampaging through Las Vegas, and they uncover secrets that will haunt the rest of their lives forever. Washington and Malek are fine in the movie, and Jared Leto offers a chilling portrayal as one of the movie’s bigger suspects. But by and large, this is a movie that collapses under the weight of its own ambitions, with the plot having absolutely zero idea where it wants to go or how it wants to get there. The final straw comes with the movie’s conclusion, which ends on a note so flat and disappointing that it renders the whole film completely pointless. The Little Things just reinforces that you can make a bad movie from a good script, but you can’t make a good movie from a bad script. One and a half stars.
An unbelievably moronic and insipid film that throws logic right out the window in exchange for mindless action sequences and poorly-rendered CGI. Chris Pratt plays a high school biology teacher who gets wrapped up into a futuristic war between aliens and mankind as he becomes humanity’s last hope to yadda yadda yadda, blabitty, blabitty, blah. This time travel plotline is so cliche and has been done and redone several times over to the point where it just feels stale. Chris Pratt is likable enough, but when the action kicks in, all of his charisma is forgotten as the messy visual effects take over. This could have been an interesting movie about family, fate, and the inevitability of time. Instead we get yet another silly action movie that ends with the hero literally punching aliens that could eat him in two seconds. One and a half stars.
The worst superhero movie of the year by a long, long mile. Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson go head-to-head in this symbiotic matchup between two of Spider-Man’s biggest supervillains, Venom and Carnage. But what could have been a dark and exciting exploration into both of these characters’ psyches just turns into yet another generic actionfest. Tom Hardy is great as both Eddie Brock and Venom, but the movie throws its strongest asset right out the window by splitting them up for most of its runtime. Woody Harrelson doesn’t fare much better, pathetically whining about how not being loved enough as a child drove him to become a mass murderer. The action is fine and the post-credit scene was exciting at the time, but after it led to nothing in Spider-Man: No Way Home, the post-credit scene became just like the movie itself: utterly pointless. One and a half stars.
A film that thinks it is way, way, WAY smarter than it actually is. Anthony Mackie produces and stars in this film about an android lieutenant leading his new pupil through the front lines of war, but in the process, they both get wrapped up in this nuclear conspiracy that could destroy the world. Mackie is fine in this film, but unfortunately, he is not playing the lead. That role is fulfilled by “Snowfall” actor Damson Idris, and he’s so sickeningly flat and generic that I would rather Steven Seagal play his part. The movie flip-flops between themes relating to violence, drone warfare, and technology, but it’s way too distracted and doesn’t know how to focus up and make an impact with one central message. A spastic, haphazard, brainless mess that blew up in its own face. One star.
A bizarre, off-putting, and deranged experience that has no point, no identity, and no sense of self. Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard co-star in this musical about a comedian and opera singer starting a family together when they have a daughter who is made entirely out of… wood? Driver and Cotillard’s talents are completely wasted as their characters dance aimlessly from one scene to the other. The music, meanwhile, is just straight-up garbage. I’ve watched multiple musicals this past year, and I could not recall a single note or lyric from this picture. The plot is straight-up nonsense as director Leos Carax drags you through one pointless scene after another. And by the time you reach its strange and confusing ending, I wanted nothing more but to wipe this film from my memory as soon as possible. A wasteful, mindless picture that I wish I never heard of. Half a star.
Yet another sequel/reboot that nobody asked for nor wanted. Space Jam: A New Cashgrab comes 25 years after Michael Jordan teamed up with the Looney Tunes in the original movie. LeBron James is taking the lead this time around, and man oh man is he going for the Razzie on this one. This is an awful, soulless, lifeless husk of a film that has not one original thought or idea in it. LeBron has zero heart in his performance beyond the paycheck and it shows in his delivery that feels like he’s line reading. The Looney Tunes have no point or reason for being in this story beyond the fact that this is supposed to be a Space Jam sequel. The cameos and Easter eggs are obviously manipulative and the costuming and production design is worse than a YouTube video. There were two scenes that were funny. The rest of the movie deserves to be blown up by Acme dynamite. Half a star.
And finally, my most hated film of the year. This film was so awful that I quite literally could not watch it all in a single sitting. I had to divide it up into 15-minute increments, and it was still the least pleasurable experience I had at the movies this year. This movie was cringey. This movie was torturous. This movie was…
Never again. Don’t ever let this sh*t happen again. Even when Home Alone stopped releasing movies in 1997, none of its sequels ever measured up to the original, with each new installment becoming sequentially worse one after the other. Now here comes Home Sweet Home Alone, and it’s so rotten to the core that it makes the rest of the franchise look enjoyable by comparison. Archie Yates, who previously played the lovable Yorki in Jojo Rabbit, is straight-up unbearable as this spoiled little brat whose biggest hangup is that his family isn’t paying him enough attention. Ellie Kemper and Rob Delaney play the couple trying to break into his home, and these two are so stupid they could mistake dog poop for chocolate fudge. Not a single character in this movie is either remotely appealing or intelligent, and they all get caught up in slip-ups so silly and slapstick that even Adam Sandler would think it’s too much. Home Sweet Home Alone embodies everything wrong and exploitative with modern-day Hollywood, and for that reason it is the worst film of 2021. This film deserves its zero stars, and I would give it less if I could.
And that’s it for my first (and hopefully last) worst movies list of the year, folks. Tune in next week as I break down my favorite films of 2021, my first yearly best-of list in… two years? God, 2020 sucked.
Does anyone else feel like 2021 isn’t so much a new year as much as it is an epilogue to 2020? In just three months, we saw our former President incite an attack on the United States Capitol, got kicked off of Twitter, impeached again by the House of Representatives, only to later be acquitted by his loyalists in the Senate, then banished into private life, only resurfacing once or twice to send out one of his idiotic would-be tweets via press release. That’s not even accounting for all of the crazy things going on down here in Texas such as all businesses opening up 100%, the mask mandate being lifted, and oh yeah, a bloody SNOWSTORM crippled the state’s power grid, leaving millions without power for several days and killing over a hundred Texans from hypothermia. But hey, at least Ted Cruz was nice and warm in his private jet to Cancun. Thank you AOC, for doing Ted’s job for him.
Regardless of all of the crazy 2021 has offered so far, it does have its positive points. For one thing, Joe Biden’s presidency was certified for the 60th time, so yes QAnidiots, Joe Biden is in fact your duly elected President. And thanks to the unlikely election of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock (which Georgia Republicans are desperately trying to overturn), everybody received $1,400 stimulus checks, so thank you Georgians for having some common sense for a change. And thanks to the fast-acting response from the current administration, millions of Americans are getting vaccinated from COVID-19 daily, so it’s possible we’re going to reach the 200 million threshold very soon. With all of these wins after a year as dismal and pathetic as 2020, I might be lucky enough to go back to a movie theater soon, though I’m knocking on wood when I say that.
Either way, 2020 is behind us, and there’s no better way to celebrate than by looking at the absolute worst the last decade had to offer. So without further adieu, here are my 10 most hated films from the last decade.
Anyone else ready for this year to be over? I know I certainly am. After facing a global pandemic, an economic recession, police brutality, and all of the migraines that come with elections and Facebook arguments, 2020 is a year I am very ready to say good riddance to. And even though I predicted in my Top 10 Movies of 2019 list that 2020 was going to be a “long, pulsating, cancer-sized headache,” I never expected it to grow into the tumorous size as large as it has. This year was so God-awful, depressing, and mind-numbingly frustrating that I’m legitimately happy that Joe Biden won the Presidency. How miserable does your year have to be where you’re actually excited that the oldest carpet-bagger in existence is taking over the White House from the orange idiot that has more Twitter flags that an InfoWars fan page?
But I don’t want to mull around politics too much, especially since so many people are already doing more than enough of that for me on Parler. Instead I want to end 2020 reflecting on better times, namely the 2010s and all of the amazing movies that came with it. Since I couldn’t do my Top 10 movies of the year as I usually do, I wanted to instead do a roundup of my favorite movies from the decade and break down why they are so special to me. So strap yourselves in and join me on this fun detour to the past, where wearing masks wasn’t a thing, the end times weren’t upon us, and theaters were filled with cinemagoers that were just as excited for the movies as you were. From top to bottom, here are 10 of my favorite films of the decade.
Poopsie-whoopsie! Why did you make a floopsie-doo-dooski?
It should be illegal to make movies as terrible as Jack and Jill. This isn’t the usual sort of terrible where the cast and crew are merely incompetent at making a good movie – it’s the sort of terrible where they fully understand how to make a bad movie and are aggressively committed to making it as asinine, annoying, and offensive on the senses as possible. Well if Jack and Jill’s goal was to make one of the worst movies ever made, then they succeeded. May they never succeed at anything ever again.
Jack and Jill stars Adam Sandler as identical twins Jack and Jill, with the latter sibling being portrayed with drag and a wig that’s so fake-looking that I’m wondering which mannequin he took it from. The story follows the dreadful duo on a series of absurd adventures, some of which include inviting homeless people to Thanksgiving dinner, appearing on a game show, crushing a helpless horse under Jill’s weight, going to a Lakers game, and being stalked by Al Pacino. And when I say that, no, I’m not saying that it’s a character played by Al Pacino: I mean the actual, real, Academy Award-winner Al Pacino is in love with Adam Sandler in drag and is stalking her/him.
I don’t know what’s more disturbing; watching Al Pacino sexually harass Adam Sandler or knowing that both men willingly agreed to this.
Where do I start with this movie? What’s the worst part? Do I start with the screenplay, which is so childish and immature that fifth graders would be offended? Do I start with the performances, all of which are so obnoxious and distasteful that it makes The Room look artful by comparison? Or do I elaborate on its technical failings, all of which are so basic and amateurish that it makes The Hallmark Channel seem watchable?
Let’s start with the premise itself, in which the idea to have Adam Sandler playing gender-swapping roles is gimmicky at best and downright repugnant at its worst. For some comedic actors, they’re able to successfully play both masculine and feminine characters with finesse and flair, among my favorites being Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot, Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, and Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire.
Adam Sandler is not one of those actors. Simply put, he doesn’t have the training or the ability to act much beyond his own generic self. That’s why when Jack puts on a dress later in the movie and pretends to be Jill, there’s literally no discernible difference between Jill and the disguised Jack. It’s the same God-awful performance either way.
And seeing Adam Sandler dressed as a woman is truly an unpleasant sight to suffer through. While other gender-swapping roles put its actors through extensive makeup and costuming to make them look believable as women, Sandler just slaps on whatever outfit he bought from GAP and the lipstick and eyelashes he got from Ulta Beauty and calls it a transformation. It’s easily one of the laziest makeup and costuming jobs I’ve ever seen, and I’ve suffered through White Chicks.
But it isn’t just how Adam Sandler looks: his dialogue is just as insufferable and grotesque as the rest of his appearance is. Jill is disgusting, foul, whiny, and loud-mouthed to the point where you need earplugs to even attempt to listen to her. Sandler’s voice as Jill is so high-pitched and screechy that I’m shocked no windows in the theater broke every time Jill talked. Why Sandler chose this particular voice for Jill I have no idea. All I know is that I had to check my ears at the end of the screening to make sure they weren’t bleeding from all of the grated squealing they suffered through.
This begs a question that I, unfortunately, do not have an answer to: why was this movie made? Who was this movie made for? What purpose does it serve other than to test my patience and sanity? I cannot rationalize this movie for any reason whatsoever under any spectrum of thought. If it was supposed to be funny, why didn’t I laugh? If it was supposed to be endearing, why was I enraged the entire time while watching it? If it was supposed to be heartfelt, why did I drive my hands into my skull every time one of the characters spoke? If it was supposed to be sincere, why did the film reek of contrivance and laziness? And if it was supposed to be entertaining, why did I spend all 90 minutes fantasizing about strangling every single person I saw in the film?
While he was once known for starring in cheeky and amusing comedies like Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, and The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler has been making one string of bad decisions after another, whether it’s with the cheap and juvenile Grown Ups or the dull and uninspired Just Go With It.Jack and Jill confirms his downward spiral of insanity. For his own safety and well-being, he needs to be checked into a psychological ward as soon as humanly possible, and then his unfortunate viewers should seek counseling to process Jack and Jill in a healthy way.
After watching a trailer where he’s promoting Dunkin’ Donuts’ new Dunkaccino (hardee-har-har), Al Pacino demands that Jack burn all copies of it, warning him “This must never be seen by anyone.” He should have warned Jack and Jill’s producers instead and saved us all from the embarrassment.
I think it’s time I made a confession, although I consider it less of a confession and more of a confirmation. I have Asperger’s syndrome.
“What’s that?” you might ask. Asperger’s is a mental disorder that has extreme irregularities with social development and nonverbal communication. Think of Mark Zuckerberg from The Social Network, Steve Jobs or Michael Burry from The Big Short, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what the disease is like. It’s a condition that exists on the Autism spectrum, and many doctors consider it a high-functioning form of Autism.
In a way, I guess you could say I’m half Autistic.
I’ve known this for a long time. In many ways, I’ve always known. Ever since I was a child, I struggled to understand my peers and to talk and communicate with them. I couldn’t read facial expressions. I couldn’t interpret sarcasm. I couldn’t tell whether someone liked me or if they were afraid of me. I said things in the wrong way, or used the wrong tone of voice. I hurt people’s feelings and I didn’t even know I was doing it. I’ve always felt like an alien inside of my own body, and I sometimes wondered if everyone else was clued in on some big secret that they were all intentionally hiding from me. It was a very lonely, confusing experience, and most of the time, I didn’t know what was happening with myself or the people around me.
When I was 12 years old, my dad pulled me aside and told me that I had Asperger’s syndrome. Like you, I didn’t know what it was at first. Then my dad read to me all of the symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. That kids displaying traits of Asperger’s were socially inept. They couldn’t read nonverbal cues. They were hypersensitive. They could spend hours over subjects or tasks they found interesting. They could hyper-analyze on anything they wanted to focus on, even to the point where it hurt them to keep thinking about it.
I had listened to all of these symptoms, and wondered if they were writing about Asperger’s or if they were writing about me.
Over time, I’ve learned to live with the both the good and bad of Asperger’s. On one hand, thanks to my intense interest in certain subjects (like movies), I’ve become very knowledgable on the ins and outs of certain fields. I don’t know many people that can recall most best picture, director, screenplay, and acting winners at most awards ceremonies. I can, and that’s a small thing about myself that I’m proud of.
On the other hand, the negative effects of Asperger’s has been obviously detrimental to say the least. In terms of building relationships, it is a never-ending battle of interpretation and understanding, and usually, I’m always on the losing end.
I’ve recently had the motivation to publish an opinion column on The Dallas Morning News about my struggles with Asperger’s. There was no particular reason behind this. I’ve just felt that the disease has been something that I’ve been unintentionally hiding for some time, and it wasn’t something that needed to be hidden. Like most kids with Autism, they don’t have a choice in hiding what they have to the people around them, and it subjects them to insults and cruelty. Since they don’t have a choice in being Autistic, why should I have a choice in having Asperger’s?
Yet, I’ve learned to cope with my illness not in negativity, but in practicality. In one of my favorite stories I’ve ever reported on, I profiled a college student that had dyslexia, dysgraphia, auditory processing disorder, and attention deficit disorder. I don’t know how he does it. Asperger’s has been enough of a struggle for me. How does he deal with struggling to read, hear, write, and keep up with daily tasks?
The thing that had the most profound effect on me while interviewing him was how casually he saw his illness. He often laughed about it and smiled about the funny things he did, not drowning himself in sadness over what he could or couldn’t do.
He didn’t see his dyslexia. He saw himself.
“Someone with dyslexia is no better or worse than someone without it,” I remember him saying. “They’re just different.”
I listened to this statement, and pretended “dyslexia” was replaced with “Asperger’s.” I have since chosen to see myself in this same light, and I encourage other people to do the same. We all have struggles in one way, shape, or form. Mine just comes with a diagnosis. In realizing that disability does not define, I give power to the fact that I am David Dunn and I am not Asperger’s syndrome. I hope others choose to pursue their identities over their illness as well.
Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why all of the best of the year lists have to be in the top ten? Like, what sort of critic was working on his list and thought that ten would be the magic number? Why ten and not twelve? Or fifteen? Five? Twenty? Eight? Why was ten specifically chosen as the big number? Was it chosen at random, or was it actually chosen for some relevant, significant reason?
Regardless of whatever the case may be, I’m choosing to be a little rebellious this year. For the past few years, I’ve seen enough films to make a “Top 15″ list if I wanted to, but if I had done that, my site viewership would go down by about twenty views.
So this year, to battle the preconceived notion that “best of the year” lists have to have ten movies, I’m doing two different things. 1) I’m adding an “honorable mentions” selection that while those films aren’t necessarily in my top ten, they are still significant films that have contributed to the year’s industry regardless. 2) In honor of our first full year without the wise, sometime snarky, words of film critic Roger Ebert, I’m offering a special Grand Jury Prize, which honors a film from the year which has made a notable accomplishment that fits outside of my year’s top ten.
As always, there is a few things you need to know before I get into my year’s best. First of all, I haven’t seen all of the films the year has had to offer. I’ve heard from so many people how Jean-Marc Vallee’s Wild was emotionally stirring, with Reese Witherspoon’s performance being the greatest highlight of the film. I’ve also read from critics that Selma, A Most Violent Year, and American Sniper were great movies as well, but guess what? None of those movies get a wide release until after Dec. 31, so I’m not able to even see those films until after the year anyway. So what am I going to do? Release a revision to my current list, or add those films to 2015 if they’re good enough? I’ll make a decision when it comes to that. It’s the studio’s faults for releasing those movies so late into the year anyway. Blasted film mongers.
Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, this is my list for the best films of 2014. Not yours. There has been high praise from many notable films of the year, including Edge of Tomorrow,The Theory of Everything, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. None of those films will be on my top ten list because I didn’t deem them worthy enough to be on there. It’s nothing against the films or the filmmakers: I just didn’t think they were good enough.
If you’re not satisfied with that, then please, make your own top ten list. I’d love to read it, and if your reasonings are sound enough, I’d like to share it with others.
Now then, let’s hop to it, shall we? Here are my top ten films of 2014:
A mesmerizing, breathtaking, and exhilarating journey that may have only slightly exceeded it’s grasp. Based on an idea by physicist Kip Thorne and directed by Christopher Nolan, Interstellar takes place in the future on a dying planet Earth, where the only source of sustainable food is by growing corn. When former aircraft pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) stumbles upon a secret station that has been hiding NASA for so many years, Cooper enlists in a daring space mission to find a new planet that will be able to sustain and save the human race. A testament to the quality of film that Nolan is consistent in making, Interstellar is a brilliantly woven, thought-provoking plot, invoking the same themes of humanity and identity that Nolan exercises in all of his films. McConaughey reaches an emotional depth much deeper than past “Nolan” actors, and succeeds in making his character more human than hero. This is Nolan’s most emotional movie yet, but it’s also his most complicated and convoluted. But if Nolan’s only real flaw with this film is being overly ambitious, I don’t consider that a flaw at all. Three and a half stars.
A crafty and artsy film that acts as a homage to the early days of cinema. After being framed for a violent murder of one of his former hotel guests, Concierge Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) teams up with his young apprentice Zero (Tony Revolori) to set out and prove his innocence through a series of weird, wacky, and crazy adventures. Written and directed by Wes Anderson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a peculiar, quirky film, a fun and enjoyable ride in it’s own singular way. Anderson is very specific with the direction of the film, using practical effects and set pieces that gives the film a very distinct visual style and aesthetic. The antics Gustave and Zero go through are the stuff of slapstick gold, with these guys doing silly stunts and chase sequences that reminds me of the silent film days of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It’s definitely seasoned for the art house crowd, and it’s definitely more difficult to appeal to the masses. But if you allow yourself to be lost in it and have fun with it, you’ll find that it is easily the most unique film of the year. Three and a half stars.
A wildly exciting and entertaining animated ride that appeals to both kids and adults. When a crusade of dragon-hunters reach the land of Berk and begin their hunt for the flying beasts, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) must team up once again with his dragon Toothless to stop the brigade and save Berk’s dragons and dragon riders. Written and directed by Dean DuBlois, who returned from directing the first film, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is a near-perfect follow-up. It hits on every note it needs to, from the comedy, to the animation, to the action, to the emotion. Hiccup is a much stronger, yet more vulnerable, character now, and needs to face more mature situations now as a grown man rather than as he did when he was a boy. In many ways, How To Train Your Dragon 2 is to it’s first counterpart as Hiccup is to his younger self: they both grew. Three and a half stars.
A brilliantly frustrating thriller that exercises themes of infidelity and media harassment. When Nick Dunne’s (Ben Affleck) wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) goes missing, all eyes turn to Nick for what happened to his wife. When clues slowly surface and more details surrounding the disappearance reveal themselves, everyone is asking the same question: did Nick Dunne kill his wife? Directed by David Fincher and written by author Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is a masterfully orchestrated thriller, equal parts daring, inventive, intelligent, and unpredictable. Fincher propels Flynn’s brilliant plot forward with expert direction, eye-striking camerawork, and a cast that Fincher pulls the best from. This movie is like a game of cat and mouse, except no one really knows who is the cat or mouse. There is not one note in the film that you can guess is coming. Three and a half stars.
A compelling and exciting survivalist-drama that looks at the human/primate condition as two sides to one coin. After the chemical attack on planet Earth that took place at the end of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes follows the story of Caesar (Andy Serkis) and Malcolm (Jason Clarke), the leaders of the apes and the humans, respectively. As the human-primate war rages on violently, Caesar and Malcolm begin to see that the apes and the humans aren’t so different from each other, and they begin to explore any possibilities of peace between two races. Matt Reeves builds an intelligent, in-depth story around Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and handles its premise with skill and precision. It surprising that the basis of this film wasn’t grounded in action or ridiculous CGI stunts, but rather in small, intimate moments of conversation and ape-sign-language that characters share with each other. Serkis is a revelation in the movie, and deserves an Oscar nomination for both his physical and emotional performance. Four stars.
One of the most mesmerizing, unique, disturbing, shocking, and darkly funny films I’ve ever seen. Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu writes and directs this ingenious dramedy starring Michael Keaton as Riggan Thompson, a washed-up movie actor trying to escape his image in a former superhero role by adapting his favorite broadway play to the stage. Keaton is a natural in the role, relating his own experience to portraying Batman in order to further authenticity for the character. Cinematographer Emanuel Lubeski contributes to the visual design of the film, shooting and editing it to look like one, continuous shot rather than multiple longer takes. But Inarritu is the most essential storyteller here, making a visual and emotional masterpiece that is so distinct in its own language that it is impossible to define it, let alone replace it. Four stars.
One of the most edgy, thrilling, and provocative films of the year. Miles Teller stars as Andrew, an upcoming college student who is majoring in music and dreams of becoming one of the best drummers in the country. A series of events lands him in the top jazz orchestra of Shaffer Conservatory and under the tutelage of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a brilliant but harsh and antagonistic instructor who is known to go very hard on his students. Andrew and Fletcher both develop an intense rivalry that both hurts Andrew, angers Fletcher, and yet equally compels them both to become the very best they can be. Writer/director Damien Chazelle conducts both actors through his sophomore effort, and does a great job in producing a tense, electric vibe consistently throughout the film. Teller and Simmons’ chemistry with each other is equally perfect, with the both of them bouncing off of each other’s words and emotions as perfectly as a drum beat. This film is about more than just music. It’s about the human desire to be great and what sacrifices we’d make to get there. Four stars.
The most revolutionary film of the year, ambitious in both production and vision. A twelve-year project pioneered by writer/director Richard Linklater, Boyhood tells the story of Mason’s (Ellar Coltrane) childhood, chronicling his entire life from when he was six years old, up until when he turns 18 and leaves for college. The movie isn’t so much a story as it is a scrapbook of memories, and Linklater is pulling each photograph out of it just to show it to us. When he is younger, Ellar isn’t acting but living, behaving like any other child would in the moment because he is in the moment. As he gets older, his performance gets more stagnant and Coltrane becomes more of a surrogate for us to express our emotions through, rather than experiencing his own. In this day and age, it’s rare to find a film as real and honest as Boyhood is. Four stars.
The best entry out of the X-men franchise, and the best superhero movie of the year. Serving as a sequel to both 2011’s X-men: First Class and 2006’s X-men: The Last Stand, X-men: Days of Future Past is set in the apocalyptic future where mutants are being exterminated by humanoid robots called “Sentinels”. Having only one chance to go back in time and stop this future from ever happening, Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) send Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) through time to their younger selves (Portrayed by James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender) so they can stop the triggering event and save the future. Directed by Bryan Singer, who formerly helmed the first two entries in the franchise, X-men: Days of Future Past is a game changer. It is not only a visually-dazzling and highly climactic sci-fi blockbuster: it is a vastly intelligent and contemplative story that focuses on its recurring themes of racism and xenophobia, once again bringing the consequences of discrimination to the forefront. X-men: Days of Future Past is one of those movies that restores your faith in the superhero genre. Four stars.
Surprised? I’m not. The Fault In Our Stars is one of the most magical, heartbreaking, and genuine films you will ever see, and is more than worthy of being called the most emotional film of the year. Based off of the novel by John Green, The Fault In Our Stars follows the love story of two Cancer-stricken teenagers: the shy and book-loving Hazel Grace (Shailene Woodley) and the optimistic amputee Gus (Ansel Elgort). Written and directed by independent filmmaker Josh Boone, The Fault In Our Stars is one of the best stories ever translated from book to film. I initially was skeptical on seeing this film, considering how much it seemed to have been doused in rom-com syndrome. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Boone adapts Green’s story perfectly to the big screen, retaining everything in the novel from the visual details to the words that were written. But its Woodley and Elgort that sells it so well, their chemistry that vibrates so wonderfully with each other and leaves such an impression on you. Trust me when I say this isn’t your typical rom-com: it’s a heartfelt drama disguised as a tween movie, and it is the best of it’s kind. Four stars.
And finally, this year’s first Grand Jury Prize appropriately goes to Steve James’ documented biography Life Itself. Following Roger Ebert’s life and career from him growing up in Chicago, to when he got his first reporting job, to when he won the Nobel Prize for film criticism, to when he lost his best friend, to when he got Thyroid cancer, this film is everything that Roger Ebert is: funny, honest, heartfelt, unabashed, unflinching, and real. It doesn’t give you a peppered-up look at his life: it’s whole and accurate, as genuine as any of the reviews he’s written. I’m probably biased towards this subject, but the subject doesn’t count as long as it is handled well. James’ handles this story with respect and humility, and ends up telling a story about life itself rather than just limiting it to Roger’s story. It’s my favorite documentary of the year, and it brings me great pleasure to award my first Grand Jury Prize to this wonderful film tribute.
Honorable mentions include the creepy and morally ambiguous Nightcrawler, the funny yet stylish Guardians of the Galaxy, the humorously innovative The Lego Movie, and the quietly thrilling The Imitation Game, featuring the year’s best performance from actor Benedict Cumberbatch. Not all films can be honored at the end of the year compilations, but this year I was glad to have seen so many films and give each of them a chance to shine in their own way.
All the same, if you feel differently about some of the films on my list, or you have seen another film that deserves to be recognized, please comment about it. Or make your own list. Movies are deemed as great films not from individuals, but from the masses, and the only way you can tell if a movie has truly accomplished something is if it has the same effect on all its viewers.
On that note, my fellow moviegoers, I end with a classic line from my favorite film critic: “I’ll see you at the movies.”
Perhaps I am a little untimely by posting this in late March, when in reality this has been going on since February. Nevertheless, a starkly different turn has been taken for me involving my recent broadcasting career. So here goes.
I am officially now a radio talk show host for the University of Texas at Arlington’s official internet radio station. I run my own one-hour show live every Tuesday at 10 a.m. where I discuss everything about movies, from news headlines, to upcoming releases, and a review of a new release coming out that week.
It’s called “The Talkie Tuesdays with David Dunn”, and it is everything that I have ever dreamed of it being.
My foray into radio started a long time ago, back when I was a new broadcasting student in Fall of 2013. After experiencing the penultimate failure and disarray of the film department here at the university, I explored other possible venues into the communications department, ones that would help improve my skills technically and help market myself professionally.
That opportunity started in UTA Radio. Having introduced myself as the film critic of the UTA Shorthorn, I pitched a segment idea to the station’s executive producer and manager, Lance Liguez. It was called “The Movie Minute With David Dunn” and it was literally a 60-second review of a movie that came out that week, either in theaters or on DVD.
I know, I know, 60 seconds sounds like a very short time. In radio, however, I can’t tell you how much time that is, and how inconvenient it is for the entire program if you run even a second over. Regardless, Lance was very helpful to me in introducing me to the profession of radio. He gave me pointers on how to have a better announcing voice, introduced me to the station and granted me access to the recording studios as well. He introduced me with my production team (my bosses), and the people I’d be working for as long as I would be contributing to the station. He paired me up with broadcaster Tracie Hill, who ran the news program at the time, and also introduced me to the station manager Charlie Vann, of whom I would send my recordings to so he can edit them into Tracie’s segments.
Fast forward to present day. As a part of Lance’s radio production class, I am getting even more experience than I did before. As I already stated, I was scheduled for a 10 a.m. Tuesday shift for UTA Radio. Originally, my shifted consisted of little more than playing music and coming on saying “You’re listening to UTA Radio.com”. When we were reformatting our shows, however, I couldn’t have been more excited to reformat mine into a talk show and do what I love most: talk about movies.
This new format started two weeks ago. I didn’t post anything on this yet because I was both nervous and I was afraid I would be ready for live announcing. After getting a better feel of it, however, I must say that I think this is working out for me and I’m ready to advertise it in the best way I know how: shamelessly plug it on my personal blog. Horray for bloated egos!!!
Long and short of this post, I would like to invite you to check out my show. If you didn’t read the previous seven paragraphs, my show is on 10 a.m. every Tuesdays on UTA Radio. It won’t be on any regular F.M. or A.M. band. It’s an online radio broadcast channeled through iHeart radio and can be accessed through http://www.utaradio.com
Thank you to everyone for your support and for your interest not only in my reviews, but in my constantly progressing career. The communication department here has been more than helpful with all of my skills that I’ve been developing, and I cannot wait to continue to develop it here at the University of Texas at Arlington.
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down at a college roundtable for an in-person interview with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the award-winning actor most known for movie roles including Tom Hansen in 500 Days Of Summer, Robert Todd in Lincoln, and John Blake in The Dark Knight Rises. Recently Mr. Gordon-Levitt (Or “Joe”, as he likes to introduce himself) was working to get publicity for his writer-director debut Don Jon, a romantic comedy coming out this Friday and the reason why me and three other college journalists were able to interview him.
The man who introduced himself to us couldn’t have been more humble, or for that matter, more real. As I walked into the room with the other university journalists, it was hard to imagine that the well-combed, professionally-dressed man sitting casually at the table in front of us was the same man who fought through topping cars and buildings in Inception, or the same guy who shaved his head in front of Seth Rogan in 50/50. And yet when he walked up to me, shook my hand, and said “Hi, my name is Joe,” the introduction couldn’t have been more fulfilling, or for that matter, more meaningful.
I was in attendance to the event alongside journalists from Northwestern University, Southern Methodist University, and the University Of North Texas. We were all eager to ask Mr. Gordon-Levitt our questions about the film and what it was like making the movie. These are our questions, and this is how he responded.
Question: Before anything else, can I just say that it was completely shocking to see your new look in the first few minutes of the film? Very well done sir.
Joe: Right on. That’s what we were going for.
Q: Since we’re all college students, if you and Don Jon were to teach a course in college, what would you both teach?
J: Jon I guess would probably teach at a bartending school. I don’t think he would teach anything undergrad or graduate. But what class would I teach? I guess a storytelling class of some sort. I went to college for a couple years and I stopped, which isn’t to say that anybody else should, but for me personally I learn best by doing stuff. So I feel like for me, film school really was working on sets and watching directors do what they do and I don’t know if you know, I run this company called HitRecord, where anybody can come and contribute and its not your traditional production company, but it actually bears a lot of similarities to production companies other than the fact that its open and anybody can contribute. If you’re interested in the process, in how things are done, I would definitely recommend spending some time on the site to contribute to some of our collaborations and paying attention to how its done. I’m on there everyday. These days, we’re in the middle of making a TV show, and I’m directing it, and making stuff. It’s different than a classroom because in a classroom your goal is to teach every student, whereas HitRecord, our goal is to make the best TV show we can possibly make. So unfortunately I don’t get to necessarily spend time with everybody who comes and contributes, because there’s thousands everyday. But I think there’s a lot to be learned there and its really cool actually to see artists that do come in and contribute to HitRecord and do so for a while. You can see them grow as artists. You can see them learn from what they’ve done, and from notes I sometimes give as feedback and watch them improve. That’s always really satisfying.
Q: What audience demographic were you aiming for? Are you afraid that this type of film because of its content will lose some of its audience?
J: I was really wanting to make a movie for everybody and so far the reactions have been across the board, whether young or old, or male or female, people have been digging it. So, I was pretty intent on not having it be just a movie for cinephiles. I wanted it to be for everybody. And I think its talking about a lot of stuff that everybody can understand or relate to. I mean, I certainly think it’ll be popular on college campuses. My mom loved it, and I’ve spoken to a bunch of reporters today, some of whom were younger than I am some of whom that were older than I am. Everyone seems to really like it.
Q: This is the first time you’re credited as a screenwriter and director for a feature-length film. What inspired the idea of Don Jon and what story did you find relevant to tell in Don Jon’s character?
J: Well, I wanted to tell a story about how sometimes people treat each other more like things than like people. I imagine that came from my own experience. You know, actors in our culture are often treated more like things than like people. It’s sort of weird. But I don’t think its just actors, I think everyone experiences that. We have a tendency to put each other in boxes and label them. And rather than actually listening to what someone is saying and paying attention to what is going on right here, right now, we sort of project our own pre-conceived notions onto them and I think it happens all the time everywhere. So I wanted to tell a story about that, then I wanted to tell a story about how media plays into that, also probably because I pay a lot of attention to how media works and the impact it has on people. And so, I thought of a story about a relationship between a young man who watches too much pornography and a young woman who watches too many romantic hollywood movies would be a funny way to kind of get at that question. So that’s the origin of that story.
Q: How similar are you and Don Jon’s viewpoints of the Hollywood system right now? Are you worried people are going to look at that in the movie in a bad way?
J: Not very. I mean, Jon I don’t think really has much of a view on the Hollywood system, I don’t think he thinks about it much. By the end of the movie, he is starting to maybe ask a few questions, and that’s good. But he’s mostly a guy that’s just sort of expects things to be how they’re supposed to be, and wouldn’t really notice if they weren’t. He just treats them as if they are. And you know, the way things are supposed to be is largely defined by the media. By the movies you see, the shows you watch, or the pornography videos you watch, or the magazines you read, or the radio shows you listen to, or the newspaper, any number of things. You also learn, of course, these expectations from your family, your friends, your church, etc and that’s all in the movie too.
Q: Looking at your filmography, you seem to have a particular interest in the romantic comedy genre. Can you tell me what about that genre that appeals to you?
J: Well, I do all kinds of genres in movies, but why do the romantic comedies appeal to me? I mean, they’re fun to watch, you get caught up in them. I don’t know, what can I say, I’m a romantic person maybe? Me personally, I’m probably closer to Barbara Sugarman than Jon Martello as far as getting twisted up into pre-conceived fantasies from the screen. But you know, romantic comedies, especially really conventional ones, they tend to present things in black and white and love is not that way. Love is actually way cooler than that. Way way more interesting and rich and fulfilling and beautiful than some kind of sappy string section while you’re riding off into the sunset. You have to look for it. And if you’re too busy comparing real life to these sort of overly-simplified stories that you’ve seen, you won’t see it. You won’t see what’s so great about it. But if you kind of let go of those and go “Okay, those are nice movies to watch sometimes, but what is really going on?” There is so much to discover, and that’s I guess what Don Jon is sort of making fun of.
Q: How involved were you with casting? Did you get exactly the people you wanted for this film or did you kind of have to pull some strings for it to work?
J: I wrote it with Scarlett in mind the entire time. From the very beginning of conceiving the character I pictured her playing the part. Julie, I did not, to be honest. I never would have believed that she would have done it and it was a beautiful surprise when she read the script and she did want to do it. I think both of them just turned in such excellent performances. Scarlett is so different from any character you’ve really seen her really play before and I think she brings such charm and specificity to the character, yet at the same time, the character’s shortcomings are very apparent. Those are my favorite kinds of performances because they feel the most like human beings when they’re strengths and weaknesses are on display.
Q: You’re chemistry seemed so intimate and so sincere with Julianne Moore and Scarlett Johansen. What’s it like working with them?
J: On set? On set you know you’re just making a movie. It’s a very technical thing. It’s not like it seems in the scene. We’re creating an illusion. We’re crafting a story. So what its really like is you do the scene for a few seconds, and then you hop up and talk to camera, talk to sound, talk to lights, so its work. But its good work, I love doing it. It’s not honestly too dissimilar from any other scene, where you do the scene and then you cut and you talk about it a bit and figure out how to make it better, see if you have what you need, if you can move on or if you have to do it again. They’re really kind of just like any other scene, they fit into the story and you need to accomplish a certain thing to advance the story in that moment, and you shoot it until you have those ingredients necessary.
Q: When did you make the decision to do these long Carl’s Junior ads instead of having it in the background and putting a focus on it?
J: Yeah, and that’s in the script, there is a scene in the script as the family watches a television commercial with bikini girls in the background. Because again, I think that all types of media are sort of perpetrating a lot of these stereotypes and expectations, and I think any distinction between pornography and many of mainstream media is purely technical distinction. It’s still the same thing. It’s turning a woman into a sex object and reducing her to that.
Q: Now, I heard that Christopher Nolan advised against you starring and directing in your first film. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
J: Well, that’s not quite accurate. He asked about it. And he pointed out some valid concerns and he asked like “Would you consider directing something first before directing and acting at the same time?” But he did not say like “You shouldn’t do it”. He was nothing but encouraging. He was never discouraging and that was really meaningful to me.
Q: Regardless, what were some of the challenges you faced during filming?
J: Yeah, well so its pretty normal for an actor, and I felt this way in the past, when you see yourself on screen, the sight of your own face and the sound of your own voice can be disconcerting. For me, I think just because I’ve made a ton of little short films and videos and things, pointing the camera at myself, loaded the footage onto my computer and cut it up into something and I’ve just done that over and over and over again for years, I’ve sort of gotten used to the sight of my own face and the sound of my own voice. So, that was a challenge that I sort of felt that I had already kind of overcome.
Q: Now in the movie, Jon was very dedicated to church despite his deviant lifestyle. Why did he have such a dedication to church despite the guilt he would bring on upon himself for that?
J: Good question. I think just because that’s how that had always been. That’s the answer. He just did it because he had always done it. That’s what was expected of him. I think that’s kind of why everyone in his family goes to church. I don’t think any of them are really thinking very much about why they are doing it. They’re just kind of doing it. And you know, at the end of the movie, there’s a bit of a change in that, and that’s how I think the whole movie goes, is that by the end this mold that he’s sort of stuck in is beginning to crack and he’s starting to be more curious and start to actually pay more attention to what is going on right here right now.
Q: What do you think happened to Jon after the end of the movie? Did he sort of move on, did he go to college, what happened?
J: I hope he sort of breaks out of the mold. I think by the end of the movie he’s beginning to ask more questions and be more present and rather than comparing everything in his life to preset expectations he’s beginning to sort of actually pay attention to what is in front of his face. I’m hopeful that he’ll continue along that path. I don’t know whether he’ll finish college or not, I think he was sort of doing that because again, he was supposed to.