Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! Happy start to the new year as we get excited for another slate of movies and cinematic history! Speaking of cinematic history, it’s time to reflect on some of said history as I count down the top 10 BEST movies of 2021. If you are new to Scene Before or have not read my countdowns in the past, the rules go a little something like this. First off, this is a subjective list. This is a list of the movies that I think are the best. This is not a test of how much I know about movies, nor should it be a test of how much you and I agree on movies. As the old saying goes, different strokes for different folks. Also, I should note that I have not seen every single movie that has come out in 2021. I still have not seen “Licorice Pizza,” I still have not seen “Don’t Look Up,” I still have not seen “The Matrix Resurrections.” I have not had the time or motivation to see every movie that has come out this year, it’s just the way it is. So if you’re wondering why there’s a movie that is not on this list, I either didn’t enjoy it as much as the ten listed here, or I didn’t see it. One or the other. OR, it was not released in theaters. For the sake of not clogging this list, I’m only listing films that came out this year theatrically, so apologies in advance to “Zack Snyder’s Justice League,” as good as that movie is. Before we dive into my main ten, I want to list three honorable mentions.
Honorable Mention: Tick, Tick…BOOM!
Kicking off the honorable mentions list is “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” stars Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson, who would eventually go on to create the musical “Rent.” Speaking of musicals, this is a beautifully done couple hours of Andrew Garfield singing and dancing his way through life as a struggling artist that sort of reminded me of my own life as an aspiring artist myself.
Honorable Mention: Eternals
Up next for honorable mentions is “Eternals.” “Eternals” is the twenty-sixth MCU movie and Chloe Zhao’s first film released after the Oscar-winning “Nomadland.” This film introduces a bunch of new characters to the universe and gives them all their own moment to shine through a beautiful, visually stunning, slightly romantic tale that makes many of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe installments feel small.
Honorable Mention: West Side Story
And finally for honorable mentions, we have “West Side Story.” I saw this film at an IMAX Fan Event and was blown away. Rachel Zegler shines as the lead role of Maria, and the same can be said for a lot of the other actors in their respective roles, especially Ariana DeBose as Anita. With stellar cinematography, an enchanting retelling of a classic tale, and dazzling musical sequences, “West Side Story” is my favorite musical of the year. Steven Spielberg has another top-notch project to put on his endless resume.
With that being said, these are my top 10 BEST movies of 2021!
#10. Free Guy
Starting off this list is “Free Guy!” I was looking forward to this movie for a long time. The film was originally set to come out as early as summer of 2020, but of course, it got pushed back multiple times due to COVID-19. Honestly, it was worth the wait. I think this is a perfect film for today’s gaming culture because it successfully deals with topics and issues that gamers have to push themselves through today between microtransactions and not being in on the latest trends. But even with that in mind, it is just a damn good movie. Directed by Shawn Levy of “Night at the Museum” fame, this film centers around a non-playable character who wants to become a hero in a video game after realizing how mundane his life is. That’s a cool concept, which eventually becomes well executed. Ryan Reynolds stars in this film and at times you can say that you can pick on some of his trademarks as an actor, but for a film like this, it works. Plus the climax is epic and hilarious in every way. There are only a couple movies I can think of this year where I’ve laughed harder. If you like Taika Waititi already, I promise you, you will want his autograph with authentication on it by the end of this film. The dude plays this executive and he’s got the personality of a DJ who spends his spare time in a gang or something! I don’t know if his mannerisms were his ideas or the director’s, but he brought this character to life! I think “Free Guy” is one of this year’s most accessible, fun, and entertaining flicks. Check it out!
#9. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
This year we returned to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and while “Black Widow” was entertaining, it is not good enough to be on this list. So instead, we’re gonna talk about the badass film that came out after it, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings!” This has everything an MCU origin story needs and more. New likable characters, intense non-stop action, and glorious CGI from start to finish. I will admit, the third act is a bit of diversion from the first two, which is why this is a bit lower on the list, but I still had a ton of fun with it. I saw it twice in IMAX and I had fun both times. Also, can we just admit that Wong may be arguably the MCU’s best supporting character at this point? People often joke about the MCU and how it often relies on humor to keep things going. This film is no exception when it comes to humor, and by that, I mean, it is sometimes ridiculously funny. It’s got some of the most laugh out loud lines I’ve heard in the saga. There are quite a few martial arts sequences that it feels weird to say, twenty-something movies in, had my jaw drop to the floor in regard to how marvelous they were executed. They were quickly paced, fun, and had me on the edge of my seat. What really makes the movie though is the chemistry between the characters. There’s a lot of family drama within Shaun and the people who raised him, and I felt all of that. Also, I could literally watch a sitcom with the two main characters, Shaun and Katy. The two are delightful together and brilliantly cast. Simu Liu and Awkwafina have brought one of my favorite relationships into the MCU today. I don’t often think my mother would want to watch a comic book movie in her spare time, it’s never been her genre, but I would recommend this film even to her. I think it’s just an easy film to digest. If you’re not into comic books or superheroes, I think you’d still like this movie, and that is one of the best compliments I can give a movie of this kind.
#8. The Last Duel
Coming in at #8 is “The Last Duel!” Ridley Scott directed two movies that came out in 2021, the other being “House of Gucci.” Of those two, I only saw this one, and it was great! This film is told in a rather unconventional order, but I think it was a great way to go about telling this story. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon deliver their first script to the big screen together since “Good Will Hunting” and brings in a compelling cast along with them. Adam Driver gives one of the best performances I have seen from him. Jodie Comer, who was already delightful in “Free Guy” is a different kind of great in “The Last Duel.” This film ultimately reveals what happens when you have one story, and three different people with altering perspectives. I left this film feeling satisfied because of how it ended, but to get to that ending, I had to go through one of the all-time most uncomfortable moments I’ve endured as a moviegoer, but it made the ending incredibly worthwhile and all the more fulfilling.
At #7, we have “Dune!” I tried reading the book for “Dune” and gave up quickly. It’s not that I didn’t like it, I just didn’t have time for it, but it did not stop me from absolutely looking forward to the “Dune” movie. It was my most anticipated film of the year and it did not disappoint. This is sci-fi at its finest. Denis Villeneuve continues to make a case as to why he’s one of the best directors working today. “Dune” has been out since October, so I don’t know if it is still in cinemas near you, but if it is, or if it ever comes back, PLEASE make an effort to go see it in a theater. Maybe Oscar season will give it some help. “Dune” was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had watching a movie on the big screen in some time. I went to the press screening for it the day before it opened, I had one of those end seats right next to the wall. It’s one of those situations where there’s two seats next to the stairs, then on the other side is the main part of the row. At times I could literally feel the wall next to me shaking like there’s no tomorrow. “Dune” is a film that introduces its fair share of lore and characters, and rarely is it ever uninteresting. People argue that the ending of this film is a bit abrupt, and you could make that argument, I could see why you would say that. But this film ends at a proper place. It’s Paul Atreides starting at one point, fulfilling an arch, and therefore finishing at another. To me, it didn’t feel abrupt, it felt like the end of one story and the start of another. As for that other story, I cannot wait for it. 2023 is gonna be epic when “Dune: Part Two” hits the big screen.
#6. Four Good Days
Coming in at the next spot is “Four Good Days,” which is arguably Mila Kunis’s best work as a performer. Well, acting-wise I should say. “Family Guy” as a concept has heavily influenced me over the years, but that’s more on the written portion than anything else. But when it comes to “Four Good Days,” this is one of those movies that came out of nowhere for me. I honestly don’t know if I wouldn’t have seen this if it weren’t for seeing a clip of it on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” so good on them for advertising it properly. Kudos to the marketing crew. As for the actual movie, it is one of those movies that is hard to believe that it is somehow in actuality, a true story. It’s real. A lot of things were changed in the film, but the story is nevertheless real. Mila Kunis and Glenn Close have dynamite chemistry and may be one of the best on-screen pairs I have seen in a long time. If you have a chance, check this movie out. One of the most moving experiences I’ve felt in a while.
#5. Raya and the Last Dragon
Up next, is one of this year’s surprises and overall best animations, Disney’s “Raya and the Last Dragon!” If you know the history of this movie and all the development changes that happened after all the press it got at D23, you could look at it with a bit of skepticism, but it turns out that the changes did not matter much as the movie kicks ass from start to finish! All the characters from Raya to Sisu to Boun are charming and inviting. This movie is so hypnotizing and fun that it is easy to forget that the villain is literally a bunch of blobs. How imaginative! Either way, if you want a great family movie, I give this the highest of recommendations. Also, shoutout to James Newton Howard, your score is incredible. I listened to the prologue several times this year. Weirdly enough, and I’m not complaining about this because it works, this is one of the rare Disney animated movies where you don’t see anyone singing. If you ask me, this is what the live-action “Mulan” should have been. Take notes! Also, between Netflix’s “Over the Moon,” which more people should watch at least one time and “Raya and the Last Dragon,” animation revolving around Asian culture has been killing it lately!
#4. Spider-Man: No Way Home
For many, this was the most anticipated film of the year. For me, it was kind of that at first, then the more I thought about it, the more nervous I became. Then I saw the movie only to have said nerves washed away. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you… “Spider-Man: No Way Home.” This is the second top 10 in Scene Before history, not counting honorable mentions or MCU films where he is not the focal point, where a movie featuring Spider-Man makes it in. This character is showing no signs of slowing down. Every goal that this movie had written down, it checked off. It entertained the audience. It brought nostalgic feels while also trying to freshen up the characters of today. For me, this was an event film that felt bigger than “Avengers: Endgame,” because I went to see this film twice in two days and both times my theater LOST their minds over everything that was on screen. And I gotta give credit to Jon Watts and the writers of this film. Even though this film relies heavily on aspects of the past, it’s not like the live-actionish version of “The Lion King” where it doesn’t try anything new. There are some real character moments in this film that I personally was not ready for. I knew given how this was the third film of a trilogy, I would be getting something rather emotional, but even with that, seeing this all play out made me motionless a couple times. Tom Holland is great as Spider-Man and gives his best portrayal of the character yet. Alfred Molina as Doc Ock is back and just as impressive as his 2004 interpretation. And I would argue Willem Dafoe is even better in this film than he was in 2002’s “Spider-Man.” Do I think we’re getting too many superhero movies? If they continue to make them as good as this, then absolutely not. If we kept getting more movies like “No Way Home” as opposed to “The Amazing Spider-Man 2,” then bring em on!
#3. Last Night in Soho
We are nearing the end of this countdown and I cannot go on without mentioning Edgar Wright’s latest master class work, “Last Night in Soho.” This film reminded me of why I love movies. I went to see this at a 9:30 p.m. opening Thursday night screening at a historic venue near Boston in 35mm. I went for the nostalgic gimmick and intent to support local cinema, by the way, if you are a cinephile and in the Boston area, PLEASE make a trip to the Coolidge, but I ended up getting something much more. “Last Night in Soho” works not only because of Edgar Wright’s neon-infused, trippy, downright disturbing vision, but because of the compelling performances of its two lead actresses, Thomasin Mackenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy, the latter of whom I’ve seen in other works, but I will say this is probably the best she’s done to this day in regards to cinema. I will admit, I am a sucker for neon. It’s my favorite chemical element. Gosh, that’s how much of a nerd I am. I literally have a favorite element on the periodic table. Therefore, I was a tad predisposed to loving the atmosphere of the film as it waltzed back and forth from the 1960s London to present London. Each and every frame had me transfixed on the screen like I was five years old and looking at action figures. I had an idea on how they did some scenes as I looked at the shots, but part of me wanted to know as soon as I left the film how they put certain scenes together. I mean, even if you take out the fantasy and horror element, at its core, this movie is about dreams. Like “La La Land,” where the whole idea of the film is about people who want to pursue what they love, and the consequences or dangers they may face because of it. The two films are completely different in terms of setting, genre, subject matter, and I’d say the movie we’re focusing on is more dramatic as opposed to comedic, but they have similar themes and the main characters have alike motivations. “Last Night in Soho” is perfect for any movie night with the lights dimmed and the popcorn right in the palm of your hand.
#2. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you my favorite animated movie of the year, and I would also claim that this is the hardest I’ve laughed at an animation since “The LEGO Movie,” it’s another project from producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines!” I waited months to watch this film, but after I watched it, I don’t think I’ve felt as satisfied after watching an animation since last year’s “Over the Moon.” Yep, I’m mentioning that movie again, it’s that good. This is a brilliant story about a dysfunctional family whose lives collide between tools and technology. The dad is obviously tech-challenged, but everyone else, including our lead character Katie, has a hang on things. The film does what a lot of other films with a sci-fi angle have done over the years like “The Terminator” and “2001,” which basically develops the story to the point where the robots try to destroy humanity and take over. Not a new concept, but the way it is handled here is INCREDIBLY fresh and the evil A.I. antagonist is undeniably brutal and ridiculously savage. It’s like if GLaDOS from “Portal” were transferred into a cell phone and had the ability to magically disintegrate the remains of Siri, Alexa, Cortana, and OK, Google! I love this movie. I enjoy animations, and I hate how people think animations are “only for kids,” because this one can suggest that THEY ARE NOT. This is probably the most fun I’ve had watching an animation in some time. There are actually some really dark images I’m almost shocked this movie got away with. And of all the movies I have seen this year, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” may have the greatest replay value because they pack the screen with so much information that I want to look at all of it in clear detail. Between that, in addition to the the unique animation style, a concept that Lord and Miller are not a stranger to courtesy of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and the bone-breaking, throat-destroying hilarious writing, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is probably going to warrant repeat viewings. All movies are made to make money, but I think “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” comes off as this year’s greatest animated passion project!
#1. The Suicide Squad
Alright, here we go. We have made it to #1 and I assure you all that this pick was probably a definite since I first saw the movie. If you thought “Spider-Man: No Way Home” would be my favorite comic book movie of the year, guess what? You’re wrong! The film is epic in every way, but because of a couple minor issues, it’s lower on the list. This next film is a comic book movie that met every expectation, sometimes exceeding it, gave me one of the best theatrical experiences of the year, and made me laugh harder than I do during most comedies! James Gunn, you have done it again! My #1 movie of 2021 is the bloody, the brilliant, the diabolically insane masterpiece! I’m talking about “The Suicide Squad!” I have not seen every single DC movie in existence. I’ve seen a lot of the highly praised ones like “The Dark Knight,” Tim Burton’s “Batman,” “V For Vendetta,” and I honestly think “The Suicide Squad” outranks ALL of them! This film is not only ridiculous, mature fun, but it is also a surprise! Because if you wondered where my excitement level was in 2020 when this movie was being made, I would have put them low considering how 2016’s “Suicide Squad” was not that great, and “Birds of Prey” was barely passable and I mean BARELY despite the amazing talent of Margot Robbie. When I saw the trailers for this film, I was fully onboard. It promised brutal action, an immature yet genius script, and tons of humor. And we got all of those! But what I was not expecting months before going into “The Suicide Squad” is the amount of heart it had. James Gunn, based on his outings with the “Guardians of the Galaxy” has a delightful way of balancing mile a minute humor with real connections with real people, even if they aren’t people! This film got me to care about a man-eating shark who wears shorts and has the vocabulary level of a three-year-old. On the surface, he’s a killer that will tear you apart, but at the end of the day, all he wanted was friends. Polka Dot Man… Holy s*it. I LOVE HIM. I was at a mall the day after I saw this movie and I bought his Funko the moment I saw him. Polka Dot Man may have the most twisted mind I have seen in recent film history. He turns people into his mom and kills them! I mean, the guy on the surface is practically a joke character, but they successfully managed to turn a joke into a logical part of a storyline that made sense and provided real depth and emotion. I love what they did with him. Ratcatcher II may be responsible for delivering this year’s most emotionally charging ending. I won’t even say what it is, but the second time I watched this film after obtaining it on 4K Blu-ray, I had water in my eyes because she highlighted this film’s idea of people being misunderstood. What it means to come off a certain way and not be given a chance. This is the third movie with Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn and this is frankly the best she’s ever been as the character. She’s wonderfully insane, occasionally loud and upbeat, and super funny when she needs to be. There is a great scene, very well directed I’d say, where we see Harley killing all these people and we get her perspective on it, and she basically thinks she’s in wonderland! It’s kind of sick, but beautiful! Will Smith did not come back for this film, instead the lead this time is Idris Elba, and much like 2016’s “Suicide Squad,” which had Will Smith playing Deadshot, Elba’s character of Bloodsport is doing the mission he’s assigned to for his kid. His rivalry with Peacemaker, oh my god. That was fun to watch. Speaking of Peacemaker, I think his costume may be the most ridiculous yet awesome costume in recent superhero movie history. Yes, it’s comic accurate, but it literally looks like something out of a kids superhero movie, but based on the content of this R rated film, it did not distract me, especially from the surprisingly compelling performance from John Cena himself. He’s been in things in the past, but he’s not exactly proven his acting abilities to the world. “The Suicide Squad” however made him incredibly convincing. Most specifically in the third act. Some might compare this to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which too was directed by James Gunn, because it has criminals trying to save the universe, and both involve select comic book characters that some regular Joes won’t be able to point out, but I honestly think this movie did that concept better. It handles SO MUCH blood and gore while also trying to provide hints of heart every which way, and that makes this movie so damn watchable. This is the best R rated comic book flick I have seen in my life, and the fact that this film is OVER “Spider-Man: No Way Home” on this list to me represents how great of a year it is for the genre, even if “The Suicide Squad” undeservedly flopped at the box office. I’d think twice before putting this film on with your kids, but I highly recommend it to just about anyone who loves a great action film with tons of humor. “The Suicide Squad” is my personal favorite film of 2021.
Thanks for reading this countdown! I always enjoy recapping the year in film and showcasing my favorites of the year, and depending on how things go in the next month or two, these ten films could be the Best Picture nominees of the Scene Before award show, The 4th Annual Jackoff Awards! I’ve still got more movies to see, so things could change! I always love celebrating the things I love. But unfortunately, all good things must come to an end as tomorrow I will be releasing my list for the top 10 WORST movies of 2021. This year, collectively, was a better year for film than the last, but trust me when I say that within all the special snowfalls that looked pretty, we had some occasional treacherous downpours. We’ll be talking about those TOMORROW, January 12th! If you want to see this list and more from Scene Before, follow the blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out the official Scene Before Facebook page! I want to know, what are your favorite movies of 2021? Our lists are probably not the same, so I am excited to hear your picks! List them in the comments! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!