Hello, everyone! Welcome to Dylan’s Favorite Movies of 2021! Over the course of this write-up, we’ll go over my ten favorite movies of the year 2021, as well as give out some fun little “awards” along the way. Now, remember, these are MY favorite movies. That does not necessarily mean that they are the best. They’re just what struck a chord with me this year. Likewise, I have not seen every movie that came out in 2021, so, if you feel something is missing, let me know. Maybe it didn’t hit with me or maybe I didn’t see it. Both are entirely possible. I’ve got my opinions. You’ve got yours. I’d love to discuss, but the most important thing is that we’re all civil here.
So, 2021 was kind of… off still. We didn’t have the world cease to a halt like in 2020, but we were still dealing with the repercussions of a pandemic. As such, the movie world still felt a little disjointed. Movies were still pushed back by months, if not years. Theaters kept jumping back and forth between packed and empty. And, honestly, a lot of the movies that did come out weren’t super impressive in my opinion. I remember thinking in early 2020 that I wasn’t too terribly excited about that year’s slate. And that year’s slate kind of became 2021’s instead. Plus, I went through a lot of personal stuff, again, in 2021, which made movies feel sort of less important. I went months at a time without a single blog post. And, by the time the Oscar nominations rolled around, I’d only seen three of the nominees. Usually, I’ve only missed one or two of them. But, don’t worry. I’ve spent the first few weeks of this year really digging in and I’ve since watched some terrific flicks. Looking at this list, these are all 100% worthy of being celebrated. And, honestly, makes the year not look too bad.
So, without further ado, let’s get into the little “awards” I like to give out and then jump into the Top 10.
Best Supporting Actress
And my nominees are… I was honestly kind of iffy on The Last Duel until Jodie Comer‘s tragic final act POV told the heartbreaking truth. Everyone knows Anita is the best role in West Side Story and Ariana DeBose definitely made her take iconic. While there were many great performances in The Eyes of Tammy Faye, I was most taken by Cherry Jones‘ performance as Tammy’s harsh but caring mother. The scene in Drive My Car where Toko Miura recounts a horrific incident from her character’s past alone would get her the nomination. And, Florence Pugh as the new Black Widow, so full of biting sarcasm and heart, is my favorite new addition to the MCU.
And the winner is…
Toko Miura, Drive My Car! This was such a terrific performance. She starts the movie as this very secondary, quiet, kind of standoffish character. But, by the end, she’s almost on equal footing with the lead, as she opens up to him about life, love, and her tragic past. I dare anyone to watch the scene where they visit the site of her mother’s death and not get emotional. I don’t think it’s possible. It is such a gorgeous movie and a brilliant performance.
Best Supporting Actor
And the nominees are… I thought Robin de Jesus‘ performance in Tick, Tick… Boom! as Jonathan Larson’s encouraging best friend, who secretly doesn’t have much time left himself, was wonderful. Nothing made me happier this year than seeing Andrew Garfield get to redeem his portrayal of Spider-Man in No Way Home. David Harbour sold his role as the patriarch of a screwed-up fake Russian family up with quite a lot of heart and, of course, more than a little humor in Black Widow. Almost no character this year felt more fleshed out than the 15-year-old, immature yet extremely business savvy Gary, played by Cooper Hoffman in Licorice Pizza. And, in CODA, a father who’s torn between keeping the family business alive and allowing his daughter to chase her dreams felt all too real thanks to a fantastic performance by Troy Kotsur.
And the winner is…
Andrew Garfield, Spider-Man: No Way Home! As I said, there was absolutely nothing more cinematically satisfying this year than seeing Andrew Garfield redeem his portrayal of Spider-Man. His banter about being underappreciated and “lame” compared to the other Spideys was hilarious. And, of course, seeing him kick butt in the suit again was terrific. But, the look on his face when he saved MJ, something he’d previously failed at in his universe with Gwen, made this a comic book movie performance worthy of the hall of fame. There was so much said there without it needing to get flashy or over-indulgent. It’s such a beautifully understated moment that you wouldn’t expect in the middle of a huge, CGI battle. It definitely cemented my thought that The Amazing Spider-Man movies were bad in spite of Andrew Garfield, not because of him. I’d love to see more of this iteration on the big screen again sometime in the near future.
And the nominees are… Alana Haim portrayed the directionless feeling everyone gets perfectly in Licorice Pizza. In Being the Ricardos, Nicole Kidman did an excellent job bringing Lucille Ball to life, proving she was a true powerhouse on top of being a comedy icon. Emilia Jones was pitch-perfect as a teenager torn between helping her family and following her dreams in CODA. The agony that comes along with being one of the most famous people in the world was depicted in tragic fashion when Kristen Stewart played Diana in Spencer. And, depsite its flaws, it was hard not to fall in love with Cruella when Emma Stone was having so much fun playing the punk rock version of a Disney classic.
And the winner is…
Emilia Jones, CODA! She is absolutely the heart of one of my favorite movies of the year. Watching her struggle between supporting her impaired family or following her dream of becoming a singer felt so real. And, witnessing that turn into hatred towards both aspects of her life was truly heartbreaking. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a family dynamic feel this strong in a movie and I feel like most of that credit goes towards the way Jones acted towards her costars. She’s definitely THE breakout star of 2021 for me and I hope this is just the beginning of an illustrious career.
And the nominees are… I thought I was just getting a John Wick type story about a guy and his missing pet in Pig, instead I got a tragic character study and brilliant performance from Nicolas Cage. I’d almost dare to say no one has brought the ups and downs of being a struggling artist to life better than Andrew Garfield in Tick, Tick… Boom!. The guilt that Hideotoshi Nishijima‘s character in Drive My Car carried around with him the entire movie was both depressing and beautifully realized. Anthony Ramos brought so much energy and life to In the Heights that his positivity was infectious. And, Will Smith‘s portrayal of a father who wants his daughters to be superstars, while also being terrified that they may curupted, was all too real in King Richard.
And the winner is…
Andrew Garfield, Tick, Tick… Boom! Yes. I know I alreday gave him Best Supporting Actor. And, yes, I do believe in sharing the love. However, it’s not my fault that Garfield had this good of a year. To deny him either of these awards would be a sin. His performance in Tick, Tick… Boom! was especially noteworthy. Watching this movie, I lived through some of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with this character. You feel every success and failure Larson was hit with over his entire career and a lot of that can be traced directly back to Andrew Garfield’s terrific acting abilities. I don’t know if anyone has ever had a better year than he has. I mean, heck, his performance in Tammy Faye was even a contender for Best Supporting Actor. He’s been so fantastic in so many things this year. It’s no wonder he’s taking home two of my top spots.
And the nominees are… Jon M Chu translated In the Heights perfectly to the big screen, while adding flair we’d never be able to see on stage. In The Suicide Squad, James Gunn brought us another group of C-list outcasts and turned them into lovable goofballs. Sian Heder brought us one of the most emotional movies of the year with CODA. Denis Villeneuve did the impossible; turning the “unfilmable” Dune into a blockbuster. And, of course, Jon Watts directed sequence I only thought I’d see in my dreams in Spider-Man: No Way Home.
And the winner is…
Denis Villeneuve, Dune! While a lot of directors did amazing things this year, only Denis Villeneuve did what others would describe as the impossible. I remember hearing for years that Dune could not and would not be turned into a good movie. It was far too complex. There are a lot of politics involved which would lose people. Etc. Etc. However, Villeneuve not only made Dune. He turned it into one of the most interesting, heart racing movie events of the year. All while making each and every frame look like a piece of art. Not once was I bored or confused during Dune and that is quite the achievement.
AND NOW DYLAN’S TOP 10 MOVIES OF 2021
10. Drive My Car
Trust me when I tell you, this was a hard sell for me too. A three hour, subtitled drama about a guy being driven to and from work every day? Sounds like a snooze fest to me. But, I was very, very wrong. First of all, the time really flies in ways I wasn’t expecting. Two, the plot is intense with new revelations and shocking twists coming left and right. And, finally, I don’t know if I can point to a more emotional cinematic experience this year. Watching these characters come to grips with their faults along with the faults of those that they love was both heartbreaking and beautiful. That moment where they just let it all go and smoke a well deserved cigarette in the car is one of the most cathardic in movie history. I know it’s not for everyone, but, if you’re interested, I can not recommend Drive My Car highly enough.
9. Licorice Pizza
I know a lot has been said about the age difference between the two leads in Licorice Pizza. And, I get it. It’s more than a little weird. However, I also understand where Paul Thomas Anderson was coming from by having that gap exist. While he might legally be a child, she’s really the one coming of age here. He’s got his life together, jumping from one business to another. She’s the one that has no idea what she’s doing or why she’s here. I feel like it’s extremely relatable to be in your mid-20s and kinda just drifting. It’s less a romance and more a young woman trying to get her shit together being attracted to someone who does. Plus, there’s nothing explicitly predatory or sexual. And, I was not ready for how funny this movie would end up being. You never really knew where the plot was going to go from one moment to the next. Overall, I found Licorice Pizza to be a very funny, relatable, and sweet roller coaster ride.
8. Tick, Tick… Boom!
Listen, I’m about to hit 30 in four months. So, to say that I related on a personal level to the existential dread Jonathan Larson felt throughout this movie is an understatment. Do you give up on your dreams and accept the well paying, safe job? Or do you let your inner expressionist out and give the world something special? After all, we don’t have a lot of time on this planet. Shouldn’t we make the most of it? It’s all very relatable. Throw in a soundtrack that I had stuck in my head for weeks, some brilliant flairs by Lin Manuel Miranda, and the best performance of the year by Andrew Garfield and it’s no wonder Tick, Tick… Boom! was one of my favorites of the year.
7. In the Heights
I will never understand how In the Heights flopped so hard at the box office. In my opinion, it’s one of the best adaptations of a Broadway show to ever be presented on the big screen. Going around and meeting each member of this community, their hopes and dreams, their fears, their past, their romantic aspirations. It was all so interesting and brought to life perfectly by an extremely talented cast. Plus, I have yet to find a Lin Manuel Miranda soundtrack that I didn’t like and this one was so full of energy and life. It’s another I listened to on repeat for weeks after my screening. And, Jon M Chu’s directing was pitch-perfect with beautiful, creative cinematography and huge, delightful dance sequences. It’s definitely the most “Broadway” movie I’ve ever seen, while also adding flair and pizazz unachievable on a stage. I loved each and every moment of In the Heights. And, honestly, I think I just talked myself into watching it again.
We don’t talk about Bruno, BUT can we talk about how absolutely fantastic this movie is? Much like In the Heights, it’s a musical where we’re introduced to a large group of people and we slowly learn who each of them is and what they’re like over the course of the runtime. And, by the end of Encanto, I felt like I was part of the Family Madrigal. I felt such strong emotions for each and every one of them. Luisa and Bruno’s stories both brought me to tears. Meanwhile, I’ve never wanted to punch an old lady as badly as I do Abuela. It’s such a beautiful, realistic, and tragic story about the trauma that comes along with the love in such a large, close family. Plus, it has a very touching message about embracing what makes you special and not comparing yourself to others. All of this to a terrific soundtrack that, again, has been stuck in my head even months after my original viewing. Like I said, there’s not a Lin Manuel Miranda soundtrack I don’t like. (And, yes, I’m aware he’s behind the last three entries on my list. What can I say? I’m just really drawn to the guy’s work.) Encanto is a very worthy addition to the Disney canon and one of my favorite movies of the year.
But, somehow it’s still not my favorite Disney movie of the year because…
5. Raya and the Last Dragon
“But, Dylan,” I can hear you saying, “How could you say that? Encanto is a cultural phenomenon and I already forgot about Raya. Surely, you’re just trying to be some kind of Disney hipster.” But, I swear to you this is legitamately how I feel. I really, really love Raya and the Last Dragon. And, after Encanto came out, I had this sneaking sucspecion that I still liked Raya more. So, I put it to the test. I watched both back-to-back. And, yeah, I was right. I do enjoy it a little more than I do Encanto. Not only that. But, I kinda think it’s better in almost every way (other than soundtrack of course). I think the animation is prettier. I think the story is more complex, adult, and, frankly, more interesting. While I love them, I don’t think any of the characters in Encanto hold a candle (pun intended) to Sisu, Raya, and Tuk Tuk. I’ve always been more drawn to the adventure Disney movies, so maybe that’s it. I will forever cherish both of these and I hope they both become classics. But, for my money, Raya and the Last Dragon was the best movie Disney put out this year.
4. The Suicide Squad
James Gunn has done it again. For those of you who don’t know, I am quite into comic books. I wouldn’t call myself an expert. But, I know a fair amount. That being said, I knew almost nothing about most of the characters in The Sucide Squad. Yet, like he did with Guardians of the Galaxy, he made me fall in love with these D-list characters in ways I never expected. Like, who would’ve thought we’d get a Peacemaker tv show? DC hasn’t even figured out how to make Superman work, but James Gunn made Peacemaker popular enough to have a tv show? Anyways, like most of his movies, this is not just incredibly funny and gloriously violent, it also has an insane amount of heart to it. Like, the ending is both horrificly gorey and emotionally beautiful. Truly something only someone like James Gunn. DC, let more directors just do their own thing. Because you might just keep coming up with brilliant films like The Suicide Squad (and The Batman, but we’ll get to that next year).
Dune. Was. An. Experience. Before this movie, I had almost no knowledge of Dune. I’d never read the book, which I have owned for years. I’ve never seen the original movie, though, again, I own it now. And I didn’t even really have even a vague idea of what the story was. All I’d experienced was the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune a few years ago that explained how overly complicated and “unfilmable” the story was. So, boy was I surprised when I enjoyed the hell out of Villenueve’s Dune. It was absolutely one of my favorite cinematic experience of the year. I found the politics at play to be so interesting. The battles were amazing. And, of course, the visuals were jaw-dropping. It’s very clear to me how Dune inspired Star Wars, because this movie is a grown-up, more sophisticated version of that saga. And, as a lifelong Star Wars fan, I really, really enjoyed myself. The three hours completely flew by for me. I absolutely cannot wait to see Part 2 in a few years.
And for those wondering why I still haven’t partaken in the other versions like the OG movie and/or book, spoilers, man.
CODA was easily the biggest surprise of the year for me. I wasn’t expecting to love it nearly as much as I did. First of all, every single actor in this movie is terrific. They all bring so much emotion and life to these characters that it’s impossible not to fall in love. Second, this movie treats the deaf community with so much respect that I was surprised to learn the director herself was not a deaf woman. The story never looks down on them, even when other characters in the movie do. They are just normal people trying to live their lives. I’m glad they now have a movie to showcase that. And, then, there’s the plot. The story of a girl raised by deaf parents with a singing voice so incredible that she could be a professional is such a good premise. Throw in the fact that her parents rely on her for their business and, obviously, would be unaware of such talent and you’re brewing up a mix for some real struggles. I’ve rarely seen the love-hate parental relationship that comes with being a teenager better portrayed. Without a doubt, this is the most heartwarming movie of the year. I sobbed my eyes out in the final moments. I not only highly recommend CODA but I will be passionately rooting for it at this year’s Academy Awards. If they’re smart, they’ll give it to them. And, it’d be equally smart of you to check it out if you haven’t. I sat there as the credits rolled thinking CODA was my favorite movie of the year.
Then, I remembered a little something…
1. Spider-Man: No Way Home
I mean… was there ever really any doubt? Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a massive Spider-Man fan. Out of all the fandoms, all the characters, all the movies, he’s always been my favorite. I’ve seen all of his movies in theaters, most of them several times. I’ve played the video games. I’ve watched the cartoons. And, I’ve read hundreds of comics. So, No Way Home was kind of a dream come true for me. To see such a brilliant love letter to the character and the franchise was truly something special. I love the closure they allowed Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield to give their franchises, both of which were cut off way before they should’ve been. I love seeing a massive team of these iconic villains teaming up. I love that we finally get an actual reading of the line that defined Peter Parker read in the MCU. And, I really love that, like in the comics, Peter is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice if it means doing what is right. This movie had me all over the place. I laughed. I cried. I cheered. Truly, it’s an experience I will never forgot and will continue to relive for decades to come. It’s not only favorite movies of the year; it’s an all-timer. I could sing it’s praises for hours. But, I’ve got other things to do. And, I assume, so do you. For now, let’s just say that I really, really, really love Spider-Man: No Way Home. I feel like it was made just for me and, thus, easily takes the top spot as my favorite movie of 2021.
And… that’s it. 2021 is a wrap. Overall, not a terrible year at the cinema. There definitely weren’t as many high profile movies that I loved. (There’s a reason there’s no honorable mentions this year.) But, there was also a solid amount of movies that’ll stick with me for decades to come. (Obviously, I owe a huge thanks to both Lin Manuel Miranda and Andrew Garfield for that.) And, I can safely say that I strongly recommend every movie that’s listed here. They’re all fantastic.
Now, back to discovering movies for my Top 10 Movies of 2022 list! I mean… there are already a couple of really strong contenders.