In 2021, Midwest Film Journal ran six essay series: C’mon, Mann, Game On, Natalie’s Rap, No Sleep October, 13 Fridays, and Bond Voyage. Ben Sears wrapped up his look at the Happy Valley and started venturing into Disney’s direct-to-VHS output in Di$ney. Lou Harry continued his wonderful Roll ‘Em series, chronicling new movie-based board game offerings. It was a damn good year on the commentary front.
As of today, our site has published over 500 essays in 2021, up 200-plus from 2020. We have had our highest traffic by far this year, beating what I thought was an unthinkable record in 2020.
Individually, I watched over 400 films, about 115 from 2021, and wrote around 260 pieces on my own. I wrote about a greater percentage of the films I watched than ever before, although in years past I watched more overall. I’m not sure what else I’d have seen, to be honest. This year was kind of exhausting.
One of my great lessons this year was that the independent film community offers a lot more insight and creativity than studio output, even if the films themselves lack the same polish and sheen. Ninjababy, Disfluency, Overrun, Like Dogs — all small, interesting films that have stuck with me throughout the year. Some even appear on this list.
I’ve published a Year in Review every year since 2012. I used to limit it to 10 but was never particularly great at that. I like to think my lists have gotten better and more honest about the films that I actually think about for days and weeks after watching them. Films like The Power of the Dog fade quickly into a soup of similarly produced pity-party auteur babble, but for some reason, I think about The Rumperbutts, a generally OK-ish comedy starring the band Mates of State, at least once a day.
Speaking from experience, there’s always a temptation to list the movies that feel important in these sorts of things. Movies that are marketed for awards or hailed as world-shifting masterpieces. That all fades eventually. The number of films I’ve watched for awards consideration and promptly forgotten is considerably larger than the amount of total films most people watch in a decade. The least I can do is be honest about which films I genuinely loved as we transition into a new year of viewing.
The following are unranked.
Bergman Island (my review)
A movie about a creative couple that doesn’t devolve into interpersonal drama. Bonus points for ABBA.
C’mon C’mon (Mitch’s review)
I am a sucker for stories about seeing the world through children’s eyes because it is the only thing that kept me sane for the last two years.
Drive My Car (Nick’s review)
I wish I was this cool and existentially insightful when I’m driving around town.
Dune (Lou’s review)
Big, loud and ambitious sci-fi storytelling that doesn’t need an ending to feel like a full experience.
Flee (Nick’s review)
Beautiful animation used to tell a complicated and tense true story.
The Green Knight (Aly’s review)
Pretty people wandering around in pretty clothing being horny but also chaste.
Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (my review) (my interview with the director)
Stellar biography that does justice to Vonnegut and his work.
Lamb (My review)
Parenthood in a nutshell.
The Last Duel (Aly’s review)
Impressive storytelling that doesn’t romanticize a rapist, even when viewing the world through his perspective. Lots of clever subtleties.
Like Dogs (My review)
This year’s best exploitation fare. Grim, uncompromising and creative.
Luca (My review)
Best animation, best soundtrack of the year and best story about Italians (sorry, House of Gucci)
Mass (My review)
Intense and unforgettable performances by all four stars.
Ninjababy (My review)
A funny, irreverent and extremely empathetic story about complex emotions over whether to become a parent that isn’t afraid to shy away from the conventional outcome.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (My review)
Finds a meaningful story in an impossible premise. Never a dull moment. Lovely, bittersweet ending that feels filled with hope.
Venom: Let There Be Carnage (my review)
Funniest movie of the year. A truly astonishing dual performance by Tom Hardy.
West Side Story (Lou’s review)
I cried the entire time. I don’t even like musicals that much.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (My review)
Captures the grandeur of superheroes in a way no other film ever has, ever will or should ever attempt.