Movie Midterm - My Favorite Movies of the First Half of 2021
The first half of 2021 was still feeling that COVID lag of 2020. There wasn't a regular slate of movies in the last 6 months, but there were still some gems hidden in there. Below are 3 honorable mentions and then my top 10 favorite films of the year so far.
Due to my location and/or financial situation, I haven't been able to watch every movie released this year that I wanted to, so there will be gaps in this list. Some of the films were limited runs that don't play around here, and others I just simply couldn't afford to drive to, rent, or go see at the time.
I'm sure at least a few of those would have made the list, but they were not one of the 20 films released so far in 2021 that I have seen. At the bottom of this post, there will be a list of every film that was released this year that I have seen, that way you can see what I had to choose from!
Honorable Mention 1 - Godzilla Vs Kong
With a title like that, you know exactly what to expect. It lays it out right in the title, and if you expect anything more, that is on you. The human aspect of this film leaves something to be desired. Some of it doesn't make sense, and the parts that do seem boring. There is a world where you can have a "non-human" cut and just focus on the two beasts. The aforementioned beasts are the absolute highlights. Not only are the fights spectacular, but you get invested in the story of both of them. This was a fun spectacle, and a great release for HBO Max's struggling streaming service. This was the 4th entry in a shared universe, and I look forward to future chapters.
Honorable Mention 2 - Wolfgang
As far as bio documentaries go, there is no more formulaic one than Wolfgang on Disney Plus. It is a paint by numbers structure, one you would see on basic cable in the 90s. But it is the subject that carries this film. Wolfgang Puck - the world's first celebrity chef, is fascinating. His upbringing, and his journey to the premiere chef of our time is a journey worth chronicling. If you've ever watched any food TV, you have him to thank. It was fun to see his journey (not all of it pleasant) to the top. If you are even mildly interested in Wolfgang's journey, this is one to watch.
Honorable Mention 3 - Army Of The Dead
Zack Snyder is good at zombie movies...more so than other genres. This splashy take on a zombie movie was a fun one to watch. I am a sucker for heist movies, especially ones where they have to recruit a team of eccentrics to do a job. This movie does that, and does it well. There is a ton of opportunity for world building here, which Netflix is taking advantage with more entries in this universe already on the way. While this doesn't even touch my top 5 zombie movies, it is a solid entry into the genre. Dave Bautista does a wonderful job as leading man, and Tig Notaro does well for being a last minute replacement and never actually being on set with their co-stars. If you like zombie movies, you can do worse. This one will scratch that itch if needed.
10. Bad Trip
Hidden camera films have reached their pinnacle in the last few years, where I wasn't sure if there was much left to give. But Eric Andre had something to say about that, and brought Bad Trip to the masses. This film is legit funny. Eric Andre is an outrageous talent who holds nothing back. He is Jackass level extreme, and that pays out in dividends for something like this. The surprise of the film, is how much heart it has though. There are legit stakes for the characters, and you actually want them to accomplish their goals. In between the raunchy and shocking moments that will make you laugh and gasp, there is a warm heartfelt undertone that elevates the film above others like it. This is definitely not family friendly, but it is fun to watch on a night you need a laugh with some take out and cocktails. Go check it out on Netflix if this is your type of thing.
Pixar has an amazing track record. Even their middle tier films are better than anything Dreamworks has put out in the last 5 years. Luca is a literal fish out of water story that preaches a wonderful message. You should be you, and don't hide it from anyone. Acceptance is their burden to bear, not yours. Pixar definitely crafted a coming out allegory, and many kids will benefit from it. While it might not make you weep like Soul or Onward, it still packs that emotional punch that Pixar is known for. Dumping it on Disney Plus was unfortunate, as this could have benefited from a theatrical release. But hopefully it finds an audience here too, because it is meant to be seen. This is an excellent release on Pixar's catalogue, and hopefully the trend continues with their future releases. More originals please, less sequels. Thank you.
8. The Mitchells Vs The Machines
Speaking of wonderful animated films, this year has seen few better than The Mitchells Vs The Machines. Sony animation - the folks who made Into The Spider-Verse - knocked this one out of the park. A dysfunctional family has to stop a bunch of sentient robots from imprisoning the other humans. Every family member is relatable in some way, and every family member reminds you of someone you know. The whole thing works on every level. You can watch this with your family, or by yourself, and you'll be satisfied either way. This is a powerful film, and one that was a surprising delight. It is better than most of the animated flicks that are churned out every year. This one deserves your time. I have a feeling this will make the end of year list too, even though that will be a much harder list to get on, as theaters open back up.
7. Plan B
Female based sex-positive comedies are becoming a genre of their own, and it is about time. While Booksmart did it best, Plan B is a wonderful entry in that genre. A road trip story about 2 high school students searching for the plan b pill while sorting out their relationships is a fantastic journey for the audience to experience. The cast is stellar, there are many breakout stars who will have long illustrious careers in this business. Hulu has a lot of hidden gems on its service, and this is one of them. We've seen every veritable incarnation of the male sex comedy. So it is refreshing to see a woman's version, especially one written and directed by a female so it is authentic. Plan B was a delightful discovery, and hopefully it will inspire more like it.
6. In The Heights
A Lin-Manuel Miranda musical starring one of the breakouts of the Hamilton cast about a neighborhood in New York City? Count me in. Most of the songs are strong. The cast is charismatic as all get out. The issues presented feel real. The story is wonderfully told and shot. The flashback framing of it maybe could have been eliminated, as the trick was not needed. But it still works with it. The tunes are catchy, the cast is charming, and the story is powerful. You can't ask for much more than that. So go check it out if you can. As of writing this, it is on HBO Max and in theaters, so you can pick the experience best for you.
5. Raya and The Last Dragon
This movie has the potential to be the quintessential Disney animated film like Aladdin or The Lion King was for a different generation. It is a fantastic film about finding oneself, and finding common ground amongst the division. As divisive as everyone has been lately, Raya and the Last Dragon came at the perfect time. It has all the great Disney animated tropes, like an adorable animal sidekick, and a band of misfits who the protagonist meets through their journey. A kid on a mission to restore peace and save their family can be a lot of Disney movies. The formula works, and this is no exception.
4. Judas and the Black Messiah
Films based on true stories are a dime a dozen. But powerful ones that resonate long after you're done watching are much rarer. Judas and the Black Messiah not only tells a powerful story but showcases a career best performance by Daniel Kaluuya. This might be the best HBO Max exclusive the service has ever had, and it deserved all of the Oscar love that it received. Race is being discussed in this country like never before, and hopefully it will lead to real, and positive change. Powerful art like this definitely contributes to that, and hopefully history will remember its impact.
3. Coming 2 America
Sequels that happen a long time after the original are more often than not watered down skeletons of their former selves with no real reason to exist. But Coming 2 America is a wonderful story that borrows from its predecessor but still holds up on its own. There are legit laughs, and Eddie Murphy is back in peak comedic form. There are a lot of callbacks to the first one, but it can be enjoyed without having seen it. There are cameos galore, and it does a wonderful job making it feel like the comedies of old used to, without being outdated or tone deaf. Amazon Prime really got a good one with this, and I hope this and Dolemite Is My Name is the beginning of the Eddie Murphy renaissance.
2. One Night In Miami
Regina King is a god amongst insects. Anything she does is gold in front of the camera. In her directorial debut, she proved anything she does behind the camera is gold too. She decided to tell a "what if" story of 4 black icons coming together for one night, The way the story is structured, it could be a play. I would pay to see this on stage in an instant. The actors who bring Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown back to life do so with such amazing grace and talent that it felt like we were actually watching them. The issues dealt with here are poignant, and still relevant today. The themes explored are powerful and laid out incredibly well. This movie is definitely something special, and everyone should watch it if given the opportunity.
1. Derek Delgaudio's In and Of Itself
This is a little unfair as it is not exactly a movie. But it is by far the best contained story that is out this year. It is bafflingly beautiful and one of the most powerful pieces of storytelling I have ever witnessed of the thousands of things I've watched in my life. Derek's stabbing approach at identity through the use of illusions is breathtaking. The magic itself is impressive, but the way it is framed and presented is the real trick. It is impossible to watch this and not get emotional. Everyone needs to watch this. Everyone. You will find a way to relate to it. You will come out a better person, and look at yourself in a different way. I can't stress enough how absolutely incredible this piece of performance art is.
2021 Films I have seen:
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