My 2021 Movie Diary

My 2021 Movie Diary

Twenty twenty-one? Surely that’s a mistake, right? No, it’s not, and don’t call me Shirley. Despite the calendar already closing in on 2023, I’m here today to make up for lost time. That is, I’m finally posting my annual recap of what I watched last calendar year. It just happens to be about twelve months late. Sorry!

In fact, over the next several days I’m going to catch up on recaps from the past twelve months of this year, too—believe me, I had all the best intentions about keeping current on this site but life repeatedly got in the way. So I’ll start tomorrow with January and then publish a new one every day or two until we’re all caught up through December. Of course this is possible not because I have an amazing memory (I really don’t) but rather because, lack of posts on this site notwithstanding, I have in fact been diligent about recording my movie watching history—I was just doing it over at my Letterboxd diary.

Okay, so let’s not waste any more time on housekeeping. Come with me as we jump into this makeshift, blog-driven time machine and revisit the distant past, a time when Joe Biden was president and Taylor Swift was releasing albums every other week: the year 2021.

Total Movies Watched by Year

Total Movies Watched by Year, 2021

In total I watched 239 movies, handily beating my previous record of 219 in 2019. Living through the second year of a pandemic had something to do with this, but also, I always like to point out that I avoid TV shows as a rule, freeing me from the countless lost hours that others might spend bingeing “House of the Dragon” or whatever. Still, this continually upward trend is clearly not sustainable, and I can already assure you that the numbers for 2022, when we all more or less started to get back to normal, are definitely looking more earthbound.

Top Ten

  1. Dune” Denis Villeneuve’s magisterially pragmatic adaptation of a notoriously adaptation-resistant novel feels more like a true “universe” than anything sci-fi filmmaking has attempted in decades—every detail, small or large, achieves a truly momentous aesthetic grandiosity. It’s also deeply moving in how well it understands its characters, a quality which, it needs to be said, is far, far better than the vast majority of genre blockbusters. This is a triumph of filmmaking on the most immense scale. I’ve watched it five times.
  2. The Card Counter” Whether it’s vigilantism or faith or labor, you can expect every Paul Schrader joint to be a revealing disquisition on the subject matter advertised on the label. But this examination of the pathology of gambling manages something unexpected by reckoning with nearly forgotten crimes from the War on Terror, to suitably terrifying effect.
  3. The Beatles: Get Back” When a friend saw this on my list he asked, “You consider that a movie?” All I can say is that I watched it with rapt attention, soaking up every detail, fully living in the milieu on the screen, and then, when it was over, I wanted to rewatch it immediately. That’s basically the exact same experience I have with the very best movies.
  4. The Hand of God” I have reservations—deep reservations—about the sub-genre of auteur autobiography that this deeply felt reminiscence by director Paolo Sorrentino falls into. I’m not sure we need any more of these, but this one is so alive, kinetic and hilarious that it dashed away all of my cynicism. It’s a useful reminder that giving our best directors the opportunity to tell their most personal stories can lead to genuinely great film.
  5. A Hero” One interesting thing about writing a best-of roundup a year late is that circumstances can really alter the perception of a given film. It now seems evident that the idea for Ashgar Farhadi’s morality play about a debtor who can’t get out from under was almost certainly stolen from one of the director’s students (see The New Yorker’s devastating investigation). Not to excuse that offense, but for me it doesn’t diminish the heart-breaking power of the movie itself.
  6. Bergman Island” I fully expected this tribute to “The Gloomy Swede” to amount to little more than two hours of painfully obvious fan fiction. But this delicately crafted tale of a barely connected couple on a vacation to Bergman’s spiritual home—cleverly and beautifully intertwined with its own story-within-a-story, too—manages to find a voice that’s both uniquely its own and also, somehow, surprisingly faithful to Bergman’s spirit.
  7. Titane” This is really not my kind of movie. But it’s jam packed with so many ideas—not just provocative ideas, but bold and vulgar and sometimes beautiful ideas, that it can’t be denied. I just couldn’t not watch. I also couldn’t wait for it to be over. Gorgeous but excruciating.
  8. No Sudden Move” A punchy, throwback noir in the same vein as Soderbergh’s own, indelible “Out of Sight.” It’s not quite as good, but it has the added benefit of an older, less romantic sensibility, with Soderbergh more interested in pulling on threads that lead to inconvenient places this time.
  9. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy” For my money, this is really the 2021 Ryusuke Hamaguchi movie that deserves all of the plaudits that “Drive My Car” got. Admittedly, “Wheel” is less sweeping in its ambition, being comprised of three short stories rather than one grand, dramatic arc. But the third story, “Once Again” is a remarkable interlude that balances emotional authenticity with dramatic inevitability to achieve something very close to perfection.
  10. Wrath of Man” I’m as shocked as anyone that Guy Ritchie, who has perennially been on my list of suspect directors, made one of my favorite movies of 2021. Was it because this was the first flick I saw back in theaters, post-vaccine? Maybe, but when I watched it again a few months later, I found this brutal, slightly ridiculous crime thriller just as absorbing as I had before. There’s nothing new here, it’s true, but the execution, especially in the uncompromising opening scene, is thrillingly disciplined.

The full rundown for all of 2021 follows below. You can also see Letterboxd’s automatically generated overview of the year here. Or you can turn back even further in time and see what I watched in 2020, in 2019, in 2018, in 2017, and in 2016. Finally, you can always follow me on—where I’m writing quick reviews after each movie I watch.

January 2021

  1. The Midnight Sky” (2020) ★★½
    Incredibly earnest, overly careful misfire.
  2. Panic Room” (2002) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Clockwork-like precision and tactility.
  3. Wira” (2019) ★★
    Malaysian action spectacle never manages to rise above the level of highjinks.
  4. Lost Bullet” (2020) ★★★
    Ridiculously fun car chase film from France. Basically “Le Fast Et Le Furious”; dumb as bricks but in a smart way.
  5. The Tragedy of Today” (1958) ★★★
    This post-war Japanese noir is like an otherworldly mix of amorality and social decorum.
  6. Tenet” (2020) ★★★★
    On another level.
  7. The Vast of Night” (2019) ★★★★
    A riveting, not-to-be-missed blend of horror vibes, sci-fi allusions and small town Americana.
  8. The American President” (1995) ★★½
    Rewatched. Over-budgeted and flat-out corny prototype for “The West Wing.”
  9. The Night Manager” (2016) ★★
    I watched this made-for-TV mini-series in honor of John Le Carre’s passing and largely regretted it.
  10. Promising Young Woman” (2020) ★★★½
    Confused but confident, go-for-broke revenge comedy with a terrific performance by Carrie Mulligan.
  11. Hugo” (2011) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Didn’t think much of it the first time, but on rewatch the CG holds up surprisingly well and the architecture of the story is more impressive than I remembered.
  12. I Am Waiting” (1957) ★★★★½
    A masterpiece of B-movie melancholia from Japan.
  13. Batman Begins” (2005) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Hardly perfect, but careens along with better ideas, script and casting than anything Marvel has done since.
  14. Mosul” (2019) ★★★★
    This would be remarkable for its story of war-torn Iraq told from the Iraqi perspective, but it’s also an uncompromising, first-rate action film by any measure.
  15. Oliver & Company” (1988) ★½
    When Disney animation was in the woods; excessively animated but poorly conceived.
  16. A Bug’s Life” (1998) ★★½
    Rewatched. Twenty-three years later, the primitive CG is shocking but you can see they tried to invest it with real artistry.
  17. Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) ★★★★
    Problematic but monumental epic that fully realizes its vision.
  18. Wolfwalkers” (2020) ★★½
    Gorgeously animated with tons of personality, sometimes beyond the point of usefulness.
  19. The Rusty Knife” (1958) ★★
    Grade school-level Japanese noir.
  20. Another Round” (2020) ★★★
    A compelling performance by Mads Mikkelson elevates a fairly dopey premise that feels less and less convincing the more you think about it.
  21. Next Gen” (2018) ★★
    I had low expectations for this Netflix back catalog kids film—and its story is forgettable—but the CG animation shows some real care and thought.
  22. The Cameraman” (1928) ★★★★
    Unceasing physical comedy inventiveness from Buster Keaton, undergirded by deft pathos.

February 2021

  1. The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1934) ★★★
    Full on showcase for the unidentifiable weirdness of a young Petter Lorre.
  2. Tenet” (2020) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Will need to rewatch again.
  3. Calamity, a Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary” (2020) ★★★
    From France, a visually stunning 2D animated tale of the old west.
  4. Vertigo” (1958) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Hitchcock’s own raw, nearly unabashed neuroses on full display, and apparently everyone signed up for it.
  5. Time to Hunt” (2020) ★★½
    Fairly standard South Korean crime thriller with a post-apocalyptic flavor.
  6. The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Technically superior to the 1936 original, and an unintentional indictment of the Jimmy Stewart hero.
  7. Captain America: Civil War” (2016) ★★½
    Rewatched. Risibly phony politics as a pretext for senseless fighting.
  8. Long Way North” (2015) ★★★★
    Another beautiful French animation production.
  9. Toy Story” (1995) ★★★★
    Rewatched. The animation looks worse with each rewatch, but remarkably the sterling storytelling is undiminished.
  10. The King and the Mockingbird” (1980) ★★★
    Truly bizarre animated parable from mid-century France that apparently was a big influence on Studio Ghibli.
  11. David Byrne’s American Utopia” (2020) ★★★
    The man who fell to earth and became an elder statesman of the arts at middle age.
  12. Follow That Bird” (1985) ★★★
    Totally great road movie homage.
  13. Minari” (2020) ★★★★
    Sidesteps just about every opportunity to indulge in melodrama or histrionics, and just focuses on its story with a clear-eyed emotional authenticity that’s deeply stirring.
  14. Inception” (2010) ★★★★
    Rewatched, with my daughter. Despite all the criticisms of Nolan’s focus on structural highjinks, the emotional beats work every time.
  15. Support the Girls” (2018) ★★★½
    Deeply compassionate story of dealing with the misery of being very good at a job you can’t stand.
  16. Faces Places” (2017) ★★
    Despite Agnes Varda’s charms, this is a hugely overrated cross between a reality television show and an electronic press kit.
  17. Judas and the Black Messiah” (2021) ★★★
    Electric performances from the two leads can’t quite give form to this frequently over-scoped historical drama.
  18. The Passion of Anna” (1969) ★★★★
    Hauntingly photographed foray into typical Ingmar Bergman territory, where solitude is the only answer to humanity’s inherent awfulness.
  19. The Lego Batman Movie” (2017) ★★★
    Rewatched. I didn’t like this much the first time but there’s so much packed in here that it rewards repeated viewings.
  20. The Sword in the Stone” (1963) ★★★
    Little more than an excuse for a series of excessively playful animated excursions, but amply engaging nevertheless.

March 2021

  1. Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (2021) ★★½
    Fine but too sentimental. Slapstick has lost its edge in the age of Apatow.
  2. All Dogs Go to Heaven” (1989) ★½
    Truly grotesque anthropomorphization of the canine species.
  3. Picnic at Hanging Rock” (1975) ★★
    Aussie prestige classic that takes a fascinatingly terrifying premise and slathers it with a ridiculous coat of pretentiousness.
  4. Raya and the Last Dragon” (2021) ★★
    Representation gone wrong.
  5. Nomadland” (2020) ★★½
    Starts promisingly as cinema verité but turns into a disappointingly predictable road movie. A new kind of Oscar bait.
  6. A Very Curious Girl” (1969) ★★★½
    Satirical romp through French provincialism that delights in what it skewers.
  7. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” (2005) ★½
    An abject lesson in how to waste the time of a generation of loyalists
  8. Yellow Rose” (2019) ★★
    Overly earnest indie tries to find the nexus between immigration and country music.
  9. Take Aim at the Police Van” (1960) ★½
    Pretty flabby Nikko noir.
  10. Evil Under the Sun” (1982) ★★★½
    This Agatha Christie whodunit offers nothing revolutionary but it’s handily amusing and quite witty nevertheless.
  11. The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!” (2012) ★★★★
    An utter failure in creating bankable intellectual property that also happens to be a total storytelling delight.
  12. Zack Snyder’s Justice League” (2021) ★★
    Why, god, why?!
  13. Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) ★★
    Rewatched. Mostly just characters—toons and people—yelling at each other.
  14. Boss Level” (2021) ★★½
    Not particularly smart but not particularly bad time loop action movie.
  15. Treasure Planet” (2002) ★★★
    This modern Disneyfication of the classic book just feels old fashioned on multiple levels.
  16. Palm Springs” (2020) ★★★
    At first it seems like this might be an interesting riff on “Groundhog Day” but in the end it’s just a pro forma Millenial derivative.
  17. Justice League” (2017) ★★
    Rewatched. Still a disaster, but after the Snyder Cut, I appreciate its goals a tiny bit more.
  18. Persona” (1966) ★★★½
    Bergman swerves between psychological horror and seminal art house clichés.
  19. The Outpost” (2019) ★★★
    Afghanistan through the eyes of the U.S. military, as an action movie.
  20. The Aristocats” (1970) ★★
    Cute in a middle-of-the-road kind of way.
  21. Hot Shots!” (1991) ★★★
    Not a masterpiece, but still a delight.
  22. The Dig” (2021) ★★½
    Very polite British people undertake an archaeological dig, accompanied by very tinkly piano music.
  23. The Old Man & the Gun” (2018) ★½
    A disappointingly shallow and implausible showcase for Robert Redford.
  24. Iron Man” (2008) ★★
    Rewatched. Triumph of a douchebag.
  25. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) ★
    Rewatched. A contemptible interpretation of beloved characters.
  26. Yellow Submarine” (1968) ★★★½
    Not fondly remembered but actually pretty good.
  27. The Mighty Ducks” (1992) ★½
    Contains absolutely nothing original.

April 2021

  1. Zootopia” (2016) ★★½
    Rewatched. A lot of moralizing, even for a kids movie.
  2. The Apple Dumpling Gang” (1975) ★★
    Rewatched, I think? Completely forgettable except for the comedic eloquence of Mr. Don Knotts.
  3. Man of Steel” (2013) ★★
    Rewatched. Zack Snyder is that kid from high school who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stop drawing skulls and knives and demons.
  4. Flushed Away” (2006) ★★
    Shockingly inert Aardman animation—computer-generated, this time—that suggests that the appeal of their stop-motion clay work might be solely in its manual execution.
  5. The Big Gundown” (1966) ★★★★
    What looks like a merely serviceable, B-level spaghetti western is actually a politically complex, highly astute morality play. Superb.
  6. National Treasure” (2004) ★★
    Seems quaint that it once used to be possible to create an action movie franchise out of little more than a bunch of visits to tourist traps.
  7. Nobody” (2021) ★★½
    Everyman actioner that’s hard to resist except for how familiar and tired its tropes are.
  8. Death Rides a Horse” (1967) ★★★½
    Okay, this is a serviceable, B-level spaghetti western.
  9. Midnight Run” (1988) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Nearly flawlessly constructed Hollywood road movie with what might be DeNiro’s most convincingly inhabited role ever.
  10. Searching for Bobby Fischer” (1993) ★★★½
    I saw all the maudlin story beats and the soaring climax coming a mile away, and yet I was defenseless against it all.
  11. Godzilla vs. Kong” (2021) ★★★
    Dumb as heck, but fleet of foot, plus it has a giant ape and a giant lizard knocking the stuffing out of one another.
  12. The Kid Detective” (2020) ★★★
    The premise of a grown up Encyclopedia Brown who refuses to really grow up is almost too cute by half, except it’s executed with just enough gentle humor to see it all the way through.
  13. The Mitchells vs. The Machines” (2021) ★★★½
    The techphobic plot is pro forma, but it’s dazzlingly executed and genuinely hilarious.

May 2021

  1. The Mercenary” (1968) ★★½
    Laboriously political spaghetti western that’s only intermittently surprising.
  2. Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse” (2021) ★★
    Intricate action gilding a boneheaded plot.
  3. Rear Window” (1954) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Hitchcock’s incredibly taut drama never gets old, but on this viewing the impressionistic embellishments really struck me.
  4. Top Secret!” (1984) ★★
    Rewatched. Mostly light chuckles except for a jaw-dropping underwater saloon fight in the third act.
  5. The Courier” (2020) ★★
    Forgettable by-the-numbers prestige fare.
  6. Roman Holiday” (1953) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Irresistible fairy tale.
  7. The Watchmaker of St. Paul” (1974) ★★★★
    Early 1970s French political drama starts out like a crime thriller and turns into a meditation on the desperations of middle age.
  8. Iron Man 2” (2010) ★½
    Rewatched. Tiresomely self-satisfied.
  9. The Set-Up” (1949) ★★★★
    A grubby, gritty, utterly merciless film noir.
  10. Wrath of Man” (2021) ★★★★
    Unexpectedly gripping “Heat” derivative.
  11. Raining in the Mountain” (1979) ★★★
    A series of elegantly expressive wuxia set pieces; rapturous for a while before stumbling to a finish.
  12. Whisper of the Heart” (1995) ★★★★
    A Ghibli joint that actually focuses on character instead of spectacle.
  13. Love and Monsters” (2020) ★★½
    Too cute post-apocalyptic romcom-horror-thriller-comedy.
  14. The Last Detail” (1973) ★★★★
    Two sailors escort a Navy convict to prison in this dour, overcast and unspeakably sad road movie directed by Hal Ashby.
  15. House of Games” (1987) ★★★½
    Rewatched. David Mamet lays out the basics of the con, and we’re onto the grift even before the protagonist is. But Joe Mantegna’s unmitigated bad guy makes it watchable.
  16. Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944) ★★★
    This war movie might be the most Hollywood movie ever made and a masterpiece of superbly executed clichés.
  17. Private Life” (2018) ★★★★
    Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn try to have a baby and you think you know what’s going to happen, but this movie is so much smarter than that.

June 2021

  1. O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (2000) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Exceedingly well made and entertaining and also really problematic
  2. Star Wars” (1977) ★★★½
    Rewatched. The best way to enjoy this is to pretend that no sequels or spinoffs were ever made. Read my review.
  3. Cruising” (1980) ★★★
    Hollywood just did not know how to handle this material.
  4. Smooth Talk” (1985) ★★★½
    Impossibly young and beautiful Laura Dern and Treat Williams in a truly creeptastic face-off.
  5. GoodFellas” (1990) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. Brutal poetry in motion. Nearly flawless.
  6. Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) ★★½
    Rewatched. A big, beautiful, ambitious, swing that ultimately strikes out.
  7. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure” (1989) ★
    Rewatched. I guess I understand the continued affection for this franchise but this movie is actually incredibly boring.
  8. Italianamerican” (1974) ★★★½
    Martin Scorsese shows us how to make a movie about making a movie about your heritage.
  9. Miami Vice” (2006) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. I can’t think of another film that was more truly of the 21st Century as early in the 21st Century as this one was.
  10. Luca” (2021) ★★★
    Entertaining but clumsy.
  11. A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” (2019) ★★★★
    Dead simple and I really, really liked it.
  12. The Rules of the Game” (1939) ★★★½
    Rewatched. I’m starting to understand this better with each viewing.
  13. Riders of Justice” (2020) ★★★½
    Rarely is a movie this willing to go to such weird lengths to make its emotional points.
  14. A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop” (2009) ★★★
    A true oddity: a Chinese language remake of “Blood Simple” with a totally unexpected visual aesthetic.
  15. Thor” (2011) ★½
    Rewatched. Out-to-lunch filmmaking.
  16. Force of Evil” (1948) ★★★½
    Surprisingly rich and dense noir that’s also quite gabby for its 76-minute runtime.
  17. The Gambler” (1974) ★★★
    James Caan is the most ridiculous high roller ever in this macho take on the gambling lifestyle.
  18. El Condor” (1970) ★★★½
    You could get a lot worse than Lee Van Cleef as the goof and Jim Brown as the straight man in this rough and ready spaghetti western.

July 2021

  1. The Ice Road” (2021) ★★
    Pretty much what you’d expect from a Liam Neeson flick about ice road trucking.
  2. King Kong” (1933) ★★★
    The protagonists in this movie inadvertently make a really persuasive indictment of themselves.
  3. No Sudden Move” (2021) ★★★★
    Not quite a return to the glory of “Out of Sight,” but still rewarding in the way Soderbergh always manages to be.
  4. Isle of Dogs” (2018) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I was surprised by how much more I enjoyed this than on my first viewing—once I set aside the cultural insensitivity.
  5. Heat” (1995) ★★★★½
    Rewatched. Despite its age, this still feels incredibly vibrant and alive.
  6. After Hours” (1985) ★★★½
    The script isn’t particularly remarkable but Scorsese directs the heck out of it.
  7. Ant-Man” (2015) ★★★
    Rewatched. Still the most charming of Marvel’s movies.
  8. Ant-Man and the Wasp” (2018) ★★
    Rewatched. I remembered almost nothing from my first viewing, and I’ll probably retain almost nothing after this one.
  9. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I read Tarantino’s novelization, which is not like the movie, and then I went back to rewatch the movie, and both are great.
  10. Unbreakable” (2000) ★★★
    Rewatched. I get why this has become a cult classic, and it mostly earns that, but its dour tone eventually strains bearability.
  11. Man Push Cart” (2005) ★★★
    A would-be neorealist tale of life as a street vendor.
  12. Ava” (2020) ★
    What happens when you mistake backstory for smarts— and when your director doesn’t have the talent to make it work.
  13. The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” (1972) ★★★★
    A dreamscape built to indict society’s most banal that sadly seems to have turned into a kind of guide on how to be incredibly banal.
  14. Minority Report” (2002) ★★★½
    Rewatched. The predictions hold up and so does the drama. One of Spielberg’s best.
  15. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls” (1970) ★★½
    This over-the-top ridiculous cautionary tale about the dangers of fame and fortune in late 60s Los Angeles is a car wreck you can’t look away from.
  16. Black Widow” (2021) ★
    Noisy, dumb and full of terrible, terrible Russian accents.
  17. That Obscure Object of Desire” (1977) ★★★
    Not bad at all but more than anything it seems like an excuse for an aged auteur to ogle beautiful actresses.
  18. The Prestige” (2006) ★½
    Rewatched. When people complain about Christopher Nolan being clumsy and obvious, this is what they mean.
  19. The Paper Tigers” (2020) ★★
    Endearing kung fu character comedy can’t quite pull together the shaky premise.
  20. Señorita” (2011) ★★½
    A bold statement from a transgender filmmaker that gets distracted by a lackluster political subplot.
  21. Lonely Are the Brave” (1962) ★★★★
    Kirk Douglas as the Marlboro Man, versus the modern world.
  22. Married to the Mob” (1988) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Jonathan Demme takes a not particularly special mob comedy and stuffs it full of surprising and inventive directorial choices.

August 2021

  1. Wrath of Man” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Nothing here that hasn’t been seen before, but the execution is marvelous.
  2. Jolt” (2021) ★★★
    Should be a terrible, Wick-ian derivative, but Kate Becknisale totally sells it.
  3. Knives Out” (2019) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A perfect structure and a note-perfect cast.
  4. The Suicide Squad” (2021) ★★
    Better than its predecessors (big whoop), but still a shambles.
  5. La Piscine” (1969) ★★
    Euro art house nonsense adds up to little more than an argument that beautiful people posing blankly can do whatever they want.
  6. Mädchen in Uniform” (1931) ★★★★
    A miracle of early lesbian filmmaking that somehow also retains all of its drama and nuance.
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy” (2014) ★★
    Rewatched. Slept through most of it this time.
  8. Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) ★★
    Rewatched. Packed to the gills with clever and cutesy details but… (see further below)
  9. Blow Out” (1981) ★★★
    Brian DePalma delivers a bevy of beautiful surfaces, but little cohesion.
  10. Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009) ★★★★
    Rewatched. It took the extreme constraints of stop-motion animation to loosen up Wes Anderson—and to reveal him to be a children’s movie maker.
  11. Chicken Run” (2000) ★★★½
    Rewatched. A delightfully crafted trifle.
  12. The Bedroom Window” (1987) ★★
    Casting Steve Gutenberg as the star of this tepid, passion-less Hitchcock ripoff is just the first of many mistakes it makes
  13. The Green Knight” (2021) ★★★
    Formally astonishing but honestly I didn’t understand half of it until I internetted it.
  14. The Avengers” (2012) ★★★
    Rewatched. The more I rewatch this movie, the more its seams show.
  15. A Shot in the Dark” (1964) ★★
    Just a bare scaffolding for Peter Sellers’ antics, most of which hold up reasonably well.
  16. Babe” (1995) ★★★½
    In a better world, all kids’ movies would shoot as high as this one did, even if it didn’t fully succeed.
  17. The Grand Budapest Hotel” (2014) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Could be Anderson’s masterpiece. Review here.
  18. Black Panther” (2018) ★½
    Rewatched. Representation matters, but I just wish this were better, and less offensive, than it was. Review here.
  19. Eyes of Laura Mars” (1978) ★
    Faye Dunaway in a Hitchcockian thriller totally devoid of brains.
  20. Hard Ticket to Hawaii” (1987) ★★
    Trash. Total trash. Total, delightful trash.
  21. Pete’s Dragon” (2016) ★
    Treacly Disney nonsense somehow made even more offensive by David Lowery’s sentimental indie preciousness.
  22. The Darjeeling Limited” (2007) ★
    Rewatched. A depressing, orientalist low point for Wes Anderson.
  23. Moonrise Kingdom” (2012) ★★★
    Rewatched. Somehow I went from hating this to adoring it.
  24. Excalibur” (1981) ★★
    Faithful to the legends, I assume, but on the screen this retelling of the legend of King Arthur is bombastic and painfully lacking in self-awareness.
  25. Crimson Tide” (1995) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Military dudes yelling technical jargon at each other! But with rich character nuance and cracking good performances.
  26. Gravity” (2013) ★★★★
    Rewatched. An irresistible entertainment.

September 2021

  1. The Kid Who Would Be King” (2019) ★½
    Rewatched. I really hoped this would seem better on a second viewing but it was just as disappointing as the first.
  2. Cluny Brown” (1946) ★★½
    Lubitsch is a legend but he’s hit or miss for me, and this romantic comedy really only hits its groove when it gets absolutely ruthless.
  3. The Mark of Zorro” (1940) ★★★
    Pure, unpretentious, empty-headed Hollywood fun.
  4. Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife” (1938) ★★
    Lubitsch again hitting or missing. It’s fun enough, but I just can’t see the genius in it.
  5. Captain America: Civil War” (2016) ★★
    Among the most exciting marketing plans ever presented to the Disney executive committee.
  6. The Big Risk” (1960) ★★★★
    Unadulterated, gritty gangland melodrama, not unlike French mob maestro Jean-Pierre Melville’s work, but without its archness.
  7. Moonstruck” (1987) ★★
    Was this supposed to be magical? Because it’s just, like, fine. Our expectations for romantic comedies have been lowered so precipitously.
  8. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.” (1992) ★★★★
    Imperfect and even a bit shaky, but totally absorbing. Also, it was filmed literally at the end of my block in Brooklyn.
  9. The Card Counter” (2021) ★★★★
    Paul Schrader takes us to the dark side of the moon once again.
  10. The 400 Blows” (1959) ★★★★
    Rewatched. As enchanting and poetic as a fairy tale, except everything is horrible.
  11. L’Argent” (1983) ★★★★
    In so many ways not what a movie is supposed to be at all, but at the same time, more cinematic than the vast majority of movies out there.
  12. Kate” (2021) ★½
    The children of John Wick are getting less and less interesting.
  13. Mouchette” (1967) ★★
    A completely unsentimental, unsparing, un-fun look at life in the French countryside, with your tour guide Robert Bresson.

October 2021

  1. His Girl Friday” (1940) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A marvel of comedic perfection that never wears thin.
  2. Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” (2017) ★½
    Plasticky, heartless cash grab, as befits the franchise.
  3. The Panic in Needle Park” (1971) ★★★★
    Notoriously gritty drug addiction film shot with a beautifully visceral style.
  4. The Many Saints of Newark” (2021) ★★★½
    A very special episode of “The Sopranos.”
  5. F9” (2021) ½★
    Vin Diesel’s juvenile ego should not be making the creative decisions for this franchise.
  6. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” (2004) ★★★½
    Rewatched. This works largely because of Bill Murray, and in spite of some pretty lame special effects.
  7. Au Hasard Balthazar” (1966) ★
    I just didn’t see the brilliance here that others do.
  8. Le Doulos” (1962) ★★
    Some cool French gangster shenanigans, periodically interrupted by a whole lot of police yammering.
  9. No Time to Die” (2021) ★★★½
    Rambly and overlong, but manages to take James Bond a few places he’s never been before, more or less credibly.
  10. Strange Days” (1995) ★★★½
    Rewatched. Shockingly well-made and surprisingly classical sci-fi noir.
  11. Darkest Hour” (2017) ★★★½
    Only partially the Oscar-bait I was afraid it might be. Overall, kind of terrific.
  12. The Trouble With Harry” (1955) ★★
    Exceedingly polite, and quite uneventful, murder mystery from Alfred Hitchcock.
  13. Chan Is Missing” (1982) ★★★★
    Scrappy, earnest, canny proto-indie with an incredibly fascinating lead.
  14. The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1981) ★★★★
    Unclear whether this is trying to break down or update noir conventions, but it’s very good.
  15. The Postman Always Rings Twice” (1946) ★★★
    Seminal but hokey.
  16. The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) ★★★★★
    Rewatched with a great commentary track.
  17. Devil in a Blue Dress” (1995) ★★★★
    An unremarkable plot gilded with wonderful details from Black life in post-War L.A.
  18. Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street” (2021) ★★★½
    A wonderful, tear-jerking story, but a documentary that never really asks tough questions.
  19. No Time to Die” (2021) ★★★½
    Rewatched. No worse—or better, really—than it was the first time.
  20. Out of the Past” (1947) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A magnificent, gourmet meal of double-crosses, snappy dialogue and exquisite noir cinematography. A masterpiece.
  21. The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) ★★★½
    Less of a horror movie than a movie about something horrible. Campy but cohesive.
  22. The French Dispatch” (2021) ★★★½
    As per usual, a beautifully realized concept built on a scaffolding of rickety ideas.
  23. Willow” (1988) ★★
    Never rises above the merely amusing, but still a damn sight better than most of the “Star Wars” prequels and sequels.
  24. Escape from New York” (1981) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Endlessly rewatchable.
  25. Undine” (2020) ★★
    Director Christian Petzold’s latest casts a beguiling spell, as he seems to be able to do almost effortlessly, but he’s aiming low here.
  26. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    A monumental achievement in imagining a science fiction reality.
  27. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Having originally watched it at home, I rushed out to see it on IMAX. Spectactular.
  28. Werewolves Within” (2021) ★★★
    Genial little horror-comedy, emphasis on the little.
  29. Dune” (1984) ★★
    Rewatched. I hadn’t seen this David Lynch version since I was a kid. What a debacle.
  30. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I came down with a 24-hour bug so I figured I may as well watch it again.

November 2021

  1. Thor: Ragnarok” (2017) ★★½
    Rewatched. Never takes itself too seriously, which is amusing. Refuses to take anything seriously, which is exhausting.
  2. Pig” (2021) ★★★½
    Nicolas Cage as a…well, part of the fun is that this is all very unexpected.
  3. Touchez Pas au Grisbi” (1954) ★★★★
    French gangster classic details the quotidian drudgery of “one last score” that actually succeeds.
  4. Blade Runner 2049” (2017) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Not unlike its predecessor, this gets deeper and richer with each viewing.
  5. Sicario” (2015) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. As much as I like Villeneuve’s franchise work, original fare like this is what he was put on earth to do.
  6. Hangover Square” (1945) ★★★½
    An entertainingly formal bit of Edwardian, paranoid noir, with a wacko editing.
  7. The Harder They Fall” (2021) ★★
    Could’ve been a classic, should have been a classic, but it’s just boring instead.
  8. Neighboring Sounds” (2012) ★★★½
    A Brazilian neighborhood where the mundane is bizarre and the bizarre is mundane. Mesmerizing.
  9. Paddington” (2014) ★★★
    Rewatched. So genial that even Ben Whishaw’s nails-on-a-chalkboard voice is tolerable.
  10. Dune” (2021) ★★★★
    Rewatched. I was down with the flu so I just figured I’d watch it a fourth time.
  11. In the Cut” (2003) ★½
    Jane Campion tries to art up the thriller, but in the end it just amounts to a cavalcade of clichés.
  12. Point Blank” (1967) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Throws you headlong into stylized, abstracted action that still seems striking, if shallow.
  13. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974) ★★★★
    Rewatched. A feast of New Yawk faces, swagger and patois. Also maybe the most five bouroughs-y movie ever made.
  14. Somewhere in the Night” (1946) ★★★
    Hokey amnesia-driven noir premise is held together by an unusually light-on-its-feet script.
  15. Kicking and Screaming” (1995) ★★½
    So, so nineties, but historically significant for featuring a make out scene between decade titans Christopher Eigeman and Parker Posey.

December 2021

  1. Licorice Pizza” (2021) ★½
    Paul Thomas Anderson working well below his abilities.
  2. Mr. Jealousy” (1997) ★★
    Highly charming cast, deeply preposterous concept.
  3. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (2021) ★½
    Another dispiritingly hollow entry to the Marvel canon.
  4. The French Connection” (1971) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Amazing, go-for-broke filmmaking that hasn’t lost an ounce of its potency.
  5. Passing” (2021) ★★★½
    Racial complexity in 1920s Harlem. Sturdy but not quite fully realized.
  6. The Hand of God” (2021) ★★★★
    For the first half at least it’s more alive, kinetic and hilarious than just about any prestige autobiographical drama in recent memory
  7. Ron’s Gone Wrong” (2021) ★
    Completely inessential.
  8. Spider-Man: No Way Home” (2021) ★★
    A mashed potato pile of a movie.
  9. The Grinch” (2018) ★★★
    Rewatched. I’m not saying this is great, but I’ve watched it four times and I always like it.
  10. Champion” (1949) ★★★½
    Very predictable cautionary tale but made with grit and flair.
  11. The Matrix Resurrections” (2021) ★★
    Hard to believe, but the third sequel in this franchise has just as few good ideas as the previous two.
  12. Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” (2011) ★★★★
    Rewatched. Dependably entertaining.
  13. Holiday” (1938) ★★★★★
    Rewatched. A perfect concoction of screwball romance and sentimentality-free holiday cheer.
  14. The Beatles: Get Back” (2021) ★★★★
    I just ate this up.
  15. The Royal Tenenbaums” (2001) ★★½
    Rewatched. Wes Anderson’s emotional compass leads directly into maudlin territory.
  16. Benedetta” (2021) ★★★
    An expected but nevertheless kinetic mix of schlocky Euro-trash and high-minded interrogation of religious power.