My 25 Favorite Movies of 2021

A compilation video I started editing in November 2021 and finished in January 2022. Click on the link below the video to read my full thoughts on each film!

Hey folks, thanks for watching my compilation video of my 25 favorite movies of 2021! For anyone interested in hearing my extended thoughts, read below.

25. Spider-Man: No Way Home (PG-13, dir. Jon Watts)
Had to get this on here somehow. I’m not a huge Spider-Man fan, but I was still entertained and appreciated the constant theme about second chances. A movie like this is only worthwhile to me when it can say something, and thankfully, this one does.

24. The Card Counter (R, dir. Paul Schrader)
A haunting character study of a man’s journey towards redemption that also serves as a great follow-up to Schrader’s First Reformed… albeit at times hindered by some stilted acting. (Not from Oscar Isaac, though.)

23. Nightmare Alley (R, dir. Guillermo del Toro)
I’m probably the only person in the world who feels this way, but I prefer this to del Toro’s The Shape of Water. A long but engaging noir that’s essentially a fable about moral depravity.

22. Val (R, dir. Ting Poo and Leo Scott)
One of the year’s most personal documentaries, thanks to Val Kilmer’s thousands of hours of footage over his lifetime. Even if you’re unfamiliar with most of his work (I admit I am), it’s worth a watch.

21. Encanto (PG, dir. Jared Bush and Byron Howard)
Disney Animation’s best since Moana, and to see Colombia portrayed onscreen was very special for me. (If Disney had guts, though, they would have made the whole thing in Spanish and then dubbed/subtitled it in English. Oh well.)

20. Spencer (R, dir. Pablo Larrain)
The screenplay’s not on the same level as basically every other aspect of the film, from the visuals to the music to Kristen Stewart’s performance—but those things are still so well done that the movie still works for me.

19. The Tragedy of Macbeth (R, dir. Joel Coen)
At once a faithful Shakespeare adaptation, an homage to classic American (and maybe even British and German) cinema, another dark Coen [brother] cautionary tale, and a surreal experience.

18. The Last Duel (R, dir. Ridley Scott)
Not a pleasant watch by any means, and I’ll probably never watch it again, but that doesn’t mean it’s not powerful. (If you want to watch a less graphic version of this, though, check out Rashomon.)

17. The Lost Daughter (R, dir. Maggie Gyllenhaal)
A heartbreaking story about the conflict between parent and child, with great performances all around. Can’t wait to see what Gyllenhaal directs next.

16. Flee (PG-13, dir. Jonas Poher Rasmussen)
A fascinating animation/documentary hybrid, especially since the story is all about how hard it can be to tell our own stories, and how sometimes, telling the truth has consequences.

15. The Green Knight (R, dir. David Lowery)
Yeah, it’s a little odd, but it’s a great fable about fate and sacrifice that has some of the year’s best cinematography as well as a third act that really landed for me.

14. West Side Story (PG-13, dir. Steven Spielberg)
Frankly, I prefer the 1961 version, for multiple reasons. But you can’t say this isn’t at least a well-produced movie—or, for that matter, a lazy, by-the-numbers remake, which it easily could have been.

13. Mass (PG-13, dir. Fran Kranz)
An intimate drama and character study about grief, regret, and reconciliation. This didn’t come to many theaters, so if you didn’t see it, seek it out.

12. Procession (R, dir. Robert Greene)
Comparable to The Act of Killing as a documentary that depicts trauma and the ways in which we confront it. Another hard watch, but worth it.

11. King Richard (PG-13, dir. Reinaldo Marcus Green)
This film unfortunately lost money upon its release (which shouldn’t have happened), but I have a feeling audiences will embrace it more and more over time. Not simply a Will Smith vehicle, it’s also a compelling and entertaining drama about a father’s love for his children.

10. A Quiet Place Part II (PG-13, dir. John Krasinski)
I’m sure this is higher on my list than for everyone else, and call me a fanboy if you want, but I never want to take for granted that we now have a money-making franchise (from Paramount, no less) devoted to classic, suspenseful visual storytelling. Bring on Part III!

9. Drive My Car (NR, dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
It’s three hours, and it feels like three hours, but you need that time to truly feel the grief of the main character–and then, about 45 minutes in, suppress it, attempt to start over, and then feel it all over again. Very few films can accomplish such a feat.

8. CODA (PG-13, dir. Sian Heder)
Proof that when a tried-and-true storyline works, it really works. As a result, the film (and especially its climactic musical performance) tugs at the heartstrings.

7. tick, tick…BOOM! (PG-13, dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda)
Gotta say, I enjoyed this WAY more than I anticipated. There’s a great balance of theatricality and realism here that allowed me to buy into everything (something that, for my money, this film does better than West Side Story). Also, Andrew Garfield is immensely talented.

6. Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (PG-13, dir. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson)
The year’s most entertaining and engaging documentary. The decision to simply let huge chunks of this footage and these performances play out really helps you feel like you were at this festival. It’s on Hulu, but seeing this in a theater was an immense privilege.

5. C’mon C’mon (R, dir. Mike Mills)
Some of Mills’ previous films have struck me as having bland protagonists surrounded by older, more interesting characters. But Joaquin Phoenix here is not only not bland, but also playing wonderfully off of the young, phenomenal Woody Norman, and it really worked for me. One of the few films of 2021 that made it really hard to tell what was scripted and what wasn’t.

4. The Power of the Dog (R, dir. Jane Campion)
I’m not sure how often I’d watch this film again, if ever, because it is a slow burn with some (intentionally) pretty despicable characters. But the more I reflect on what the film is saying about human nature, the more powerful (and even culturally relevant) it becomes.

3. Belfast (PG-13, dir. Kenneth Branagh)
Apparently this film has become overhyped and overrated to many, but I don’t care. I still think it’s a great coming-of-age piece that’s on par with a film like The Quiet Man in terms of depicting Irish life with an appropriate balance of comedy and drama that feels like real life.

2. Licorice Pizza (R, dir. Paul Thomas Anderson)
Another coming-of-age story that uses the backdrop of 1970’s L.A. to examine the ways in which we perform for others in order to get them to like and even love us. Even the elements of the film that have gotten controversy enforce that theme for me. It’s essentially a well-made rom-com with great production value and something to say. A welcome addition to Anderson’s filmography.

1. Dune (PG-13, dir. Denis Villeneuve)
Am I fanboying? Probably. Am I just happy this film finally came out? Probably. But I still think Dune: Part One is the next step in the Hollywood blockbuster. It’s a standalone story about how we confront, hold onto, or give up power—and even though the end feels sort of like an anticlimax, for the hero at this part of his journey, it’s his greatest challenge yet, and so I buy it. The way the film’s visuals, soundtrack, and effects set up this world and build tension (and anticipation for Part Two) is a cherry on top. Even without having seen the sequel(s), I really love this movie. Come at me, bro.

Thanks so much for reading! Feel free to follow me on Instagram and Letterboxd @seanmoconnor92 for more reviews throughout 2022!

Published by Sean O'Connor

Videographer. Writer. Musician. Professor. Husband. Follower of Jesus Christ.

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