Much like the year that came before it, 2021 was an odd year for movies. But despite having to navigate the strange, pandemic-tainted landscape of the entertainment industry, filmmakers still managed to release an impressive number of excellent movies and TV shows this year. So as 2021 draws to a close, Digital Trends decided to look back on the year that was and remember our favorite silver screen experiences. These are the movies and shows that DT’s staff loved in 2021:
by Rob Oster, Copy Chief
Come From Away was originally fated to get Hollywood’s standard Broadway show treatment and become a feature film. COVID intervened, however, and the decision was made to instead film the first live performance of the musical after theaters reopened. And that turned out to be one of the few positive side effects of the pandemic.
The show, which tells the true story of a tiny and remote Canadian town that was inundated with planes — and thousands of passengers — that were forced to land there due to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks is particularly ill-suited for such a transformation.
Doing so would have stripped away much of the energy and many of the charming aspects that make the show so infectious, heartwarming, and emotionally potent. The 12 actors’ familiarity with their roles, and the remarkable ability of each to deftly juggle multiple characters and accents, would have likely been jettisoned in favor of a larger cast. And the resulting movie would have been a shell of the show.
Preserving the show’s essence, which translates surprisingly well to the screen, has produced one of the best films of the year — a touching portrait of how strangers came together in the face of such an evil act to show that no form of terror can strip away our innate compassion and humanity.
By Giovanni Colantonio, Gaming Editor
If you watched the trailer for Pig, you probably thought you were in for an absurd time. The film’s marketing makes it look like John Wick, but with Nicolas Cage on the hunt for his stolen pet pig. Considering Cage’s reputation for being cinema’s most unpredictable actor, the ridiculous premise seemed ripe for “so bad it’s good” viewing parties.
That deceptive marketing campaign was a high-concept stroke of genius. Pig pulled the wool over our eyes (wrong animal, but you get the idea) and delivered an emotional, meditative drama about grief. Cage’s character has the demeanor of a strong, silent action hero, but he isn’t one. Aside from one underground fistfight, Cage doesn’t throw a single punch. He uses compassion as a weapon, culminating in the most unorthodox revenge movie climax you’ll ever see. Pig is a quietly gut-wrenching film anchored by one of Cage’s strongest performances to date. Just don’t go in expecting to ironically giggle. You’re more likely to cry.
by Arif Bacchus, Freelance Writer
Do you remember the 2001 Anthrax attacks in the United States? When opening your mail was something that was scary? If you’re too young to remember, that’s exactly what Nat Geo’s The Hot Zone: Anthrax is all about. This series revisits and takes a look inside the investigation of the attacks, and the origins of the virus. The new series comes just two years after the first season looked into the origins of the Ebola virus. Starring Daniel Dae Kim, this anthology drama television series will keep you at the edge of the seat as you go through one of the longest investigations in American history.
by Dan McKenna, Social Manager
Camp, glamour, fashion, and murder. How could you possibly ask for more in a runtime of two hours and 38 minutes? The House of Gucci delivers this and more, and with a population that is reluctant to return to movie theaters, this is the perfect way to jump back into the fold. Inspired by the story about a family leather business that is so ridiculous it has to be true, this movie cannot be missed.
It was never a question that Lady Gaga embodies the definition of a star, but in her second film after 2018’s smash A Star is Born, Gaga confirms that this Italian woman from New York can add bonafide movie star to her already extensive resume. While Jared Leto’s performance as the idiot cousin was more reminiscent of something from Saturday Night Live, Al Pacino and Gaga are responsible for a large part of the film’s comedic and dramatic moments.
by Drew Prindle, Features Editor
If you’re in the mood for a fun and faced paced action movie, then look no further. Nobody is pure punchy-shooty cinematic junk food, and I mean that in the best way possible.
At face value, it’s really just another riff on the “hell hath no fury like a soft-spoken, retired military dude” formula that brought us movies like Taken and John Wick, but while the plot isn’t particularly groundbreaking or fresh, other elements of the movie are just so well done that it’s impossible to not enjoy it. The fight choreography and stunt work are absolutely top-notch. It’s not like other action flicks, where the hero dishes out beatings and barely takes more than a hit or two. In Nobody, Chuck Mansell (Bob Odenkirk) gets beaten to a pulp in almost every fight, and seemingly just barely manages to come out on top. It’s convincingly brutal and gives the action a layer of realism that’s absolutely thrilling. Fire it up next time you’re in the mood for an action flick — you won’t be disappointed.
by Josh Benton, Product Owner
I am a sucker for anything vampire. You name it and I’ve probably seen it. Night Teeth had a little bit of everything for the vampire movie lover. Vampire Hunters, rival factions of Vampire-like clans, young love, action, and death by sunlight. With one of its lead actors coming from Vampire Academy, it brought some of that flare and at times reminded me of the series. Overall, if you want some good action, decent humor, and a Stockholm syndrome love story then this is a great flick for you.
by Star Du Chalard, Office Administrator
On Halloween night I broke free of my pandemic bubble, put on my Uhura costume, and ventured out to watch Dune in an IMAX theater. I have zero regrets.
I have HBO Max, but seeing Dune on a screen bigger than my house was well worth the risk. The character development of both Duke Leto and Duncan Idaho made me appreciate this new incarnation of Dune even more than the original. Denis Villeneuve gives us a window into the brother-like closeness that Duncan has with Paul when he playfully teases him about working out. In this version, I can actually believe Leto and Paul’s father/son relationship. The emotional warmth and caring between the two are profoundly present from the beginning, and it makes you care more about their plight.
There were a few big misses, in my opinion (notably, the lack of character development for Doctor Yueh and Gurney Halleck, and the startling omission of the dinner party scene), but those are far outshined by the film’s many hits — which include stellar performances from the likes of Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa, and some absolutely fabulous VFX work (the new and improved body shields are AWESOME).
All in all, it’s easily the best movie of the year. If you still have doubts, picture yourself flying across the vastness of Arrakis in a dragonfly-shaped Ornithopter!
by Rick Marshall, Contributing Editor, Entertainment
My two favorite shows of the year are so remarkably different that it was impossible to choose just one.
The first season of Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso was one of 2020’s biggest surprise hits, offering up a tale of unrelenting optimism and perseverance in dark times that arrived during the height of the pandemic’s first year when many of us most needed it. It was the perfect convergence of elements to turn the world of Jason Sudeikis’ eternally optimistic football coach and his cast of surrounding characters into a microcosm of our own lives during that particular period in time. It was a hard act to follow, and season 2 of Ted Lasso smartly opted against repeating that formula. Instead, the series’ second season explored the lives of everyone around Ted, showing us the myriad ways a fresh outlook and a willingness to open ourselves up a little more can transform both our own lives and those of everyone around us. The season also explored the importance of mental health (and the dangers of ignoring it) with a nuance and respect that few shows — particularly comedies — have ever achieved. That it accomplished all of this while also consistently delivering some of television’s funniest moments of the year, as well as one of the greatest holiday-themed episodes of all time, speaks volumes to the brilliance of Ted Lasso.
On the flip side, Netflix series Midnight Mass offered one of the year’s best entries in the horror genre and the best project so far from one of the genre’s most talented filmmakers. Series creator Mike Flanagan has a knack for exploring complex themes through the lens of horror, whether it’s the lasting effects of grief and addiction in The Haunting of Hill House or the immense power that love and memory hold over us in The Haunting of Bly Manor. In Midnight Mass, Flanagan tackled some of his most tricky themes yet, offering a supernatural tale about strange happenings on a remote island fishing town that explored both the dangers of blind faith and its ability to help some find peace and purpose. It also offered a wide-ranging perspective on the afterlife and the nature of family and community — particularly, that both can be what we’re born with or what we make of them. That’s some deep philosophical stuff to ponder, but Flanagan never makes it feel too heavy by setting it against a compelling story full of satisfying scares and surprises that set the series firmly within the horror genre.
by Adam Doud, Staff Writer, Mobile
Since the pandemic hit, I’ve wondered what movie would bring me back to a movie theatre for the first time. It turns out my return to the silver screen was itself a return to the 1980s in a fitting tribute to the original Ghostbusters from 1984. I’d be tempted to say it’s a perfect movie (in fact I did on Twitter shortly after the credits rolled) but I think most of that sentiment comes from nostalgia. Are there flaws? Probably.
It’s not easy to capture the heart of the original movie while at the same time introducing a new generation of characters to tell the same story. Jason Reitmann (son of Ivan who directed the original) does that to perfection, and the inclusion of the sexiest man alive helps too. Paul Rudd has just enough star power to lend credence to the franchise without overshadowing his younger stars around which the film is written.
Add to that an ending with a pair of tear-jerking surprises and this movie puts a bow on the original movie, with a nod or two to the sequel as well. It’s an absolute treasure of a film and I cannot wait to watch it again and again.
Put simply, if you are a fan of the original, you need to see this movie. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the perfect tribute to Ghostbusters, Harold Ramis, and the next generation of Ghostbuster. I just hope the (fairly inevitable) sequel to this movie is better than Ghostbusters 2. Speaking of which, make sure you stick around to see both post-credit scenes, and thank you very much, Marvel, for making credits worth watching again.
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