The 2021 Halfway Report Card: The Best of the Year So Far
The Best of Year so far
I called 2020 a strange first half of the year for films, and 2021 was an extension of that. The industry pushing films to the Fall or cramming them in before the extended Academy Awards deadline of February 28th, 2021, created a short void by the halfway point. Although there may not be many buzz-worthy awards contenders (ignore anyone who says this film from pre-July 1st will lead to Oscar gold), there is plenty of quality, highly entertaining, crowd-pleasing films out there.
Please take a moment to read my list of some of the best the world has to offer in 2021 so far this year.
Formerly known as Yakuza and The Family but rebranded as A Family on Netflix, is a Yakuza epic. Blood is spilled, guts are splattered, and some sentimental tears are shed. This is about honor, after all. Writer and director Michihito Fujii (The Brightest Roof in the Universe) brings his trademark visual style, a multi-layered script, and the perfect balance of unnerving violence and criminal repentance. It’s a killer gangster picture.
A Quiet Place: Part II
Ready Steady Cut editor-in-chief Jonathan Wilson said of John Krasinski’s sequel, “It lacks the novelty of its predecessor, but A Quiet Place Part II still boasts the same expert suspense-building and frayed leading performances, making for a worthwhile follow-up, even if it’s less of an expansion than you might have hoped for.”
Bad Trip is the funniest Netflix film since The Package. It’s a hidden camera comedy that’s a fearless work of comic inspiration whose pranks had me laughing from my gut so hard it brought a few tears to my eyes. You won’t be able to keep your jaw off the floor.
Bo Burnham: Inside
Bo Burnham: Inside is by far one of the riskiest and most original comedy specials to come out in years. It’s a one-person show that will surely rub many the wrong way and will most certainly cause a strong reaction with its supports and detractors.
The Courier has everything you want in a Cold War spy thriller. It’s solidly paced and strikes a nice balance of suspense and moving human drama.
Cruella is pure, perfect big studio escapism. It’s a witty, suspenseful, ultra-cool, killer Disney live-action triumph.
Robert Connolly’s much-anticipated adaptation of Jane Harper’s The Dry is akin to great Australian crime dramas like Ray Lawrence’s Lantana. It’s a modern-day down under western with a dual mystery that has deftly layered themes of shameful secrets and traumatic regrets. This is a damn good Australian crime film and is Eric Bana’s best performance since Munich.
In the Heights
Ready Steady Cut critic Michael Frank said, “Jon M. Chu’s Broadway-adapted In the Heights captures the pure joy of its stage counterpart, finding charm, magic, and pride in a little, forgotten corner of New York City.”
Nobody is a bruising, bone-crunching, knuckle-busting, lip-splitting action film that has every intention of dragging you across concrete with the taste of asphalt in your mouth and bits of glass in your forehead. Bob Odenkirk’s Hutch is like the guy John Wick was probably really based on.
Ready Steady Cut film critic Michael Frank called Natalie Morales’s Plan B, “A stellar comedy about two girls reeling from a high school party and learning about one another along the way, giving a showcase for young actors up to the task.”
Raya and the Last Dragon
I’ll say it: Raya and the Last Dragon is the best Disney animated film to come out in years. It is just gorgeous to look at. Filling the sky with cotton candy dragons over beautiful digital animation over Southeast Asian landscapes. It even has a keen eye for juxtaposition. Though, that may be beside the point. It is a beautifully heart-swelling put a lump in your throat kind of family film that doesn’t come around too often.
Seaspiracy is a consistently surprising and thought-provoking piece. My takeaways are even more eye-opening: Go ahead and keep those plastic straws if you want, avoiding that McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish is a must, and marketers are the devil’s allies.
Summer of Soul
The resurrection of the lost 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival is a prime example of the era’s racial capitalism. Director Quest Love’s Summer of Soul glimpse of a culturally significant event is the quiet before the storm of the neighborhood’s block-busting, mass exodus, and remarkable resiliency.
If you want super, twisty, timeline adventure, consider Netflix’s Super Me. It’s just so much bloody fun. It works on many different levels. As a comedy, drama, fantasy, and horror picture, all seamlessly. It has thrilling action and spectacular visuals (that firework scene!). All while playing with themes of mental health that leads to manic behavior, sleep disorders, and our overall quality of life. Except for a few too many music videos and montages, I’m not sure I’ve had more fun watching a film so this the year.
Together Together is a Gen-Z romance, if there ever was one. Nicole Bekwith’s film is seen through a lens of a blurred social construct, and this platonic rom-com is even better for it. Ed Helms and Patti Harrison’s performances are dual character studies on the nature of gender roles and told in an honest way