With COVID-19 still running rampant in 2021, it was another complicated year for American cinema. Between COVID, a job with an unrelenting schedule, buying my first house (in another state), and getting married, I barely had time to sit down in front of my own television set let alone trek to the movie theater. I’m resolving to change this in 2022, but for 2021 these are the films I either streamed or on the rare occasion saw in theaters that stood out (for either being lovely or dreadful) and enhanced my day:
1. Murder Among the Mormons
In the realm of documentary filmmaking, Murder Among the Mormons is a magnificently spellbinding entry. The interviews with Mark Hofmann’s associates — Shannon Flynn, Brent Metcalfe, Brent Ashworth, Curt Bench, and Al Rust — were very compelling. In addition, all the classic news clips of 1980s Salt Lake City really brought things home and also cast an insightful eye on one of the biggest scandals in Utah history. 5/5 stars.
Another home run from Jordan Peele of Get Out and Us fame. Loved the cinematography, especially the opening scene — it’s not too often you see Chicago from upside down. Not particularly scary, but gripping and a profound statement on gentrification. A very fitting continuation of the original 1992 film. 4/5 stars.
3. Don’t Tell a Soul
The cinematography was quite excellent and the depressing Rust Belt town that’s seen better days atmosphere set the perfect stage for this Cohen brothers-esque crime drama. Suspenseful to the very end, Shazam’s Jack Dylan Grazer and Dunkirk’s Fionn Whitehead both really shined here. 4/5 stars.
4. Fear Street Trilogy (Fear Street Part One: 1994, Fear Street Part Two: 1978, Fear Street Part Three: 1666)
Fear Street is definitely no Scream, but it’s nevertheless a fun ride. The aesthetic from the decade represented in each film was awesome, the plot original and engaging, some truly bloody kills, and plenty of twists and turns to keep the audience tuning in for all three entries in the series. 4/5 stars.
5. 8-Bit Christmas
It’s John Hughes meets A Christmas Story as told Princess Bride-style. Plus there’s Neil Patrick Harris. What’s not to love? A new holiday classic for sure! 4/5 stars.
6. Halloween Kills
Overall, Halloween Kills is a mostly mediocre but passable entry and even perfect in some respects. Key areas, however, did fall short and it resulted in the movie not being as good as what I expected. The throwback parts were fantastic, like Charles Cyphers reprising his role and the Silver Shamrock mask cameos. The kills and cinematography from the scenes set in 1978 were on point. But, ultimately, the mob storyline (while being very 2000s) and the ending that resulted from it all sink the film for me. 3/5 stars.
7. The Murders at Starved Rock
An incredibly complicated story involving a fractured community, possibly corrupt law enforcement, and several good suspects aside from the accused. The ending made the story feel very incomplete, but still a noble effort. 3/5 stars.
8. The Little Things
While similar to Seven, a 1995 neo-noir crime thriller, Seven is much more memorable — it had very impressive gore effects and a haunting conclusion. The Little Things was fairly pedestrian, aside from its one saving the grace: a powerhouse cast. While Denzel Washington phoned in his performance, Rami Malek and Jared Leto were both memorable and outstanding. 3/5 stars.
9. The Ice Road
Standard Liam Neeson action fare. Not as good as Cold Pursuit, but still fun and entertaining in spite of its relentless predictability. 2/5 stars.
10. Army of the Dead
The fiancé and I were really pumped for this one. Thought it would be Zombieland 2.0. Boy, were we wrong! We kept trying to give it a chance, but finally stopped watching about halfway through. It was so breathtakingly boring. It’s a Zack Snyder film, so of course its too long (148 minutes!). I was expecting action and it just dragged on and on with no end to the nonsense in sight. A shame, really. 0/5 stars.