I spent much of the end of October and the start of November sitting in various New York City AMCs (shout-out to the 19th St AMC, which is the only New York City AMC with a bar, and the Lincoln Square AMC, which is my personal favorite) watching new movies. Some of them were very good, but most of them were mediocre or bad! I have written about them here, in order of worst-to-best.
ETERNALS (2021) dir. Chloe Zhao
This movie sucks and Kingo doesn’t even die. Great to see some openly-deaf representation on the big screen, but this is a movie filled with a bunch of characters that have no personality or chemistry walking around and talking about nothing for 160 minutes. Completely bloated, filled with entirely too much exposition, looking incredibly dull and ugly (especially all of the action sequences, which feature some of the worst CGI I’ve seen in a while), and frankly, just insultingly boring! Richard Madden is a charisma vacuum here. Gemma Chan looks beautiful and soulless. Brian Tyree Henry is treating every line of dialogue with appropriate levels of apathy, but who cares? Kit Harrington is fine in the five minutes he’s in the movie. Angelina Jolie was terrible. Barry Koeghan is fine. Not weird enough, honestly. The woman playing “Sprite” (???) invoked a deep level of rage in my being. Kumail Nanjiani didn’t have to do steroids for this dreck.
The post-credits scene where it is revealed that Harry Styles will be playing Thanos’ younger brother moving forward was so stupid that I wanted to die right there in my chair. It’s another lifeless corporate product that was, of course, compared to TERRANCE MALICK MOVIES before its release. It’s awful. Marvel and Disney have done irrevocably harmful damage to cinema and culture and we’re probably past the point of no return by now. Joss Whedon should spend the rest of his days on this planet at Rikers Island for the way in which he’s warped the casual audience member’s brain and what they expect out of screenplays in regards to comedy. Let Chloe Zhao just keep making Amazon propaganda movies or something, my lord.
ANTLERS (2021) dir. Scott Cooper
Director Scott Cooper returns with a new horror (??) movie starring Keri Russell and Jesse Plemons that essentially poses the question, “What if TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN was not very good!?” THE RETURN might possibly be the defining artistic accomplishment of my lifetime and is undoubtedly the most important piece of art from the 2010s. ANTLERS, however, is not that! While it barely grazes on some of the interesting thematic ideas from THE RETURN (abuse, poverty, the meth epidemic, etc), it never goes any deeper than saying, “Hey, these are things that exist!” and its short runtime (99 minutes) doesn’t really allow the appropriate amount of time and space to explore any of these ideas other than on a very surface level.
I can excuse all of that, honestly, if the movie (billed as a horror movie) is actually scary or creepy. Cooper does his best to evoke a chilly and tense atmosphere but most of the time, it ends up being flat and boring, outside of one well-done sequence around the midpoint of the film. Jesse Plemons, one of the last truly great new character actors, looks like he filmed all of his scenes after taking a bunch of Benadryl. He was sleepwalking through the movie. Bad ending, too. However, the creature design and make-up should be commended. That was certainly good. As a whole, though? Nope.
SPENCER (2021) dir. Pablo Larraín
I never watched Pablo Larraín’s notable Jackie Kennedy biopic, JACKIE (2016), starring Natiale Portman because my roommate at the time described the film as an “onscreen Ambien”. Despite that, I tried to go into Larraín’s Princess Diana biopic, SPENCER (2021), with an open-mind, mostly because it was getting lots of very good word-of-mouth from friends and critics I respect. But, unfortunately, SPENCER was painfully dull and boring. It’s well-crafted and competent enough and features a charming chef and a more-than-solid performance from Sally Hawkins (she’s in the movie for what feels like less than ten minutes, for what it’s worth) as well as some lovely costumes and an impeccable Jonny Greenwood score, but ultimately, it’s a total snooze and has nothing to say!
Again, movies don’t NEED to say anything, but I’m of the belief that if somebody is going to make a movie about the late Princess Diana, there should be more of a perspective from the filmmaker other than that she had an eating disorder and was just a “regular girl” unlike the rest of the Royal Family. The ending at KFC was utterly embarrassing. My eyes couldn’t have rolled further back into my skull as it was happening. Kristen Stewart is fine here and will probably win an Oscar but I have zero patience for films that seem designed with the sole intent of winning awards. She’s doing some capital A acting. It’s “impressive” but so devoid of any humanity. There is a really sweet sequence early in the movie with her and her boys at a candlelit table that I was all about, but for the most part, I was completely unmoved for much of the film. Not terrible by any stretch, but certainly not the important film it thinks it is.
LAST NIGHT IN SOHO (2021) dir. Edgar Wright
I’m not sure who told the director of SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004), SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (2010), and BABY DRIVER (2017) that he should make a serious movie about women and sexual violence but perhaps those people no longer remain employed! This is the most bewildering film on this list, in all honesty. I can say I expected ETERNALS to suck or ANTLERS to be mediocre or SPENCER to be boring, but I have mostly enjoyed all of the Edgar Wright movies I’ve watched and Anya-Taylor Joy is one of my favorite actresses alive right now and unfortunately, I found this to not be very good!
It almost starts to get decent in the second act and then the third act is such a complete mess that it tanks the whole film. Entirely all style-over-substance, which can be fine… if the style is really stylish! Here, that’s not the case. Anya looks beautiful, so that’s nice, but yeah, I don’t know… It’s like Edgar Wright was doing his best to make a movie more reductive than 2020’s PR*MISING YOUNG WOMAN. The ending was easy to predict a mile away and it was also just… stupid! And again, if you’re going to make something billed as scary and/or thrilling, it actually has to be scary and/or thrilling! I can accept a movie with awful politics if it’s at least fun to watch, but this was a drag. Maybe try and make another comedy next time, Edgar?
THE FRENCH DISPATCH (2021) dir. Wes Anderson
This is one of the three best films of the year, only topped by Michael Sarnoski’s PIG and the last film on this list. Look, I get that people love to make fun of Wes Anderson! It makes sense! He comes off as annoying and pretentious and kind of like somebody who didn’t get shoved into enough lockers as a kid. Still, I think he’s an interesting filmmaker who’s almost incapable of making a bad project. He’s made a couple of films I’m less high on (ISLE OF DOGS and BOTTLE ROCKET come to mind) but for the most part, he’s very solid. Never given us a perfect 5/5 classic but he’s made plenty of 3.5/5 – 4.5/5s and I’m always excited for new projects from him. We need more filmmakers who make films exactly how they want to and are not disturbed by studio meddling. So few directors have a distinct style in 2021 so for whatever criticisms I could have about Wes, I have to respect him.
His newest film, THE FRENCH DISPATCH, is a joyous triumph, in my opinion. His best film is THE ROYAL TENENBUAMS because it is his most humanistic and emotionally resonant, but I find THE FRENCH DISPATCH gives it a run for its money. Split between three distinct vignettes (the first led by Léa Seydoux and Benicio del Toro, the second by Timmy Chalamet and Frances McDormand and the final by Jeffrey Wright) that are depicted as the three best stories from a European publication, THE FRENCH DISPATCH is a wonderful ride that soars. Wes Anderson is the only director who has ever been able to get Timmy Chalamet to have onscreen sex appeal. Jeffrey Wright made me tear up. Bill Murray looked like a zombie out of CALL OF DUTY: WORLD AT WAR’s renown “Der Riese” but still had the wry wit that will forever charm me. This was one of the most delightful theater experiences I’ve had since the pandemic and I walked out of the cinema with a huge grin on my face. If you hate Wes Anderson, you’ll likely hate this and if you like Wes, you’ll probably like this. He’s been making movies like this for two decades. I, for one, am grateful for that.
DUNE (2021) dir. Denis Villeneuve
The best film of the year! The only 5/5 I have watched so far! A sprawling, dazzling masterpiece! Denis Villeneuve probably has the most impressive filmography of any contemporary director working right now. That DUNE is not the best film he’s put out in the last half decade (it’s ARRIVAL) is completely astonishing. The thing about Denis that makes all of his movies so enticing is his meticulous craftsmanship and his framing. There is no director alive right now who more expertly frames a shot than Denis and that mastery of his craft is on display for the entire duration of DUNE.
Enough has been said about Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa and Rebecca Ferguson (and they truly are all terrific), but not enough has been made about how impressive Timothée Chalamet is in this. I’m a sucker for performances where so much is expressed through eyes and facial expressions as opposed to dialogue. Timmy does a lot of really impressive face-acting here. He’s able to convey so much with just his eyes, whether it be the fear and trepidation of his future or the steadfastness and confidence that his Paul possesses by the end of the movie. It’s completely understated and measured, but it’s still a true movie-star performance and honestly, the best work of Chalamet’s career.
The Hans Zimmer score rips. If Jonny Greenwood doesn’t win for SPENCER, I’d love to see Hans take home the Oscar for this. As visually spectacular as this movie was, it was also sonically a marvel. Seeing it in Dolby was simply sublime. The production design and costume design was also marvelous. It is insane that this cost 50 million dollars less than most Marvel movies, especially seeing as it looks 100x better than any of those movies. The best assembled cast of the year, the best direction and cinematography, and the most technically prolific film of 2021. I am so grateful it has been a financial success and so look forward to seeing the sequel in 2023.