- Thunder Force: Even though I only watched roughly half of this film with my full attention (even that may be charitable), I didn’t need any more than that to tell you how bad this is. The most interesting thing about Netflix’s unfunny superhero parody is that Melissa McCarthy seems utterly determined to be the female Adam Sandler, turfing out predictably bad dud after dud, before surprising everyone with one bit of quality (more on that in the TV section). Why not just do that all the time?!
- Cinderella: A remake no one asked for, including the cast, 50% of which is made up of past contestants on Taskmaster for some reason.
- I Care A Lot: A film cursed by wussing out of its own set up. A hard edged look at the sess-pit of the care industry is fertile ground for both moving performances and provoking thoughts. But the film has no interest in sticking the course, instead throwing a needless mafia subplot in before giving us the worst ending of the year.
- Venom: Let There Be Carnage: For the record, there are several films I enjoyed less than this that aren’t getting mentioned here. But that is solely down to having a fun time in the cinema as me and Mike basically did a running Mystery Science Theatre 3000 commentary. Let it not be forgotten that this is, to quote myself, an “abhorrent piece of sh!t”.
Worst Film of 2021 - Dear Evan Hansen
Then along came Dear Evan Hansen, which is one of those films that is passionately bad.
Most of this blame can be laid at the feet of the Platt family. Producer Marc Platt, who has a previously solid resumé of movies (somehow including Scott Pilgrim vs the World!), let nepotism get to his head as he kept his son Ben Platt in the lead role, after he starred as the titular Evan Hansen in the original broadway run. This sin directly causes the first insurmountable problem with the film - a 27 year old failing miserably to play a 17 year old. It gives the film an unintentional creepy undertone that is impossible to shake.
And then, for some reason, he chose to sing every song (and I do mean all of them, as only one doesn’t feature him) like a combination of every bad “X Factor auditionee who sounds on the verge of crying”. Evan Hansen is the patron saint of wetters, and for all of this film's other flaws, making an entire musical composed of this noise is its most unforgivable sin.
Oh boy was this year not the storming return to form we’d all hoped for after last year’s pitiful showing (lest us never forget that Sonic the Hedgehog made last year’s Top 5). I saw a whole lot of middling films at the cinema - Disney wasn’t firing on all cylinders with Jungle Cruise, Encanto, Luca or Raya and the Last Dragon. Musicals really didn’t have much success either, with the biggest praise I can give both In The Heights and West Side Story being “At least they we’re Dear Evan Hansen”. Although please do check out West Side Story for the weirdest knife fight in cinema history.
Streaming didn’t step up either - I’d struggle to tell you much about To All The Boys 3, Moxie or Gunpowder Milkshake. I can only remember Home Sweet Home Alone because I watched it recently, but it is most memorable for putting together a strong comedic cast that then delivers next to no laughs. Even usual powerhouses like Edgar Wright and Marvel had duds with Last Night in Soho and Eternals!
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. Promising Young Woman is really unfortunate to miss out on a place in the Top 10. Cruella was more fun than it had any right to be. No Time To Die was interesting, if not massively enjoyable. And America the Motion Picture came out of left field to be one of the funniest movies of the year.
Blurb - Trapped inside due to the pandemic and with a Netflix special to write, musical comedian Bo Burnham slowly goes insane in his own house.
Reasons - Is this a movie? It got a theatrical release in the US so I guess it counts. Good, because this may be the most poignant film of the year, being the first to truly encapsulate what the last 18+ months of lockdown felt like. It’s hard to tell if Bo Burnham is truly suffering, or if he’s playing a bit of a heightened “character”, but either way it leads to a special that is unsettling, funny, touching, and above all relatable.
Best Bit - Welcome to the Internet, which is coincidentally my song of the year too.
Blurb - Scientists have to drum up public awareness of an impending planet-killing comet because the US government doesn't "like the optics ahead of the mid-terms".
Reasons - This snuck in at the very last minute, and on a different day, Promising Young Woman could hold this spot. But today, I'm in the mood for a frighteningly believable "parody" of how a Trump-esque government would deal with a comet heading towards Earth. Everyone is giving good performance, from Jennifer Lawrence's frustrated scientist, through Meryl Streep's oblivious President, to Mark Rylance's eerily accurate tech-magnate. It's only downside is the depressing realisation that it's not unrealistic.
Best Bit - Jennifer Lawrence finally losing her rag.
Blurb - The planet of Arrakis is reassigned to House Atreides, and now they have to establish rule on a war-torn planet.
Reasons - The keyword of this movie is “dense”. There is no cutting corners - this is a dense sci-fi world that really doesn’t leave a lot of room for lack of concentration. But it has been far too long since a self-serious space movie of this magnitude came along, that makes no apologies for how rich the world is. There is no room for Guardians of the Galaxy hi-jinx here, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed the relative lack of sizzle on this meaty, meaty steak. If the sequel lands, this duology will go down as a genre classic.
Best Bit - The desert rescue.
Blurb - A bunch of criminals are sent on a covert mission to remote South America island nation Corto Maltese to destroy nazi-science before the new military government can get to it.
Reasons - What a redemption of a series. The first Suicide Squad movie was a shockingly inept movie, that no amount of “director’s cut” could save. Now given to a determined James Gunn during his brief expulsion from the MCU, THE Suicide Squad succeeds in every aspect the first movie failed in. The laughs are abundant, the action is good, and most importantly the moral heart is given centre stage by the films end.
Best Bit - The first mission.
Blurb - An NPC in a video game becomes self-aware, and must work to help stop his game from being shut down.
Reasons - Comedy films really haven’t featured a lot on my top 10s recently. In fact it’s hard to remember the last straight-up comedy that left any kind of impact. But while Free Guy has far too much high-concept sci-fi in it to class as an all out comedy, it certainly fills the void nicely. It’s a pretty surface-level movie without much depth, but it gets the most mileage possible out of its premise, with great performances from Ryan Reynolds and Jodie Comer.
Best Bit - The “We just got bought by Disney” fight.
Blurb - The tech-pocalypse interrupts a cross-country family trip, which was tense enough to begin with.
Reasons - “Netflix exclusive animation” isn’t a known indicator of quality, but “Sony animation produced by Lord and Miller” is, as anyone who saw Into The Spider-Verse would attest. So I went in with no expectations either way, but certainly didn’t expect this to be a Top 5 calibre film, well above any other animated movie this year.
It finely balances the very genuine-feeling family friction between overbearing but well-meaning dad Rick and his misunderstood daughter Katie, and the wacky fantasy of “the machines are taking over!”, with neither story kneecapping the other.
Best Bit - I for one welcome our new giant Furby overloads.
Blurb - Take a wild guess what this film is about.
Reasons - This isn’t rocket science. Hell as a wrestling fan I’ve seen this build a thousand times - set up two big lads, book them a few wins, then book the showdown. All the world building was done in the solo movies, so this got to just be big stupid fun. This was the first “proper” film to come out in 2021, and after the last 12 months, this was a welcome escape!
Best Bit - The closing battle is incredibly dumb, but it is ludicrously fun.
Blurb - Despite his best efforts, Shang-Chi is dragged back into a life of almost constant punching.
Reasons - It’s not an ambitious movie, but Shang-Chi nails everything it sets out to do. Good action, likeable characters, and an expansion of the MCU into more fantastical realms. Shang-Chi himself is a very good protagonist, one that has plenty of room to grow over the inevitable sequels. And anything that shines a light on just how bad Iron Fist was is a good thing.
Best Bit - It was plastered everywhere, but for good reason - the bus fight is a thing of beauty. Made better by this critique thread from an actual San Francisco bus driver.
Blurb - After the passing of one of the original Ghostbusters, his estranged family are left to clear up his old home, and discover what secrets are buried there.
Reasons - I did not see this coming. Replicating the magic of the first Ghostbusters film has proved a nigh-on impossible task, even for the original cast in the first sequel. This film decides to pivot by not trying to make a sequel, but more of a love letter. And it works SO well, anchored by a worldy of a performance from McKenna Grace. It has all the trappings of classic Ghostbusters, but with a new sense of heart.
Best Bit - The Spenglers, back together.
Blurb - Immediately after having his identity revealed to the world, Peter Parker desperately seeks a way to regain his anonymity.
Reasons - The best selling point this movie has over all of the other Spider-Man films before it is how well it captures every aspect of the character. Peter Parker is in-over-his-head, dealing with problems both big (becoming public enemy No. 1) and small (getting into college), whilst life throws nothing but roadblocks at him. He can be understandably happy one minute, and very sad the next.
To capture all of that rich character work and still deliver on spectacle is a work of genius. To compare it to the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the biggest flaw this movie has is that eventually a sequel will have to follow it, and how do you top this?!
Best Bit - Catching the brick.
- White Lotus: It warrants a mention here because it’s a “mystery” show where the mystery is set up in the first 5 minutes of episode one, and is then not addressed during the following episodes, which instead just focus on a bunch of assholes doing nothing. But this was always going to get a thumbs down as it involves someone dying in Hawaii during two of the main character’s honeymoon, one of whom happens to be called Rachel. Let’s just say this was FAR too ominous for me to enjoy.
- This Is Us (S5): Not the biggest Gutteridge household favourite to fall this year, but This Is Us really struggled with its own formula during its fifth season. Usually, the plot twists were there to accentuate the larger stories being told, whereas this time around they were there only really to extend them. A show based on likeable characters really can’t afford to make everyone dislikable for the sake of filling time before the final season.
Worst TV Show of 2021 - New Amsterdam (Season 3)
Now, you may now think “Darren’s taken a turn”, but this isn’t me saying “wokeness” is bad (I don’t even like bringing the term up as it usually brings the worst out of both sides). I’m not about to trash a show for tackling social issues, nor am I about to tell you to vote for UKIP. Holding up a mirror to society is what the media is all about, but few shows have botched it more in recent memory than New Amsterdam during its third season.
As a hospital drama, it had to tackle the pandemic. And it actually did this very well, with the first 5 minutes of episode 1 being one of my favourite TV moments of the year. But after that hot start, they decided this was the year to tackle ALL problems. The gender pay gap. Institutionalised racism. The opioid epidemic. And again, nothing wrong with that in principle. But the show would spend one episode on each, appear to solve the problem for good, and then move on.
That is alarmingly naive. It trivialises these issues more so than condemns them. The final straw was an episode laying the groundwork to tackle “What we’ve done to the Native Americans”, and not prepared to go through the same cycle again, I turned the TV off and never returned. The show was never a high bar of quality. It was “the good kind of trashy”. But this year the charm ran out.
Due to the nature of TV, “The Rest” is largely comprised of shows that just kept on trucking. Ghosts (S3), The Goes Wrong Show (S2) and Ted Lasso (S2) all trundled along nicely. The only regular series to suffer a dip was Miracle Workers, with the third season of the Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Buschemi fronted sitcom really lacking in inspiration.
Marvel dove into the TV landscape with both feet, with mixed results. We’ll get to the good ones later, but lowest on the list is easily Falcon and the Winter Soldier, which just never found its footing. There was enough there to keep it out of the “bad” column, but it certainly was the weakest of the 2021 offering. What If had more of a balance problem - some episodes were great, others were really dull. And spare a thought for Loki, which came in at number 6 on my rankings, just missing out on the top 5. It has a very good chance of getting there in its second season though after a very strong start.
New on the block was the animated superhero adaptation Invincible, which was tonally weird but worked well enough. Only Murders in the Building put together a bizzare cast of Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez for some reason, but it clicked very well and is unfortunate to miss out on the top 5. The same can be said for star-studded book adaptation Nine Perfect Strangers, which included three shocking turns: Nicole Kidman as a Russian hippy, Michael Shannon not being evil, and Melissa McCarthy being . . . good?!?
Blurb - Set in London during the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s, we follow flatmates all dealing with this unknown and terrible disease.
Reasons - Although this aired very early in the year, which is usually bad news for TV shows in end of year rankings, this has stood the test of time thanks to just how much of an impact it had. Seeing something as infamous as the AIDs crisis portrayed from the ground level, through a (somewhat) realistic lens, really leaves a mark on you. It’s anchored by really strong performances across the board, and it isn’t afraid to pull any punches.
Best Bit - Still not over the tragedy of Colin.
Blurb - Now free of persecution, the Long Island vampires find themselves in charge of the East Coast Vampiric Council.
Reasons - Season 2 of WWDITS was a little bit of a one episode series - the Jackie Daytona ep was so brilliant it overshadowed everything else. Season 3 is much more evenly balanced, and is much more consistent at using its whole cast. Nandor and Nadja are facing crisis after crisis as the joint-heads of the Vampiric Council, whereas Lazlo and Colin Robinson are on a two-man bonding trip on the side. There is a lot done, right up until the end, to also shake up the status quo of the series, leaving season 4 in a very healthy place.
Best Bit - The entire Atlantic City episode.
Blurb - A bunch of in-offensive criminals are tasked with renovating a rec centre in Bristol, until real crime comes calling.
Reasons - A very late entry, this Stephen Merchant creation comes from the same school of comedy thought as Hot Fuzz - juxtapose the pedestrian world of British law enforcement with actual crime. But instead of the police, this show looks at community service, throwing people convicted of fairly tame things together and then introducing an actual criminal element into things. The result is a surprisingly compelling and funny mini-series that really connects you with the characters and the escalating drama around them.
Best Bit - Not 100% why, but the opening shoplifting scene with a banging cover of “Ring of Fire” over the top really stuck with me.
Blurb - A Barton family Christmas trip to New York gets interrupted when Clint’s past comes back to haunt him.
Reasons - Hawkeye aims to be a straight-forward, family-friendly Christmas action comedy, and it nails that goal in each of its 6 episodes. Seeing Hawkeye finally get a spotlight almost 10 years after his debut is very nice, but Haille Steinfeld steals the show as Kate Bishop, easily becoming the best new character introduced to the MCU in 2021. Roll on the Young Avengers!
Best Bit - HE’S BACK. But also I 100% unironically want a full version of Rogers: The Musical.
Blurb - Stricken by grief following the events of Avengers: Endgame, Wanda Maximoff retreats to a small suburban town to try and come to terms with her loss through a . . . novel approach.
Reasons - This was pipped right at the last hurdle to be show of the year. It is a brilliant piece of sci-fi TV, using a formula that makes every episode unique whilst still building on its overarching narrative week on week. Outside of Spider-Man, this was Marvel’s most thematically interesting output of 2021, anchored by brilliant, multi-faceted performances from Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany.
Best Bit - The speedy fake-out.
I played three 2021 games. For shame. So a Top 5 wasn’t happening.
This was largely because of a pause on buying cross-Playstation games whilst the wait was on for the PS5. I got one, but haven’t dove into the backlog yet, so missed out on things like Deathloop and Guardians of the Galaxy.
I did play the Skyward Sword remake, but much like the Mario collection last year I don’t feel it constituted enough of an upgrade to warrant a place in the best of the year. But for fans of more traditional end of year lists, you can consider it the unofficial No. 5.
Blurb - A long awaited sequel to the N64 classic, players journey to the Lentil region to photograph the local wildlife.
Reasons - I never played the original, so any extra points this game has picked up elsewhere thanks to nostalgia won’t be found here. With that removed, this is a perfectly enjoyable game as long as you’re in the mood for it. The first trip through a level is very fun, but the novelty wears thin quickly as you return to try and score more and more points.
Best Bit - The Gyarados waterfall charge.
Blurb - Tasked with sweeping up the lingering issues in the wake of Fallen Kingdom, you have to help rangle the wild dinosaurs running around America.
Reasons - A lot has been improved in this sequel. The minute to minute gameplay has a lot more to do, making you less of a passenger than you were in the first game. And obviously seeing ALL the dinosaurs is as fun as ever. My issues with this game are somewhat self-inflicted.
To get a Platinum trophy, you have to finish the challenge maps on the hardest difficulty. And they are SLOGS, where money is very slow to accumulate and very quick to disappear when issues start. In fact the official tactic to get the maps done the fastest is not to add dinosaurs until the last possible moment. Which rather defeats the point.
Best Bit - I'd like to tell you it's watching a new dinosaur stomp, swim or fly into your park for the first time. But it was actually when I finished the last challenge map with a sum total of 0 dinosaurs and 302 buildings and monorail stations.
Blurb - Dreams for a quiet life after wiping out the Metroids are dashed when Samus Aran is summoned to a remote planet to investigate the re-emergence of the X parasite.
Reasons - This game is buttery smooth. Everything slows so effortlessly, from the second to second action, to the perfectly symmetrical difficult and upgrade curves, to the almost flawless level design that points you in the right direction without hand holding.
The only thing keeping this from top spot is a relatively short run time, clocking in at around 7 hours, and a problematic USP in the EMMI robots. These indestructible robots add a new sense of survival horror in sections of the map, but the gimmick loses its appeal quickly, particularly towards the end. Otherwise, this is a tight, focussed video game running at maximum efficiency.
Best Bit - Getting the screw attack, and darting round the EMMI robots like a hummingbird.
Blurb - Dani Rojas joins the revolutionary Libertad to try and free Central American island nation Yara from dictator President Anton Castillo.
Reasons - A return to form for a series floundering slightly after Primal, 5 and New Dawn, Far Cry 6 has by far the best protagonist the series has had in Dani, and a strong antagonist to match thanks to a great performance from Giancarlo Esposito as Anton Castillo. The gameplay is as crisp as ever, and Yara is a wonderful sandbox to play in.
Best Bit - Downing a helicopter with your Supremo backpack.
And unlike last year, it wasn’t just fringe performers. Big name talent like Braun Strowman, Aleister Black, Andrade and Ruby Riott all got their marching orders. Keith Lee, who I once heard described as “what would happen if Barry White and the world’s sexiest bear had a child”, was booted. They called hot NXT act Hit Row up to the main roster, hyped them for a few weeks, then released them before they got a chance to do anything.
And worst of all, THEY RELEASED BRAY GOD DAMN WYATT. And then, because they could, they continued to make money off his merchandise after he left.
But even this wasn’t the biggest sin of the year. Oh no. As punishment for “losing” to AEW head to head in the ratings, WWE butchered my beloved NXT and turned it into “NXT 2.0”, using a suffix no one has used since 2011. Gone was the grungy, indie vibe cultivated over the course of many a happy year, replaced with a gaudy rainbow palette and a raft of new characters you didn’t ask for. No more nuance, only “mafia stereotype” Tony D’Angelo, “wokesperson” Joe Gacy and whatever the hell a Lash Legend is.
Thanks to the wrestling gods, there was something good to talk about in the sport this year. It just happened over in the hot new competitor to WWE, All Elite Wrestling.
It centred around handsome Millennial cowboy Adam Page, and Canadian mega-weeb Kenny Omega. And it was a first for wrestling - a 2 year long story about self-doubt. Hardly earth shattering in other mediums, but trust me, all wrestling characters are self-perpetuating confidence machines, to the point I can genuinely not recall another major story where self-doubt was the driving force.
Please do listen to the podcast for my full audio retelling (which I had to practice for a month to keep under 30 minutes), but if you have a moment, the below 5 episode video series recaps everything spectacularly well.
A few matches are unlucky to miss out on the top 5. The men’s Money in the Bank match this year was one for the ages, with the right winner for once. Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole had an excellent series of matches across several shows in the summer. And the unexpected gem of the year came from the opening match of Full Gear, where young studs MJF and Darby Allin nearly upstaged the entire PPV.
And ironically, NXT 2.0’s only standout match of the rebrand prominently featured NXT originals, in a horribly symbolic loss against new 2.0 stars in this year’s War Games match.
This isn’t one for those who like storytelling and nuance in their wrestling. But if you like flips, this was Christmas morning!
These two brother tag teams have elite chemistry, always having standout matches against each other. They took full advantage of the cage stipulations to pull off crazy spot after crazy spot. If you want a showcase to show non-fans, this is 2021s best offering.
This seems to be my dark horse choice, as I haven’t seen this cropping up on any other “Best of 2021” lists. But this was the last great match of the “no-fans era”, with Owens in particular putting a shift in to sell the stipulation as the brawled all around the empty arena, although it is marred by a slightly dodgy ending as everyone struggles to get handcuffs off Reigns.
And it made for gif of the year by a landslide.
I decided that, after 20+ years of worshipping at the altar of Stone Cold Steve Austin, that actually Daniel Bryan is my favourite wrestler of all time. This decision was made after the man decided to go on a mission to have a MOTY quality match basically every month.
So this placing is more of a solo award for his body of work in 2021, but there are highlights galore to pick out, across 2 different companies no less. In WWE, he was ⅓ of the best match at WrestleMania 37, main eventing against Roman Reigns and Edge. He then left the company following another excellent match against Reigns in a “Loser Leaves Town” match.
This was to cover for Bryan’s contract expiring, and after a few months of speculation, he decided to move to pastures new in AEW. Reverting back to his real name, and performing cattle mutilation again (I refuse to give extra context), “The American Dragon” Bryan Danielson had nearly everybodies best match in the back half of 2021, studded by two time limit draw classics against Kenny Omega and Adam Page. Speaking of which . . .
The culmination of the best story in years was everything it needed to be. Other matches were technically better. But nothing matched this for emotionality. Watch the video!
For the second year in a row, this match tops the MOTY ranking. And the two may be the most complimentary pair of matches in recent wrestling memory. This first was the dark night of the soul, with big bully Walter punishing little Ilya until the Russian finally passed out (Walter wheeled this rough template out again earlier in 2021 against Tommaso Ciampa in a belter at NXT Stand and Deliver Night 1).
This is the triumphant comeback, with Ilya overcoming his demons and toppling the dominant champion, going as far as to tap the big bastard out. It may not be as iconic as the first match, but seeing Ilya’s crowning in front of people was worth the wait.
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