End of Year Review 2021 : Lee

I made a conscious decision this year to try and watch a lot more low budget, lesser-known movies than I have done in previous years. However, despite the fact that I did end up watching some real gems this year, much smaller movies that I actually rated really highly, my top 5 for 2021 is once again dominated by crowd-pleasing blockbusters. And not only that, but the majority are all from one genre in particular. Yes, part of me feels ashamed for being so shallow in my movie appreciation, but these movies just hit all the right notes for me in the cinema. All I can do is promise to continue broadening my viewing habits throughout 2022.

Being the big blockbuster lover that I so clearly am, I wasn’t sure about whether to reflect on my top 5 of the year before I’d had the chance to see Spider-Man: No Way Home or The Matrix Resurrections. One of those movies did manage to make it into my top 5, while the other crashed and burned much, much further down my list. So, with those movies now done and dusted, here are my movie favourites of 2021…

In at number 5 is Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. This one was actually quite a big surprise for me as I hadn’t been particularly impressed initially by the trailer. I just couldn’t see Simu Liu as anything other than Jung from Kim’s Convenience and it all just looked like more of the same old Marvel. I needn’t have worried though – aside from the traditional blur of CGI in the final act, Shang-Chi proved to be a refreshing change of style and characters and a really fun watch.

Number 4 in my top 5 is a very recent new entry and probably fresh in a lot of peoples minds right now, Spider-Man: No Way Home. I seem to be alone in my opinion about Homecoming, it just wasn’t as great as I was hoping. And I also seem to be alone in thinking Far From Home was a huge step up from it. Thankfully though, I seem to be on the same page as everyone else when it comes to Into the Spider-Verse, so with a huge cliffhanger to resolve in this movie, and the promise of further multiverse chaos unfolding, I was definitely hyped for No Way Home. Although it wasn’t perfect and took a little while to find its footing, I was once again really surprised. The way the spider villains were all handled was superb and the stuff that was rumoured, but denied, played out beautifully too. I loved it, but not enough to place it higher than the number 4 spot…

At number 3 is another movie that turned out to be a real joy. Written by Derek Kolstad, who created and wrote the John Wick franchise, Nobody had a very similar feel about it to those movies. But, it actually turned out to be a much tighter, more violent and even more enjoyable movie than all of those movies, and I had an absolute blast watching it.

I’ve got to mention at this point just how closely the rankings are between all of the movies in my top 5, as I reveal that Black Widow is my number 2 of the year, ahead of both Shang-Chi and Spider-Man. Surprised is a word that I’ve used far too many times already here, but after the fairly generic trailer for this movie, that’s what I was after seeing it on the big screen. Gritty, family orientated and with a lot of heart, humour and kick-ass action.

So, my number 1 movie of the year is an animated movie that landed on Netflix way back in April. I sat down to watch The Mitchells vs The Machines with my daughter, not sure what to expect, and it was just perfect – packed full of heartwarming and emotional family moments, frantic action, laugh out loud humour and gorgeous visuals. And, it was also responsible for sticking a certain song firmly in my head for 5 days straight!

When it comes to TV shows, I feel like 2021 was the year when I just couldn’t keep up. With Marvel shows aplenty and a constant influx of great content on every streaming platform, I just know that I’ve missed out on so many amazing shows. I haven’t had the time to keep on top of the ones I’ve loved, let alone any new shows that I may or may not love. Unlike movies, my top 5 for TV is in no particular order, they’re all just shows that have really stuck in my head throughout the year. And interestingly, despite all of the new Marvel content I mentioned, this top 5 is actually a little lacking in that area…

So I was very late in jumping on the Line of Duty bandwagon. My wife and I managed to binge (I say binge, but in our household that usually means 1 or 2 episodes every day or every other day) the first 5 seasons in the run-up to and during season 6. We managed to see the final episode of season 6 soon enough after it had aired though to ensure that we missed seeing any spoilers online and it’s safe to say that I haven’t experienced such a strong feeling of needing to immediately watch another episode of a show since the days of 24!

In March I caught a show on Apple TV that really stuck with me. Calls follows a very basic premise in that we are simply listening in on a series of phone calls and all that we see on screen are a series of abstract visuals along with the transcript of the calls we’re listening to. While each of these telephone conversations is seemingly normal to start with, they soon turn very mysterious, very surreal, and at times very unsettling. What’s more, these conversations all appear to be related to an upcoming apocalyptic event, hinted at in episode 1. The stories involved in some of the episodes had me gripped, even terrified at times, and I just thought it was an amazing concept delivered well.

March really was a great month for TV as Invincible landed on Amazon Prime. An animated show about superheroes isn’t usually something to get people talking and for about the first 95% of episode 1, you probably would have wondered why this was described as an adult show too. But then, things quickly turn very violent, very graphic and very enjoyable, delivering a cliffhanger that hangs over the show right up until the brutal season finale.

I can’t believe that after more than 20 years, Curb Your Enthusiasm is still going strong and making me laugh as hard as it does. Season 10 featured a “spite store” storyline which made for a very enjoyable run and while this season’s underlying plot isn’t quite as crazy, it’s still elaborate and cringe-inducing, just the way I like it. The supporting cast is as wonderful as ever, but J.B. Smoove still manages to generate some of the biggest laughs for me.

So I am actually going to finish with a Marvel show, Hawkeye. The fact that this is the only Marvel show in my top 5 certainly doesn’t mean I haven’t loved the others this year, although it’s certainly true that I haven’t been as big a fan of them as I have of the movies. I’ve definitely loved the risks and the change of direction and style that they’ve all presented, with What If..? being a very close contender for my top 5, but there are times when I’ve struggled to really enjoy the episodic format of some of them. However, I have very much enjoyed Hawkeye throughout its run. No huge, end-of-the-world level stakes – just a wonderful, low-key, yet hugely entertaining show where most of the tension comes from wondering whether or not Clint is going to make it home to his family in time for Christmas!

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