Don’t know about y’all but 2021 has been a year of tremendous growth and change for myself.
I quit my job back in April and started decluttering my life to say the least. Like Marie Kondo entering a cramped one-bedroom apartment littered with garbage and other mementos from long past, I started taking care of myself and removing shit that no longer sparked joy.
In its place, I worked on bettering myself and working on things that I’ve been wanting to be better at and do for some time. One of those was getting better at martial arts and getting into therapy which led to finally getting medication for my ADHD. But also this year I finally started the official site for this blog and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Since May, when I debuted my first entry here, I have written 22 articles for this blog, far exceeding any previous year when I was still publishing these posts on Tumblr (shudders). I got to explore ideas from film and TV that I had been meaning to touch on for a while and frankly, I think my writing has gotten exponentially better than it ever previously was and I am proud of my growth here. I watched and rewatched a lot of movies, TV shows, and anime during this period and developed some interesting thoughts on each (at least I think so). So as 2021 comes to a close, I feel it prudent to talk about the best things I watched this year as we enter 2022. I didn’t get to watch every new thing that came out, but these are the movies and shows I saw that stood out to me the most this past year.
5. The French Dispatch
While not my favorite Wes Anderson film to date, the previous month’s “The French Dispatch” still delivered one of my favorite stories told this year even if it only represented a third of the total film.
Starring the usual actors and actresses of Wes Anderson’s extensive filmography, “The French Dispatch” is a wonderful, quirky, often silly, always heartfelt, and poignant film that pays loving tribute to storytelling, particularly in the way journalists tell them.
As a former student journalist, myself I loved the way the film focused on characters and their uniqueness across the board whether it was a masterful imprisoned artist falling madly in love with his cell guard. A student “revolutionary” struggling to put into words his manifesto. Or a chef discovering a strange new taste in the world that he was not expecting. The film is a wonderful highly Wes Anderson stylized film that once again showcases all the things that make him great as a filmmaker.
It will have you full-on belly laughing at times and in other moments perhaps will find you tearing up as it dives into headier subjects regarding love and life. It’s wholesome even when it gets crude and while Wes Anderson detractors will likely continue to find the film overly hipster-y in its vibes it is still nonetheless masterful filmmaking and in Hollywood’s cynical McBlockbuster landscape truly a breath of fresh.
4. Megalo Box 2: Nomad
The first season of “Megalo Box” quickly became one of my favorite anime when I watched it a year after its release in 2019.
As a martial artist, myself, trying to improve my skills but finding myself held down by a simple obligation to survive in the rat race of capitalist society I found its messages around perseverance through its lead character “Gearless” Joe inspiring. The way this antihero refuses to accept a life of mediocrity, to be relegated to survival instead of living, really resonated with me as I struggled with a deeply unfulfilling work-life that kept me from doing the things I was actually passionate about. I wanted to climb to my own personal mountaintop as Joe does in this series.
The first season is great as its own contained story but its second season, “Nomad,” somehow exceeds the themes and the storytelling of the first and even builds Joe into an even more interesting character than he was before. In “Nomad,” we see that pursuit of perfection isn’t everything in life; that comradery, family, friends, and love is also important, if not more so. We see Joe hit his absolute lowest point, far further back than he even began season one, and to watch him make his way back in “Nomad” was beautiful to watch.
“Nomad” is a redemption story on a multitude of levels, getting us all to see that Joe could not come back from the darkness without those he was closest to in the first season and the result is an ending that is somehow even more cathartic, thought provoking, and beautiful than the first.
It’s not often we get two major arcs like this for a main character but “Nomad” somehow gives us something new to discover with its lead character in the best way and it’s why it’s one of my favorite things I watched in 2021 and also just one of my favorite anime in general.
3. “Evangelion: 1.0 + 3.0 Thrice Upon a Time”
Speaking of new endings and new character arcs, Hideaki Anno finally finished “Neon Genesis Evangelion” once and for all (after one hell of a delay that was postponed even further by the pandemic) and gave us this series’ first true happy ending.
“Thrice Upon a Time” is messy and confusing as any Evangelion feature would be but it makes up for it with a story that completes every arc for pretty much each beloved character of this series. We get some of the series’ best animation, visuals, and cinematography while slowing things down to have long-time fans discover new themes and ideas within the text. It’s beautiful and thought-provoking and it’s hard not to be satisfied with this high climactic finale.
But more than anything, what I loved most about this film is it gave us closure for the series’ most complicated and often troublesome relationship; Shinji and his father Gendo. The finale focuses on the relationship and all the complications in between, how an unwillingness to vulnerability estranged them since the series debuted in the 90s. That unwillingness leads to this clash in this epic final act but ultimately it’s Shinji who allows himself to be hurt one more time in order to finally talk to his father and open both himself and his father up to the trauma they have been through. It’s hard to watch at times but we see tremendous growth for Shinji, who is often misunderstood by some fans as just some crybaby, as he finds his confidence and bravery at last by accepting the fear of loss and pain of his father.
Like “Nomad,” “Thrice Upon a Time” is a bit of a redemption story and one that had many fans like me rooting for Shinji throughout its third act. It’s perhaps not as fun as “You are (not) alone” and “You can (not) advance,” or as mind-bending as “You can (not) redo,” but its probably the most satisfying overall of the series as it gives the entire franchise and story its closure finally. For that “Thrice Upon a Time” is easily one of the best things I watched this year and satisfied this long-time fan of the series in the best way.
2. “The Matrix: Resurrections”
I was pleasantly surprised by how uncontroversially enjoyable “Resurrections” was for myself.
I am, of course, already a huge fan of this franchise as the first film remains my favorite of all-time by a long stretch and I’ve even come around to enjoying the much-maligned sequels on an unironic level the past couple of years but I really wasn’t expecting “Resurrections” to knock it out of the park quite like this when I saw it last week.
“Resurrections” is by far the most personal film of the series, from director Lana Wachowski (her sister Lilly not co-directing with her this time around). The result is a film that can feel cynical at first as its sometimes overly meta-textual storytelling can get preachy at times, but later on, it switches to hopeful in the form of a beautiful love letter to the fans who appreciate her and her sister for who they really are and understand what these movies are truly about. “Resurrections” may not have as tight of a script as the original (by a long shot) or as endlessly action-packed as “Reloaded” but it gives long time fans like myself something more personal to chew on in the best way and makes it worth watching on that merit alone.
It has some issues for sure, and its already pretty divisive across the internet but if you open yourself up to it and listen to it with an open heart, you’ll find that Lana is speaking honestly here and in the film landscape we live in its hard to find blockbusters that are truly earnest and even flawed in a sincere way like this anymore.
I suspect this film will go down as this year’s “The Last Jedi,” where you’ll either find yourself in the camp that despises it or the side that adores it.
I am firmly in the latter.
The original will always be my favorite, but “Resurrections” is definitely not far behind. Bravo, Lana (and Lilly). Bravo.
1. The Green Knight
I thought about putting “Resurrections” here instead but after rewatching “The Green Knight” again on Christmas (appropriately) it’s hard to move this film from the top spot.
“The Green Knight” is the first film I watched in theaters since all this *waves hand broadly* began and what a movie to come back to the big screen for. “The Green Knight” is a unique take on Arthurian legends and mythic warrior knight tales in that we get a hero who doesn’t act like your prototypical hero.
He’s pretty much afraid of everything. He’s afraid of the mystery that surrounds his world. He’s afraid of commitment, be it to The Green Knight he made his wager to or the non-highborn woman he’s fallen in love with. He fears his own sense of worthiness and whether or not he truly has or is capable of earning honor. His anxiety about all this is felt scene to scene and keeps the story humming along at a brisk pace even without the clanging of swords in more typical tales of knights in shining armor.
This all leads to an ending that will leave your jaw on the floor and it’s quite a feat to pull off with this particular story. It contains a wonderful performance from Dev Patel as our not so fearless knight, Gawain, and has some beautiful, moody, and atmospheric cinematography that adds to the paganistic ghost story feel of this film. It’s a truly unique tale and twist on these old myths and after much thought, clearly my favorite film of the year.
Will be an annual Christmas tradition from this year forward for myself haha.
Anyway, those are my top 5 things I watched in 2021. I didn’t see a ton of new movies and TV shows since I was still isolating for much of the year (as we all really should right now) but these new features were easily my favorite and I’m a big fan of them all. What were your favorites? Let me know!