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Popgap Diary: 2021 in Review

Popgap Diary: 2021 in Review

Written by dorrk
18 March 2022

130+ movies from 2021…Ranked from best to worst!

Even though I enjoyed several new movies during 2021, and my favorite of the year, Riders of Justice, ranked higher (92.44%) than anything from the previous year (which topped out at 91.43% with The Twentieth Century) and all but my favorite of 2019 (Under the Silver Lake: 94.60%), I feel overall pretty blah about the entire batch. Maybe I'm getting jaded, but I don't feel the same level of fondness that I still hold for many supposedly lesser movies of the past several years (like: Leto, 91.70%; Spontaneous, 90.41%; The Kid Detective,  89.37%; I'm Thinking of Ending Things, 88.59%; Monos, 88.42%; Midsommar, 87.87%; Marriage Story, 86.36%; Waves, 85.93%; The Climb, 85.22%; Lovers Rock, 84.66%; Portrait of a Lady on Fire, 84.35%; Parasite, 84.20%; Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood, 83.98%). My guess is that the last couple of years have so seriously disrupted the movie industry, that we are more or less living off the fumes of previous years, from projects that barely made it through production prior to shutdowns, to movies surviving tortured release date manipulations, to movies made under less-than-ideal production circumstances. Or maybe movies have just gotten colder. I don't know what it is, but the vibe has changed. There was a lot of good stuff in 2021, but I just don't love it the way I want to love it.

A little farther down is a list of all the new-release movies I watched during 2021 and the first quarter of 2022, ranked from best-to-worst. Before we get to that, here are my nominees (and favorites, bolded) for the semi-usual collection of film awards categories:

Best Non-English Language Films of 2021

This is maybe the thinnest crop of foreign movies I can recall, even though it includes my two favorites of the entire year. I can't recall when my top five in this category would've extended down to 70%.

  1. Riders of Justice (91.83%)
  2. A Hero (90.18%)
  3. Drive My Car (82.58%)
  4. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (76.51%)
  5. Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (70.28%)

Best Documentaries of 2021

  1. A Glitch in the Matrix (68.25%)
  2. Some Kind of Heaven (54.68%)
  3. Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time (53.74%)
  4. Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché (53.49%)
  5. Ascension (52.13%)

Best Animated Films of 2021

Nothing. Yawn to this category in any year. I can no longer muster the will to watch the "big" releases in this category. I struggled through a few off-beat ones (Cryptozoo, The Spine of NightMad God), but didn't like any of them much.


I saw/heard almost no discussion about these surprising and provocative releases:

  1. Violet (83.98%)
  2. Old Henry (82.20%)
  3. Copshop (70.63%)
  4. Agnes (67.33%)

Best Looking Films OF 2021

  1. The Green Knight (79.30%)
  2. Spencer (68.38%)
  3. The French Dispatch (51.06%)
  4. Last Night in Soho (64.68%)
  5. Old Henry (82.20%)


  1. A Hero (90.18%)
  2. Riders of Justice (91.83%)
  3. Violet (83.98%)
  4. Drive My Car (82.58%)
  5. Bergman Island (68.23%)

Best-DirectED MOVIES OF 2021

  1. Dune - Denis Villeneuve (77.62%)
    This award is simply for resisting what must have been massive pressure to turn this into formulaic Marvel-ish garbage. It's a rare sincere and personal sci-fi epic.
  2. A Hero - Asghar Farhadi (90.18%)
  3. Riders of Justice - Anders Thomas Jensen (91.83%)
  4. Violet - Justine Bateman (83.98%)
  5. C'mon C'mon - Mike Mills (83.87%)

Best Supporting Actress OF 2021

  1. The Lost Daughter - Jessie Buckley (68.00%)
  2. King Richard - Aunjanue Ellis (61.90%)
  3. The French Dispatch - Lea Seydoux (51.06%)
  4. Bergman Island - Mia Wasikowska (68.23%)
  5. A Hero - Sahar Goldoost (90.18%)

Best Supporting Actor of 2021

  1. House of Gucci - Jared Leto (80.39%)
  2. Agnes - Chris Browning (67.33%)
  3. Riders of Justice - Nicolas Bro (91.83%)
  4. House of Gucci - Al Pacino (80.39%)
  5. Riders of Justice - Gustav Lindh (91.83%)

Best Actress OF 2021

  1. House of Gucci - Lady Gaga (80.39%)
  2. Spencer - Kristen Stewart (68.38%)
  3. The Worst Person in the World - Renate Reinsve (62.27%)
  4. The Novice - Isabelle Fuhrman (69.12%)
  5. CODA - Emilia Jones (68.75%)

Best Actor of 2021

  1. A Hero - Amir Jadidi (90.18%)
  2. Riders of Justice - Mads Mikkelsen (91.83%)
  3. C'mon C'mon - Joaquin Phoenix (83.87%)
  4. Old Henry - Tim Blake Nelson (82.20%)
  5. Venom: Let There Be Carnage - Tom Hardy (68.72%)

Best MOVIE OF 2021

  1. Riders of Justice (91.83%)
  2. A Hero (90.18%)
  3. Violet (83.98%)
  4. C'mon C'mon (83.87%)
  5. Drive My Car (82.58%)


Riders of Justice

Riders of Justice

Dir.: Anders Thomas Jensen
Unusually potent combination of comedy, action and pathos, with perfectly managed shifts in tone. I love movies that surprise me, and this Danish thriller is uniquely refreshing. Gret performances from Mads Mikkelsen, Nicolas Bro, Lars Brygmann, and Gustav Lindh. Bonus: A Christmas movie! Flickchart rank: 425 (92.44%).
A Hero

A Hero

Dir.: Asghar Farhadi
A stirring morality tale that projects perfectly onto our modern media age, as it examines how a simple good deed is unraveled by narrative shaping, emotional manipulation, petty lies, stubbornness, and cynicism. Perfectly shot and acted, with the performance of the year from Amir Jadidi. Flickchart rank: 527 (90.18%).


Dir.: Justine Bateman
A powerful and original psychological drama from the surprising source of first-time director Justine Bateman. I suspect Violet is one of those movies that is either a perfect hit or a disastrous miss, and heavily dependent on mood and openness. Bateman has a confident vision, and I totally bought into it this time. Flickchart rank: 857 (83.98%).
C'mon C'mon

C'mon C'mon

Dir.: Mike Mills
One of the recurring narrative themes of 2021 was adults struggling with parenting. In C'mon C'mon, Joaquin Phoenix gives a gentle performance as a bachelor thrown into the parenting fire when he takes his pre-teen nephew on a road trip to New York and New Orleans. Bonus: A beautifully shot black-and-white New York movie! Flickchart rank: 858 (83.87%).
Drive My Car

Drive My Car

Dir.: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
One of the unlikely hits of 2021, a three-hour long Japanese navel-gazer which gained huge critical praise despite being extremely difficult to see. I'd never heard of Ryûsuke Hamaguchi prior to this past year and have now seen two of his movies. He's an original and thoughtful voice, with very specific interests, so his movies lack easy appeal, but reward patient engagement. Flickchart rank: 930 (82.58%).
Old Henry

Old Henry

Dir.: Potsy Ponciroli
Gorgeously shot western with a rare lead perfomance from character actor Tim Blake Nelson. A quiet and tense autopsy on the mythology of the Old West. Nice supporting performance from Stephen Dorff. Flickchart rank: 943 (82.20%).
Saint Maud

Saint Maud

Dir.: Rose Glass
One those movies that awkwardly straddles release years, epecially in the tumult of 2020. I reviewed it last year, where it came at No. 9 for the year: Slow-burn psychological horror with a religious touch, SAINT MAUD is yet another empathetic look at the dangerous sense of social dislocation permeating society, especially on the fringes. Morfydd Clark is perfect in the title role, and writer/director Rose Glass wrings maximum tension with her patient studying of Maud’s internal disintegration. Flickchart rank: 976 (80.74%)
House of Gucci

House of Gucci

Dir.: Ridley Scott
I'm not much a fan of Ridley Scott, whose best movies seen in the context of his entire career look like flukes. This, however, is one of his best: shallow, glitzy, overstuffed and full of meaty performances that a better director might have ruined through restraint. Jared Leto bookends 2021 with two extremely weird goofball turns, Al Pacino is as good as ever, and Lady Gaga should retire after this tour-de-force she will likely never come close to matching. Flickchart rank: 1056 (80.39%).
Licorice Pizza

Licorice Pizza

Dir.: Paul Thomas Anderson
Shambling, episodic coming-of-age romance highlighting the generational culture gap of the early 1970s. Paul Thomas Anderson fills Licorice Pizza with alluring period locations, gorgeous framings, silly gags, and oddball cameos, all with the purpose of thumbing a nose at the inscrutable messiness of adulthood. Flickchart rank: 1070 (79.97%).
The Green Knight

The Green Knight

Dir.: David Lowery
Elusive and weird, but staggeringly beautiful arthouse fantasy is unlikely to please anyone hoping for Hobbity action, but this feels like a deep labor of love from director David Lowery, and that affection bleeds through every scene. I'm not sure that Dev Patel has a handle on the complexity required by his role, which stifles the impact, but otherwise this is glorious filmmaking. Flickchart rank: 1077 (79.30%).


Dir.: Denis Villeneuve
A big budget sci-fi epic on a blockbuster scale that shows no interest in formulaic disposable action sequences or homogenous Marvel-like jokiness. Unlike most of its peers, this feels like a story its director was dying to tell and a world he had been dreaming about his entire life. Flickchart rank: 1185 (77.62%)
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Dir.: Josh Greenbaum
Funniest move of the year, easy. Kristen Wiig's absurd cringe sensibility at its most inspired. Flickchart rank: 1192 (77.48%)
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy

Dir.: Ryûsuke Hamaguchi
A thoughtful anthology from Drive My Car director Hamaguchi. Each story is quietly compelling, and some explosive without ever being loud. Flickchart rank: 1263 (76.51%)
Shiva Baby

Shiva Baby

Dir.: Emma Seligman
Flickchart rank: 1329 (75.29%)
Red Rocket

Red Rocket

Dir.: Sean Baker
Flickchart rank: 1431 (73.18%)
Psycho Goreman

Psycho Goreman

Dir.: Steven Kostanski
Flickchart rank: 1385 (72.70%)

In the Heights

Dir.: Jon M. Chu
Flickchart rank: 1443 (72.13%)


Dir.: Joe Carnahan
Flickchart rank: 1582 (70.63%)

Broadcast Signal Intrusion

Dir.: Jacob Gentry
Flickchart rank: 1588 (70.57%)

Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes

Dir.: Junta Yamaguchi
Flickchart rank: 1602 (70.28%)

The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Dir.: Ian Samuels
Flickchart rank: 1605 (70.08%)

Boiling Point

Dir.: Philip Barantini
Flickchart rank: 1610 (70.05%)

Together Together

Dir.: Nikole Beckwith
Flickchart rank: 1606 (70.05%)

Prayers for the Stolen

Dir.: Tatiana Huezo
Flickchart rank: 1651 (69.19%)

The Novice

Dir.: Lauren Hadaway
Flickchart rank: 1647 (69.12%)


Dir.: Sian Heder
Flickchart rank: 1665 (68.75%)

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Dir.: Andy Serkis
Flickchart rank: 1667 (68.72%)


Dir.: Pablo Larraín
Flickchart rank: 1678 (68.38%)

A Glitch in the Matrix

Dir.: Rodney Ascher
Flickchart rank: 1713 (68.25%)

Bergman Island

Dir.: Mia Hansen-Løve
Flickchart rank: 1700 (68.23%)


Dir.: Jessica Kingdon
Flickchart rank: 1715 (68.21%)

The Lost Daughter

Dir.: Maggie Gyllenhaal
Flickchart rank: 1709 (68.00%)

The Rescue

Dir.: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
Flickchart rank: 1717 (67.94%)


Dir.: Mickey Reece
Flickchart rank: 1749 (67.33%)

Petite Maman

Dir.: Céline Sciamma
Flickchart rank: 1876 (64.78%)

Last Night in Soho

Dir.: Edgar Wright
Flickchart rank: 1871 (64.68%)

The Souvenir: Part II

Dir.: Joanna Hogg
Flickchart rank: 1931 (64.19%)

Save Yourselves!

Dir.: Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson
Flickchart rank: 1924 (64.16%)

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Dir.: Jason Reitman
Flickchart rank: 1918 (64.11%)

Our Friend

Dir.: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Flickchart rank: 1943 (62.55%)

The Worst Person in the World

Dir.: Joachim Trier
Flickchart rank: 2012 (62.27%)

The Dry

Dir.: Robert Connolly
Flickchart rank: 1950 (62.25%)

King Richard

Dir.: Reinaldo Marcus Green
Flickchart rank: 2021 (61.90%)

All My Friends Are Dead

Dir.: Jan Belcl
Flickchart rank: 2029 (61.43%)

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Dir.: Leigh Janiak
Flickchart rank: 2162 (58.32%)


Dir.: Janicza Bravo
Flickchart rank: 2214 (57.38%)

Wild Mountain Thyme

Dir.: John Patrick Shanley
Flickchart rank: 2250 (56.33%)


Dir.: James Wan
Flickchart rank: 2331 (55.53%)

Some Kind of Heaven

Dir.: Lance Oppenheim
Flickchart rank: 2429 (54.68%)

Don't Look Up

Dir.: Adam McKay
Flickchart rank: 2449 (53.97%)

Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time

Dir.: Robert B. Weide, Don Argott
Flickchart rank: 2486 (53.74%)

Ride the Eagle

Dir.: Trent O'Donnell
Flickchart rank: 2489 (53.68%)


Dir.: Ting Poo, Leo Scott
Flickchart rank: 2431 (53.49%)

Wrath of Man

Dir.: Guy Ritchie
Flickchart rank: 2505 (53.31%)

The Little Things

Dir.: John Lee Hancock
Flickchart rank: 2371 (53.22%)

No Sudden Move

Dir.: Steven Soderbergh
Flickchart rank: 2480 (52.16%)

Poly Styrene: I Am a Cliché

Dir.: Celeste Bell, Paul Sng
Flickchart rank: 2577 (52.13%)


Dir.: Alexandre Bustillo, Julien Maury
Flickchart rank: 2584 (51.89%)


Dir.: Ilya Naishuller
Flickchart rank: 2599 (51.60%)

The Velvet Underground

Dir.: Todd Haynes
Flickchart rank: 2586 (51.42%)


Dir.: Zoé Wittock
Flickchart rank: 2596 (51.22%)

The French Dispatch

Dir.: Wes Anderson
Flickchart rank: 2612 (51.06%)

The Beta Test

Dir.: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe
Flickchart rank: 2623 (50.44%)

The Many Saints of Newark

Dir.: Alan Taylor
Flickchart rank: 2666 (50.43%)

The Killing of Two Lovers

Dir.: Robert Machoian
Flickchart rank: 2574 (50.32%)

Don't Breathe 2

Dir.: Rodo Sayagues
Flickchart rank: 2604 (50.27%)

The Eyes of Tammy Faye

Dir.: Michael Showalter
Flickchart rank: 2669 (49.64%)

Woodstock 99: Peace, Love and Rage

Dir.: Garret Price
Flickchart rank: 2677 (48.51%)

The Voyeurs

Dir.: Michael Mohan
Flickchart rank: 2753 (48.50%)

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Dir.: Radu Jude
Flickchart rank: 2768 (48.37%)


Dir.: Justin Kurzel
Flickchart rank: 2772 (47.98%)

Lily Topples the World

Dir.: Jeremy Workman
Flickchart rank: 2774 (47.04%)

The Night House

Dir.: David Bruckner
Flickchart rank: 2833 (46.90%)

The Hand of God

Dir.: Paolo Sorrentino
Flickchart rank: 2853 (46.66%)

The Scary of Sixty-First

Dir.: Dasha Nekrasova
Flickchart rank: 2927 (44.32%)


Dir.: Michael Sarnoski
Flickchart rank: 2901 (44.29%)

West Side Story

Dir.: Steven Spielberg
Flickchart rank: 2989 (43.87%)

Come True

Dir.: Anthony Scott Burns
Flickchart rank: 2867 (43.86%)

JFK Revisited: Through the Looking Glass

Dir.: Oliver Stone
Flickchart rank: 2981 (43.84%)

Black Widow

Dir.: Cate Shortland
Flickchart rank: 2974 (42.70%)

Shadow in the Cloud

Dir.: Roseanne Liang
Flickchart rank: 2983 (41.61%)


Dir.: Amy Poehler
Flickchart rank: 2977 (41.51%)

The Spine of Night

Dir.: Philip Gelatt, Morgan Galen King
Flickchart rank: 3162 (40.78%)


Dir.: Dash Shaw
Flickchart rank: 3274 (39.31%)

Rifkin's Festival

Dir.: Woody Allen
Flickchart rank: 3149 (39.20%)

Werewolves Within

Dir.: Josh Ruben
Flickchart rank: 3171 (39.16%)


Dir.: Leos Carax
Flickchart rank: 3235 (38.42%)


Dir.: Kenneth Branagh
Flickchart rank: 3301 (37.85%)


Dir.: Chloé Zhao
Flickchart rank: 3341 (36.89%)

Fried Barry

Dir.: Ryan Kruger
Flickchart rank: 3398 (36.57%)

Prisoners of the Ghostland

Dir.: Sion Sono
Flickchart rank: 3412 (36.28%)


Dir.: Prano Bailey-Bond
Flickchart rank: 3472 (33.37%)

Dinner in America

Dir.: Adam Rehmeier
Flickchart rank: 3521 (32.89%)

Nightmare Alley

Dir.: Guillermo del Toro
Flickchart rank: 3612 (32.87%)

A Quiet Place Part II

Dir.: John Krasinski
Flickchart rank: 3505 (32.05%)

I Care a Lot

Dir.: J Blakeson
Flickchart rank: 3466 (31.89%)

Free Guy

Dir.: Shawn Levy
Flickchart rank: 3660 (31.70%)

The Card Counter

Dir.: Paul Schrader
Flickchart rank: 3677 (31.06%)

Coming Home in the Dark

Dir.: James Ashcroft
Flickchart rank: 3675 (31.01%)

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Dir.: Joel Coen
Flickchart rank: 3696 (30.97%)

About Endlessness

Dir.: Roy Andersson
Flickchart rank: 3701 (30.41%)

Mad God

Dir.: Phil Tippett
Flickchart rank: 3815 (28.65%)


Dir.: Julia Ducournau
Flickchart rank: 3797 (28.48%)

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Dir.: Leigh Janiak
Flickchart rank: 3740 (28.16%)

Slumber Party Massacre

Dir.: Danishka Esterhazy
Flickchart rank: 3872 (28.15%)

No Time to Die

Dir.: Cary Joji Fukunaga
Flickchart rank: 3845 (27.49%)


Dir.: Nia DaCosta
Flickchart rank: 3895 (27.20%)

Most Dangerous Game

Dir.: Phil Abraham
Flickchart rank: 3775 (26.68%)


Dir.: Dina Duma
Flickchart rank: 3966 (25.90%)


Dir.: Andreas Fontana
Flickchart rank: 4009 (25.30%)

Godzilla vs. Kong

Dir.: Adam Wingard
Flickchart rank: 3835 (25.10%)


Dir.: Tom McCarthy
Flickchart rank: 3945 (24.58%)

Army of the Dead

Dir.: Zack Snyder
Flickchart rank: 3910 (24.05%)


Dir.: Natasha Kermani
Flickchart rank: 3965 (22.51%)

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Dir.: Michael Chaves
Flickchart rank: 4086 (21.12%)


Dir.: Joshua Caldwell
Flickchart rank: 4237 (18.86%)

Howard's Mill

Dir.: Shannon Houchins, Potsy Ponciroli, Kaiser Whitmire
Flickchart rank: 4275 (18.66%)


Dir.: Valdimar Jóhannsson
Flickchart rank: 4321 (18.49%)

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

Dir.: Leigh Janiak
Flickchart rank: 4274 (17.93%)

Halloween Kills

Dir.: David Gordon Green
Flickchart rank: 4361 (17.39%)

Coming 2 America

Dir.: Craig Brewer
Flickchart rank: 4219 (17.24%)

The Power of the Dog

Dir.: Jane Campion
Flickchart rank: 4432 (16.64%)

The Pizzagate Massacre

Dir.: John Valley
Flickchart rank: 4433 (16.44%)

Skull: The Mask

Dir.: Armando Fonseca, Kapel Furman
Flickchart rank: 4534 (15.60%)

We Need to Do Something

Dir.: Sean King O'Grady
Flickchart rank: 4551 (15.22%)

Nine Days

Dir.: Edson Oda
Flickchart rank: 4539 (14.86%)

Tick, Tick... Boom!

Dir.: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Flickchart rank: 4536 (14.80%)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Dir.: Destin Daniel Cretton
Flickchart rank: 4606 (13.76%)


Dir.: Paul Verhoeven
Flickchart rank: 4628 (13.41%)

Wild Indian

Dir.: Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.
Flickchart rank: 4687 (12.60%)

Historia de lo Oculto

Dir.: Cristian Ponce
Flickchart rank: 4903 (7.23%)

Willy's Wonderland

Dir.: Kevin Lewis
Flickchart rank: 4730 (6.89%)

Cry Macho

Dir.: Clint Eastwood
Flickchart rank: 4885 (6.85%)