My 2021 at the Movies, Part 2 of 2: The Year’s Best

Scarlett Johansson IS Black Widow!

Yeah, I know, superhero films with only one timeline in them are so 2018.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: In 2021 I made 22 trips to the theater to see films made that same year. In Part 1 we ranked the majority from “this film is pretty keen” to “this film is my mortal enemy” but in reverse. And now, the countdown concludes with the ten most relatively awesome films I saw at a theater in 2021 that were released for general audiences in 2021. Exactly those dates. Exactly those dates.

EXACTLY those dates.

Onward!

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My 2021 at the Movies, Part 1 of 2: The Year’s Least Best

Spider-Man: No Way Home!

“Our billion-dollar movie made six whole people grumpy! Let’s ask Doctor Strange to overwrite their brains!”

It’s listing time again! In today’s entertainment consumption sphere, all experiences must be pitted against each other and assigned numeric values that are ultimately arbitrary to anyone except the writer themselves. It’s just this fun thing some of us love doing even though the rules are made up and the points don’t matter.

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“Nightmare Alley”: How Grifty McGrift Became Grifton Griftershire, Esq.

Bradley Cooper in Nightmare Alley!

“Okay, once more for the polygraph: was it really that awesome to work with Lady Gaga?”

Hi! Show of hands: who wants to read thoughts about a new Guillermo del Toro film from one of the six people in America who didn’t care for his Best Picture winner The Shape of Water?

No? Nah, it’s okay, I understand. Our exits are clearly marked for safe evacuation. See you next entry!

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Yes, There’s a Scene After “The Matrix Resurrections” End Credits

Matrix Resurrections Red Pill Blue Pill Poster!

The grand return of the world’s favorite equivocal metaphor for every us-vs.-them feud ever, in which the beholder is somehow always a hero of “us” and never a lackey of “them”.

It’s hard to muster up enthusiasm for a conditionally beloved old series which had one really, really good film that made a groundbreaking impression on me in a packed theater, followed by two expensive letdowns. That means the series previously had a 33% success rate with me, a failure in any rational classroom. Sure, the animated follow-up had its fans, but it wasn’t quite the same thing even if one feels compelled to argue that it indeed “counted”. Here we are again in 2021 with a revival that perhaps some were wishing for, the studio execs more so than the public at large, inviting a few familiar faces to train a batch of promising newcomers in the ways of their franchise. The digital effects have been upgraded and more money has clearly been invested than anyone in the 20th century would’ve dreamed might ever be possible or necessary for a single movie. Just the same, the thought of sitting through such a perfunctory revival felt less like a joyous homecoming and more like that childhood dread of being forced to visit distant, smelly relatives — that sense of “Awwww, do I HAVE to go?”

In conclusion, that’s why I skipped Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

So why did I give The Matrix Resurrections a shot? Good question.

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“Being the Ricardos”: Crisis on Infinite Balls

Being the Ricardos!

Our A-list stars resembling Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz about as much as they resemble Julianne Moore and Jeff Goldblum in The Lost World.

Remember the four worst things that ever happened to you? The four biggest challenges to your family, livelihood, reputation, or whatever? Now imagine if an evil time-travel despot had folded your timeline in on itself and all four moments of The Worst had befallen you in the same week. Be grateful they didn’t, but just imagine…what if? Enormous pain, right?

That’s the narrative conceit of Being the Ricardos, the third true-story project from writer/director Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7, Molly’s Game), yearning to avoid the trappings of a formulaic three-hour biopic, with their pedestrian history-book retelling and their leaps and bounds across their subject’s unremarkable years to deliver the Good Parts version of someone’s life. If it’s inescapable that your Hollywood production will bend some truths to achieve Art no matter what, why not embrace compromise and use your truth-bending skills to weave a smaller, tighter basket and have all the conflicts happen at the same time? While we’re at it, why not also have a film in which Queen Elizabeth II mourns the death of her father, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, and Prince Philip all happening in the same week? Historians would have apoplexies, but just imagine the potential pageantry of a Hollywood-designed four-way royal funeral procession.

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Yes, There Are Scenes During and After the “Spider-Man: No Way Home” End Credits

Spider-Man No Way Home!

It wouldn’t be a true Spidey film if Peter didn’t unmask for the final battle.

Here’s the Too Long, Won’t Read version: despite some wonderful interplay among the main cast and the special guests at the heart of the film (and one beautifully meta performance in particular), Spider-Man: No Way Home is my least favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe film since Thor: The Dark World. I’m in the minority on this, but no other 2021 film has aggravated me as much as this box-office leviathan did.

Hope that helps? You’re now free to go. Thanks for stopping by. I do understand. I just need to get the following 5000 words out of my system. Imagine it’s Martin Scorsese’s rapid voice so it’ll move faster.

Still here? Cool, but fair warning: it’s been a long time since I front-loaded a movie entry with a courtesy spoiler alert. There’s no way I can adequately express my reactions without moving beyond the trailer-approved plot points and into its numerous surprises, some of which were foretold on various geek clickbait sites and some of which I predicted from the trailers. Really, the courtesy spoiler alert is for real, anything goes. You might find plenty of reasons for irritation with me, but by venturing beyond the courtesy spoiler alert guard post you hereby forfeit the right to count “AAAHH! SPOILERS!” among them.

Once again, for those just joining us: courtesy spoiler alert. Thank you.

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“West Side Story”: The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Anita and Bernardo

West Side Story!

Ariana DeBose steps into Rita Moreno’s shoes and dashes away with them as the new Anita.

It’s extremely rare nowadays for me to watch films I’ve already seen, but last week on a staycation whim I revisited the original West Side Story, which I have on DVD and my wife remembers me liking when we watched it together sixteen years ago. Maybe it gave me the impression this was the essence of Real Broadway. At the time we had little frame of reference, years before we had the opportunities to see actual Broadway shows in 2011 and in 2016. I’d forgotten much of it till I cued it up. The lyrical verve and the intricate dance numbers certainly struck old chords, as did Rita Moreno’s performance, far and away the best among the cast. Beyond that, the enchantments from my first time seemed a little faded. The Happy Days hoodlums and their 1960s color schemes held my attention for a bit, and some songs drew me back in when my eyes wandered to other gadgets (“America” and “Officer Krupke” are each satirical exemplars), but…I dunno. It was still fine? It’s creaky compared unfairly to a 21st-century stage production, but I guess I still get it? Setting aside the problematic aspects a thousand better websites have already covered?

I was not among the front lines of any protests insisting a remake was unnecessary or pointless. Every classic Broadway show has its revivals, often with revisions and updates for later generations with differing sensibilities. Why not this one? And why not let lifelong fan Steven Spielberg take a crack at it? Especially teamed up with his Oscar-winning Lincoln screenwriter Tony Kushner, the main behind the acclaimed Angels in America? Again, setting aside the problematic aspects a thousand better websites have already covered? And which Kushner acknowledged in a fascinating New York Times interview with film critic A.O. Scott? Why not? If nothing else, it diverted his attention away from potentially worse project choices like Ready Player Two.

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Yes, There’s a Capybara After the “Encanto” End Credits

Disney's Encanto!

Not many family photos could double as a cover for their own superhero comic.

Once upon a time, new Disney and Pixar animated films were an automatic “see in theaters” category for our family. (Well, generally speaking. Maybe someday I’ll get around to The Good Dinosaur.) Works from other animation studios were not so guaranteed and were judged on a case-by-case basis. Our last animated theatrical experience was Pixar’s Onward, which was back in March 2020 and just-okay. For non-Disney fare (not counting shorts) I’d have to go clear back to the third How to Train Your Dragon in 2019, which was likewise just-okay.

Then along came a pandemic that interrupted our traditions and our rhythms. Some studios kept releasing new cartoons anyway, albeit on a protracted schedule. We ignored all of them, even after getting our shots, because of inertia. I recently caught up with a few 2021 releases on streaming services, but they haven’t been a top priority. (Maybe someday I’ll get around to Raya and the Last Dragon.) Amidst this current holiday season my son and I noticed the oversight and revived our tradition at last with an outing for Disney’s Encanto — apropos of the occasion, a film about family, tradition, and ruination that we think comes from without when in fact the disruption is coming from inside the house.

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Our 2021 Road Trip #26: Grand Prismatic Spring Fever

Grand Prismatic Springs cloud reflections!

This looks like some of my Trapper Keeper folders from junior high.

Sure, Old Faithful had the fame and Biscuit Basin had the scintillating colors, but our next literal hot spot had the hottest temperatures, the largest dimensions, and the longest line of the day. Such was the fierce competition among Yellowstone points of interest.

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My 2021 Reading Stacks #4

Neil Gaiman books!

One fun side effect of neglecting this recurring feature for months: now I have a much larger accumulation from which I can draw “two of a kind”, such as this easy pairing.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Welcome once again to our recurring MCC feature in which I scribble capsule reviews of everything I’ve read lately that was published in a physical format over a certain page count with a squarebound spine on it — novels, original graphic novels, trade paperbacks, infrequent nonfiction dalliances, and so on. Due to the way I structure my media-consumption time blocks, the list will always feature more graphic novels than works of prose and pure text, though I do try to diversify my literary diet as time and acquisitions permit.

Occasionally I’ll sneak in a contemporary review if I’ve gone out of my way to buy and read something brand new. Every so often I’ll borrow from my wife or from our local library. But the majority of our spotlighted works are presented years after the rest of the world already finished and moved on from them because I’m drawing from my vast unread pile that presently occupies four oversize shelves comprising thirty-three years of uncontrolled book shopping. I’ve occasionally pruned the pile, but as you can imagine, cut out one unread book and three more take its place.

I’ve previously written why I don’t do eBooks. Perhaps someday I’ll also explain why these capsules are exclusive to MCC and not shared on Amazon, Goodreads, or other sites where their authors might prefer I’d share them. In the meantime, here’s me and my recent reading results…

(…after the hiatus…)

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