Benoit Blanc and the “Knives Out” franchise is the movie series that Gen Z and Millennials have been waiting for, for a long time. For years, there were so many great series and movies with ensemble casts concerning a murder mystery or mysterious death, and we missed out on that great sub-genre. That is until Rian Johnson offered his deliciously entertaining “Knives Out” in 2019. He follows that up with “Glass Onion,” a movie that is a continuation but is by no means a repeat of the original film. Johnson absolutely thrives on subverting expectations while delivering some great social commentary right down to the literal Glass Onion.
I think we can all agree that the marketing for Parker Finn’s “Smile” has been pretty genius. It’s a movie that has built enough clout to attract an audience that’s been big enough to continue a large swell of even more horror films coming in to theaters. It’s good because now we can start to see more movies as immensely disturbing as “Smile,” one hopes. While it’s often compared to “It Follows,” I’d say “Smile” is more in the vein of “The Babadook.”
While director Edgar Wright is still fresh in to his career and has churned out so many superb films, his ambition has managed to help elevate him in to a better filmmaker, one of bigger substance and larger scale. “Last Night in Soho” prove it, as it feels like that poppy bizarre sixties thriller that we might have actually seen in the sixties. Perhaps starring Natalie Wood? Maybe Peggy Lipton? “Last Night in Soho” has everything going for it; it’s the type murder mystery that audiences have been craving. It has a unique horror bent, and Wright has delivered on pop culture cult films like “Shaun of the Dead” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.”
There was simply too much released in 2021 to catch everything that I wanted to, or intended to see before the end of the year. That’s either a great thing or a bad thing depending on your schedule. In either case, with the influx of movies being released every single week, I managed to catch some fantastic gems that kept me entertained, thriller, and stunned. 2021 had its share of stinkers, but it also bounced back from the lull in 2020 with some bangers, to boot. This is ten of the best I saw this year.
Of course I’ll still be playing catch up with 2021 over the next month.
One of the things I really like about Russ Emanuel’s direction is that he’s able to conceive a true crime movie that feels respectful and not at all exploitative. That’s a tough feat to accomplish especially in a time where a lot of indie studios are inexplicably anxious to exploit actual horrible crimes. “American Wisper” (formerly “Wisper”) is a true crime thriller that actually managed to engage me, and that’s saying a lot for someone that almost never cares to dive in to this kind of material.
When you get down to it, you can examine “Klute” as something of a neo-noir set in the darkness of New York City where society shifted out of the Free Love era and in to much dimmer years. But deep down “Klute” manages to be a rather fantastic character study about a woman who is hopelessly and probably forever exploited by the world. Throughout “Klute” she struggles with whether she wants to have what she perceives as an easy ride and allow herself to become exploited, or resist, and try to carve out a better world for her that’s more respectable, but so much tougher than she’s prepared to handle.
I love “April Fool’s Day,” and I say that as someone that originally hated it. It took years for me to come around on it, mainly because in a decade where we got nothing but slasher movies, we were given one. But we also weren’t given one, either. In either case, if you’re going in to “April Fool’s Day,” it embraces its inherent silliness and mounts tension to be a pretty good statement about the slasher sub-genre while also having a good old time with the audience. It’s become a favorite of the sub-genre, and indicates a point where studios were beginning to satirize the tropes of the sub-genre.
By all accounts, Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” should not have been such a stunning success. It’s an original murder mystery with an eye toward paying tribute to Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot and Agatha Christie, and yet it’s such a brilliant work of cinema through and through. “Knives Out” is a traditionalist murder mystery ensemble piece but one that also evokes modern sensibility without resorting to pandering to a younger audience. You’re either in for the ride with “Knives Out,” or you’re not as it takes its time unfolding what is a sly, slick and fantastic crime thriller that kept me grinning from ear to ear from beginning to end.