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The Best Movies of 2021

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It’s been a long year. I’m referring, of course, to 2020, which is still going, some 800-plus days after it started. Oh, it’s 2022?! Ah, shit. That means this list is super-late. Sorry! But maybe we could all use some extra time to think about our choices, and how extremely correct they all are. I won’t waste any more time. Let’s get to the list for another year where everything was garbage but the movies. You can listen to us defend our choices here.
Continue reading The Best Movies of 2021

The SportsAlcohol.dom Podcast Double Feature: Best Movies of 2021, and the Oscars

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

It’s been a quiet winter, podcasting-wise, at SportsAlcohol.com HQ, but now Marisa, Sara, Jeremy, and Jesse are back with two new retrospective episodes! In the first, we continue our annual tradition of counting down our collective top 15 movies of the year (that’s 2021, not 2022). The full list will be on the site soon, but you can get a preview with our discussion of group and personal faves. Then we convened to talk about some of the best-and-other movies of 2021, offering our predictions, preferences, and occasional complaints about the recent Oscar nominations. Sure, it’s March, but the Oscars still haven’t happened yet! So why not take a last listen to us talking about the highlights (and occasional Oscar-honored lowlights) of the 2021 movie year? It’s been a rollercoaster year-plus, but keep in mind: Heartbreak feels good in a place like this.

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

  • You can subscribe to our podcast using the rss feed.
  • I’m not sure why they allowed it, but we are on iTunes! If you enjoy what you hear, a positive comment and a rating would be great.
  • I don’t really know what Stitcher is, but we are also on Stitcher.
  • SportsAlcohol.com is a proud member of the Aha Radio Network. What is Aha? It’s kind of like Stitcher, but for your car.
  • You can download the mp3 of the episode directly here for the best movies of 2021 and here for the Oscars.
  • Our most recent episode or two will sometimes be available on our Soundcloud. We don’t always have it working right but there’s good stuff there regardless!
  • You can listen to the episodes in the players below.

The Worst Movies of 2021

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

There are worse things going on in the world than these movies—than any of these movies. I mean, the fact that I got to actually go to the movies a hundred-plus times this year counts, unfortunately, as a triumph, and even the worst movies of 2021 didn’t inspire the same hopelessness as much of 2020. Instead, the worst movies of 2021 were back to something more like business as usual: overblown blockbuster chintz, self-conscious entries in genres the filmmakers thought they had down pat, bad horror shit, and even more attempts to do the Coens or Tarantino or whoever else. (Say this for Dear Evan Hansen: It’s bad in new and unfamiliar ways.) Many of them were streaming-only titles; others played in thousands of theaters nationwide. The worst movies of 2021, like the best ones, know no boundaries. Here I purge them from my ledger, with a mix of links to my past writing/ranting and some newly created sum-ups. Here’s to more regular old bad movies in 2022—that aren’t outshined by the bad movie unfolding all around us.

The Worst Movies of 2021

15. The Tomorrow War

“That’s where The Tomorrow War’s whiff of Christian-movie piety comes in: The filmmakers are careful to characterize Dan as a good husband, attentive and loving father, tough soldier, capable leader, and near-genius scientist, leaving any personal failings as abstract, offscreen concepts that can only be explained, never dramatized, before they’re heroically overcome. Pratt gets in a few of his trademark regular-guy semi-witticisms, but mostly the movie extends the option on Hollywood’s baffling collective decision to employ him as an all-American can-do adventurer rather than an underachieving goofball.”

14. South of Heaven

I believe in Jason Sudeikis’s capacity to go serious… but not like this… not like this. A grave and tone-deaf mix of reflective indie redemption drama, blackly comic Coen Brothers-esque crime caper, South of Heaven made me nostalgic for the days when SNL alumni made terrible feature-length shtick out of their comic personas, rather than po-faced junk.

13. Dear Evan Hansen

“In a weird way, Dear Evan Hansen does achieve the effect it’s going for, in that the whole movie feels like an out-of-control lie: Its phoniness, starting from Platt’s masquerade and building from there, compounds and compounds, and no one involved, especially not director Stephen Chbosky, is willing to call the bluff. Platt gives the worst performance, in the sense that it feels like you’re watching a police sketch of Jason Biggs go through psychotherapy against its will. But there’s a different sort of badness in watching Amy Adams and Julianne Moore (as Evan’s mom) flounder through material so ill-considered.”

12. The Fear Street Trilogy

I have rarely felt crazier than I did watching Twitter reactions and even Rotten Tomatoes scores on this Netflix botch get ever more enthusiastic as it dropped each weekly entry, as if the contact high from an efficient knockoff-Scream opening sequence somehow got into everyone’s bloodstream and kept them peaking for weeks. Guys, this is the bad stuff: archly written without any proper laughs or scares; clumsily plotted and seemingly convinced of its own cynical relevance; saturated with lazy anachronisms disguised as pop-culture signifiers (hint: American kids in 1978 were not saying “shagadelic,” a word coined by Austin Powers in 1997); and ruthlessly extended in the manner of a bad streaming TV show, suggesting a genuine interest in smearing all forms of visual art into generic content paste. The creepiest thing about this trilogy is the way it evokes the feeling that no one involved with this teen horror movie has ever been a teenager or even watched one in a horror movie;

11. Breaking News in Yuba County

“You can probably tell what kind of bad movie this is: Affected. Smugly “satirical” without really satirizing anything. One of many Fargo knockoffs, full of zany quirks and sticky ends, that makes Fargo seem better and richer than ever.”

10. Cherry

Joe and Anthony Russo seem like fairly mild-mannered and pragmatic fellows, having made a name for themselves as go-to network comedy directors throughout the 2000s, then unexpectedly becoming MCU mainstays starting with their work on Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Yet Cherry, their first movie following the unfathomable global success of their Avengers sequels, feels like the Russos have worked themselves into a rage binge over any perceived lack of seriousness to making multibillion-dollar superhero movies. So, they kick up a bunch of aggro grit, with their Avengers co-star Tom Holland playing a vet turned addict turned criminal. This is a movie that has nothing to say about war, addiction, or anything else that it’s supposed to be about, instead focusing on providing the Russos plenty of opportunities to dick around with camera tricks and show-off shots. The striving for gravitas starts to feel like auteur hubris minus any personality: Just pure movie-director ego. Good on them, though, for finally making the incompetent “serious” movie Michael Bay keeps smirking his way out of making.

9. Joe Bell

Plenty of writers focused on the questionable taste of Mark Wahlberg, who committed a hate crime as a young man, playing a father embarking on a cross-country anti-bullying campaign on behalf of his gay son. That’s probably because they weren’t sure how or if they could discuss either the mid-movie twist, or the real-life twist the movie conveys in its final on-screen text, an attempted gut punch that misses and falls on its face. I think enough time has passed to issue a spoiler alert: This movie ends with a serious-minded equivalent of “Poochie died on the way back his home planet,” offering incontrovertible proof that sometimes real-life tragedies are better left unadapted.

8. Here Today

Here Today has some—well, a few—well, a handful of—graceful moments, focusing on the unlikely, ambiguous, surprisingly supportive relationship these characters. It is also singularly, fascinatingly, appallingly, confusingly unfunny… The writing, and the writing-within-the-writing that supplies the movie’s fake comedy, feels restless and rushed, as if Crystal and Zweibel affixed their every “yes and” with the words “…then we’re done.” There’s rich material to be mined from the quirks and foibles of a professional comedy lifer. Instead, Charlie Burnz just sounds like someone opened an expired jar of Billy Crystal and left it out on a counter for several decades.” – my newsletter entry on Billy Crystal. Subscribe to it, maybe I’ll do more in the new year!

7. Demonic

Seeking an M. Night Shyamalan-style low-budget rebirth, Neill Blomkamp returns with an amateurish shocker—that is, a movie that is shockingly amateurish, especially given that he’s been involved with some of the best lower-budget visual effects I’ve ever seen. No such luck in the haunted virtual world of Demonic. Then again, maybe this movie is a miracle: Using a sliding scale based on the fact that District 9 and Chappie cost under $50 million apiece, it would be fair to assume that Demonic cost no more than $600 cash. None of that would matter if the movie were scary or engaging, but its best ideas—involving a woman who uses new technology to venture into her comatose mother’s mind and winds up unleashing a terrible evil—languish with bargain-basement production, and not just in the area of visual effects. It’s one of those movies where I’m shocked to discover afterward that the lead is a professional working actor; whatever she learned in her literal years as a well-liked and successful television performer, Blomkamp managed to wipe the slate clean.

6. Space Jam: A New Legacy

“This is the least funny Looney Tunes endeavor since Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue. It is worse than the original Space Jam, because the original Space Jam had Bill Murray. Imagine a movie that replaces Bill Murray with 30 minutes. That Justin Lin and Ryan Coogler, filmmakers I would prefer to continue liking, were not frightened away from putting their names on this shit either speaks to their bravery, or their unexpected kinship with Ivan Reitman.”

5. Hero Mode

“It’s tempting to call Hero Mode harmless. It’s a low-budget indie, and the fact that the lead actor, screenwriter, and group of people given a story credit all share a surname suggests that this may be a family project taken too far. Yet in addition to the latent sexism, unmitigated by Mira Sorvino’s nothing of a mom role, there’s something insidious about the movie’s incompetence, and the accompanying belief that it’s good enough to entertain audiences of any age. It aspires to harmlessness, and fails. Even its version of a valuable family-film lesson is bizarre and off-key. Remember, kids: If you happen to become the head of a company before you’ve learned anything about employee management or leadership, be sure to embrace teamwork.”

4. Dating & New York

”Some credit must be awarded to the actors: First, based on the available evidence, they did not flee the movie mid-shoot. (Although if they did, the movie wouldn’t look much different; some of their scenes may well have been completed from the comfort of home.) Second, Young-White is a successful stand-up comic in real life, playing an aspiring stand-up comic in this movie, and he is extremely convincing as someone who will never, ever succeed at stand-up, or possibly anything else besides the wearing of turtlenecks. Even that, I’d call more of a qualified success. They do go around his neck, but at what cost in terms of indicating what season it’s supposed to be? Further to that concern, another scene has Reale wearing a turtleneck of her own, with overalls, while Young-White wears a half-buttoned Hawaiian shirt. Finally, a movie that asks the haunting question: Does New York have weather?”

A postscript to this review: Here and in my A.V. Club preview item about this movie, I mentioned that it was an obviously green-screened New York experience that looked as if it had largely been shot elsewhere. Apparently the writer-director took issue with this, claiming that nothing in the movie was green-screened. This speaks to both the false authority with which we critics sometimes speak, and what a strange, uncanny experience this anonymous-looking New York Movie is, full of generic interiors and obscured backgrounds. If green-screen wasn’t involved, certainly some cheap digital effects make an appearance. I mean, take a look at the header image for this piece again.

3. First Date

A crime comedy that emerges as if from a gruesome accident at a late ‘90s video store, this movie somehow played the Sundance Film Festival in 2021, which would be a source of intense bitterness for the next two decades’ worth of Sundance rejections, if anyone bothers to seek it out. A teenager buys an old car so he can take out his crush, and everything goes wrong—not just with the car and the cops/criminals on its tail, but with the movie, which introduces two likable young characters, contrives idiotic reasons to keep them apart, and drowns everyone in imitation-Tarantino banter.

2. Separation

“It’s this sad-sack divorced idiot, who by all we can tell is a terrible provider, a bad husband, and a mediocre dad… there’s a fascinating convergence of bad directing, bad writing, and bad acting to make this character both terribly unlikable and at the same time, intended to be likable. It’s a feature-length apologia for deadbeat dads everywhere. If we’re OK to get into spoilers, I’ll eventually talk about how the movie even fucks up its weird attempts to mitigate how toxic and poisonous this thing is.” – selections from my sputtering disgust expressed in a discussion on the New Flesh podcast

1. He’s All That

“I do believe fans of That Type of Stuff (a group that I obviously, albeit somewhat torturously, belong to) deserve movies starring people who actually like movies, rather than seeing them as a subsidiary of their TikTok empire. Addison Rae doesn’t look especially excited or moved by anything happening in the movie that she’s starring in. She’s just there, photographed as prominently and helplessly as those plastic-looking slices of Pizza Hut-brand pizza product.” – Also from my newsletter! Like and subscribe!!!

The Ten Best Music Cues on The Sopranos

Sara is big into reading and writing fiction like it's her job, because it is. That doesn't mean she isn't real as it gets. She loves real stuff like polka dots, indie rock, and underground fight clubs. I may have made some of that up. I don't know her that well. You can tell she didn't just write this in the third person because if she had written it there would have been less suspect sentence construction.
Sara

In early March 2020, a coworker asked me what I might do if Chicago instituted a two-week lockdown to fight Covid. “I don’t know,” I joked. “Maybe finally watch The Sopranos?” It was a huge gap in my television viewing history, if an understandable one. I was twelve when it first began airing in January 1999, and while my family had a free year of HBO thanks to a cable deal, I was clandestinely absorbing the antics of Sex and the City rather than Tony and the gang. Despite later enjoying, to varying degrees, shows that owed the series a debt, from Mad Men to Breaking Bad to The Americans, I was always daunted by the idea of taking on The Sopranos. It felt like a project. Is it really worth it? And when would I find the time? Still, as Twitter flooded with sourdough starters and Duolingo prompts in the ensuing months, I resisted the modest goals I set for myself. I felt too unmoored and confused to accomplish even something as simple as watching a show. It wasn’t until a full year into the pandemic, the same year that Sopranos movie prequel The Many Saints of Newark was scheduled to release, that I pressed play on the premiere, but I was surprised at how quickly the show’s characters began to feel like companions. (Living alone will do that to you.) It can be easy to forget now, but The Sopranos truly was a game-changer, and one made with more care than the contrarian in me anticipated. The music is a huge part of that, much of which creator David Chase handpicked himself, to the point where even a casual fan of the show could come up with a unique top ten list. As a recent convert, I humbly offer mine on the occasion of Many Saints of Newark hitting theaters and HBO Max this week.

The 10 Best Music Cues on The Sopranos According to a First-Time Viewer in 2021

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The 20 Best Movies of 2020

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Back in the fall, we were so uncertainly about the prospects of discussing the best movies of 2020 in a timely fashion that we decided to call it early and do a best-movies-of-the-year podcast in September. Who knew when anything would get back to normal, if ever? As it turns out, we’re well into 2021 and things still haven’t gotten back to normal (and no amount of pushing the Oscars into April has changed that). But something that stayed the same, albeit in weird and different shapes, were movies, in that there were good movies all through 2020, and in a hell year–hell, a hell-year-plus–that’s still worth talking about. So here we are, talking about the best movies of 2020 again; this time in writing, though a podcast will soon follow, too. And if we (I, Jesse) didn’t get this up until March, well, we’re still having the conversation earlier than the Oscars. That’s gotta count for something, right? Maybe in a few months, you can even start to think about how you might see revivals of these movies out in the real world again. The best movies of 2020 are here for you well into 2021 and beyond! Herewith, Sara, Marisa, Jeremy, Jesse, and Nathaniel talk about their collective favorites.
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Every DCEU Movie, Ranked

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Sure, there are twentysomething Marvel movies that we could sort and rank and argue over. In fact, the good people SportsAlochol once tried this as a group, and we may circle back to the project one day. But you know what’s a lot easier? Ranking the extended-universe movies from DC Comics, which kicked off in 2013 with the Superman reboot Man of Steel, and now, the better part of a decade later, continue to wonder around, stumbling across various megahits, disappointments, and flops, sometimes, somehow, in the same film. In celebration of the DCEU’s first actual sequel, the brand-new Wonder Woman 1984 hitting theaters and HBO Max in the U.S. on December 25th, here’s one man’s rundown of the whole DC shebang, before The Batman comes out in 2022 and makes it all even more confusing. All your favorites are here: Wonder Woman! And others! Like Enchantress! Now please let this all last long enough for them to make a Starfire movie!
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The Worst Movies of 2020

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

Usually, around November of each year, I contribute a ballot of fifteen terrible movies to the A.V. Club, which they aggregate into a list of the year’s worst films. In 2020, owing to a slowdown in studio movies (which usually provide at least a few juicy targets) and overall feelings that the year has had enough pain and punishment without asking critics to relive their worst experiences, my editor decided not to do a Worst-Of list. Elsewhere, there’s a growing consensus that Worst-Of lists are pointless endeavors, designed to reward cheap and easy snark; the exact opposite of what a critic should do.

As Adam Sandler says in Uncut Gems: I disagree.

Worst-of lists are cathartic. There are all kinds of bad movies critics wind up watching out of curiosity, completism, assignment, or, if you’re a freelancer trying to cover some bases, the futile hope that you may be able to parlay having seen it into an assignment. Sometimes you just want to write a few words to try to process the experience. Also: if the most valuable function of best-of lists is to shine a spotlight on movies you think people should prioritize, is it not helpful to explain which movies you found particularly unworthy of the time it takes to watch them? I tend to be pretty loose with recommendations; if you want to see a movie, I say, you should just see it. Read my review afterward. I’m not a consumer guide; who knows what you’ll like? That said, sometimes there are movies that deserve special attention, and sometimes that attention is not positive.

So, because I’m happy to keep the bad vibes flowing, here are my personal choices for the worst movies of 2020. I’ve quoted from my review when a review exists; otherwise, I re-opened these wounds and let some blood flow.
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The SportsAlcohol.com Podcast: The Best Movies of 2019

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

I admit, this is a long episode. But look, Marisa, Sara, Jeremy, Nathaniel, and Jesse saw a lot of damn good movies in 2019, and we wanted to talk about them. So yes, this podcast is feature length, but I promise, we get into it right away, and we don’t stop until we’ve covered a whole lot of movies — our collective favorites, our divisive picks, our total outliers — as seen on our recent list of the best movies of 2019. Listen up and treat yourself! If you find yourself feeling attacked by our glorious opinions, just remember: It didn’t apply to you!

We are now up to SEVEN (7) different ways to listen to a SportsAlcohol podcast:

The 20 Best Movies of 2019

Jesse is a cofounder of SportsAlcohol.com even though he doesn't care for sports or alcohol. His favorite movie is Ron Howard's The Paper. I think. This is what happens when you don't write your own bio. I know for sure likes pie.

There are other lists that came out faster, but are any more accurate than this one? SportsAlcohol.com stands by its yearslong track record of delivering not the first best-of-the-year list, but the best one. No other list aggregates the sometimes-disparate, sometimes alarmingly-in-sync opinions of Marisa LaScala, Nathaniel Wharton, Sara Batkie, Jesse Hassenger, and Jeremy Beck. So I won’t take up a lot of time with a fancy intro. You want to see how right we are about everything, and who am I to hold you up? Let’s do it!
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The Top 10 Best Computer-Generated Sequences in Movies of the Past 25 Years

Paavan is an English lit student studying in Toronto. His photography is great. He is so young I'm jealous. He also deactivates his twitter account all the time, which I really respect.
Paavan

I was watching a documentary about the making of Toy Story a few days ago and was struck by the fact that photorealistic computer effects have been part of filmmaking for almost 30 years now. In this somewhat nostalgic mood, I found myself thinking about my favorite ways that filmmakers have used CG imagery; some explorations of the ideological implications of these then-new artificialities, but mostly just neat ways to wow the audience. I’ve written this list so I can talk about some sequences that I find interesting; their ranking here is arbitrary.

Some notes before we begin: I’m defining a ”computer-generated sequence” based on a vague threshold of how much of it uses computer generated imagery. Sadly, this means that something like the T-Rex attack from Jurassic Park or the T-1000 ambush from Terminator 2 don’t quite count.

I’ll also add that, because of the new enormous cost of creating CG imagery, the list is unfortunately homogenous: Mostly filmmakers working from within Hollywood, and as a result, mostly white and male. Sadly, we can’t look to modern studios to fix this issue of representation; on the rare occasion that women and/or people of color are hired for these movies, they’re not always allowed to direct their own set pieces. As this technology gets easier for those with lighter pockets to use, I predict that things will change in the new decade, and that we will see even more indie filmmakers telling interesting stories with CG.

Lastly, and most crucially, I ask readers that they watch the video clips attached to every piece so that they can appreciate the formal choices that I have highlighted with my writing here.
Continue reading The Top 10 Best Computer-Generated Sequences in Movies of the Past 25 Years