Summer 2021 Recap: The Best, The Worst, and then some

By Christian DiMartino

Last summer, when it comes to movies, we got… Scoob!, which was available to rent for $19.99. The movie was a toilet. We also got a number of straight to streaming releases, and other rentals. Because, as you know, the chances of a typical “summer movie season” were pretty much kaput with the arrival of COVID-19, and unless you were Christopher Nolan, nobody in their right mind was going to release a billion dollar movie in a summer where everyone was scared s**tless.

Alas, most of the movies that were scheduled for 2020 (Black Widow, Jungle Cruise, A Quiet Place Part II, F9, etc.) were put on hold until THIS summer, and voila! We were back to the movies… well, sort of. We had plenty of big movies this summer, for sure, but the industry still seems to be finding its footing again. We didn’t see the box office numbers of, say, Avengers: Endgame, but the numbers were the best they’d been since 2019… so I guess that’s something. The numbers this summer just felt a bit muted though, seeing as Disney+ has their own rental options, HBO Max streams Warner Bros.’ big releases without an upcharge, and so on. Not every movie had an immediate rental option, though. The industry is still working on it, it’ll just be a minute.

As for those big movies, I enjoyed a good amount of them, and honestly it was just good to be able to look forward to movies again. I wasn’t wowed by many of the big blockbusters, but watching all of the money on the screen, it was easy to see why studios felt the need to wait. Truth is, the best movies of the summer were the smaller ones. Yet the big ones got the job done nicely enough. Though there were a few rotten eggs thrown in there, too. I admit I didn’t see everything. I’ve heard Candyman is great, but it doesn’t appeal; I’ll live without seeing The Boss Baby 2; some people can watch a Netflix movie on their television without issue… it isn’t the same to me, so a lot of those were neglected. But I did see a good amount, and as we enter my favorite season- Oscar season- I’d like to dwell on the summer. We have much to look forward to this fall (we get a new Clint Eastwood film and a new Paul Schrader film two weeks in a row, talk about hype), but let’s talk about the summer. Which, in terms of movies, could be rough… but when the movies worked, they really worked.

The Best

5. The Night House: The last movie of the summer film season I got to see, and what a creepy, genuinely shocking treat (seriously, it has one of the best jump scares I’ve witnessed). A scary chiller with a deeper meaning, I hope that more people catch onto this movie, at least for the brilliant performance by Rebecca Hall at the film’s center.

4. Val: A moving, heartbreaking documentary. Released through Amazon, Val captures the life of Val Kilmer in ways that make you respect him in ways you never knew, and it also leaves you with a fuller sense of who he is. It also dove into just what it truly feels like to be a celebrity. Perhaps that doesn’t sound riveting, but I assure you, it is.

3. Pig: Nicolas Cage deserves an Oscar nomination. There’s a sentence I haven’t typed or considered typing in a long time, but his work in Pig is among the best he’s ever done. It’s a beautiful piece of work. The movie itself, you could say the same. From its poster and premise, you’d assume it’s another pulpy, trashy Nicolas Cage revenge thriller where he throws his hat into the John Wick-type ring, but it is not so.

2. The Green Knight: This is perhaps the love-it-or-loathe-it movie of the year (though personally Annette gives it a run for its money), yet David Lowery’s film, in the eyes of yours truly, was a fascinating, gorgeous, bizarre, and brilliant experience; one that lingers in the mind long after you see it. It is the best movie of the summer.

1. Zola: But… this is my favorite. I didn’t have a better time at the movies this summer. You’ll probably know how you’re going to feel about Janicza Bravo’s Zola within the first five minutes. If you couldn’t tell, I ate it up. The film is bouncy, nutty, and absolutely hilarious, with four brilliant performances from Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Coleman Domingo and Nicholas Braun. I’ll see it again in a heartbeat.

The Best Blockbusters

3. The Suicide Squad: Suicide Squad was one of the worst movies of summer 2016; The Suicide Squad is among the best of this summer. Considered a box office bomb, the film is the movie its predecessor should’ve been. It was violent, gross, funny, and really damn silly, but when it needed to be, pretty cool.

2. A Quiet Place Part II: The first A Quiet Place worked wonders with its premise, and a big part of that was John Krasinski’s direction. The same can be said about this sequel, which not only made me develop more of a fondness for the original but also gave us a tight, expertly crafted, 90 minute thrill ride that certainly delivered the goods.

1. In the Heights: I have many regrets. One is not seeing In the Heights on the big screen. Truth be told, I had zero interest in this film before the reviews, so I caught it on HBO Max. What I got though was a hot summer smash of a musical. One that introduced a type of musical (I haven’t seen or heard anything from Hamilton) that feels fresh, new, and alive. Not to mention, for a musical that runs two and a half hours, there’s barely a song that doesn’t work, if any, and it’s filled with characters and scenarios that you truly care about. Another film considered a box office bomb, hopefully the film will find its footing on home video.

The Worst

3. The Ice Road: I love Liam Neeson. And I would love it if he would stop doing these generic, dull action movies. If he finds another one worth our time, and his, good deal. This one wasn’t, compliments of Netflix.

2. Spiral: My first Saw movie in about 15 years, and pretty early into it, I remembered why. You’d think that having Chris Rock and Samuel L. Jackson on board, something of interest would’ve attracted them to this project. But it was missing from this empty and lazy (and gross, can’t forget that) exercise.

1. Space Jam: A New Legacy: Speaking of empty, and lazy, and gross, here is a family comedy that could’ve honestly been fun if the effort had been put forth. Except it wasn’t and the film was boring, unfunny, and at times ghastly. Unlike In the Heights, I don’t regret missing this in the theatre.

Best Performances

Emma Stone and Thompson- Cruella

Nicolas Cage- Pig

The cast of Zola

Rebecca Hall- The Night House

Dev Patel- The Green Knight

The cast of In the Heights

Matt Damon- Stillwater

Adam Driver- Annette

Best Pleasant SurpriseCruella: This is far from a great movie. But it’s a great looking one, and considering how dull these Disney live-action spinoff things have been lately, it came as a surprise. It had personality, great acting, and it was clear that the people involved in it enjoyed making it.

Biggest DisappointmentLuca: I expect a lot from Disney/Pixar, and a good amount of people really enjoyed this. As for me, it got on my nerves, and while not terrible, it didn’t exactly achieve anything particularly memorable, either.

Guilty PleasureOld: The new M. Night Shyamalan movie is silly and nutty, with terrible dialogue and puzzle pieces that don’t really amount to too much… yet I found those pieces intriguing. It’s not a movie that I could recommend with a straight face, but it’s one that I kind of dug.

Most UnderratedStillwater: People didn’t really see this movie and a good amount of the people who did didn’t go for it. Not exactly sure why, either. It’s a lot of movie, but it’s two and a half hours worth of very compelling storytelling; a film that pretty much held me in its grip from beginning to end. Oh, and Matt Damon is honestly worthy of Academy Award recognition.

Most AudaciousAnnette: So my review of this film was a pretty mixed one. Truth be told, it remains the same, in that it really isn’t a film that I feel the urge to see again… but I’ll be damned if I don’t love talking to people about it. It was an experience so nutty I kind of want people to see it, even if it wasn’t one I necessarily enjoyed… but I sure won’t forget it, which is no small feat.

I neglected to review Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings this past weekend. Personally, I liked it. But the fall season has much, much more

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