Against all odds, prayers, and pleas, 2021 was somehow even worse than 2020. We did it! Apocalyptic without the novelty, full of so much death that everyone now just yada-yada-yadas over body counts, maybe this last year will finally be the poison pill that kills nostalgia addiction? Waxing whimsical about past pop culture is a helluva lot more difficult when the context for that entertainment is super-duper icky. VH1’s I Love the ‘90s isn’t likely to get a sequel titled I Love the Plague Era.
Here in Omaha, our locally and regionally owned theaters survived. Oh, they ain’t doin’ Scrooge McDuck swan dives into tepid pools of gold coins or anything. Still, simply continuing to exist in this environment is not nothing, considering they were blasted point-blank with a double barrel of bad bullshit. The ACX Cinema 12+ celebrated its first full trip around the sun. Film Streams welcomed patrons back for regular and repertory screenings at both the Dundee and Ruth Sokolof theaters. Marcus Theaters recently took to offering “vaxxed only” screenings, hoping to coax those rightfully still a bit iffy on locking themselves in a room full of strangers with questionable hygiene and varying “opinions” on scientific medical information, which is 2021’s true lasting legacy.
Next month, we’ll do a happy dance. I’ll roll out my top 10 films of the year, late as always. Why? Because even during a pandemic, in which everyone is used to streaming everything, major award contenders are still treated like Michelin-star delicacies that East and West coasters get to chow down on first, leaving us Midwesterners to lick crumbs. For now, let’s lean into the terrible! In a quest for catharsis, let’s Marie Kondo all the movie-related elements of 2021 that whizzed on our joy in preparation for a 2022 that surely can’t be worse. Right? Right??
Wherefore Art House?
It’s not like things were great for indie art house movies in the before times, but the pandemic has emicked all over nonblockbuster flicks. Audiences are increasingly willing to risk the Rona for Spider-Man and his amazing friends, but smaller films are struggling. Hard.
Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch pulled in less than $15 million domestically. His last film, The Grand Budapest Hotel, snagged $60 million. Do you understand that people still dress up like characters from The Royal Tenenbaums for Halloween (and in everyday life)? I gave one of his movies a B-, and I thought I was going to get stabbed to death with a quirky comb by someone humming an obscure European pop song. If the Cult of Anderson isn’t enough to get vintage jean-covered butts in seats, what hope do newer writer/directors have?
The old problem was space: Theaters didn’t want to cede a screen to some French foreign film when they could squeeze in another showing of Fast and the Furious 17: Vin Diesel’s Wheelchair vs The Rock’s Power Scooter. Now, there’s plenty of space, but the audiences who flock to non-mainstream cinema are the kind likely to, you know, take concerns about disease spread seriously. I’m not trying to make this political, because science shouldn’t be, I’m just saying if you draw a diagram of “People who know what Titane is about” and “People who wear a mask over both their mouth and nose,” there’s gonna be some overlap.
For now, those of us who aren’t content with having a teeny-tiny handful of studios dominate theaters for the rest of our lives need to speak with our wallets. Support smaller flicks when you feel safe doing so, and drop some full-price coin on at-home rentals until then. It’s that or we’ll be stuck watching the sons of famous directors directing remakes of their daddies’ movies forever.
Speaking of crossing streams, Hollywood’s half-assed plan on how to handle at-home cinema is going about as you’d expect. We’re all suddenly navigating a colossal cluster cluck of 37 platforms and interfaces. Like dim-witted panhandlers who clung to covered wagons, studios digging for streaming gold have given us … a more confusing version of cable? Seriously, you know they’re literally going to just reinvent cable again, right? “The Disney Bundle” will soon give way to “Cable Classic,” and we’ll all be thanking them when they do it.
Big-time serious movie men threw big-time serious tantrums when they found out their big-time serious movies weren’t going to show on big screens. Did it actually hurt revenues or returns? Who knows?! They all just lie through their teeth about how many people watched what on streaming. Netflix counts it as a view if you think about one of their movies long enough to remember the name. Dune made a hundred milly despite being released early on HBO Max. Is that good? Again, who knows?! If those people who wanted to see Space Paul vs the Sand Tapeworms on super-duper IMAX got to do that and those who love Frank Herbert’s book but would prefer a significantly less germy, wormy experience got to watch safely, that seems like a win-win.
Here’s the thing: Without strapping into pandemic prediction mode, I think we can safely agree this isn’t going to suddenly just go away. Yet it sure seems like nobody is closer to making logical, reasoned decisions about the best way to handle how to distribute movies so that audiences are happy, theaters can survive, and studios can continue to make bonzo bucks while creatively accounting their films into net losses. Sure seems like 2021 was a good time to make a plan. That … didn’t happen. Look for 2022 to be even worse in terms of confusion about how, when, and where to watch what you want. Yippee!
The Worst 5 Movies of the Year
To put a fine shine on this turd, it’s the moment you’ve (not) been waiting for. Before I hit you with the weakest of sauce, I want to say that I do this because it’s fun and sparks conversation, not because I like shitting on something that someone somewhere loves. I promise you, each movie listed below was someone’s favorite movie of the year. I love that thought, I really do. We’ve come to take opinions as such a personal slight when they’re nothing more than a reflection of how we see the world and the myriad of complex, ever-changing and unseen influences at work on us. I am glad we have a diversity of thought on what is and isn’t good. So here’s the sucky movies that sucked most this sucky year.
This ugly, loud, gross “throwback” action comedy bumped an M. Night Shyamalan movie from this list. Do you know the kind of grotesque hell Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson had to summon to make something I disliked more than another Shyamalan movie about magic water?
4 – The Last Duel
One of two stinky steamers Ridley Scott dropped this year, this is (I hope) the only big-budget film to give a rapist’s point of view a full third of the running time. Making Ben Affleck wear a soul patch and Matt Damon sport a mullet should be enough to keep any movie from this list. You know what can undo that? Multiple, long, “glamorous” rape sequences. No thank you please!
Someone on the internets “dragged me” for saying I lost faith in Edgar Wright after Baby Driver. That’s a movie that features Kevin Spacey and Ansel Elghort. Google them and see what happens! Point is, it’s not surprising that Soho is a pervy, wrongheaded dive into sex work that features the worst “twist” ending of the year. And, as we discussed, M. Night Shyamalan made a movie this year.
2 – Malignant
I do not care that this horror flick was an intentional homage to schlocky genre movies of the past. I care that it was so poorly acted that I spent the first half of the movie thinking the twist was that we were watching a bad movie within a real movie. There was no real movie, joke’s on me!
1 – Roadrunner
Rotten Tomatoes wouldn’t let me give this an F-, but I gave it one. This ghoulish, monstrous reframing and manipulation is as irresponsible as filmmaking gets. An Anthony Bourdain documentary could have, and arguably should have, been a profound gateway to meaningful reflection. Instead, a director shamed himself, even if he failed to sully the good name of a troubled man.