By: John M Jerva
2021 is coming to a close and with it everyone is shelling out their best lists of this past year. I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t do these as someone always shares their opinion on how I’m wrong but alas I’ll keep doing it as these are the films I feel are the best that 2021 had to offer.
I’m doing my list in two parts with this installment reflecting on numbers 20 to 11. There are some blockbusters mixed in with indie fair so strap in and enjoy the ride as I give you my back end list for the best of the year!
20) IDA RED
Ida Red is the sleeper action-drama movie of the year. It’s not audience friendly in the sense that it isn’t mainstream like Marvel’s The Eternals which also hits this year but if you’re looking for some deep layered crime family drama punctuated by unforgiving action and violence then look no further. The cast is sensational especially Frank Grillo and the action when it hits is like blunt force trauma. It’s brutal and bloody and the finale is an instant action classic. Do yourself a favor and check this one out ASAP.
I can probably count the number of action films from Spain I’ve seen on one hand but dammit if that country didn’t deliver one of the craziest and heart stopping action films of the year.
Once again, a movie, from Spain no less, has managed to fly right under my radar. I was literally browsing my list of flicks on Netflix when I came across this awesome and spectacular looking action-thriller titled XTREME. Literally. I was simply browsing and up popped up this movie that looks deliciously violent with balletic shoot outs, fisticuffs and swordplay.
The film’s plot pits a retired hit man up against his sadistic, criminal stepbrother when the latter kills his dad and only son. That would probably make the holidays a little weird but I digress. It gives us fans an excuse to watch the bloodletting that follows when Garcia’s grizzled hit man takes on his step kin and his legions of goons.
I know, I know, here’s yet another action spectacle that takes its cues from one unknown movie named John Wick but with that, it still was solid. Starring is martial arts maestro Teo García as well as Óscar Jaenada, Óscar Casas, and Andrea Duro with Daniel Benmayor handling the directing duties.
18) BOSS LEVEL
Frank Grillo, the hardest working man in cinema these days, hits the list again and he stars with Mel Gibson in a brutal and savage take of Groundhogs Day. Grillo relives the same day over and over only to get killed repeatedly by a crazy group of assassins.
Boss Level from director Joe Carnahan is a bombastic blend of dark humor and dizzying action set pieces and Grillo proves again ego he’s one of the elite of action cinema. Gibson as the villain is a stroke of genius as well and steals the show.
Netflix’s ulta-violent assassin-revenge thriller is a bloody ballet of bullets, knives and fisticuffs with Mary Elizabeth Winstead giving her best performance to date and is simply bad ass while sympatheic at the same time. Produced by action maestro David Leitch and the 87Eleven Action Design Team, this is one high powered actioner that showcases some of the most brutal and bloody action sequences this year.
16) WITHOUT REMORSE
Without Remorse, is a good intro for what will hopefully be a series of films with Michael B. Jordan, who officially takes on the name of John Clark at the end, starring in as this universe expands. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Jordan’s John Clark and John Krasinki’s Jack Ryan crossover with each other as now these two properties are at Amazon. There is a stinger scene after the initial credits where we see the birth of the iconic Rainbow Six task force and I’m eager to see what Jordan has in store in the future so here’s hoping that we get to see it. Unfortunately, for true Clancy fans, the plot of the book is revamped and extremely retooled but for me I didn’t mind and I thought it served its purpose. Would it have been nice to see a more faithful adaptation? Sure, but it didn’t kill it for me and once again Jordan and the rousing action was a big seller for me. If you forgive that bigger mistake, the movie definitely entertains. After all, it’s all about the bullets and the bravado and Jordan is in fine form with this hopeful franchise character.
15) THE TOMORROW WAR
The Tomorrow War is as advertised. A summer blockbuster that hits all the right notes and while it’s gives us nothing in the surprise department, it still does what it’s supposed to do. The characters are fleshed out and the action is sweat inducing. There is also a wonderful amount of heart that is a welcome addition to the bombastic proceedings and I enjoyed every minute of it. Chris Pratt proves once again that he’s a mainstream leading man and he’s surrounded by a supporting cast that is all on their A game.
A lot of reviews have bashed this film and I can’t figure for the life of me why. This is definitely one of my favorite films of the year and it does what it’s supposed to. It’s a sci-fi action spectacle that gives the audience a much welcome diversion from real life and if you can look past it’s shortcomings then you’ll without a doubt enjoy the ride.
14) THE PAPER TIGERS
The Paper Tigers is a rare film that is able to blend different genres and give the audience a smart, funny movie about getting older and facing your regrets. Everything balances out just right and most of the success is due to the film’s stars Alain Uy, Ron Yuan and Mykel Shannon Jenkins. They are the ones we have to be vested in so if they don’t work, the movie doesn’t work. This is a film that leads you to believe it’s one thing but then does a complete 180 and delivers so much more. It’s funny, exciting, touching and it’s a winner plain and simple. The storyline is something that most of us can relate to and martial artists will really get the most out of what it has to say. Like I said earlier in the review…come for the Kung Fu but stay for everything else that it gives you. The Paper Tigers is definitely one of my favorite films of the year so far and it’s one that deserves the biggest audience possible.
BONUS: Check out my exclusve interviewbelow with Alain Uy, Ron Yuan and Mykel Shannon Jenkins as we chat about the film on The Action Fix Podcast!
13) SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS
After months of waiting, Marvel Studios second film in Phase IV Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings finally kicked its way into theaters this year and with it, we have our first full blown Marvel martial arts action epic that delivers in spades. Newcomer Simu Liu is fantastic and he leads the way in the title role along with veteran Hong Kong icon Tony Leung stealing every scene, Michelle Yeoh doing her signature thing and Awkwafina who is hilarious and more. The movie delivers the comic book fight fest thrills along with heartfelt drama and comedy.
12) EVERY LAST ONE OF THEM
Every Last One of Them is a film that is equal parts action film and revenge thriller with a dash of mystery thrown in and Paul Sloan proves once again that he’s got what it takes to be a leading man. Sloan adds a level of depth to his role of Jake Hunter and showcases what happens to men who lead this sort of no win lifestyle. It’s sad but realistic and unfortunately life doesn’t end up the way we want it to.
Sesma paints the portrait of a soldier who has given his life to do the dirty deeds that must be done but no one wants to admit needs to be done. As a result, he’s lost out on his family and a chance to lead a normal life because of the beast that he’s become. There’s enough action and gunplay to satisfy the masses but at the same time, there’s a strong underlying message that is important to listen to when all is said and done.
This is a bruising action film that shows off the worst in people and is a gripping thriller that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until the bullet riddled finale where vengeance comes at the ultimate price. Plus it has one of the best action film titles ever so that alone makes this little movie worthy of being on the list plus it has Hollywood icon Richard Dreyfuss letting loose with a machine gun. Mad respect Sir.
11) HELL HATH NO FURY
Hell Hath No Fury from filmmaker and action maestro Jesse V Johnson is an unapologetic war movie with dire consequences. It is raw and ugly and nobody wins when all is said and done. The movie is a powder keg of raw emotion and fierce combat action that only Jesse can deliver.
Boasting a sensational cast including Nina Bergman, Louis Mandylor and Daniel Bernhardt, HELL HATH NO FURY is a gritty and brutal character set piece infused with bloody and bombastic war action. It will without a doubt leave an impression on you after the final credits roll. It might not be as action packed as some of Johnson’s other entries like Avengement and Triple Threat but the strength of the movie here lies within the performances of the sensational cast. It’s a haunting tribute to a part of history that will never be forgotten.
There you have it! Numbers 20 to 11 of my picks for the best 2021 had to offer. Be on the lookout for part two where I outline the ten best films of the year! Happy Holidays!!!