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HiT’s Best Movies of 2021

It's another down year for quality cinema, but these titles delivered the goods

This critic dreads one event of the movie year beyond all others – Oscar night.

The show, once a beloved broadcast bringing joy and surprises, is now a humorless slog of speeches and finger wagging.

Something similar is happening with another annual task – compiling a list of the year’s best movies.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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A post shared by Riders of Justice (@ridersofjusticemovie)

Another seemingly joyful moment is now riddled with stress and uncertainty. Hollywood doesn’t make many “great” movies these days, the kind you can’t wait to watch again as soon as you leave the theater. The best of the best haunt you for days, nay weeks, after that first, rapturous screening.

Recent years have delivered a few such films, like “Joker” and “Jojo Rabbit.”

Now?

Oscar-bait movies like “Last Night in Soho,” “Belfast” and “Nightmare Alley” arrive with all the necessary awards season heat, but they can’t deliver the goods. Others, like “Licorice Pizza,” lean far too heavily on the auteur’s brand to have the required impact.

So consider the following five titles with this caveat. Most shouldn’t be on this list in a great year for films, but we have to start somewhere …

NOTE: This critic hasn’t screened some movies that could, in theory, crack this list. We’ll update this post as needed.

Riders of Justice

A vigilante comedy? What sounds horrible on paper is priceless in its execution. The divine Mads Mikkelsen stars as a military veteran vowing to avenge his wife’s death. To do so, he’ll need the help of some nerdy number crunchers and more than a little luck.

Riders of Justice - Exclusive Official Trailer (2021) Mads Mikkelsen

“Riders of Justice” delivers surprising laughs, memorable characters and keen insights into how we bounce back from tragedy. The notion of a U.S. remake is absurd, but that’s Hollywood.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Most critics avoid putting superhero films on their “Best of” lists. That’s silly.

A great movie can be found in any genre – comedy, horror or even the MCU-niverse.

That’s exactly what we found with “No Way Home,” a delirious mash note to fans and a rollicking good time. It helps that the humor lands, the dramatic moments register and there’s a hint of romance in play.

It’s not just a crush of CGI insanity like some superhero fare. Plus, the sturdy cast, from the villainous Willem Dafoe to the reliable Tom Holland, seals all the deals. 

American Underdog

Faith-based storytellers Andy and Jon Erwin keep refining their craft. The results? This winning ode to the ultimate comeback story, the fall and rise of quarterback Kurt Warner.

The gridiron glory is here, of course. It’s what comes before the touchdowns that matters most. “Underdog” doesn’t dismiss the hero’s romantic partner, another feather in its storytelling cap. Anna Paquin gets plenty of screen time as the woman who captured Kurt’s heart, and then some. Their romance, rocky and relatable, powers Kurt to become a better person.

That, in turn, changed NFL history.

King Richard

Oscar-bait films should all be this smart and accessible. Will Smith will snag another Oscar nomination as Richard Williams, the crusty patriarch who saw greatness in his daughters, Venus and Serena. He was right, as we all know now, but it’s how he shaped their path to superstardom that matters so very much.

Even better?

King Richard” is the most overtly conservative film of the year, but those elements are woven expertly into the story. No lectures here, and thank goodness for that.

The drama proved as rigorously entertaining as “Spidey” and friends.

Luca

Pixar magic has its limits. The animated powerhouse has yet to make a bad film, but its recent efforts have been either solid or pedestrian.

“Luca” is neither.

Disney and Pixar’s Luca | Official Trailer | Disney+

This charmer packs a whimsical gimmick – brothers who live in the sea but struggle to adapt to life on terra firms. From there the laughs are big and bold, the life lessons gentle and affirming. 

Of course the animation is jaw-droopingly lovely. That’s what Pixar brings to the screen time and time again. It’s the story’s heart that beats the loudest, though.

Honorable Mentions: “The Power of the Dog,” “Rush to Judgment,” “Free Guy

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