I will admit that I did not see as many new films this past year as I hoped. Between releasing our 12 Westerns and other projects, I barely made it to the theater and couldn’t keep up with all the streaming releases. So of 26 new films I did see, here are my choices for the top ten movies of the year!

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1. Pig

After months, Pig remains my number one choice. I haven’t stopped thinking about the film since I saw it and as a person whose best friend was his dog, it holds a special place in my heart. I’m also happy to see a movie with Nicolas Cage (my favorite actor) at the very top of my list for the first time in years.

From my review on Letterboxd: The reports are true. Pig is a great film. I had a feeling it would be months ago when Cage described it as not a revenge picture but a “tone poem”. It frustrates me, however, that it takes this film to remind people that Cage is one of the best actors we have. He’s been great for years, even in bad movies, but people just don’t pay attention until they’re told to… Pig, reminding me of my dog Bandit, had me in tears. 

2. The Courier

Though praised for his work in The Power of the Dog (my least favorite film of this year), Benedict really deserves credit for this film which will most likely never get the attention it should.

From my review on Letterboxd: It amazes me that this film has been praised but at the same time dismissed as a “good traditional spy film”. Yes, for a good portion of the movie’s runtime, it is exactly that: a taught, suspense thriller like the best of Le Carre’s work. However, in its final third the movie becomes much more and I was moved to tears by many of its scenes. I won’t say much more but you must see this film!

3. Benedetta

The director of Robocop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers among other iconic films has quite a career. He began in the Netherlands making a few great films that most American audiences were unaware of, followed by his American period which produced several unforgettable films, and then returned to Europe where he has made films ever since with varying results. Benedetta, though not as adored by critics as his other recent work, is my favorite.

From my review on Letterboxd: I love this movie. Yes it is excessive and preposterous at times. But it’s also bold, full of vigor, and actually erotic. The latter quality is so missing in most cinema I see these days that it’s a breath of fresh air to feel Verhoeven’s focus on sexuality. 

4. Georgetown

How Christoph Waltz’s debut as a director was so disregarded continues to baffle me. This is a film I’ll never forget and I hope more moviegoers begin to discover it.

From my review on Letterboxd: It’s no surprise that critics did not appreciate Georgetown. If Reversal of Fortune, which was heralded as a great film and was nominated for several awards, came out today it would be totally overlooked. They don’t appreciate subtle, simple storytelling any more and performance driven work that isn’t showy.

5. The Spine of Night

You probably haven’t heard of this animated film and it’s no “cartoon”. This violence fantasy is a visual feast but also presents a complex narrative that I’m still processing, that keeps me wanting to come back for more.

From my review on Letterboxd: A Heavy Metal fantasy film that delivers. There’s a lot to unpack in this complex narrative and I look forward to watching it again sometime. It is also a movie that only works in animated form, especially considering its female protagonist is nude the entire film. 

6. The Little Things

I think John Lee Hancock is the best Hollywood craftsman working today, bouncing from subject to subject, genre to genre, and always delivering interesting work. His latest was compared to Se7en and it has its similarities but this film is more subtle. One of my friends called it an overlong episode of Law & Order. It’s no surprise to me that he and many others missed the point.

From my review on Letterboxd: I am not a big Denzel fan but I love his nuanced performance here, capturing the torment of a police detective. He looks tired and old in every scene. This isn’t the Equalizer. Rami is good too, if a little hard to get used to but his performance builds. 

7. The Card Counter

Paul Schrader follows up his acclaimed First Reformed with a movie that is just as rich and in my opinion, a step forward.

From my review on Letterboxd: Oscar Isaac is terrific in the lead and Dafoe/Sheridan shine in supporting roles. The only weak link was Haddish. I haven’t seen her in other films but based on this performance, I certainly don’t get the hype. Schrader continues to explore the influences of Bresson’s Pickpocket and other films, especially evident in the ending. 

8. The Last Son

I can’t remember the last time a Western made my top ten of the year. That’s a little ironic since I’m such a fan of the genre but most recent entries disappoint. This one doesn’t.

From my review on Letterboxd: This dark tale is packed with great characters from Worthington’s demented protagonist (yes, this is a movie where the heroes are the villains) to Machine Gun Kelly’s young and dangerous outlaw (casting him was a stroke of genius) to Thomas Jane’s Cavalry officer (his best role in a long time) to Heather Graham’s tragic prostitute (also her best in a long while). It’s grim, brutal, and often weird.

9. Riders of Justice

The last film I watched during 2021, this is like no action movie you’ll ever see. Fresh in my mind, I still need to think a lot about this one and with more time, it probably would have been higher on this list.

From my review on Letterboxd: This is quite an unusual action film, combining a quirky comedic tone with plenty of philosophical discussion and accented with sharp violence. It proves that action movies can have ideas and still be entertaining. 

10. Army of the Dead

Some might be surprised to see this on my list as I don’t watch a lot of mainstream films and I’m not particular fond of the Zombie subgenre either. But Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead was a different experience. Mostly because of its memorable characters, it reminded me of the genre classics I grew up on like Aliens and Predator.

From my review on Letterboxd: The action is well-staged and not over-stylized. The characters are great, especially Bautista’s. Could he inherit that empty throne where Schwarzenegger no longer sits? The Rock failed to take it but I think Bautista has both the acting chomps and charm to be that kind of action hero we haven’t had since the mid-90s. 

Honorable Mentions

Here is a short list of films I admire that did not fit on the list: Dig, SAS Red Notice, Falling (Viggo Mortensen’s directing debut), South of Heaven, Val.


I found it interesting to make a list of my favorite films I saw this year that were NOT made during 2021. So often, we focus only on the new movies but I’m constantly discovering great work from the past that surprises and inspires me. So here is my top ten list of the older films I saw which were new to me:

  1. Black Robe (1991) – Directed by Bruce Beresford
  2. Wind (1992) – Directed by Carroll Ballard
  3. Cohen and Tate (1988) – Directed by Eric Red
  4. Deja Vu (2006) – Directed by Tony Scott
  5. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981) – Directed by Karel Reisz
  6. Hell’s Heroes (1929) – Directed by William Wyler
  7. Dark of the Sun (1968) – Directed by Jack Cardiff
  8. Wanted: Dead or Alive (1987) – Directed by Gary Sherman
  9. Bound (1996) – Directed by the Wachowskis
  10. Dillinger (1973) – Directed by John Milius


Here is every movie I watched during 2021:

Movies of 2021


The Freshman
Paint Your Wagon
A Serious Man
The House on Carrol Street
A Week’s Vacation
Raid on Entebbe
Ghost of Peter Sellers
Pieces of a Woman
Mad Dog Morgan
Jiu Jitsu
The French Lieutenant’s Woman
Hell’s Heroes
Messenger of Death
Clockmaker of St. Paul
The Stolen
Pay the Ghost
Dark of the Sun
The Wonderful Country
The Dig
The Deadly Trackers
Waterhole #3
Rainy Day in New York
The Mechanic
Man in the Wilderness
Outlander season 1
Cincinnati Kid
Midnight Special
A Score to Settle
Murphy’s Law
The Gunfighter
The Little Things
52 Pick Up
The Fourth War
Buffalo Soldiers
Judge and the Assassin
Violent City
Sergeant Rutledge
Death Wish 3
Hallelujah Trail
7 Days in Entebbe
Private Eyes
Black Robe
Dragged Across Concrete
The Kid
Death Watch
Silent Fall
Apache Rifles
Deepstar Six
Cohen and Tate
Best Seller
Needful Things
Without Remorse
Unlawful Entry
Body of Evidence
Clear and Present Danger
Wanted: Dead or Alive
The Homesman
Heartbreak Ridge
Ridiculous Six
Past Midnight
The Last Stand
The Crew
Army of the Dead
The White Buffalo
Shadow in the Cloud
The Spikes Gang
A Sunday in the Country
Outlaw Josey Wales
The Vikings
Lions for Lambs
Life and Nothing But
The Seventh Day
Captain Conan
The Tracker
Absence of Malice
Inn of the Damned
Ned Kelly
Across the Line
Flight of the Intruder
The Last Sunset
High Ground
Nam Angels
The Hot Rock
Last Days on Mars
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Five Guns West
Black Jack
The Rider
Rider on the Rain
The Prophecy
Midnight Run
Green Card
Army of One
The Immortal Story
Deja Vu
No Man’s Land
Legend of the Lone Ranger
Taking of Pelham 1 2 3
Osterman Weekend
Taking of Pelham 123 (original)
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys
My Brilliant Career
Heaven Knows Mr. Allison
Take Shelter
The Russia House
The Alamo
The Courier
Texas Rising
Force of Nature
The Man Who Would Be King
Moon Over Parador
Red Headed Stranger
Heaven’s Burning
No Way Back
Once Upon a Texas Train
Lust in the Dust
Big Sur
Stay Cool
The Man From the Alamo
Stranger on Horseback
South of Heaven
Castle Freak
Cast a Long Shadow
Great Train Robbery
Dark was the Night
Five Card Stud
Death Wish 4
Prisoners of the Ghostland
Seraphim Falls
10 to Midnight
Some Kind of Hate
The End of the Affair
Jonah Hex
Army of Thieves
Willy’s Wonderland
The Valachi Papers
Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich
Detective Story
Power of the Dog
Death Wish 5
SAS: Rise of the Black Swan
The Comedians
Old Henry
3 Nights in the Desert
The Indian Runner
The Wind and the Lion
Big Wednesday
Christmas Chronicles
The Spine of Night
A Christmas Carol (1938)
Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Clause
Christmas Chronicles 2
Conan the Barbarian
The Last Son
Two Weeks in Another Town
Hunt for Red October
Black Dog
The Card Counter
Out on a Limb
Riders of Justice