My entertainment year in review for 2020 was, unavoidably, rather underwhelming. Many of the movies I’d been looking forward to last year got postponed due to the pandemic, and I spent Christmas sick with COVID, watching Wonder Woman 1984 at home on the couch instead of the theater (hint: it wasn’t great – either my holiday experience or the movie).
Thankfully, this year is a much different story. I had plenty of movies and TV shows to choose from – enough items that I actually had to cut some from my list. It was so much fun to once again have new content to get hyped about throughout the year and then discuss with other fans.
Going to the movie theater is an experience I hope I’ll never take for granted again, and I felt so much joy watching films like Dune and Spider-Man: No Way Home on an IMAX screen. However, I’m also grateful for streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ that kept us entertained at home.
So, without further ado, here’s my entertainment top 7 of 2021! (Quick disclaimer: I’m not necessarily arguing that these are the seven best stories that came out this year; they’re simply the ones that meant the most to me personally.)
Spoiler alert: There’s only one Marvel Disney+ series on this end of the year list, because if I didn’t limit myself to just one, this list would be overpopulated by them. I enjoyed each of the MCU Disney+ series in their own way, but overall, WandaVision was my favorite – which surprised me, because it was the MCU series I was least looking forward to initially. Once you strip away the trippy, magical elements and delightful retro TV show styling, WandaVision is a surprisingly nuanced and mature look at grief and how it can warp a person with super-powered gifts.
6. Justice League: The Snyder Cut
Is an end of the year list truly complete unless it includes one slightly controversial pick? I know that Zack Snyder’s take on the DC Cinematic Universe isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. But for me, The Snyder Cut is everything I wanted from the 2017 Justice League movie but didn’t get. The story is more nuanced, feeling more like an epic miniseries than a film (it’s four hours long on HBO Max). The character interactions are more meaningful, and the story has far more room to breathe. Snyder clearly poured his heart and soul into this cut after recovering from the grief left behind by a personal tragedy, and that love and care absolutely shows on screen.
5. Spider-Man: No Way Home
I feel like there’s a lot of superhero content on this list (with more still to come), and I normally like to diversify my end of year wrap-ups, if possible. However, it didn’t feel right to leave off No Way Home, which not only brings to a conclusion (maybe) Tom Holland’s time of playing Spider-Man in the MCU, but also pays homage to past on screen versions of Spider-Man, and the villains who’ve opposed him. This is an epic film packed with content, but also deeply emotional and heartfelt. It avoids the trap of soulless nostalgia, and all the cameos have meaning.
4. The High Republic
Since Disney purchased Lucasfilm, there have been some great tie-in novels along the way, but nothing quite at the level of the High Republic series, a multi-platform storytelling initiative that includes adult, young adult, and youth novels; comic books; and even audio dramas. The series is set before the events of The Phantom Menace, in what appears to be the golden age of the Republic and the Jedi. All is well in the galaxy – until it isn’t, and a catastrophic hyperspace disaster heralds the arrival of a new threat. The High Republic introduces a captivating new villain – Marchion Ro – and a host of new Jedi. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for this series in 2022.
3. Shadow and Bone
Netflix’s Shadow and Bone was a buzz-worthy hit, blending magic with touches of steampunk and historical Russia. It’s one of those page-to-screen adaptations that I feel confident in saying is actually better than the book it’s based on. The TV series deepens the characters and adds more layers to their arcs, and wisely brings in characters from Leigh Bardugo’s other in-universe novel, Six of Crows (which is an excellent read, by the way). Plus, Ben Barnes is a delight as the suave and scheming Darkling.
2. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
I’ll admit it: I was experiencing some MCU burnout post-Endgame. I worried that the cinematic universe might be played out, and running thin on new stories and ideas. I’m glad I was wrong, because Shang-Chi is not only one of my favorite movies of 2021, it’s one of my favorite Marvel movies ever (in the top 3 for sure, and might even claim the #1 spot over time). The action sequences are amazing, but what makes this film stand out is the family drama at the heart of the story, and how Shang-Chi finds the hero within himself.
1. Dune: Part 1
I haven’t stopped gushing about Dune since I saw the first trailer back in 2020, and I’m not likely to stop gushing about the movie anytime soon. I’m still fascinated with the fact that I didn’t originally connect with the novel when I read it years ago, because now I’m obsessed with this fictional universe. The film’s gorgeous visuals are absolutely breathtaking, and I loved all the intense political intrigue. Dune: Part 1 was as epic and awe-inspiring as I hoped it would be, and I’m eager to keep exploring the universe.