Welcome to my 21 for '21 – a list of 21 cinematic favorites from 2021 (even if they were technically 2020 releases, and even if they didn't literally play at cinemas), along with 21 runners-up, and, because I'm only in half-bitchy critic mode these days, 10-and-a-half citations for the most egregious offenders of the past 12 months.

From its opening Meet Cute to its inspired roster of satiric figures to its rapturous finale in which two youths literally fall for each other (and into each other), Licorice Pizza all but bubbles over with euphoric high jinks, platonic-rom-com wit, and an unmissable desire to give audiences a great time. It's like the movie version of a chocolate-covered pretzel: salty and sweet, and something that, once consumed, makes you instantly crave more.

“Nothing comforts anxiety like a little nostalgia.” This is a piece of advice Morpheus gives Neo in the latest Matrix installment, and over the decades, Hollywood has certainly taken that truism to heart. This week saw no fewer than three franchise continuations – The Matrix Resurrections, Sing 2, and The King's Man (a prequel to the Kingsmen series) – debut on the same day. And while the films vary in quality between utterly delightful and mostly terrible, all three at least offer pleasures of the familiar: soothing presences, and recognizable flourishes, for anxious times.

What follows are opinions, rhetorical questions, and tangents inspired by Spider-Man: No Way Home - director Jon Watts' initially dreary, ultimately exhilarating love letter to Marvel fans - more or less in order of occurrence.

Happily, and gratefully, this is a film clearly made by people who both adore its 60-year-old predecessor and still saw 21st-century room for improvement.

Because I'll have so many complimentary things to say about Jane Campion's and Netflix's new slow-boil Western The Power of the Dog, I may as well get my one major irritation out of the way: Is Benedict Cumberbatch the only living Brit who can't pull off an American accent? Like, any American accent?

Upon leaving my screening of Encanto, I was convinced that I had just seen my favorite animated Disney movie since 2016's Zootopia, the Oscar-winning comedy that, maybe not coincidentally, was also co-directed by the new film's Jared Bush and Byron Howard. But when I tried thinking back to the animated Disney musical that I most loved prior to Encanto, I drew a blank.

It would be wonderful to report that Ghostbusters: Afterlife is great. Hell, it would be wonderful to report that it's nothing more, or less, than goofy dumb fun. But if you only smile four times (I counted) over the course of two hours, I'm not sure that qualifies as having fun.

With The Guardian deeming the 2015 work “a thrillingly transgressive hit,” the unorthodox and unforgettable comedy Er Ist Wieder Da – also known by its English title Look Who's Back – enjoys a December 3 screening at Rozz-Tox, serving as the final 2021 presentation in the Kinogarten series of acclaimed, German-themed works hosted by the Rock Island venue and Davenport's German American Heritage Center.

Belfast's overall tone is child's-view fanciful – a rose-tinted (albeit mostly black-and-white) love letter to the formative people and places of Kenneth Branagh's youth – but with added dollops of painful real-world experience that make for an awkward, not entirely successful blend. The movie is oftentimes touching and funny, and I was continually engaged. I just never quite bought what its writer/director was selling.