Mockingbird’s Best-Of Picks From 2021

Some of Our Favorites From Movies, TV, Books, and More.

Mockingbird / 12.28.21

The pop culture landscape has become spread pretty thin over the last few years. With subscription services galore, empty movie theaters, and increasingly niche audiences, it’s impossible for anyone to see or listen to everything. Does anyone still have cable TV — let alone watch it? With that in mind, we enlisted the help of some of the contributors of the site to name their favorites from the last year. (DZ’s list arrives later this week).

In true Mbird form, what we got back was anything but your usual year-end “best of” list.

Fascinating Features (Movies)

Best Animated Kids Um, Movie?: Encanto. In addition to the incredible music, Encanto provides so many problems that the Gospel answers. It is both a cute story for the kids, and a great reminder for adults that the age-old pipedream of being perfect will eventually kill the magic in your life. –Derrick B

The Sequestration Movie Award Goes toLand. I dislike most movies, but my wife loves them. Not having been in a movie theater for 19 months, this small film on pay-per-view about the small lives of the living, dying, loving broke the spell of feeling sorry for ourselves, residents of Plague Island. –Duo D

The Underappreciated Holiday’s Film: The Humans. It’s difficult to find a quality Thanksgiving movie. Sure, they’re out there. But nowhere near the amount of Christmas movies. The Humans captures the reality of not only Thanksgiving gatherings with family but the pain of being human. All the while with an ever present statue reminding of the good news to arrive come Christmas. –Blake N

Movie That Will Make You Laugh and Cry But Mostly Cry, and Also Think About Life: Nine Days. A bunch of souls compete for their chance to live in this inventive, breathtaking movie about what it means to be alive. In an increasingly nihilistic era, Nine Days attempts something that feels seemingly old-fashioned — to show why life is worth living. – CJG

Best Foreign Language Netflix Show that I Have Been Able to Convince Almost No One in My Circle to Watch: ShtiselAn Ultra-Orthodox Jewish family, led by their widower father, dabble in matchmaking, debate faith vs. worldliness, wrestle with mortality, and manage do it all in a combination of Hebrew and Yiddish which sounds gorgeous to my uncomprehending ears. Definitely worth putting down your phone and reading the subtitles.  –Larry P

Best Picks for Geeks: 2021 was an explosive year for sci-fi and fantasy. The “revenge of the nerds” carries on. Lots of lesser known fantasy and sci-fi is hitting the mainstream, and it probably won’t stop into 2022. For Mockingbirds, the best TV of that genre in 2021 are probably Wandavision and Loki on Disney+. Don’t sleep on either of these: the former is a world class reflection on grief, power, and control, and the latter is a “philipdickian” search for a benevolent cosmic ruler. On the film front, part 1 David Villeneuve’s Dune, which offers a “photo negative” reflection of a suffering servant savior, is a Mockingbird parable to that end. There’s no grace on Arrakis, my friends. –Bryan J

For the Geeks (Part Two): Suicide Squad. While the Snyder Cut of Justice League was nice, Suicide Squad was by far the most entertaining. It didn’t take itself too seriously, had good humor, good pacing, and was an overall good reminder of the great things that can be accomplished by really bad individuals. –Derrick B

Serial Screenings (TV)

Best Show Everyone Already Saw: Ted Lasso.   blah   blah   blah   blah   blah …  Seriously, though, the second season might have flipped the script, but it’s no less hilarious, heartwarming, or a tour de force on grace in practice. –Todd B

The Other Show Everyone Talked About: Only Murders in the Building. A fun show about how literally everyone is lying about something and 100% fearful of being found out. I’d watch Steve Martin and Martin Short read the phone book, but this series was clever, funny and even made me like Selena Gomez. Tina Fey as a true crime podcast host was an excellent bonus. –Jane G

From a Small Island on the Small Screen: All Creatures Great and Small (the reboot). When it comes to television shows, I spend most of the year acting like a squirrel, hoarding shows for the winter months like a squirrel saves acorns. One of the best things on my winter watchlist in 2021 was Masterpiece PBS’s reboot of All Creatures Great and Small. Come for the animals and stunning shots of the English countryside, stay for the wholesome and heartwarming episodes featuring relationships, romance, and relatable scenarios that depict the camaraderie and comedy of community living. Season 1 is out now (free with Amazon Prime), and Season 2 is set to premiere on PBS on January 9th. –Grace L

For a Frightfully Good Time: Midnight Mass. This show is a thrill from start to finish. Set on an isolated island, the limited series from Netflix follows a village of good churchgoing people as their world falls apart in explicitly religious and super-natural ways. Complete with accurate liturgical season jokes and stunning vestments, you will want to binge this pastoral horror show in a weekend. And when you finish be sure to check out this reflection on the lessons learned for those of us living in our own vampiric world. –Connor G

Best Rom-Com for Couples: Trying (Season 2). It’s pure charm. Jason (Rafe Spall) and Nikki (Esther Smith) are a 30-something British couple with working wage jobs that they (mostly) love, even though they both know that the sum of their parts as a couple is much larger and feels destined for something luminous and lovely. They’ve been unsuccessful in their attempts to have a baby, so they have set their hearts on adopting. Much like Netflix’s After Life, Trying elevates it’s silly yet adorable characters and infuses them with a dignity that makes us root for them (ALL of them). Spall and Smith may also have the best “couple’s chemistry” of any show this year. –Howie E

For a Frightfully Good Time (Part Two): The Great (Season Two). If you can withstand the extremely bawdy sexual content The Great is a surprisingly delightful show. Total depravity never looked so whimsical. Thankfully, the writers successfully drive home the point that, no matter how horrible people may be, they must be loved as they are and not for who they should be. Hope you can stick with it until the end, but don’t watch it with anyone who is morally squeamish. –Sam B

Low-Anthropology TV: Succession. A masterclass on low anthropology, Succession on HBO follows a family of media magnates through the machinations of their *very* dysfunctional family that has all but fused with their family business, a multinational media corporation. Over its three seasons you fall in love and have your heart broken by the Roy family and their self-will run riot. Not for the faint of heart, this very Shakespearean family drama shows the inner workings of a privileged group of people who live in a completely graceless world of their own making (and destruction). –Connor G

Weirdest Parable of Modern Life: Squid Game. A group of men and women under insurmountable debt desperately competing against each other to the death for a cash prize? It’s not exactly a “triumph of the human spirit” depiction of life. The show is extremely bleak with several smatterings of profound grace. As fantastical and dreadful as the show’s premise is, its description sounds a bit like real life. –Sam B

Low-Anthropology TV (Part Two): The Real Housewives of New York City. Looking for some trash tv to make you feel like a nicer person than you are? Look no further. RHONY will convince you that you are the most down-to-earth person to exist, and you will be entertained for hours, laughing maniacally at the tv while you workout on your knockoff Peloton or drink pinot grigio by the fire feeling like Ramona Singer herself. But it doesn’t stop there – RHONY reminds you of the reality of the total depravity of the divided self when Bethany screams at LuAnn in the Berkshires, and then it reminds you of the power of forgiveness when they kiss and make up 8 hours later (HOW?). The show is an endless stream of the cringiest fights and the most unbelievable friendship make-ups that will have you believing in the power of grace once again. There are 12 seasons of 20+ episodes each so your life will now be completely consumed with the antics of Sonja Morgan, but it’s for the best. Trust. –Amanda M

Codex Compositions (Books)

Best Artsy Book: Mel Fell, by Corey R. Tabor. I work in a library, and most of the new picture books I read this year were pretty dreary: heavy issues, didactic, etc. … just what the kids don’t need right now. Mel Fell was a breath of fresh air. A legitimately funny story with bright, cartoon-y illustrations, and an innovative layout. My daughter and I have read it over and over, and I bought a copy for everyone under 10 on my Christmas list. -Joey G

Most Immersive Novel: The Five Wounds, by Kirstin Valdez Quade. This novel begins and ends in Lent. Readers spend a year in the lives of five generations of one family, exploring faith, performancism, family, and redemption. We interviewed KVQ for the Age Issue of our magazine; see here for more. –CJG

Best Book to Read During Covid: Prayer in the Night, by Tish Harrison Warren. Recently named Christianity Today’s ‘Beautiful Orthodoxy Book of the Year’ award, Tish Harrison Warren’s Prayer in the Night has been a book that’s stuck with me throughout 2021, so much so that I’ve quoted it in 25% of my Mockingbird articles this year! Much of my twenties has been spent learning how to grapple with grief, and this book has been a grace and a gift as that process continues. I highly recommend it for its beautiful prose, honest approach, and ultimately hopeful conclusion. –Grace L

Best Novel for the Internet Age: Fake Accounts, by Lauren Oyler. In this book Oyler, a critic who writes unusually viral book reviews, takes a classic story (girl meets boy) and sets it in 2016 (girl hacks boy’s phone and discovers he’s a popular online conspiracy theorist). It’s both comical and exhausting, just like the internet. –CJG

Affective Audio Arrangements (Music)

Most Inspirational Album: enargeia, by Emily D’Angelo. I don’t know a lot about classical music. I’m more comfortable in the popular realm, but in general, I’ve found that most of the music I like is either catchy, pretty, abrasive, or a mix of those things, and my goodness is this record lovely. Emily D’Angelo’s voice is a force of nature, but also capable of great warmth and varied dynamics. On it, she sings songs from contemporary composers like Missy Mazzoli and all the way back to Hildegard von Bingen — she somehow makes it all work. –Joey G

Most Inspirational Re-write: Red (Taylor’s Version). How could a re-release of an album be anything but old news and overplayed pop music? Leave it to Taylor Swift to re-create her masterpiece of an album – stocked full of tear-jerking ballads and dance provoking jams – and show us that sometimes the best things are nothing new. Now is the time to feel your feelings (if you’re into that sort of thing). –Cali Y

Toe-Tapping Anthems: Screen Violence, by Chvrches. It’s a close call, but this one edges out the latest albums by The Killers and Weezer. A go-to album if you want the cathartic cocktail of dead-serious lyrics paired with driving beats and catchy melodies. –Todd B

Immersive Interactive Illustrations (Gaming)

For Those in Search of Some Heart: It Takes Two. If you’re looking for a heartwarming yet devastating story, you’ll find it in The 2021 Game Award’s Game of the Year winner: It Takes Two. Play as one of two (a friend can play as the other) parents going through a divorce who’ve turned into dolls via their daughter’s tears. It sounds depressing but the couple has to work together on adventures through numerous rooms of the house, outside gardens battling the creatures within and even joining in a war between the squirrels and the bees. In the end, you just might end up saving a marriage and perhaps, a little girl’s heart. –Blake N

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