It’s that time of year again, where I look back on the films that came out (and that I was fortunate enough to see) and compile them into a list for you. I’m amazed I got to see as many films as I did this year, including many on the big screen, which was a welcome return home after missing out so much last year. So, what did 2021 have to offer us? Let’s find out!
Wrath of Man
Guy Ritchie surprised me this year by delivering a dark and gritty crime epic with Wrath of Man that felt more in line with a Michael Mann movie than his usually comedic street-level crime misadventures. Gunshots ring like they do in Heat and the film gets frighteningly dark in the middle. It has intrigue and layers and turned out to be pretty great, barring some shoddy dialogue here and there.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Zack Snyder’s Justice League deserves some love. After the mixed reception to the 2017 theatrical cut, the odds were stacked against the director in having his original vision fulfilled. But come 2021, just that happened and Snyder released a four-hour mega-cut of his original vision. Did it have to be four hours? Goodness no, it’s pretty long and could have had at least 30 minutes shaved out of it. But it’s a vastly superior product than we got before and it’s great that the director was able to finish his vision.
10-The Green Knight
I still can’t quite put my finger on whether I love or hate The Green Knight. It’s bizarre, beautiful, confusing and epic. But a movie that can make me think about its narrative and characters months after viewing is a rare treat in cinema these days and for that alone, it deserves a spot on this list. It’s a complex tale that covers the hero’s journey and one rich in Arthurian lore, albeit heavily revised and with an ending that’s sure to stir debate.
9-Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
I debated hard about whether to include this in the top ten of the year. It’s not Oscar-worthy or anything like that, but Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings did surprise me by having a much more nuanced story than expected. The tale of parental expectations rings true for the Asian community and this film captures that sentiment strongly. The film also boasts one of the strongest Marvel villains ever in the form of Tony Leung’s Xu Wenwu, aka The Mandarin. There’s also impressive martial arts and cinematography for the action scenes, but a third-act CGI fest does bring the movie down a bit.
8-Spider-Man: No Way Home
While 2021 wasn’t quite as bad as 2020, we still had some lows due to the ongoing pandemic. That’s why I think audiences needed a film like Spider-Man: No Way Home. It was pure nostalgic joy, designed for crowd-pleasing moments. And achieve those moments it did. But the nostalgia also served the plot and resulted in the best of the Tom Holland Spider-Man movies. Holland gives a career-high as the web-slinger, who has far more to do emotionally in this movie than he ever has before. Colour me intrigued for the future of the franchise.
7-A Quiet Place Part II
The first ten minutes of A Quiet Place Part II are perhaps the best ten minutes of cinema of the year. Confined to the first day of the alien invasion, the tension and camera work alone is worth the price of admission. The rest of the movie is still great, with John Krasinki’s directing being the standout of the film. The movie definitely feels “louder” than its predecessor and the movie does lose some focus by splitting the family apart, but top notice directing, great tension and world design make this a wonderful sequel overall and a great companion to the first film. Watching both back-to-back provides a great cinematic treat.
6-Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain
Roadrunner attempts to figure out why famed chef and travel personality Anthony Bourdain suddenly took his own life. The movie doesn’t really have a concrete answer to this question, as Bourdain left no note, but thanks to ample archival footage and in-depth interviews with friends and colleges, the film dives into his past and tries to showcase how his lifestyle and personality led him to his decision. This is a very intimate and raw film that does showcase the downward spiral that Bourdain found himself in. It’s as much a celebration of the roadrunner as it is a cautionary tale of life on the road, seeking the fabled adventure that doesn’t exist.
5-No Time To Die
No Time To Die isn’t the best Daniel Craig Bond movie, it would rank as the third best out of the five on my list. That being said, the film is without a doubt the best Daniel Craig has been as James Bond. This version of 007 is far more human and relatable than he ever has been in the past and Craig delivers a career-best for this swan song for his run as the British super spy. It stumbles when it comes to the villains, but gorgeous cinematography and a great score from Hans Zimmer complement Craig’s standout performance.
As mentioned in my review of the movie, I don’t like musicals. Few here and there have challenged that statement though and I can safely add Tick, Tick…Boom to that list. Not only that, but, as you can see, I can add it to the list of best films of the year. Andrew Garfield shines and should get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Jonathan Larson, the Broadway writer who would go on and pen Rent. This film is set in the week leading up to his 30th birthday and shows the maniac and obsessive way the creative process can consume an individual. A fascinating look at the pursuit of creative fulfillment.
It’s weird to think that a movie about a time of terrible violence could spawn a movie that’s so hopeful and optimistic, despite the tension and calamity. But Kenneth Brannagh has somehow managed to do just that, with his semi-biographical black and white feature aptly titled Belfast. Jude Hill as the young Buddy is a scene-stealer and the film is just a joy to watch. A strong contender come award season.
2-The Last Duel
Sadly, this movie will be remembered as one of the biggest box office bombs in history, but that doesn’t mean the movie is bad. On the contrary, The Last Duel is fantastic and Ridley Scott’s strongest movie since The Martian. The film uses the three truths style of storytelling found in Roshamon and shows how personal bias and accountability help shape a narrative. We see the same events happen a few times over and each time, there are subtle variations that help us understand the thinking of each of the three leads, played by Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer. Damon co-wrote the film with Ben Affleck, who also stars in the film and Nicole Holofcener, who writes the segment solely from Comer’s character’s point of view. Bad hair aside, it’s a great and disturbing medieval epic.
Dune is, quite simply, cinema at its finest. It’s a thoughtful science fiction feature masked as a big-budget blockbuster. It has some of the most immersive and satisfying cinematography I’ve ever seen and the sense of being transported to another world hasn’t been this palpable since The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A triumph of sound, visuals and story, Dune was thankfully a hit, which is good news as this is technically half a movie. Time will tell if part two sticks the landing, but as the first act and a half of a larger story, Dune works wonders and sets itself apart from its contemporaries as being a bold, artistic blockbuster epic.
So there you have it! My top ten! Do you agree with the list, if not, what would yours look like? Sound off in the comments and let us know!