It has been a hell of a year and a hell of a year for film. The second year of the ongoing worldwide pandemic has been a bit of a roller coaster, with wave after wave of COVID once changing the film landscape. Theatres re-opened, but people have only really gone back for the biggest blockbuster titles, and even then, the numbers are a bit soft.
That’s not to say that there hasn’t been many a literal ton of films this year, though. I set a new personal record, having seen nearly 180 films released in 2021, and let me tell you that most of them are good!
To break down my favourites a little more this year, I’ll be dividing things up into three lists, one for my favourite performers, one for my favourite films, and one for the best of the rest. There are navigation links at the bottom of each page to the others.
So let’s get started with my favourite films of the year!
Before the list, a few notes:
First, there are no honourable mentions here. That’s not because I don’t have any, but rather because I am writing an entire post for them.
Second, while I have seen a lot of films this year, there are always ones that get missed, ones that you think might have made your list if you had seen them. Examples of those this year include Drive My Car, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Nightmare Alley, The Matrix Resurrections, The Worst Person in the World, and others I am sure I have forgotten to mention.
Third, as in previous years, this list is unranked. Because I like each film for different reasons, they are presented alphabetically except for my one favourite, which will be the last.
And now, without any further ado, the list.
Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar
(Written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, directed by Josh Greenbaum)
I am as surprised as you are, but in the last two years of the real world, there is something so unabashedly goofy and positive about Barb and Star that it has been on my mind basically the entire time since I saw it.
Between the tremendous dual role from Kristen Wiig, the performance from Mumolo, and a perfect sendup of his own image by Jamie Dornan, the cast is sensational from start to finish. Then there’s the script which affirms the power of friendship (and the name Trish). If you haven’t seen it, definitely add it to your list.
Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes
(Written by Makoto Ueda, directed by Junta Yamaguchi)
Perhaps the most unique take on the time loop, Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes is one of the most fun movies you probably didn’t see this year. A simple cafe owner goes to bed one night to find that the computer in his bedroom is connected to the one in the cafe, but two minutes in the future.
Soon they have the two devices facing one another, and we get to see conversations play out two, four, six, and eight minutes into the future and from the past, with all kinds of clever and hilarious setups and payoffs. Oh, and did I mention that it was filmed in 10-minute single-take blocks and presented as one uninterrupted scene? You won’t find a more impressively constructed film this year.
- Fantasia ’21 Review: Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes’ is a delightful twist on the time loop genre
- Fantastic Fest Interview: Junta Yamaguchi on his one-take time travel film ‘Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes’
The Green Knight
(Written and directed by David Lowery)
One of the most visually arresting films of the year and one of the most thought-provoking. David Lowery takes the dichotomies of the myth of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, such as courage vs cowardice, and rather than taking any explicit side, explores how one can exist with both. It’s a stunningly designed, directed, and acted film and one that finishes with the best 20 minutes in cinema this year.
- Review: ‘The Green Knight’ grapples with temptation and virtue, cowardice and courage, and ends up one of the best films of the year
The Harder They Fall
(Written by Jeymes Samuel and Boaz Yakin, directed by Jeymes Samuel)
Gorgeously shot with big, bold colours and sweeping camera shots, wonderfully acted by a cast stacked with some of the best working performers today, and a story that gives new voice and agency to real heroes and villains of the old west. The Harder They Fall is a great time at the movies and a fun stylistic throwback while also being a modern film with modern sensibilities.
Plus, the soundtrack –as the kids say– slaps.
- Review: ‘The Harder They Fall’ is a bloody good time
- Awesome Friday Movie Podcast: ‘The Harder They Fall’ & ‘Tick Tick…Boom’
The Mitchells vs The Machines
(Written by Mike Rianda and Jeff Rowe, Directed by Mike Rianda and co-directed by Jeff Rowe)
Phil Lord and Chris Miller seem to have the golden touch with the projects they choose to produce, and The Mitchells vs The Machines is no exception. Mike Rianda’s directorial debut is the best family movie of the year, pushes the boundaries of animation, features an all-star cast and an incredible score.
(Written and directed by Edison Oda)
Nine Days is a high concept drama that follows the story of a being whose job it is to determine which new souls are given a chance at life on earth. This man, played by Winston Duke, interviews candidates played by Zazie Beetz. Bill Skarsgård, and Tony Hale (among others). I don’t want to tell you too much more, but Duke and Beetz performances here are what elevate the film to something truly special, in particular the last few minutes of the film.
A lovely story made for adults and by adults, and despite the high concept without a lot of flashy effects, Nine Days is a joy to watch.
- Review: ‘Nine Days’ is a beautiful achievement
- Awesome Friday Movie Podcast: ‘Nine Days’ & ‘Marvel’s What If…’
(Written and directed by Céline Sciamma)
The cinematic equivalent of a warm hug, Petite Maman sends a young girl back in time to meet and befriend her own mother when she was a young girl, and in the process explores what it might be like not just to understand your parent better, but to actually be close friends with them. There’s no big sci-fi explanation for the happenings in this movie because there’s no reason for them; just follow these two girls learn from each other about each others sadness, grief, and inner lives.
A lovely film and worthy follow up to Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
The Power of the Dog
(Written and directed by Jane Campion)
Jane Campion may never have been so in control of the tone and pace of a story before. Everything from the locations to the way the camera moves to the balance between exposition and visual storytelling is so perfectly on point, and that’s before you even consider the performances she gets out of her actors.
The Power of the Dog is a deliberately paced film with a tone and narrative controlled with laser-like precision and has at least one (if not more) of the best performances of 2021.
Tick, Tick… Boom!
(Written by Steven Levenson, directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda)
A movie about a theatre kid, made by a theatre kid, and for theatre kids, Tick Tick… Boom! adapts the stageplay by and the life of Jonathan Larson, who would eventually create the Broadway smash Rent, but die before he got the chance to see it performed. Andrew Garfield gives a career-best performance as Larson, and it turns out he can sing and dance just as well as he can act.
(Written and directed by Michael Sarnoski)
And so we arrive at my favourite movie of 2021, Pig. It’s a movie that defies categorization; it first presents itself as a weird John Wick knockoff but then becomes something utterly different. A story about a recluse who retreated from society because he felt too much rather than not enough, this film reached into my soul and pulled up feelings I hadn’t felt in some time. A beautiful film broken people finding meaning, about how we process grief and how human connection is the most important thing for us to move forward in life.
Anchoring all this is Nicolas Cage giving one of his best and most subdued, subtle performances in years. Pig is –by a wide margin– my favourite film of the year.
These were my ten favourite films of 2021. What do you think, do you agree? Disagree? Did I miss something you love or spur you to watch something you haven’t? Let me know on Twitter (link on your right)
This is part one of my 2021 year in review; see below for my favourite performers (also posted today) and more!
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