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 this year’s best of the rest, featuring a baker’s dozen more films you should see from 2021.
Please note, as with. my other year-end posts, this list is not ranked. All of these films are great, and I am recommending all of them to you; and as such, they are presented alphabetically.
(Written and directed by Kenneth Branagh)
A semi-autobiographical film set in a divisive time in world history, depicting that world from the point of view of a child and presenting the whole thing in black and white is a surefire way to get some awards nominations. That might sound cynical because it is, but they will be deserved in the case of Belfast. Both a profoundly personal and crowd-pleasing film, with stellar performances from everyone in the case.
(Written by Matt Lieberman and Zak Pennm directed by Shawn Levy)
I know that Free Guy is a big, broadly appealing blockbuster film with some crowd-pleasing moments of pure corporate synergy. I know it’s not widely considered to be “good” even. You know what, though? Free Guy came along at exactly the right time and while I was in exactly the right place to enjoy exactly what it is, and what it is is fun, funny, charming, and a really solid video game movie. Jodie Comer is adorable, Ryan Reynolds is at the peak of his Ryan Reynoldsiness, and the story is upbeat and positive. I loved this movie.
- Review: ‘Free Guy’ is a love letter to gaming and just the dose of summer fun we’ve been waiting for
- Awesome Friday Movie Podcast: ‘Free Guy’ & ‘The Night House’
I’m Your Man
(Written and directed by Maria Schrader)
Dan Stevens gives an excellent performance as a robot designed to be the perfect partner for Maren Eggert in this lovely science fiction story about the nature of love and partnership. Stevens steals the show, but Eggert is excellent also as the standoffish and reluctant Alma, whose defences are slowly but surely deconstructed as the film goes on. One of the best love stories of the year.
(Written and directed by Fran Kranz)
I have never associated Fran Kranz with heavy drama, but I think we all will from this year forward. Tackling one of the darkest aspects of American life with empathy and grace and casting four excellent character actors to do it with, Mass is one of the most emotionally charged films of the year. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was based on a play (it is just four people in a room talking), but don’t let that dissuade you; it is excellent.
- Review: ‘Mass’ tackles the pain and grief of the aftermath of a school shooting with four powerhouse performances
(Written by Derek Kolstad, directed by Ilya Naishuller)
The similarities between this and John Wick (an ex super spy living in seclusion by choice to escape his violent past, which he will now be drawn back into) aren’t surprising once you realise the same guy wrote them, but don’t let that fool you; Nobody is its own beast. Bob Odenkirk takes this year’s crown as the king of dad-action movies and does so while beating up four guys on a city bus, among other things. One of the most fun movies of the year.
(Written and directed by Lauren Hadaway)
Of all the films in this list, The Novice was the hardest to cut from the best-of list. Easily the best sports movie of the year and the most intense character study of the year, this profoundly personal film from Lauren Hadaway is relentless in its depiction of obsession, and Isabelle Furhman burns down the screen in almost every scene with her intensity. Do not miss this one.
(Written by Gastón Duprat, Mariano Cohn, and Andrés Duprat, directed by Gastón Duprat & Mariano Cohn)
Official Competition is a pitch-perfect satire of filmmaking and filmmakers; Official Competition has three excellent performances and a script so sharp you could cut yourself on it. It is hilarious, uncomfortable, and searing; it is easily one of the year’s funniest movies.
Riders of Justice
(Written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen)
A dark comedy about four men on a quest for vengeance who find themselves in a new chosen family instead, Riders of Justice is a treasure of a film. Mads Mikkelsen is splendid as always, and some of Denmarks most talented actors flank this time. An excellent script, some emotional performances, and several dashes of brutal, precise violence make this one a can’t-miss.
(Written and directed by Mark O’Brien)
A wordy drama that explores life, death, grief, and faith, The Righteous was another welcome surprise for me. Not only does it feature a fantastic turn from Henry Czerny, but the whole thing is also shot in sumptuous black and white, making it a feast for the eyes and the soul.
(Written by Yoon Seung-min, Yoo-kang Seo-ae, and Jo Sung-hee, directed by Jo Sung-hee)
Another film that will definitely not be considered high art, but as with Free Guy came around at precisely the time I needed it to—featuring a plot that is nearly nonsense, one of your favourite movie robots of the year, and a brightly lit, colourful world of spaceships and space trash. I don’t know if it’s good, but I loved it.
(Written and directed by Todd Stephens)
Taking a man known for his malevolent characters and casting him as a retired but still flamboyant gay hairdresser sashaying across town to find the supplies he needs to treat his favourite client’s hair for her funeral is a hell of a sentence to write, but the film works, and we’re all the better for it. Maybe the most indie film on this list, and sure to be buried under the marketing for the later movie of the same name, but this one is worth seeking.
(Written and directed by Julia Ducournau)
Julia Ducornau is a proven master at body horror, and she cemented that reputation with her previous film, Raw. Well, now she’s back with one of the most unforgettable films you will ever see. I don’t want to tell you anything about it, but let’s just say that the main character is pregnant with the child fathered by a car, and that is only the 3rd weirdest thing in the movie.
Will you like it?* I have no idea, but you should definitely see it for yourself.
* I mean, you probably will, you like good movies.
- Review: ‘Titane’ is one of the most unforgettable cinema-going experiences of the year
- Awesome Friday Movie Podcast: ‘Lego Star Wars Terrifying Tales’ & ‘Titane’
West Side Story
(Written by Tony Kushner, directed by Steven Spielberg)
Spielberg is our greatest living director, but it still feels a little surprising that he walked on the set of his first musical ever –in a 50-year career– and directed it like he’s a and old pro. West Side Story is already a classic film, but this new adaptation is, in many ways it’s equal, and in some it’s superior, and it feels like Spielberg’s entire filmography has been practising for this. West Side Story is an astoundingly good time at the movies.
- Review: ‘West Side Story’ reinvents a classic with modern context
- Awesome Friday Movie Podcast: ‘The Witcher’ & ‘West Side Story’
Be sure to check out my other two 2021 year in review posts: my favourite performers of the year and my favourite films of the year.
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