Top 10 Best Films of 2021
It's that time again! I still haven't gotten around to seeing everything from 2021 I was hoping to before compiling my list, but I knew I couldn't wait any longer to make it. Besides, when I actually got down to ranking the films, I realized I had a hard time seeing that anything else might topple what was already a really strong list. In fact, a lot of movies I really loved just barely missed it (so don't forget to check the honorable mentions). So without further ado (seriously, sorry that it took so long!) here are my top ten favorite films of 2021.
10. THE GREEN KNIGHT
The Green Knight is such a visceral experience, it is easily one of the most memorable films of 2021. Though I was unfamiliar with the Arthurian legend which it depicts, I absolutely loved how authentically medieval, yet fantastical it all felt. Visually, The Green Knight is stunning and it's really easy to be swept up in its tale, even if not every moment of the journey completely worked for me. I loved how this was told almost like a poem, broken up into segments that essentially form their own verse. All of these short vignettes come together as stepping stones in the ultimate quest for Gawain (Dev Patel) to prove himself a noble and worthy knight as he faces his destiny--to live with cowardice and shame, or to die with dignity. Dev Patel is as wonderful as ever here and really gives this role his all. Truly, fantastic work by everyone involved.
Belfast is such a beautiful, yet simple film. Belfast tells the story of childhood memories amid the backdrop of a civil war between Protestants and Catholics in Belfast in the 1960's. Since it's mostly told through the eyes of a child, it never goes into quite the depth you're maybe expecting or wanting...but honestly, its simplicity was so surprisingly effective. I tend to hate when I feel like films are unnecessarily in black and white, but the cinematography was so stunning, and the times when color was incorporated felt so effective. Many themes in Belfast really resonated with me on a personal level, and I was very touched by the film, even shedding a tear or two. The performances all around the board here are wonderful and the moments of love and kindness make Belfast the lovely and timely movie that it is.
8. SAINT MAUD
You know I'm a sucker for horror and Saint Maud was the perfect movie to scratch that itch in 2021. Saint Maud follows the devoutly religious titular Maud, a nurse who becomes obsessed with saving her dying patient. Saint Maud is so unnervingly creepy, it is bound to get under your skin and haunt you for days. Morfyyd Clark is sensational as Maud and imbues her with so much horrific self-righteousness it makes anyone viewing it feel uncomfortable. Saint Maud is the definition of a slow burn horror, and the ending's terrifying imagery is everything.
7. NINE DAYS
Released during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Nine Days was finally released in 2021. The premise is uniquely interesting--a man who seems to live a monotonously normal life, is actually charged with the supremely important task of determining which souls should get a chance at a life on earth. Nine Days was one of my favorite films of the festival in 2020 because it was such a beautiful celebration of life and how lucky we are to experience it. Winston Duke gives such an understated performance in the lead role here and does a lot of the heavy lifting in the emotional scenes. Nine Days left me moved and in awe.
6. LAST NIGHT IN SOHO
Last Night in Soho follows Eloise, a first-year fashion student hoping to make a splash. After a clash with her roommate, she opts to find a place of her own in the city. She rents an attic room from a nice elderly woman and soon discovers it has a secret--every night when she falls asleep she wakes in the eyes of a former tenant, living her seemingly best life in the 1960's. As I said in my horror list, Last Night in Soho to many is a love it or hate it type of film and how one receives it all seems to come down to how they feel about that final act. While I definitely had some moments in the middle wondering if Edgar Wright was gonna pull it off, I truly felt like the ending is where the film completely came together and made me love it. Thomasin McKenzie and Anya-Taylor Joy are both wonderful here and the editing between their two perspectives is just magical.
I don't think I had more fun with a movie all year than I did with Malignant. After Madison blacks out to find her husband dead after an apparent break-in, she soon finds herself connected to the murderer's next steps as she discovers she's able to look into the world he sees when she sleeps. Malignant is preposterous and magnificent all at once. It's one heck of a ride and one I'd gladly take again. I was so worried the trailers had given away too much, but luckily all of the best was yet to come. James Wan is incredibly purposeful with every decision he makes and somehow, no matter how outlandish it is, it just works. I was so blown away with its campiness and how far it was willing to go in its ode to schlocky giallo horror. We haven't seen a horror movie be this unapolagetically audacious since Drag Me To Hell and I just can't help but admire it.
4. THE WORST PERSON IN THE WORLD
The Worst Person in the World is truly a remarkable film. While it ended up at #4 on my list, I seriously contemplated and shuffled it around all of the top 4 spots at one point before letting it settle here. The film is told in chapters, much in the way our lives all have chapters. Here, we're following Julie, a woman who never seems to feel satisfied--whether it's with what she's pursuing as a career or who she's dating. She never knows quite how to find herself, which sometimes leaves a lot of wreckage in her path. The Worst Person in the World was beautifully whimsical, yet totally authentic to life. The struggles of Julie feel real and completely make sense. Whenever I felt like I would have a handle on where the story would go, it would always shift and surprise me (again...much like life.) The ending, in particular, which had some serious echoes to La La Land, really got me. Relationship dramas--particularly ones told in a fantastical way--are my absolute favorite and The Worst Person in the World was all that and more.
Mass was probably one of the most difficult films to watch of the year because its subject matter is undeniably heavy. Mass is essentially one long conversation between two sets of parents with a lot to discuss. The son of one of the sets of parents was responsible for shooting the son of the other, during a mass shooting at the high school the two boys attended together years ago. The meeting we as an audience witness, is the first time they've come face to face to discuss the events that changed all of their lives. The performances here are among some of the best of the year, and the fact that they aren't getting any awards attention is a complete travesty. Mass puts you through the ringer of emotions as you see all stages of grief on display and you're filled with compassion for all the players involved. Mass is truly a masterpiece (see what I did there?).
CODA the film which opened last year's Sundance Film Festival was just a warm hug of a movie and it stayed with me all year long. CODA stands for "child of deaf adults" and follows Ruby, the only member of her family who can hear. She's torn between her duty to her family in helping them succeed in their fishing business and following her dreams to pursue a college education, and her passion to sing. Her family doesn't understand her interests and can't always relate to Ruby, so she constantly feels torn on how to live her life. I'm a total sucker for coming-of-age indie dramas, and this one had all the heart and the charm to become a personal favorite. Newcomer Emilia Jones impresses in a role that required so much from her, yet she makes look entirely effortless.
Honestly, all of my top four here are almost interchangeable and I had a really tough time trying to shuffle which movie would go where. Dune grabbed the top spot and edged out the other contenders because of how utterly cinematic it is in every way. Movies like this don't come around every day, but I thank my lucky stars when they do. Dune brings the sci-fi literary epic to life with style that only Denis Villeneuve can bring. Every element of the film from the score, sound design, cinematography, production design--you name it--is bringing its A-game to this movie. Everything came together so incredibly perfectly, it just blew me away. While it is very much a movie in need of a sequel so we can see where it goes (darn those cliffhanger endings!), I still very much loved Dune and the ride that it was.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: Bo Burnham: Inside (which I adored with all my heart, but couldn't bring myself to include it in a list of movies since it was a comedy special), The Last Duel, Zack Snyder's Justice League, Spencer, Cyrano, Nightmare Alley, Power of the Dog, Spider-man: No Way Home (purely for the Andrew Garfield of it all if I'm being honest), and Tick Tick...Boom!