As 2021 rolls to an inglorious end, I look back at the movies this year. It started out bleak, got bleaker over the summer, and miraculously, has saved itself lately with a run of awards bait. That’s not to say it was an epic year like 2019 that saw us gifted Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire, but we can’t be greedy.
So, below are some of my favorite movies. Not best. Not award winning. But favorites, for one reason or another. And I’m not on the Oscar’s calendar, I’m talking 2021 US releases (that aren’t festivals). Hopefully you’ll check one out (or just watch The Witcher Season 2).
Also, I have yet to see Drive My Car, Licorice Pizza, Benedetta, The French Dispatch, and C’mon C’mon. But they are all fairly limited in release still.
The silliest movie on the list, Barb and Star brings a lot of goofiness and positivity into the world and I for one, loved it. Campy, accent-laden, and full of confidence, Barb and her best friend Star take a trip to the tropics where they find intrigue, romance (in the form of an amazing Jamie Dornan performance), and even deeper friendship. Paired very well with a bottle of red wine.
The most recent release of the list sees master filmmaker Jane Campion drop a new film after 12 years in this portrayal of frail masculinity during the turn-of-the-century West. It’s a slow burn for sure, and features incredible performances from its principle cast of Benedict Cumberbatch, Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst and Kodi Smidt-McPhee.
Director Denis Villeneuve puts on a master class of scale and ambition in the adaptation of the totemic Frank Herbert novel of the same name. It’s the reason IMAX theaters were created. An all-star cast imagine a far off world rife with conflict and danger, as two families battle for control of a mysterious mineral called Spice. And Sandworms! You’ve probably seen this, but if you haven’t, watch on the biggest screen you can.
The best use of Nic Cage since Mandy, Pig sees cage as an solitary former master chef who has the titular truffle pig stolen from his life. Less John Wick and more a navigation of grief and loneliness, it features simmering intensity and a dark underworld. Also, a very underrated food movie!
What looks like a throwaway animated film turned out to be one of the most affecting family comedies of the year. Sure the goofy AI take over the world scenario is nothing new, but the way the characters are developed, in particularly the protagonist (voiced by Abbi Jacobsen) is heartbreaking and honest. Families are messy. Childhood is hard. Growing up isn’t easy. But we all find our way, even if it’s through the apocalypse.
3: A Sun
One of the first films I saw in 2021, the huge and sweeping family epic has stayed with me. It’s about how actions, large and small, can tear apart or shape a family. A Sun is just a magnificent master work out of Taiwan, and due to its dramatic and foreign nature, was buried by Netflix’s algorithm. If you’re in the mood for an affecting, slow burn watch, give this one a go.
A fictional melodrama based on the Princess Diana, the Pablo Larrain film Spencer is a haunting portrayal of a woman trapped. Set over three days in Sandringham estate (where the Royals spend their Christmas holiday), Spencer follows a Princess Diana on the verge, haunted by her own ghosts and by real world villains. Fiction, yes, but not far off. And it’s anchored by the performance of the year from Kristen Stewart. This surely isn’t Downton Abbey, so don’t go expecting whimsy and romance.
An Arthurian tale set in David Lowry’s wild imagination, The Green Knight sees Dev Patel play Sir Gawain as he quests after the titular Green Knight. A well worn tale, yes, but the dark, fantastical take Lowry has imbued the film with is transporting. As much a psychological coming of age tale for Gawain as it is a sword-and-sorcery, it’s a stunning achievement, both visually and lyrically.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading! Hopefully one of these movies can bring you some joy! Please enjoy the holidays and stay safe!