It seems I say this too much, but I can’t believe another movie year has come and gone. 2021 was a strange yet hopeful year for cinema as we looked to make our way back from a global pandemic and (hopefully) closer to some semblance of normalcy. Movies still found themselves in a unusual place, with several big delays especially in the early part of the year. But some of the heavy hitters finally came to theaters while independent films continued to show their resiliency and importance.
That brings me to this annual ritual of looking back at the movie year that was. In the grand scheme of things, these lists are pretty silly. At the same time I always enjoy doing them and comparing them with others. Before I get to my Top 10 films from 2021 I always like to give some love to the great movies that just missed the cut. So without further ado, here is my #11-20….
- #20 – “Lamb”
- #19 – “Oxygen”
- #18 – “Old Henry”
- #17 – “The Lost Daughter”
- #16 – “The Dry”
- #15 – “Being the Ricardos”
- #14 – “The Card Counter”
- #13 – “Memoria”
- #12 – “Cyrano”
- #11 – “The Last Duel”
And now my Top 10 Films of 2021
#10 – “CODA” [REVIEW] One of the most talked about movies to come out of Sundance 2021 was Sian Heder’s joyously earnest and deeply affecting “CODA”. This heartwarming coming-of-age story followed a 17-year-old (played by a fantastic Emilia Jones) who is the lone hearing member of her culturally deaf family. It also features sublime supporting work by Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin. And while it has a pretty familiar exterior, underneath is a warmth and authenticity that’s hard to resist. It’s also genuinely funny with plenty of laughs that come naturally and frequently. What a treat.
#9 – “The Tragedy of MacBeth” [REVIEW] Adapting William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy “MacBeth” is nothing new. But leave it to one-half of the Coen brothers to give us a version unlike any we’ve been treated to before. Joel Coen’s visually arresting approach gives us scene after scene of striking imagery, creating a grim and forbidding atmosphere in the process. And then there’s the amazing cast led by Denzel Washington who (if there’s any justice in the world) should be in line for another Oscar nomination. I wasn’t sure if we needed another “MacBeth”, but I’m sure glad Joel Coen gave us one.
#8 – “No Time to Die” [REVIEW] Daniel Craig’s last hurrah as James Bond had potential to both sink or shine. It turned out to be everything I hoped it would – a sprawling blockbuster with eye-popping action and rich with characters that over the years I’ve grown to love. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga attempts to tie up most of the loose ends while also fully embracing the elements that made Craig’s run so memorable. Most importantly it makes for a fitting conclusion to a story arc that will be hard for the next Bond to match.
#7 – “Nightmare Alley” [REVIEW] More than any other movie on this list, “Nightmare Alley” is the one I wrestled with the most. But in wrestling with it I quickly realized just how much I loved it. Guillermo del Toro’s pulpy neo-noir thriller is a visually stunning throwback film with a captivating cast and a story that digs deep into the dark side of human nature. Del Toro’s world-building is unmatched and I found myself transported by what he creates here. This is top-notch cinema, bursting with style and grounded in the kind of grim and grimy atmosphere that left me giddy.
#6 – “Mass” [REVIEW] After first seeing “Mass” at Sundance I knew I had seen something special. After seeing it a second time later in the year, I knew it was one of the best movies of 2021. Not only is “Mass” powerful and moving, it’s also intensely timely as it attempts to tackle a difficult subject from a unique and distinctly personal point-of-view. Each of the four stars at the center are emotional forces and they’re key to making it all work. Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd, and Reed Birney give nomination worthy performances in a movie that cuts deeply and honestly.
#5 – “A Hero” [REVIEW] For my money, Iranian auteur Asghar Farhadi is among the handful of must-see filmmakers working today. He’s a consummate storyteller with a cinematic vision and voice so profound that I’m compelled to see every movie he puts out. “A Hero” embodies everything I love about a Farhadi film. It’s yet another deeply human story grounded in everyday life that uses its characters to pose a number of thought-provoking moral questions. With its seamless naturalistic dialogue and engaging story structure, this makes for a wonderful addition to Farhadi’s already impressive filmography.
#4 – “West Side Story” [REVIEW] Now here’s a movie that I went into with no expectations and left on an emotional high. Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of “West Side Story” swept me away with its incredible production design, rousing songs, high-energy dance numbers, and some performances that are easily among the year’s best. Spielberg captures all the style and verve of the classic movie musical and fuses it with a modern day sensibility. It all comes together in a joyous and at times heartbreaking big screen experience that has stuck with me in ways I never imagined.
#3 – “The Man in the Hat” [REVIEW] Sometimes it’s the gentlest movies that moves you the most. Such is the case in this delightful and warm little yarn from John-Paul Davidson and Stephen Warbeck. It’s a simple and savory road trip movie that is a feast for the senses and feels plucked out of a bygone era of cinema history. It’s driven by the wonderfully expressive Ciarán Hinds who conveys everything we need through his gentle manner, tender smiles, and melancholy gaze. This movie had me under its spell from its opening scene and it’s a movie more people need to see.
#2 – “Belfast” [REVIEW] Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” is a warm and tender reflection on his time in the city of his childhood. Set during the tumultuous late 1960s, Branagh’s story plays out to the backdrop of violence and unrest, yet it maintains a heartfelt focus on family and community. It features incredible performances top to bottom and is flavored with the deep personal touches of a filmmaker giving a full-hearted thank you to the neighborhood and the people who shaped and molded his life. “Belfast” may not be for everyone, but I found it to be one of the most beautiful movies of 2021.
#1 – “Dune” [REVIEW] While I’m a proud Denis Villeneuve fan, admittedly I didn’t really know what to expect from his incredibly ambitious “Dune”. I have no real history with the source material or with the past attempts at bringing it to the screen. What I got was an exhilarating and transporting blockbuster that sucked me into its world from its opening shot. Not only is “Dune” the best movie I saw in 2021, it was also the best theater experience I’ve had in a long time. It was truly made for the big screen. I loved everything about “Dune” and I can’t wait for the sequel to usher me back into Villeneuve’s breathtaking world.
And that wraps up another movie year. Please take time to share your thoughts on what I got right and what I got wrong with this year’s list.
Well I haven’t seen a single one of your 20 so am just going to say Happy New Year for you and yours, hope it’s a better one!
WAIT!!! Not a single one? Not even a little ol’ itty bitty one?
Yes I remember the guy in a hat in the Fiat 500, loved the car, the movie not so much, needed words and speech really 🤣
We had the same top two just inversed.
Nice! I love them both SO much. I really wish more people would look for “The Man in the Hat”. That’s another one I absolutely adore.
okay… decent enough list! hahahahah J/K – Just wanted to not only say Happy New Year to you and the family – but how much I’ve truly appreciated having great conversations with you this past year. And we might disagree here or there, but it’s always in a fun, respectful way and that’s how it should be. I appreciate you, your great site and our film friendship. . 🙂
Thanks so much Peggy! That means a lot. I actually cherish conversations like we often have. THANK GOODNESS we don’t all see movies the same way, right? How boring this would be!😄
Happiest of New Years to you and yours!
Look at you getting this post out in December! I’m still waiting to see SO many movies, mine will be much later. I’m glad to see Dune #1. I don’t usually rank my personal top 10, but Dune would easily be in the Top 3 for me. Maybe even #1
It crammed so many movies in over the last month – a stupid amount really 🤣! But I was able to get this done. It’s funny, the one movie I wasn’t able to get a screener for was “Parallel Mothers”. I posted this and then all of a sudden out of the blue I get an email with a screener link. Go figure!
I saw your tweet about the movies you still need to watch before doing your list. Let me just say you have some really good movies ahead of you. You’re gonna have a great time.
And try to seek out “The Man in the Hat”. I am an all-out champion of that movie and it’s one I hope people will eventually see. I just adore it.
Great list! I’ve seen a few of these but not the number 1 and 2 on your list. I’m excited still to see these and I’m delighted Belfast made the top of the list as that’s where I’m from ☺️ keep up the good work Keith!
Thanks so much! I’d really like to hear your thoughts on Belfast. I just loved it. Watched it a second time just to see if my first impression was legit. I loved even more a second time around.
I will let you know ☺️
That’s a damn good list of films. I’m going to post my “unofficial” list tomorrow as I didn’t see a lot of new films but I am going to start with something cool to kick off the new year.
Thanks so much. I’m happy with it. Lots of variety on people’s lists this year. That’s always good to see. Dune was the easy favorite for me. I was completely blown away.
THE CARD COUNTER; THE LAST DUEL; DUE – 6/10
NO TIME TO DIE – 7/10
Has Nightmare Alley opened there?
It’s slated to come out at the end of January.
Gotcha. I do think it’s one you may enjoy.
Excellent list, Keith! You’ve made me anticipate The Tragedy of Macbeth and Nightmare Alley a lot more. As for Dune, we’re in complete agreement on that film. It was also my number one of 2021. As a fan of the novel and much of Frank Herbert’s series, Villeneuve remarkably distilled what made the source material so rich. Plus, I do think the film works a lot more as a singular piece than most people gave it credit for.
Love seeing more Top-of-the-List love for Dune. I too was blown away by it. And what a big screen experience. Anxious to read your thoughts on Nightmare Alley. I can’t wait to see it again.
Thanks for the kind words! I hope you enjoy your second viewing of Nightmare Alley. Happy New Year, Keith! Hope you have a successful and safe 2022.
Happy New Year to you as well. I hope it’s a great one for you and your loved ones.
Sadly, I see fewer movies in the theater every year for some reason, maybe all the streaming options. This year, only 2 on this list, so far. Anyway, I loved Dune, good choice, as you say, great theatrical experience. I did see No Time To Die, liked it, not quite as much as you, but it was good. The comments I’ve heard from friends about West Side Story concur with your take, maybe I’ll try to see it in a theater.
I really do hope to see West Side Story on the big screen one more time before it leaves theaters. Such a wonderful movie. You really should see Nightmare Alley as well.
Dune is my favorite film of the year too. I’m glad I got to see it in IMAX.
Oh I’m jealous. I saw it on the big screen twice but I was never able to see it on IMAX. I bet it was amazing!
Oh yeah it really was ! The scope of the film and the music was just all amplified. But hey on any screen Dune is amazing!
Oh I bet the sound and the score was amazing! I think when part two comes out I’m going to make a point of seeing it on IMAX.
I see Dune made your number 1 and I do not see Spider-Man in the top 20. Dune is a worthy pick, but you did give Spider-Man 4 stars.
Yep, I gave Spidey 4 stars. But there were actually several movies that didn’t make my top 20 and I gave 4 stars. That just comes with seeing nearly 220 new movies over the past year. LOL!
For me Spider-Man was a lot of fun, but I still have some issues with it that kept it out of my Top 20 consideration. I still think it’s the best of the three Holland Spidey flicks.
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Excellent list! Lots to still see. Villeneuve just keeps on rocking the sci-fi, doesn’t he? Exciting.
Thanks. It was quite the year. Villeneuve blew me away with Dune. I knew it would look incredible, but I wasn’t expecting to be swept up the way I was. It was my hands-down #1.
Being swept away by a movie is something I live for! Glad to hear this was an incredible experience for you. And I very much look forward to watching.
Hey Keith, wow we do have quite a few overlaps. As a Bond fan, I like No Time To Die though some aspects were disappointing (not gonna go into it but it’s in my review).
Ohhh I just discovered The Man in the Hat today and it’s free on Prime! Glad to see it on your top 10, now I’m even more excited to see it, love Ciaran Hinds.
The Man in the Hat is on Prime??? That’s great to hear! I adore the movie. I’ve seen it three times already.
I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about Bond. I can completely see why. It just it all the right notes for me. Still haven’t seen it a second time yet.
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