Top Ten Films of 2021 – Mary’s Picks

Whilst this year really does feel like we are firmly stuck in The Matrix, the good news is that cinemas have been open again for several months. Other restrictions have remained in place but cinema, thankfully, was back. (And honestly, this writer is a big fan of social distancing in cinema screens – less chance of hearing someone talk all the way through the latest blockbuster or scroll through their phone during a nervy horror).

Compiling a top ten list has, as usual, been extremely difficult. We live in an era where there are simply not enough hours in the day to consume the amount of content that is available to us. Honourable mentions go to Shorta, Dune, The Card Counter and I Carry You With Me, who all just narrowly missed out on this list.

This top ten is not definitive. These are simply the films that I have either had the most fun with this year or films that have left a lasting impression. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, below.

Small Engine Repair10. Small Engine Repair

This stage to screen adaptation of John Pollono’s off-Broadway show has a lot to say. It’s a powerful look at small town life; toxic masculinity; and the dangers of social media. It’s an extremely slow burn – you may well get half an hour in and wonder what you’re doing with your life – but the pay off is worth it. Jon Bernthal is a charismatic doofus and Pollono is quietly threatening in the lead role.

9. Storm LakeStorm Lake

There has never been an era where the veracity of the news has been under such scrutiny. This documentary centres around the Storm Lake Times newspaper, a print publication that is struggling to survive in the age of clickbait. But if it doesn’t, a vital news source disappears for more than 15,000 rural Iowans. It’s a fascinating, and somewhat emotional, watch.

8. The King’s ManThe King's Man

Using the events that triggered World War One, Matthew Vaughn extends his spy franchise to explore the origins of his gentleman’s agency. A film that somehow manages to combine outright slapstick – Rhys Ifans tearing it up as Rasputin – with an emotional gut punch. Ralph Fiennes is charismatic and solemn in the lead role. A thoroughly enjoyable romp.

7. NobodyNobody Movie

Who knew Bob Odenkirk was such a bad ass? Nobody was a real surprise earlier on this year. It had some of the best reveals and best action sequences I have seen in a long time. It was brutal, bloody and damn good fun. Odenkirk really gives his all in the lead role, delivering both devastating one liners and knock out body blows. A proper, switch your mind off and enjoy type of film that will have you inching closer and closer to your screen.

6. Vicious Fun

Some fun from Fright Fest (at the Glasgow Film Festival) now. Vicious Fun combines horror and humour perfectly. A loving pastiche of every 80s movie you’ve ever seen, the film is set amongst a meeting of “Serial Killers Anonymous”. It is superbly written, with some fantastic costume and set design, too. A surprise from the Film Festival that I would love to see getting reactions from a wider audience.

5. CensorCensor Niamh Algar

Prano Bailey Bond’s directorial debut is a stunner. If you love horror films that play with your mind instead of splattering you with gore, this is the film for you. It’s an exploration of loss and identity, with Niamh Algar delivering a powerful central performance. There are lots of loving nods to giallo and video nasties, without ever becoming a cheap imitation.

4. Another RoundMads Mikkelsen - Another Round - Druk

A very worthy Oscar winner, Mads Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larson explore perpetual drunkenness in this Danish drama. There are stunning performances from the entire cast as four middle aged teachers try to spice up their decidedly average lives with ruinous consequences. It’s worth the watch for the ambiguous, hyperbolic ending alone. Brilliant.

3. The Champion of AuschwitzThe Champion of Auschwitz

When you’re still thinking about a film months down the line, you know you’ve watched something meaningful. This Polish biopic centres around boxing legend Teddy Pietrzykowski and his imprisonment in Auschwitz. It is a devastatingly grim film that explores the indomitability of the human spirit. Director Maciej Barczewski doesn’t offer a single moment of reprieve in this truly astounding bit of film making.

Quo Vadis Aida2. Quo Vadis, Aida?

This feels like cheating, slightly, as the film did hit the European cinema circuit in 2020 but only came to the UK via the Glasgow Film Festival in early 2021. The Oscar nominated film is a shocking, tense and emotional rendering of the Srebrenica massacre, as seen through the eyes of UN translator, Aida. It spares no detail of the horrors of war and all of its devastating consequences.

1. Riders of Justice

Another Mads Mikkelsen entry in this year’s top ten, and deservedly so. Quite how director Anders Thomas Jensen manages to combine screwball comedy with revenge drama with grief and tragedy is beyond me. But he does. And it works. Weaving effortlessly between black humour, physical comedy and moments of real emotional impact, Riders of Justice is Mikkelsen at is absolute best and my film of the year.

Mary Munoz
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