Top Ten Films Of 2021 – John’s Picks

It was a bit better in 2021. Not much, to be honest, but at least the film industry was able to get some of its content out to an eager public. We saw the return of the blockbuster in the form of Bond and Spider-Man. Alongside that, a lot of smaller films got a chance in the spotlight in between the tentpole releases that clogged the multiplexes for weeks at a time. Although I watched a large number of movies in the year, when it came to looking at other writer’s lists it seemed that I had missed some pretty important movies. So be it. For what it is worth, here is my list that I felt represented the best in cinema over the last twelve months.

10 C’mon C’mon
A change of pace for Joaquin Phoenix this year after his last couple of intensive performances. A tale of a man getting to know his nephew may not seem like a strong draw for punters, but the mix of performances, script and visual storytelling made it a film that drew you in. Parents especially will see some obvious references about the minefield that is raising children but this is a film that everyone will be able to take something from.


9 The French Dispatch
Wes Anderson returns with a film that could only have come from him. Just when you think he cannot get any more stylised, he accepts the challenge and produces another work of singular genius. Based around the last edition of a supplement for the Kansas city star newspaper, the film is a homage to the great essayists in recent American literature. It is presented in the form of a magazine with an obituary and several short stories. As you would expect, the casting is impeccable and the fore mentioned visuals make it a highly enjoyable movie that stands up to repeat viewing.


8 A Quiet Place Part II
Its predecessor was one of the best films of 2018 and provided a unique cinematic experience. So, the second instalment had a lot to live up to. Fortunately, the franchise is in very good hands and the film succeeds due to the strength of the continuing story and the returning cast members reprising already strong roles. Opening with a flashback sequence does a nice bit of world-building but then it is full-on silent cinema. Word is that the franchise will continue with an adjacent story in the hands of another director.


7 Another Round
Mads Mikkelsen - Another RoundThe winner of the Oscar for the best non-English language film was a real treat. Basically, a film about middle-aged male angst was told in such an inventive way that it rose above the rather tired and predictable genre. Using an experiment involving keeping a blood alcohol level at 0.5 at all times, four school teachers observe the resulting change in their lives. The film is a story of two halves which mirrors the effects that alcohol has upon initial consumption and the result of prolonged intake. Mads Millelson deserved every single plaudit he received for his central performance.


6 Nobody
Although the training videos were widely available online prior to the release of Nobody, the realisation that Bob Odenkirk was a fully-fledged John Wick action star was still something of a surprise. A man with a past, his character is now a nobody who is dragged back into his old life by circumstances at home and work. The film came from some of the John Wick team so the action scenes, the visuals and the outrageous support characters are all impeccable. It is another of those films that stands up to a second viewing just for the bits you will miss the first time around.


5 Censor
Censor Niamh AlgarFor much of the year, Censor was my favourite horror film and only just pipped to that particular (highly sought after) accolade with the choice below. A woman who has been struggling to come to terms with the disappearance of her sister some years thinks she sees her in a video nasty film she is assessing for the British Board of censors. This introduces her to a world of sinister films, creepy people and a few truths about herself. It is a fantastically creepy film that, like the films she is censoring, leaves more to the imagination than the on-screen experience.


4 Titane
The most out there of all the films on the list. On the surface, it’s a body horror movie about a woman’s erotic obsession with cars. Dig a little deeper into the story and it is a tale of loss, loneliness, and a search for acceptance in a world that seems totally alien. A superb central performance from a first-time actor holds the more horror-tinged elements together and makes you actually care what happens. Don’t let the publicity surrounding this put you off.  It is like nothing else you will see this year in a very good way.

3 Last Night In Soho
LAST NIGHT IN SOHOEdgar Wright’s return marked a move into a straight-up thriller/horror mode. Set in the dual timelines of the swinging sixties and modern-day Soho in London, the film sees a girl obsessed with the past somehow transported back in time to witness the story of Sandy as she tries to make a name for herself in a world that is less than kind to girls in particular. Having teamed up with Krysty Wilson-Cairns on the screenplay leads to a really powerful and suspenseful tale and adds another dimension to Mr Wright’s impressive output.

2 Dune
Dune 2021For me, the most anticipated movie of the year and one that delivered everything that I hoped for. The decision to split the book into two films was a masterstroke as it gave the first part more than enough time to develop the many characters that feature in the book. Denis Villeneuve’s obvious love for the source material fused well with his understanding of what makes a cinematic spectacle. He went big in terms of visuals and sound design, but not to the point where it overshadowed the storytelling. A sign of a really good film is that it leaves you wanting more, which, more than any other film this year, was the case.

1 The Power Of The Dog
The biggest surprise for me this year in terms of movies was that a western would be the top of the pile. Jane Campions first feature since 2009 saw her depart from her films focussing on strong female characters to a story of toxic masculinity in rural Montana in the 1920s. Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil, one of two brothers who run a cattle ranch, steps away from his more established type of role and superbly portrays an alpha male of the old school variety. He is the very definition of a cruel and sadistic man who is in charge of all around him. The introduction of a new sister in law and her effete son disturb the smooth running of the farm which leads to conflict and high drama. The central performance draws you into the drama and the supporting cast, the powerful story and the vast open spaces of the countryside keep you totally engaged until the very end.

John McArthur
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