Films are officially back in business! After a year that seemed relatively scarce, the film reels are rolling like crazy. While 2021 would not be quoted as the proper comeback, at least financially, the quality of content this year alone is something to reckon.
As with every year, there are fair shares of sparky duds and fiery successes. There are neon-paletted delights. We have exquisite character work as with Nicolas Cage’s “Pig” along with James McAvoy’s “My Son”. Local features like “Prebet Sapu”, which was brilliant, brought about themes of existentialism all while telling a grounded story of a familiar location in monochrome fashion.
No doubt, there are also weird cash-grab features that stink and some that deserve to be deleted from the studios’ catalogue. There are franchises that refuse to die, but we still have this love-hate relationship with them because they inspire tons of memes and are all about family.
Besides, there is nothing quite like experiencing the thrills of a film with generations of fans. “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a testament to that very cinematic joy. We have certainly missed the notion of people cheering with an unbounded ecstasy within the four walls of the cinema.
Nonetheless, it is time. We bring out the golden horns, the sacred jewels, and roll out a feast to celebrate the best of the best. There will be no mention of the box office. The popular fandom will be a non-factor. Using our objective eyes and ears, this is an appreciation of what cinema has laboured this year.
So, here are the films — in no particular order — we thought brought out the best laughs, tears, smiles, and cheers all the way through 2021.
Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” is the first true cinematic experience we’ve had since the lockdown began. A film that reminds us all that in the midst of a global pandemic and the endless tide of films and TV shows on streaming services, there is a power and majesty to cinema that cannot be rivalled. For the longest time, the film was considered impossible to adapt and yet against all odds, Villeneuve has done it!
Through breathtaking visuals and incandescent performances from a star-studded cast of actors, “Dune” has solidified itself in the annals of cinematic history. A marriage of blockbuster cinema and arthouse filmmaking, Villeneuve has created a terrifying coming-of-age story wrapped up in a sweeping sci-fi political thriller. It is most definitely a worthy contender, if not the best film of 2021!
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again, this movie is a religion of its own, a life-changing experience. Once you traverse the dusty dunes of Arrakis, there is no escaping this immersive sci-fi universe first conceived by Frank Herbert!
There is a reason why “Titane” is the winner of the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Spouting from the raw but powerful mind of French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, this body horror film is meant to bewilder and unnerve you. There is no doubt that “Titane” would make you grit your teeth, mystify your eyes with a fiery glaze, and breathe down your nasal cavities with a hounding presence. That might sound utterly torturous but trust us, it’s a great thing (and no, we’re not closet masochists).
“Titane” consistently prowls around provocative territories, shocking audiences with its crude depictions of sex, murder, and identity theft. Trust us, our mouths were left gaping with our eyes wide and glued to the screen. It is gory, slinky, and chilling to the bone, and somehow it does all this with exquisite tracking of the film’s lead actress, Agathe Rousselle. Indeed, she expertly navigates the emotions of her blood-curdling creature to an eerie profundity, clawing and gnarling with a mask of innocence.
Truly, Ducournau is quickly cementing herself as a wonderful artist. With this only being her second film, we’ll be sure that we’ll see her name in lists to come.
3. THE POWER OF THE DOG
Jane Campion’s “The Power of the Dog” is not an easy film to watch. Many a time, you would want to look away but we pray that you do not. It is a deconstruction of masculinity in Westerns, one that accounts for the psychological trauma and hateful expectations that come with the territory. If you ever want to know what it’s like to sit on a chair full of pins amidst agonising family arguments, then this is the film for you.
Benedict Cumberbatch’s Phil masterfully embodies the restless rage and anxiety of the last cowboy in a world that has outgrown the need for him. The English thespian continues to prove himself as one of the most versatile actors in the industry today!
4. THE SUICIDE SQUAD
It is easy to dismiss the DCEU flick as merely an improvement over its dud of a predecessor. Nevertheless, you never write off a creative and insane (but mostly creative) genius mind like James Gunn. With this fresh take on Task Force X breathing new life into familiar faces and bringing more C-list DC characters to the forefront, it is more than a deletion of cringeworthy belly dancing and clown grills from recent memory.
This was a monumental challenge taken on by Gunn as he dug deep into his roots to bring a special romp for viewers to enjoy. Indeed, with the infusion of heart and character into these cold on-screen criminals, audiences immediately connected to them in many ways. Gunn intelligently capitalises on this tether, utilising the premise’s unpredictability to his advantage to create stakes like never before. We have gotta say, “The Suicide Squad” is the best thing to come out of the DCEU!
5. BOMBAY ROSE
“Bombay Rose” is an unflinching and unapologetic view of Indian society. Indeed, this is one that explores themes of womanhood, poverty and family through gorgeous animation. Gitanjali Rao and her talented team of animators a myriad of colour palettes and art styles to contrast the realities of life of sisters Kamala and Tara.
Kamala, being the sole-breadwinner, can only dream of a life where a fair prince comes to whisk her away like the stories of old. While young Tara, embodying the boundless potential of an educated mind, navigates through a world of culture and complexity. All the while, earthen colours remind us of the stark reality of survival in the hustle and bustle of Bombay. “Bombay Rose” will break and mend your heart over and over again till its credits roll. For a tour de force of Indian cinema.
6. THE GUILTY
Actor Jake Gyllenhaal delivers one of his most captivating performances since 2014’s “Nightcrawler” as 9-1-1 dispatcher Joe Baylor. A man racing against time to save a young woman’s life and piece together a puzzle of domestic violence and horror.
Through chilling voice acting on the part of Riley Keough, the film paints the auditory crime scene before our very eyes. One that gets disturbingly more complicated and nuanced as time goes on. In a genre that’s often populated with high-octane car chases and shoot-outs, it’s rare to find a film that’s able to capture the excitement of those things in such a limited but novel premise. “The Guilty” is a breath of fresh air and sharp panic attack all wrapped up in a ticking-time-bomb thriller.
7. TICK, TICK… BOOM
Tick… Tock… TIck… Tock… While we’re on the topic of time bombs, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s resume has been exploding all year long with features such as “Encanto” and “In The Heights”. But none of them has had the same impact or captivating factor as “Tick, Tick… Boom”.
For a debut piece, Lin-Manuel Miranda struts his stuff with confidence unlike any other. Thematically similar to Bo Burnham’s ironically depressing Netflix musical albeit sans pandemic conundrums, Miranda masterfully nails a euphonious about existentialism all while telling a compelling tale about pursuing one’s dreams.
All this is further bolstered by Andrew Garfield’s sweet and spirited performance as playwright Jonathan Larson. With catchy musical numbers and bittersweet irony, the film moves forward with a steady crescendo, ultimately leading to an all-out satisfying BOOM!!
At the surface, “CODA” is about a girl who is pursuing her passion of becoming a singer but is prevented from doing so due to familial circumstances. It’s that drama about families not wanting to break the mould set for generations. We’ve seen this story so many times before. So, what makes the film so special till it actually leaps right into our top ten list?
That has very much to do with the entire premise. Adapted from the French film, “La Famille Bélier”, this American retelling places its lens on a Child of Deaf Adults (CODA), Ruby, who is the only person who can hear in her family of four. “Locke and Key’s” Emilia Jones turns in a gripping performance throughout, navigating both worlds with fluency unlike any other.
Designed with a touch of technical brilliance, this layered film has so much to offer audiences all the way to an emotional coda. Well, what can we say? It’s the ultimate feel-good tearjerker of the year!
9. THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES
When you have the minds behind “Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse” at the wheel, you gotta pay attention. Yes, “The Mitchells vs. The Machines” is one of the most frantic adventures you could ever imagine as a dysfunctional family becomes humanity’s last hope from the robo-calypse! Its zippity-zap pace and eye-popping visuals make for some surreal entertainment. It’s like having a teaspoon of “Terminator” with a pinch of “RV”. Nevertheless, that is not the reason why we love it.
Without a doubt, it is the film’s themes and beautiful representation of the underdog that gets to us. indeed, the movie’s underlying message is absolutely inspirational. Although gags and a motherlode of hilarity ensue for the Mitchell family, it is the positivity of showing audiences that our distinct quirks make us who we are and constitute our strengths. Bold and strong is what this film is.
10. NO TIME TO DIE
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s “No Time to Die” proves a fitting coda to Daniel Craig’s tenure as the legendary Mi6 agent, 007. The film incorporates the best elements of films like “Skyfall” and “Casino Royale”, proving Craig’s Bond to be the most human one yet. He’s a man looking for peace after years of being shaped as an efficient tool for violence.
With no shortage of apocalyptic stakes, Fukunaga manages to ground the narrative in a surprisingly familial context that further endears the character to longtime fans and newcomers alike. Even as a swan song, “No Time to Die” continues to innovate and push the boundaries of one of cinema’s most iconic characters.
Do you agree with our list? What were your favourite films of 2021? Leave your own top 10 list in the comments!
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