Top 10 movies of 2021

 Top 10 movies of 2021

I never normally keep the year-end film list down to a lean ten, but I only actually saw 18 new movies this year; and whilst very very few of them were outright misses, it felt better to just pick my absolute favourites rather than rank the lot.

My previous year-end No1s:
2017: The Florida Project [blog]
2018: The Favourite [blog]
2019: Knives Out [blog]
2020: Mangrove [blog]

My year-end Top 50 singles is here, with albums and TV to follow!

10. Cruella

Ridiculous? Yes! The perfect movie with which to return to cinemas post-lockdown? YES. Emmas Stone and Thompson understood the assignment and delivered just the high-camp fun that was required.

09. Supernova

Finally released over the summer after plentiful COVID delays, Supernova is light on plot and – actually – light on overt devastation, too: for a gay dementia movie, I was expecting to be whacked round the face with Still Alice-style sadness and trauma. But in being a bit quieter, it’s just as affecting. Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci make a winning pair.

08. Raya and the Last Dragon

Being released on Disney+ for a fee perhaps led to this passing a lot of people by, but I really thought it was a modern Disney great. Kelly Marie Tran makes a wonderful lead, and Awkwafina also provides plenty of fun. The story has plenty of depth and emotional stakes, the comedy’s sharp… I hope more and more people keep discovering it.

07. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Essentially Spider-Man Avengers, No Way Home brings in plenty of villains from past movies (as well as plenty of surprises) to give Tom Holland his most hefty outing yet. There’s more than one genuinely huge emotional sucker-punch, and – as with the previous Spidey movies in the MCU – the humour and sparky dialogue outshines the obligatory action set-pieces.

06. Spencer

I liked this weird and disorientating movie because it’s so clearly what one of its title cards says it is: not a straightforward period biopic, but “a haunted fable inspired by a true life tragedy”. Highly stylised, it shows Kristen Stewart’s Diana falling apart at the seams as she struggles through a weekend with the in-laws; Pablo Larraín’s cameras keeping her front-and-centre in almost every frame. Might be a bit of an alienating snooze for some, but I thought it was a winner.

05. tick, tick… BOOM!

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut isn’t a five-star masterpiece but I really enjoyed and respected it for its sheer ambition, and the fact it hits far more often than it misses. Those who seem to have an ingrained aversion to Andrew Garfield won’t be won over here, but I think he’s just brilliant as Jonathan Larson – the stage writer feeling the pressure to have a smash hit on Broadway before he turns 30. Theatre people and writery people will find lots of it hits home (the bit where Larson finishes one triumphant project and is told not that he’s being fast-tracked to the big time, but that he must immediately get going on the next one – whew!), and there’s a lot of great supporting work from folks like Mj Rodriguez, Bradley Whitford and Judith Light.

04. Nomadland

A critics’ darling of 2020, Nomadland finally found its way to the UK as award frontrunners often do: extremely late. It’s a film that’s at once about nothing and everything; in which we follow the van-based life of Frances McDormand’s “houseless” Fern and are introduced to several real-life nomads playing fictionalised versions of themselves. It’s a superstar-making turn for director Chloé Zhao, and yet another career high for McDormand.

03. Promising Young Woman

Funny, brutal, and a little bit camp – there’s a reason Promising Young Woman was a hit with the gals and the gays and the theys! Emerald Fennell’s movie is an absolute firecracker; making bold story decisions at every turn (some triumphant, some gutting) and allowing Carey Mulligan to have the time of her life. I remember watching it and being desperate to analyse it with anyone and everyone else who’d seen it. The wait for it to land in the UK was LONG but very much worth it.

02. Palm Springs

Yet another US 2020 hit that finally found its way over here in 2021, this sci-fi-rom-com – in which our central couple find themselves trapped in a time loop – is an absolute riot. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti bounce off each-other brilliantly, and the dramatic beats are as taut as the moments of comedy: the climax is genuinely tense, and the up-and-down relationship between the two leads feels realistic even within the framework of such a heightened concept. It’s just a lot of fun!

01. The Mitchells vs The Machines

From the same team behind Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse comes another joyride of an animation; packed with exhilarating action, weighty emotion and a lot of laughs. Mike Rianda (who also directs) and Jeff Rowe’s script is water-tight, and the cast are clearly having a blast; from Abbi Jacobson as lead teen Kate to Maya Rudolph as her mother and Olivia Colman as… wait for it… the villainous smartphone. Like previous work by producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, not a single frame is wasted; not one opportunity for an inventive twist, or punchline, or burst of adrenaline untaken. Glorious.

Shaun Kitchener

Scriptwriter for the theatre and TV (currently Hollyoaks) and freelance entertainment ~reportage.