The Top 5 Films of 2021

So we’ve talked about the worst of 2021, let’s talk about the best.

I did the preamble last time, so let’s just get on with it.

5. Shang-Chi and The Legend of the Ten Rings

I think Shang-Chi might have been the least excited I’ve been for a Marvel property. The movie is based on a comic book that would definitely be cancelled nowadays for some, umm, questionable racial portrayals and very few big names were attached to drum up some excitement. Yet while more people were hyped for the ultimately disappointing Eternals, this was the film that thrilled so many and ended up on my Top 5 list. Shang-Chi took inspiration from classic kung-fu movies to really liven up the action before portraying a broken family where everyone was suffering from trauma in different ways. This leads to some fantastic characters that make sure this doesn’t feel like a retread of the hundreds of Marvel properties we have already seen. A really great film.

4. Dune

The book Dune is on that list of unadaptable books that people believe that can’t become movies. They think the material is so dense and the narrative is just unable to be retold on the big screen. And if you saw the original Dune film by David Lynch, you’d probably agree. But it turns out if you give it to Denis Villeneuve, he’ll make you something truly outstanding. Dune is an experience of a movie and while yes, you can watch this at home and enjoy the well told narrative which manages to make that dense sci-fi world into something easily understood by a general audience, it truly pops when in the cinema. Seriously, I was just astounded watching the first encounter with a sand worm as everything from the cinematography to the sound combining for one of the best scenes in a movie this year. Is it enough to pronounce Denis Villeneuve as the greatest sci-fi director of all time? The debate has to be had at the very least…

3. Spider-Man: No Way Home

In terms of Marvel’s year, Spider-Man: No Way Home was the opposite of Shang-Chi. Whereas people went into Shang-Chi with little to no expectations meaning they could be surprised with how good it ended up being, No Way Home had a lot of pressure on it. Not only did it have to deal with constant speculation about who would appear in it but it was the biggest movie Marvel have done since End Game. So it was absolutely brilliant that not only did this film match up to those expectations but exceed. It had a lot of moving parts but the film handled them with ease, making sure that surprises not only surprised, but worked in the context of the movie and were used to enhance the experience. Again, I can’t go too deep because otherwise I will be hunted down and eaten by spoilerphobes, but this is the best blockbuster of the year.

2. In The Heights

The last twenty months have been very miserable. Even when there is some joy, it is blighted by everything else that is happening. I know some people who have had some good things happen to them during this pandemic but feel guilty about it because so many have suffered. Therefore, cinema needed to rise to the challenge and bring us something feel good that gives you a goofy smile throughout. We got that film in the summer with In The Heights. This was the stage musical that made Lin-Manuel Miranda before that thing with the founding fathers that has a bit of a cult following, and it makes the transition to the screen brilliantly. The opening sequence draws you into this world and from there it’s just great song after great song, from the touching ballads to the ones where you want to dance (badly) in the cinema. It’s also a fantastic celebration of the immigrant community in New York City which has also not had the best time over the last few years. This is exactly what the world needed from cinema and while it didn’t do the best box office numbers, I notice through places like TikTok that the movie is continuing to grow in popularity long after the last screening took place.

  1. The Father

How do you make someone truly understand an illness or injury? Well the answer is ‘Make someone feel like they have it’. But that is obviously impossible because you can’t exactly make some feel like they have a broken leg when they are watching at home. Well there is, but I imagine Variety would have some negative headlines if Fox sent thugs around to break your legs before watching one of their films.

But that is the challenge that The Father takes on. Anthony Hopkins plays a character riddled with dementia and the aim of this movie is to make sure you know what it feels like to have dementia too. And it works. An incredible editing job and script plants you right into Hopkins’ shoes. Settings change without reason, you are told of things that have happened that you have no memory of and then the scenes even start to repeat. You question whether what you are watching is even real.

By the time the film is finished, you are in a state of distress. You have gone through something that millions of people in the world have to go through every day and with Olivia Colman’s sympathetic daughter, you also get an understanding of what the carers have to go through as well. This is your reminder that dementia carers go through an incredible amount of distress too as they see the person they love slowly disappear away from them.

There aren’t many films that left me at the end of the movie feeling that sort of distress and trauma. It is truly incredible what this movie achieves and I can see it being used in future in training sessions for nurses and other care staff to help them understand why people with dementia think the way they do. It is an astounding film and truly the best movie of 2021.

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A Guy Who Talks About Movies

A Guy Who Talks About Movies

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.