The movie-going and movie watching landscape continues to grow and evolve, against the industry’s will but for their benefit. 2021 saw the tail end of the extended awards season, while kinda-sorta embracing streaming as a viable option when faced with declining interest in the movie-going experience, which will more than likely become a niche endeavour, instead of a standard event. But across the board, great films continued to be released, here were my favourites from throughout the year.
Judas & The Black Messiah
Rarely do true story films occupy my top spot. I tend to favour genre films. But this was such a compelling film with bold, rich performances from the leads. It won’t pop up in this year’s awards season, as it qualified last year in the extended eligibility window, but it’s still technically a 2021 release, and therefore eligible for my “Best of” list. That said, Daniel Kaluuya, Jesse Plemmons and Lakeith Stanfield are three endlessly and effortlessly watchable actors that show up to play with each and every role they take on, so to get the three of them together on a brutal, intense, and uniquely topical period film about the FBI’s COINTELPRO efforts on civil rights leader, specifically Black Panther leader Fred Hampton (Kaluuya), a figure and topic many audiences aren’t familiar with. The film is a slow burn political thriller that reaches its boiling point at the exact right time to really grab you, push you back in your seat, and make you say “Oh shit.”
Streaming now on HBOMax
Mitchells vs The Machines
What’s beautiful about Mitchells vs The Machines is as the film unfolds, and the relationships are explored amongst the Mitchell family, you find yourself identifying very hard with at least one character, if not at least somewhat with multiple characters. It’s a gorgeously animated, hilariously funny, and ultimately touching examination of the parent-child relationship. Even in the most outlandish of scenarios, these characters are all still very much real and relatable. It never loses sight of the emotional core of the film, even when they’re fighting an AI upgraded Furby.
Streaming now on Netflix
Eventually, a day will come when I don’t absolutely fall in love with a Guillermo del Toro film. That will be a sad day indeed. But that’s a problem for future me. Current me was enamoured with Nightmare Alley. The pulp-noir vibe, the southern gothic fantasy. The absolutely stellar cast operates like a well-oiled machine in support of Bradley Cooper in one of his career-best performances, but they never feel like afterthoughts. They’re all intricately woven into the fabric of his life.
Currently available to rent on VOD platforms, will come to Hulu & HBOMax on 1 February.
Last Night in Soho
It isn’t Edgar Wright’s most cohesive film, but Last Night in Soho still crackles with a gorgeously shot and designed world. While the film may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s hard to deny how absolutely stunning Chung-hoon Chung’s cinematography is. For me, it was the multitude of booming performances from the likes of Anya Taylor-Joy, Thomasin McKenzie, the late Diana Rigg in her final film role, Matt Smith, and Terrance Stamp who all built this time-twisty thriller of a mystery to have it just explode in the film’s climax. Wright has a knack for finding the fun in the dark, but steering away from bleak humour, to make it a sublime cinematic experience.
Currently available to rent on VOD platforms
tick tick… Boom!
I had to sit with this one for a bit. So many things in this film worked so well, but the film ultimately hinges entirely on Andrew Garfield. The actor portraying Jonathan Larson had to be perfect and really own the role, the story, and the film. Everything else would have come tumbling down had they not carried it, and carry it Garfield does. Make no mistake, all the original writing Larson did for the show, all the other fantastic performances, and of course Lin-Manuel Miranda making a spectacular directorial debut, they’re all fantastic and the film would be nowhere without being a sum of its parts. Despite how Larson wrote it originally, it’s nowhere near a one-man show. But Garfield is the anchor. The glue. And it’s such a spectacular show.
Streaming now on Netflix
Most Pleasant Surprise
I didn’t expect much out of this one. I knew it was about a homeless guy who loses his pet pig. That byline reads like Nic Cage trying his hand at a subdued knockoff of John Wick. I did not in any way expect a deep contemplative film on grief and loss, with a restrained Cage showing us why he became one of the biggest movie stars of the 90s with two Oscar nominations, including a win, to his name, and very much deserves a third nod for his work on Pig.
Now streaming on Hulu
Most Disappointing Film
Don’t Breathe 2
Don’t Breathe was a stand-out of 2016, layering the tension, with complicated characters and motivations that it was such a brutal, sobering climax and end. Don’t Breath 2 was none of that, and just tried to make you root for the villain by giving you slightly worse people to root against, in hopes that you forget about what a villain the supposed protagonist is. Stripped away is the nuance that made the first one so compelling. You no longer have characters existing in the grey area. It’s just a nauseating forced black and white.
Best of the Rest