2021 wasn’t the year I hoped it would be at the movies. In Australia it was a disappointment – with a series of lockdowns sporadically closing down cinemas and film opportunities missed because of it. While streaming was a godsend, it was impossible keeping track of every worthy release. Moreover, if you couldn’t afford streaming service prices (I have 5 platforms and that’s already in my opinion far too many), some of the best movies were cruelly out of reach. As always, catching up on some of the best movies of 2021 became a late flurry of activity with me. It’s fair to say I’ve missed some important movies like The Card Counter, Being The Ricardos and The Tragedy Of Macbeth but I hope to rectify this around awards season this year. It is also noteworthy to mention that films like Belfast, C’Mon C’Mon, Nightmare Alley and King Richard which received a US release in 2021 will be available here in Australia shortly in the coming weeks.
Of all the movies I had seen in 2021, I would like to give an honourable mention to The Power of The Dog, which I couldn’t squeeze into my list of favourite films of 2021. It sounds strange given the fact that it recently won the Golden Globe for Best Drama and it is also the frontrunner for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. While I appreciate that it is a strangely beautiful, slow burn and director Jane Campion’s first film in 12 years, it didn’t satisfy or move me enough with its early 20th century American western feel to warrant a place here. In all fairness its probably the best movie of 2021 but not representative of the films I really enjoyed this year.
Anyway, without further ado here below in no particular order is a sample of my favourite films of 2021.
A Quiet Place Part II.
When a movie is able to hold your attention, scare the shit out of you and keep you on the edge of your seat, there is no more of a satisfying feeling than watching a movie like A Quiet Place 2. This post-apocalyptic horror haunt audiences and its protagonists all over again as it picks up from where the original ended. Interestingly, Part 2 begins with a menacing reset, the first day of the alien invasion before jumping into the action. While the fight for survival is still depended on silence, the Abbott looks to take advantage of a new weapon against the aliens – high-frequency radio audio feedback. This is definitely a worthy sequel with some great all round performances from Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds, Noah Jupe and newcomer to the series, Cillian Murphy as Emmett; whose desperate plight to survive is renewed by deaf-family member Regan Abbott.
Emma Stone has a knack of choosing some very interesting projects. So it hardly come as a surprise that she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her leading role as 101 Dalmatian’s Cruella de Vil in Disney’s outstanding origins story – Cruella. What I love about Stone is how completely badass she is as Cruella. While we don’t get to see her at her villainous best – skinning innocent puppies for fur (although she alludes to it occasionally) – she is instead reinvented for this origins story as an antihero preoccupied with avenging her adoptive mother’s death. I actually thought I would hate Cruella and its high-fashion means to an end subplots, but these scenes truly enhance the movie. Take for instance Cruella’s entrance to the Black and White Ball. When Estelle aka Cruella enters the ball in a white cape, she doesn’t seem anymore extravagant than the other guests. But just before the Baroness is about to make a toast, the scheming Cruella crashes a tower of champagne glasses to the floor. With everyone’s eyes now upon her, she asks a guest “Do you have a light?” before setting her white cape a flame. Everyone gasps. It’s completely insane! A sassy “I’m here bitch” entrance which upstages and ruffles the Baroness feathers to great effect.
Last Night in Soho.
While Cruella was set in 1970s London amidst the punk rock revolution, another great film in Last Night in Soho explored London in the swinging sixties. It comes courtesy of director Edgar “Baby Driver” Wright, whose love of 1960s London is painstakingly reimagined with his signature visual flair and love of music but with a dark and frightening twist. At its heart this very inventive film is a supernatural/psychological- thriller which centres around Eloise, an aspiring fashion designer (Thomasin McKenzie), who comes to London but begins to have strange visions of a young woman called Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy), who used to live in her apartment during the 60s. Soon after Eloise is magically transported into a glitzy dangerous world of the mid 60s in the body of Sandie. In truth, I’m not so sure I would have given it a second thought if it wasn’t for The Queen’s Gambit’s Anya Taylor-Joy. I’m thrilled I did, especially with two strong female leads at the centre of this stylish film.
Finch is the best robot movie in recent years. It also plays out as a warning of what could happen when climate change plays havoc with our planet. But in the middle of this chaos, there is a brilliant beautiful story of one man’s determination to build a trusty new robot companion for his loyal dog Goodyear, presumably from whatever he has managed to scavenge from the bombed-out landscape of St Louis. Finch (Tom Hanks) is dying from radiation poisoning and with what little time he has left he is intent on teaching his new robot Jeff enough about life before he is gone. In short, Finch is a buddy-road movie that sees Finch, Jeff and Goodyear trek across the United States to the mythical West. Most of all Finch wants one last chance to stand on the Golden Gate Bridge, which becomes a metaphor for life and human experience. With its underlining message of hope, even if it means humans don’t get a front row seat to participate in it anymore, Finch is a beautiful film.
Dune is definitely a movie you want to see on the big screen. I was personally blown away with both the visuals and soundscape. I’m tipping Dune will pick up this year an Oscar or two, possibly for cinematography, editing or sound. If it doesn’t it would be an injustice to director Denis Villeneuve’s vision of Frank Herbert’s epic novel. In short, there is a lot to love about Dune, especially its engrossing storyline. It also has a killer supporting cast with the likes of Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin and Jason Momoa whom all making most of their screen time. But for my mind the incredible familial and emotional connection between Rebecca Ferguson as Lady Jessica and Timothee Chalamet as Paul Atredides, the future “messiah” to the Fremen, is why Dune is such a wonderful film. On a personal note, I believe Swedish actress Rebecca Ferguson steals the show. It’s fair to say while our focus is somewhat firmly placed on Paul’s hero journey, its a nice surprise to find Ferguson’s Lady Jessica as a genuinely compelling protagonist who holds her own opposite the forces of an evil interstellar Imperium.
Don’t Look Up.
A massive asteroid on a collision course with Earth isn’t a new premises onscreen. Yes, it’s been done before and quite successfully with films like Armageddon (1998) and Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012). While the Bruce Willis led Armageddon was a pop corn blockbuster, the latter starring Steve Carell and Keira Knightley was a satire reserved for melancholy nights. While maybe not as melancholy as Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Don’t Look Up is instead an in-your-face comedy satire with its telescope not only aimed at the heavens but at the lack of concern politicians and society have towards our survival. Don’t Look Up touches on nearly all the uncomfortable truths which face us in a time of crisis and by the final act it is still very funny and dark in equal measure. Watch out for Leonardo Di Caprio’s sobering improvised final line of the film! On the subject of performances, I really enjoyed Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as the whistle blowing astronomers, who struggle to convince Americans of the pending doom. Cate Blanchett as a talk show anchor is incredible giving us another great performance to what is already an illustrious career. While Veteran Meryl Streep as US President and Jonah Hill as her son and Chief of Staff are also solid. Finally, Mark Rylance, who almost steals the show, is ingeniously funny and measured as a tech billionaire pulling the strings behind the scenes.
Free Guy is one of the most enjoyable films I watched in 2021. And its star Ryan Reynolds is arguably the funniest actor on the planet. Why? Because he is fucking good at what he does. I can’t think of anyone more sarcastic and genuinely funny. He could honestly get away with murder and blame your grandmother and we would be ok with that. Anyway, Reynolds is a delight to watch as he plays Guy, a non-playable character in a popular online game, who becomes self-aware and decides to abandon his menial bank clerk job and become a hero. Along the way the meets and falls in love with real-life Millie (Jodie Comer) who masquerades online as Molotov Girl who has her own secret agenda. Why I love Free Guy is because most of us can relate to Reynold’s character. Why it works is because director Shawn Levy was able to hit upon an interesting concept related around Self-Aware Artificial Intelligence. That said, it’s easy to see similarities for instances between Free Guy and Steven Speilberg’s Ready Player One, but Levy insists it is not a Speilberg action type blockbuster. In fact Levy calls his movie a romantic comedy.
The Last Duel.
Ridley Scott has proven over decades that there is no genre that he cannot tackle. From sci fi and war to historical dramas and crime, Scott is a maverick behind the camera. Interestingly, he directed his first film in 1977 called The Duellists. It was a historical drama set in the early 19th century about two French officers whose fifteen year feud goes to extraordinary lengths. Both men would meet multiple times to duel each other before common sense finally prevailed with a promise that one would leave the other alone. More recently, when Scott decided to revisited this archaic concept of honour in The Last Duel, I hoped it wouldn’t simply be a rehash of The Duellist. In the end I was pleasantly surprised how different this movie was to The Duelist and its tale of betrayal and vengeance. In Scott’s The Last Duel, the story is told from three different individual perspectives which traces the circumstances surrounding the vicious assault of Knight Jean de Carrouges’ wife Marguirite by his former friend Jacques Le Gris. Starring Matt Damon, Adam Driver and Jodie Comer, The Last Duel is deliberately paced and beautiful to look at. Interestingly as the film draws to a close you will be left in the dark until the film’s violent final act. That said the tension in the epic duel is so palpable you can only pray it is a just outcome.
In a time when we need to find ways to keep their our spirits up and distract us from the pandemic, Disney’s Jungle Cruise came along and saved the day. Seriously don’t let the mixed reviews fool you, Jungle Cruise is so much fun. It is an entertaining throwback that reminds me of my love for Indiana Jones and I’m more than happy that it feels like an Indy knock-off. It’s the Indy adventure Harrison Ford never had cruising down the Amazon in a ramshackle boat searching for the Tree of Life. Anyway, while there’s no Ford here to crack his whip, it instead stars a very capable Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock as Frank Wolff, a wisecracking hard bitten steamboat skipper who cannot escape the Amazon. Along for the ride is Emily Blunt as the pants-wearing Dr. Lily Houghton, who has all the virtues of a great explorer. It’s fair to say Johnson and Blunt make a good team in this action fantasy adventure with their odd-couple banter and chemistry. Notably, Jungle Cruise also has a good cast of supporting actors. Standouts include Jack Whitehall as Blunt’s bubbling brother. He is the annoying sidekick who you would love to abandoned at some far-flung outpost. Moreover let us not forget Jesse Plemons
the man who stole my on-screen crush Kirsten Dunst away from me when he married her a few years ago as Prince Joachim, the creepy and villainous German hell bent on getting his murderous hands on the fabled Tree of Life.