This last year felt like it was packed with cinematic surprises around every corner. From a surprise trilogy that was released entirely in under a month, to a long-awaited and much-debated director’s cut, there was much to love about the films released in 2021. With all that said, let’s get into my picks for what topped this last year in film.
Unfortunately, not everything could make this list, but these 5 films deserve a mention despite just falling short. Firstly, Halloween Kills took the franchise in a direction I didn’t expect – going very light on story and relentlessly brutal on violence. It was almost 2 hours of pure horror slasher violence, and I had a blast just watching the mindless brutality unfold. After years of buildup and anticipation, Godzilla vs. Kong delivered a thrilling clash of giants with incredible visuals, an engaging story and a monster showdown that will be remembered for years to come. Licorice Pizza is a charming, feel-good coming of age story that features an incredible performance from Alana Haim. Despite some ups and downs in the story, it’s a heartwarming ride that’s well worth the watch. Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a surprisingly fresh entry in the MCU, delivering an engaging narrative and kick-ass action sequences, while introducing us to some great new heroes we will certainly see more of in the future. Then there’s Fast & Furious 9, the franchise that is still going strong after all this time. When it comes to over-the-top action blockbusters with insane stunts and chaotic action sequences, Fast & Furious is at the top of the game. It’s pure entertainment from beginning to end – the type of franchise I could watch forever.
#10 – In the Heights
It’s hard to go through a year of entertainment nowadays without coming across something Lin-Manuel Miranda is involved in. But if you were to watch only one of those projects, it should be In the Heights. A fiery explosion of music and dance on the streets of Washington Heights, In the Heights is a fine piece of musical entertainment. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songwriting style is all over this film – with a good blend of upbeat numbers guaranteed to get you grooving in your seat, and the occasional slower piece to enhance the emotion of the narrative. In terms of the narrative, the first half is especially entertaining – the individual and connected journeys our characters are on make for plenty of compelling storylines, and there’s plenty of fun to be had – making it feel like a stage musical. There are some missteps in the latter half – the narrative isn’t as memorable and it’s not as “fun”, but the individual character arcs are wrapped up neatly.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of In the Heights by clicking here.
#9 – No Time to Die
Daniel Craig’s swan song has arrived – a thrilling conclusion to his run as James Bond. No Time to Die is a fast-paced spy thriller that kicks things into high gear early on and rarely slows things back down. There’s a great character-centric narrative, closing out this version of Bond’s 5-film arc, and plenty of exciting moments that both fans of the franchise and newcomers can enjoy. From close-quarters combat and gun fights to explosive chase sequences, this film delivers everything you want to see from a Bond film. The inclusion of Ana De Armas and Lashana Lynch elevates the film, both delivering great performances and displaying great charm and toughness. With the only negative being the handling of Rami Malek’s villain, any fan of the action/spy thriller genre should check this one out.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of No Time to Die by clicking here.
#8 – Malignant
Horror visionary, James Wan, has returned to the genre with Malignant – a love letter to 90s horror that’s filled with both gory violence and atmospheric chills. A relentless ride from beginning to end, James Wan sends this story on a never-ending spiral of thrills that only gets crazier as more lingering questions are answered. The narrative features horror, crime, thriller and mystery elements, and is certainly not afraid to take risks – straddling this line between quirky and terrifying. For anyone wanting an insane horror flick with balls-to-the-wall thrills from beginning to end, then don’t look past Malignant.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Malignant by clicking here.
#7 – Raya and the Last Dragon
Well isn’t this on the complete opposite end of the spectrum to the last entry… Raya and the Last Dragon is an incredibly fun fantasy adventure and Walt Disney Animation’s best film since 2013’s Frozen. Regardless of the fact that this is animated, the story itself is one of the strongest fantasy narratives in recent years. I could very easily see this story and this world be the subject of TV series, purely due to the depth of the characters and history of the world that’s only lightly touched on. With a heartwarming story that also delivers some hard-hitting action sequences and a touch of comedy spread throughout, every minute of this film is an absolute blast. The writing is brilliant, and the the performances from Awkwafina, Kelly Marie Tran and Gemma Chan are fantastic. If it’s a fun, feel-good film you’re after, this is for you.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Raya and the Last Dragon by clicking here.
#6 – West Side Story
Who better to bring West Side Story back into the limelight than Steven Spielberg. This timeless narrative is bought to life here by stunning cinematography, great performances and breathtaking musical numbers. Effectively capturing the emotion, heartbreak and meaning behind the stage musical, this is a truly captivating musical event from beginning to end. There’s never a moment of downtime, and Spielberg manages to bring everything together in a way that works seamlessly from scene to scene. The casting of every character feels entirely on point – with each actor fulfilling the qualities you’d expect to see from their respective roles. Whether this is your first time experiencing this forbidden romance, or you’re revisiting the ageless tale, you will fall in love with West Side Story – a true spectacle of the musical genre.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of West Side Story by clicking here.
#5 – Fear Street Trilogy (1994/1978/1666)
Quite possibly the best surprise of the year is Fear Street, an adaptation of R.L. Stine’s classic novels, that was released in the form of a trilogy of films over three consecutive weeks. Introduced as a pretty neat idea, this instantly became one of my favourite trilogies of all time. The execution of this trilogy event could not have been more perfect – each film works as a compelling story on its own, while also connecting in to the other entries seamlessly. The first two entries borrow heavily from the slasher genre, paying homage to the likes of Scream and Halloween, while the third film goes in the direction of the Old English witchcraft vibe – similar to The Witch. The way each one feels different, yet connected, is unexplainably satisfying. I cannot express how much I loved this trilogy – the overarching narrative is thrilling, the horror is chilling and the characters are engaging enough to where I’d love to see more Fear Street movies going forward.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Fear Street Part One: 1994 by clicking here.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Fear Street Part Two: 1978 by clicking here.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Fear Street Part Three: 1666 by clicking here.
#4 – A Quiet Place Part II
A Quiet Place was my #1 film of 2018, so it makes sense that my excitement for this film was above and beyond. Thankfully, it did not disappoint. Continuing the narrative from almost immediately after the first film ended, A Quiet Place Part II takes the horror we experienced and amplifies it tenfold. This spine-tingling adventure is packed full of thrills that will have you on the edge of your seat with barely a minute to relax – if you get a chance to breathe, take it, because there’s not many. Stellar performances from Emily Blunt, Millicent Simmonds and more guide you through this treacherous journey of survival. I will continue to rave about how this film uses sound, or the lack thereof, to create an immersive experience that will leave you terrified. Do yourself a favour and check out this brilliant piece of horror.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of A Quiet Place Part II by clicking here.
#3 – Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Coming in at #3 is something truly special. No, this isn’t the same film that released way back in 2017, this is the superior Justice League film – a complete vision from the brilliant mind of Zack Snyder. Sitting at 4 hours long, this is an absolute behemoth of a movie. Something this long and this ambitious should crash and burn – so the fact that Zack has managed to pull this off so brilliantly is truly a testament to his writing and directing abilities when he has full creating control. The story is amazingly well paced, the action is exciting and tense, and the individual narrative arcs of every single character are fleshed out so well that it’s easy to become enthralled in each of their respective journeys. It’s clear as day that Joss Whedon absolutely massacred this film into the shitshow that was 2017’s Justice League – so seeing the true version of this film is like a long-awaited gift for DC fans. If you are a fan of these characters, whether that be in the DCEU or the comics, or even if you’re a fan of superhero films in general, this spectacle is an absolute must-watch. It’s truly one of a kind, and most likely will never be replicated again.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Zack Snyder’s Justice League by clicking here.
#2 – Spider-Man: No Way Home
There was so much hype and anticipation surrounding the arrival of this film. Not only for the insane return of fan-favourite villains such as Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin and Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, but also for the chance appearance of the Spider-Men of the past. Spider-Man: No Way Home is one of the most ambitious MCU projects to date, second only to the duo of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. The fact that they managed to craft a thrilling and genuinely emotional narrative, giving each of the many characters a meaningful place in the story, is truly remarkable. That signature Marvel humour is present here, and it’s delivered very well from our main cast – especially Tom Holland, who has now completely grown into the character and puts in his best performance as the titular web-slinger. I had the biggest smile on my face throughout the vast majority of this film. It’s the type of film I would pay to see again for the first time, an unfortunate impossibility. The fact that this was pulled off with such perfection is why it’s a must-watch.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Spider-Man: No Way Home by clicking here.
#1 – Dune
Well… here it is… one of the most anticipated films of the last few years has arrived, and it does not disappoint. Denis Villeneuve’s Dune is nothing short of a sci-fi masterpiece – grand in scale and flawless in execution. This is the second time Denis Villeneuve has topped my Top 10 list, the last time being with Blade Runner 2049 in 2017, and for good reason. He’s one of the greatest directors at the moment, and one of the most talented sci-fi directors of all time. Everything he touches turns to cinematic gold – from Prisoners in 2013 to Arrival in 2016, and now this sci-fi epic. Dune is a narrative of such an enormous scale, with such insane depth, it’s baffling how Denis manages to translate so much of that into one film. It may take a minute to get accustomed to the intricacies of this world, but once you do, the narrative becomes an enthralling ride right through to the moments the credits roll. It runs at a very slow pace, ensuring it leaves enough time to flesh out every single character and understand the power dynamics work between the various families and organisations. Complete with a chilling score and some of the most awe-inspiring cinematography you’ll every witness, Dune is a phenomenal work of art that must be seen to be believed.
Check out my full non-spoiler review of Dune by clicking here.
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