2021 has been a particularly busy year for films. Not only are films releasing from numerous delays that were originally scheduled from the year that never existed (2020) but films that held their original release dates also came out. To say the least, it’s been an embarrassment of riches for fans. October alone had major release after major release every single week. But now that its January, the time has come for literally everyone to give their top ten best films of the year list.
Along with having a busy schedule of releases, 2021 has been a year of experimentation for studios with their films. What sounded promising hurt the theater industry with day and date releases – any sort of profit was killed because of this trial. Disney made select films like Black Widow, Cruella, Raya and the Last Dragon day and date with a price tag of $30 to watch the movies from the comfort and safety of your home. Whereas Warner released their entire 2021 slate this way with no extra cost. The experiment failed miserably and lost billions for the studios, as well as lawsuits from the stars especially when Covid restrictions eased up, social distancing in the individual theaters was no more and more movie fans started going back to the theaters.
Several films kicked off what felt like the “return to theater” experience. Christopher Nolan wanted that for Tenet, but Tenet flopped at the box office with 10 percent capacity and seats spread out. Even when restrictions relaxed the true return to theaters came just last month with the release of Spider-Man: No Way Home aka the biggest film in the last two and a half years. Making 1.6 billion at the box office, Marvel and Sony brought fans casual and hardcore back to the movies. Come on you know what I mean with that film – theaters haven’t been this packed since Avengers: Endgame. I thought it would be with Godzilla vs. Kong or even A Quiet Place 2 but none of the blockbusters made any significant impact until Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Speaking of, 2021 was a big year for the MCU – 4 films released theatrically with 4 series streaming exclusively on Disney Plus. Warner and DC thanks to an unprecedented online fan petition got the Snyder Cut released of Justice League. Yeah – that was last year, feels like 2 years ago with the sheer number of films that came out in 2021. 2021 saw the return of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck as writers together with the Ridley Scott directed film The Last Duel, Edgar Wright returned with his decade spanning psychological horror film Last Night in Soho.
But above all else, 2021 was the year of the musical. 4 musicals, 5 if you want to count Encanto came out with Lin-Manuel Miranda making his directorial debut with Tick, Tick…Boom! and his first Broadway hit In the Heights making its big screen debut. Miranda also created the music for Encanto making him the busiest man in Hollywood this year. The other 2 musicals, West Side Story proved that Steven Spielberg can direct any genre successfully while the other Dear Evan Hansen didn’t capture the spirit of the stage play version.
With all that said, without further ado, here is the bottom half of my top ten films of 2021:
10) The Mitchells Vs. The Machines
Following the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, Phil Lord and Chris Miller make their return to animation with The Mitchells Vs The Machines – a heartwarming story about family, a Terminator/Mad Max like machine uprising and being your unique self while living up to your potential unashamed. Beautifully animated with a mix of different animation styles, Mitchells is full of vibrant color resembling Lord and Millers previous effort. No matter the age, the outrageously comedic dialogue will have anyone laughing till they can’t see straight. Led by a talented voice cast of A-List actors and actresses, including Olivia Coleman, Danny McBride, Abbi Jacobson and Maya Rudolph, Mitchells is the best non-Disney/Pixar film to be released last year. As much as it is a family comedy, the film is a subtle social commentary of societies use and reliance on technology. But really, the relationships keep the attention especially between Kate and her father Rick. What stands out the most is the creativity of the use of the different animation styles throughout the story. Kate is the true star of the film with her ambition of being a filmmaker but the one that steals the show is Dog Cop. Netflix rarely delivers on their original films, The Mitchells Vs The Machines is one of the rare gems the streaming service released last year.
9) In the Heights
While Hamilton has taken the world by storm since it came out on Broadway making it impossible to get tickets years later, the show that made it possible, In the Heights made its big screen debut over the summer. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s love letter to New York City specifically Washington Heights is directed by Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M. Chu in an ambitiously bold undertaking for a musical. The first musical of the year will dazzle with catchy songs that will stay as earworms in anyone who listens to the soundtrack as well as introducing Leslie Grace to the world. Fellow collaborator Anthony Ramos plays Usnavi, a bodega owner who dreams of moving home to the Caribbean but realizes as the show progresses that Washington Heights has become his paradise even finding love in Melissa Barrera’s Vanessa. Rounding out the cast is Corey Hawkins, Jimmy Smits, Olga Merediz who all brings a sense of community and joy to their roles. In the Heights is a celebration of heritage, a feel good musical full of songs that bring out every emotion and will even get you out of your chair and dance along. From the opening song “In the Heights” to “96,000” to the “Finale” the musical is a powerhouse that was crippled by the day and date experiment of Warner Brothers. I wish more people would see this first of 5 musicals the year had to offer because it was beautiful.
8) The Power of the Dog
The Power of the Dog will not be every movie fan’s cup of tea. It’s slow paced, well-acted, methodically written and executed and profoundly enticing from a strong ensemble cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch does what he does best, play an arrogant character with a god complex with more sincerity underneath once you get to know him. Benedict will no doubt be up for Best Actor this year at the Academy Awards. Writer Director Jane Champion creates and executes a finely tuned machine from every aspect of filmmaking – acting, story, production design down to the score. Told in chapters that break up the narrative, constantly starting and stopping, the story has a simplicity behind it that makes it an endearing narrative to dive in headfirst. Standing out alongside Cumberbatch is Jesse Plemons, Kirsten Dunst, and Kodi Smit-McPhee in supporting roles. McPhee and Cumberbatch have a strangely hypnotizing chemistry together as they go from complete strangers to near enemies to being completely comfortable with one another to the point the two characters form a father/ son bond. Dunst plays a tragic damsel that Plemons (who doesn’t play a villain finally) falls for but the two are eclipsed by Cumberbatch and McPhee. Writing about The Power of the Dog in one long paragraph won’t fully capture the beauty this film creates. It needs to be seen but if you go along for a ride with these cowhands, make sure you hold on to the reins.
7) Last Night in Soho
Transcending genre is something director Edgar Wright excels at the most. Look at his previous films especially the Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy. A murder mystery, nostalgia psychological horror makes up Last Night in Soho. Coming out at the tail end of an overcrowded month, Last Night in Soho fit right in and yet is able to stand out among names like Dune, Venom: Let There Be Carnage & The Last Duel. Wrights excellent use of music throughout his story reflects the backdrop for the decade Eloise (Mackenzie) visits when the lights turn out and she’s all alone. Come on, even in Baby Driver (his best movie IMO) his attention to detail with the use of the music is uniquely done that no other director can match. Led by two rising stars in Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomasin Mackenzie, their two characters never meet on screen, but both are able to channel the same energy through their chemistry together when Mackenzie transcends to the 1960’s. Last Night in Soho is a love letter to that era of fashion, music, film and culture and Wright’s attention to the smallest of details makes every moment authentic. For all of the glitz and glam a career in entertainment possess, the darker side of it, the side no one speaks freely about (back then) rules this narrative. In her last performance, Diana Rigg, most famous for her Bond girl turn and her Olena Tyrell in Game of Thrones is exceptional at being deceptive with her charmingly sweet smile and soft personality.
6) King Richard
A fan of Tennis or not, everyone in the entire world knows their name – Venus and Serena Williams. The two greatest Tennis players to ever step foot on a court. And they happen to be born in Compton California where no one would expect two G.O.A.T.S to be bred for success. Except one man – their father, Richard Williams (Smith). This is Will Smith’s best performance in quite some time playing the larger-than-life Richard Williams whose main goal in life is to give his two daughters played by Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton a better life than he had growing up. In fact, Richard created a 78-page plan for his daughter’s career’s well before they were born, he only needed someone to take a chance on them. That person is Rick Macci (Bernthal). Yes, King Richard is a biopic that features the same formulaic approach that nearly all use – the humble beginning, the rise to fame, some type of scandal and fall from grace to a resurgence – King Richard has all of that, just replace the scandal with an egotistical father who is blinded by his own rules about how Venus and Serena should tackle being a professional. Ego aside, Richard is a good father, it’s shown throughout the film but when his head gets too far up in the clouds, his wife Oracene Price (Ellis) can bring him down to earth. If it wasn’t for Denzel Washington, Andrew Garfield, and Benedict Cumberbatch all giving some of their best performances, Smith would easily be my first choice for best actor this year.