2021 quenched the thirst from the drought of the 2020 movie calendar with movies that reinvigorated our love for cinema, the theatrical experience and through that, the wonders of life. Returning to movie theatres, making wonderful new memories with loved ones and feeling that joyful sense of anticipation for cinematic events, this was the year we fell back in love with the movies. From the mega theatre experiences such as ‘Dune‘ and ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ to the ones that made us remember what life is all about with movies like ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’, ‘The French Dispatch’ and ‘The Mitchells vs. The Machines’. For me, 2021 featured countless lows and highs but even when I wasn’t at my best or I was going through something, these are the movies that either helped me escape, cope or learn. These are my top ten movies of 2021.
When it comes to any list, there is a list of factors that have to be considered when ranking these movies. Some movies might technically be better than others and be placed lower but that means nothing if they didn’t have a greater effect on me. I am taking rewatchability, depth, personal connection and overall entertainment value into consideration here so you will definitely be seeing a ton of animation which as I’ve said before, is my preferred cinematic medium. Of course, it goes without saying that I haven’t seen every 2021 release. There are a couple movies I either couldn’t have seen because they weren’t available to me or I just didn’t have the time to check them out, namely ‘West Side Story (2021)’, ‘In The Heights’ and ‘Licorice Pizza’. Those were the movies I missed out on that I think would’ve made the list. Looking forward to checking them out sometime soon. Without further ado, let’s kick off this list with a few honourable mentions.
15. ‘FEAR STREET: PART TWO – 1978’ (dir. Leigh Janiak)
Slasher movies have never been in better hands. While Michael Myers and Ghostface terrorize the big-screen, Netflix took the opportunity to create a new set of slasher movies with the ‘Fear Street’ trilogy. Three connected movies revolving around the serial killers of Shadyside. While Parts One and Three are great, Part Two is the one that sticks out. It’s campy, it’s scary, it’s insanely bloody and it’s a ton of fun.
14. ‘THE MATRIX: RESURRECTIONS’ (dir. Lana Wachowski)
If there’s one thing ‘The Matrix’ sequels know how to do, it is dividing an audience. ‘Resurrections’ to me, is a decent sequel with a lot of great moments. It may not be the most energetic or enthusiastic entry in the franchise but it does know what it wants to say and when it does focus on Neo and Trinity, it does so with infectiously passionate enthusiasm. The third act justifies why this movie exists and it was honestly refreshing seeing an action blockbuster like this in cinemas, even if I was the only person there. full review.
13. ‘DUNE: PART ONE’ (dir. Denis Villenueve)
There was a moment when watching this in theatres where I remember surrendering to the movie and having what I could only describe as an out-of-body experience and I will never ever forget that. That being said, this movie moved at a slower pace than I’m used to and the lack of structure was genuinely baffling the first time. However, this is the one movie of the year where I’ve had an incredibly strong urge to rewatch. The visuals, musical score, acting and world-building are truly masterful and I cannot wait to revisit this world, now knowing what I’m going to get into. full review.
12. ‘CRUELLA‘ (dir. Craig Gillespie)
Emma Stone leads this fashion heist movie with tons of wit, charm and just enough edge to make her bold, brilliant, bad and maybe a little bit mad. The fashion is insane, it’s fast-paced and entertaining and it’s something I can definitely see myself watching on a cosy, rainy day. Easily one of Disney’s best live-action efforts. full review.
11. ‘SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS’ (dir. Destin Daniel Cretton)
‘Shang-Chi’ was the memorable, extremely entertaining blockbuster that perfectly balances humour, heart and action. I’ve only seen it once so far but I still remember it as if I watched it the other day. Not a lot of movies can do that, especially not a huge blockbuster at that. This was the refreshing lift the MCU needed, the fun, family-friendly movie that pleased everyone. The action is arguably the best since ‘The Winter Soldier’, that bus sequence is undeniably one of the greatest action sequences in the entire MCU. The cast is insanely charismatic and the third act is jaw-dropping in its ambition and visual execution. An all-around blast to watch. full review.
10. ‘MINARI‘ (dir. Lee Isaac Chung)
‘Minari‘ was the first movie I got to watch in theatres during the pandemic. After an incredibly long year without movie theatres, I returned not as a viewer but funnily enough as an employee. Despite having already seen it, I wanted this to be the first movie that reintroduced me to the theatrical experience. It was just me in the theatre, completely alone and for those two hours, I was completely immersed and entranced by this gorgeous movie. Steven Yeun leads this incredible cast with a truly powerful performance. The criminally underrated score composed by Emile Mosseri aids the film in its quest to be this emotional, tender and powerful story about family and culture. All around, it’s a fantastic movie that stuck with me far more than most movies last year.
9. ‘A QUIET PLACE PART II’ (dir. John Krasinski)
With his horror debut, John Krasinski crafted one of my all-time favourite horror movies. ‘A Quiet Place’ is the movie I am eager to expose to new people. It’s honestly a near-perfect horror movie with scares that don’t expire on rewatch, which is quite the impressive feat. Seeing the extended delay ‘Part II’ faced was tough but it was truly worth the wait. ‘A Quiet Place Part II’ is my most rewatched 2021 release, twice in theatres, once at home. The moment the ominous score by Marco Beltrami started playing, my heart sank. This was the most terrified I have ever been in a movie theatre. I will never forget spending the entire second half of the movie clenched, sweating and sinking in my chair. This was the movie that brought back that iconic movie theatre experience, the one you don’t forget. It is also one of those rare instances where a modern sequel is arguably as good as its predecessor, where that same passion and excitement from the director is felt throughout. The cast is truly fantastic, the score is spine-chilling and the emotional elements are stronger than ever. Bring on the next one!
8. ‘THE FRENCH DISPATCH‘ (dir. Wes Anderson)
Embarrassed to admit that this is my introduction to Wes Anderson but in many ways, I feel like ‘The French Dispatch’ is the perfect introduction to his filmography. It is so extreme in its stylization and personality and so unapologetically over-the-top and animated that it has to either greatly annoy you or make you fall in love with it. I fall in the latter! To see live-action filmmaking achieve almost the same atmosphere as an animated movie, to move, act and run at the same pace as one, it genuinely impressed me. It was also impressive how a movie with no coherent plot managed to keep me consistently engaged. The great cast is utilized perfectly, the shots are so meticulously planned, it honestly takes you out of it to wonder how they got certain shots in the first place and the humour is genuinely funny. It’s artsy, it’s bizarre, it’s quirky, it’s endearing, it’s Wes Anderson.
7. ‘DEMON SLAYER: KIMETSU NO YAIBA – THE MOVIE: MUGEN TRAIN’ (dir. Haruo Sotozaki)
After a stellar first season, ‘Demon Slayer’ quickly became one of my favourite animes of all time. This is a show that feels meticulously crafted. There is so much heart, soul and passion put into this show that it’s no surprise how huge it has become. Whether it’s the genuinely stunning animation, the heartfelt bond between Tanjiro and Nezuko or even the radical justice the show abides by, there is always something commanding your attention and your heart. ‘Mugen Train’ thrives as a wonderful exhibition of what makes this show so great. The animation is so good, you wonder how it’s even humanly possible. The action showcased is some of the finest modern shonen has to offer and the emotional core hits straight to the heart with the character of Rengoku who undeniably steals the show. While ‘Mugen Train’ may be this anime epic with high stakes and stunning visual execution, it’s also a movie that inspires you to set your heart ablaze, to stick to your morals and fight till the very end and it does so beautifully. Easily one of the best anime films out there.
6. ‘ENCANTO‘ (dir. Jared Bush, Byron Howard)
*two months into 2022 and this is the third time I’m mentioning this movie so I’ll keep it brief
Disney Animation finally got out of their sequel-ridden, uninspired rut and actually delivered a magical movie that united families around the world. ‘Encanto‘ is one of Disney’s best efforts in a long time. Everything from our protagonist Mirabel to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work on the soundtrack is top-notch. It ditches the formulaic Disney story and leads with a character-driven narrative making it one of Disney’s most emotionally-resonant works ever honestly. It’s relatable, it’s endearing but most importantly, it’s honest. A near-perfect combination of music and drama, ‘Encanto‘ is truly a classic in the making.
5. ‘SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME’ (dir. Jon Watts)
Watching ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ on opening day with a packed theatre and an insanely excited audience has become a core memory when it comes to theatre experiences. Waves of wild joy, excitement, sadness and bittersweet emotions washed over the audience in such a way that it single-handedly proved why the theatrical experience is here to stay. All of this being said, ‘No Way Home’ still thrives as a film without a cheering audience and exhilarating reveals. This is a movie that understands Peter Parker and the tragic nature that ensues in his double-life. It’s a movie about grief, brotherhood, responsibility and coming of age and it’s done so spectacularly well, it’s honestly miraculous. This was the movie that brought out our inner child, that made us fall in love all over again with Spider-Man. One of the best blockbusters ever made.
4. ‘THE MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES’ (dir. Mike Rianda)
Shocker! The creative director of ‘Gravity Falls’ delivered one of the most hilarious, entertaining and endearing animated movies in the last two decades. ‘The Mitchells vs The Machines’ is a movie I wished I had growing up. If I had to choose an animated character to represent me, I would probably choose Katie Mitchell. This movie hits all of its emotional beats perfectly every single time. This wasn’t just a fun hour and forty-something minutes that entertained me, this meant the world to me. This is a movie I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I truly love and adore this weird movie. Also, it’s one of the funniest movies ever made. It’s a goddamn blast from start to finish. If you haven’t checked this one out, you’re missing out.
3. ‘LUCA‘ (dir. Enrico Casarosa)
While 2021 featured some genuinely amazing animated features, ‘Luca‘ has to be my personal favourite. This movie was the summer of 2021 that I didn’t get to experience, the childhood I wished I had and the comfort of a Studio Ghibli movie realized in stunning CG Pixar animation. To put it in simpler terms, ‘Luca’ is an all-time comfort movie. It’s a movie that truly feels like an escape, grabbing you by the hand for wild adventures and holding your heart protectively the entire time. In terms of character design and location set pieces, ‘Luca’ is easily the most stunning animated movie of the year. Every shot radiates warmth, nostalgia and comfort. The subtext can apply to a lot of different people, I personally view the movie through a queer lens and it hits home every single time. ‘Luca’ speaks to the soul through its simplicity. It reintroduces us to the world through childhood wonder. It creates a safe space for everyone and it celebrates your uniqueness. That feels like a movie worth putting this high up on the list for me.
2. ‘SPENCER‘ (dir. Pablo Larraín)
‘Spencer‘, a psychological drama about Lady Diana Spencer played by Kristen Stewart in stunning ’90s royal fashion set in a deeply cold, nostalgic setting. Of course, I was going to love this movie, however, I truly did not expect to be so intoxicated and entranced by this movie. Every scene features so much meat on its bone. Every line and conversation is automatically compelling thanks to a masterful performance by Stewart. It is the best performance of the year and honestly, in terms of quality, ‘Spencer’ is the best movie of the year. It’s a thrilling, off-putting, anxiety-inducing drama that truly feels like it came straight from the nineties. It has the psychological horror of ‘The Shining‘, the atmosphere of the ‘Twin Peaks‘ pilot and yet somehow it still finds moments of warmth and of endearing nature, highlighting why Diana is as beloved as she is. ‘Spencer‘ is the masterpiece of 2021.
1. ‘TICK, TICK…BOOM!’ (dir. Lin-Manuel Miranda)
If ‘tick, tick…BOOM!’ was a song it would be featured in the soundtrack of my life. This movie means the entire world to me. Andrew Garfield’s performance as Jonathan Larson means the world to me. This is the movie that spoke to my soul, to my ambitions and to my very reason for being alive. It genuinely couldn’t have come at a better time. Larson’s story mirrors mine to an alarming extent as I’m sure is the case for many creators around the world. That feeling that you’re constantly running against time to essentially create your legacy. The constant battle for inspiration and hope in a world where you have to work like hell for someone to notice your work. This is my life, through and through. It feels like the guide I’ve been waiting for, the push I’ve been longing for and for that reason, it has to be my favourite movie of 2021. Garfield not only honours Larson through his performance but also gives a voice to the millions of us who want to make a difference, to share our story. The music is fantastic, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s directorial debut invites so much excitement for the rest of his career. All in all, this is what I needed to hear, this is the wake-up call that we needed.
Overall 2021 was a damn good year for movies. I haven’t felt this excited to talk about movies in quite a long time, three years to be exact. I hope you enjoyed this ranking, this is the longest post I’ve ever posted. I would love to know what your favourite movies from 2021 are and if they match my list at all. Celebrating what made this past year worth remembering was a fitting way to start off the new year and welcome an entirely new slew of movies to talk about and enjoy. Bring on 2022! (even though next week is March and this is insanely late but bring it on nevertheless!)
To see where films like ‘Last Night In Soho’, ‘House of Gucci’ and ‘Nightmare Alley’ made the list, check out the full list on my Letterboxd page.