What. A. Year.
Cinemas are back, people are flocking to watch movies again, Marvel much like Christmas is all around, but even more so is the influx of musicals. And it’s time to look back as we say goodbye to another wild year and ponder – what were the best films? Well, here they are. No Majesty’s best films of 2021.
First off, some honourable mentions:
Eternals, Last Night in Soho, Titane, C’mon C’mon
Super honorable mention:
Midnight Mass: if it were able to be in here, it’d be in the top spot, but telly is telly.
10. SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (DESTIN DANIEL CRETTON)
Marvel fans did not want for content this year, four movies and five TV shows is no small feat, and offered the most alluringly diverse roster of content this year. Several of them could have cracked this, but it’s Marvel’s take of kung fu movies that nabs it. Destin Daniel Cretton swaps indie dramas with Brie Larson for throwing hands and big dragons. Making Kim’s Convenience star Simu Liu into the latest ab-tastic MCU hero and giving one of their best villains to Hong Kong legend Tony Leung. It mixes big stakes with heart, emotion and a dose of gracious action that is at turns bone crunching and picturesque.
9. THE GREEN KNIGHT (DAVID LOWERY)
Lowery’s dual directing personality comes forth once more as he brings an otherworldly and haunting take on Arthurian legend. Dev Patel holds the screen as Gawain a wastrel wannabe knight who must face off against the titular green one a Christmas after he lopped the green fella’s head off. Mixing action, horror and a sense of impending doom this is Lowery at the height of his off kilter powers, more haunting that a film where Casey Affleck wears a bedsheet and more engrossing than watching Robert Redford rob banks. The Green Knight is possibly the best retelling of Arthurian legend ever put to film, and it features Ralph Ineson’s stern voice. Chilling.
8. BELFAST (KENNETH BRANAGH)
Chuckles Branagh brings his penchant for dutch angles to Troubles-era Belfast for a semi-autobiographical story of growing up amongst both political and personal troubles. Branagh weaves his most small scale and personal film with dexterity, sometimes flashy, but always with an eye to the underlying emotion at it’s core. It’s a film for, and by, film lovers but thanks to Jude Hill’s central performance this isn’t just a run-of-the-mill coming of age comedy-drama but a look at what political turmoil can appear like through the eyes of a child. Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds are all getting the lions share of awards consideration but the show belongs to Hill.
7. EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE (JONATHAN BUTTERELL)
Out and proud musicals were in force this year, and one of the best was this British tale of identity and being who you are. Based on the stage musical based on the BBC3 documentary based on the true story of a kid called Jamie who wanted to wear a dress to his school prom, this musical throws everything at you – including Richard E. Grant in drag – for a refreshingly upbeat look at homophobia, and non-binary fearmongering that feels every more prescient now than it did when the true story happened years ago.
6. PROMISING YOUNG WOMAN (EMERALD FENNELL)
Perhaps thought of as last year’s movie thanks to it’s standing in the previous awards season, Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut is still as potent now as it was when it came out. A story of rape culture, victim blaming and wrong footings, Fennell’s controversial narrative gives to you what you bring to it, which may very well prove to be it’s legacy. It’s ending remains debated, but there is no debating the wit on show, nor the sly casting – everyone’s favourite “nice boys” are cast as dickheads, sinister Clancy Brown as a supportive father, and at it’s centre a never better Carey Mulligan. Candy coloured horror that fuses multiple genres and reclaims both Toxic and Stars are Blind for a new generation.
5. WEST SIDE STORY (STEVEN SPIELBERG)
Spielberg finally does a musical, and it was worth the wait. The berg’s West Side Story is a lavish ode to old school movie making, and to immigrants everywhere. The age old Shakespearean tragedy with music from maestro Sondheim this is a showcase not only for one of our greatest living filmmakers but for the rising talent on show. Rachel Zegler, Ariana DeBose and David Alvarez all hold the screen masterfully, and a supporting role from Rita Moreno proves that even at 90 she still has the pipes.
4. JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (SHAKA KING)
Daniel Kaluuya rightfully won an oscar for his performance as Black Panther founder and chairman Fred Hampton, but he’s not alone LaKeith Stanfield was equally compelling as the Judas of the title along with Dominique Fishback as Deborah Johnson, Hampton’s partner. Shaka King’s film is blisteringly prescient but also quietly harrowing as it shows a world that hasn’t changed that much in the intervening years. King shows Spike Lee levels of style and blistering rage in a film that marks him out as a director to watch.
3. IN THE HEIGHTS (JON M. CHU)
Given that Hamilton made all the money – you know money? Yeah, it made all that. And given that Crazy Rich Asians smashed box office numbers, should it be a surprise that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about a bodega owner struggling with identity as both an American and a Puerto Rican directed by Jon M. Chu was one of the summer’s best films? Probably not, especially given that the central performance from Anthony Ramos is one of the years best and it nabbed Chu the directing gig on Wicked. The specifics of Latin-American identity become universal in a film that has the feel of a good night out at the theatre mixed with the form of a fantastically stylish filmmaker.
2. MASS (FRAN KRANZ)
Four people in a room discuss the aftermath of a school shooting. Doesn’t sound like the most appealing prospect, but given that actor-turned-director Fran Kranz casts Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney in the central roles, is it any wonder that it is this year’s most enthralling drama? Political but never losing sight of the emotional core, Mass is a film filled not only with anger, fury and a sense of confusion but one that dares to suggest the only way through all of this is forgiveness. The actors all deliver performances for the ages, but Kranz has a message for the gun-nuts and naysayers alike – arguing won’t solve this, there has to be a solution. Beautiful.
1. THE MITCHELLS VS THE MACHINES (MIKE RIANDA)
Sony Animation got a big boost when it dropped Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse a few years back, nabbing a well deserved Oscar in the process. But this road trip apocalypse family comedy drama is a whole different ball game. Following filmmaker Katie and her odd-lot family, The Mitchells are a mismatched family that have to come together when an evil A.I. – PAL voiced by a compellingly irate Olivia Colman – sends legions of robots to imprison humanity. The comedy comes thick and fast, while the zippy animation has a style unto itself – that Sony should definitely keep going – but it’s the heart that carries the film. A story about the sacrifices parents make for their children, and the often hidden affection kids hold for their parents, this is a film to return to with family to enjoy. That, and it’s recurring joke about pug’s being ugly is hilarious.