TL;DR – 2021 was a great year in film, and here are our favourites
So far in our awards, we have looked at Action, Animation, Best of Australia, Cinematography, Costumes, Emotion, Fun, Music, Tension, and Worldbuilding.
However, in this last entry into our Best of 2021 awards, we crown our winner of the Best Film of 2021.
All films are subjective, so our list might look completely different from yours. Also, we didn’t get to see every movie this year, which means we will be only drawing our Top 15 from the 69 films we did get to see, which you can see a list of HERE. You can also click on the titles to go to the full review.
It was also a very odd year for cinema, with many films being postponed or released in non-traditional means. There were also many staggered releases, so we may have films here that were released in 2020 for you but 2021 for us, and there may be some omissions here because we won’t get those films until 2022.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dive into the first entry in our list of Best Films of 2021.
Some films work because they are light-hearted and fun, and some work because they don’t hide the world’s ugly realities. Judas and the Black Messiah is the latter as it explores the life of Fred Hampton (Daniel Kaluuya) and the many steps the FBI under Director J. Edgar Hoover (Martin Sheen) took to undercut his power. It is a brutal exploration of a history that still impacts the present and one that she should not shy away from. Also, if there was ever a film that showed how vital casting was, this was it.
Nominated: Stunning Costumes
Directed by – Shaka King
Story by – Will Berson, Shaka King, Kenny Lucas & Keith Lucas
Screenplay by – Will Berson & Shaka King
There is a level of nostalgia that Occupation: Rainfall hit and hit hard. It may not be the pine forests outside Vancouver, but it has all that feel in an Australian package. This is a film that goes “you know what, time for a hovercar chase”, and it was 100% correct that it was indeed time for that. Sure it is schlocky in places, but also that is the point. It knows what sort of film it wants to be and commits to that with all its heart and soul.
13: Space Sweepers (승리호)
Every year there is a film that sneaks up on you and brings a riot in its wake, 2019 it was Extreme Job, and this year it was another Korean film with Space Sweepers. We get a movie filled with exciting and delightful characters, set in a world that feels both fantastical and sadly realistic. It is also a film that can balance a serious storyline with some of the best fun I have seen all year. Space Sweepers was a delightful surprise, and I look forward to discovering was 2022’s surprise will be.
12: Godzilla vs. Kong
If there is one thing that cinema can do in its traditional setting better than almost any other medium, it would be bombast. There is that moment where you sit there absorbing the sheer spectacle of the screen, and it invokes a particular emotion. This is one thing all of the
MonsterVerse has been good at, but Godzilla vs. Kong took everything and escalated it to the next level. Watching two titans duke it out on top of and underneath an aircraft carrier is a moment I shan’t forget anytime soon, and that was not even the third act set piece.
Directed by – Adam Wingard
Story by – Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields
Screenplay by – Eric Pearson & Max Borenstein
Based on – Godzilla by Toho & King Kong by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper
11: High Ground
There are times when cinema can shine a light on the past, even if what it is revealing is an uncomfortable truth. The Frontier Wars in Australia is something that we don’t talk about, nor do we truly recognise the extent of the massacres that happened across the continent. In High Ground, the weight of history is laid bare. There is no comfortable soft landing, no cut to sounds happening off-screen. You see the brutality, aftermath, and legacy in sharp relief. I hope we see more Australian Cinema take significant risks like this and not shy away from our genuine history.
Nominated: Best Australian Film
Directed by – Stephen Maxwell Johnson
Story by – Chris Anastassiades, Stephen Maxwell Johnson & Witiyana Marika
Screenplay by – Chris Anastassiades
Look, I know that I might be the only person for whom the Stowaway worked for, and well, frankly, that is fine with me. We get here an interesting scenario for which there are no easy answers because space is harsh and unforgiving. Adding to this a stellar performance from Toni Collette in a role that gives her nowhere to hide because there are only four cast members in this film, even Houston is a disembodied voice on a headset. Because there is no one to blame, Stowaway does not give you any easy outs, making the ending one of the most challenging films to watch in an age.
Directed by – Joe Penna
Written by – Joe Penna & Ryan Morrison
9: The Dry
There is a current narrative trend to tell stories in a non-linear fashion. Yes, there have always been films like this, but the number of films taking this route has escalated. The problem is that most of them would be better with a standard narrative, not so The Dry. Its exploration of two different murders works in tandem to tell one united story of exposing the realities of small towns and the bubbles they can create. There is harsh brutality to this film, both uncomfortable and intriguing in its visual style and narrative. It is a film full of fascinating juxtapositions that pull you in.
Directed by – Robert Connolly
Screenplay by – Robert Connolly & Harry Cripps
Based on –The Dry by Jane Harper
Bleak as an aesthetic is not something that usually resonates with me, but Land makes it work. Part of that is from how it contrasts the bleakness with the world’s beauty. The second strength comes from Robin Wright, both lead actor and director. You feel and understand her pain, even before you know why it is there. You get why you would want to hide out there in the middle of nowhere, why you would want to escape all people. But it is also a film about catharsis. It is this that elevates the narrative to the next level.
7: The Green Knight
Well, one film this year almost swept every production award there was, and that film was The Green Knight. If only the narrative held up to the end, well, then it may have been a strong contender for the movie of the year. But instead of laminating on what could have been, let’s look at the joys that we did get. There is not a single frame of this film that is dull to look at, with details found in every nook and cranny. To add to this was another strong performance from Dev Patel, who always brings his a-game and a musical score that delights at all times.
Nominated: Beautiful Cinematography, Stunning Costumes, Exquisite Musical Score & Fascinating Worldbuilding
Winner: Exquisite Musical Score
Directed by – David Lowery
Written by – David Lowery
Based on – Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
6: The Mitchells vs. The Machines
I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I pressed play on this film, but what I did get was an absolute joy as The Mitchells vs. The Machines delighted at every turn. It told a story of a complicated family without excusing anyone’s behaviour. It is a film focused on catharsis, not cheap jokes while being one of the funniest things I have seen all year. It is a Road Trip through a Robot Uprising while bringing a family on the cusp of collapse back together again with the creative flair of the people behind Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse. A combination for the ages.
Directed by – Mike Rianda & Jeff Rowe
Written by – Mike Rianda & Jeff Rowe
Two things set Luca apart. The first is the visual flair with the combination of these highly stylised human/sea-monster characters, which might be some of Pixar’s best animation work, and the simply stunning rendition of the Italian Riviera. The second is a story full of charm from start to finish, where you feel the love and care at every moment. This film captures you in its world through its story, musical score, and narrative that is both simple yet profound. When I watched this film, my heart was filled with joy, a beauty to watch from start to finish.
Directed by – Enrico Casarosa
Story by – Enrico Casarosa, Jesse Andrews & Simon Stephenson
Screenplay by – Jesse Andrews & Mike Jones
To be honest, this is the biggest surprise for me on this list because when you think of the many Disaster films starring Gerard Butler, they are fun but don’t lack any substance. So when I pressed play on Greenland, I expected more of the same. I did not expect to be emotionally pummelled as the clock ticked down to destruction. This is a film about people trying to find shelter when any second something could fall from the sky and end them as it did to the city of Tampa. Where society both crumbles around you, yet you also see those people that take the time to buttress the fall so people can find some semblance of normality in those closing moments. There is the sheer terror of seeing your child abducted and not being able to stop it, one of the most gut-wrenching scenes this year. I think this might have been the film I most rewatched last year, which I am not sure quite what that says about me.
At the heart of Finch is a straightforward story, Finch (Tom Hanks) is dying, and the location he is staying in, St. Louis, will not be viable for long. This means he has a small window to take Goodyear/Dog (Seamus) somewhere and build and program someone to take care of him after he is gone, thus the creation of Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones). The escape across the country is hard to watch because there is a ticking clock on Finch and frustration that he can’t do everything he needs to do in the short amount of time he has left. He also has to learn to trust the thing he built as it shows more independence and humanity. It is hard to watch at times, but the power of Tom to sell this role and Caleb and the animator to bring Jeff to life make this a film I shan’t forget.
Nominated: The Emotion
Directed by – Miguel Sapochnik
Written by – Craig Luck & Ivor Powell
Cinema can be large, with giant monsters crashing through a city, big and bombastic. But a film can also be small, focusing on one family’s plight, more personal and intimate. Minari is the case of the latter and one of the best examples of the latter I have seen in years. It is so personal that it becomes difficult to watch at times because it feels like you are intruding on someone’s private space. It explores immigrant life and how different worlds can collide together. It is an exploration of life in middle America with all the quirks and issues that come from that. It explores one man’s drive and the damage that can cause in its wake, even to his own family. Both beautiful and personal, heartbreaking and uplifting, a must-watch.
Directed by – Lee Isaac Chung
Written by – Lee Isaac Chung
I think this number one is likely to be entirely unsurprising for anyone who knows me well. Honestly, I am okay with that because I have a brand, and oh wow, is Dune 100% my brand. More people have failed to get a Dune move created than those who have succeeded, let alone those who produced something good with that success. But not only does Denis Villeneuve succeed, he triumphs. It is a film that perfectly captures the mood and feels of the original novel while also making it accessible for those who may not have read the source material. One of those films is a joy to watch because there are no weak links in the cast, with everyone landing that perfect feel of being in a Feudal Space Empire. It is both a big bombastic Space Opera and taught political thriller, tight action film, and an exploration of one family caught outside their safety. You get to see every trick Denis Villeneuve had learned with films like Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 elevated in this new work, in what was clearly a work he was passionate about. Denis Villeneuve is also the first filmmaker to top this list twice, which tells you how much I appreciate his work, honestly bring on Part 2.
Directed by – Denis Villeneuve
Screenplay by – Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve & Eric Roth
Based on – Dune by Frank Herbert
With that, our awards for 2021 end, it was an excellent year for cinema, and we look forward to continuing our coverage into 2022.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
What are your favourite cinematic moments from 2021?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images used were created by the respective studios and artists of each film