Top 10 Films of 2021 + 15 Honorable Mentions

Top10-2021

Hello fellow film fans! My picks of best/favorite movies of 2021 is here! Per my blog tradition, I usually wait until mid January to post the obligatory Top 10 Best list.

I always have to preface this kind of post that there are still plenty of 2021 movies I have not seen yet: The Worst Person in the World, The French Dispatch, A Hero, C’Mon C’Mon, Licorice Pizza, Spencer, Summer of Soul, etc. which might alter my current Top 10.

It goes without saying of course, that everyone’s list is personal… my criteria is that a film makes a lasting impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking and indelible. Replay-ability is a factor I take into consideration as well, though I don’t necessarily want to rewatch every single film on my list. Well without further ado, here we go… 

Top 10 Films of 2021

(in reverse numeric order)

10. Black Widow* (Full Review)

black-widow-Natasha-Yelena

I’ve included MCU films in my top 10 in the past and this past year, Black Widow is the one that really impressed me the most. Despite the lame villain, overall there are lots to love here, especially the introduction of Florence Pugh as Yelena. I’ve come to love Scarlett Johansson in the titular role so it’s great to finally see her get the solo movie, albeit it’s long overdue. The screenplay by Eric Pearson manages to balance the action, humor and emotional moments pretty well. It’s a fun mix of spy thriller and superhero genre that’s essentially about family ties.

9. Spiderman: No Way Home (Full Review)

spidey-nowayhome

If you asked me earlier this year if a Spider-man movie would make my top 10, I’d say ‘no way!’ But hey, this is a year where some of my most-anticipated films end up disappointing or simply didn’t live up to my expectations. Well, kudos to Jon Watts + co for delivering first rate entertainment that’s delightful, funny, and surprisingly emotional ride that makes me fall in love with the characters all over again. Now that most people have seen this by now, I can say how much I enjoyed seeing the three Spideys hanging out and fighting together. Not only was the stakes really high for Peter (or I should say Peters), the movie also gave Andrew Garfield’s Spidey such a great redemptive arc. I think the record-shattering box office is well deserved. I for one think that films of any genre can be great art, including comic-book movies.

8. West Side Story (Full Review)

WSS-anita-dance

In a year where there are plenty of musical adaptations, this is the one I’m most impressed with. I really wish ANNETTE would make the cut as I had anticipated that one the most, but I think the best part about that film is Adam Driver’s astounding performance (hence it makes my Honorable Mentions list). Admittedly, this version of West Side Story is the first cinematic adaptation I’ve seen and it looks absolutely glorious on the big screen! Seeing it on Dolby Cinema was quite a treat for the senses. This film further proves that Spielberg’s still got it and he is truly a master filmmaker who can thrive in any genre.

7. The Tragedy Of Macbeth (Full Review)

tragedy-macbeth-3witches

I honestly didn’t think I’d be listing a popular Shakespeare adaptation to my Best-Of list, it’s a film I wasn’t even that interested to see. Yet I was blown-away by Joel Coen’s beautifully-crafted adaptation done with minimalist yet bold approach. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand make for a captivating middle-aged Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, while Kathryn Hunter delivers an effectively-eerie, Oscar-worthy performance that’s quite hard to shake. The Tragedy of Macbeth exceeds my expectations in every respect and definitely one of the absolute best films of the year. 

6. The Lost Daughter* (Full Review)

lostdaughter-still

I’m thrilled there have been quite a few buzz-worthy female-directed films last year. This one is still fresh in my mind as I had just seen it recently. It’s another phenomenal directorial debut with stunning central performances. I’ve appreciated Maggie Gyllenhaal as an actress before and she’s definitely got the chops as a writer/director. It’s such a bold first film, tackling a a taboo subject about motherhood that’s rarely depicted on screen, yet it presents the issue without a condemning eye. She directed this with such a deft hand, keeping the tension & suspense up until the end.

5. CODA* (Full Review)

coda-movie-Emilia-Troy

CODA is actually an English-language remake of the French-language film La Famille Bélier (2014) that the original film producer himself wanted director Sian Heder to direct for American audiences. Well, Heder certainly did an astonishing job reinventing the story and making it her own. It’s such a delightful film about a family of mostly deaf adults, with the exception of Ruby (Emilia Jones), hence the title that refers to Child of Deaf Adults. Heder is astounding here and she deserved more attention this award season, as is Troy Katsur who plays her dad. The father-daughter moment while they’re looking at the starry sky is one of my favorite scenes I’ve seen this year.

4. Drive My Car

drive-my-car

I’m glad I got a screener for this and it was the first film I watched of 2022. I’m glad I waited before I posted my top 10 until after I saw this. The 3-hour running time might make it hard for some people, I actually had to break it up into two viewings. The fact that the story revolves around the world of theatre–the protagonist Yûsuke is adapting Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya–appeals to me, but it’s an emotional journey about loss and love. Hidetoshi Nishijima has a magnetic appeal as Yûsuke that I’m curious to see what else he’s been in. Filmmaker Ryûsuke Hamaguchi takes his time in peeling back its layers, and I think the film could be edited down to be closer to 2-hours. At the same time, the slow, atmospheric ride is a captivating one that does reward my patience.

3. Belfast (Full Review)

belfast-movie-family

Thanks to Twin Cities Film Fest, I saw this back in October and it’s definitely the film fest highlight for me. I’ve long admired Kenneth Branagh as an actor and director, and this time he tells his own childhood story of growing up during the turbulent times of ‘the Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. The cast is fantastic, with notable, Oscar-worthy performances from Ciarán Hinds & Caitríona Balfe. Despite the dark subject matter, I find BELFAST entertaining and heartfelt, with plenty of wit and humor to keep things from being too dour. At just 1hr 38min, it never overstays its welcome. I truly appreciate filmmakers who can tell their story efficiently in a relatively short time.

2. The Power Of The Dog* (Full Review)

powerofthedog-making-rope

Of all the movies I’ve seen last year, I think The Power of The Dog is the most potent and haunting that really gets under my skin. There’s an unsettling mood and tension permeating every minute that takes hold of you and wouldn’t let go. It’s been weeks since I saw it and I still find myself thinking about it and recounting some of its layered mystery and meaning. Benedict Cumberbatch is in fine form here that proves his versatility, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is definitely one of the best young actors working today. Bravo Jane Campion for crafting a quiet but tremendous film with plenty of undercurrents beneath the surface. It’s simply exquisite, a word I don’t usually use to describe most films. She’s a shoo-in for Oscars’ Best Director nominations. I’ll be rooting for her to win this year, but mostly I wish she’d direct more movies!

1.  DUNE (Full Review)

dune-featuredimg

It’s so wonderful when a movie you’ve been anticipating lives up to your expectations. A film that ought be seen in as big a screen as possible, but also holds up on repeat viewing on HBO Max. I actually enjoyed it more on repeat viewing, and the visuals are still as breathtaking even on the small screen. There’s so many things Denis Villeneuve did right with this massive undertaking, and one of the biggest thing is pacing. Most films over 2-hours long tend to drag, but it kept me engaged most of the time.

‘Fear is the mind-killer’ is the book’s mantra, but it might as well be Villeneuve’s. It takes some gargantuan ambition, guts, passion and craftsmanship to tackle something deemed ‘un-filmable.’ The immensely watchable ensemble cast, led by Timothée Chalamet, are terrific overall. Bring on part II!


15 Honorable Mentions

There’s no ‘science’ in picking a Best List… mostly just gut instinct and personal preference. I really enjoy these 15 films, and some of them actually almost made it to my top 10 list. In any case,

(in alphabetical order)

  1. Annette – review
  2. The Green Knight – review
  3. The Harder They Fall
  4. I’m Your Man* – review
  5. King Richard – review
  6. The Last Duel – review
  7. MASS
  8. My Name Is Pauli Murray* – review
  9. Nightmare Alley – review
  10. No Time To Die – review
  11. Passing* – review
  12. Pig
  13. Riders Of Justice – review
  14. Shang-Chi – review
  15. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit*

The films marked with * (asterisk) are those #directedbywomen
Check out my list of films I saw as part of the 52 Films By Women Challenge


What do you think of my 2021 Top 10 list? Any of your favorites on the list?

FlixChatter Review: Black Widow (2021)

When Natasha Romanoff was first introduced in the MCU 11 years ago in Iron Man 2, I didn’t immediately warm up to the character. Even Scarlett Johansson herself admitted Romanoff was portrayed more as a sex object, albeit a bad ass one. Thankfully, she continues to evolve for the better in the subsequent movies, as she becomes quite a formidable member of the Avengers.

black-widow-Scarlett-Johansson

Natasha has always been feisty, as shown in flashback as a tomboy preteen girl with blue hair (Ever Anderson, apparently she’s Milla Jovovich’s daughter!), growing up with her 6-year-old sister Yelena. It seems like a happy existence with their loving mom Melina (Rachel Weisz) and dad Alexei (David Harbour) in an idyllic Ohio suburbs. But one fateful day, they suddenly have to leave everything behind and make a run for it, barely eluding authorities in the process. Soon young Natasha learn just who her parents truly are, a la The Americans who are Russian spies posing as a regular American family. We even meet Alexei’s boss, General Dreykov (Ray Winstone) who leads the top secret Soviet training program known as the Red Room.

black-widow-family

Astute MCU fans would remember that Natasha’s past has been teased several times in various films, Loki even specifically mentions Dreykov’s daughter in the first Avenger. Given she’s trained by a covert organization also means there are other Black Widows just like her. In the long opening credits, we are shown the rigorous training that turn girls like Natasha into powerful sleeper agents and assassins. One of those trained by the Red Room program is her own sister Yelena (Florence Pugh). While Natasha is on the run from Secretary of State Thaddeus Ross (William Hurt) for breaking the Sokovia accord and goes into hiding in Norway, Yelena is having her own moment of revelation in Morocco about the Black Widow program. Their reunion is one of the most action-packed moments that’s fun to watch.

bw-yelena-1575387250-1575387252

Though Black Widow is one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the movie plays out more like an espionage thriller more than a fantastical superhero movie. Not quite as bad ass as Bourne but more akin to Captain America: The Winter Soldier (still my favorite standalone MCU movie thus far). Even the tone, pacing and the way the large title cards reveal a new filming location reminds me of that movie. Perhaps it’s a nod to Natasha’s close association and friendship to Steve Rogers. After all, it’s because she chose to save him in Civil War that Ross is after her, and this movie takes place directly after that third Captain America film. Now, the film’s storyline doesn’t exactly move the MCU’s overall story forward the way other standalone movies did, it’s more of an extension of its vast universe, which I think makes it a unique film.

black-widow-fight-scene

This movie marks the eighth time Scarlett Johansson’s played the Black Widow character and reportedly her last. Well, if that were true, she’d have ended on a high note. We have seen her fight alongside superheroes, displaying her mastery in the arts of espionage as well as exceptional weaponry and athletic abilities. It’s great to finally see not just her emotional side but also her valor and sense of nobility… which in a way is a harbinger to the moment she sacrifice her life for the good of mankind in Avengers: Endgame. Knowing her future fate doesn’t lessen the emotional value of Natasha’s story however, in fact it deepens it as we’re now given a glimpse into what makes her who she is.

black-widow-red-guardian

Aussie filmmaker Cate Shortland was apparently hand picked by Scarlett herself (who’s listed as one of the executive producers) as she’s a fan of her sophomore indie film Lore, a historical WWII drama. Shortland might be new to the action genre but she proves herself adept in filming the dynamic action scenes. There are plenty of hand-to-hand combat and gritty fighting styles that feels more raw and chaotic than when she was fighting with the Avengers. She is fighting amongst mere mortals after all. Even Yelena makes a point of it after an intense fight/motorbike chase, ‘gods of thunder probably won’t need an aspirin after a fight,’ ha!

Some of the action are pretty brutal though, especially when they fight against a mysterious enemy in full armored suit called Taskmaster who can seem to mimic the fighting styles of various Avengers. The identity of the Taskmaster who reports to Dreykov is kept under wraps until the end, and I’m glad I wasn’t spoiled before watching it so I’m not going to mention it here either. My favorite fight scenes are between the two sisters in Budapest and the one where Natasha had to fight a whole bunch of fellow Black Widows!

black-widow-Florence-Pugh

What I didn’t expect is the amount of levity and humor which I find refreshing. I love that Scarlet isn’t above poking fun of her own character she’s played for over a decade. The way Yelena teases her relentlessly about her power pose (the full squat with one leg extended and throwing her head back) is hilarious! She calls her sister ‘a total poser’ and even tried to mimic the pose at one point. I love how she’s unfazed that Natasha is an Avenger and constantly makes sarcastic quips at her expense. Speaking of Yelena, I absolutely adore Florence Pugh!! I’ve seen her in four movies + one terrific miniseries and she’s such an effortless scene stealer! She’s charismatic, spunky with a strong screen presence, you just can’t take your eyes off her! Nice to see that she has a great rapport with Scarlett and I think she’d be a terrific actress to hand off the baton to.

black-widow-Rachel-David

Harbour provides a bunch of comedic moments and practically spoofing the fact that he’s also a super soldier and perhaps secretly wish he’d be an Avenger. He’s not ashamed that he’s kind of a fan-boy of his own daughter and constantly asking Natasha if her friend Steve aka Capt. ever asks about him. I love seeing Weisz as part of the MCU, that’s such inspired casting and both she and Harbour have some memorable moments here. One supporting character I wasn’t too familiar with is Mason (O-T Fagbenle) whose flirtatious banter with Natasha suggests he’s more than just a friendly ally who assist her with her ‘necessities’ while in hiding.

As for Winstone, I’m used to seeing him as a tough, working class bloke. Well, he swapped his Cockney accent with a dodgy Russian one and he doesn’t get much to do here. The relatively brief scene between him and Natasha isn’t really that memorable, so he’s akin to the villain in Thor 2. Can’t remember who it was? Most likely you won’t remember Winstone either, but thankfully the two female leads have plenty of memorable moments to make up for it.

black-widow-Dreykov-Taskmaster

I have to mention the rousing score by Lorne Balfe that I enjoyed quite a bit. I became familiar with Balfe through this indie rom-com Not Another Happy Ending starring Karen Gillan. I like how they use contemporary songs sparingly that fits nicely with the scenes. I particularly enjoy Malia J’s melancholic cover of Nirvana’s Smell Like Teen Spirit that’s played during the opening credits.

Overall there are lots to love here, the screenplay by Eric Pearson manages to balance the action, humor and emotional moments pretty well. It’s interesting how the major themes of behemoth franchises with the most bombastic action sequences (Star Wars, MCU, Fast & Furious) is ‘all about family’ and not necessarily those you’re born with. Black Widow is a fun mix of spy thriller and superhero genre that’s essentially about family ties. The movie looks great on the big screen so I’m glad it’s released when we can actually go back to cinemas again. I had so much fun watching this that I don’t mind watching it again.

Oh, be sure to stay for the end credits as Marvel shrewdly promote what to expect in the next MCU series on Disney+ coming later this year.

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen BLACK WIDOW? I’d love to hear what you think!