Top 10 Films of 2021 + 15 Honorable Mentions

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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?

August 2021 Viewing Recap + Movie of the Month

Hello, hello!! I’m posting my end-of-the-month recap a bit early this month as I’m taking a week-long hiatus. My hubby and I flying to L.A. tomorrow until Labor Day, woot! We got tickets to see John Williams conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic – Maestro of the Movies at the Hollywood Bowl. I could hardly contain my excitement as I absolutely LOVE his scores. I’m giddy just thinking of seeing the orchestra play some of my favorites, which I’ve listed in this post… plus I’ve never been to this historic outdoor amphitheater, so it’ll be a fun Friday night!

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Ok, now on to the movie report… I’ve actually seen more films that I thought I would, so I’m quite happy about that!

NEW TO ME MOVIES

As I haven’t finished packing, I’m not going to rate those I haven’t reviewed, but I’m just going to link those that I have written about.

Hampstead (2017)

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I have to admit I was curious to check this out largely because of the UK setting (didn’t I tell you I’m an Anglophile?) and that I like Brendan Gleeson… plus it’s got James Norton who I wish had more screen time. To be honest, I’m not too fond of watching Diane Keaton for some reason and this movie did not change my mind. I think it’s ok, a bit too predictable and their romance lacks serious spark.

Free Guy (2021)

Annette (2021)

The Suicide Squad (2021)

CODA* (2021)

Green Lantern (2011)

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After watching Free Guy and seeing interviews of Ryan Reynolds, I realized I haven’t watched his first superhero movie. Well, it is as terrible as what people have said, no wonder Reynolds himself continue to make fun of it, ahah. Hey at least he got to meet the love of his life Blake Lively who’s just so gorgeous in, well anything. The movie is not only dumb but also really ugly to look at, those garish green is really the color of neon vomit, blech!

Val (2021)

Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar (2021)

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I don’t know what came over me that I decided to watch this head-scratcher of a movie! Yikes!! File this under ‘what in the world did I just watch?’ It is as bizarre as everyone has made it out to be, and not exactly in a good way… I was either confused or cringing the entire time. Jamie Dornan must have a predilection for weird movies as he did this practically back to back after Wild Mountain Thyme

Hungry Hearts

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I was hoping to watch this during the Adam Driver marathon last month but the movie didn’t arrive in time. My friend who still has a Netflix DVD subscription lent it to me and despite this movie not being pleasant to watch, I’m glad I finally watched it. It’s quite amusing too that there’s a baby involved here as I had just seen Annette last month… but this time it’s an actual baby instead of a puppet, ahah. Driver is as immensely watchable as ever even being mostly in sad/forlorn/angry state, but I don’t think I’d ever want to watch it again.

The Protégé

Reminiscence* (2021)

The Girl In The Book* (2015)

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I was looking for films directed by women and came across this one on Prime Video. I only knew Emily VanCamp from MCU, but she’s quite good here as an aspiring writer who’s haunted by her past when a famous author appeared in her life again. The late Swedish actor Mikael Nyqvist played the author… there were some disturbing scenes but fortunately it was shot with the female gaze that it didn’t feel sexually exploitative.

The Souvenir* (2019)

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I had been wanting to see this for ages, so it’s disappointing that it turns out pretty dull. I think the coming-of-age premise is intriguing, but the too-slow pace feels tedious and self-indulgent. Plus I just can’t connect with the central character (played by Honor Swinton Byrne) at all. I did like Tom Burke here and am amused to see Honor’s mom Tilda Swinton as her mother, but overall it’s a total bore.

Love & Basketball* (2000)

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Ahhh… finally I got to see this terrific rom-com written & directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood! Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps have such a lovely chemistry AND they look believable as basketball players! I love that it’s more than just romance as both characters pursue their passion and shows that women can play ball just as good as men! There’s so much to appreciate here that I just might write a full review on it one day. So yeah, I enjoyed this one immensely, in fact I’m still kicking myself why it took me so long to finally see this.

The Lost Leonardo documentary (2021)

Out Kind Of Traitor* (2016)

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I’m always up for seeing a spy thriller based on John le Carré’s novel, especially one directed by a woman. Susanna White directed my favorite Jane Eyre adaptation (2006) and she did an excellent job here as well. Ewan McGregor and Naomie Harris play a couple who somehow got involved in a Russian oligarch’s defection plans, played by Stellan Skarsgård. It’s a pretty solid thriller with some genuine mystery and suspense, so I’d recommend it if you’re a fan of le Carré’s work.

Worth* (2021)

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The last film I watched this month ends up being quite an emotional one. Can’t believe 9/11 happened nearly 20 years ago… and watching some of the scenes unfold still took my breath away. Sara Colangelo directed this with a sensitive but deft touch, which tells the story of attorney Kenneth Feinberg (Michael Keaton) who’s appointed by Congress to lead the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. It’s definitely one of Keaton’s best, most controlled performance, with Stanley Tucci and Amy Ryan lending some memorable turns as well. The title is perfect for this thought-provoking film which might be tough to watch for some who are personally affected by the tragedy.


52 films by womenMovies indicated with * (asterisk) indicates those directed by women. I’m  happy to report that I managed to see SEVEN female-directed films, woo hoo!! I’m hopeful I can actually complete the 52 Films By Women challenge by the end of the year.


TV SERIES

The Pursuit of Love* (2021)

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I love period dramas and especially those set in England! I like the cast (Lily James, Emily Beecham, Dominic West) and it’s directed by Emily Mortimer. A romantic comedy-drama about love and friendship set in Europe before WWII, it’s well-acted and pretty entertaining overall, but I find it uneven and not as emotional as I had hoped. The set pieces are nice to look at, but I don’t think it’ll stick in my mind for too long.

Ted Lasso 2 (2021)

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Movies that Made Us: Pretty Woman(2021)
Movies that Made Us: Forrest Gump (2021)

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Charlie’s Angels – Fallen Angel ep (1979)

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Bless you TUBI! They actually have the entire Charlie’s Angels series on there. I had been wanting to watch the Fallen Angel episode with my eternal crush Timothy Dalton! The series is SO dated and kind of silly, but I LOVE seeing Dalton as a millionaire playboy/jewel thief Damian Roth who’s romancing Farrah Fawcett. They even referred Damian as James-Bondian, which is interesting given that Cubby Broccoli had wanted him to play Bond for years before Dalton finally agreed.


REWATCHES

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) + The Living Daylights (1987)

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I was feeling rather indulgent that I decided to rewatch movies starring my new and old crush, ahah. I guess I have a thing for tall, dark, handsome actors who can make anger/sadness look sexy 😉

I actually find Adam Driver hilarious as Kylo Ren initially, but he’s such a charismatic actor and immensely watchable in pretty much anything. 

As for The Living Daylights, well it remains one of my all time favorite Bond films, though it’s a bit eerie to watch those scenes in Afghanistan, and seeing the Mujahideen as his ally. In any case, I still think Timothy Dalton is my favorite 007 who I wish had done a 3rd or even 4th Bond film!


AUGUST MOVIE OF THE MONTH

CODA (2021)

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I’ve posted my full review of this powerful and deeply moving film that feature actual deaf actors in prominent roles. I can’t recommend this enough and it’s available to stream on AppleTV.


Well, what did you watch this past month and what’s YOUR favorite film you saw in AUGUST?

FlixChatter Review: CODA (2021)

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I’ve been anticipating CODA since it’s triumphant premiere at Sundance earlier this year. The title refers to Child of Deaf Adults and it centers on a high school teen Ruby (Emilia Jones, phenomenal), the only hearing member of the Rossi family. Ever since she was a kid she’s been serving as the interpreter for the family in Gloucester, Massachusetts where they run a fishing business. 

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Right from its opening scene of her on a boat with her brother and father, I immediately sympathize with Ruby who looks wiser beyond her 17-year existence she lived pretty much with her family. What her brother and parents don’t realize, which is totally understandable, is that Ruby loves to sing. She sings while she’s on a boat fishing and she later joins the choir club at school. Despite Ruby’s initial shyness where she bolted out of her first class, soon her choirmaster/music teacher Bernardo Villalobos aka Mr. V (a vivacious Eugenio Derbez) discovers she’s got a really good voice. So good in fact that he selects her and a fellow pupil Miles (Sing Street’s Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) to do a duet for the choir event and even offers to train her for the Berklee College of Music. The more music becomes a bigger part of Ruby’s life, the more she is torn between pursuing her passion and her duty for her family.

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Writer/director Sian Heder sets up the world building of Ruby’s world so wonderfully. I really appreciate her portrayal of the deaf individuals in the way that they don’t see themselves as disabled. They just live their lives differently from the hearing folks but it doesn’t mean their lives are less fulfilling. There’s a moment where Miles remarks admirably about Ruby’s family in that she has a house that feels like home and parents who love each other. Despite their hardship and facing all kinds of business challenges, the Rossis face their struggles together as a family should be. It’s perhaps one of the loveliest portrayal of an American family that feels organic and authentic.

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It’s a credible glimpse into a life I’m not familiar with, told from the perspective of a young woman who’s just coming into her own. There’s a scene between Ruby and Mr. V where she said that she’s never done anything without her family before which I find so genuinely moving. There’s something so earnest and matter of fact about how Ruby approaches things that I find so endearing, even inspiring. I think teenagers often get a bad rap in the way they’re portrayed in the movies, that they’re lazy, entitled and clueless. Well, let’s just say Ruby isn’t your typical teenager and she leads a pretty tough life as a young girl, balancing school and her family business, even waking up at 3 am daily to go fishing.

I’m glad Heder cast actual deaf actors to make up Ruby’s family. Troy Kotsur is especially delightful and hilarious as Ruby’s dad Frank, providing such comic relief with his intensely-elaborate ASL signing. Marlee Matlin is quite a revelation in a role as a working-class wife Jackie with an unabashedly sexual relationship with her husband. Daniel Durant also has some memorably defiant moment as Ruby’s brother Leo. Walsh-Peelo didn’t get as much to do here as he did in Sing Street, but he’s got a sweet presence as Ruby’s boyfriend.

Derbez is absolutely fun to watch as Mr. V who balances his enthusiasm for Ruby’s talent with some tough love. I wish I had a teacher half as fun and supportive as him. Now, the star of the show is definitely Emilia Jones who I found out after watching the movie is a Brit!! I was totally floored by her performance, not only does she have to master an American accent, she also has to learn ASL for the film. It’s an Oscar-worthy performance and I hope she won’t get forgotten come award season.

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I’ve since learned that CODA is actually an English-language remake of the 2014 French-language film La Famille Bélier. Apparently the French film producer himself approached Heder to direct the remake but wishes that she makes the film unique for the American audiences. Well, Heder certainly did an astonishing job reinventing the story and making it her own. The pacing and the way she structures the story works really well in that it immediately immerses you in the character’s journey. The sound design is fantastic as well, I especially love how the sound is completely turned off during the duet scene as the camera pans to Rossi’s family watching her perform… putting us in their shoes so to speak where they can’t hear anything during that segment is powerful and deeply moving.

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Heder also peppers the film with plenty of memorable moments I know I’ll remember for years to come, such as the tender moment Ruby and her dad share sitting on their truck under the stars following the choir. Frank asks her daughter to sing and he holds her neck to ‘hear’ the vibration as she sings to him. It’s a genuinely sweet father/daughter moment that also bridges the gap between the worlds of the hearing and the deaf.

I’m not surprised Apple snatched the film at Sundance for a festival-record $25 million. I sure hope Sian Heder continues to get prominent work in Hollywood and that there’ll be more opportunities for deaf talents in the industry.

4.5/5 stars


CODA is released on AppleTV+ on August 13.


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