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?

Chat-worthy Auteur: David Lynch

[rtm’s note: This post is part of LAMB’s Director’s Chair #17 event]

There is much to say about a director such as David Lynch – mainstream and avant-garde, meticulous visual painter and sound designer, having a wicked and dry sense of humor, once dated Isabella Rossellini, having an uncanny full head of hair, an honored Chevalier and Officier in France, TV and film innovator who pushes the boundaries of narrative and medium, a tireless self promoter (he sells his own brand of coffee), a practitioner of transcendental meditation, and a surprisingly intelligent embracer of new technology (just check out DavidLynch.com).

It is impossible to categorize such an auteur. He has one foot in Academy Award circles and another in the wild and arty glamorama of European film festivals – and rightfully so. Here is a guy who has proven time and again a calculated but organic control over his craft.

Below is a range of his films that run the gamut of extremity, preciseness and dare we say it: straightforwardness.

Eraserhead (1977)

This self-produced and family financed film is near the top of all time cult classics. Dark, powerful and brooding, we are initiated into Lynch’s metaphysical world of grotesquery. Too strange to describe into precise words, it needs an open minded viewing or clear palette to appreciate. This is Jack Nance’s first film with the director. Reportedly a favorite of Kubrick and George Lucas.

The Elephant Man (1980)

This fine period piece is a heartfelt biography of severely deformed but highly intelligent John Merrick (John Hurt) who popularized the disease in Victorian times. Anthony Hopkins plays the surgeon who discovers Merrick in a London sideshow. The film garnered nominations for Best Picture and Actor.

Dune (1984)

Lynch’s worst film of the lot is really not that bad and may have gotten the unfair shake from Hollywood who disagreed with the director’s vision. Not quite Blade Runner status, the film did showcase innovative set design and costumes and boasted an all star cast. A difficult adaptation by any standards, Lynch got close to the essence of the book’s metaphysics unlike future substandard adaptations. I still believe only Lynch could do this justice.

Blue Velvet (1986)

One of Lynch’s best, Blue Velvet is a twisted homage to the 50s American Dream. It shows the grotesque, evil and sexually violent dark side of a picturesque and pastoral small town in middle America. Dennis Hopper portrays Frank Booth – one of the most memorable screen villains in film history.

Wild at Heart (1990)

A loose meditation on the Wizard of Oz fable, Wild at Heart is a road trip love story of extreme caricatures and characters that I could call it ‘fun’. Less serious than previous works, it has all the hallmarks of creepy characters, violence, symbolism and strangeness one would expect from Lynch. Adding to Frank Booth’s legacy is Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of sleaze ball Bobby Peru.

Lost Highway (1997)

My personal favorite, this is Lynch’s first foray into non-linearity storytelling. Bill Pullman in perfectly cast as the jilted putz along with Patricia Arquette (the perfect femme fatale) in a steamy role as his adulterous wife. Requires multiple viewings to appreciate but well worth the time and effort. Robert Loggia is hilarious as a ruthless mob boss and Robert Blake plays an excellent Mephisto. The giant cell phone scene is a classic.

The Straight Story (1999)

Proof that David Lynch can tell a ‘straight’ story, this heartfelt film tells the true story of Alvin Straight (old-Hollywood stuntman Richard Farnsworth in his last and Oscar nominated performance) who traveled across Wisconsin and Iowa on a tractor to visit his ailing brother. Though a ‘straightforward’ story, any Lynch fan can see the surrealism in an old geezer’s relentless mission to travel cross country on a riding lawnmower.

Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Nominated for Best Film, here Lynch perfected the non-linear narrative in this atmospheric and narcotic film. Originally conceived as a TV series, Mulholland Dr. works perfectly as a standalone film. Naomi Watts is excellent as Betty, an aspiring and innocent wannabe actress – or is she? There are pastoral elements reminiscent of Blue Velvet that only enhance the shock that perhaps all is not what it seems. Plenty of memorable scenes especially of Justin Theroux’s Hollywood meeting with the Italian film producers. Ordering a cappuccino would never be the same.

Inland Empire (2006)

Though not a fan of standard definition DV camerawork, you have to admire Lynch’s passion for DIY ethics. Clocking in at 3 hours, this is challenging stuff with all the strangeness, horror and humor to be expected. Diehard Lynchians will easily eat this up though with the help of caffeine and cigarettes (2 of Lynch’s vices). Inland Empire takes non-linear storytelling to a new level in that the script was also being written during filming. The actors did not know their lines or scenes in advance – they improvised on a daily basis. Laura Dern’s portrayal of an adulterous Hollywood starlet is one of her finest.


What are your thoughts on Mr. Lynch? You can start by sharing your favorite movie(s) from his collection.