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?

FlixChatter Review: The Lost Daughter (2021)

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The Lost Daughter marks another directorial debut from a terrific actress. Earlier this year I saw Passing from Rebecca Hall, and this time it’s Maggie Gyllenhaal behind the camera and also wrote the script based on Elena Ferrante’s novel.

Olivia Colman plays Leda, a middle-aged professor of comparative literature vacationing in a Greek island. It’s never revealed where teaches at, though she said she lives in Cambridge, near Boston which means she likely teaches at Harvard. It’s clear from the way she carries her books and papers with her to the beach that she’s devoted to her work even during her vacation. But her wish for a quiet, peaceful holiday takes a different turn when a large boisterous family descends abruptly and practically takes over the entire beach. 

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Leda doesn’t hide her annoyance, in fact, when one family member asks her to move her chair, she wouldn’t budge. The disruption ends up with Leda getting to know some of the family members, notably Callie (Dagmara Dominczyk) who’s pregnant with her first child.

The topic of motherhood is clearly a point of focus, as Leda is fascinated by Callie’s sister Nina (Dakota Johnson), a young mother attending to her toddler daughter, Elena. One day, Elena was playing with her doll and the next minute she went missing, leaving Nina absolutely frantic. Now, given the film’s title, one would be inclined to think that the rest of the film is about this missing daughter. Well, without spoiling it for you, it’s actually so much more than that. 

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Even before Elena goes missing, just watching Nina being with her daughter brings back memories of Leda’s past. The film starts to shift back and forth between past and present, showing young 20-something Leda juggling post-graduate school while taking care of her two young daughters. The decision she made decades ago suddenly is back to haunt her. 

I saw an interview with Gyllenhaal recently where she talks about society’s perceptions, expectations and even myth of motherhood that every mother absolutely loves being one. In many ways this film dispels the myth that motherhood is something every woman craves. It offers an honest portrayal of a mom who struggles with the responsibility that comes with raising kids, and perhaps feeling lost in the midst of it all.

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Now it doesn’t mean the film excuses all of Leda’s misbehavior though, in fact it shows the consequence of a terrible thing she did to Nina’s family, involving Elena’s beloved doll. At the same time, it also doesn’t condemn Leda for her decision even if society at large would shun her for it.

I was immediately intrigued to see this because of the three main female cast, Olivia Colman, Dakota Johnson and Jessie Buckley. Well all of them lives up to the hype. It’s a trifecta of terrific performances. Leda is not exactly a sympathetic character but Colman makes her relatable and human. At times she is overwhelmed by her memories as much as Nina is often bombarded by her daughter’s demands for attention. I’m so thrilled to see Colman being on the forefront of the awards race once again, her range is astounding and this is a juicy role that’s not wasted on someone so talented.

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Johnson is perfectly cast as well as a beautiful yet vulnerable young mom and the flashbacks shows some similarities between Nina and Leda’s younger self. Buckley is an actress I’ve only seen in a couple of things but she’s really impressive here. One can’t help but feel for her exasperation, likely feeling trapped by her responsibilities.

As for the notable male supporting cast, it’s always nice to see Ed Harris, especially in a rather playful role where he gets to sing and dance for a bit. Harris plays a playful innkeeper who takes a shine on Leda, though their relationship remains ambiguous. Gyllenhaal’s husband Peter Sarsgaard also has a small but memorable part as a scraggly but charming lecturer.

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The fact that Gyllenhaal is an actress herself might have aided her in getting the kind of performances needed for the story. She has a good grasp on the story and imbues the film with mysterious & unsettling tone throughout. The visuals seems too dark at times and the Grecian island doesn’t look as lush and panoramic as one would expect, but I feel that it’s perhaps intentional on DP Hélène Louvart’s part. The rather gloomy look seems to match what Leda’s experiencing.

I’m still on the fence about the ending which feels a bit anticlimactic, but I appreciate the fact the unpredictability aspect and that Gyllenhaal keeps the suspense up until the end. Yes it’s slow going at times with not much happening, but it proves to be a rewarding experience. The Lost Daughter is a bold and even defiant film that tackles a taboo subject that’s rarely depicted on screen. That alone is quite a feat and it was directed with a deft hand. It’s impressive debut by all accounts and I definitely hope Maggie Gyllenhaal keeps on directing in the future.

4/5 stars


Have you seen the latest THE LOST DAUGHTER? Let me know what you think!