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 Tragedy of Macbeth (2021)

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Besides Hamlet, I think Macbeth is the most popular Shakespeare adaptations. There have been SO many adapted for the big screen lately that I wasn’t initially interested to see this one. But with Denzel Washington in the title role and Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth, I couldn’t resist. The early screening was packed even though it was on a Sunday, I see a lot of young people of color which clearly is a testament to Denzel’s appeal as a movie star.

In case you’re not familiar with the story, Macbeth is a Scottish general who becomes convinced by a trio of witches that he will become the next King of Scotland, and his ambitious wife supports him in his plans of seizing power. Any old tale can feel new and fresh if it’s developed by a visionary filmmaker. Joel Coen in his debut without his filmmaker brother/partner Ethan tackled the material with a minimalistic approach that really makes you focus on the story and character.

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First thing you notice is the visuals, shot in striking black/white with stark set pieces that resemble a stage play. I love that Coen honors the fact that the story originated on stage by stripping the film down as if you’re watching a play on screen. It opens with the scene of the trio of witches telling Macbeth that he will be King. That prophecy immediately takes hold of him, and with the boost from his ambitious wife, it spells trouble for King Duncan. 

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I’ve seen quite a few Macbeth adaptations, even a modern retelling version like Shakespe-retold with James McAvoy as an ambitious chef. The latest one was the Justin Kurzel version in 2015 with Michael Fassbender which was gorgeous and atmospheric but also tedious. Thankfully I didn’t find this version boring at all, though it’s a slow-burn film that’s more reflective rather than action-driven. In fact, I actually find this film makes the narrative more digestible.

The lack of frills of set design or elaborate costumes etc bring the Bard’s classic tale to life in almost hypnotic way. I was mesmerized by every little detail of what the character is doing and even the normally unapproachable Shakespearean dialog easier to follow. It’s a dialog-heavy film, again inspired by the stage play, but it feels dynamic not dull. The brief action scenes are staged creatively and uses the limited space to great effect.

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It’s not a case of style over substance however as the acting is a triumph. Again, Denzel commands the screen like nobody’s business. He has an inherently regal aura about him while the ruthless ambition is subtler, more seething underneath rather than full-on. Frances, in her ninth time working with her husband proves to be another fruitful collaboration. She’s no stranger to playing a powerful woman and there’s a certain icy-ness to her Lady Macbeth mannerism as she wields her influence on her husband. Her guilt-ridden soliloquy is one of the film’s highlights. 

The stand out supporting cast are Kathryn Hunter as the three witches (and later as an old man), Brendan Gleeson as King Duncan, Alex Hassell as Ross, Corey Hawkins as Macduff and Harry Melling as Malcolm. It’s wonderful to see an ethnically diverse cast extending beyond just the lead actor, and the ensemble cast were terrific all around.

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I can’t say enough about the stunning visuals, shot by Bruno Delbonnel who has collaborated with the Coens a few times (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs). He’s been nominated for Oscar five times and hopefully next year will be his year and he absolutely deserved it. I think the cinematography is one of the best I’ve ever seen, the noir, austere visual aesthetics made more impression to me than The Green Knight which is also stunning. There are so many perfect shots that you can frame from this film. The use of shadows, fog, visual contrast, etc. is just masterful. One of my favorite scenes is when Macbeth was sitting in a room in his home where the floor transforms into water and the ceiling opens up to reveal the sky. It’s such a fantastic surrealist moment.

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The sound department is to be commended as well for the phenomenal sound design that really envelopes you. The superb use of sound is crucial here, especially since a lot of what’s going on with Macbeth happens inside his head. The claustrophobic nature of the set combined with that pulsating sound drives the point of the character’s ‘unsoundness of mind.’ 

Joel Coen made an intriguing choice with shooting the film mostly on sound stages, instead of going with a more realistic approach to the setting. Given Macbeth is plagued by illusions and false prophecy, this dreamlike or should I say nightmarish style is an effective storytelling technique to illustrate his mental misinterpretation of what is real. Hence the title with the word ‘tragedy’ is spot on for a character so preoccupied with his blind faith that his inability to see truth leads to his own downfall. I find Macbeth’s descent into madness emotionally devastating, though obviously his tragic end is brought about by his own doing. In a way, it’s a timeless cautionary tale about greed and unbridled ambition that resonates even four hundred years after it’s written.

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I’ll be rooting for it at the Oscars for Best Picture. I think Denzel and Frances could be a shoo-in in the Best Actor and Actress category, and I think Kathryn Hunter also deserves a nod for such an effectively-eerie 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. The film is on AppleTV so I highly recommend you to check it out, I know I plan to rewatch it at some point.

4.5/5 stars


Have you seen The Tragedy of Macbeth? I’d love to hear what you think!