It was only a matter of time I was going to post my favourite films and shows of the year just passed. Usually I’d go for only films, however Covid-19 has changed our perspective. Streaming services have become so popular as many films aren’t getting a theatrical release or that release is very limited, meaning we might miss that film.
Below are my choices for the best films and shows of 2021. Release from cinema, Netflix, Prime Video and Now TV. Some you’ll be expecting, others may surprise you, and I’m sure you’ll be wondering about films that are missing. I’ll be honest, I missed a lot for a number of reasons but do let me know what you think, oh it’s not in order either just my favourites.
As per usual, expect the worst films and shows list to follow…
Okay before you say “it was out in 2020!” You are correct if you live in the USA, here in the UK it was 2021 before it was released. Chloe Zhao’s film gives a face to America’s forgotten and travelling population. Many are lost in the American dream, Frances McDormand once again shows she is one of the best in the acting business. Profound, delightful, compassionate filmmaking that captures the desolation of the land and the social realism too.
A Quiet Place Part 2 Sci-Fi, Horror, Drama
A Quiet Place was a sleeper hit a few years ago and when unexpected hit films follow with a sequel, rarely do they match or better the original. Part II delivered, first opening scene showcases the arrival of the aliens. Then we meet the family in the aftermath of the first film as they go out to the big world. Setting up a platform for the kids to take centre stage and Millicent Simmonds steps up with an fantastic performance. Another lesson in genre filmmaking.
The Three Kings Documentary, Sports
Three men help shape modern football in the UK, Jock Stein, Matt Busby and Bill Shankly. Their teams dominated the 1960s and 1970s, this poignant documentary showcases that story. I don’t usually recommend football documentaries, this is one of the best.
Polystyrene: I Am Cliché Documentary, Music
I watched this one during Lockdown. An intimate, moving documentary about X-Ray Spex front-woman Poly Styrene by her daughter, punk rock as a f*ck but also a riveting examination of mother daughter examination and mental health. Behind the music there is a human being and this film highlights this, fantastic, inspiring.
Space Sweepers World Cinema, Action, Sci-fi
This film caught me by surprise. The action starts from the word go, like Fifth Element on acid, corny jokes, international cast, a dystopian future. Lots of twists, turns, Korean Melodrama, explosions and a fast-paced story. Laze out on the sofa with favourite snacks and enjoy the ride.
Nobody Action, Crime
Keanu Reeves and Liam Neeson have shown the older actor can survive in the action genre. As for when they should stop making those films, that’s up for debate. Bob Odenkirk is the latest actor to try his luck, and the end product is a bloody B-movie exploitation we love every so often.
The Suicide Squad Action, Thriller
Not every film has to be an Arthouse gem or a world cinema delight, our brains deserve to rest. Brainless fun that can make you laugh, sadistically snigger at the violence, pure popcorn fodder. This cabal of anti-heroes in James Gunn’s version of the DC comic book film is that fodder. Not perfect, it’s a far cry from the trash from 2016.
Censor Horror, Mystery
Horror doesn’t always have to be scare jumps galore, it can be psychological. Prano Bailey-Bond’s debut feature is certainly the latter as we find ourselves in the heart of the video nasties that gave BBFC nightmares in the 1980s. A film that compliments Peter Strickland’s 2012 Berberian Sound Studio, that plays on the claustrophobia of the censor cutting rooms. The dread is nostalgic that plays on your mind, aesthetically beautiful, foreboding and a talent to look out for in the future.
Dune Sci-fi, Drama
Very few films live up to the hype, Denis Villeneuve’s epic sci-fi based on the Frank Herbert’s grand sci-fi opus is one of them. David Lynch tried and in the eyes of critics failed, 2021 version clarifies the story is timeless. Visually stunning, the world building feels genuine and epic in scale. Thrilling, oppressive, complex, exciting and philosophical.
Sound Of Metal Drama, Music
I only got to see this one recently and what a performance. Riz Ahmed for years has established himself as a fantastic support actor, this film has pushed him to the top of the pile, and he’s NOW a lead actor. The dedication, passion Ahmed went to actually experience as if he did lose his hearing was astonishing. An incredibly moving film, that takes you on that journey of emotions our lead character embarks on.
Raging Fire World Cinema, Action, Crime, Thriller
You love old school Hong Kong crime action thrillers that put John Woo, Johnnie To and even the director of this one Benny Chan on the map, you will love Raging Fire. Good cop, bad cop, chaotic, violent, frantic intense action scenes. Donnie Yen versus Nicholas Tse in what was Chan’s final film before his death.
The Green Knight Fantasy, Drama
I wish I got to see this on the big screen, the cinematography for David Lowery’s film deserves to be seen on the big screen. This one isn’t for everyone, many will find it dull, expecting a full on fantasy and what they get is an arthouse drama with fantasy elements. A dark tale which you could call ‘coming of age’, that’s a stripped down Arthurian story. A celebration of life and death that’s certainly strange, atmospheric but also spellbinding.
The Hand Of God World Cinema, Drama
Until I watched this, I was a bit up and down with Sorrentino’s previous films. After living and working in Sorrento near Naples, I was mesmerized with this film. It’s a bit of an oddball, and I expected nothing less from this director. It is like a love letter to his home city as much it’s to the patron saint of Scottish Football, Diego Maradona. His own memoir that’s funny, tender, magical and celebrates family and if you enjoy Pedro Almodovar, Felini check this one out.
Last Night In Soho Mystery, Horror, Drama
Edgar Wright knows how to make us laugh (the Cornetto Trilogy), gets us on the edge of our seats (Baby Driver). Now he takes on an exhilarating psychological thriller that tip toes through horror, even time travel. What starts as a coming of age story of a young woman following her dream to be a fashion designer. It may look like a film celebrating also the swinging 60s, Soho, Carnaby Street, it’s really the Jekyll and Hyde sides of London. Taking elements of Polanski, Pressburger even Italian Giallo, but is it all in our heroine’s mind? Thomasin McKenzine is fantastic, a fun-loving but fragile lead who has mental health issues, Anya Taylor-Joy is equally wonderful, and Matt Smith is creepy. Visually brilliant and what a soundtrack which will feed your soul if you love 60s music.
The Empty Man Horror, Mystery
This one in the UK didn’t get a cinema release, straight to Disney+ star with no fanfare. Fantastic film, a slow burner that asks for your patience, if Hollywood was to make a Jhorror this is it. Elements of 1970s paranoia films with a mix of Lovecraft and crime noir. Director prior has worked with David Fincher, seen as his protégé this film has many elements you expect from Fincher gorgeous anamorphic frames urban legend meets cosmic horror that might question what you watched, underrated horror for those horrorphiles want something a little different.
Summer Of Soul Music, Documentary
This was my first press screening of 2021, when we got the cue to return to cinemas. What a film and how can anyone just forget about this music festival. A tapestry of black culture, nicknamed the Black Woodstock after the legendary Woodstock festival that happened that same year. Quest Loves film electrifies the screen, bringing together the history, culture, politics, and sounds into one brilliant end product. Stevie Wonder, Sly And The Family Stone, Firth Dimension, Nina Simone I could go one, just head to Disney+ and see the revolution televised yourself.
Spider-Man Now Way Home Action, Superhero
Call it fan service, yes! Picking right up where the last film ended with the reveal of Peter Parker as Spider-Man. Epic, action packed film with emotion and what comes with great responsibility. One could say No Way Home is Sony Pictures Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Peter’s journey, from schoolboy to masked hero, and sometimes things come to us in life without us asking for them, and sometimes heartache follows. It’s a bumpy, fun ride that opens many doors for our young hero. Plenty of surprises for fans and a reminder Disney doesn’t own every great Marvel character.
The Lost Daughter Drama
I just watched this just before I started this list, and what a film. Okay, not a lot happens in this one, and you could say this is all about the sins of our past. A grief and emotional consequences of choices you made as a parent, maybe even in life in general. Olivia Colman perfectly plays a woman with a lot of remorse, will she win at the awards? Possibly, one could say Jesse Buckley was equally great or better in the flashbacks of a younger Colman character. Who is the lost daughter is open to debate, whatever you think Motherhood is no easy task. Nor is humanity perfect in this chilling, psycho drama.
Spencer Drama, Biography
This one surprised many, with Kirsten Stewart in the lead role as Diana Spencer. It was an ingenious choice, this is not your standard biopic. If anything, it’s an inventive, haunting avant-garde drama, full of atmospheric, of a woman discontent with the society she’s now part of. A fairy tale that’s slipped into a nightmarish fable of isolation, as Diana drowns in mental and emotional heartache. Another fantastic Jonny Greenwood score.
Greenland Action, Thriller
When it comes to best films lists over the years, Gerard Butler films are never or rarely in those lists. Greenland is that rare exception that may not be blessed with originality, what it is a solid, entertaining B-movie. Grab a popcorn and enjoy this fun survival film with heart.
The Power Of The Dog Drama, Western
Jane Campion is a master of arthouse cinema, and her latest confirms she still has it. A moody, visually gorgeous film that digs deep into male toxicity, gender roles in a western setting. Cumberbatch delights in this atmospheric film, and he masterfully strips his victims psychologically. The captivating film reminds us, entitlement is a nasty word in an unsettling film.
Night In Paradise Crime, Thriller
In 2021, I started an Asian cinema Sunday, which I watch a film every week from a certain Asian country and when this was released, it was South Korea and still is. A slow burner, maybe should have been at least 30 minutes shorter, and a solid entry to the crime thrillers the nation came popular for. A grim, visceral, violent film perfect for lazy Sunday viewing.
Love And Monsters Horror, Comedy, Action
This film got released in the USA in 2020 and forgotten about elsewhere until Netflix gave the film it’s just release. An unexpected surprise with some great monster design, intense horror moments, even has a lot of emotion. A fun, sweet, wild ride that shows you don’t always need money to buy success.
Don’t Look Up Comedy
I don’t know why, I seem to watch new releases on the streaming channels months down the line. When this was released on Netflix, it got ripped apart like Mister Magoo walking into a lion’s dens. Was it people just not understanding the film, or it was just crap? Guess what I really enjoyed it as it laughed in the face of humanity, capitalism, the powers to be. Yes, it isn’t perfect, but it’s not terrible either. Just captures how childish and blind we can be and not everything is fake. Maybe the fake are the people we entrust to be our leaders.
Squid Game Season 1 Action, Drama
When it comes to PR companies that send promotional stuff, Netflix suddenly stopped sending out stuff in 2021 which meant I missed this when it was released. Thankfully, I jumped onboard quickly after and what an unexpected ride. Taking popular kids games, twisting them into a game of survival with a massive cash prize for the winner. Deliberately, most of the characters were unlikeable, making you secretly enjoy their demise. Over the series you do get to empathize with several characters as they all had one thing in common, struggles with money. Korea is one of the best when it comes to films and shows highlighting the Social and class struggles.
Black Summer Season 2 Horror, Thriller
No denying it, The Walking Dead over the years has lost its path along with many of it’s fanbase. Z Nation gave zombie fans an alternative, one that had the energy of TWD along with a laugh or two. When Z Nation ended, the makers of that show expanded the world with Black Summer. It went back to a more serious tone, with no full focus on either the Zombies or the humans but both. Season 2 pushed the show into a snow apocalypse, pushing humanity into deeper, more desperate depths.
Cruella Comedy, Adventure
I was not expecting to enjoy this one, especially not being a massive fan of Disney films, how wrong I was. Taking an iconic villain, throwing them into a live action origins story, perfect tonic. Disney have had success over the past several with this and this is my favourite. Tweaking things a little into a 1970s London setting was perfect, making Cruella a punk too was a great move. It has all the trimmings of a Disney film, whilst not actually feeling like a Disney film. Fantastic soundtrack too.
Japan Sinks Season 1 Anime, Adventure
I love Anime (Japanese Animation), I’ll admit not every series or film are great. This one narratively may not be the great, what made it great is it was not scared to go dark. Lots of unexpected deaths, as if Jack Bauer from 24 was assigned to protect them. If you know that show, those he ‘promises’ protection doesn’t end well for them. In a year they wanted us to stay indoors, this was viewing escapism.
Loki Season 1 Action, Adventure
I always said, I would never sell myself to the devil, the house of mouse, better known as Disney+. However, anyone who knows me, I’m a The Walking Dead fan and Disney bought Fox and in the UK to watch the new episodes you need a subscription to the channel. After reading the mixed reviews for WandaVision and Falcon & Winter Soldier, I was a bit apprehensive. Loki, the Norse god of mischief, might be trying to repair some of the damage he’s done, he couldn’t resist the odd moment to let slip. A crazy ride that has a lot more to offer potentially into future MCU films.
Shang-Chi And Legend Of The Ten Rings Action
This one was being lined up to fail, after the disappointment of Black Widow. 2021 was a massive year for MCU fans, not just on the big screen but also the small one. This is the Asian cast Marvel entry bringing martial arts to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it delivered. Yes, this wasn’t the strongest overall, when you enjoy that bus scene with some family drama thrown in gives this Marvel film emotion, a lot of heart and plenty of action.
*Please note, the above list is based on the UK release date. I appreciate some of the above films and shows were released elsewhere on different dates.