TOP 20 FILMS OF 2021

In a year that’s somehow simultaneously gone in a flash and dragged on forever, I have managed to see a record number of new release films for fivethreeninety, majorly surpassing my goal of hitting a hundred for the first year thanks to a new Limitless membership, Film Independent screeners courtesy of Jamie from When the Credits Roll and frankly, not much else to do with my time.

So, from a grand total of a hundred and twenty three 2021 feature length narrative releases(all judged by UK release date, unless I managed to nab a screener or festival ticket for films that we aren’t getting until the new year), here’s my top twenty films of 2021.


TWENTY.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Dir. Jason Reitman

I really wasn’t expecting to enjoy this revival as much as I did. Reitman creates a family blockbuster that feels respectful but fun & knew exactly what it was setting out to be. A really blast that gets so much right, with an all round fantastic cast too – reboots of anything, take note!

NINETEEN.

Freaky

Dir. Christopher Landon

Freaky is a boisterously fun adventure that aims to involve it’s audience at every moment, whether it’s making them laugh out loud or hide behind their fingers in embarrassment. It’s two lead performances are off the charts strong, and it’s it’s own self awareness evident in its execution that makes it land on solid ground – it’ll be a horror staple in my library for years to come.

EIGHTEEN.

Language Lessons

Dir. Natalia Morales

Language Lessons is pure of spirit and deeply emotive, showcasing the value of friendship and language itself. There are numerous elements that should hinder it from being a perfect piece of filmmaking, yet due to it’s evident well intentions and grounded performances, it’s very difficult for that to make a dent in an audience’s love for it. It feels like a very special little film.

SEVENTEEN.

The Nest

Dir. Sean Durkin

Carrie Coon and Jude Law are on another level packing wild amounts of energy into their performances here in this family drama that builds and builds until it’s all suddenly unravelling in front of your eyes.

SIXTEEN.

Lamb

Dir. Valdimar Jóhannsson

It is uncomfortable, it is unsettling, but the real curveball of a24’s Icelandic folktale is how wholesome it is. The minute cast carries the simplistic storytelling with a delicate sensibility that balances out the bizarre concept in a very intriguing way.

FIFTEEN.

Petite Maman

Dir. Céline Sciamma

So simple, so beautiful, so provoking. There are so many stand out moments in this little film’s seventy minute run time, and it’s two young stars have a real sensation of being wiser than their years. Just lovely.

FOURTEEN.

Drive My Car

Dir. Ryusuke Hamaguchi

I can’t begin to articulate the depths this film explores. It feels stunning in the literal sense to experience with the sheer amount of storytelling to process and brilliant acting.

THIRTEEN.

Minari

Dir. Lee Isaac Chung

Minari is a quietly stunning film. It’s beauty lies in always taking the transparent route in relaying the realities of the “the busy labor of assimilation“, as Michelle No so elegantly puts it. The volume of truth it speaks is evident that you can’t help but connect to it, and as a piece of filmmaking not one member of the cast or crew has created anything less than a masterpiece.

TWELVE.

Spider-Man: No Way Home

Dir. Jon Watts

No Way Home brought such a remarkable onslaught of joy comparable only with 2019’s Endgame. The excitement of going to the cinema on opening night, no clue what was to come surrounded by fans was enough in itself, and the film itself surpassed expectations.

ELEVEN.

Shiva Baby

Dir. Emma Seligman

Wildly entertaining, emotive and anxiety-inducing. It’s an exceptional debut from Seligman, with a fantastic lead performance from Rachel Sennott that has played on my mind for a long time since seeing it.

TEN.

West Side Story

Dir. Steven Spielberg

A remake worth doing. This entire ensemble cast is astonishing; with Rita Moreno’s heart wrenching return; Ariana DeBose’s powerful and unforgettable rendition of Anita; Mike Faist’s and David Alvarez’ respective strong and stalwart takes on gang leaders Riff and Bernardo; and newcomer Rachel Zegler’s genuine superstar-making debut as Maria. Spielberg’s first musical is rich and lavish.

NINE.

Coda

Dir. Siân Heder

This film feels like being wrapped up in a warm weighted blanket. There are so many quiet, simple, intimate moments between characters in this film that are stand out scenes across the year of cinema. Emilia Jones is a revelation, and Troy Kotsur should be at the top of everyone’s list for Supporting Actor nominations.

EIGHT.

The Father

Dir. Florian Zeller

Entranced and horrifying, The Father is devastating and brilliant. Hopkins gives a career best, and Olivia Colman is a delight – but it’s Zeller’s heartfelt, brutal portrayal of a disease many of us know that is to be applauded most here.

SEVEN.

Spencer

Dir. Pablo Larraín

On a technical level this story could semi-reasonably be regarded as flawed. But as a finished film, the impact is too great to ignore – Spencer is a daring, unadulterated dive into who Diana could have been behind what the royal family and the public each were insistent to depict her as. Larraín’s bold film is divinely acted and lavishly decorated, with one clear message: this was a real woman, and a fascinating character for it. Kristen Stewart’s dazzling Diana will go down in infamy.

SIX.

C’mon C’mon

Dir. Mike Mills

Oh man, Mike Mills has crafter something beautiful here. The respect, the care, the tenderness, the silliness… It makes & breaks my heart a hundred times over. It’s open and empathic and honest, and Woody Norman’s breakout role as nine year old Jesse is hard to even comprehend.

FIVE.

Mass

Dir. Fran Kranz

Mass is a devasting triumph. Grief and pain have never been painted so accurately or empathically onscreen: Fran Kranz astounds in his debut as both writer and director, and the intimate cast of four are prodigious. I am itching at the chance to study this film, it’s script and it’s performances. Mass was my most anticipated film of the season after being a long time fan of Kranz’ acting, so to see this, presented by him, at it’s UK premiere was very special.

FOUR.

Another Round

Dir. Thomas Vinterberg

Vinterberg’s exploration into the human relationship with alcohol is fascinating, inspiring, uplifting and unsettling. Mads Mikkelsen leads an enigmatic small cast, and you will be hard pressed to find a better closing scene in a film that evokes so many emotions in one.

THREE.

The Worst Person in the World

Dir. Joachim Trier

Where to even begin with this? Joachim Trier has crafted a stunning picture of the messiness and wonderful-ness of life; and Renate Reinsve‘s performance at its centre is a dream. It looks at the world with wonder from a pessimistic pedestal, creating an overwhelmingly relatable sense of character.

TWO.

The Souvenir: Part II

Dir. Joanna Hogg

The Souvenir: Part II is so rich that it makes the first film seem like simply a prologue to it. Characters are fleshed out in ways that make them feel like friends, and the narrative it follows of grief, recovery and freedom are realistic yet sensitive. Honor Swinton Byrne is a sensation at the centre of Joanna Hogg’s masterpiece that provides a deeply intimate comfort that is sure to provide a lasting impact on any audience. A deeply emotive and transcendent masterpiece.

ONE.

Promising Young Woman

Dir. Emerald Fennell

While Promising Young Woman is undoubtedly my film of the season, to experience it is not without it’s consequence. It’s been hard to process, and challenging to write about: how do I convey they way this film captures every essence of my female rage and daily fear without overexposing myself?

What I have always maintained as my greatest drawing force towards cinema is the power is holds to convey experience to the masses. Promising Young Woman is the greatest recent example of such.  Undoubtedly above all, it feels liberating. And while it’s few awards received at the start of the year felt like wins: it’s bigger than that.  Emerald Fennell has knocked it out of the park. Seemingly possessed by some greater power, she channels the universal female experience into one, electric piece of filmmaking, and leaves no survivors.

It is a masterpiece, that I hope’s importance will only become more evident with time.


2021 brought us some truly fantastic films. May 2022 bless up with another exceptional year of film.

Complete ranking of all 2021 releases watched on my Letterboxd.

Find me on Twitter, Instagram & Letterboxd

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