2021 was a decidedly meh year at the movies for me, however there were still a solid number of titles that reinforced my love for this medium.
Before I jump into my list, which was previously discussed on this week’s podcast, I would like to note two things. First, I have yet to see Paul Thomas Anderson‘s Licorice Pizza, which I suspect would easily make its way onto this list. Second, as Kevin noted in his list, Noah Hutton‘s wonderful sci-fi film Lapsis did have a release in 2021 and it completely slipped my mind, however had I remembered it came out this year it would 100% be on here.
10. Judas and the Black Messiah (Shaka King)
Bolstered by its fantastic performances by Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, Shaka King’s tragically relevant film manages to deliver much more than a standard biopic.
9. Red Rocket (Sean Baker)
I was eagerly awaiting Sean Baker’s next project after both Tangerine and The Florida Project made it to my top 10 when they were released in their respective years so it comes as no surprise that Red Rocket would land here. In a breakout performance by Simon Rex and shot on glorious 16mm, this is an unconventional comedy that defies your expectations while delivering a heartfelt and emotionally complicated narrative.
8. The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson)
While not as character focused as something like Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson’s latest boasts an absolutely massive cast and his most elaborate production design yet. This is a charming tableau that I can’t wait to revisit.
7. The Mitchells vs. The Machines (Mike Rianda)
One of the funniest and most life affirming movies of the year dropping at a time when I think we all need a little bit more positivity in our lives. The fantastic animation doesn’t hurt either.
6. C’mon C’mon (Mike Mills)
Much like number seven on my list, C’mon C’mon is a feel good movie that reminds us about the important things in life. I’m notoriously critical of the skill of child actors but Woody Norman is incredible.
5. Dune (Denis Villeneuve)
I went into this not expecting much more than a slight visual spectacle but I’m glad I was wrong. Everything from the incredible production design to the world building to the score was so meticulously crafted. Most important for someone like me who doesn’t have much of an attachment to the Dune property, is that it didn’t get bogged down by the political aspects of the story, pacing things at an even keel, keeping audiences engaged and ready for more.
4. The Card Counter (Paul Schrader)
Moody and contemplative, Schrader’s latest, which stars Oscar Isaac as a former soldier turned card counter, proves to be a dark, entertaining, and tense road trip.
3. Zola (Janicza Bravo)
Adapted perfectly from a Twitter thread crafted by the title character and retelling a wild stranger than fiction story, Zola is an energetic ride from beginning to end that had me completely glued to the screen eager to discover what bonkers nightmare this woman would be encountering next.
2. Titane (Julia Ducournau)
Speaking of bonkers, Julia Ducournau’s much anticipated follow-up to Raw, another movie that made it to my top ten, manages to shock and surprise with its crazy narrative that continuously subverts expectations. A glorious blend of body horror and family drama, Titane isn’t an experience that will leave you anytime soon.
- The Hand of God (Paolo Sorrentino)
Sorrentino’s most personal film to date, this autobiography doesn’t rely on plot and simply allows the deep, well developed characters and beautiful Italian setting wash over viewers. Oscillating between hilarious and crushingly sad, this coming of age drama contains everything we’ve come to expect from a Sorrentino film with a personal touch that can only be achieved by someone who lived the story developing on screen.