D. N. Williams’ Five Favorite Films of 2021

(This article is part of our Best of 2021 series.)

Best of 2021 — this is tough! I hate whittling down lists, and I’m already annoyed with the stuff I’ve had to drop.

Honourable mentions include Spielberg’s West Side Story remake which could’ve gone either way as an update on one of the best films ever made, but I think thoroughly justified its existence with some fantastic casting (Mike Faist!), keenly updated social commentary, a tear-jerking turn from Rita Moreno, and some imaginatively restaged numbers.

In the Heights was also a hell of a lot of fun, and gets bonus points for not being a remake. I’m one of the people that really, really dug House of Gucci, you’re either on that wavelength or you’re not and man, I had a blast with the goofy soap opera that it is. I also saw and enjoyed Paris 13th District, Another Round, The Father, Sound of Metal… but without further ado, the actual list (going off of UK release dates):


Caught this at the London film Festival — I love Mamoru Hosoda and have since first seeing The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, a film I didn’t realise I was heavily invested in while watching, until arriving at a key scene that had me on the edge of my seat. When Hosoda is on form, which is almost always, he manages to marry brilliantly realistic characters with incredibly fanciful worlds in a way that few others can. There’s no rivalry that I’m aware of, but I’m pitting Hosoda against Makoto Shinkai and Hosoda wins for me. The Boy and the Beast is one of my favourite anime, and I really enjoyed Mirai of the Future as well. With Belle, Hosoda takes what he was reaching for with Summer Wars, a fun but thin film, and enriches it on every level. The visuals are spectacular. The relationships are engaging. The score is memorable and effective. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking. A total must-see.


I’ve managed to avoid the David Lynch adaptation of Dune, so I went into this movie relatively cold. Knowing it’s a Star Wars influence, and a chosen one story with sandworms and spice that makes eyes glow… that’s about it. I was prepared to be won over, as a fan of Villeneuve generally, but hadn’t anticipated just how enthralled I’d be by everything about this film, and how desperate I would be to see sequels. I understood going in that there was some consternation around the approach Villeneuve had taken, what with Lynch and Jodorowsky being renowned weirdos who tapped into the zanier side of the novel. I don’t think Villeneuve’s aesthetic obstructs a bizarre take on the material, some of which I think he’s held back for the follow-up. People forget this dude didn’t just make crime thrillers and Arrival and Blade Runner 2049. He made Enemy. There’s a weirdo inside him waiting to get out, and there were definitely glimpses of that with the Harkonnens and fever dreams in Part One, not to mention the more sedate take on some of the weirder elements of the story allowed them to coexist quite naturally and not feel alienating to an uninitiated audience. I’ve not stopped listening to the Zimmer score. Part Two can’t come soon enough.

The Green Knight

I was looking forward to seeing this at the cinema, so was really disappointed when it was dumped on streaming here in the UK. It took me a while to get around to firing up Prime Video, but I really shouldn’t have hesitated because wow. David Lowery is another filmmaker I’m always interested in seeing the work of, and I love how he approaches the Fantasy genre here. It’s an episodic extended metaphor with sumptuous visuals and a phenomenal cast. I’ll be honest — the metaphorical aspect didn’t really land with me until the final moments of the film I was so swept up in the adventure, so I’m looking forward to watching it again with a different mindset.

Judas and the Black Messiah

This goes way back to the beginning of 2021, and counts as 2020 for some people — but not me! Of all the 2021 Oscar contenders, this was my favourite, only really rivalled by Sound of Metal. Daniel Kaluuya of course went on to get well-deserved acclaim, but it was Lakeith Stansfield that I thought gave the exemplary performance here. He absolutely sold the drama. I found it really refreshing that a film tackling a real-life activist wasn’t a typical cradle-to-grave biopic, or a generic hagiography, but instead used the structure of a Thriller to really engage the audience. A fantastic piece of work.


Last but not least a film that I had to sit with for a little while before fully appreciating just how good it is, because it makes a lot of challenging things look so effortless. Playground centres on child performances so good, you forget they’re performances. It gives the audience the perspective of those kids and generates a sensation of chaos that’s unique and deeply evocative of being young, and then on top of that it tells a simple but wonderful story about siblings. highly, highly recommended!

What are your thoughts on my five favorite films from the past year? Share them below!