(This article is part of our Best of 2021 series.)
2021 was a great year for movies and in particular, movies that were simply good fun. Some honorable mentions that didn’t quite make my list, but fall into that category, would be The Mitchells vs the Machines, Nobody, Mortal Kombat, Space Sweepers, and Palm Springs. There were plenty of times throughout the year when I just needed to relax and escape. Those films really helped.
Like last year, I’ll be basing my choices on UK release dates. As we seem to be a bit behind the rest of the world my picks will differ from a few of the others on this site. So please read on for my top 5 films released in the UK in 2021.
I knew little to nothing about Limbo before I watched it. It turned out to be my biggest surprise of 2021. It’s a heart-rending portrait of refugees stranded in Scotland, but tinged with elements of comedy and laughter. It’s an extremely difficult job to try and blend comedy into a tale of hardship like this, but Limbo manages to do it. One minute I’m having a quiet chuckle at a group of asylum seekers taking cultural awareness classes, the next I’m close to tears as I watch one of them make an agonizing phone call home to his family. It deals with the difficult subject matter in a way that manages to be uplifting rather than depressing. The offbeat tone set by debuting director Ben Sharrock makes you really care for the characters and what their eventual fate will be.
At its heart, Shiva Baby is a black comedy. And it’s one that made me laugh. It also made me cringe, bite my nails and wish the earth would swallow me whole. The bulk of the film takes place in one location and almost entirely in real-time. This all helps add to the Lynchian levels of excruciating unease it manages to make you feel throughout. The main part of the story is set at a Jewish funeral service that lead character Danielle is attending with her parents. She undergoes intense scrutiny from her family and friends about her future goals. Add to that the fact that her sugar daddy and ex-girlfriend are also in attendance and you have the ingredients for all hell breaking loose. It’s a fascinating film that most people will be able to relate with to some degree.
Minari took a while for me to appreciate. It’s the type of film that ticks along but before you know it, it’s completely worked its way under your skin. The plot follows a Korean immigrant family in 80’s America and it’s a story about the importance of family. But also the problems that families can bring and why we need to overcome those hardships. The beautiful direction from Lee Isaac Chung really adds to the atmosphere. It all has a melancholic feel to it but at the same time, you feel like there is a ray of sunshine just waiting to burst through. Steven Yeun is terrific in the lead role and you really can’t help but root for his character, even as his ambitions get the better of him. It’s a superb film and one that stayed with me for weeks after I’d watched it.
The Father is not an easy film to watch. Especially if someone close to you has suffered from dementia. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t watch it. The way the story is told is ingenious, putting you right inside the head of the main character. Through disorientating time slips, you yourself are confused and almost irritated at times. But it’s clear that’s how the film wants you to feel. It wouldn’t work without Anthony Hopkins’ performance, which deserved all the plaudits it got. For someone with such a long and storied career as his, I think it might just be his greatest performance.
I’m usually cautious when it comes to books I love being brought to the big screen. I’ve been left disappointed more often than not in the past. Dune felt different. In the hands of Denis Villeneuve, I didn’t have any of the usual apprehension. And to no one’s surprise, he managed to successfully pull off a big-screen adaptation of one of the most beloved science fiction books of all time. He portrayed the complex desert world of Arrakis perfectly and really gave you a feel for the dry, dangerous planet that it is. The whole film was a treat for the eyes, with the colossal spectacle of the set pieces being absolutely awe-inspiring. It’s a treat for the ears too with Hans Zimmer at his best. Most importantly, being only the second film I’ve seen on the big screen in the past few years, it really reminded me why I love visiting the cinema.
What do you think of my favorite films from the past year? Anything you would add?