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Top Ten Best Films of 2021

By Haydn Elmore | March 28, 2022

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

2021 has come to a close and while it may not be the best year overall, it was sure a great year for films. Partly because a lot of the films that came out in 2021 were films that were meant to come out in 2020 were pushed back due to the pandemic but also because of the amount of great and unique films and voices that came to the screen and wowed us in ways we as audience members couldn’t imagine. Thus, as a member of the Student Press, I want to mention ten films that left the biggest impression on me and make them my top ten best films of 2021.

#10: The Suicide Squad

The film follows a legit team of supervillains coming together to a giant monster on a tropical island.

After experiencing the horrific disaster that was the 2016 film “Suicide Squad”, James Gunn took the team of supervillains and redeemed them in a new light. He was able to bring his more violent and darkly humorous approach of ‘Super” and “Slither” by using a lot of blood and splatters in the action sequences. Shot with tons of long takes, fragment movements of wide shots to capture the scope of every location, and having the violence rooted in comic book lore with each character utilizing their set of powers and unique sense of style that feels like it’s ripped out from the comics. As well as bringing in the more raw and humanist side from his two “Guardians of the Galaxy'' films within the way he explores the characters. Understanding that all of them are flawed, broken, and have something that they need to overcome to benefit themselves and the world around them (like how the remaining members of the Suicide Squad using what gifts they have and using them to fight a giant starfish at the end). Making this film a truly entertaining and emotionally moving blockbuster.

#9: Titane

The film follows a woman (played by Agathe Rousselle) who was injured in a car accident when she was a kid and follows a series of events that leads her to crossdress as the son of a former firefighter who she helped with his ten-years long grief of his son.

If you want a film that’s equally disturbing and equally heartwarming, then “Titane” is the film for you. Julia Ducournau’s second feature film offers a consent vibe and tone throughout that gets you both under your skin with its graphic imagery and makes you emotionally moved by it at the same time. She was able to demonstrate this through multiple scenes in the first half with striking use of neon pink, yellows, and dark blues to give a stylized yet uncanny look and feel. As well as providing a lot of quick-cut editing to create a sense of anxiety and stress they’re feeling at any particular moment, in addition to having tons of close up and wide shots. At the same time, the film takes its time to allow the emotional moments to sink in to dive into the themes of loss, grief, and finding an identity that’s true to you. All of which is conveyed so beautifully through the screenplay that allows the relationship between the showgirl Alexia and the firefighter Vincent, and the excellent and deeply layered performances from Agathe Rousselle and Vincent Lindon that gives the film an extra layer of humanity in a very weird and bizarre film like this one. Give this one a watch if you can handle the film’s more graphic undertones.

#8: Annette

This operatic musical tells the story of a stand-up comedian (played by Adam Driver) and an opera singer (played by Marion Cotillard) who lived their lives as a perfect spotlight couple for the media to crush about.. But that all changes, they give birth to their first child and the special gift they have. Resulting in the biggest struggle within each other’s lives.

This is one of those films that people are split on in terms of reactions. Some love it, some hate it, and some think it’s okay. Personally, this is one of the most unique, outlandish, and emotionally gut-wrenching films of the year and by the far the best movie musical that came out in 2021. Director Leos Carax crafted this musical almost as a twisted fairytale-like type of story. He shows this by having a lot of sequences that feel very dreamlike in terms of grasping the opera musical tone the film was going for. When the film wants to focus on the musical numbers (the musical numbers being absolutely incredible and composed by “The Sparks”), the camera movement offers a lot of wide angles to get unique perspectives of the scenery around the characters. When the film needs to focus on the characters at hand, there are tons of close-ups to reflect the various emotions of the characters in any situation. This piece offers terrific performances from Adam Driver, Marion Cotillard, and Simon Helberg and fantastic musical numbers that are staged, lit and composed in a variety of unique ways (like one song can be fun and upbeat, another can be sad and more straightforward). This is a musical that’s worth checking out.

#7: Bo Burnham: Inside

An inside look at Bo Burnham during the pandemic as he tries to create a comedy special with multiple skits of different genres, only to resort to his mindset focused on what’s going on in the world.

Now technically, this is more of a variety special than a film, but considering that the special is feature-length (which is 60 mins or longer), it can still be considered a film. “Inside” is one of the most honest and humanly profound works of art that has come out in the last 20 years. Burnham takes his offensive yet creative brand of humor and deconstructs them in a way that’s more of a reflection of how a pandemic can ultimately destroy one's inner mind during this time of uncertainty. This isn’t meant to be an accurate look at how Bo himself was like during the pandemic, but rather being a reflection of how everyone, in general, was like during the pandemic. The special starts off cheerily and upbeat with its style of flashy lighting and editing to emphasize Bo “the performer” and his style of music is very tongue and cheek with songs like “Comedy”, “White Woman’s Instagram” and “How the World Works”. But then it gradually changes to something more depressing and darkly realistic with its use of more close-up and long exterior shots and minimalist lighting to emphasize Bo “the person” and how alone he really is as well as having songs like “Welcome to the Internet”, “That Funny Feeling” and “All Eyes on Me” to be more reflections of how the world really is. This film will make you laugh, will make you cry, and will make you think about how the world is not all great as we hoped, and we can thank Bo Burnham for one amazing experience.

#6: Dune

Based on the novel by Frank Herbert, the film follows a brilliant and gifted young man named Paul Atreides (played by Timothee Chalamet). He was born into a great destiny beyond his understanding and must travel through the world’s depths to protect the future of his family and his people. All the while, a malevolent force comes in and builds conflict with the planet’s overwhelming supply of resources that could change the fate of humanity forever.

We’re talking about a modern-day blockbuster epic that could rival the likes of “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” Denis Villeneuve took the impossible task of taking a huge condensed novel like “Dune” and made a film adaptation that shows honor and respect to the novel while at the same time making a film that can stand on its own two feet. Villeneuve made the world of Arrakis alive thanks to the incredible amount of wide shots and high angles to capture the scope and scale of the city. It also gave a lot of very rich and detailed ideas about the state of a person’s free will, the war within different factions, and the idea of a “chosen one” that is both easy to understand yet complex enough to let the audience grasp and think things over long after watching the film. Despite the fact, this is only part one of this story, the groundwork for Part two is incredible.

#5: Drive My Car

Based on the novel, the film follows a stage actor/director (played by Hidetoshi Nishijima) who has been dealing with the loss of his wife while directing a new play for a theater festival in Hiroshima. He later comes across an introverted woman (played by Toko Miura), who drives him around from and to places and thus allows himself to be more open with everything he has experienced within those rides.

Talk about a film that gets to your emotional side. “Drive My Car” is a heavy and emotional ride (no pun intended) that dives into how someone deals with personal issues like grief, loss, confusion within yourself, and the struggles of learning to accept what has happened and move on from it, even if it's hard. Despite being nearly three hours long, the film always grabs your attention with the right amount of pacing to let every character's expression, dramatic weight, and tender moment sink in to leave an impression on you once you’ve finished watching. Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi creates a cold yet intimate environment where the people within can express their authentic selves, be open about what they’re feeling, and how they express it. All of which is communicated through minimalist filmmaking that captures a variety of wide long takes and personal close-up shots to get exactly how the characters are feeling at any particular moment. Mixtures cold blues, greens, and browns to capture a sense of depression within the environment. But the film provides terrific performances from Hidetoshi Nishijima and Toko Miura that elevates their respective characters into real raw human beings with pain and guilt within themselves by communicating with each other and making their trauma into something beautiful. Making this a film that you will not leave with your eyes dried at the end.

#4: The Worst Person In The World

This film follows a young woman named Julie (played by Renate Reninsve) who is trying to figure out what her life really means through her love life, trying to find a stable career and other life struggles.

“The Worst Person In The World” is a beautiful depiction of the human condition based on trying to figure out who we are as people through our ups and downs, the relationships we have with other people, the various choices we make, and what we want to do with our lives. Director Joachim Trier, along with co-writer Eskil Vogt, explores the themes of identity, self-love, and living through the hard parts through exploration of Julie as a person as she interacts with the people she encounters and the environment to understand who she is. This makes her identifiable and relatable to those who are facing a similar path as Julie. Renate Renisve’s terrific performance as Julie in giving her role the right amount of joy, intimacy, and rawness it needed to make the character as real as possible. Trier’s style allows for wide shots and long medium takes to capture Julie’s insecurity of herself and finding the peace to say things will be okay. This is a film that will give you sentimental encouragement to not give up on life and continue to strive for what you’re looking for.

#3: The Matrix Resurrections

Set nearly 20 years after the end of the original “Matrix” trilogy, Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) has found himself replugged into the Matrix and not sure what his purpose in life is anymore. It’s only through his choice if he wants to follow the white rabbit and see if the system within the Matrix has changed since he was last unplugged. All the while trying to save the love of his love Trinity (played by Carrie-Anne Moss) from suffering the same fate as Neo.

This is another film that has critically divided a lot of film critics and fans alike. Some love it, some hate it. But for my personal taste, this is one of the best, most unique, and boldest blockbusters that have come out in the last 20 years. In the midst of the oversaturation of IP culture and nostalgia-focused sequels, Lana Wachowski came to the playground and showed everyone who’s boss. She exploits the over-saturating of nostalgia bait sequels and how worthless most of them are within the narrative of the film through very on the nose dialogue about how Warner Bros wants to make another Matrix in order to cash in on the nostalgia of what came before. They provide “poorly edited and shot” action sequences to demonstrate how most blockbusters and action films are poorly shot and edited nowadays. Yet the film is also a beautiful love story about two lost souls overcoming the traumatic experiences of their lives in order to find peace within each other through the story of Neo and Trinity that’s hard not to get invested in. It’s demonstrated through vibrant cinematography by John Toll and Daniele Massaccesi that keeps the striking look and feel of “The Matrix.” With its uses of bright yellows, faint blues, and gray to add contrast between the “real world” and the machine world. As well as having the writing going deep into the themes of loss, guilt, change, and the power of love that is stronger than anything else. It might not work for everyone, but if you’re willing to take the red pill once more and see what Lana has to say about a story she has created 20 years after the original 3 films, then you might be in for a treat.

#2: C’mon C’mon

The film follows a man named Johnny (played by Joaquin Phoenix) who spends his time traveling across different cities, interviewing kids about how they view life. He’s called in by his sister (played by Gaby Hoffman) to watch her son Jessie (played by Woody Norman) while she deals with her husband’s drug issues. Thus putting Johnny and Jessie in an uncle-nephew duo where they travel outside of the realm of LA to explore life’s greatest mysteries. .

It’s tough to put into words what makes “C’mon C’mon” so special and one of the most uniquely human films of the year. Mike Mills crafted a beautiful film that explores the concepts of how an adult can see the world from a child's point of view and the importance of a healthy adult figure for a child to look up to. The film has a black and white tint to capitalize on looking back at a distant memory and it used to match the tone and mood of the film. The writing and character work here is grounded, human, and relatable to make every character interaction feel as real and identifiable as possible. In addition to having great performances from Joaquin Phoenix, Woody Norman, and Gaby Hoffman (the former two of which share amazing chemistry with each other), “C’mon C’mon” is the type of film that makes you believe that there is still good in humanity if you put in the work to have a good relationship with others.

Before we reveal my number one pick of the year, I would like to highlight some honorable mentions. Some great films that didn’t quite make the list, but are still worth mentioning and worth checking out regardless. These honorable mentions include (not in any particular order):

“No Time to Die”, “CODA”, “Spencer'', “Tick Tick Boom” “Last Night in Soho”, “Pig”, “The Power of the Dog”, “Zack Snyder’s Justice League”, “The Mitchells VS The Machines”, “The Last Duel”, “Luca”, “The Green Knight”, “Summer of Soul”, “The Harder They Fall”, “West Side Story”, “Flee” “Malagaint”, “The French Dispatch” “Encanto”, and “Spider-Man: No Way Home”. With all that said, let's reveal my number one favorite film of the year.

#1: Licorice Pizza

Set in the 1970’s San Fernando Valley, the film follows 15-year-old Gary Valentine (played by Cooper Hoffman, son of the great late Philip Seymour Hoffman) and 25-year-old Alana Kanie (played by Alan Haim) as the two form an unlikely friendship. They discover the aspects that define who they are while being young and free.

Where to even begin to describe how incredible this film is?

Paul Thomas Anderson has found a way to revisit his style of his “Hard Eight’ through “Punch Drunk Love” era of films with having it be set in the San Fernando Valley. It also offers aspects like a soundtrack consisting of licensed music and having a lot of emphasis of vibrant yellows, whites, and reds to emphasize the 1970s beautifully. As well as having a lot of wide-open shots to create an immersive world that you want to live in and tons of moments where the characters can skin in a variety of emotions they may face at a single moment through the amount of close up shots and the track shots to allow the audience to follow them within a location. But at the same time, PTA incorporates his more mature thoughtfulness of his “There Will be Blood” through “Phantom Thread” era of films that are shown within the story and characters. Even with the age-gap relationship between Gary and Alana depicted, playing an interesting perspective on how they are within the film, wiith Gary acting older than 15 years old, and Alana acting younger than 25 years old. That aspect makes their individual characters and their friendship a lot more interesting, both Alana Haim and Cooper Hoffman provide such great performances within their respective roles to make their chemistry a lot more engaging than what it might have been.

In addition to having a great supporting cast (with the likes of Bradley Cooper and Benny Safdie being the highlights), providing a lot of interesting themes and ideas of growing up, and discovering who you are at a young age, “Licorice Pizza” is such a relaxing, wildly entertaining, and absolutely amazing work of art that is one that you don’t want to miss. Making it worthy to be considered to be the best film of 2021.

And that concludes this top ten best films of 2021, and if you haven’t seen any of the films mentioned here, then give them a shot and see if they’re worth your time or not.


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