I’ve watched around 160 movies so far this year and I don’t expect to see anything that’s going to surpass the shortlist I’ve made below of the best movies I’ve seen in 2021. Each comes highly recommended. Caution there may be some spoilers below, and please use the links to see longer reviews:
My top 5 films that I’ve seen this year are:
No Time to Die (2021) which is probably going to be most people’s choice of movie to watch with the family on Christmas Day, was a really solid instalment, a fitting final curtain call for Daniel Craig, and the first film I had seen for literally years at the cinema.
Director and co-writer Cary Joji Fukunaga (Maniac) is clearly one of the people who contributed to my enjoyment of this film compared to Sam Mendes’ previous offerings. The pacing was much better even during the unavoidable moments of exposition and there seemed to be less hang ups over moody lighting and rather just getting on with the job at hand – making an action film. The Aston Martin DB5 is the star of the first action sequence. All the gadgets, apart from the oil slick and the ejector seat, are utilized to full effect in our hero’s escape. There’s also the welcome return of the V8 Vantage from The Living Daylights.
All the fan-service aside, this story is about Bond finally getting over Vesper’s death, finding new love and trusting a woman. It’s taken five films for the character to arrive at his most vulnerable moment and it’s a breathtaking piece of cinema history.
The Wall (2017) was my pick of the month in May. It’s directed by Doug Liman (Edge of Tomorrow, The Bourne Identity) and written by a guy called Dwain Worrell whose only other work was writing on the rather lacklustre Iron Fist Netflix show, but there’s nothing lacklustre about this film which only has two stars if you don’t count a voiceover from Laith Nakli – John Cena (Bumblebee) who gets shot by a sniper quite early on in the film and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass, Avengers: Age of Ultron) who does all the heavy lifting in this film in much the same way as James Franco did in 127 Hours.
US soldier Isaac (Taylor-Johnson) is pinned down by an Afghan sniper, takes cover behind the titular wall and tries to figure a way out of his predicament. His buddy Matthews (Cena) is presumed KIA, his radio is broken, he has no water and has a nasty gunshot wound in his leg. Juba the crafty sniper (Nakli) talks to Isaac over his earpiece promising to kill him or wait while he bleeds to death. The writing is tight, Taylor-Johnson is brilliant and the director makes sure there are no unnecessary drops in the tension.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) has a weird aspect ratio but Snyder has transformed this movie into something really memorable for DC fans, and fans of long films (it’s around 4 hours long). Sure, there’s still some lame dialogue and ropey-looking computer graphics but compared to the original theatrical version it’s like comparing a gold bar to a pile of dog shit.
The extended running time accommodates much improved back stories for Cyborg, Flash and to some extent Aquaman (who I guess wasn’t covered as much because Snyder assumed we’d seen Aquaman the movie). I also liked the fact that a lot of Flash’s lame jokes in the original version were cut in favour of some more endearing scenes. Steppenwolf’s character was a lot more interesting, his new spiky rippling armour rocked, the fact that he’s just Darkseid’s approval-craving minion is a great inclusion and provided a more layered story to his motivations for wanting to trash Earth.
The Neon Demon (2016) was my favourite film in April because it was so different from anything I’d seen in a long time. Nicolas Winding Refn, perhaps better known for his work with Ryan Gosling, directed and co-wrote this story of Jesse (The Great‘s Elle Fanning) a young model making her name for herself in the vicious fashion world of Los Angeles.
The film has a dream-like quality to it with lots of use of colour, lighting effects and close-ups. Keanu Reeves and Madmen’s Christina Hendricks have very small parts in the film but it’s mostly centred on Jesse and the models, designers and photographers she encounters. Sucker Punch‘s Jena Malone plays a make-up artist who also does the makeup on dead bodies at a funeral home. The atmosphere throughout the film is unnerving, but it’s not until a model tries to lick the blood from Jesse’s cut hand that you realise this might be a horror movie.
The Night Eats the World (2018) certainly resonated with me after months of lockdowns and COVID restrictions. The film is about Sam (Anders Danielsen Lie) who wakes up in a locked room after a party to discover that while he has been asleep the world has suffered a zombie apocalypse. Trapped in a Parisian apartment building he then figures out how to stay alive using the resources available to him in the building.
In a way, it’s the type of ’empty world’ story I really enjoy, but with the addition of some spritely zombies favoured in modern films such as Train to Busan rather than the classic lumbering zombies of older films from the genre. It was my favourite film in June and I thoroughly recommend it, even if you’re not a big zombie fan.
Some movies that were great but didn’t quite make it into my top five for 2021 are: