Top Ten Films of the Year 2021

10. Spencer

I didn’t think I’d care about a Princess Diana movie, and I was right. What I cared about was a delicate but precise character study of a woman trapped in an oppressive personal situation in the most public way, with a mesmerising performance from its lead actor. Spencer is number ten in my films of the year list.

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9. West Side Story

My ninth favourite film of 2021 is a late entry to the list. West Side Story feels like a throw back to a previous era in cinema but in this year of multiple movie musicals it also moves things forward with its brilliant approach to the established traits of the medium. Spielberg again proves himself to be a master filmmaker in a classic genre he is working with for the first time.

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8. Petite Maman

At number eight in my movies of the year list is Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman. Sciamma has long examined different female relationships and here she focuses on the connection between a mother and a daughter in a manner that strips away all circumstance and expectation and puts them on a level. It is full of complex ideas expressed in the most unfussy way and is just beautiful.

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7. Cruella

A film that doesn’t appear to have been anywhere near anyone else’s top ten list (to be fair this doesn’t set it apart from most of my selection) but one I really enjoyed is Cruella. It is just such fun with great performances, an engaging story, witty scripting and the most amazing costume designs. It has better rewatch value than almost any other movie this year (see number 2) and who would have expected any of this from a 101 Dalmatians origins prequel. There’s hope for the Reese Witherspoon Tinker Bell film yet.

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6. The Map of Tiny Perfect Things

Number six is a film that barely got any coverage when it was released, let alone in the December round ups (again, this is not the last time this is going to be the case before I’ve finished). If you enjoy a good teen movie though you’ll love this. It’s also a time loop film and surprisingly this isn’t the last time I’ll be listing one these either (see number 2). More than anything else though, The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is just a delightful, funny, moving and charming hour and thirty eight minutes in front of the screen. It celebrates the simple pleasures of life and that is something we all needed this year.

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5. A Quiet Place Part II

A Quiet Place was my third favourite film of 2018 so there has been some slippage here with the sequel coming in three years later at number five. This is the only thing that has shown any sign of loosening up with this series though as the tension remains almost unbearably tight, even as the story opens up. Strictly’s Rose Ayling-Ellis has been celebrated this year for raising awareness of those in the deaf community, quite rightly, but these films do the same thing in the context of a big alien monster thriller and Part II, more than its predecessor, truly makes young deaf actor Millicent Simmonds the hero.

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4. H is for Happiness

This is a film about depression, family strife and bereavement and it is absolutely delightful. Author Barry Jonsberg and now screenwriter Lisa Hoppe and director John Sheedy have managed this by showing everything through the quirky lens of twelve year old Candice who’s infectious optimism reframes the tragedy and shows a way through for all of us. This is chiefly a kids film but it is a proper inspiration for everyone.

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3. Space Sweepers

I have a particular preference for science fiction films and in line with this, the next on my films of the year list is the South Korean movie Space Sweepers. Something does seems to have been lost in translation with that title but even though the sensibilities of this film do not feel at all Hollywood, this is the only aspect that doesn’t carry over for an audience used to a diet of American movies. Whatever you do don’t select the dubbed version over the subtitled as the former steals much of the character from the intrepid crew of the Spaceship Victory on their mission to protect a very individual child, and definitely don’t wait until they make an English language version. Watch it now in its wonderful original form. It’s exciting, it’s tense, it’s moving and I’d take it over Dune, brilliant as that was, every time. It’s the best science fiction movie of the year. Hell, it’s the third best movie of year, period.

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2. Palm Springs

No film from 2021 has the same rewatch value as Palm Springs, not even Cruella. It isn’t just the smart humour, the sight gags and brilliant performances that make it easy to come back to, it actually rewards repeat viewings as parts of it make more sense when you know what follows them. The central duo here are the others ones stuck in a loop, living the same day over and over again and as they find joy in this, so do we. I’ve seen the movie four times so far and I think it’s time to go for a fifth and sixth.

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1. Promising Young Woman

There was no trouble deciding on the top spot this year. I discussed writer/director Emerald Fennell in relation to Hitchcock on seeing this, only her first movie, but that’s not accurate and I’m not sure she compares to anyone. Phoebe Waller Bridge maybe, who she followed as the show runner on Killing Eve, but only in her audacious and unflinchingly honest approach to her material. There’s more than a touch of Simone de Beauvoir, Kathryn Bigelow and Madonna in there too. Essentially she is a brilliant new voice in filmmaking and this blistering, gut wrenching, funny and perfectly measured modern parable that authoritatively shouts it’s essential feminist message, is a staggering calling card. People will be measured against her in the future. I’ve not really discussed the film itself but see it and it will speak for itself.
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Promising Young Woman is available on all home viewing formats now, as are A Quiet Place Part II and Cruella. H is for Happiness in on iTunes with Spencer but the latter is currently only on premium rental. Palm Springs and The Map of Tiny Perfect Things are on Amazon Prime, Space Sweepers is on Netflix and West Side Story is in cinemas. Petite Maman has left theatres and is awaiting a home release.

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