Here we are then, at the sharp end of my Top Ten Films list for 2021! Continuing on from the previous article, which covered my picks for #10-#6, this time it’ll be my top five.
Once again, a quick explanation of how I put this together; both my objective analysis of the film and my subjective enjoyment are taken into account, in order to make a list personal to me. Films that both released and I saw in 2021 count, and I go by UK release date – so, for example, Minari would count. For my previous Top Tens covering 2017-2020, there are links at the bottom of this post. Right, with that all covered, let’s go!
#5 – Supernova
For my #9 pick, I talked about the quiet brilliance of Nomadland, and Supernova is another example of that, albeit accentuated even further by the on-screen chemistry brought by Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in the lead roles. They play Tusker and Sam respectively, longtime romantic partners who have been together for two decades. Tusker has been diagnosed with dementia, and we catch up with them as they’re travelling around England in an RV to meet family, see the sights, and make the most of their time together whilst they can. It’s a beautifully understated film from director Harry Macqueen, filled with emotive encounters, yet aptly split up by scenic montages to let itself (and the audience) breath. The experience is powered by a tour de force of acting from the two leads, who sell a believable connection from the start. Whether it’s the touching moments of everyday intimacy, or the soul-crushing reality of Tusker’s situation, you often only need to see their facial expressions to tell what is going through their heads – and wisely, the film realises this and doesn’t seek to overexplain with unnecessary dialogue. Similarly, I’d like to avoid overexplaining the plot, but just know this tragically ticking time bomb of a movie is filled with surprise, emotion, and honesty; I think it’s important to recognise very human stories such as Supernova, as when we strip it all away, what else is life but trying to make the most of the time we have?
#4 – A Quiet Place Part II
This was one of those films about to release when the pandemic first hit in 2020, and so it took roughly an extra year in order to see it… I’m glad to say, though, that it was a delight when that time finally came around! The sequel to masterful horror/thriller A Quiet Place (which placed #3 in my 2018 list), this once again had real-world couple Emily Blunt and John Kransinski returning: the former as returning lead Evelyn Abbott, and the latter as both director and on-screen husband Lee Abbott. We follow on directly from the end of the first film, as the Abbott family continues to fight for survival in a world filled with sound-sensitive aliens that have laid waste to the population. The film opens with a vivid flashback that gives valuable insight into first day of the invasion, where we’re introduced to family friend Emmett (Cillian Murphy). In present day, the family run into a disillusioned, beaten-down version of Emmett, and as various unforeseen developments both threaten and motivate this group of survivors, the film becomes a riveting split-perspective horror where younger characters Regant (Millicent Simmonds) and Marcus (Noah Jupe) start to steal the show. It would have been easy for the sequel to go too big and too loud, and then lose the suspense of its predecessor – but once again, the minimal dialogue and focus on ambient sound allows the film to build to striking crescendos. A Quiet Place Part II succeeds at pushing both along both the characters and our understanding of the wider world situation, without ever losing the tension and terror that the original nailed so well – in fact, I’d say Part II is the superior film overall, and left me very much ready for more…
#3 – Last Night in Soho
Shock, I’ve put the new Edgar Wright film in my Top Ten! Who could’ve seen that coming? From the moment I knew about Last Night in Soho, its setting, its premise, and its cast, I was counting down the days until I could see it. In present day, young aspiring fashion designer Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) moves to London to go to College, but her earnest enthusiasm is quickly blunted by the harsher (and lonelier) realities of life in the capital. Eloise moves out of halls and into a more private studio flat, upon which her dreams are overcome by visions of Soho in the 1960s – revolving around singer Sandie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and her relationship with the mysterious Jack (Matt Smith). At first these dreams are both inspiration and comfort for Eloise, but the more she has them, the more sinister they become, and then… Oh, I’m not going to tell you that much! As is the norm – but no less notable – by now, Edgar Wright pulls off some wonders of editing and choreography with an attention to detail unlike any other; in particular focused around a reflection motif, where Eloise sees herself depicted as Sandie in mirrors and other surfaces. Gradually, the more contemporary, clinical palette of present day starts to merge with the intoxicating reds and purples of the 1960s, and combined with a meticulously selected soundtrack, it’s truly a feast for all the senses. The reason my top two films are placed above Last Night in Soho is because they did something completely new to me thematically or in terms of structure – meanwhile, Wright’s film is, despite the richly layered nature of it all, a little more linear. However, with its incredible performances, visuals, sound, and choreography, it’s yet another home-run for Edgar Wright that demands to be watched!
#2 – tick, tick…BOOM!
One of the latest additions to my top ten list was the sensational tick, tick… BOOM!, the Netflix documentary musical about legendary theatre composer Jonathan Larson (who many know as the writer of rock musical Rent). Uniquely, the film is structured around one of Larson’s pre-Rent musicals: the one-man, autobiographical piece tick, tick, BOOM!, where Jonathan Larson told the story of his own life – therefore, making the 2021 film as accurate as Larson made his own musical, and adding an immediate level of earnestness that I find lacking in some true-story films. Andrew Garfield plays Jonathan Larson in both this musical performance and the events as Larson told them, and each nicely compliments the other to prevent the film getting too settled or predictable. Most of the film is based in 1990, where a near-30-year-old Larson is about to show his first musical Suburbia (which he worked on for eight years) to a workshop of Broadway producers. He’s seeing his life slowly ticking by; he’s poor, he lives in a relatively unsightly flat, and those close to him are in their own troubles. First-time director Lin-Manuel Miranda navigates this all with impressive proficiency, leaving you smiling one minute and in tears the next. The musical numbers are energetic and aptly memorable, full of lyrics regarding realising how much we have and not taking for granted how much we can still do. Meanwhile, Andrew Garfield wows with his portrayal of Larson, being equal parts confident and vulnerable – and his vocal performances are stunning (what can’t Garfield do!?). Tracks such as 30/90, Why, and Louder Than Words are just a few highlights, with Vanessa Hudgens one of many others who shine (just listen to Come to Your Senses!). I have no real complaints about this spellbinding film, and there was only one that prevented it being my pick for favourite of 2021…
#1 – Promising Young Woman
If you ever need an example of how films can be both captivating entertainment and crucial messages, Promising Young Woman is it. This smart, vibrant, and bold drama anchors itself on Cassandra (Carey Mulligan), a woman who goes to clubs and acts drunk to draw out – and call out – the supposed “nice guys” who subsequently target her. Soon though, you realise that the reasons for this habit are rooted in past experiences that severely damaged the life of both Cassandra and her close friend Nina. When Cassandra meets Ryan (Bo Burnham) and they start to form a sweet relationship of their own, it’s refreshingly difficult to tell where the film is going – but as the direction becomes clear, you start to realise all the clues that you missed. The intelligent editing and pacing is combined with a zestful, bubblegum aesthetic that is deployed brilliantly to either accentuate or subvert scenes, and Carey Mulligan embodies Cassandra with brilliance, switching believably from enchanting to serious and never fully revealing which (if either) is the façade. Every background, every colour choice, every song feels deliberate from director Emerald Fennell; to quote my review, it “practically drips subtext”. Promising Young Woman takes a subject that needs to be talked about more and puts it into an essential artistic spotlight, just like the masterpiece I, Tonya or standout 2021 Netflix show Maid; I bring these up because they both share the two factors of being from LuckyChap Entertainment and produced by Margot Robbie. It’s not easy to take such tough subject matter and create something so superbly stylish, whilst simultaneously refusing to shy away from the things that need to be shown and said. I don’t really know how much more I can say it… Watch this film!
There we have it, the end of another list. It always feels like so long until I’ll need to do another one, but then the time flies by! If you’d like to see any of my lists for previous years, there are links below:
Thanks for reading – have an amazing day!