2021 was one full of video games for me, personally. Working full-time for KeenGamer for a large majority of the year meant I didn’t have too much time to really focus on anything else, outside of perhaps attending Twitch streams or setting aside time to watch films with friends. In part because of the latter, as well as my annual March of the Movies block, I saw over 100 films during the course of 2021, which allows me to be able to comprise a list of the best of the best. Who doesn’t love a good Top 10?
For those who didn’t register the title of the post, this is a Top 10 of the films I viewed during the course of 2021, not films specifically released in 2021. Frankly, I don’t think I could even list ten films I watched that released in 2021… Nevertheless, there will be a (yeah, singular) film from 2021 on this list, so I suppose that counts for something.
I will also note that I’ve made individual posts or reviews for most of the films that will be listed here, so this will be pretty to-the-point. Should people want to know more, I’ll link to the place where more of my stupid words are available in a non-stupid fashion.
A film that has a lot of little mental twists and turns, with symbolism sprinkled all throughout the events that transpire. An incredibly meta story—it’s about the writer, Charlie Kaufman, in an exaggerated situation of his own life, adapted to film. Full of all that fans of his work can expect from him: cynical self-introspection, emotional poignancy, and brutal existentialism.
At times silly and perhaps too self-absorbed (ha), it’s an otherwise really engaging and enjoyable tale of finding oneself. Wasn’t super fond of the romance aspects revolving around the female friend, though I was throttled by his brother’s perspective on love. It’s confusingly double-edged in many ways. Maybe it’s better that way.
Should you want (slightly) more details on it, you can read my MotM post on it.
9. Pan’s Labyrinth
Oh, the expectations surrounding this film. I’ve read reviews aplenty of all types, whether incredibly positive or somewhat middling. The creature with the palms with eyeballs is known worldwide! Such a magical, dark fairy tale come to life! All the positive press and presence within the mainstream ensures the expectations would be sky-high. Generally, it dissuades me. In this case, it lived up to it… mostly.
Not a perfect film by any means, it did manage to impact me in a very positive manner. I adored the practical costume design of the creatures and the disconnect with the incredibly violent nature of the lead’s reality. Ironically enough, whether fantasy or reality, the darkness was ever-present, showing that no matter where one turns to, a happy ending is never guaranteed. Well, I suppose it depends on context.
To echo Karandi’s words, it would be best to know what you’re going into. As much as people like to hype up the magical aspects and the fairy-tale structure, there’s a lot more at stake in the real world—I didn’t even know this was set in a post-war Spain (and near the tail-end of WWII)! A complex, detailed world meticulously crafted to be a myth in the real world. I really dug it!
For a slightly more in-depth review, you can read my Letterboxd review.
8. The Fly
This seems to be more in the realm of cult classic. How I know of it was from word of mouth by one individual that I have a lot of respect for. He stated it was among his favorite films of all time and that it was Jeff Goldblum’s best performances. That information was buried in the back of my mind for several years; every time I would gaze upon the film’s page on IMDb or Letterboxd, I would think about that person. Eventually, I took the time to sit down with a friend and watch it.
Ended up liking it a lot! More than was expected, really.
Something to know about me is that I really enjoy tales of caution. The kinds of stories where individuals or a group try to go beyond what humanity reasonably could, only to have it completely backfire in the end in tragic fashion. Frankenstein is a novel I enjoy considerably, along with other Gothic tales of a similar time period. The Fly evoked a very similar tone that was paced fairly well and reasonably believable (again, the romance aspect felt kind of forced).
Also like Pan’s Labyrinth, the practical effects did the film a major service with how putrid they were. The subtle transformation process promised by the film’s title was as creepy as need-be, with the climax being effectively freaky/traumatic. And Goldblum is Goldblum. Very solid all around, with a “timeless” feeling swaying throughout its many tensile scenes.
For a slightly more in-depth review, you can read my Letterboxd review.
7. Where Is the Friend’s House
A story of sweetness, of doing the right thing for your peer. Buried under immense pressure from people around you, your society, and your culture to simply stick to self-serving attitudes and leave those less fortunate crawling behind. A child wishes to return a notebook to his classmate. It ends up being far more trouble than it’s worth.
For such a simple premise, I don’t wish to explore the deeper connotations too deeply here (but I will link my post by the end). What I will comment on is that, while slow, the film’s concrete strength is in its social commentary. Somewhat blunt at times, there’s a wishful spirit of optimism in youth to spread care to others that adults often ignore. A cute, charming story of simplicity that I intend to watch again one of these days.
For more info, you can read my MotM post.
6. Three Colors: Red
Some bias may reside in my adoration for this film, given I really like the color red. Indeed, I only like this film because there’s a lot of red in it. Color me shocked.
Jokes aside, similarly to the prior entry, there’s a considerable amount of sweetness to this film that’s drowned out by a lot of bad history amongst its main cast of characters. A sort of “Diamond in the rough” scenario of trying to find the simple pleasures of life in-between navigating life’s more hostile nature. Though this is a tad more murky in presentation.
Two people of incredibly different backgrounds find some solace in one another. Both have their baggage—one more than the other—though their relationships ends up being a bright spot in both of their bittersweet lives. Such is what makes it worth watching, as well as delving into the things that make them alive. An eventful watch that may or may not be strengthened by watching the prior Three Colors: Blue and Three Colors: White films.
For more info, you can read my MotM post.
5. Fight Club
Such an incredibly smug, tryhard poster for a film that can very easily be interpreted as a way to say, “Fuck everything that confines you to the pressures of society; viva la vida loca!” There seems to be a lot of controversy surrounding the impact of this film; unfortunately, it takes away from what’s a really riveting experience.
You’ve likely heard the saying: “The first rule of Fight Club? Don’t talk about Fight Club.” Oh, how it’s been parodied and twisted and adjusted to suit the purposes of other purposes. It was all I really knew about it going in, so I wasn’t sure what all to expect. The reality? It’s adrenaline-fueled, testosterone-driven violence and mayhem and extreme independence. It’s toxic and terrible, but it’s performed to masterful effect.
In terms of entertainment, it’s up there with the best of them. Logically speaking, it takes some risks. However, I absolutely adored the way it explored the idea of toxic masculinity, of trying to find the most dangerous form of self-fulfillment. The ending was a little… interesting, but all that came before felt appropriate given the circumstances. It’s an easy recommendation to anyone who likes to think.
You can see a stupid, nonsensical review for this on Letterboxd.
4. Night on Earth
What a really neat film! Simple as it sounds, it’s what I have to say about it. A collection of five stories in one whole package, displaying the different perspectives of people from around the world. Some obviously fare better than others, though all make up a pretty unforgettable package of intimate conversations between two people, isolated within a small span of time.
Some uplifting, some longing, some incredibly bizarre and over the top. I was very fond of the one featuring Giancarlo Esposito, but all have their merit in some form. More slice-of-life-ish than anything, but with some commentary on humanity and subtle prejudices between differing groups of people. Messy and sometimes chaotic, I was thrilled by how much I enjoyed this. Would love to watch it again someday.
A slightly more in-depth review can be found on my Letterboxd.
Here it is: the only film released in 2021 to grace this list. Congratulations! Villeneuve is a gem.
Also wished to note that this poster is either a) outdated, or b) fanmade. Whatever the case is, I highly prefer it over the actual poster, which is very bland. Unlike the film!
I do tend to enjoy a good sci-fi film. That is, any competent sci-fi film that looks as though it was made with care and attention to detail. Given this director also did Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, I was pretty confident he would make something spectacular. He did not let me down.
Dune is a slow, methodical approach to adapting a very expansive series of novels to the big screen. A near-impossible task for one film, there is due to be a sequel in a couple years, as evidenced by the “Part One” subtitle in this film’s official title. What this foundation has set is a wonderful jumping point into something really special.
One thing I will say as a downside is that there isn’t much “flavor” to this. It does the basics of what it can do provide an emotional hook for people to buy into, then provokes things more with suspenseful curiosity. Some have complained that this is as dull as the sand that permeates the settings within. While I don’t entirely agree, keep in mind that this isn’t one that grips you with intense theatrics right off the bat. It’s a long climb, but one I feel is worth it.
2. The Silence of the Lambs
Another one, like Fight Club, that’s been parodied and regurgitated to death since its release. It’s also considered legendary—it won Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Leading Actress, Best Director, and Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) at the Academy Awards a year after eligibility. Indeed, legendary.
I will gladly confirm that it deserves it.
Performances, writing, and tone are the strong suits with this. I was absorbed from the very first minute, but the moment Hopkins appeared onscreen—and he’s actually on it for very little—it was another level. He’s absolutely phenomenal. What an immensely intriguing, complex character he plays to incredible heights. Jodie Foster also does a tremendous job, pitting “good” versus “evil” in an incredibly gray world of crime.
Completely absorbing, from start to finish. So effortlessly it takes the content and makes it just realistic enough to be believable, but odd enough to be astounding. The performances alone make this worth the watch. It’s only fortunate that just about everything else is immensely strong.
Gentle. Serene. Heartfelt. Obtuse. Niche. Tender. Complicated. Columbus is all of these things and more.
The issue with trying to aptly explain something that means a lot to you is that it becomes an inner competition. How can I convey how well this work affected me in a positive way that can match the same energy as it did for me? Is it unreasonable to think this way? Quite likely. Still, it’s something that often stops me from going above and beyond in my written communication for intensely positive things.
I liked it a lot. Very good. Would recommend. Please watch if you can.
If you want something with more effort, you can read my review.
What were some films you watched in 2021 that you thought were amazingly stupendous? Have you seen any film from this list? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!
The ratings for all the films I’ve viewed can be found on my Letterboxd profile.
Thank you for your time. Have a great timezone.