2021 was the first mostly full year of movies returning to theaters since 2019. This meant there was a huge load of blockbusters shoved out at the same time, particularly in October. Some films shifted dates, others went to streaming, and some went to both theaters and streaming at the same time. Now that the year is over, it’s once more time for the obligatory top 10 movies of the year. So here we go.
Director Julia Ducournau delivered fascinating body horror in 2016’s Raw and she increases that wild nature with Titane. It’s a surreal picture in which Alexia, a damaged woman, kills people and has sex with cars. When she finds herself on the lam, she hides her gender and pretends to be the missing son of a depressed firefighter. Her plot to hide becomes all the more complicated when she discovers she is pregnant. And, yes, she’s pregnant from her sexual interactions with cars. So, yeah, this is a very weird film but it does have its heart firmly in place. Alexia is reluctant to accept the love of the firefighter but the desire to find acceptance and comfort soon outweighs distrust. It’s a grotesque picture with plenty of body horror involving blood, guts, cartilage, and oil but also incredibly emotional and introspective.
9. The Mitchells vs The Machines
Sony Animation delivers a fast-paced yet meaningful animated adventure that is perfectly absurd and wildly creative. The film starts off as a road trip movie where the teenager Abbey is off to film school while her dad tries to connect with his daughter one last time. At the same time, humanity comes under attack by evil robots and the Mitchells have to save humanity. Color surprised that the best animated film of the year is Sony’s frenetic slapstick adventure, even though films like Encanto and Raya were surprisingly great animated movies this year as well. This film is just bursting with so many creative uses of animation amid a robust script of fast-paced wit. The movie is so damn good that even though it was pushed onto Netflix after being delayed, it soon had a theatrical and home video release, something you just don’t see from most Netflix features.
8. The Suicide Squad
Director James Gunn brings his clever wit to the DC movie universe and it’s all the better for it. His take on the anti-hero ensemble of villains forced into covert missions is an uproarious action feast. Even though the film boasts a heavy cast and a climax that involves fighting a giant monster, this is a surprisingly focused narrative of fighting back against the status quo, condemning imperialism, and overcoming your shortcoming more by choice than orders. It’s also wicked funny and over-the-top in its brutal violence.
Director Paul Verhoven hasn’t lost his touch. Benedetta is based on the true story of a 17th-century nun who had a secret lesbian romance. She experiences religious visions and convinces her convent that she is a vessel of God’s word. This film is just wild, brimming with both erotic moments of passion and surreal contemplations on faith. It’s a boldly questioning picture that features such outlandish scenes as Benedetta suckling from the Virgin Mary and making out with Jesus in a dream. It’s a fittingly unflinching film considering it’s based on the book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy. Benedetta is a deep questioning not just of faith and sexuality but power structures, zealotry, and greed.
6. Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar
This is without question one of the funniest films of the year. Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo write and star in this ridiculous farce of two obnoxious women who go on vacation. The two unwittingly become involved in an evil scheme to unleash lethal mosquitos on Florida. It’d take too long to go into the details of what goes down, so I’ll just say that the film involves an albino mastermind, a submarine fit for a James Bond villain, an adorable kidnapped kid, human cannons, water spirits, culottes, and a song directed towards seagulls. It’s an incredibly absurd picture that I could not stop laughing at.
Kristen Stewart delivers one of the best performances of the year for her portrayal of Princess Diana. She plays the royal icon during the Christmas gathering of 1991, not long after her husband of Prince Charles cheats on her. This isn’t a stuffy historical drama but rather a psychological horror. Diana finds herself struggling to keep her mind together amid a controlling royal family and hounding public that scrutinizes her every action. It’s a very uneasy film that contradicts tradition and fame, where people are treated as currency. It’s such a tense movie that the climax of Diana getting away to order Kentucky Fried Chicken feels so very deserved.
4. The Green Knight
David Lowery’s adaptation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a dark, moody, and surreal fantasy that I can’t stop thinking about. Dev Patel plays Sir Gawain on his quest to seek out the Green Knight who will decapitate him. His adventure is one of ghosts and giants as he struggles to find acceptance in death. It’s a trippy medieval contemplation on legacy and destiny with amazing ambiance and violence. Also, it takes place on Christmas and has a scene where Sir Gawain says “Never forget this Christmas Day” right before he decapitates the Green Knight. So, yes, this is a Christmas movie!
Director Denis Villeneuve is the only director I’d ever trust to handle adapting Frank Hebert’s dense novel of a sci-fi epic. He did not disappoint at all. Dune is everything I want out of science fiction. It’s a perfectly bleak and atmospheric adventure of prophecy, politics, and colonialism critique that nails the appeal of the book. The all-star cast delivers fantastic performances all around, but Rebecca Ferguson certainly is a highlight for her unflinching portrayal of Lady Jessica. The special effects are astounding for the fusion of the practical and the digital. They also complement much of the engrossing world-building. Though the film is only the first half of the book, Part 2 has already been approved by Warner Bros and is well on its way into production. I can’t wait for Part 2.
In a year where big and beautiful musicals made a major comeback with films like In The Heights and West Side Story, it’s criminal that this rock opera was overlooked. Adam Driver plays Henry, a comedian who is bound for the death of his career. Unwilling to accept being shoved out of the spotlight, he views his singing daughter as a literal puppet to keep him famous. The film is loaded with somber and passionate songs supplied by the talented Sparks brothers, who amazing poetry into the lyrics. Director Leos Carax has astounding staging for this musical drama, plump with pathos and exuding existential unease. It’s such an unforgettable experience.
Nicolas Cage once more reminds everyone that he’s more than just that extreme actor you see in B-movies. He plays Rob, a truffle hunter of Oregon who lives in solitude with his pig. One night, he is beaten up and has his pig stolen, leading him on a quest to retrieve his beloved pet. I know what you’re thinking, this sounds like yet another John Wick clone, but it is far from that kinda film. Rob’s quest for his pig is not a violent one, at least in terms of how he deals with people. He proceeds with this intimidating calmness as he tries to deal with grief. One of the most vicious moments in the film is when he eviscerates this yuppie restaurant owner with a verbal dissection of his phoniness. It’s a firm reminder that Nicolas Cage is a fantastic actor and also highlights the start of a great career for first-time director Michael Sarnoski.