2021 has been a strange year for cinema, with so many of the year’s releases being those that were originally scheduled for 2020, and some (including one of the films on this list) first debuting on the festival circuit way back in 2019. With exhibitors favouring long runs for blockbuster heavyweights they believe better attract audiences, it has been particularly tough for smaller and independent films to get the showcases they deserve. There was always going to be a lack of small budget dramas when No Time to Die was being shown one million times per day.
For this Movie List of the 10 Best Films of 2021, I wanted to focus on some of the smaller and more underappreciated movies that didn’t get a large marketing budget. Be warned: as this has been a tough and depressing year, and this list has been written by someone whose favourite artist is Phoebe Bridgers, the entries on this list might bring about deep sadness.
Follow the author of this article, Annice White, on Twitter @annicewhite_.
10. Two of Us
Starting off this list is a film centred on the somewhat homophobic trope that same sex relationships can never truly be happy.
Nina (Barbara Sukowa) and Madeleine (Martine Chevallier) have been living together in secret for years, just as Pam and Terry did in a favourite of 2020 A Secret Love. Their families think they are just ‘friends’ who live across the hall from each other. When Madeleine becomes ill and her family no longer wants Nina around, their relationship is tested.
Two of Us is a different take on the ‘family doesn’t know about us’ trope. Rather than being a classic “mum, dad, I’m gay”, the film explores serious inequality issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community. Nina is not permitted to look after her partner or even see her. The film shows intimacy between two women: the relationship is clearly not sexless, something which cinema seems to shy away from.
Two of Us hopefully shows how LGBTQ+ movies are broadening out the scope of issues they explore. Or, at least, we can dream.
9. The Mitchells vs. the Machines
The Mitchells vs the Machines works like a fun animated version of a ‘Black Mirror’ episode. It is an absolute joy of a film; perhaps the only joyful film on this list.
Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is an aspiring filmmaker ready to go off to college to get away from her overbearing and anti-technology father. While the family are on an uncomfortable road trip to California, a new AI robot Pal (think Siri) voiced by Olivia Colman, decides it has had enough of being told what to do and looks to take over the world. When Katie thinks she knows a way to stop the robots, the family decide to carry on their road trip and save all of humanity.
The Mitchells vs the Machines follows a typical ‘must save the world’ narrative but this is not necessarily something to be critical of. It is a wonderful film to be enjoyed by all the family, ingrained LGBTQ+ elements being welcomed inclusions.