It seems as if there has been no other year in which conversations about the long-term viability of the theatrical experience have been so well-and-truly silenced by our communal desire to see films on the big screen. In 2021, we returned in droves to escape into other worlds by the medium of cinema, setting records for attendance in the autumn months and enjoying everything our favourite art form has to offer just as it should be enjoyed: projected onto a massive screen and presented to us in rich surround sound.
In this Movie List of the 10 Best Films 2021 are some of the movies that most accurately articulated the experience of cinema-going and of cinema as an art form. These are the films that enhanced the medium, reminded us of why diversity of genre, performer, filmmaker and national film industries is vital to our overall consumption and analysis of this great art, and more: why these things are central to the continuation of all that we love about film.
Follow the author of this article, Joseph Wade, on Twitter @JoeTFM.
What could have been a thinly veiled centrist’s movie about disadvantaged people being able to escape poverty through sheer will power alone is instead an empathetic and powerful film that will hit hard for those who are or have been affected by similar issues.
Phyllida Lloyd’s Herself, starring and co-written by Clare Dunne, unflinchingly explores a victim of abuse as she tries to navigate her way through the poverty and isolation she has been forced into by her controlling and vicious ex. Protecting her children at all costs, even in the midst of shallow apologies from her former lover and restrictive social policies that obstruct her right to restarting anything close to an ordinary family life, Dunne’s Sandra is a fully formed multi-dimensional character of whom the other characters glow in the presence of, this powerful drama excelling through the honesty in which it tells of these way-too-universal truths of womanhood and single parent life.
Herself is the kind of cinema that feels necessary, the type of story we visit picture houses one hundred times per year in pursuit of experiencing just once. It is truth and art all in one, a phenomenal tool for empathy and wider understanding; an outstanding achievement.
9. No Time to Die
In a year in which the film industry leaned so heavily on the shoulders of blockbusters and franchises to keep exhibitors alive, the latest James Bond movie No Time to Die not only ushered in a new boom period for the box office through record-breaking numbers (especially in the UK where it is now the third highest-grossing film of all time) but it offered something more timeless than any of its contemporaries, twisting and turning from all-out action set piece extravaganza to golden era Hollywood romance and back again in the undisputed thrill-ride of 2021.
There is a monologue delivered by Daniel Craig in one particularly noteworthy scene from this, his fifth and final Bond instalment, that would not look out of place in Casablanca or Gone with the Wind. And, while the computer graphics were updated from Craig’s debut in Casino Royale and there were elements of the throwaway tack evident across the entire Bond franchise and blockbusters as a whole, No Time to Die will be best remembered for its portrayal of 007’s personal relationships, how its cathartic narrative tied the threads that had been pulled from film to film, and for its use of brutal hand-to-hand combat stunt work.
There was simply no other mainstream hit like No Time to Die in 2021, this Cary Joji Fukunaga movie excelling as one of the greatest examples of action filmmaking of the past 10 years and being one of the best examples out there of how to bring a sense of truth, genuine stakes, feeling and character progression to a raging mixing pot of violence and catchphrases, even with close to 60 years of expectation weighing it down.
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