What a year for cinema to come back from the brink. The world may still feel like it’s precariously balanced but praise be to your chosen God, because from April 2021 (in the UK at least) the unmatched magic of film on the big screen has returned.
It was an emotional moment, that first time back there in the dark, eyes locked on the screen, and cinema provided such a varied smorgasbord of filmic delights to gorge ourselves on it was almost like we’d never been away. Almost.
2021 has been a bumper year for all kinds of stories on the big screen. Distinctively-voiced auteurs have released their latest deranged experiments and profoundly moving pieces of art; curious documentarians have told us what we never knew about the things and the people we are passionate about; and a pack of show-stopping musicals about love and being yourself gave film fans their soundtracks to some of life’s normality returning.
2021 was no slouch on the blockbuster front either, with big-budget projects queuing for release like bank holiday traffic and studios having to adjust their profit expectations in a still uncertain world. Daniel Craig took one last mission as James Bond in No Time to Die; Marvel had to deliver films that not only followed on the slam-dunk of Avengers: Endgame but also matched their ambitious Disney+ series that had tided fans over during lockdown; DC was hard at work pleasing fans with The Suicide Squad and Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and Godzilla well and truly versed Kong. If you were lucky, you watched him do it in IMAX.
Without further ado, here are my 10 Best Films Released in the UK in 2021 – those that affected me on the most primal level at the time and those that have stayed with me ever since.
Follow the author of this article, Sam Sewell-Peterson, on Twitter @SSPThinksFilm.
10. Godzilla vs Kong
Were there many, many much deeper films released in 2021? Absolutely. Were there smarter, more polished and epic examples of blockbuster filmmaking over the past 12 months? That’s also a yes. But I still remember the feeling of indescribable joy I felt after being starved of big screen spectacle for months, of being back in front of an IMAX screen surrounded by excitable children who loved dinosaurs and monkeys (and plenty of adults who also still loved dinosaurs and monkeys), especially when they’re 300 feet tall and beating the crap out of each other on top of an aircraft carrier. That was the powerful allure of Godzilla vs Kong.
The latest, biggest and possibly final instalment of the Monsterverse from Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures saw Godzilla go full alpha predator and take on Kong, while human scientists used the gigantic gorilla’s natural homing instinct to guide them to the hollow Earth, the location from which the rampaging Titans first emerged.
Like all the movies in this series, humanity quickly gets lost in all the chaos and you’d struggle to claim any of them had more than one identifiable personality trait. And yet, this delivered exactly what kaiju movie fans wanted; unparalleled spectacle, massively-scaled destruction and Kong resetting his dislocated shoulder against a skyscraper.
Recommended for you: Shōwa Era Godzilla Movies Ranked
9. West Side Story
Steven Spielberg just had to present us with something that was different, but he went one better by in many ways improving on the original film version of the Bernstein/Sondheim musical. It might be set in the 50s, but “West Side Story” is a tale for our times and this smart new adaptation has only increased its impact. It’s also the last film of the year to make me have to take a few moments to wipe away tears before leaving the cinema.
In case you’ve somehow missed hearing what West Side Story is about over its six decades of existence, it’s “Romeo and Juliet” but with street gang warfare instead of noble house rivalry. Spielberg remounts this story of forbidden love between Tony (Ansel Elgort) and Maria (Rachel Zegler) with verve and inventiveness, doubling down on the social commentary, modernising the character portrayals and staging the iconic musical numbers in fresh and high-impact ways.
West Side Story is one of the best-looking and sounding films of the year, good old-fashioned filmmaking craft bringing an old story to life for a new generation. Tony and Maria might be the story focus, but Ariana DeBose as Anita and Mike Faist as Riff completely steal the show, bringing it to a raw and emotionally honest place exactly when required.