By John Hanlon
2021 was indeed a strange year at the multiplex. As many theaters started to reopen during the pandemic, adult-skewing films struggled to find an audience while a number of highly-anticipated films (A Quiet Place: Part 2 and Spider-Man: No Way Home, for instance) broke through showing that certain audiences were eager to return to theaters for big event films.
Since we're now at the beginning of 2022, I wanted to look back at the best films that 2021 had to offer.
With that in mind, here's my list of the 10 best films of 2021.
1.) Coda: Set in Gloucester Massachusetts, the drama tells the story of a teenager struggling with the responsibilities she faces at home and the dreams she wants to follow.
Emilia Jones stars as Ruby, a hearing child of deaf adults. As the only member of her immediate family (which includes her two parents and an older brother) who can hear, Ruby is often relied on by her parents. When her music teacher encourages her to pursue singing, Ruby has to choose between her allegiance to her family and her own hopes. The film-- which includes stellar supporting performances from Marlle Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant-- remarkably balances the unique personalities of the main characters and their while also telling an inspiring and remarkable story.
2.) Tick, Tick… Boom: Lin-Manuel Miranda makes his directorial film debut with this adaptation of the Jonathan Larson musical. Andrew Garfield stars as Larson, a struggling New York City artist striving to finish writing his musical opus.
The film captures the ebullience, anxiety and disappointment of Larson's creative spirit and presents a beautiful tribute to Larson, a man who tragically died before seeing his greatest work come to life.
3.) West Side Story: Director Steven Spielberg masterfully brings the beloved musical back to the big screen in this re-imagining of the story. Adapted directly from the stage play (not the 1961 film), the musical is a living, thrilling and sensational portrait of rival gangs facing off in New York City.
Starring Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler, the feature stands on its own with a truly tremendous supporting cast. Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for her performance in the 1961 film, does wonderful work in a role that was developed just for her but it's supporting actors Ariana DeBose and the magnetic Mike Faist who truly steal the show.
4.) Belfast: Kenneth Branagh wrote and directed this gentle drama about a boy growing up in Belfast in the 1960s. Inspired by his own upbringing, Branagh crafts a beautiful picture here about about youthful adolescence and the joyful love of a close-knit family.
Capturing the political turbulence of the time, the delicate family dynamics at play and the wonders of falling in love with stories told on the big screen, this remarkable and thoughtful drama is one of the year's most heartfelt.
5.) Power of the Dog: This Western offers a slow-burn story that's hard to full appreciate when the plot is underway. Like so many great films, it sneaks up on the viewer but ultimately rewards keen viewers who stick around to the end.
Adapted from the Thomas Savage novel, the film was written and directed by Jane Campion. With beautiful cinematography, the film tells the story of a volatile man's dealings with a family that enters his life. The film won't be for everyone but it's hard not to appreciate the craftsmanship and the work that went into the movie.
6.) Spider-Man: No Way Home: A fun thrill-ride, this third installment in the Tom Holland Spider-Man series celebrates the beloved web-slinger and his history on the big screen.
Reeling from the events of the previous film, the title character hopes to undo history with the help of Dr. Strange. What follows is a story that allows the character to truly understand his place in the universe. Featuring an eclectic supporting cast (no spoilers), the Marvel movie is packed with memorable action sequences, emotional payoffs and a story that really appreciates the legacy of the onscreen character.
7.) Mass: Two sets of parents sit down to have an emotionally-fraught conversation in this intimate and haunting drama. Written and directed by Fran Kranz, the parents come together after a terrible tragedy to discuss heartbreak, parental responsibility and ultimately forgiveness.
Jason Isaacs and Martha Plimpton star as one set of parents while Ann Dowd and Reed Birney co-star as the parents on the other side of the table. The drama isn't for everyone but it's an unforgettable journey for those who are willing to listen to the charged discussion amongst the four.
8.) Dune: An epic science fiction drama, this film adapts the first part of Frank Herbert's beloved novel. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, the story focuses on a noble family appointed to lead a resource-rich planet and bring peace to the war-ravaged land. Starring Timothee Chalamet, the feature follows the youngster as he begins to discover his own destiny.
With breathtaking effects and astounding production design, Villeneuve crafts a richly-unique world packed with meticulous details that showcase the brilliant team that brought this larger-than-life world to life.
9.) The Last Duel: Co-written by Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Nicole Holofcner, the drama tells the story of two former friends who ultimately face off in a battle to the death. Adapted from the book The Last Duel: A True Story of Trial by Combat in Medieval France, the story is told from the perspective of three different characters.
Director Ridley Scott masterfully sets the stage for the showdown by focusing in on the lives of the three leads played here by Matt Damon, Jodie Comer and Adam Driver. After an accusation of rape, the two leading men here face off against each other in the title duel. The story slowly pulls the layers back of the story, showing the back stories of the three characters and ultimately revealing what really happened.
10.) Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar: Co-writers Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig co-star as the title characters in this fresh and funny comedy about two middle-aged women who go on vacation together. The two actresses, who previously co-wrote the Oscar-nominated Bridesmaids together, craft wonderfullly-silly characters here and set them out on the adventure of a lifetime.
Co-starring Jamie Dornan as a love interest for the two women, the feature also features Wiig as an over-the-top villain seeking revenge against the beach community. Packed with silliness and sarcasm, the feature is also outrageously funny.
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