Following on from our reviews of the worst films of the year, we move on to Part 2 of our year end review of 2021. It’s been great to see cinema bounce back after a challenging period in many respects and I’m glad to say that here at UpLateAtNightAgain we saw 120 new movies in total – some at home, but most in cinemas where they belong. As always, we’ve compiled our list of the year’s best films, starting with our favourites from 20-11 – let us know what you think!
If you’d like to read our full reviews of any of these films, clicking on the titles will take you to them,
The best film to feature Benedict Cumberbatch this year (albeit not best performance – we’ll give ‘The Power of the Dog‘ that accolade!) is this fact based Cold War set drama about the relationship between a British spy and a Russian secret agent. A fascinating story, well told, with two brilliant lead performances from Cumberbatch and Merab Ninidze.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-courier-2021
Tom McCarthy’s follow up to ‘Spotlight’ (give or take a kid’s film that wasn’t released in the UK) is a different kind of movie altogether, a genre bending drama that follows an American man who travels to France where his daughter is incarcerated, aiming to prove her innocence and get her released. What appears to be a straightforward thriller has a lot more depth and makes the most of its Marseille setting to tell a really gripping story that keeps you on your toes throughout.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/stillwater-2021
Paolo Sorrentino’s most personal film to date tells the story, loosely based on his childhood, of a boy growing up in Naples against the backdrop of Diego Maradona joining his football team. It’s a coming of age story with a tragic heart and it’s very well told, with Sorrentino dialling back his trademark stylistic flourishes to let the emotion of the story shine through.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-hand-of-god
Sharp, stylish and very entertaining, ‘The White Tiger‘ is a rags to riches drama set in modern day India that uses satirical comedy to explore the class struggle in the country. Based on a Booker prize winning novel, Ramin Bahrani’s adaptation zips with energy and was one of the strongest movies at the start of the year.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-white-tiger
‘Sound of Metal‘ is a terrific drama that follows the experiences of Ruben (Riz Ahmed) a drummer who loses his hearing and is forced to confront the impact that has on him and his lifestyle. The movie brilliantly depicts what Ruben is going through, with Ahmed’s excellent performing covering a range of emotions from fear and despair, to ultimately hope for the future.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/sound-of-metal
‘Shiva Baby’ is a brilliantly observed coming of age comedy that takes place almost entirely at a shiva, centering on a college student who has just witnessed the man she is having an affair with walk in with his wife and newborn baby. It’s one of the shortest films of the year, proving that brevity need not be a barrier to quality (see also ‘Petite Maman‘) and like the best films of its type, it’s superbly observant of human behaviour and has some terrific writing to craft scenarios that pit characters against one another without feeling contrived.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/shiva-baby
It’s been a busy year for Ridley Scott with two films out in quick succession (the other being ‘House of Gucci‘) and this for me, was one of his best films in years. The movie tells the story of a medieval duel and the circumstances that led to it through the perspectives of the three main individuals allowed, providing a basis to explore how male attitudes lead into a story where one woman’s trauma is turned into a battle of male pride. Very well acted and thought provoking, I was a huge fan of ‘The Last Duel‘.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-last-duel
It wouldn’t be an end of year list for us without some science fiction and the little seen and underrated ‘Synchronic’ is a good place to start! The movie centres on a dangerous new drug that is causing strange incidents, which only become weirder when our protagonist (Anthony Mackie) starts to explore further. How this plays out is a fine example of smart and inventive science fiction, and it features possibly the most heartbreaking scene in any film I’ve seen this year.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/synchronic
Despite all the cinema closures etc over the past couple of years, the Oscars picked a really good bunch of movies earlier this year, including the wonderful ‘Minari‘. This sweet story of a family of Korean immigrants trying to start a new life in the American midwest is insanely charming and endearing.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/minari
Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar for his heartbreaking performance as an elderly man with dementia in ‘The Father‘, a brilliantly crafted and moving film directed by Florian Zeller (adapted from his own stage play). Like ‘Sound of Metal‘ it brilliantly uses the tools and techniques of cinema to place us in the mind of a man who is losing his, and whilst it is often upsetting and difficult to watch, it is a terrific movie.
Where to watch: https://www.justwatch.com/uk/movie/the-father