Top 10 Best Movies of 2021

Well, it sure took me longer than I thought to compile and cherry-pick my selected list of Top 10 Best Movies of 2021. But here it is anyway and if you haven’t checked out my Top 10 Worst Movies of 2021, you can do so right here. In the meantime…

10. Dune

Best Movie of 2021 #10: Dune

After Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), Denis Villeneuve has again proved his filmmaking prowess in crafting absorbing cerebral sci-fi movies in Dune. The expensive reboot — reportedly cost US$165 million to make — benefits from Villeneuve’s engaging direction, where he made good use of the IMAX cameras to capture the epic grandeur of the movie. It also helps that he favours practical sets, props and even on-location shoots rather than relying heavily on CGI and green screen. The result is an immersive visual spectacle and kudos also go to Hans Zimmer for his eclectic score and a great ensemble cast led by Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. (Read my full review here)

9. Censor

Best Movie of 2021 #9: Censor

Prano Bailey-Bond’s feature-length debut in Censor is more than just a love letter to 1980s gory horror movies of the “video nasties” era. She also manages to slip some thought-provoking social commentaries, notably the blaming of movie censorship for the rise of violent crimes that remain relevant even today. At the heart of the movie is Niamh Algar’s solid lead performance as the film censor, who becomes too preoccupied with her job and her never-ending quest of locating her missing sister, Nina. Bailey-Bond has an eye for surrealistic visuals and she doesn’t shy away with some of the graphic and nasty moments in certain scenes.

8. Titane

Best Movie of 2021 #8: Titane

Winner of the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, Julia Ducournau’s follow-up to her equally acclaimed Raw (2016) sees the director combines David Cronenberg-like body horror, car fetishes (an obvious shade of 1996’s Crash) and even an unlikely metaphor about finding a family. The result is a wild and bumpy ride that goes from visceral and shocking to a surprisingly tender outcome. Newcomer Agathe Rousselle certainly goes all out in her breakthrough performance as Alexia, who has a strange fondness for cars and violence. The first 30 minutes is particularly a graphically vivid piece of filmmaking, where Ducournau takes us on a shocking journey filled with bizarre sex and squirm-inducing violence.

7. Pig

Best Movie of 2021 #7: Pig

I barely care about most movies that starred Nicolas Cage in his lead roles these days, thanks to his wildly inconsistent outputs. But Pig marks the rare time I’m impressed with Cage’s deeply melancholic performance as Rob, a once-renowned former chef-turned-hermit living off the grids in the Oregon wilderness. The plot echoes a certain similarity to John Wick, where instead of an owner’s beloved dog getting killed, Rob’s treasured truffle pig ends up being kidnapped by poachers. First-time feature director Michael Sarnoski could have gone the familiar search-and-kill-the-responsible-ones action territory. But he subverts that common expectation by offering us something else instead. Something that is more of a meditation on loss and grief reflecting Rob’s past and he does so in a hauntingly beautiful, yet quietly affecting manner. The pacing may have been deliberately slow but it’s absorbing enough to keep you watching what happens next. Both Sarnoski’s distinctly moody visual palette and Patrick Scola’s beautifully intimate cinematography deserve special mentions as well.

6. Prebet Sapu (Hail, Driver!)

Best Movie of 2021 #6: Prebet Sapu (Hail, Driver!)

Prebet Sapu may fail to make it to the shortlist in the Best International Feature Film category for the upcoming 94th Academy Awards. But Muzzamer Rahman’s feature-length debut deserves praise for his decision to shoot Prebet Sapu in black and white, which gives the movie a distinctly atmospheric feel and look. The monochrome cinematography also captured Kuala Lumpur from a different perspective, showcasing the otherwise vibrant city as a coldly detached concrete jungle devoid of hope and happiness. Amerul Affendi and Lim Mei Fen both deliver excellent performances as two “outsiders” trying to make a living in the big city. (Read my full review here)

5. West Side Story

Best Movie of 2021 #5: West Side Story

The 1961 version of Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story is one of the best movie musicals ever made. I always thought it was good enough that remaking it seems unnecessary. And yet, 60 years after the aforementioned Oscar-winning movie, Steven Spielberg manages to justify his West Side Story remake with well-choreographed song-and-dance sequences and dazzling camera work while the largely unknown cast, notably Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose excel in their respective roles as Maria and Anita. But most of all, Spielberg also improves the original by casting an all-Latinx cast to play the Sharks rather than relying on the brownface makeup seen in the 1961 version. (Read my full review here)

4. Anita

Best Movie of 2021 #4: Anita

An impressive solo feature from the first two Cold War co-director Longman Leung, Anita may tread familiar ground but this long-awaited Anita Mui biopic succeeds in combining solid nostalgia and emotional hooks, which detailed the late entertainer’s professional and personal life. The movie also took a huge gamble in casting model Louise Wong who has no acting background in such a pivotal title role. But she proves to be a real find not only in terms of physical resemblance but also surprises me with her unlikely acting chops. She successfully captured Mui’s spunky mannerism as well as dancing moves and singing voice. (Read my full review here)

3. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Best Movie of 2021 #3: Spider-Man: No Way Home

2021 was an erratic year for MCU, at least creatively speaking with the wobbly results of Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals. But Spider-Man: No Way Home exceeds my expectation with the movie’s amazing (no pun intended) mix of fan services, nostalgia factors and comic-book action with enough heart and soul over the course of its well-paced 2 hours and 30 minutes. It’s the kind of once-in-a-lifetime cinematic and communal experience that you (and more so if you are comic-book fans) end up cheering while watching with the audiences in the cinema. Spider-Man: No Way Home also marked a vast improvement for Jon Watts, whose previous outing in Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) turned out to be quite a letdown. (Read my full review here)

2. tick, tick… BOOM!

Best Movie of 2021 #2: tick, tick... BOOM!

This Netflix movie actually went under my radar until one of my friends told me it’s worth checking out. tick, tick… BOOM! marks the directorial debut of Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose extensive experience in musicals serve him well in this well-made biopic of the late Jonathan Larson (Andrew Garfield), who died too soon at the age of 35 due to aortic dissection. The movie is blessed with Miranda’s energetic and even poignant direction, coupled with one of Andrew Garfield’s greatest performances ever seen in his acting career. He’s certainly a force to be reckoned with and he sure can sing very well. I love that his award-worthy acting is both affecting and spontaneous. Steven Levenson’s thoughtful and sombre screenplay deserves equal praise too, covering every relevant theme of persistence and optimism to the harsh reality of AIDS at the time (the movie takes place from the late ’80s to the early ’90s) and what it’s like to live as a struggling artist looking for an elusive big break. tick, tick… BOOM! also pays a great tribute to both Broadway musicals and the artists who spent all their blood, sweat, and tears to make their efforts worthwhile.

1. Nightmare Alley

Best Movie of 2021 #1: Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro’s star-studded follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Shape of Water sees the director eschews monsters and supernatural elements in favour of a dark 1940s-set noir thriller. Based on William Lindsay Gresham’s 1946 novel of the same name, del Toro has the luxury of exploring some of the more disturbing themes that could not be shown in the 1947 black-and-white version due to the then-restrictive Hays Code era. The result is a perfectly brooding and pessimistic masterpiece that delves into the bleakest views of human nature, greed, sin, addiction and consequences. del Toro’s version may have been nearly 40 minutes longer than the original movie but his engrossing direction made this such a captivating slow burn. Nightmare Alley also features one of the best ensemble casts of 2021, notably top-notch performances from Bradley Cooper and Cate Blanchett.

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