Top 25 Films Of 2021

Hope everyone had a good Christmas and New Year!

I’m back once again with the annual rundown of my favourite films of the previous year, 2021. As always with these kind of lists, this is done to my own personal preference. I usually would have this list posted on New Years Day but this year I decided to leave it till a little bit later to catch up on films I missed out on earlier in the year due to obvious COVID restrictions, and in some cases having to self-isolate due to catching said COVID. There may be some notable absentees from this list that I may have seen last year during film festival runs, but they never got their cinematic or digital release in 2021 (e.g. Mass), and there will be notable additions on this list that may have been released in one country or another in 2020, but never got their UK/IRE release till 2021 (you’ll know what films when you scroll down the list). Also, unfortunately I did not get to see every single film released in 2021, as much as I wished to have seen some of them (Titane).

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If you are curious about any previous Top 25 Films of the Year lists, here’s the quick links to them below:

Top 25 Films of 2014

Top 25 Films of 2015

Top 25 Films of 2016

Top 25 Films of 2017

Top 25 Films of 2018

Top 25 Films of 2019

Top 25 Films of 2020

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So with those explanations to save any confusion out of the way, here are my Top 25 Films of 2021.

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25: Shiva Baby

Release Date: 11th June

Director: Emma Seligman

Starring: Rachel Sennott, Molly Gordon, Danny Deferrari, Polly Draper, Fred Melamed, Dianna Argon, Jackie Hoffman, Cilda Shaur, Glynis Bell, Sondra James, Deborah Offner, Vivien Landau and Ariel Eliaz

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Shiva Baby was a film I heard rave reviews about on social media during its film festival run during the course of the summer in 2020, but it would take until late spring last year for it to arrive on the MUBI streaming service in the UK/Ireland. The film marks the directorial feature debut of Emma Seligman, with the film also happening to be a feature adaptation of her short film of the same name that was made a few years earlier. The story focuses on Danielle, a young bisexual woman and college senior, who is attending a funeral service with her parents. While she’s quizzed by her mother on how to answer particular questions by relatives and members of the community before they enter the house, the shiva eventually starts to place Danielle into uncomfortable territory as not only does her ex-girlfriend Maya attend, but her current sugar daddy Max also appears. I believe it was on twitter that I read someone compared this film to Uncut Gems and, honestly, I can totally see where they’re coming from as we follow Danielle run the gauntlet as it were, with relatives and members of the community questioning her about her future prospects, and this is propelled into severe levels of anxiety as she’s in this restricted space with them, made worse with the appearances of her ex-girlfriend and current sugar daddy. Anxiety and stress aside, the script has a notable sense of witty humour and it places the audience into a scenario filled with awkward family dynamics that it feels completely relatable. The film is so well structured in its execution, with great direction by Emma Sligman, and as for Rachel Sennott’s performance, I thought she was excellent as Danielle, the duo have a terrific rhythm and it comes through completely in this film.

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SHIVA BABY is available on the MUBI streaming service, as well as across digital platforms (Amazon Prime/Apple TV+) and psychically on DVD and Blu-Ray.

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24: The Mauritanian

Release Date: 1st April

Director: Kevin Macdonald

Starring: Tahar Rahim, Jodie Foster, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zachary Levi, Saamer Usmani, Corey Johnson, Denis Menochet and David Fynn

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After directing a few feature documentaries for a few years, director Kevin Macdonald returned to helm the legal drama The Mauritanian, based on Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s 2015 memoir Guantanamo Diary. A few months after the 9/11 attacks, film focuses on how Mohamedou Ould Slahi was taken for questioning by Americans and was held for fourteen years without charge at Guantanamo Bay, and how he found allies in defense attorney Nancy Hollander, and her associate Teri Duncan, who battle the U.S Government in a fight for justice that tests their commitment to the law and their client. I happen to first watch The Mauritanian when it screened during Glasgow Film Festival last year and the story of Mohamedou Ould Slahi and how it was presented in this dramatic feature has stuck with me throughout the year so I had to mention it on my film of the year list. It may feature a less than solid performance from Benedict Cumberbatch, primarily due to the way the American accent is delivered (much better in The Power Of The Dog), I’m a sucker for true-story/legal dramas, and I thought this was a solid film from Kevin Macdonald, with some particularly good cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler. What makes the film work so well is Tahar Rahim’s performance as Mohamedou. Rahim is a fantastic actor that has been wowing audiences since A Prophet came out over a decade ago, and here, even though the film has the likes of Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch starring, it only works with his performance, and he brings a softness and seriousness that makes the film all the more compelling.

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THE MAURITANIAN is available for those with Amazon Prime, but you can also access across digital platforms (Apple TV+/Google Play/YouTube) and on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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23: The Green Knight

Release Date: 24th September

Director: David Lowery

Starring: Dev Patel, Alicia Vikander, Joel Edgerton, Sarita Choudhury, Sean Harris, Ralph Ineson, Barry Keoghan, Erin Kellyman and Kate Dickie

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There’s always a certain amount of hype around the film community when an A24 release is on the horizon, and David Lowery’s The Green Knight was no exception last year. With a lot of anticipation growing about the film, which was held back due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the rare occasion for me the film lived up to the hype. Based on the 14th century poem, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, we follow Gawain one Christmas at Camelot, where that evening he, his uncle King Arthur, and the rest of the knights at the Round Table, are interrupted by the mysterious Green Knight, who challenges any knight to strike a blow on him and, in return, they must travel to the Green Chapel to receive an equal blow in return the following year. Gawain steps up to the challenge and in doing so, he actions will lead him on course to contend with ghosts, thieves, and giants, as the journey to the Green Chapel will ultimately define his character. A24 are an interesting company that take shots with films that most studios wouldn’t take and have gained quite a following over the last decade. David Lowery completely went with a drastic shift here from his previous film (2018’s The Old Man & The Gun) and I found myself completely immersed in this take on Arthurian legend. There’s a simmering sense of dread as we follow Gawain on his journey to the Green Chapel, and that dread it heightened as he comes across thieves and ghosts during his travels. The film tackles some interesting themes on what it means to be a man trying to do the right thing, whilst also tackling themes of temptation and religion, and these are handled really well in Lowery’s screenplay. The cinematography from Andrew Drox Palermo is absolutely beautiful here, you can pause the film at any moment and that image can be used as wallpaper, the imagery is so striking in certain moments. Dev Patel is someone that some of us have literally watch grow as an actor, from his start in Skins to sky rocketing to international acclaim in Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. But in recent years he’s been starting to do some of his best work (in my opinion) and his performance as Gawain encapsulates that. It’s a film that had me completely engrossed and I was terrified that the ending wouldn’t land….but oh boy did it land.

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THE GREEN KNIGHT is available for those with Amazon Prime but you can also own it on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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22: Supernova

Release Date: 25th June

Director: Harry Macqueen

Starring: Colin Firth, Stanley Tucci, Pippa Haywood, Peter MacQueen, James Dreyfus, Ian Drysale and Sarah Woodward

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Originally watched at the BFI London Film Festival in 2020, Supernova didn’t get its proper cinematic release until the early summer of this year. The film focuses on partners Sam, a novelist, and Tusker, a pianist, who have been together for twenty years, are travelling across England in a campervan, visiting friends, family and old locations from their past that have personal significance to them. We come to learn that Tusker has dementia, having been diagnosed a few years prior, so the couple have put their jobs and future plans on hold as they take the trip to spend as much time together as possible, though we come to learn that their individual ideas on how their future together will look doesn’t match up. Supernova is a sombre affair from writer-director Harry Macqueen, who provides weighty material for his co-leads to work with, allowing certain scenes to move and breathe in the process, and Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci both deliver in this film, their rapport and chemistry together absolutely captivates your attention, providing restrained and tender performances that makes the films climatic final act be more emotionally effective than I was anticipating. There’s some great cinematography work here by Dick Pope and how he captures the English countryside, with my personal favourite being quiet moment shared between Tusker and Sam getting out of the camper van and looking out over the lake. If you haven’t watched Supernova yet I’d highly recommend it.

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SUPERNOVA is available across digital platforms (Apple TV+/Amazon Prime/Google Play/YouTube) and to buy on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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21: The Suicide Squad

Release Date: 30th July

Director: James Gunn

Starring: Idris Elba, Margot Robbie, John Cena, Joel Kinnaman, Sylvester Stallone, David Dastmalchian, Daniela Melchior, Jai Courtney, Michael Rooker, Peter Capaldi, Alice Braga and Viola Davis

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I have a confession to make…I find 2016’s Suicide Squad to be an absolute guilty pleasure. I absolutely detest the overkill of a soundtrack, particularly in the first half-hour and it gets irritating upon every rewatch, but damnit I always find myself glued to it whenever it appears on a TV channel. Luckily for James Gunn in terms of the critics, the only way was up for his follow-up adaptation and while it wasn’t as big of a box office success compared to the original (Suicide Squad: $746.8m worldwide, The Suicide Squad: $167.4m), it is comfortably the better film of the two. We meet Robert DeBois, aka Bloodsport, a mercenary who is spending time in Belle Reve prison after shooting Superman with a kryptonite bullet. Reluctantly he is pulled out from prison by Amanda Waller to lead Task Force X to enter the island of Corto Maltese, a once friendly ally to the United States whose current regime has been overthrown by a recent coup, to locate a scientific facility that houses Project Starfish, which now must be destroyed before the new dictators learn and exploit its military potential. From the opening sequence leading-up to the films title card, you already feel the creative freedom that James Gunn had in directing the film, and what follows is simply pure unfiltered, unapologetic comic book madness as he brings B-film level style of violence into a big studio budget film that is both creative and grotesque in equal measure. Visually he creates some wonderful scenes throughout the film, be it how certain villains view the world around them (e.g. Harley Quinn and Polka-Dot Man), to the wildly climatic final act, and Henry Braham’s cinematography captures these images beautifully. While the film has familiar faces returning in the likes of Harley Quinn, Rick Flag, and Amanda Waller, it’s the new characters that really get to shine here, from Daniela Melchoir’s performance as Cleo Cazo/Ratcatcher 2, to Sylvester Stallone voice acting my sweet murder boy Nanaue/King Shark, and John Cena’s portrayal of Christopher Smith/Peacemaker definitely plays into his strengths, being in on the joke of a too-serious, douche ‘patriot’, making me very interested to see what his spinoff series will be like.

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THE SUICIDE SQUAD is available across digital platforms (Apple TV+/ Amazon Prime/ Google Play/ YouTube) and also on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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20: The Harder They Fall

Top 25 Films of 2021 - The Harder They Fall

Release Date: 3rd November

Director: Jeymes Samuel

Starring: Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Zazie Beetz, Regina King, Delroy Lindo, LaKeith Stanfield, RJ Cyler, Danielle Deadwyler, Edi Gathegi and Deon Cole

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The Harder They Fall opened the BFI London Film Festival 2021 and I attended the screening at the nearest venue I could, Queen’s Film Theatre in Belfast, and honestly I’m glad I did as the film was one of the most fun experiences I had in the cinema last year with Jemyes Samuel bringing us a western oozing cool, style and an ensemble that are clearly having fun with the material. We follow outlaw Nat Love who comes to learn that his enemy, Rufus Buck, is being released from what was believed to be a life-long term in prison, and he decides to get members of his gang together to track down Rufus and seek revenge on what he done to him long ago. The film marks Samuel’s directorial feature debut, as well as being the co-writer, producer, and compose the music, he feel him wear every influence and love for the genre on his sleeve from how he introduces characters (e.g. Stagecoach Mary) to how he remixes certain songs to match the rhythm of what’s occurring on screen (e.g. the use of Barrington Levy’s ‘Here I Come’). Looking at the list of names in the ensemble, there’s a lot of talent and screen, and with the films two hour runtime Samuel manages to give each of them their own moment to shine and that’s some achievement. Idris Elba provides an ever-commanding presence as the primary villain Rufus Buck, Jonathan Majors gives a charismatic performance as Nat Love, LaKeith Stanfield gives a compelling performance as Cherokee Bill, Regina King absolutely owns the screen whenever she appears as Buck’s right-hand “Treacherous” Trudy Smith, and Zazie Beetz gives a really good performance as Stagecoach Mary. I’m very curious to see what project Samuel will be working on next because this is such a stylish, confidently directed film.

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THE HARDER THEY FALL is available to watch on Netflix.

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19: 7 Prisoners

Release Date: 11th November

Director: Alexandre Moratto

Starring: Christian Malheiros, Rodrigo Santoro, Bruno Rocha, Vitor Julian, Lucas Oranmian, Cecília Homem and Dirce Thomaz

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7 Prisoners is a Brazilian drama that wasn’t initially on my radar until I seen film critic Carlos Aguilar mention it a few times during the last few months of the year and seen that it was on Netflix and had it on my watchlist to see before making this list. Directed by Alexandre Moratto, who co-wrote the screenplay alongside Thayná Mantesso, the film focuses on Mateus, an eighteen-year-old who leaves the countryside after accepting a job to work at a junkyard in Sao Paulo in order to provide for his family. As he and a few other young men work for a few weeks under their boss Luca, they soon come to realise that they are trapped in the dangerous world of human trafficking, with Matheus being forced to decide between working for the man who imprisoned him, or risk his and his family’s future. 7 Prisoners is a drama that throws the audiences into the characters precarious position and asks us what would we do? After all we can side with a character eyeing up taking on a job in another city that can not only provide a better life for themselves, but for their family. While Mateus and his new work colleagues admire the skyscrapers of Sao Paulo, they soon find themselves at their workspace, a junkyard that appears more like a prison with its barbed wire lines across the top of the walls and big metal gate at the only entrance way….because for them it unfortunately becomes their prison. What engrossed me throughout the film is the character of Mateus. He clearly has some smarts, and he assesses every situation and potential escape route out of the junkyard, and it’s the dynamic between him and his boss/captor Luca, as the two circle around each other, with Mateus trying to ease his way into Luca’s graces and believing that he’s playing the long game to get himself and his colleagues out of their bind, while Luca has the power to manipulate the men verbally and we come to learn how much power he holds outside of the junkyard. With the short runtime, just about an hour and a half, Moratto has directed a very compact, enthralling drama that absolutely has to be seen, particularly for the compelling performances from Christian Malheiros and Rodrigo Santoro especially.

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7 PRISONERS is available to watch on Netflix.

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18: Palm Springs

Release Date: 9th April

Director: Max Barbakow

Starring: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, J.K. Simmons, Meredith Hagner, Camila Mendes, Tyler Hoechlin, Chris Pang, Peter Gallagher, Jacqueline Obradors, June Squibb, Jena Friedman, Tongayi Chirisa, Dale Dickey and Conner O’Malley

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Palm Springs had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020. Who would’ve thought it would take fifteen months to have it finally reach these shores for the viewing public on Amazon Prime. While stuck at a wedding in Palm Springs, Nyles meets Sarah, the maid of honour and family black sheep. After he rescues her from a disastrous toast, Sarah becomes drawn to Nyles and his offbeat nihilism. But when their impromptu tryst is thwarted by a surreal interruption, Sarah must join Nyles in embracing the idea that nothing really matters, and they begin wreaking spirited havoc on the wedding celebration. I absolutely have a soft spot for this film and it is definitely a contender for the film I’ve rewatched the most from this list. It’s a time loop/groundhog day concept film, I am a sucker for them. What made this work so well for me was the tremendous chemistry between Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti. While the film is obviously humorous, and there’s a lot of comedic moments that worked for me, it’s the tenderness in the serious moments that truly excelled the film for me. While Samberg and  Milioti are excellent, the supporting cast are also good in their roles, particularly J.K Simmons.

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PALM SPRINGS is available on Amazon Prime.

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17: Drive My Car

Release Date: 19th November

Director: Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Starring: Hidetoshi Nishijima, Tōko Miura, Masaki Okada, Reika Kirishima, Park Yoo-rim, Satoko Abe, Jim Dae-yeon and Soina Yuan

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Drive My Car is a Ryusuke Hamaguchi film that is based on Haruki Murakimi’s short story. Theatre director Yusuke and his TV screenwriter wife Oto have a special bond as creative partners, sharing a life punctuated by private rituals. This is shattered by a sudden incident and the appearance of Yusuke’s new chauffeur Misaki and Koji, an actor from Oto’s TV series. As the film gradually peels back the unspoken layers of their marriage, parallels form with Yusuke’s ongoing production of Chekhov’s ‘Uncle Vanya’. Who would’ve thought a three-hour film would be utterly satisfying throughout its entire runtime as well as in its conclusion? The film is so understated that places you in a trance in the first act and will catch you completely off guard that when the title card comes up, we’re already about thirty-forty minutes into the film. This film is an absolute slow-burn, tackling the subject of grief, and while they’re a lot of quiet moments through the film, we’re soothed during these moments with Eiko Ishibashi’s score, and then when Yusuke and Misaki begin to open up to each other, there’s not a single moment wasted between them. The cinematography from Hidetoshi Shinomiya is absolutely stunning too. I look forward to revisiting Drive My Car in the future.

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DRIVE MY CAR is available to rent on the BFI Player.

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16: The Father

Top 25 Films Of 2021 - The Father

Release Date: 11th June

Director: Florian Zeller

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Olivia Colman, Rufus Sewell, Imogen Poots, Olivia Williams, Mark Gatiss, Ayesha Dharker and Roman Zeller

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Based on his own play Le Père, which came out in 2012, Florian Zeller’s directorial feature debut didn’t receive its UK/Ireland release until June last year. The film focuses on Anthony, an eighty-year-old man who is defiantly living alone and rejecting the carers that his daughter, Anne, introduces to him, but help is also becoming a necessity for Anne as she can’t make daily visits anymore and Anthony’s grip on reality is unraveling. I wasn’t familiar with Zeller’s play, but I heard a lot of hype about this film, particularly for Anthony Hopkins performance. I  found the drama to incredibly heartbreaking to watch, especially with the subject matter in question, and the way it presents and switches the players of the characters halfway through the film to make the audience as disorientated as Anthony is so well done. It’s a compelling watch, a tough watch, and the films final moments will always get me. Hopkins is superb in the role that earned him Best Actor at the Academy Awards last year, with Olivia Colman also giving a really good performance as his daughter Anne.

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THE FATHER is available to watch on Amazon Prime.

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15: Minari

Release Date: 2nd April

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Starring: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton and Scott Haze

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Minari is a drama written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. Set in Arkanas during the 1980s, a Korean-America have moved from California to their new pot of land in the rural countryside, in the hopes of making their own farm and also chase the American Dream, though new beginnings and the challenges that come with doing what’s best for the family is easier said than done. While Minari was an absolute joy to watch, with Lee Isaac Chung’s direction to Lachlan Milne’s cinematography, it was certainly featured a lot more conflicted drama than I expected. While we see the wonder of the countryside through the eyes of six-year-old David, it’s the relationship between his parents Jacob and Monica that engrosses. While Jacob has bought into the concept of ‘the American Dream’ completely, so much so that the family have up and left California to chase it, Monica is clearly not on the same page, same wavelength, and we begin to learn of their initial lives even before America and it’s so interesting to watch and learn throughout the course of the film. While Alan S. Kim’s stole everyones hearts with his performance as David, I absolutely adored Yuh-Jung Youn’s performance as Soonja, the grandmother who is at hand to provide advice and help looking after David. Steven Yeun is great as Jacob, and Yeri Han is also great as Monica. In terms of the supporting cast, I really liked Will Patton’s performance as Paul, a farmer and Christian that helps Jacob out with setting up his farm.

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MINARI is available on digital platforms (Amazon Prime/ Apple TV+/ Google Play/ YouTube) and to buy on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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14: Spencer

Release Date: 5th November

Director: Pablo Larraín

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry, Stella Gonet, Richard Sammel, Elizabeth Berrington and Amy Manson

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Five years on after his last biographical drama, Jackie, Pablo Larraín returned this year within the genre, this time focusing on Princess Diana. Set in the early 90’s, Spencer focuses on Princess Diana making her way to the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, for the Royal families Christmas festivities. However the atmosphere doesn’t feel cheerful nor festive. Diana is aware of her husband’s infidelity and tries to put on a brave face. But when she arrives and meets equerry Major Alistair Gregory, who’s the hear all and see all for the Queen, Diana begins to feel the weight of every stare and glare from the Royals and proceeds to examine her true self again, no matter how draining the weekend may be. When Larraín’s film opens with the text, “A fable from a true tragedy”, I became mentally prepared to watch a fictionalised retelling of a pivotal moment in Diana’s life when she wanted a separation from Prince Charles, and I’m sure for some viewers when they caught this film and on the promotions leading up to its cinematic release late last year believing that they were getting a standard biopic narrative, I can’t say I’m surprised that this film would be as divisive as it ended up. Larraín’s direction is superb throughout the film, particularly in how some scenes put the viewer in Diana’s shoes in showcasing just how caged she really is, while Steven Knight’s screenplay focusing on the themes of lost identity and crippling anxiety is showcased really well throughout the films runtime. Kristen Stewart gives a fantastic performance for me in this film, arguably one of her best to date so far, and Timothy Spall is understatedly great as well. The film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Claire Mathon, with some really wonderful costume designs by Jacqueline Durran, they will certainly be reaping the accolades come awards season, as will composer Jonny Greenwood for his score really haunts you through this film.

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SPENCER is and will be available on digital platforms (Apple TV+/ BFI Player/ Google Play/ YouTube) and will be available to own on DVD/Blu-Ray from the 7th February 2022.

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13: Nomadland

Release Date: 30th April

Director: Chloé Zhao

Starring: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Charlene Swankie, Bob Wells, Peter Spears, Derek Endres, Tay Straithairn, Gay DeForest and Patricia Grier

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Originally caught at BFI London Film Festival in 2020, it says a lot that Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland has still struck with me and finds itself on my films of the year list since it was eventually released via Disney+ STAR in late April last year. Based on Jessica Bruder’s book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, the film focuses on Fern, a widow and substitute teacher from Empire, Nevada, which once was a company town that was literally wiped off the map after the closure of the gypsum mining plant due to the Great Recession. Now, Fern lives in her camper van, exploring the road outside of the conventions of modern-day society. Zhao gives the audiences a glimpse into lost America, focusing on forgotten people that have lived their life but unfortunately can’t afford to retire and also can’t afford to live in a house either, so they travel wherever they can, picking up any and every job they can. It’s an interesting examination into the modern-day nomad, the film practically acts as documentary meets fiction, as Zhao treats nomads, particularly including real-life nomads in acting roles here, with empathy and time to listen and understand their way of life. The cinematography by Joshua James Richards is fantastic here with how he captures the American desert, as well as the wonders of nature that Fern comes across, and the score by Ludovico Einaudi is beautiful too. Frances McDormand gives a great performance too as Fern, portraying an effortless amount of tenderness and inner pain that she’s going through. She is a complex character that McDormand brings volumes to.

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NOMADLAND is available on Disney+ and also available to own on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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12: Spider-Man: No Way Home

Release Date: 15th December

Director: Jon Watts

Starring: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jacob Batalon, Jon Favreau, Marisa Tomei, Willem Dafoe, Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx

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One of the most anticipated films of the year that provided some of the most crowd-pleasing moments at the cinema this year, for me personally. Spider-Man: No Way Home picks up after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home where Peter Parker has been outed to the world as Spider-Man. With Peter and his girlfriend, MJ, and best friend, Ned, face the trials and tribulations that come with being associate with a superhero, Peter turns to Doctor Strange and they decide to do a spell which will make everyone forget that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. The spell doesn’t go according to plan however, and instead of everyone forgetting that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, instead people from other multiverses that know Peter is Spider-Man are coming into their universe, leading to the rogues gallery of Spider-Man villains such as Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and Electro, that could destroy the world, with only Peter Parker in their way to stop them. Is it odd to say that roughly around the half-hour mark, I wasn’t particularly feeling the rhythm that the film was going with? Despite being slightly disjointed, wrapping up a particular plot-thread from the previous film too easily, but once the villains started to surface and by the time the credits began to roll I was absolutely hooked the entire time. I could go into the final act in general as being the sole reason as for why this film lands so highly on my list but there’s still a select few people I know that haven’t watched it yet so I’ll not spoil it. Tom Holland arguably gives his best performance to date in the role of Peter Parker, especially in terms of dramatic scenes that he has here, while Willem Dafoe once again chews up the scenery as the Green Goblin.

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SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME is available to watch at the cinema.

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11: Petite Maman

Release Date: 19th November

Director: Céline Sciamma

Starring: Joséphine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stéphane Varupenne, Nina Meurisse and Margo Abascal

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Petite Maman is writer-director Céline Sciamma’s followup film to the wonderful Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. The film focuses on eight-year-old Nelly, who travels with her parents to her grandmother’s house following her death to help clean/pack-up the house. After he mother unexpectedly leaves, Nelly befriends a little girl in a nearby forest, an encounter that reveals a strange and beguiling new world. Petite Maman is probably the shortest film I watched last year but it is comfortably one of the best to have come out in 2021. With the film dealing with a child coming to terms with their first ordeal with death following the passing of her grandmother, and upon returning to her mother’s childhood home, what comes to pass is what could be described as Sciamma taking a grounded, realistic take on a fairytale that could only happen through the eyes of childhood. The direction from Sciamma and cinematography from Claire Mathon work wonders here, particularly in the scenes around the forest. The young twins, Joséphine and Gabrielle Sanz, are a delight to watch playing the roles of Nelly and the young girl that Nelly comes across in the forest.

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PETITE MAMAN has no current release date for the MUBI streaming service or for physical release, it is available for pre-order on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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10: Tick, tick…BOOM!

Release Date: 19th November

Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Joshua Henry, Vanessa Hudgens, Jonathan Marc Sherman, MJ Rodriguez, Ben Levi Ross, Judith Light and Bradley Whitford

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Tick, Tick…BOOM! is the film adaptation of the autobiographical musical of the same name of Jonathan Larson, adapted to screen by Steven Levenson, and directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, making his directorial debut. The film focuses on Jon, a young theatre composer who’s waiting tables at a New York City diner in 1990 while writing what he hopes will be the next great American musical. With the clock ticking, Jon is at a crossroads and faces the question everyone must reckon with: What are we meant to do with the time we have? What makes Tick, Tick…BOOM! really interesting is instead it focuses on the trials of tribulations that Jonathan Larson goes through before he would become a Tony Award winner and also earn a Pulitzer. We follow Larson as he goes through the anxieties of trying to create something that could change the world, using the likes of Stephen Sondheim as inspiration, while trying to maintain a relationship and friendships along the way. The film is well directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, particularly in the scenes involving the musical numbers like ’Swimming’ involving a swimming pool, to how the ’Therapy’ song is edited between Susan and Jonathan, with Jonathan and Karessa on stage. Credit most also go to co-editors Myron Kerstein and Andrew Weisblum for how they manage to make the jump back-and-forth between Larson’s stage show and the lead-up to it feel smooth and transition in a way that the audience can keep up with it. What really brings the film home here is Andrew Garfield’s performance, he’s absolutely fantastic here and you can tell from his commitment to the portrayal of Jonathan Larson that he gave it his all, right down to putting his voice out there, which I didn’t think he had in him, a pleasant surprise. In the supporting cast, Robin de Jesus really shines with his performance as Jonathan’s best friend Michael, Alexandra Shipp gives a really good performance as Jonathan’s girlfriend Susan. Tick, Tick…BOOM! is a film that I’ve really gotten to love more and more each time I revisit it.

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TICK, TICK…BOOM! is available to watch on Netflix.

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09: Dune

Release Date: 21st October

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Starring: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Jason Momoa, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, David Dastmalchian, Chang Chen and Javier Bardem

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This year we finally got the latest film adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi epic novel Dune, with Denis Villeneuve at the helm, who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Jon Spaihts and Eric Roth. In the far future of humanity, Duke Leto Atreides accepts stewardship of the dangerous desert planet Arrakis, also known as Dune, the only source of the most valuable substance in the universe, “The spice”, a drug which extends human life, provides superhuman levels of thought, and makes foldspace travel possible. Though Leto knows the opportunity is an intricate trap set by his enemies, he takes Bene Gesserit concubine Lady Jessica, young son and heir Paul, and most trusted advisers to Arrakis. Dune was my most anticipated film of the year and I thought the world-building here from Villeneuve, the visual effects team, and cinematographer Creig Fraser, was absolutely tremendous here. I didn’t really rank the film higher because it felt like half a film and that’s when we learned that Part Two will eventually come out in a few years. I loved the scale and design of the ships, the overall scale of the sandworms, and the agendas amongst the houses in this world, with Atreides understanding that this opportunity will cause a reaction from the Harkonnen, who previously ruled with an iron fist. The characters are also layered along with the story and are portrayed by a stellar ensemble, with Chalamet giving a solid performance as Paul, Rebecca Ferguson gives a great performance as Lady Jessica, while in the limited screentime that he has, Stellan Skarsgård brings an air of menace with his performance the Baron Harkonnen.

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DUNE is available on digital platforms (Amazon Prime/ Apple TV+/ Google Play/ Sky Store) and available to own on DVD/Blu-Ray/4K.

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08: The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Release Date: 30th April

Director: Mike Rianda

Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Mike Rianda, Eric André, Olivia Colman, Fred Armisen, Beck Bennett, Chrissy Tiegen, John Legend and Charlyne Yi

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The Mitchells vs. The Machines is a Sony Pictures Animation film that was originally set for cinematic release in 2020 but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which later down the line led to Netflix acquiring the distribution rights and putting it on the streaming service in mid-April last year. Directed by Mike Rianda, making his directorial feature debut, and Jeff Lowe co-directing, we follow the Mitchell family, where daughter Katie is set to leave the household after being accepted into the film school of her dreams. Eager to leave and find ‘her people’, her nature-loving dad Rick insists on having the whole family drive her to school and bond during one last road trip. But when the trip can’t get any worse, the family suddenly finds itself in the middle of the robot uprising! The thing that immediately strikes you about the film is its use of animation and the visual styles, combining 3D and 2D textures in plenty of sequences, such as moments of sketches and drawings appearing on screen to capture a characters thought or emotion. The colour palette choices for certain scenes really make it pop, and what really makes it all come together is the energy and pacing we see here. While the story involves The Mitchells having to save the planet from the robot apocalypse, it primarily focuses on the father/daughter relationship between Katie and Rick and it definitely provides the heart and emotional elements of the film. The two have a somewhat complicated relationship, but the film takes its time to equally share both of their points of view, and I thought it was very well-handled. I also enjoyed the outlook that the film portrays on technology and the over-reliance on it, as well as conveying different points of view in relation to it, with Rick believing it to be a distraction from real-life, and Katie believing that it can help her unleash her creativity and express herself. The voice cast are terrific in their roles, with Abbi Jacobson voicing Katie, Danny McBride voicing Rick, Maya Rudolph voicing Linda and director Mike Rianda voicing Katie’s brother Aaron.

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THE MITCHELLS vs. THE MACHINES is available to watch on Netflix.

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07: Night Of The Kings

Release Date: 2nd July

Director: Philippe Lacôte

Starring: Bakary Koné, Steve Tientcheu, Jean Cyrille Digbeu, Issaka Sawadogo, Abdoul Karim Konaté, Macel Anzian, Rasmané Ouédraogo, Laetitia Ky and Denis Lavant

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This Ivorian drama from writer-director Philippe Lacôte was one of the biggest surprises for me last year and it is arguably one of the most underrated films of 2021. Night Of The Kings has us follow a young pickpocket as he is sent to the MACA prison in Abidjan, a world with its own codes and law. One of the laws cemented at the MACA is that when the ‘Dangoro’ (the supreme master of the prison) falls ill and can no longer govern, he must take his own life. The day the young pickpocket arrives, he is deemed the new ‘Roman’, a storyteller that is to tell tales to his fellow prisoners. With the red moon indicating the ‘Night of the Roman’, the newly named ‘Roman’ must tell a story to the rest of the inmates and when he learns of what fate awaits him once he finishes, he must make the story last until dawn as another inmate orchestrates a plot in order to become the new ‘Dangoro’. I watched Night of the Kings during International Film Festival Rotterdam, almost a full year ago, and the films narrative and direction has stayed with me for so long that I had to include it on my list. From the opening shot giving us a Birdseye view of the forest before we finally see the MACA Prison located right in the middle of the vast green surrounding it, and what transpires during the rest of the films hour and a half runtime, we’re transported to a place that exists in its own unique world of law and almost spiritual rule. What makes Night Of The Kings really special however is its world-building of the law and codes that exist within the MACA prison, as well as how the art of storytelling is front and centre here and how effective it can be, as we witness Roman describe certain details within the story about Zama, leading to inmates participating and enhancing the story through vocalising their engagement with Roman’s tale and the twists and turns he provides during the story, a few inmates begin to sing songs about Zama on the spin, and even performance art is brought forward here when Roman describes something in the middle of the story a few will jump into the empty space and perform that action. Lacôte directs the film superbly, especially in how he frames within the prison setting and making it feel larger-than-life, with some wonderful imagery captured by cinematographer Tobie Marier-Robitaille. The costume design by Hanna Sjödin and makeup by Soussaba Kouyaté are also worth highlighting here. Bakary Koné gives a really good performance as ‘Roman’, a character we don’t know much about but you can’t help but root for as he tries to navigate and drag the story out until dawn in order to survive. Other notable performances include Steve Tientcheu as Blackbeard, and Jean Cyrille Digbeu as Half-Mad.

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THE NIGHT OF THE KINGS is available on digital platforms (Amazon Prime/ Apple TV+/ BFI Player/ Google Play).

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06: The Summit Of The Gods

Release Date: 26th November

Director: Patrick Imbert

Starring: Rich Ting, Chris Naoki Lee, Ray Yamamoto, Brent Yoshida, Richard Koyasu Park, Paul Nakauchi, Keiko Agena, Keisuke Hoashi, Clyde Kusatsu and Brian Takahashi

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The Summit of the Gods, also known as Le Sommet des Dieux, a French-language animated feature that is an adaptation of the manga series from manga artist Jirô Taniguchi and writer Baku Yumemakura. The film focuses on young Japanese photojournalist, Fukamachi, who discovers a camera that could change the history of mountaineering. This leads him to the mysterious Habu, an outcast climber believed missing for years. Fukamachi enters a world of obsessive mountaineers hungry for impossible conquests on a journey that leads him, step by step, towards the summit of the gods. I wasn’t familiar with the manga, I’m actually surprised that I felt compelled to watch it as I just came across it one night when I was flicking through the ‘New on Netflix’ section one night and the image above is what struck me and I decided to put it on…and I was not ready for the emotions I would end up feeling by the end of the film. The animation is simpler in presentation when compared to the likes that came out this year, e.g. The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Vivo etc., but the artistic style and and animation is bloody beautiful to watch here and when we focus on a mountain-climber making their way to the top of summits during the course of the film, it’s like a painting brought to life. What makes the film really excel however is the story on the two main characters Fukamachi and Habu. Fukamachi becomes obsessed in uncovering the truth about something that could be of historic significance, while Habu has his own obsession to overcome his demons and over the course of the film we see why they are the way they are, which leads to some tragic results and also highlights the brutally of nature and its elements. The voice acting is terrific here and what should also be commended here is the sound design, and I implore you to seek out The Summit Of The Gods and watch it one night on Netflix.

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THE SUMMIT OF THE GODS is available to watch on Netflix.

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05: Judas And The Black Messiah

Release Date: 11th March

Director: Shaka King

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, LaKeith Stanfield, Jesse Plemons, Dominique Fishback, Ashton Sanders, Algee Smith, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Lil Rel Howery, Dominque Thorne and Martin Sheen

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Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical drama directed by Shaka King. Starting in 1968, the film focuses on a young, charismatic activist named Fred Hampton become Chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. As Hampton begins to inspire a generation to rise up and not back down to oppression, putting him directly in the fire of the U.S government, the FBI and Chicago police. Enter William O’Neal, a career thief who is facing prison until he is offered a deal by the FBI…infiltrate the Black Panthers and provide intel on Fred Hampton, and he will walk free. Judas and the Black Messiah is one of the most heavy dramas to come out last year and it’s not just because of the subject that it tackles, but more in how its executed and how it comes together in the end and when the credits roll, you can’t help but feel you’re heart sink after witnessing everyone that’s occurred. This is my first time watching Shaka King’s work and I definitely must seek out his previous and future work, because his direction is fantastic here, as is Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography. The film relies heavily on the performances of Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield and the duo are outstanding in the roles as Fred Hampton and Bill O’Neal. Kaluuya absolutely commands the screen with his presence in the role and he absolutely deserved his Academy Award last year, while Stanfield has arguably the more complex role as a thief-turned-informant that ends up admiring Fred and what he represents and is torn in certain moments on what to do. It’s a heavy film but an important film to watch and it’s definitely worth your time to seek it out and watch it.

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JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH is available on digital platforms (Amazon Prime/ Apple TV+/ Google Play) and also available to own on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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04: Quo Vadis, Aida?

Release Date: 22nd January

Director: Jasmila Žbanić

Starring: Jasna Đuričić, Izudin Bajrović, Boris Ler, Dino Bajrović, Dino Bajrović, Emir Hadžihafizbegović, Raymond Thiry, Johan Heldenbergh, Joes Brauers, Reinout Bussemaker, Teun Luijkx, Ermin Sijamija, Ermin Bravo, Sol Vinken, Micha Hulshof, Juda Goslinga, Alban Ukaj and Edita Malovčić

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Quo Vadis, Aida? is a drama from writer-director Jasmila Žbanić that is a dramatised telling of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian War in 1995. The film focuses on Aida Selmanagić, a translator for the UN in the small town of Srebrenica. In the summer of 1995 during the late period of the Bosnian War, the Army of Republika Srpska, led by General Ratko Mladić, take over the town leading to Aida’s family and thousands of citizens looking for shelter at the UN base outside the town. While Aida acts as the conduit of communication between the UN and the people from her town, she’s also trying to protect her own family from being taken by the Serbian forces and suffer a horrific fate. I happened to watch the film during International Film Festival Rotterdam last year and thankfully it was online because if I had have been in the cinema with a crowd watching it I may have been removed for being so vocal with how the drama unfolds during the course of the film and I don’t believe if I had such a visceral reaction like it last year. The film is a slow-burn of an inevitable, horrific event that plays out while the world remains either unaware or in some cases deciding to do nothing, and following this one character trying frantically to save their own family while having to handle the wider disaster going on, is heart wrenching and engrossing to watch. Jasna Đuričić gives an absolutely fantastic performance as Aida, Jasmila Žbanić is terrific, as is Christine A. Maier’s cinematography and Jarosław Kamiński.

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QUO VADIS, AIDA? is currently available to watch on Netflix, and it’s available on digital platforms (Amazon Prime/ Apple TV+/ Google Play/ Virgin TV Go).

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03: Sound Of Metal

Release Date: 12th April

Director: Darius Marder

Starring: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci, Lauren Ridloff, Mathieu Amalric and Michael Tow

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Sound of Metal is a drama directed by Darius Marder, who co-wrote the screenplay with Abraham Marder. Ruben is a drummer and one half of the duo Blackgammon along with his singer girlfriend Lou. One day he suddenly begins to lose his hearing, which turns him on the path to be introduced to Joe, who leads a deaf community. With the help from them, Ruben struggles to accept his situation. Sound of Metal is a tremendous film that works work on every technical level, from Marder’s direction, to the cinematography by Daniël Bouquet, Mikkel E. G. Nelsen’s editing, the fucking sound design and sound mixing is ridiculous! It bloody helps to that the script and performances from the ensemble are absolutely terrific as well. Riz Ahmed’s performance as Ruben is my favourite of his to date, you absolutely feel for him as he goes through this life-altering moment in his life and as he struggles to cope, you absolutely want him to succeed. Olivia Cooke also gives a great performance as Lou, Ruben’s girlfriend and fellow band member who becomes concerned about Reuben’s sobriety following his hearing loss, leading them to meet Paul Raci’s Joe, a late-deafened man who runs a shelter for deaf recovering addicts. Raci gives such an earnest performance in the role and there’s one scene between him and Riz Ahmed’s Reuben that will stick with me for a long time.

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SOUND OF METAL is available on Amazon Prime, and also available to own on DVD/Blu-Ray.

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02: CODA

Release Date: 13th August

Director: Sian Heder

Starring: Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, Daniel Durant, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Amy Forsyth and Kevin Chapman

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CODA is a drama written and directed by Sian Heder. Gifted with a voice that her parents can’t hear, seventeen-year-old Ruby, is the sole hearing member of a deaf family – a CODA, Child of Deaf Adults. Her life revolves around acting as interpreter for her parents and working on the family’s struggling fishing boat every day before school with her father and older brother. But when Ruby joins her high school’s choir club, she discovers a gift for singing and finds herself drawn to her duet partner. Encouraged by her enthusiastic, tough-loving choirmaster to apply to a prestigious music school, Ruby finds herself torn between the obligations she feels to her family and the pursuit of her own dreams. CODA was one of the last films I watched before writing this list and maybe if I watched it earlier in the year it may actually have been in my number one spot, but not only did I not expect to enjoy the film as much as I did, but I absolutely was not expecting to be such an emotional wreck by the end of it. Oddly after saying all that, CODA is somewhat of a feel-good film, it may have the tropes of what you’d expect in a coming-of-age drama, it may be considered formulaic, but if the film moves me and even manages to bring out one Denzel single-tear then its done a terrific job. The dynamic amongst the Rossi family is fun to watch, but its when it focuses on their frustrations is when it excels for me, from Leo being the older brother feeling like he’s being treated like a kid, to Ruby looking to chase her dream of singing, to mother Jackie fearing about everything, the boat, worrying about what if Ruby can fail, but Heder’s script brings honesty to these characters. The film also manages to flip a few scripts, particularly in how it executes a big song number at the High School that they build towards during the course of the film, and it is in the films last half hour that takes the audience, if they’re already invested in the story by then, through an emotional rollercoaster as there are some scenes I felt were terrifically handled. Emilia Jones gives a fantastic performance as Ruby Rossi, especially given what she has to do, from acting, to singing and also being able to learn and do ASL, I felt like she absolutely nailed it and I’m interested to see what she does next. Tory Kotsur, Marlee Matlin, and Daniel Durant also give great performances as the members of the Rossi family, with Kotsur in particular breaking my heart in the final act, those tears were earned sir. Another performance I feel is worth mentioning is Eugenio Derbez as Bernardo ‘Mr. V’ Villalobos, I thought he was great too.

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CODA is available to watch on Apple TV+.

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01: Another Round

Release Date: 2nd July

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, Magnus Millang, Maria Bonnevie, Susse Wold, Helene Reingaard Neumann, Magnus Sjørup and Silas Cornelius Van

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At my number one is a film that should come as no surprise to be one I highly rate as I haven’t shut up about it to people in my friends/work circle that haven’t seen it yet, having watched it at BFI London Film Festival 2020. Written and directed by Thomas Vinterberg, Another Round (also known as Druk) focuses on four friends and high school teachers Martin, Tommy, Peter and Nikolaj, with one of them bringing to their attention that Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud claimed that humans had an alcohol deficit of 0.05% in their bodies, and if that 0.05% was consumed, humans would be more productive and generally happier. As the four test the theory, they discover improvements in themselves and each other almost immediately, pushing their limits with the theory leads to drastic changes and consequences. Another Round explores the theme of alcoholism told through the lens of a group of men going through a mid-life crisis. The main focus on that narrative is Martin, a history teacher who is struggling to engage with his students in a matter which they embrace the subject and learn from it, whilst at home with his family he appears just as dejected as he does in the classroom. It’s at a 40th birthday dinner however with philosophy teacher Nikolaj, football youth coach Tommy, and music instructor Peter, that Martin begins to question where he is currently with his life. So when Nikolaj tells them about psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s philosophy, Martin is the first to put that theory to the test before he starts teaching and when they notice the sudden positive vibes from him at work, they all decide to join in. Vinterberg’s and Lindholm’s script touches upon how drinking is a social norm and how it’s often labelled by some as a necessity, with Martin teaching his students about Winston Churchill, mentioning him being a heavy drinker, whilst the men also base their test on what time Ernest Hemingway started drinking and finished at, as well as mention Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, arguing how their alcoholism played a part in their genius and legacy. Certain filmmakers could take this material and tackle it in a way that it would come across as too preachy or melodramatic in its portrayal of alcoholism, but here Vinterberg takes a non-judgemental approach in handling the characters and their respective alcohol-fuelled journeys, never condemning them but highlighting the lows that come with an excessive amount of alcohol consumption, as their antics are comedic at first, but as they progress and push their limits further, there’s disastrous consequences that lead each man to a point where it’s time to call the experiment off or there’s no end at the bottom of a bottle. Mads Mikkelsen gives a fantastic performance as Martin, conveying the right balance of humour with sadness of a man that we meet in the midst of his mid-life crisis, who goes through a few physical looks throughout the experiment and in the end looks to be in a worse place than when he started, but there’s a glimmer of hope on the horizon to keep him going…and that final sequence, bravo.

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ANOTHER ROUND is available on digital platforms (Amazon Prime/ Apple TV+/ Google Play/ Sky Store) and also available to own on DVD/Blu-Ray.