My Top 10 Movies of 2021

As with 2020 it’s been a weird year for film-goers. I only managed to go at all because Cineworld gave me a free annual pass. I definitely made the most of it and went to see dozens of films just as I did in 2020. I very much believe that if you like culture, arts and small businesses then you have to support them.

Quite a lot of the films I saw were rather forgettable or perhaps it is just these last two years my real life has been more ‘exciting’ than some of the fare on-screen. I didn’t get to see some of the films that I wanted to see simply because they weren’t released near to me. I really wanted to watch The French Dispatch but it never happened.

I also enjoyed films that didn’t quite make the list such as the recent Ghostbusters film and Cop Shop.

Conversely I made the huge mistake of going to watch Nomadland early in the year. I can’t emphasise enough just what a boring film this was. Almost totally without any plot and indeed without any redeeming quality whatsoever.

There are a few films that might have been released elsewhere but again due to Covid and delays, they haven’t been released in London as I write this on the 16th of December. So we’ll jump over all those rubbish comic book films I refuse to watch and get to the nitty gritty!

10. The Last Duel

Jean de Carrouges is a respected knight known for his bravery and skill on the battlefield. Jacques Le Gris is a squire whose intelligence and eloquence makes him one of the most admired nobles in court. When Le Gris viciously assaults Carrouges’ wife, she steps forward to accuse her attacker, an act of bravery and defiance that puts her life in jeopardy. The ensuing trial by combat, a grueling duel to the death, places the fate of all three in God’s hands.

This film has fared rather poorly despite it being a Ridley Scott epic but this isn’t the only film that suffered from going up against most popular films. I rather enjoyed it myself with it being a historical based film with good actors and a decent period setting. However there were two things that were a little annoying. The first was how we had to go the same events multiple times with differing points of view which though proved not to be boring, like almost everyone else, I’d have preferred a more straight forward narrative especially it it means you don’t have to keep seeing some raped. Secondly for a film that revolved around a lady, I found it decidedly male dominated which though I suppose highlights how her fate was out of her hands, I still felt to be a missed opportunity.

9. Cry Macho

A onetime rodeo star and washed-up horse breeder, in 1978, takes a job from an ex-boss to bring the man’s young son home and away from his alcoholic mum. Crossing rural Mexico on their back way to Texas, the unlikely pair faces an unexpectedly challenging journey, during which the world-weary horseman may find his own sense of redemption through teaching the boy what it means to be a good man.

I actually really enjoyed this quiet and in many ways old fashioned sort of film. It had an old style plot, it was set and paced rather like old films from the 70’s that I was used to when I was young and it stars Clint Eastwood who is err old.

The film had an interest plot that proceeded at a modest pace and surprisingly good characters in it and a lot of heart. It made me laugh a few times too with its dialogue and Clint Eastwood always has his own way. One line that I still chuckle at was when the boys prized chicken was sat on the front passenger seat and Clint’s character Mike was wanting it in the back seat with the boy who was telling him he was a special chicken and had a name.

“I don’t care if his name is Colonel Sanders, just get his ass back there”

Clint Eastwood as Mike in ‘Cry Macho’.

8. The Unholy

Alice, a girl with hearing impairment, is able to hear, speak and even heal the ill after having visions of the Virgin Mary. But when a journalist probes into the matter, he unearths a conspiracy.

This was kind of a regular New England style horror story. It had a few intriguing elements though I do like these sometimes rather generic genre scary films which as they are 15 rated, aren’t particularly scary. I went to watch it mainly as being a big fan of The Walking Dead, I very much like Jeffrey Dean Morgan and I wanted to see him play someone other than Negan.

For my full review of The Unholy, click here!

7. The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It

I’m a big fan of the Conjuring universe stories which all started based on the true life events of The Enfield Poltergeist. All of the films (and there is a large number of them now) are based to various degrees on supposed real life events and exhibits in this real life Mulder and Scully collection of oddities such as Annabel the doll or The Nun in that reliably spooky setting of Transylvania.

In this film Arne Cheyenne Johnson stabs and murders his landlord, claiming to be under demonic possession. Ed and Lorraine Warren investigate the case and try to prove his innocence. Whilst demonic possession doesn’t seem like that plausible a defence as the point is made in the film, at every trial people swear on The Holy Bible or similar book to tell the truth so if there is a possibility of God then it stands to reason there may be a Devil.

To be fair I could fill this Top 10 with horror films but this was probably my favourite of the year, surpassing the new Halloween sequel. I really do like the cast the relationship between the two main characters and the fact that it is based on fact, no matter how tenuously, adds a bit of spice to the mix.

It’s not a gory film but it did make mud jump several times and that was just before the opening credits.

I can’t wait to see the next Conjuring universe film but can it have a better title than The Devil Made Me Do It? You can watch the advertising trailer below.

The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It.

6. In The Heights.

In Washington Heights, N.Y., the scent of warm coffee hangs in the air just outside of the 181st St. subway stop, where a kaleidoscope of dreams rallies a vibrant and tight-knit community. At the intersection of it all is a likable and magnetic bodega owner who hopes, imagines and sings about a better life.

If this isn’t an example of my love of everything film its that I can easily watch The Conjuring 3 one day and In The Heights the next. This was a film that was advertised to death in the U.K. at least and I almost didn’t watch it as there was a finicky thing to it that annoys me every time I saw the advert and that must have been a dozen times at least with my film going habits. The thing that bugged me in the trailer, bugged me in the film but it was easier to overlook it when actually enjoying the movie.

This was another almost by the numbers sort of film whose end point doesn’t matter quite as much as how we get there and this film had some wonderful musical pieces and fantastic on-location shooting in the real Washington Heights area.

A few years ago I was one of the few who said they enjoyed The Greatest Show on Earth and despite what the critics said, it quickly became well loved with its tunes seemingly never off the radio in a way that hasn’t yet happened to Washington Heights but this new film is a bit more of a drama and with a largely unknown cast so it may take a while to catch on, or perhaps it never will.

I remember watching it and thinking it was rather like an update on West Side Story and it kind of is.

In The Heights official trailer.

5. Free Guy

When a bank teller discovers he’s actually a background player in an open-world video game, he decides to become the hero of his own story — one that he can rewrite himself. In a world where there’s no limits, he’s determined to save the day his way before it’s too late, and maybe find a little romance with the coder who conceived him.

I totally loved this film starring Ryan Reynolds. It was cute, smart and colourful and best of all it made me laugh. When is watched this in the summer I was well prepared for this to be my favourite film of the year and if I had to watch any film on this list again right now then I would choose Free Guy.

There are lots I like about this film. Guy is such an innocent and optimistic person and yet he lives in this computer game world where shoot outs and missiles exploding in his street are something that seems totally normal to him.

Free Guy official trailer.

I remember at the time it came out and a film critic said it was an unexpected surprise given it was the only film showing at the time that wasn’t a sequel or a remake or a comic-book film and I think it’s heart and humour and originality make it stand out from the crowd.

Go watch this now and don’t have a good day, have a GREAT day!

4. West Side Story

Love at first sight strikes when young Tony spots Maria at a high school dance in 1957 New York City. Their burgeoning romance helps to fuel the fire between the warring Jets and Sharks — two rival gangs vying for control of the streets.

Well I didn’t see that coming and a lot of people haven’t seen it now that it’s arrived. What a difference from the months of hype for In The Heights, I didn’t know there was a remake of West Side Story until the day it was released.

I’m not sure if a remake of one of the greatest musicals of the 20th Century was needed but if you’re Steven Spielberg you can pretty much do what you want… and I’m glad that he did. Nothing will take away the original film which was my Grandma’s favourite (that or Sound of Music) and one that I too had seen dozens of times and know all the words to all the songs but in several ways this is actually even better than the original.

There is more backstory to many of the characters, even the police. More depth is given as to why these gangs are at each throat in general and we see more locations and generally better and more expansive sets of course than from the 60 year old original.

Nothing too much has changed, the story is almost identical and the new Maria can really sing. One or two of the songs have been repositioned to a way that makes more sense and from what I know, more closely matches the original stage performances. There is also less ballet when people are funning around or getting stabbed which is a bit more realistic, in fact the settings and the appearances of the gangs are more gritty and realistic to modern day viewers at least.

The cinematography is frankly amazing as are the dances and the songs, most of which are identical and even more spectacular. 90 year old Rita Moreno who starred as Anita in the original film even has a substantial role in a female re-working of the old Doc character.

Only a few minor quibbles, I’m not sure the new Tony can sing that well. Some of his songs are a fractionally more hurried and I’m not sure if that is because he can’t sing so good or if it is just that thing with everything modern having to be quicker paced.

The song ‘America’ I think was better suited to the rooftops to the modern arrangements and bizarrely I found it a little difficult to differentiate between some of the secondary gang characters from both the Jets and Sharks as to me in that one viewing they didn’t stand out as much as in the original.

It wasn’t just me who loved it, I could hear the auditorium sniffling away at different points in the film whilst I concentrated on singing along at a quiet enough level so as not to be heard.

Oh and for those wondering, 60 years later and Chino still does that dick move at the end.

I only watched this a a week or so ago and have spent much of the time since calling people I don’t like in my head ‘punk’ and those that I do ‘Daddio’!

West Side Story 2021 Official Trailer

3. Dune

Paul Atreides, a brilliant and gifted young man born into a great destiny beyond his understanding, must travel to the most dangerous planet in the universe to ensure the future of his family and his people. As malevolent forces explode into conflict over the planet’s exclusive supply of the most precious resource in existence, only those who can conquer their own fear will survive.

Dune was a film I spent a year or two looking forward to and dreading at the same time. Chiefly this is because of the old 1980’s David Lean effort which I never really totally got to grips with. Perhaps this was because I was about 10 years old but I hear that most 30 and 60 years couldn’t make head or tales of it.

There has been a better mini-series since but given the thousands of classic Sci-Fi novels out there, I’m not sure why there is a bit of an obsession with Dune.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I watch this with a friend. M main straw that I clutched beforehand was that it was being directed by Denis Villeneuve who made the brilliant Arrival in 2015.

I was quite blown away with this new version of Dune which only tells half the story of the original film with no guarantees the second part would ever be made. It is a staggeringly atmospheric and beautiful film to watch and very much one that has to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Such was the trauma of the first film that I spent the first 2 hours or so of Dune worrying that it was suddenly going to go all dire, boring and confusing on me but it never came close to happening.

I’m going to have to watch this again before the sequel comes out in a few years time.

Dune Official Trailer

2. No Time To Die

No Time To Die is the latest James Bond film that has been long and repeatedly delayed due to Covid 19. I’ve been waiting for it longer than most, not just because I do James Bond Tours in London but because whilst I was out meeting tourists one morning, I actually saw them getting ready to film one of the scenes that is in the film and the trailer. Behind the scenes with No Time To Die – James Bond.

I won’t write too much here as it would only repeat what I said in my rather magnificent (if I do say myself) review which I wrote in October. No Time To Die – James Bond Movie Review.

I’ve thought of No Time To Die quite a lot over the last few months and my feelings towards it haven’t changed. A fantastic film and the death of James Bond had me a bit sad for a few days if only because Daniel Craig is so good a 007 and though I do think killing this particular incarnation off was the way to go, the fact it happened in the middle of our little epidemic is bad timing when the world needs heroes.

Really either Dune or No Time To Die would have been worthy #1 films on my list but as it happens neither are and that is no reflection at all on them

No Time To Die
  1. Last Night In Soho

An aspiring fashion designer is mysteriously able to enter the 1960s, where she encounters a dazzling wannabe singer. However, the glamour is not all it appears to be, and the dreams of the past start to crack and splinter into something far darker.

Like In The Heights, Last Night In Soho was advertised for months in advance and from the instant I saw the briefest of trailers I was hooked and just knew I had to see the film and I savoured every single second of it.

You can see my original review Last Night In Soho Movie Review but to put it briefly, I enjoyed this film on so many levels. The story was intriguing and mysterious rather than outright scary (for the most part) and it built a suspense up rather like the now classic Sixth Sense film.

Sixties Soho

The main actors and characters were tremendous with not a weak spot amongst them and without giving too much away to see Dr Who Matt Smith not be entirely wholesome was something of a shock to say the least.

The music in this film is wonderful and it really captures the 60’s feel. It’s hard not to fall in love with it all just as Sandy in the film did and both myself and the person I watched it with thought the ending to be tremendous and very satisfying as well as it being a touch melancholic and haunting, in more ways than one.

Diana Rigg making her last screen role a memorable one.

What really made this my favourite film of 2021 was how it so perfectly captured London. Not all of London but just one small but incredibly funky neighbourhood in Soho in a way I don’t think has felt so genuine since the very different London film, The Gentlemen, just before Covid hit.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an American film get London right. Usually it’s too twee or stereotypical and the geography makes no sense at all. When Hollywood uses British actors as British characters they end up making them say words or terms that no-one in London uses either because the writers are ignorant or simply because they don’t think American audiences can handle a bit of linguistic authenticity. Even when they film in London, often interiors are in sets and the details are wrong in things such as light switches and plug sockets.

Last Night In Soho perfectly captures Soho and star writer and director Edgar Wright lived in Soho for many years. It just felt real even given the story subject. Soho is exciting, creative, dynamic but ever so slightly dangerous.

I loved it so much that within 48 hours I had scouted out every single Last Night In Soho location and a day or so later my new tour Last Night In Soho Movie Locations Tour was up and running.

I hope you enjoyed my Top 10 movies list for 2021 but before you go, watch the trailer for Last Night in Soho, that’s how you do a trailer!

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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6 Responses to My Top 10 Movies of 2021

  1. Ankur Mithal says:

    Wow! So many films did get released is a surprise. The only one I recognize is the James Bond movie that is still in theatres here. I haven’t seen a movie in a theater in over 2 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great list Stefano! I need to get back into horror films – I really enjoyed The Conjuring / Insidious films but then stopped watching them as I just had too many nightmares! Need to catch up with those on your list thanks for the inspo! xo

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank-you! I know what you mean, The Conjuring universe films are just so gripping. I make little booby traps and obstacles on the stairs to give me warning 🙂 If it came to it, I’m not sure it would stop Michael Myers but it gives me peace of mind for a few nights until I get over it a bit! xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. ThingsHelenLoves says:

    This post has made me realise I miss the cinema. I used to go a lot- with the family, with my husband and even ( sheer indulgence!) the occasional solo visit. I’ve fallen out of the habit and I need to fall back in. The amount of ways I can view at home is making me a bit lazy and has me missing out.

    I also need to see Last Night in Soho, as a lover of vintage fashion I suspect the costumes alone will capture me!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can never enjoy it on the television as much as it just doesn’t feel the same to me… even if I am the only one in the auditorium. There is just something special about going and making an event of it.

      Oh I hope you enjoy it. The costumes and the dancing and the bright lights of London in the 60’s are fantastic in Last Night in Soho.

      Like

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