2021 Film Awards

So we’re two months in, and it’s time to finish the summary of 2021 films in the way I usually do: randomly bitching and praising shit nobody has heard of. Some really tough decisions made, and some really easy ones. You might disagree, ask me next week and I might disagree with my own choices, but I had to make them, and here they are. Side note, there’s no “worst film” this year, there were a lot of bad films, but truth be told nothing felt quite bad enough to earn that.

Best Looking:

Blithe Spirit

One of the few things this film did well. It has a great colour scheme so that the visuals really pop. If the film itself was as good as it looked, it would have been one of my favourites of the year.

Censor

Almost entirely due to how the final third was directed, film geeks will love what they did with it in terms of how it looks. One of the best examples of using visuals to tell a story.

Come True

Just to warn you, this film is going to come up A LOT in this. I just loved the blue colours over everything. It perfectly matched the music and made the whole thing feel like you were watching it on a CRT monitor. Really unique and I love it.

Cruella

Striking colours, combined with great costume design. The visuals for a lot of this film consist of dark or boring backgrounds, then bright and stunning foregrounds/clothes to create striking images that you’ll love. There’s something weirdly retro too, makes you think of the time period, and is perfect for story.

Godzilla Vs. Kong

Purely for the sense of scale, this series has been a great showcase for spectacle cinema, and this is no exception. There are obvious plot issues, but I can’t deny how much I loved just sitting there staring at this film.

Love and Monsters

Yeah it’s a surprise to me too, but I love the director brought the world to life. You don’t watch this and feel you’re watching something obviously fake, the CGI is pretty damn good for a film like this. Everything looks and feels like it belongs in that world. It’s so good that sometimes you don’t really notice it, you’re not sitting there going “wow, look at that creature”, the creature is just there, and fits so well into it that it can pass you by.

Malignant

There were so many times watching this where I thought “yup, that would make a good poster”. Just let down by one of the special effects not really working for me.

Raya And The Last Dragon

The way that Sisu is animated is glorious, a solid character that flows through the air like she’s swimming. I love the way this looked, the little references to Southeast Asian cultures, the amount of water (which is notoriously hard to animate) which looks gorgeous. I just love the way this flows visually. Because of how similar they were I had to choose between this and Luca, this JUST inches ahead due to the building designs.

Soul

Mainly for the use of space, well, lines really. The fluid nature to the animation is reminscent of classic disney at its best. The whole thing just feels like an otherworldly dream. You look at it and you can almost hear the music.

Winner:

Last Night In Soho

Yes, the neon look is great. And the final sequence is a masterclass in visuals. But the day-to-day stuff is great too. The lighting is done in a way that looks natural but has a sharp focus, almost like a spotlight. And the scenes in the club are full of visual beauty.

Most Disappointing

A Quiet Place Part 2

This is where they’ll be a big difference between “Bad” and “disappointing”. Just on its own, this might have been an okay film. But as a sequel to one of the most unique films (horror or otherwise) of the last few years, can’t help but feel this is a poor effort. The new characters don’t feel like they’ve always been a part of this world, and the shadow of the dads death from the first one doesn’t hang as heavy over it as it should.

Antebellum

I had really high hopes for this based on the trailer, particularly one completely bad-ass moment of her running through a warzone. It just didn’t work for me though. The pacing was way off and it has no idea how to keep the momentum going. I feel you could edit this, take out some of the fluff, change the order of some scenes around, and you could get a really good film. But starting on the plantation for about 40 minutes, doing a near thirty-minute flashback to her before she got there, then going back to the plantation makes the whole thing feel disjointed. Tbh you don’t need to know that much information about her before she got there, just a few minutes to establish her life and who she is, then have her wake up in the plantation, look at the horror around her, then credits. It has nothing to say about the past, and as such says nothing about the present. A lot of it is just misery porn.

Lucky

I was fully on board with this for a lot of it. Sure there were a few moments where I felt “ouch that’s not good”. Bad music choices, the visuals looked too fake and stupid. And then the ending happened, and shat upon all the goodwill I had. It’s a shame as the concept was promising, and it had some good scenes. But it set up questions it had no intention of answering.

The King’s Man

Not exactly a bad film, but nowhere near as good as the previous ones. I really hope they do a sequel to this one because otherwise, it’s completely pointless. It didn’t set up the other two films or answer any questions we had. It’s just to set up something else, it feels like this is Iron Man, and the original 2 Kingsman films are Infinity War and Endgame, like we’re missing a lot of stuff in the middle. It’s nowhere near as stylish as the other two, with no real stand-out scenes.

Black Widow

I avoided spoilers for this, I assumed it would be game-changing. Nope. It just sets up a new Black Widow, something that could have been a tv show. In Taskmaster it features one of the most underutilized villains in the history of the MCU (and all feels way too similar to what they did with Ghost in Ant-Man And The Wasp), I suppose the real villain is Ray Winstones character, but the true villain is his acting coach. Not quite as dull as Eternals, but I had much higher expectations.

Winner

Wonder Woman 1984

I remember talking about this with someone before it came out, I mentioned how this reminded me of Thor: Ragnorak and was looking like it was going to be a technicolour ball of fun, as it is it’s just technicolour bullshit. It’s turned a strong independent female character into “I just need a man”. It’s not even an original story, it’s just another soft adaptation of The Monkey’s Paw, which has been done much better in other media. Also, I genuinely can’t remember that much about Kristen Wiigs character, she’s ridiculously underdeveloped, she’s given barely anything to do once she becomes a villain. It still looks good, but the script is diabolical. This is a BIG film, released just over a year ago, and featured a cameo from Lynda Carter, yet nobody talks excitedly about it.

Best Performer

Amy Nostbakken/Norah Sadava in Mouthpiece

Cheating a bit as it’s two performers, but they’re both playing the same character so I’m counting it. For a lot of these, I’m counting things like believability, facial expressions, dialogue delivery etc. They do all of those things well, but sold this for me was how unbelievably in-sync they are throughout. This goes beyond acting into performance art. The way they physically interact with each other is almost ballet-like in its precision and use of space

Riz Ahmed in Sound Of Metal

I mainly know him from Four Lions, he was in Nightcrawler but that was mainly Jake’s film let’s be honest. This? This was incredible. I didn’t know he had this in him. The pain, the torment, the frustration. His character is suffering, and his performance lets you know that.

McKenna Grace in Ghostbusters Afterlife

If she’s in a film I watch, she’s likely to be nominated in this category, every year. That’s how good she is. It’s not bias either, I didn’t recognise it as her while I watched this, all I thought was “I have no idea who that is but she is absolutely nailing every piece of dialogue here”. The way she delivers bad jokes makes them funny, her comedic timing is impeccable, and she’s talented enough that she carries the emotional setpieces too. She’s in a film with Paul Rudd, and outshines him.

Magdalena Kolesnik in Sweat

All the way through she gives a good performance, but the scene near the end where she’s being interviewed and she just breaks down completely. She’s helped by some tremendous dialogue which she conveys beautifully. But there’s a moment in the end where she realises that it was pointless, that nobody cares, that she just needs to smile and get back to work. It’s heartbreaking, and she nails it.

Katja Herbers in The Columnist

The second foreign language performer to be nominated here, both fully deserved. This one slightly edged it out because of how wordless some of her best moments were. You could tell her character was trying to hide her annoyance. It’s a difficult role to do as she has to be likeable, but also a serial killer. So she has to have that weird mix of danger and sweetness. It’s a testament to both her performance, and to the writing, that it works as well as it does.

Billy Crystal in Here Today/Anthony Hopkins in The Father

This is going to be tricky making this work for both but the reasons they work are so similar for both I feel okay consolidating them into one. So here goes: Normally they’re actors who play characters who lead a film, in control of every scene. So to see them play somebody so vulnerable is devastating. It’s so unlike them that it really hits home their situations.

Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman

Read a review which said she looked “like bad drag”. Fuck off. Besides, the important thing is how good she is in this role, and she’s great, her body language in each scene showing who’s in control. You can tell she’s instantly changed a situation to her advantage just by the way she’s standing. Plus she has an unsure confidence, she has to believe she’s doing what’s right, but there’s a part that’s not.

Rebecca Hall in The Night House

She’s always had a lot of promise but somehow manages to find herself in slightly disappointing roles (Iron Man 3, Godzilla Vs. Kong, Dorian Gray), in this she lives up to the potential you always knew she had. She plays a character dealing with intense personal loss, and that loss is written through every fibre of her performance. So even in the horror moments, you are always fully aware that this is a character tinged with sadness and regret. It’s the kind of performance that would be talked about for oscar nominations if they didn’t hate horror movies for some reason.

Niamh Algar in Censor

Occasionally you get a performer who you truly feel is representing the directors vision, and I feel Algar is doing this here. Her performance feels like it suits the character, the film, everything about it. I really hope her and the director work together in the future as they compliment each other wonderfully. She looks broken throughout and it’s amazing to watch. Even when she’s saying things she’s certain about, her face still seems unsure. It’s perfect for the character and I want to see her in more stuff.

Thomasin McKenzie in Last Night In Soho

This could not have been an easy performance for her to deliver, the emotional range needed is off the charts, and she had to do it all in a Cornish accent, and how did they even explain that accent to someone from New Zealand? Have to say, I never noticed though. I knew I recognised her from somewhere, but I couldn’t place where and I assumed it was some random Channel 4 show. The fact that she is this good, and is only 21 is terrifying and exciting.

Winner

Julia Sarah Stone in Come True

Already known to cinephiles in Canada due to her award-winning roles in The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom and Wet Burn, this is the first I’ve seen of her and I now want to see more. Her performance is utterly captivating. This is without a doubt one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in my life. Her performance is seen in every moment of her performance, from her body language, her facial expressions, everything is filled with little nuances that sell her character.

Worst Performer

Ray Winstone in Black Widow

You’d think he’d be great at this, he’s basically a mob boss with access to superpowered beings. But his accent is SO bad it’s laughable. It’s so hard to take him seriously as a threat when his accent his travelling more than someone who doesn’t understand the rules of basketball. I haven’t heard accents this bad outside of someone being slightly racist.

Leslie Mann in Blithe Spirit

Again, the accent. I can’t tell what nationality her character was supposed to be, was she supposed to be British and couldn’t quite manage it, or was she just supposed to be posh and her mind automatically leant slightly British?

Winner

Lebon James in Space Jam

He can’t act. At all. His character admits that in the film, doesn’t make it better.

Best Soundtrack

Come True

Has one of my favourite songs I heard in 2021. If you listen to this you can instantly tell the tone of the film. Is great to listen to. But even outside of that song, it’s great. Haven’t heard a soundtrack this creepy this It Follows.

Soul

One of the best examples of music syncing with animation in a while. The whole thing plays like an art piece, the animation moving with the music in a wonderful flowing motion. Not quite sure how it would work independently, but it is marvellous as part of something bigger.

Nobody

Following the John Wick rule of using older music, and just like that it worked. It gives the violent scenes an air of beauty and class they wouldn’t have otherwise. Not exactly a soundtrack I would go out and buy, but it suits the film perfectly.

The Suicide Squad

Not quite as good as the others on this list at matching the tone of the movie, but the choice of songs is amazing. Probably one of the ones I’m most likely to listen to on its own.

In The Heights

Another musical, but very different from Annette. I’m not sure these would work on their own, not exactly the kind of soundtrack you’d show somebody who didn’t know the film, you’d needed to have watched this to truly get the songs I think. But once you watch it, you’ll love the music. The best one is probably the opening one, it does a great job of telling you who everybody is. This film had the advantage obviously of coming from an already established musical.

Last Night In Soho

Edgar Wright is one of those directors (similar to Gunn actually) who knows what songs to pick to make a great soundtrack. Definitely the case here, obviously the key musical motif is Downtown, but the rest of the film has songs that suit it too. They’re great at setting the tone.

Winner

Annette

Musicals normally have a sense of playfulness, except for adaptations like Les Miserables. This is dark, but in a beautiful way, and the music suits that. The opening number is probably the scene I’ve watched the most on youtube this year, when I watched it originally I rewound it multiple times because I wanted to feel the magic again. Part of that was the song chosen. It’s dark, but also playful, a Sparks song about how the film is starting, starring the cast, and the musicians. There are other really good songs throughout, actually I can’t remember any dialogue, in my head it was all music. Such good songs, there’s one where Adam Drivers character is just going on a rant on stage, and the audience are booing him and telling to go away, all in the medium of song.

Most Surprising

Mouthpiece

Assumed this would be one of those “oh it’s very well made for a low budget foreign indie film”, but this is genuinely one of my favourite films now. The emotion, the performances, the originality. I loved almost everything about it. Not going to go too much into it as will mention it later.

Love and Monsters

Probably not the best film in this category, a lot of the others I expected nothing and was surprised by them, this, I expected it to be quite bad. If it wasn’t for someone messaging me telling me to watch it I would have avoided it. This is much better than you may think it would be by looking at the poster. Heatwarming, funny, and just overall brilliant

Come True

Went into this knowing nothing, came out with one of my favourite films I’ve seen. Won’t be talking about it much in this one because I talk about it A LOT in other categories.

Winner

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Some of these I went in blind and surprised me that way, some I thought were bad, but then checked them out after being told otherwise. This? I went in thinking it would terrible. The early reviews were very negative, and lets be honest it looked like it could miss the point of the originals completely. The first few minutes I was still unsure, it wasn’t until McKenna Grace’s character was on screen and started talking that I started to realise this could be good. It was better than that. Others in this category are better, but none have had such a big difference between expectations and reality. Loved it.

Best Character

Mav1s – Love And Monsters

Not in the film for very long, not even human. But gives the film some more humanity in its actions. Provides emotion, depth, and some very heartwarming moments. Very reminiscent of Baymax.

Red Guardian – Black Widow

The film was disappointing but it was never down to him. His character was funny and added a weird sense of pathos to it. I know the MCU is moving towards focusing on Yelena moving forward, but I’d much rather see more from him, weirdly I’d actually really want a prequel focusing on him.

Christine – How To Deter A Robber

There’s something so goofy and loveable about her. The moments where she’s on-screen are among the best. Essentially the type of character that Anna Kendrick would play.

Peacemaker – The Suicide Squad

There’s a reason this character got a spin-off. A sociopath who believes he’s a good guy. He is basically America personified.

Winner

Podcast/Phoebe – Ghostbusters: Afterlife

With just one of these characters, the film would be good, with both of them it’s amazing. The chemistry between them brings to mind classic 80s films like The Goonies. They’re just so perfect together that I had to include them both. They’re both great for the same reason. Incredibly well written and very funny. But the jokes they make don’t detract away from the tension, they’re not cracking wise while staring death in the face, they’re also not making jokes that kids wouldn’t make. They’re goofy jokes, which reluctantly raise a smile.

Best Film

Mouthpiece

Oh, this is tough. I may regret this decision. Usually, I just list the films nominated and then put the winner. I know there were a lot of films in the best of the year blog, but when it came to what my absolute favourite was, in reality, it was between this and Come True. I felt it would be disingenuous to list films I know had zero chance of winning, pretending they had a chance, would be a waste of my time writing, and your time reading. It is really close by the way, for different reasons. Come True is a film-makers film, Mouthpiece is a scriptwriters film. In terms of look and technical prowess, Come True runs away with it. In terms of originality, this has it. Come True is better from an analytical and film student perspective, Mouthpiece is better from an emotional one. In the end, it came down to this: If I had to watch both, which would I watch first? And the answer is Mouthpiece, it hit me harder.

So, that’s it for 2021, a surprisingly strong year for cinema. 2022 will probably have more foreign-language and independent reviews, so look forward to these getting a lot more pretentious and finding more obscure stuff. Should be fun.

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