Best of 2021: Our Favourite Films Of The Year

21 Dec 2021 BY Joe Ursell in New Releases

6 mins

Following the upheaval and turmoil of 2020, cinemas - like so many other organisations - began 2021 with their doors closed and facing an uncertain future. Release dates for long-delayed films continued to be pushed back, whilst others changed their plans and went straight to streaming channels, allowing film-starved audiences the opportunity to see something new during a seemingly never-ending lockdown.

When cinemas were finally able to reopen in May, there was a sense of excitement but also cautiousness on behalf of both venues and audiences. Unlike 2020, where hopes for the entire industry seemed to rest on the performance of a single film, Tenet, this time around the focus was much more on a plethora of new titles to hopefully entice audiences back, albeit with social distancing measures in place until late summer. Slowly but surely, audiences returned, and for those of us that love cinema, the experience of being back was euphoric.

Audiences suddenly found themselves spoiled for choice regarding what to see, whether belatedly catching up with the year's various Oscar contenders, revelling in the unique spectacle of several new cinematic musicals, rushing out with friends to catch the latest Marvel adventure, or going as a family to enjoy a number of animated films for younger audiences who may not have even visited the cinema before. And then, of course, there was Bond. The first major film to be delayed in the early days of the pandemic, No Time To Die finally arrived on the big screen in September and, judging by audience and critical reaction, it was well worth the wait.

At the time of writing, though, we are once again face an uncertain period, with films large and small unsure of whether they can be released, and cinemas worried they will have to close their doors yet again, or that audience confidence in their safety will begin to wane. With luck, this too shall pass, and cinema audiences can look ahead to an enormous banquet of new titles to suit all tastes in 2022. In the meantime, here are our Curation Team's personal cinematic highlights of what proved to be a vintage year for film, in spite of everything.

On The Mitchells vs The Machines

There's a strong influence of The Incredibles in this smart, funny, and frenetic family film produced by animation icons Phil Lord and Chris Miller (whose previous works include The LEGO Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse). 

The Mitchells vs The Machines gently sends up our technology-saturated age in which family dinners are devoid of conversation even when phones have been confiscated, and the ultimate terror is a society in which the Wi-Fi has been turned off. However, it also highlights the benefits that technology provides us, including social media, where outsiders can form their own communities and not feel so isolated. 

At its centre is Katie, an aspiring young filmmaker. Her character quietly made a little bit of history by becoming the first LGBTQ+ lead in a mainstream family animation, but to the filmmakers' credit, this is not a central focus of the film, but simply part of her personality. The passion and creativity Katie pours into her YouTube projects reminds us that as technology evolves, the future of filmmaking is in exciting hands, and that everyone should have the opportunity to express themselves creatively.

Michael - Curation Coordinator

Primary: Ron's Gone Wrong
Secondary: Sound of Metal
Documentary: The Rescue

On Sound of Metal

There's been a welcome increase in on-screen depictions of disability in recent times, with a number of films featuring D/deaf characters this year. As well as A Quiet Place Part II and CODA, there was the award-winning Sound of Metal which triumphed in the categories of Best Sound and Best Editing at both the Academy Awards and BAFTAs. 

Anchored by a superbly sensitive lead performance from Riz Ahmed as a heavy metal drummer who suddenly loses his hearing and finds himself unable to accept this significant change in his life, this is a film full of empathy which lingers long in the memory after viewing.

Steven - Curation Coordinator

Primary: The Croods 2: A New Age
Secondary: West Side Story
Secondary: Limbo

On West Side Story

Upon the announcement of Steven Spielberg's magnum-opus musical remake, the question on everyone's lips seemed to be "…why?". The concept of a 21st century remake of a 1960s film based on a Broadway musical may not be the most inspiring for audiences who expect trailblazing ideas from the influential, world-famous director but, with West Side Story, he has turned one of the musical world's most recognisable romances into something almost entirely new. 

Whilst the core story of two lovers caught up in a turf war between the Jets and the Sharks remains, Spielberg has changed numerous details that add up to a fresh and vibrant allegory for the times that we live in today. Look out for the stunning, dynamic performance from relative newcomer to film Mike Faist as the surly leader of the Jets.

Maria - Curation Coordinator

Primary: Luca
Secondary: Minari
Documentary: Through the Night

Through the Night

Sometimes the most moving stories can be found in unlikely places. This intimate and warm documentary takes place in home-turn-daycare, where Delores ‘Nunu' and her husband offer 24 hour care for children whose parents must work till the early hours.

Amidst personal struggles, the film portrays the solidarity between the parents and the caregivers, a much needed reminder of the importance of caregiving labor and how it can transform lives. 

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Curation Manager

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has been with Into Film (and beforehand FILMCLUB) since 2012. 

This Article is part of: New Releases

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