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Best of 2021: Top 10 Films

As 2021 comes to a close, it’s time to look back on the year in pop culture. For Inside The Film Room, that means movies and television. Here, Zach Goins is breaking down his 10 favorite movies from the year.

It can’t be overstated just how much the movie theater was missed in 2020. Even the first few months of this year were spent streaming at home, but when April and its vaccines rolled around, the cinema was back in play.

The excitement I had for a screening of “In The Earth” – a movie I knew nothing about – was through the roof, marking my first return to the theater in 404 days. Luckily, that excitement only grew stronger throughout the year, with showings like “A Quiet Place Part II,” “Dune” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home” all delivering memorable theatrical experiences.

With so many delays from 2020 finally hitting screens this year, there was a wealth of entertainment to be enjoyed, from comic book hits to intimate, indie dramas – 2021 had it all. Before we dive into my Top 10, let’s look at some wonderful films that just missed out.

Honorable Mentions

11. “The Night House”

12. “King Richard”

13. “The Worst Person in the World”

14. “West Side Story”

15. “Spencer”

Here we go….

10. “Red Rocket”

“Red Rocket” is the love child of “Uncut Gems” and “The Florida Project,” and that’s an incredible compliment. It manages the slice of life style of the latter while still channeling the frenetic energy of the former. Simon Rex is so charismatic and charming it almost makes his reckless behavior and sketchy grooming acceptable — however there’s definitely still a sense of unease it can’t completely shake. Still, a blast from start to finish. (84/100)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

9. “The Suicide Squad”

“The Suicide Squad” just goes to show you don’t need A-list characters to create an A-list movie, as long as you put someone in charge who knows what to do with them. I am ready to die for Ratcatcher 2, King Shark and Polka-Dot Man, and I hardly even knew they existed before heading into the theatre. James Gunn creates a compelling story jam packed with blood and guts, raunchy humor and truly epic stunts. (85/100)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

8. “Nine Days”

The visuals in “Nine Days” are just as beautiful – if not even more beautiful – than the storytelling and themes. The stunning visuals of the Utah-based production, the beautiful use of lighting throughout the film, the delicate score from Antonio Pinto, and, of course, the celestial nature of it all come together to create a feeling that is just so… “Nine Days.” Truly a gorgeous movie all around. (86/100)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

7. “A Quiet Place Part II”

It would be easy just to copy and paste the same soundless scares from the first film and make a quick buck, but “Part II” elevates everything across the board – from new, inventive thrills to stunning camerawork and equally impressive performances. Allowing Millicent Simmonds to step into the leading role was the best decision Krasinski could have made, and Cillian Murphy is a valuable addition as the new bearded shusher. It’s obvious to see why this was titled “Part II” rather than “A Quiet Place 2,” because it very much feels like the next chapter in the same story. Bring on “Part III”! (88/100)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

6. “Spider-Man: No Way Home”

“No Way Home” is exactly what comic book movies are supposed to be — the thrills, the laughs, the action, the emotion, and, most importantly, the pure fun. It more than lived up to the hype, delivering not just a stellar MCU Spider-Man entry, but a fantastic roller coaster ride of moments that kept me grinning from start to finish. Between all the well-earned fan service is the best narrative yet for Spidey in the MCU, and it has some truly emotional moments that allow Tom Holland to flex everything his Peter Parker can be. (90/100)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

5. “Swan Song”

I initially hoped all of “Swan Song” would be as emotionally powerful and poignant as it’s third act turned out to be, but lucky for us it’s not. With three separate moments leading to tears in the final 30 minutes alone, I don’t think anyone could have handled that rate of moisture. It sets a sci-fi stage with romance, light comedy, tension and suspense to help relieve the heavy weight of the film’s overarching premise. Mahershala Ali is fantastic as the double leading man – charming at first, but carrying an immeasurable burden underneath. Bring your tissues. (90/100)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

4. “Petite Maman”

Céline Sciamma has absolutely done it again. Don’t let the slim 72-minute runtime fool you — “Petite Maman” cuts deep. It’s a simple, tender story that manages to take grand ideas and whittle them down to the basics, allowing audiences — and eight-year-old protagonists — to easily grapple with them. 

Sciamma’s storytelling is so effective that all she needs is an hour and change to tell such a powerful story. Minutes after meeting young Nelly, we already know so much about her life, her mindset and her family, not from an exposition dump, but from what we are shown — the nuances of character interactions, the framing and lingering of shots. It’s truly a pleasure to watch her craft this story. (92/100)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

3. “No Time To Die”

A beautiful, emotional and action-packed final chapter for Daniel Craig’s Bond, filled with stellar performances. Craig himself, obviously, but Leá Seydoux brings the house down, and Lashana Lynch and Ana de Armas are both delightful in their smaller roles. Rami Malek’s villain is the weakest part, but it doesn’t bring things down too much considering our true investment is in Bond’s own internal struggle. 

It’s the perfect blend of lore and connections from the past four Craig films, without ever feeling too confusing or overbearing if you haven’t caught every entry. The film works beautifully within the larger story, but can also stand alone á la “Mission: Impossible — Fallout.”

I laughed, I cried, I felt all the feels I never thought I would in a Bond movie. (94/100)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

2. “Judas and the Black Messiah”

“Judas and the Black Messiah” hit theaters and HBO Max at the very start of 2021, and it managed to hold down the top of this list for nearly the entire year. It’s a story that’s equal parts heartbreaking and infuriating, brought to life magnificently by career-bests from Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield. It may have gotten its flowers last awards season, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t still belong on year-end lists. (95/100)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

1. “Dune”

It’s staggering just how fast two-and-a-half hours can go by when Denis Villeneuve is at the helm. I’m not exaggerating when I say there were times I truly forgot I was watching a film — it’s just that immersive. Villeneuve was a master at work long before this movie, but “Dune” only further cements his status as the best around right now. An impeccable cast, stunning cinematography, jaw-dropping production design – there truly aren’t enough superlatives to accurately describe this film. (96/100)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Here’s to 2022, and another year of fantastic films!

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Zach Goins View All

Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.

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