Top 21 Films Of 2021

With dogs, pigs and lambs ruling film in 2021, it’s been a remarkable year where independent voices in filmmaking triumphed creatively with themes of redemption, forgiveness, freedom, and love.  Let’s take a look at film journalist Daniel Dercksen‘s 21 favourite films he managed to watch during 2021.

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WEST SIDE STORY – In contrast to the stylistic staging of the 1961 West Side Story, Steven Spielberg’s film is a vibrant and sumptuous naturalistic musical-drama-romance that proudly stands on its own feet, brilliantly bringing Tony Kushner brilliant screenplay to life, allowing the characters to tell the story as it should be, at its utmost best, packed with emotional vigour. Spielberg vision is a cohering: a fresh, original, unique perspective on the material. An absolute masterwork. Trailer / Feature: Rebooting A Stalwart Classic

THE POWER OF THE DOG  This remarkable western drama from writer- and director Jane Campion features an exceptional performance by Benedict Cumberbatch as a charismatic rancher who inspires fear and awe in those around him. When his brother brings home a new wife and her son, Phil torments them until he finds himself exposed to the possibility of love. Based on the 1967 novel of the same name by Thomas Savage, the film had a limited theatrical release in Australia and New Zealand and was released to stream worldwide on Netflix on December 2021. It was named one of the best films of 2021 by the American Film Institute and received seven nominations at the 79th Golden Globe Awards. Trailer

SUPERNOVA The endearing romance from British filmmaker Harry Macqueen celebrates the unique love between two men who have been partners of 20 years, are travelling across England in their old RV, visiting friends, family and places from their past. Since Tusker was diagnosed with early-onset dementia two years ago, their time together is the most important thing they have. As the trip progresses, however, their ideas for the future clash, secrets come out, and their love for each other is tested as never before. Ultimately, they must confront the question of what it means to love one another in the face of Tusker’s illness. The film features stellar performances by Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci. Trailer

PIG Nicholas Cage is on a mission to rescue his truffle his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped, a journey that seals a friendship with an unlikely ally and reveals the art of cooking delectable fine cuisine. It’s an extraordinary film from writer-director Michael Sarnoski in his directorial debut and brilliant performances from Alex Wolff and Adam Arkin. Bit the film belongs to Cage, his performance is mesmerizing from start to finish. It gets richer as the film moves along and more details come out, but Cage is never changing, just revealing layer upon layer. He’s magnificent. Trailer

LAMB  One of the most original and perturbing films in years, is Valdimar Jóhannsson’s haunting Icelandic drama that crosses boundaries, an indelible tale of loss and silent grief, as sad-eyed María and her taciturn husband, Ingvar, seek solace in back-breaking work and the demanding schedule at their sheep farm in the remote, harsh, wind-swept landscapes of mountainous Iceland. When the childless couple discovers a mysterious newborn on their farm, the unexpected prospect of family life brings them much joy, before ultimately destroying them.  Outstanding performances by Noomi Rapace, Hilmir Snær Guðnason and Björn Hlynur Haraldsson is heart-shattering. Trailer

THE FATHER Celebrating the unbreakable bond between parent and child, this masterwork by French novelist, playwright and director Florian Zeller is unforgettable, with Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman in a heart-rending account of what happens when a relationship which has coloured their every waking moment for decades suddenly and irrevocably changes.  The film poignantly offers a glimpse into the world through the prism of a character whose dementia sets in motion a gradual decline affecting every part of his reality. Trailer Feature: A beautifully wrought family drama

THE LAST DUEL From visionary filmmaker Ridley Scott comes this gripping tale of betrayal and vengeance set against the brutality of 14th century France. Based on actual events, the historical epic unravels long-held assumptions about France’s last sanctioned duel between Jean de Carrouges and Jacques Le Gris, two friends turned bitter rivals.  It’s a cinematic and thought-provoking drama told from three distinct perspectives, with outstanding performances by Matt Damon and Adam Driver, and Jodie Comer as the woman caught in a deadly love triangle. Trailer Feature: A cinematic and thought-provoking drama told from three distinct perspectives

It is definitely worth taking a look at Ridley Scott’s HOUSE OF GUCCI, featuring Oscar-worthy performances by Lady Gaga and Jared Ledo. Feature: A scandal-ridden real-life family drama

NEVER GONNA SNOW AGAIN Every frame of Malgorzata Szumowska’sexquisitely off-beat story is breathtakingly alluring, bringing to life an unforgettable story of how a masseur and hypnotist gains acceptance and stature in a wealthy gated community, touching on class, immigration, and global warming. Alec Utgoff is mesmerizing as a man who heals broken lives with his hands and gives hope to those in despair.  Trailer

NOMADLAND Frances McDormand is captivating in  Chloé Zhao’s sweeping panoramic portrait of the American nomadic spirit, an astounding portrait of a woman who has lost a husband and in fact her whole former life and finds herself in the nomad community, and “evolves – in the wilderness, in rocks, trees, stars, a hurricane, this is where she finds her independence. The film offers outstanding performances from real-life nomads Bob Wells, Linda May, and Swankie as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West. Trailer / Feature: A sweeping panoramic portrait of the American nomadic spirit

THE FRENCH DISPATCH Writer-director Wes Anderson’s French love letter to internationalism, culture and the blessed art of independent journalism is an absolute delight. Imaginative, innovative, and masterfully showcasing the art of filmmaking and storytelling, it offers a bounty of stories within stories within memories within frameworks that converges into one organic whole, a cabinet of cinematic wonders of all shapes and sizes in constant dynamic motion, a love letter to the printed word in general and The New Yorker magazine in particular, to France and to French movies, a moving meditation on living far from home. Excellent performances by an ensemble cast that includes Owen Wilson, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens, Griffin Dunne,  Adrien Brody, Bill Murray and Timothée Chalamet. Trailer / Feature: Wes Anderson’s love affair with French cinema

CHARLATAN This breath-taking politically charged drama from Agnieszka Holland’s takes us inside the conflicted life of a non-conformist herbalist who cured hundreds of people using plant-based remedies – exploring his unshakeable commitment to his calling, the illicit relationship with his assistant, as he perseveres first under Nazi then Communist regimes in Czechoslovakia. Ivan Trojan is outstanding as a man whose passion for healing, and lust for cruelty, sadism, and an incapacity for love that only one person could ever quell — his assistant, František, featuring an equally brilliant performance by Juraj Loj. It is a poignant reflection on the price one pays for single-mindedly following one’s calling. Trailer

SPENCER A powerful and emotionally driven character-driven survival story about an iconic woman’s own declaration of independence. An imagining of what might have happened during those few fateful days when Princess Diana decided to leave Prince Charles. With Jackie (2016) and now Spencer, Chilean director Pablo Larraín offers a revealing and intimate portrait of a woman who changed the face of the 20th century, with Kristen Stewart delivering a mesmerising performance. * Also watch the super Diana: The Musical. Trailer / Feature: A character-driven survival story about an iconic woman’s own declaration of independence

BEING THE RICCARDOS This revealing glimpse of Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz’ complex romantic and professional relationship is an absolute treat, taking us into the heart of the writers’ room, onto the soundstage and behind closed doors with Ball and Arnaz during one critical production week of their ground-breaking sitcom, I Love Lucy. This first-rate biographical drama was written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and delivers top-notch performances from Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem as Ball and Arnaz. Trailer

EVERYBODY’S TALKING ABOUT JAMIE An absolute joy, the story follows and is based upon the true-life story of 16-year-old British schoolboy Jamie Campbell, as he overcomes prejudice and bullying, to step out of the darkness and become a drag queen. This musical comedy-drama was directed by Jonathan Butterell (in his feature directorial debut) and stars newcomer Max Harwood with Richard E. Grant. Trailer

MY SON Driving in the heart of the Highlands, Edmond Murray receives a call from his ex-wife, in tears. Their 7-year-old son went missing from a campsite. Soon it becomes clear that the child was kidnapped and the parents give way to despair. The film is writer-director Christian Carion’s English-language remake of his own 2017 French production Mon Garçon. Although the cast, setting, and script were all changed, My Son was made using the same distinctive methodology as the French original, what Carion calls “orchestrated improvisation.” The key element of this approach is to keep the story and script concealed from lead actor James McAvoy, delivering an astounding performance. Trailer / Feature: A suspense thriller with ‘orchestrated improvisation’

BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY Offering a rich tapestry of satire, sass, sympathy, and mystery, Tate Taylor deliciously wicked, dark and humorous dissection of America’s fixation on fame, notoriety, and victimhood, features Allison Janney in a superb performance as an underappreciated suburban wife in pastel-painted Yuba County who gets no attention, When her husband goes missing, she gets a taste of being a local celebrity and stumbles into hilarious hijinks as her world turns upside down. Trailer / Feature: A rich tapestry of satire, sass, sympathy, and mystery

GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE This rip-roaring, female-focused thriller from Israeli film-maker Navot Papushado was inspired by the movies of Sergio Leone, Akira  Kurosawa, and Alfred Hitchcock, where a spaghetti western, film noir and Samurai/Ronin movies blend together in one of the most action-packed films of the year. The story focuses on a mother who discovers that the daughter she was forced to abandon as a child has followed her into the same dangerous profession as a hitwoman. Trailer / Feature: A story of lessons learnt and shackles broken

MUSIC In our torn world of chaos, upheaval, and misplayed emotions, we definitely need a film like Music to remind us of the power of love, being loved and loving unconditionally. Visual artist, storyteller, music maker and filmmaker Sia, who cemented her role as one of today’s most groundbreaking artists, sought after songwriters and captivating live performers, has crafted a masterwork of incredible beauty, and extraordinary insight into the human condition, shining a vibrant and colourful light on to humanity, particularly on those who live with disabilities and flawed imperfections. Sia’s vivacious and pulsating journey into the mindscape of those who see the world differently, especially people like Music, who is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum, will change your worldview and allow us to heal our sorrows and misfortunes. Maddie Ziegler, playing Music, is a revelation and force to behold. Trailer / Feature: A bold and compelling reinvention of the screen musical

IN THE HEIGHTS The creator of “Hamilton” and the director of “Crazy Rich Asians” invite you to a cinematic event, where the streets are made of music and little dreams become big.  In the Heights fuses Lin-Manuel Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director Jon M. Chu’s lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience. Trailer / Feature: From Musical Play To Vibrant Cinematic Event

TICK, TICK … BOOM! On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a promising young theatre composer navigate love, friendship and the pressures of life as an artist in New York City. This biographical musical drama was directed by Lin-Manuel Miranda in his feature directorial debut. Written by Steven Levenson, it is based on the stage musical of the same name by Jonathan Larson. The film stars Andrew Garfield, Robin de Jesús, Alexandra Shipp, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, and Vanessa Hudgens. It was named one of the best films of 2021 by the American Film Institute and was nominated for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy (Garfield) at the 79th Golden Globe Awards. Trailer

MALIGNANT Definitely not for the faint-hearted, the mind-blowing horror-thriller from James Wan is a terrifying tale about a young woman who finds out that her nightmares about gruesome murders are, in fact, real. That’s all you need to know before taking the plunge into a full-blooded horror.  Trailer / Feature: James Wan talks about Malignant and returning to his roots with this original horror thriller

Horror fans should also watch Antlers, A Quite Place 2, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, The Night House, Halloween Kills

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Special Mention: South African Films

ANGELIENA Filmmaker Uga Carlini’s Angeliena is story is about the self-love of a formerly homeless parking attendant, who is diagnosed with a fatal disease and dares to put her lifelong dream of travelling the world into motion. Writer-director Uga Carlini talks about her inspirational and life-affirming film Angeliena

BARAKAT The local film tells a story about celebrating life, culture and the importance of family. Go behind the scenes / Q & A with Amy Jephta and Ephraim Gordon / Trailer Read more

KAALGAT KAREL The streaking local romcom tells of Karel Venter ( Francois Jacobs), a thirty-year-old guy who loves the thrill and accompanying social media stardom of streaking during sports matches. He falls head-over-heels for the paramedic, Rita (Christa Visser), who saves him after a streak gone wrong, but there’s a problem; she’s a strait-laced single mom who has no interest in his streaking shenanigans. It is directed by Meg Rickards, who co-wrote and produced the feature with her husband Paul Egan. Read an interview with director Meg Rickards / Read more / Trailer

THIS IS NOT A BURIAL, IT’S A RESURRECTION A haunting tribute to land, community and ancestry. The first film from Lesotho, made by a Mosotho filmmaker, is directed by Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese. Go behind the scenes / Q & A with Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese / Trailer

DARYN’S GYM  A mockumentary comedy from writer-director, Brett Michael Innes, is set in a family gym in Randburg, the film sees the lovable Daryn JNR pitted against the ruthless owner of a multi-national fitness centre as he fights to keep his family legacy alive. Released on eVOD  / Read more about the film