I’ve put together a top 10 movies list for every year since 1996 and I don’t plan on stopping any time soon. I had the chance to see 222 cinema releases over the past 12 months – the most since 2009. This is largely due to the unusually high number of new releases. With blockbusters absent for the most part due to COVID-19, it allowed a lot of smaller films (with an emphasis on documentaries and foreign-language films) to get a run.
It’s always tough narrowing the list down and so here’s a list of the movies which get honourable mentions (gradings of A-) which I couldn’t quite squeeze into my top 10 – The Dig, Dune, Titane, First Cow, A Quiet Place: Part II, News of the World, Girls Can’t Surf, A Family, Two of Us, The Tragedy of Macbeth, The Suicide Squad, The Killing of Two Lovers, Supernova, The Lost Leonardo, Mortal Kombat, Lapsis, Summer of Soul, The Dissident, Assassins, The Lost Daughter and The Scary of Sixty-First.
On that note, here are my top 10 movies of 2021…
10. The Power of the Dog (out Nov 11) is a Western set in Montana, 1925 and revolves around two brothers - one is softly-spoken and recently married, the other is a domineering figure with a chip on his shoulder. It needed a touch more tempo but it's still an interesting, performance-driven character study from director Jane Campion. The more I reflect on it, the more I like it.
9. The Worst Person in the World (out Dec 26) offers an interesting, insightful look into the world of a 30-year-old Norwegian woman who is still unsure about what she wants in terms of career and love. Great conversations are shared by all the characters.
8. The Dry (out Jan 1) is a wonderful addition to Australian cinema. It's the story of an AFP officer returning to a small country town to look into a murder-suicide perpetrated by a close childhood friend. Eric Bana is terrific in the lead role (love his placid demeanour) and the film is loaded with memorable, distinctive supporting performances. Writer-director Robert Connolly, drawing from Jane Harper's award-winning book, deserves praise for creating a credible whodunit.
7. The Truffle Hunters (out Feb 18) is a riveting documentary that fills your brain and lifts your spirits. It's about the elderly Italian men who search for one of the rarest foods in the world - the white Alba truffle (often selling for more than $10,000 AUD per kg). There’s no unnecessary narration and no talking heads. It's a simple, beautiful film that takes us deep inside this fascinating world and its curious characters.
6. Collective (out Apr 8) is a Romanian documentary that's riveting from start to finish. It reminds us of the importance of quality investigative journalism. It demonstrates how tainted one can become when driven by money above all else. It shows how difficult it can be to change “the system” when so many have a vested interest in quietly maintaining the status quo. No surprise to see this nominated for two Academy Awards.
5. Back Luck Banging or Loony Porn (out Nov 25) is probably the most bizarre film I’ve seen this year. Parents at a Romanian school try to have a teacher removed when a sex tape involving her appears online. Split into three very different chapters and framed as a dark comedy, it’s a wild, memorable ride.
4. The Sparks Brothers (out Jul 8) is terrific. While most music documentaries tend to focus on artists with massive highs and massive lows, this one looks at a gifted duo who have spent over 50 years in the business with middling success. Director Edgar Wright extracts oodles of humour from the many interviewees.
3. The Father (out Apr 1) has been nominated at the Oscars for best picture and it tackles the subject of dementia through the eyes of the sufferer. You're never quite sure what's real and what's not. Actors change. Storylines change. Small details within the apartment change. With the wrong actors, this could have come across as a gimmicky exercise but the two leads, Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, are extraordinary.
2. West Side Story (out Dec 26) is an invigorating remake, with a few small changes, of the successful stage musical (and 1961 film) from director Stephen Spielberg. The amazing cast, the quality production values, and the iconic music make this a film to celebrate and remember.
1. Riders of Justice (out Sep 30) is a Danish dark comedy about an army man, a computer hacker, and two mathematicians who take on a powerful gang after a suspicious train crash. This is a brilliant, original, funny, surprising movie that flips the action hero genre on its head. The year’s best.