Come gather round for a veritable end-of-year feast of film. Our HeadStuff film critics gathered together to bring you their annual picks for the top 20 of 2021. Below are #20 to #11. Don’t forget to check back for #10 to #1 which will be announced soon!
20. Last Night in Soho
Last Night In Soho has many factors going for it, in particular director Edgar Wright (Baby Driver) and actress Anna Taylor-Joy (The Queen’s Gambit). In this stylish horror-thriller, we follow sixties-obsessed Eloise (Thomasin McKenzie) who becomes telepathically drawn to the swinging time of 1965.
Through the eyes of her connection Sandie (Joy), Eloise learns the decade was not so glamorous and she finds herself involved in a murder that intertwines to the present day. The inclusion of Terence Stamp and the late Diana Rigg provide an extra foil and nod to the era – the latter giving a stunning final performance. Kevin Burke
19. A Quiet Place Part II
The most highly anticipated sequel landed in 2021: A Quiet Place Part 2. The follow-up to the thrilling sci-fi flick from 2018 continues with the same tension. Director John Krasinski continues his apocalyptic vision, and his time audiences are shown how it all came to pass in a high-octane flashback.
In a turn of focus, the main character is daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) who out shines Emily Blunt’s mother figure (Evelyn). The expansion of the cast includes an unrecognisable Cillian Murphy as Emmett, which makes for a well-acted, pacy and eerie outing that literally steals the breath from your lungs. Kevin Burke
In French surrealist filmmaker Leos Carax’s first English-language movie (and first film in nearly 10 years after 2012’s Holy Motors), a comedian (Adam Driver) and opera singer (Marion Cotillard) embark on a whirlwind romance that quickly sours after they wed. Meanwhile, it’s discovered their baby together. Annette (portrayed by a wooden marionette puppet) has a unique gift.
An eclectic mix of fantasy elements, showbiz satire and serious family drama, this musical will not be for all tastes. Even so though, Annette’s terrific performances, moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity and absolutely banging soundtrack by Sparks – cinema’s most in demand music act of 2021 – will ensure it goes down as a cult classic. Stephen Porzio
It’s difficult to pinpoint the moment Malignant becomes a masterpiece of camp horror filmmaking. Is it that twist or is it that twist or is it THAT twist? But its confidence in itself is what makes it unforgettable. Malignant is in on the joke and it doesn’t really care if you are, which is extremely rare in cinema today.
The story of Maddie (Annabelle Wallis) and the mysterious murderer she keeps seeing in visions could have been pure pulp in anyone else’s hands. There are shades of schlock in James Wan’s latest horror film just as there are shades of giallo and J-Horror all wrapped up in a slasher package. It’s impossible to go any deeper without entering spoiler territory but it should be noted that as well as being the best horror film of the year Malignant is also the best comedy and action film of the year. Andrew Carroll
16. Riders of Justice
Ah, Riders of Justice: the (slightly) poor(er) man’s Last Round. Don’t believe me? Think about it.
It’s been a year of capers galore for Mads Mikkelsen and his middle-aged pals who decide to strike out on their own without wives or girlfriends. Riders, in this reviewers opinion is the more enjoyable of the two, with the balls-to-the-wall shenanigans abandoning any attempt at pragmatism. When Mads’ wife is killed in a horrific train bombing, he joins up with a group of scientists to prove that the local motorcycle gang are behind the killings. Riders of Justice is an oddity from the start and soon spirals from there. Expect to groan joyfully throughout as the boys make ridiculous choice after ridiculous choice. Sarah Cullen
15. The Last Duel
My personal favourite film of 2021, one which managed to be serious and weighty while also being outrageously exciting. A genuinely gripping watch. Adam Driver and Jodie Comer both delivered majestic performances, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon contributed to a lively script, and Ridley Scott brought medieval France to life so vividly you would have sworn he lived there.
Nobody went to see it at the cinema, and Scott did himself and his work no favours with his whinging about millennials being too distracted by their smart phones to appreciate his work. But, in fairness, he did deliver an absolutely terrific film, and hopefully now it has landed on Disney Plus it’ll win favour with a wider audience. Jack Stevenson
It was long overdue for a horror film to take aim at the ’80s moral panic in the UK over so called “video nasties” but thankfully, Censor was worth the wait. The British chiller centres on Enid (Irish actress Niamh Algar, Calm with Horses), a film censor working in the era who becomes obsessed with an exploitation flick she has been assigned to watch, thinking it has a connection to the disappearance of her sister years ago.
While the movie rightly earned a lot of plaudits for how it mined the controversy around the horror genre decades ago for fresh scares, it was the film’s cast and direction that left the biggest impression on me. Algar adds to her increasingly impressive resume, giving a fiercely empathetic performance as a woman losing her grip on reality due to unresolved past trauma and the pressures of her job. Meanwhile, debut filmmaker Prano Bailey-Bond stages the movie’s hallucinatory disturbing finale where reality and fiction begin to merge for Enid with aplomb. She is certainly a director to look out for in the future. Stephen Porzio
13. The Green Knight
The great news is if you missed out on The Green Knight earlier in the year, now is as good a time to see it as ever: perhaps even better than ever. It is, after all, a Christmas movie.
This sumptuous and almost languorous feature regales us with the story of a directionless young man, Gawain (Dev Patel), who gets his opportunity to prove his worth to King Arthur in a bizarre festive game with a ten-foot-tall green man who, erm, challenges him to chop off his head? Yeah, don’t worry. It never starts making much more sense than that. The Green Knight is a fascinating take on the medieval poem which leaves plenty of breathing room for the original text’s enigma. Sarah Cullen
12. Promising Young Woman
Promising Young Woman separates itself from the normal, run-of-the-mill revenge thriller. Director, and writer Patty Schemel (Vita & Virginia) guides an electrifying Carey Mulligan as Cassie, a woman who ventures to bars at night faking intoxication to reveal those sexual predators lying dormant in ‘nice guys’.
That is, until an old classmate, Ryan Cooper (Bo Burnham) comes back into her life and opens the door to her most dangerous scheme yet – which will keep you gripped until the final twist. Promising Young Woman is cleverly executed, venturing into the threatening realities in society and examining misogyny in the 21st century. Kevin Burke
11. Judas and the Black Messiah
A film is at its most powerful when a viewer sits before a screen as the credits roll and asks themselves one question: “how did I not know about this?!” As shocking as it is intense. Shaka King guides the viewer through a twisted true story that will leave you in disbelief.
A transcendent performance of sheer power from Daniel Kaluuya accompanies a quieter but nonetheless equally complex LaKeith Stanfield whose every struggle is evident from a simple facial expression. Come for the performances of two of the most promising actors of their time, but leave with your jaw sitting comfortably on the floor. William Healy
Curious about our top ten? Call back to HeadStuff on the 30th of December (also known as three days from now) for the definitive list of our favourite films of 2021!