The best films of 2021 (so far!)

From heartbreaking indie dramas to supersized blockbusters on the big screen

Believe it or not we’re already halfway through 2021 – another seriously weird year for film that sometimes feels like it hasn’t gotten started yet. The pipeline might still be clogged with a lot of big-name movies, but the first six months have already given us plenty to get excited about if you know where to look. Monster-sized blockbusters have slipped out on demand, Oscar-winners have sneaked quietly into watchlists and little landmark indies have been the ones selling the most popcorn as movie schedules start reshuffling back into place.

There might be a lot more still to come, but 2021 is already shaping up into another bumper year for film. Here’s our pick of the best so far…

A Quiet Place Part II

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Director: John Krasinski

It seems fitting that the movie that was advertised on faded bus posters for at least 18 months became the first post-pandemic blockbuster. Bigger, louder and scarier than the original, John Krasinski’s tense alien horror was a reminder of everything we missed by watching films in the bright safety our living rooms.

Best moment: A seamless single shot prologue that showed all the stuff the first film kept hidden.

Where to watch: In cinemas now

Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry

Director: R.J. Cutler

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Long, honest and uncompromising, the best thing about R.J. Cutler’s doc is that it barely feels like it’s scratching the surface. As real and relatable as Eilish seems herself, the film still smartly knew how much to keep buried in the subtext, painting an intimate portrait of a girl caught in the middle of a cultural phenomenon that’s still unfolding.

Best moment: Billie freaking out and fangirling over Justin Bieber

Where to watch: Apple TV+

Bo Burnham: Inside

Director: Bo Burnham

Before the flood of comedies, horrors and poignant dramas about 2020 starts rolling in, Bo Burnham gives us the definitive lockdown movie – just one man stuck in his room with nothing but time and anxiety on his hands. Something much more interesting than stand-up, Inside is a comedy/horror/poignant drama in its own right, taking self-loathing, self-obsessed swipes at everything Insta-culture stands for, all in the form of a mad one-man musical.

Best moment: ‘Welcome to the internet’ making a bid to be the new soundtrack to everything (all of the time).

Where to watch: Netflix

Creation Stories

Director: Nick Moran

Who better to adapt Alan McGee’s life story than Irvine Welsh – turning McGee’s half-forgotten heyday memories of Creation Records into a Trainspotting-lite biopic full of chaos and coke. Ewan Bremner looks like he’s having a blast, director Nick Moran keeps the energy flowing, and anyone who owns a bucket hat will get weepie over the soundtrack.

Best moment: James McClelland and Leo Harvey-Elledge swaggering out as the Gallaghers at Glasgow’s hallowed King Tut’s venue.

Where to watch: Sky Cinema

The Father

Director: Florian Zeller

Anthony Hopkins won a well-deserved second Oscar for his heart-breaking turn in Florian Zeller’s dementia drama – a gently horrifying movie that deliberately swapped actors and scenery to give us a glimpse inside a deteriorating mind. Tender and upsetting in equal measure, it’s the kind of film that makes you want to go and hug your parents.

Best moment: Anthony’s final breakdown, horror and acceptance, all in the space of a single scene.

Where to watch: In cinemas now

Godzilla vs. Kong

Director: Adam Wingard

Pushed out too early on HBO Max, if ever a film should have been saved for the big screen it was this one. Two solid hours of big monsters punching each other through neon-lit skyscrapers, Godzilla vs. Kong capped the franchise with the greatest, silliest of showdowns – throwing in a few planetary wormholes, nuclear-powered magic axes and a giant robot for good measure.

Best moment: The final Hong Kong bout. Enough to shake the paint off the walls.

Where to watch: In cinemas; VOD

In The Heights

Director: Jon M. Chu

Another smart summer showstopper that feels tailor-made for getting audiences dancing back into cinemas, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s giddy New York musical makes its way to the big screen with as much old-fashioned flair as possible. Jon M. Chu whirls his camera like a dancer, Anthony Ramos dazzles in the lead, and everyone who sees it comes out crackling with the film’s electric energy.

Best moment: A swimming pool extravaganza that looks like it took about two years to choreograph.

Where to watch: In cinemas now

Judas and the Black Messiah

Director: Shaka King

Making weird history at this year’s Academy Awards for being the only film without a leading actor – both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield were somehow nominated for supporting roles. In truth, both actors stole the lead in Shaka King’s powerhouse historical drama, with Kaluuya winning the Oscar and Stanfield running a close second as two men pulled into each other’s orbit during the rise of the Black Panther movement.

Best moment: The moment of betrayal – and the flicker of regret that instantly follows.

Where to watch: In cinemas, VOD

Minari

Director: Lee Isaac Chung

Moving slowly, seemingly doing very little, Minari is a deceptively simple film – an intimate portrait of a South Korean family trying to make a living in rural Arkansas during the ’80s – yet Lee Isaac Chung’s film remains one of the most powerful films of the year so far. Boasting exceptional performances from its cast and sparingly shot with real sensitivity, it’s a film that’s almost impossible not to fall for.

Best moment: The expression on little Alan Kim’s face when grandma (Youn Yuh-jung) shows up.

Where to watch: In cinemas, VOD

Nomadland

Director: Chloé Zhao

Named Best Film at this year’s Oscars, Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland is currently the one to beat in 2021. Hitting hard with independent spirit, Zhao’s beautifully shot drama feels casually unassuming right up to the point where you realise just how affecting it really is – with Frances McDormand’s remarkable performance on the fringes of American society already one for the ages.

Best moment: Fern’s first stroll through the desert, undercut by Ludovico Einaudi’s incredible score.

Where to watch: Disney+

Palm Springs

Director: Max Barbakow

It would be heresy to try and remake a film as a good as Groundhog Day, so Max Barbakow updates it instead – giving the time-loop romcom premise a modern mumblecore makeover with an edge that somehow feels both darker and lighter at the same time. Andy Samberg and Christin Milioti bring the spikey sweetness and J. K. Simmons brings everything else.

Best moment: The perfect way to cross a wedding dancefloor, painfully rehearsed a million times before getting it right.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Poly Styrene: I Am A Cliché

Director: Celeste Bell, Paul Sng

’80s punk icon Poly Styrene finally gets the biopic doc she always deserved, but here her daughter, Celeste Bell, also tells her own moving story about their relationship. London punks will love revisiting the old scene, and anyone who doesn’t already know X-Ray Spex will discover their new favourite band, but the real punk raw energy of the film comes from just how personal it all feels.

Best moment: Unseen early footage of Poly Styrene that shows how iconic she was before anyone even knew her name.

Where to watch: VOD

Promising Young Woman

Director: Emerald Fennell

Much more than just a bubblegum-popping retort to societal sexism, Emerald Fennell’s rape revenge thriller was provocative on purpose – needing to be as funny, frightening and uncomfortable to watch as it was necessary to make. As bold as Fennell’s vision is, it’s hard not to see Promising Young Woman as Carey Mulligan’s film, now worn proudly as the most iconic role of her career so far.

Best moment: That first reveal. Less shocking than the finale, but every bit as brave.

Where to watch: Sky Cinema

Sound Of Metal

Director: Darius Marder

A collision of perfect acting, directing, writing and sound design, Darius Marder’s drama follows the journey of a metal drummer (Riz Ahmed) who suddenly loses his hearing. Taking us inside the silence using every tech trick in the book, Marder slowly shifts the focus from what’s been lost to what’s being found, with Ahmed giving his best performance to date in a new modern classic that still feels essential .

Best moment: The last few silent moments, finally free from distortion.

Where to watch: Amazon Prime Video

Supernova

Director: Harry Macqueen

Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci play partners taking one last road trip together as the onset of dementia hangs over them like a setting sun – one last chance to cling on to as many happy memories as possible. As beautiful and as heartbreaking as it sounds, Firth and Tucci are both remarkable in a love story that smoulders with life and feeling.

Best moment: Stargazing, trying to find something that lasts.

Where to watch: In cinemas now

The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Director: Lee Daniels

Grammy-nominated R&B star Andra Day jumped straight in the deep end for her acting debut, playing legendary singer Billie Holiday in Lee Daniels’ sprawling biopic. Reviews were mixed on Daniels’ direction but Day’s performance soars – earning her an Oscar nomination and marking her out as one of the most exciting new actors around.

Best moment: One devastating single-shot scene that shows the real horror of ‘Strange Fruit’.

Where to watch: Sky Cinema

Zack Snyder’s Justice League

Director: Zach Snyder

The kind of film that inspires love, hate and nothing in between, whatever your take on Zack Snyder it’s hard to fault his ambition – recrafting a flawed franchise flop into the Gone With The Wind of superhero movies. Yes it’s long, and yes it’s a bit over the top, but ‘The Snyder Cut’ marks an important milestone in Hollywood’s meddling relationship with its own directors, and an even bigger milestone for fandoms everywhere.

Best moment: The Flash gets a beautifully cool new intro showing off everything Snyder does best.

Where to watch: Sky Cinema

Words: Paul Bradshaw

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