Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon Mastodon OPINION: The Best 50 Films of 2021

SpoilerTV - TV Spoilers

OPINION: The Best 50 Films of 2021

Share on Reddit

Disclaimer: Please note that the views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpoilerTV.

It's that time again! After last year's list I've been adopting an approach - due to being based in the UK, of only featuring films by their UK theatrical or streaming release date. So nothing that showed exclusively at festivals, which means no: Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon, The Souvenir Part II, Ali & Ava, Bergman Island which I'm sure will all make 2022's list unless we get a spectacularly good year. This list is chosen from about 200 films in total - so plenty of choice - that I've seen this year (and in some cases, sometimes earlier, if you're wondering why a lot of Oscar movies didn't make last year's list, that's because here they are), but above all it's personal - I'm no Marvel Cinematic Universe fan as SpoilerTV regulars will know, so don't expect much of a showing from them - great that you like the films, but they're just not for me), and I've started using this list to extend it to showcase the lesser-known films that don't get quite as much attention as the bigger blockbusters - but also in part because the bigger films just didn't work for me this year. Which means no Dune, no Last Night in Soho - but we're not here to trash the fims that I didn't like, we're here to celebrate those that I did - and that means a 50 film list chosen because in part of what they meant to be and in part of how good they were.

Feel free to leave your own lists in the comments below and let me know what films you liked the most this year!

50. Wildland

Jeanette Nordahl’s complex Danish thriller has echoes of Animal Kingdom – focusing on a seventeen-year-old Ida who moves in with her Aunt’s family of criminals following a car accident that leads to the death of her mother. It’s bleak and hostile – a subtle examination of what people would do for family even though it’s the wrong thing to do, with the film finding a way to keep you always invested throughout. Its nuance only benefits this smart, richly contextual thriller that will linger on your mind long afterwards.

49. Deerskin

Qunetin Dupieux is one of the more unconventional European directors out there and this 77-minute thriller about a man’s obsession of owning the designer jacket of his dreams is beautifully presented in a documentary-like footage when the man teams up with an ambitious filmmaker to craft a frightingly on-edge horror. Jean Dujardin’s portrait of obsession and desire for the jacket is played completely straight, and Adèle Haenel is quietly brilliant opposite him as am ambitious film editor. This eccentric pairing leads to unexpected results – and never overstays its welcome.

48. Riders of Justice

Mads Mikkelsen has been misused by Hollywood ever since they started casting him in villainous roles so it’s great to see him return to that of the anti-hero in the pitch-black dark comedy Riders of Justice, where he teams up with a bunch of socially mathematicians who may or may not believe that the death of his wife wasn’t a random train accident, but instead a targeted assassination. The film subverts all what you’ve come to expect from the genre and Anders Thomas Jensen finds a way to get the best out of Mikkelsen it’s no wonder he’s one of the best actors currently working today.

47. Passing

Ruth Negga puts in one of the best performances of the year in a stirring debut from actor-turned director Rebecca Hall, beautifully shot in black and white. The dynamic between Tessa Thompson and Negga starts strong – Clare Kendry is passing as white when Irene Redfield meets her childhood friend – and what follows quickly turns hostile when Irene realises that Clare is spending a little too much time with her husband, Andre Holland’s Brian. The cinematography is pitch-perfect and the script, based off Nella Larsen’s timeless novel – leaves an instant mark, and it’s every bit as worthy in its depiction of a classic as you should expect to be.

46. Dear Comrades!

Andrei Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades! focuses on the true events of the strike in the small industrial town of Novocherkassk after the raising of food prices by the communist government. What follows is a horrifying massacre – brought to life in black and white that spares no expense from portraying a realist, tense and uncompromising experience that doesn’t shy away from anything on display. It’s inherently claustrophobic and a true addition to the conventions of Soviet cinema canon – with visually stunning cinematography from Andrey Naydyonov that absolutely sticks the landing. Whilst broadly different on paper, both this and Armando Iannuci’s The Death of Stalin are perfect insights into party officials who dare not tread the line with devastating results for their people.

45. A Cop Movie

Alonso Ruizpalacios presents a documentary that’s unlike no other, a beautifully shot look into two police officers living in Mexico City that meet and form a relationship. Told through the style of a mockumentary in a way that goes places you never expect it to – it sends two real actors into the ranks of the police as a pairing with the narrative of the two real police officers, and tells fact as fiction, fiction as fact – in a completely unique experiment.

44. The World to Come

Mona Fastvold’s portrayal of life on the American frontier in 1856 is turbulent, harsh and unwelcoming – boasting tremendous lead performances by Katherine Waterston and Vanessa Kirby, it finds a way to bring light and close connection to an incredibly isolated time where any kind of travel no matter how small or long was fraught with danger – and this period romance does quite a bit to separate it from the multitude of them that we’ve had over the past few years – this should have had the same kind of attention that Ammonite did, which was a mostly dour affair. Here the tenderness and real feel of the shared relationship benefits from such a strong sense of place and location every shot feels lived in – almost like a painting, beautifully broad to life. Casey Affleck lingers in the background in a quietly moving performance rounding out the three central leads – but this stirring effort is at once incredibly poetic and very, very bleak.

43. Limbo

With an offbeat whimsical charm reminiscent of Four Lions, Limbo focuses on a group of refugees waiting to be granted asylum on a fictional Scottish island. Scotland has never been bleaker, but the characters presented here have rarely been shown as to be more human and complex – Omar’s tale of a young Syrian musician is hilarious, moving and heartbreaking – all the right kinds of emotion distilled into 140 minutes with a tone that few films are brave enough to tell.

42. The Hand of God

Given its subject matter of a family in Italy whose life is affected by the “Hand of God” goal that Diego Maradona scored versus England to knock them out of the 1986 World Cup, I was going to love The Hand of God from the start which plays as an excellent companion piece to Asif Kapada’s Diego Maradona documentary that came out a couple of years ago. Here every up is followed by a down – and whilst that means the highs are spectacularly high the lows are overwhelmingly low – it’s a coming-of-age story that mixes heartache, cinema, film and love into one movie with all the oddball quirks of a director like Paolo Sorrentino – there are few other films quite like this out this year. Completely specific in its detailed and inspired by real-world events, this is one of the most beautiful movies of the year – and deserves to be seen on the big screen.

41. Pig

Nicolas Cage has always been a good actor – but Pig is one of his best performances of his career, an aged, grizzled man that would prefer to be left alone but is called to action sounds like the set-up for yet another John Wick knockoff – and whilst I’d watch another John Wick knockoff if Cage was in it, Pig is anything but – a meditative, reflective experience from Michael Sarnoski explores loss in all its forms – subverting the revenge genre in a film that feels right at home with its indie sensibilities. Don’t go in expecting anything traditional.

40. No Sudden Move

Steven Soderbergh has been making at least one consistently good film every year - often more than just one – the man just never sleeps, and probably has at least three projects in the work as we speak. Here he returns to the vibe of his best work, Out of Sight, for a deliberately complex thriller that benefits from the all-star cast of Don Cheadle, Benicio del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, Ray Liotta and Brendan Fraser. There’s literally a big name everywhere you look – I haven’t even mentioned Kieran Culkin, Amy Seimetz, Julia Fox and Noah Jupe yet – only The French Dispatch can rival a band of talent in one movie, and it works so well – the cast are just perfect together. Soderbergh has a way at poking at capitalism and working critiques of it into his low-budget films regardless of the genre and this is no different, showcasing just how much of a chameleon he is behind the camera. Comparable to the Coen Brothers at their best – No Sudden Move is a delight.

39. Censor

The ‘video nasties’ were often low-budget horror and exploitation films that were criticised by the press and people like Mary Whitehouse – sometimes even censored and banned in the UK in the early 1980s but found a way to avoid the BBFC classification rules and make it to air. Prano Bailey-Bond’s Censor plunges into the world of those whose job it is to make sure that films like these are monitored – film censor Enid, is our protagonist of this unflinching, horror-fuelled scream fest, transforming her short film Nasty into a 84 minute wonder thanks to a spirited performance from the always-great Niamh Algar. If you’re a genre fan you’ll love this – Censor looks at the legacy of these films rather than do what Last Night in Soho did and just pay homage to them – and the end result is something new that feels more than just a love letter. In an age where blockbuster films are increasingly boring and afraid to take risks – Bailey-Bond’s horror leads the way.

38. Siberia

Willem Dafoe’s descent into madness is superbly brought to life by Abel Ferrara – it’s a gripping psychological thriller that will completely test your boundaries and patience at every turn, but the result is nothing short of rewarding – it’s a grizzled, world-weary Jodorowsky-esque assault of the senses that highlights the sheer intensity of this acid-trip and is nothing if not authentic – it’s a perfect distillation of the mind of cinema’s most electrifying directors. Pure nightmare fuel and I wouldn't have it any other way.

37. Lamb

Vladimar Johannson’s Icelandic horror is soaked in atmosphere, there are few things that are as unnaturally creepy as the fog and when it is as thick as the fog in Lamb you know it’s a bad omen. This is just a delightfully odd film throughout – containing the single-most awkward dinner scene of the entire year in a way that drew awkward laughter from those watching it. It’s best to know nothing going into this unique folk horror so I won’t describe the plot – but it’s absolutely worth your time.

36. Ham on Rye

Tyler Taormina creates a wonderfully entrancing, uniquely odd experience that pulls you into its unsettling vision of a world where everyone’s life is decided at a party on their final night of school. Its dreamlike vision casts a spell that’s part David Robert Mitchell, part David Lynch – unsettling and eerie in nature, it’d make for a fantastic double feature with The Myth of the American Sleeper. It’s completely mesmerising and combines the eccentric nature of it with the natural awkwardness that comes with any teen coming of age movie. Loved every minute of it – imagine a Lynch-directed Freaks and Geeks for the closest counterpart.

35. Minari

Lee Isaac Chung sends us to the late 1980s and looks at David, a seven-year-old Korean boy, who finds himself faced with new surroundings when his family moves from the West Coast to Arkansas. The film explores the bond between family that runs into struggles when his equally mischievous grandmother arrives from Korea to live with them – and boasts an instantly memorable centre-piece performance from Steven Yeun, who has only gone from strength to strength since leaving The Walking Dead. Emile Mosseri adds yet another iconic score to his repertoire of nothing but iconic scores – and it’s hard not to be swept up by the sheer charm of this movie that feels at once beautiful, sad and real – it’s hard not to be drawn to tears with a completely adorable performance by Alan Kim.

34. Nomadland

It’s been quite the year for Oscar-winner turned Marvel franchise director Chloé Zhao – but Nomadland, featuring an amazing performance by the marvellous Frances McDormand, is still an excellent addition to her filmography and something that feels entirely worthy of the best picture crown. Paving a way into the road not travelled with a yearning ode to life without a home – the film spends much of its time utilising real people who have lived these experiences, only casting a couple of trained actors. Beautifully shot with awe-inspiring Malickian magic-hour moments that Zhao has replicated over her career, it’s a reminder that so many people view that just because you don’t have a home doesn’t make you homeless – it makes you houseless.

33. C’mon, C’mon

Joaquin Phoenix goes the other way after Joker and pairs up with 20th Century Women director Mike Mills for a black and white roadtrip across America that just works. It’s Mike Mills doing what Mike Mills does best - construct a kind, tender and emotional film that’s ultimately perfect - at once warm, optimistic and bittersweet. Phoenix and Norman are brilliant together - the decision to shoot in black and white works wonders and Mills, not content with one flawless reconstruction of a city - goes for three and brings New Orleans, LA and New York to life giving each one a distinctive look and feel of its own complete with their own stories and history.

32. Supernova

Harry McQueen’s tender-hearted road-trip drama follows Sam and Tusker travelling in an RV across England to visit their friends. It’s a quiet, forlorn look at a good relationship with the pair’s romance quickly meeting a stumbling block as their plans for the future are met with obstacle after obstacle. Supernova doesn’t shy away from the fact that Tusker was diagnosed with early onset dementia, and both Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth deliver entirely natural performances that will find a way to move to you to tears. Their chemistry is perfect and really makes the movie, benefiting from its gentle and sweet tenderness that few films can rival.

31. Quo Vadis, Aida?

As expected given its harrowingly vital subject matter, Quo Vadis, Aida? is far from an easy watch and really harrowing viewing - but worth every second as Jasna Đuričić arguably out-acts almost everybody who was nominated for an Oscar this year. Tense - heartbreaking and completely unafraid to tell the story that it wants to tell without the need for Hollywood-ification.

30. Titane

Probably the most unique movie of the year that opens with Agathe Rousselle’s Alexis having sex with a car and only gets wilder than there. It’s Julia Ducournau in no-fucks-given mode, the best kind of approach to filmmaking – that goes full body horror in the way that David Cronenberg would be proud of. It’s visceral and uncomfortable – raw and unforgiving in the best possible way, with Rouselle herself showcasing one of the best performances of 2021. Much has been said about Jordan Peele, Ari Aster and Robert Eggers as the best of the current crop of modern horror directors – but Ducournau, between this and Raw, is better than all of them.

29. The Nest

Sean Durkin is the king of directing horror films that aren’t horror movies, and The Nest has an air of The Shining about it, as a man driven by wealth and ambition takes his American family back to London to re-join a firm, but the marriage begins to break down as Carrie Coon’s Allison O’Hara feels incredibly out of her depth as her family are starting to become unrecognisable. Jude Law is despicable as a smooth-talking con-artist, able to talk the talk to get him out of big situations but his need to spend big clashes with his lifestyle. It’s a fascinating tale of old vs new money, with Durkin replicating the skilled craftmanship that he brought to the table with Martha Marcy May Marlene. It’s like watching a car crash play out before our eyes over 107 minutes as greed wins out over reality. The 80s setting – including Highbury Stadium repurposed in all its glory, The Cure and the counter culture of the period, is marvellously done - and this film has lingered on my mind since.

28. Annette

Leos Carax’s pairing of Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard has been the result of several years of the Sparks Brothers trying to get their feet of the ground in filmmaking – they’ve been trying to get a movie made for so long that at one point there was talks with Jacques Tati about one. This a film that feels deeply befitting of their oddball sense of style and the need to never slow down – far more than just its eccentric premise of the mismatch of a marriage between an opera singer and a comedian who give birth to a baby who can sing. Despite the pop-y upbeat catchiness of the opening musical number, Annette quickly gives way into the tragedy – and this is far from any crowd-pleaser that you would expect, but all the better for it.

27. The Most Beautiful Boy in the World

In 1971 – during the world premiere of Death in Venice, director Lucino Visconti proclaimed his Tadzio - Björn Andresen, to be the most beautiful boy in the world. 50 years later we see what has become of him since, with a deeply haunting and melancholic score by Anna von Hausswolff that creates a sense of regret. It’s hard not to look at Death in Venice quite the same way – it’s a completely soulful meditation that even spends time to catch up with Andresen’s role in Midsommar (you’ll know who he played if you’ve seen the film when you get there), and the fact that this film doesn’t shy away from the most difficult moments in his career makes it a powerful insight into a complex figure.

26. Arsène Wenger: Invincible

I’m of course biased, but it’s an important documentation of one of the most ground-breaking achievements in football history, that not only focuses on the Invincible season and the sheer mental strength that it took to win the Premier League undefeated, but it looks at the change that Wenger brought to the English game, his years in Japan and France as a manager in conjunction with brief flashbacks to his childhood that feel like a different era – shown with all the class and dignity that he has held throughout his career. You’ll get to see Wenger’s last game in a whole new light – and the Emirates presented as his worst years rather than what he would have hoped for. It doesn’t shy away from bringing up his weaknesses and will find a way to emotionally move you if you have any care about Arsenal football club at all – and given that I’m a supporter, there was no way I could not be moved. Shameless bias here fully factored into account – non-football fans will not be converted and it even has trappings of an arthouse film (who’d have thought, right?) – but isn’t including this film on a list like this the very definition of what a personal list should be?

25. Beginning

One of the most accomplished debuts of the year comes from Dea Kulumbegashvili – a film that delves into the life of a Jehovah Witness community in a small town under attack from an extremist group. With vivid imagery and a magnetic central performance by Ia Sukhitashvili, Beginning shocks you with its horrifying opening shot and never shies away from the struggles of its heroine that left me questioning it long after it had ended. Deeply haunting, profoundly moving and incredibly fearless – Beginning is a true force of cinematic nature – a completely assured triumph.

24. In the Earth

Ben Wheatley has been making great film after great film for much of the 2010s – and after the misfire of Rebecca it’s great to see him come back in full force with a trippy folk horror that feels like a throwback to the British cult horror classics of the 60s, where nature is presented as the force of evil. Set during the pandemic the film utilises real-world events as a backdrop with more care and precision than few other pandemic-era movies that have directly dealt with the subject, and it quickly moves into the nightmare-fuelled world of the woods, where once you enter – you will never come back quite the same. A true exercise in psychedelia boasting some vivid imagery that has to be seen to be believed.

23. Wendy

Benh Zeitlin made an amazing feature at the start of the last decade Beasts of the Southern Wild, and has since swept under the radar. He returns to the camera for this magical realist take on Wendy, a re-imagining for the modern era with Yashua Mack as the boy who can never grow old – showing the film from the perspective of Devin France’s Wendy Darling. It’s impossible not to get swept up in this joyous, emotionally tender journey that features some of the more breath-taking cinematography work of the year - Sturla Brandth Grøvlen’s work is unparalleled, and it would be wrong to ignore Dan Romer’s score, a thing of beauty in its own right. The scope and heartfelt nature of the piece give way to its free-spirited, messy approach that throws you and its characters headfirst into the spellbinding world of Neverland that is hard to escape from.

22. Shiva Baby

78 minutes of pure unrelenting tension: the movie. Emma Seligan’s film gets inside the head of Rachel Sennott’s Danielle, a college student who attends a family shiva where she is accosted by her relatives, and comes face to face with her sugar daddy and his family. It’s designed to get her into the most stressful situations this side of Uncut Gems, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome at all. For a debut film Shiva Baby is mature beyond its years – perhaps the ultimate cringe comedy, rife with hilarity leaving both the lead character and the audience in a constant state of claustrophobia that manages to balance its complex themes such as sex, family and religion with supreme confidence.

21. There is No Evil

A three-chapter anthology from Mohammad Rasoulof that takes aim at the institutions that run the Death Penalty rather than the people who are forced to take part in it, giving life to those who stand up to it and follow its system – the first chapter in itself is a work of art, completely harrowing but completely worth investing in – and the film progressively builds with enough strong overarching themes to carry its rich narrative, leading to a devastating conclusion.

20. State Funeral

Sergei Loznitsa’s 150+ minute documentary about the funeral of Stalin, one of history’s greatest monsters, explores and critiques the cult of personality with a reflective look that illustrates the importance of sound mixing to documentaries like this – by no means an easy watch, but as a ex-history student, this film felt necessary viewing - an entirely reflective commentary that illustrates the importance of sound editing. I spent my Christmas Day watching this - and would not have had it any other way.

19. Preparations to be Together for an Unknown Period of Time

Lili Horvát showcases a unique film that is best comparable to the likes of Kogonada, Kieslowski and Christian Petzold, it would make a great double feature with Petzold’s Undine – also out this year, and also on this list. It’s an anti-romance approach that leads to an unconventional not-a-romance romance, capturing its characters need for desire and the distinct lack of connection that they have perfectly. Aching with the sense of loneliness and an enchantment that comes straight out of the film noir playbook, it’s hard not to be swept up in it.

18. No Time to Die

I was initially fairly negative on No Time to Die on my first viewing as those who have read my review will know, but by my second I was completely won over and by my third I was in love and never have I been more happier to be proven wrong – it’s the second-best Daniel Craig film behind Casino Royale, an emotional send-off to his era of Bond that features the best cinematography of the entire franchise. Action scenes are given more care than ever – the Italy and Cuba set-pieces could be movies in their own right – and it’s so rare in this modern age to see a film of this scale stick the landing as well as it has done. So much better as a farewell tour than Spectre, if you weren’t as keen on it after one viewing, you absolutely need to rewatch it. If EON had guts they wouldn’t bother going looking for a new 007 – Lashana Lynch is right there, and stole every minute of screentime she was in.

17. All Hands on Deck

Has plenty in common with that of Richard Linklater mixed in with that of Eric Rohmer; a warm, easy watch that pulls you along in a charming and likeable manner. It captures the free-spirited experience of the French summertime masterfully with the approach of a summer breeze, and its excellent central trio make for a unique dynamic of the best kind - a welcome surprise that really won me over the more it progressed.

16. Summer of Soul

During the same summer as Woodstock, a festival took place in Harlem – but no record of its existence has been shown to the public in over 50 years, to the point where even some of its 300,000 attendees interviewed struggle to remember whether or not it happened with the footage kept in a vault until now. You get swept up in the vibrant, amazing music from the start – as Questlove brings you a concert doc it’s up there with the best of them – joining The Last Waltz in the hall of concert doc canon. The film exists as an important depiction of the Civil Rights struggles that dominated that period – mixing in real-world history that provides a backdrop to the events that were taking place around the festival. Expect to hear music from Stevie Wonder, the 5th Dimension and Nina Simone – in a festival that’s full of all hits, and zero misses.

15. After Love

Unquestionably one of the best movies of 2021 and earns its place on this list, and then some. Sharp, powerful - a subtle and understated deconstruction of the grieving process and the stages of grief with a nod to Parasite and Days of Heaven in its story narrative. Aleem Khan's direction is mesmerising, and Joanna Scanlan's performance is heartbreaking.

14. The Father

Anthony Hopkins is a very good actor. That shouldn’t be of news to anyone – but he has proven it time and time again, and his performance as a man suffering with dementia is skilfully brought to life with the respect and care that a film like this needs with such a delicate subject matter that it deals with. Florian Zeller gets the most out of Olivia Colman who has to grapple with the fact that her father is refusing any and all assistance from his daughter, and she has to watch hopelessly as he falls apart around her. The subtle instances such as the scenery and locations changing in the background without being pointed out to us help get a feeling for Hopkins’ character’s mindset – so that in the end, his final breakdown – is more moving and more emotionally arresting than most of things that I saw this year. An Absolutely horrifying way into a misery-inducing experience, few other films mix time and reality this well with this devastating an impact.

13. Another Round

Hollywood has been misunderstanding Mads Mikkelsen since he was introduced to them in the excellent Thomas Vinterberg chiller The Hunt. Now he and Vinterberg are both back together to deliver what’s far more than its simple premise suggests: four high school teachers launch a drinking challenge to try and live life consistently on a low level of intoxication – including whilst during their professions at school. It’s a hobby that grows increasingly out of hand with tragic side effects – Vinterberg uses this movie to give audiences a lens into Danish drinking culture, featuring a performance from Mikkelsen that absolutely showed he’s at his best in these sorts of roles, capping off with an ending that’s one of the best in modern cinema history. A real breath of fresh air.

12. Sound of Metal

Riz Ahmed’s tour-de-force of a performance of a drummer who starts to lose his hearing was my ideal pick for a best actor winner at this year’s Oscars, but this incredible exercise in sound mixing is a brilliant feature from Darius Marder that I’ve seen twice now and holds up both times. You get the real essence of loss that Ahmed’s Ruben is facing, and how it spirals out to affect his relationship with Olivia Cooke’s Lou – and the struggles that he faces to come to terms with what he’s about to lose. The sheer thought of facing something like this is horrifying and Ahmed’s tortured, vulnerable and human performance will move even the most stoic of us.

11. Azor

Brilliant! A Mubi original is usually a safe bet and Azor is another gem of an acquisition. The smooth-talking political play of Succession is mixed in with the understated thrills of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy for a low-key power play where everything to the language barrier is used against its characters - there's a brilliant bit of work here to stop the subtitles and leave the audience - unless they're familiar with the spoken language, in the dark as the characters. The constant back and forth schemings going on between the random corridors of power provide an insight into a different method of the ugliness of colonization, a class warfare of a different kind.

10. First Cow

Kelly Reichardt’s slow-burning film may be one of the quietest heists in cinema history – but to label it as a heist film would be diminutive of its true scope. Everything moves at its own pace, presenting the western in a way unlike you’ve seen it before – pairing up John Magaro’s Cookie with Orion Lee’s King-Lu for a film where the cow is the star – but it’s just as important to watch the bond develop between Cookie and King-Lu, two outsiders in their own people – it’s such a direct antidote to the gunslinging, more traditional western that dominates people’s perception of the genre, as do the characters themselves that inhabit its world.

9. The Power of the Dog

Jane Campion forever. A grippingly honest exploration of toxic masculinity and repression in the age of the western, The Power of the Dog is cinema as art – every frame a painting, every shot containing enough story to make its own feature. Benedict Cumberbatch is completely transformative to the point where you almost forget he was ever Benedict Cumberbatch – the real-life couple of Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons work wonders, and Kodi-Smit McPhee is a revelation. DOP Ari Wegner deserves to be talked about in the same sentence as cinematographer greats like Roger Deakins and Claire Mathon (Spencer), and her work on In Fabric, Zola and Lady Macbeth is visually distinctive and uniquely stunning.

8. Identifying Features

Identifying Features absolutely floored me. Stunning ending, harrowing, ruthlessly bleak cinema. One of the best of the year, emotionally devastating in every sense with breath-taking cinematography that shows a Mexico you just don't get to see in Hollywood. It is completely comitted to everything that it tries to do - and you're never quite prepared for where this film takes you as it puts you in the shoes of a mother journeying across the border searching for her son.

7. This is Not a Burial, It’s A Resurrection

Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese's This is Not a Burial, It's a Resurrection is one of the astounding cinematic triumphs of the year - a rich portrayal of a small town that captures a feel not unlike that of Atlantics or Bacurau, the stunningly shot recreation of the land and its people affected by loss, grief and change - both internal and external, is beautifully created and deeply moving - the drama keeps things focused and emotional yet achieves a sprawling epic - looking at those left behind by modernisation that is presented with a positive face regardless of the casualties to the community at heart. Rest in peace, Mary Twala.

6. Undine

Christian Petzold brings the myth of the mermaid Undine to the modern-day trappings of Berlin, mixing in with the architecture-inclined musings of Kogonada’s perfect Columbus. Boasting in-built chemistry between the excellent Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, reuniting with Petzold on the back of Transit, one of my favourite films of the 2010s, this attempt to give a city with little mythology its own is a fascinating piece from a true visionary, completely making the whole fantastical approach of it work due to the deeply magical chemistry of its two leads. A contemporary classicist at the top of his game.

5. Martin Eden

Pietro Marcello directs a stirring personal battle about remaining true to yourself as a writer or succeeding and getting the girl of your dreams but sacrificing everything that you stand for – in this epic tale of self-destruction, death and rebirth. Martin is a self-taught proletarian who hopes to succeed with artistic inspirations above his station – but the inner turmoil remains with him over the course of his career. With fascinating callbacks to both Visconti’s understated melodrama Rocco and his Brothers and the more lavish costume drama The Leopard borrowing from Jack London's novel, Martin Eden feels like a film made in the 1960s transported to the present day with gorgeous cinematography and a decade-best performance by Luca Marinelli.

4. The Green Knight

David Lowery is one of America’s best working filmmakers – and Dev Patel takes up the mantle of a wayward son who accepts the challenge of The Green Knight to land a blow on him in exchange for the same blow to be dealt on him the next year. Eager to prove himself, he beheads the Knight – and now must face his fate a year later. With lavish cinematography that makes this thing look better than most other movies this year purely by default, The Green Knight is drenched in the spirit of Arthurian mythology, existing as a proper Hollywood fable – the true thing of legends.

3. The Matrix Resurrections

A dream – Lana Wachowski reclaims The Matrix from the alt-right, in a 148 minute-up yours that is at once, something wholly new and a meta textualized statement on sequels, legacy sequels and reboots whilst also managing to be all three at the same time. It feels Absolutely necessary, completely heartfelt and earnest getting the relationship between its leads just right. Neo may be the way into the film but Trinity is its beating heart - and it's almost impossible to find a better new addition to an existing franchise than Jessica Henwick's memorable Bugs - who feels like she was part of that world all along. The film may be 148 minutes long, but it flies by like an hour and a half - whilst I may have rewatched other films on this list more, The Matrix Resurrections is the only movie that I've watched twice within 24 hours and represents the closest I've come to turning around as I was leaving the cinema and going straight back into the very next showing.

2. Petite Maman

Petite Maman was the surprise film at UK Cinema Chain Odeon’s Screen Unseen earlier this year, where a random movie is screened for a wide audience who go in not knowing what film that they’re going to get other than a few clues provided beforehand. As soon as bigoted people realised that this movie required subtitles and was not, out the same week, Ghostbusters: Afterlife, evidently not made more open minded by the recent hits of Parasite and Squid Game, they walked out – and missed out one of the best films of the year, a magical, heart-warming film about two children coming to terms with loss and grief, presented with an understated, whimsical feel instantly reminiscent of Hayao Miyazki. Celine Sciamma, director of the legendary Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Girlhood, all hits, no misses, returns to the human spirit of Tomboy that gets the most out of two child performances in a short film that’s barely 80 minutes long yet packs more of a punch than things that run more than double its length.

1. Drive My Car

A powerfully meditative film about the grieving process that is quite possibly the quickest three hours you’ll ever sit through Rysuke Hamaguchi confirms his status as one of the brightest cinematic talents (don't ignore Asako I & II) – focusing around an aging, widowed actor and his developing dynamic with a new chauffer during a theatre production. It’s a film that has a near 50-minute-long opening credits scene as it adapts a Murakami (one of my favourite authors) and pulls you along with the ease and experience of his work, providing a reflection on love, loss and marriage – and choosing to believe certain things about people when you’re omitting the whole truth about who they are. It’s the idea about being – and staying – open and vulnerable whenever you’re in a moving vehicle. Every scene is a secret – a new mystery waiting to be unravelled.

Honourable Mentions: Zola, Tick, Tick… Boom!, In the Heights, F9, The Suicide Squad, Spencer, Old, Stray, The Sparks Brothers, Judas and the Black Messiah, Little Fish, The Mitchells vs. the Machines & Jumbo

Sign Up for the SpoilerTV Newsletter where we talk all things TV!


SpoilerTV Available Ad-Free!

Support SpoilerTV is now available ad-free to for all subscribers. Thank you for considering becoming a SpoilerTV premmium member!
Latest News