By Abb Jones
The Reelness

2021 was a pretty spectacular year for good movies with a whopping FOUR films that scored A+ ratings here at The Reelness. Coincidentally, our year’s best include science fiction, horror, a musical, a Western, a Marvel film, a comedy, period dramas and a documentary. How’s that for representation?

All ten of these on our list are outstanding films, with two of our top three even having ties to Shakespeare. Here are the 10 Best movies of 2021, in ascending order, starting with #10. Click on the movie titles for our complete reviews.

Emilia Jones in CODA.

#10 CODA (Grade: A)

When her family’s coastal Massachusetts fishing business is threatened, Ruby, a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), must decide between leaving home to pursue her dream of becoming a singer, or staying to help serve as interpreter for her deaf parents and older brother. Emilia Jones gives a heartfelt, realistic performance in this AppleTV+ original drama. Grab the tissues – it’s a tearjerker.

Morfydd Clark in Saint Maud.

#9: Saint Maud (Grade: A / Best Horror)

Set in a small town on the English coast, the year’s best horror film is about a profoundly lonely, mentally disturbed hospice nurse who decides she must save the soul of an actress dying of cancer, in this psychological horror starring Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle. In her directorial debut, Rose Glass blends clever storytelling, an unsettling score and disturbing visual imagery to deftly capture the blur between reality and delusion. It culminates in a chilling, unforgettable finale.

Simu Liu in Shang-chi and the Ten Rings.

#8: Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings (Grade: A / Best Fantasy/Action)

Marvel’s first Asian-themed superhero/fantasy film is the saga of a kung fu master who must confront his past after being drawn into the mystical Ten Rings organization. Director Destin Daniel Cretton blends spectacular Marvel action sequences with traditional Chinese imagery and a winsome cast led by Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang and Michelle Yeoh, making this the year’s best fantasy/action film.

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and the late Jamal Khashoggi from The Dissident.

#7: The Dissident (Grade: A / Best Documentary)

The year’s best documentary is the shocking and horrific story of Saudi Arabia’s 2018 killing and gruesome dismemberment of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Oscar winning documentarian Bryan Fogel (Icarus) uses audio and video footage from inside the embassy in his riveting documentary, which also focuses on the Saudi government’s chilling cyber warfare tactics against its enemies and Donald Trump’s nauseating coddling of the Saudi regime.

Kodi Smit-McPhee and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Power of the Dog.

#6: The Power of the Dog (Grade: A / Best Western)

Benedict Cumberbatch, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Kirsten Dunst star in director Jane Campion’s Western based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel. When his brother marries a widow with an effeminate son, a seemingly homophobic Montana rancher (a riveting Cumberbatch) mercilessly taunts his brother’s wife (Dunst), while taking a curious interest in her son (Smit-McPhee). The year’s best Western is an atypical art house drama loaded with hidden agendas and a shocking, thought-provoking finale.

Jamie Dornan and Jude Hill in Belfast.

#5: Belfast (Grade: A)

Writer/director Kenneth Branagh’s own childhood in Northern Ireland’s capital serves as the basis for this drama about a young family facing pressure to leave their beloved hometown and loved ones in the late 1960s due to rising religious violence between warring Protestants and Catholics. Filmed in black and white and with an exceptional cast, this feel-good tearjerker is told through the eyes of the family’s nine-year-old son, Buddy, and will be relatable to anyone who has ever moved to pursue a better life.

Udo Kier in Swan Song.

#4: Swan Song (Grade: A+ / Best Comedy)

German character actor Udo Kier gives a career defining performance in this LGBTQ+ dramedy about a flamboyant, small town hairstylist who busts out of his Ohio nursing home to style the hair of his former client and best friend for her funeral after she dies. It is a funny and poignant walk down memory lane, as Kier’s Pat is haunted by the ghosts of his past. With a cast that includes Jennifer Coolidge and Dynasty‘s Linda Evans, the year’s best comedy is a hilarious and ultimately touching love letter to the older gay men who survived the AIDS era, only to no longer recognize the world around them of today.

Ansel Elgort and Rachel Zegler in West Side Story.

#3: West Side Story (Grade: A+ / Best Musical)

Steven Spielberg’s remake of the iconic, 1961 Oscar-winning romantic musical is both a beautiful homage to the original film and Broadway play while also improving upon them.  Ansel Elgort, Rachel Zegler and a mesmerizing Ariana DeBose star in this retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, set in a climate of hatred and racial intolerance between rival ethnic street gangs in 1950s New York City. Rita Moreno, who won an Oscar for the original, returns in an emotional performance.

Jasna Djuricić and Johan Heldenbergh in Quo Vadis, Aida?

#2: Quo Vadis, Aida? (Grade: A+ / Best Drama)

This harrowing historical drama is about the Bosnian Serbs’ July 1995 slaughter of 8000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in the city of Srebrenica, told through the eyes of a panicked local interpreter for UN peacekeeping forces. Jasna Djuricić gives a haunting performance, channeling the growing hopelessness of the dire situation as her Aida scrambles to try to get her husband and adult sons to safety. Nominated for Best International Language Film at the 2021 Oscars, it should have won. It is incredible.

Timothée Chalamet and Rebecca Ferguson in Dune.

#1: Dune (Grade: A+ / Best Science Fiction)

Director Denis Villaneuve’s sci-fi saga about a young man who discovers he has the ability to alter the universe is one of the most spectacular sci-fi films ever made. Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson and Zendaya star in this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel set thousands of years into the future, where the hostile, arid planet of Arrakis contains a rare, addictive spice which has the ability to allow intersteller space travel. With sweeping exotic vistas and jaw dropping visual effects, this futuristic take on Shakespeare’s Hamlet is world building at its finest.

Honorable Mentions:

Ghostbusters: Afterlife
Spider-Man: No Way Home
King Richard
And the most talked about, Best Satire of 2021, Don’t Look Up.

Here is our 10 Worst Movies of 2021.

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