Nolen’s Top 5 Movies of 2021

Arts & Entertainment

Nolen Kelly,  Editor

“Damn, that kind of sucked,” muttered everyone in unison on Jan. 1, 2022. Another year has come and gone, and with it went all things 2021, ranging from super terrible to mildly okay. We lost Omar (Micheal K. Williams) and Lucille Bluth (Jessica Walter), Sia released “Music” and I created a Letterboxd account, a terrible moment in time. Despite all of that, the world was treated to some surprisingly great movies this year, and here is my list of my five favorites. A few honorable mentions include “Barb & Star Go to Vista Del Mar,” “Pig,” “The Harder They Fall,” “Summer of Soul,” “Luca,” “The Suicide Squad” and “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” 

#5: “Dune”

“Dune” was released on HBO Max on Oct. 21, 2021. On that day, I was sick with the flu. With low energy levels and no desire to leave my house,  I settled in and gave it a shot. The dork part of my brain that loves movies had a surge of “Hell yeah” while watching this and my energy rose to normal amounts, allowing me to have a cool experience taking in Denis Villeneuve’s impressive and glorious interpretation of “Dune.” Gargantuan world pieces, interesting enough space politics, interesting characters and a simple but great story to follow all make this a nifty watch that I recommend for anyone looking to watch “Star Wars” if the politics were actually good. Despite only having a few scenes of action, this movie is more of a spectacle to behold than another space war opera, and for that, it was an excellent movie that I will be rewatching again and again.

Legendary Pictures

#4: “Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Honestly, how could I not put this movie on the list? I’ve been a lifelong fan of the wall crawler’s comics — I grew up watching “Spider-Man 2,” Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man was a super cool skater dude I wanted to hang out with at 12 years old, Tom Holland’s “Home” trilogy is my favorite of all of the Marvel movies, and “Into the Spider-Verse” is an achievement in every sense of animation and storytelling. You get it, I like the spider. Going into this movie I expected to have a satisfying ending to Tom’s trilogy, but I came out feeling like a six-year-old who rediscovered Spider-Man. It was an absolute blast of a time and I have no shame whatsoever admitting I cried three times in the nearly three hour runtime of the movie. I prefer my films to be more “film-y” and have something to say, but dammit, I would be a cold monster to exclude this phenomenal time of a movie from my list. Tears were shed, guffaws were had and vocal cords were shredded from the amount of pure joy I had from one sitting of “Spider-Man: No Way Home.”

Marvel Studios

#3 “Annette” 

I still have absolutely no idea what this movie is. Is it a musical? Is it an Adam Driver standup special? Is it a ghost story? Is it a “Child’s Play” sequel? I don’t know, but I’ll take two, please. Initially topping my list of “5 Good and 5 Bad movies of Summer 2021” on the good side, it was August when I first watched this movie; and to this day, there is so much I find myself thinking about frequently. “So May We Start” is the song of the century thanks to the Sparks brothers, Driver and Cotillard give some severely overlooked and incredible performances of the whole year, and Simon Helberg has been in my nightmares ever since. Although they sing and act really well, this film may not be for everyone, as it feels more like an angry arthouse response to “Singin’ in the Rain” and as if the audiences of the movie are talking directly to you. Bizarre, lovely, strange, weird, delightful and some other word for ‘good.’ Again, I don’t know what this movie is, but I really liked it. 

CG Cinéma

#2: “The Power of the Dog”

Have you ever watched a movie that just goes on and on and by the end you catch yourself staring blankly into the abyss thinking about what it was you just watched? Me neither. Writer/director Jane Campion’s newest slowburn comes in the form of a Western starring real-life cowboy Benedict Cumberbatch. Great googly moogly Benny, you scary man. Delivering one of his sharpest and most uncomfortable performances of his whole career, Cumberbatch makes the skin crawl just by existing. Despite his rough ridges, the movie is nicely balanced out by the delicacy of every other character. Of the many characters that soften the punches from the Cumberbatch cowboy, the most important is Kirsten Dunst’s onscreen son Peter Gordon, played by Kodi Smit-McPhee. A broken boy in a cowboy’s paradise allows Peter to bring one nightmare of a ranch experience into something with a little more cleanliness than manliness. Too many words, don’t care version: Benedict and Kodi worked incredibly together and I highly recommend this movie if you want to see what a Western looks like made by a New Zealander — terrifying. Speaking of terrifying:


#1: “Spencer”

In 2019 there was “Uncut Gems,” in 2020 there was “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” and in 2021 along came “Spencer” to add to my yearly list of “Movies that Gave me Anxiety.” “Spencer” is not the same level of anxiety-inducing as the previous two, but this movie was hard to watch. Kristen Stewart nails it, kills it and knocks it out of the park as Princess Diana. This movie is just so sad but I’m just so happy watching it. It’s a backwards feeling but I smile just thinking about how perfect her performance was. The tension is high, no one is happy at all, the outfits and costumes are excessive, Kristen Stewart is still the best, and the musical score is neverending. This movie is correct. Everything about it is just right and works so incredibly well that it feels like the most “movie” a biopic movie can be. Other biopics always feel like they are missing something and it is never super clear what it is, but they still work for whatever they are. “Spencer” works 100 percent even though it is not the most 100 percent accurate story. To me, “Spencer” is a perfect five out of five movie and I hope whoever needs to read this, give it a watch.

Shoebox FIlms

And that’s my list. What do you think? Do you agree or disagree? Should I have liked one of your favorites more? It doesn’t really matter, this is my list and it is what I like. 2021 had some good watches, but the fingers are crossed that 2022 brings some more surprises and contemporary classics.

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