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The Box Office Strikes Back: The Best Movies of 2021

December 28, 2021Ben MK

The ongoing pandemic may have forced the worldwide box office to go on temporary hiatus in 2020, but moviegoers had genuine reason to rejoice again this past year, as shuttered cinemas were given the green light to reopen their doors and several long-delayed films finally got to see the light of day. That said, there's no doubt that COVID has changed the way that the movie industry operates. And while streaming and on-demand are still popular ways for people to watch new releases, it seems that audiences are slowly but surely beginning to rediscover the theatrical experience. Whether it's a high-profile remake of a beloved musical or the latest installment in a big-budget comic book franchise, there was certainly no shortage of blockbuster content for hungry cinephiles to devour in 2021. Yet, at the same time, the past 12 months have also been kind to those with more niche tastes, as this year's list of 10 best films clearly shows.

With director Jon Watts and star Tom Holland's third go at a standalone Spider-Man movie, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has finally found a way to incorporate and acknowledge the most memorable aspects of that which has come before. Picking up right where Spider-Man: Far From Home left off, Spider-Man: No Way Home finds Peter Parker in the unenviable position of having to contend not only with his own demons, but with the demons that have plagued his counterparts from the previous Spider-Man installments. Suffice to say, the film's title is quite apropos indeed. And while time will tell if Holland will be donning the iconic red and blue costume for a future sequel, one thing's for certain — the character underneath it will never be the same again.

How far would you go to fulfill your ambitions? For Eloise Turner (Thomasin McKenzie), moving from Cornwall to attend fashion school in London seemed like a dream come true. However, when she starts having nightmares about the gruesome death of an aspiring singer, Eloise quickly begins to regret ever coming to the big city. What follows is part murder mystery, part slasher thriller, as director Edgar Wright leads audiences on a bloodstained and musical tour through 1960s London. As much as it's concerned with embracing the past, however, Last Night in Soho also serves as an allegory for the modern-day #MeToo movement. And while it's a far cry from the humor of Shaun of the Dead, the result is proof positive of Wright's mastery as a storyteller.

The Suicide Squad never formally announces itself as either a reboot or a sequel to 2016's Suicide Squad. But thanks to James Gunn's sensibilities as writer and director, it proves to be a crackling reworking of that film's core elements — not to mention the DCEU's most satisfying entry to date. What's most surprising, however, isn't how much of a drastic improvement The Suicide Squad is over its oft-maligned predecessor, but rather how — amidst all the explosive action, blockbuster spectacle and foul-mouthed bravado — Gunn still manages to give the movie a completely heartfelt and believable emotional center. After all, everyone has feelings — even criminally insane psychopaths, anthropomorphic fish gods and telepathic creatures from outer space.

With such memorable and accalimed film as Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Jurassic Park to his name, there's no denying that Steven Spielberg knows how to make a blockbuster. But with West Side Story, the iconic director is setting his sights on a genre he's never attempted before — the movie musical. Suffice to say, fans of the stage play or the original 1961 film version are sure to be delighted by this thoroughly modern yet surprisingly traditional reimagining. Whether it's the spectacular cinematography and production and costume design or the spectacle of Justin Peck's choreography, there's no doubt that Spielberg's latest cinematic achievement is one of his greatest, and would make even Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein proud.

For nearly six decades, the name James Bond has been synonymous with some of cinema's most iconic scenes. Now, with his fifth and final outing as the debonair super spy, star Daniel Craig is marking the end of his 15-year run as 007 by taking the franchise where it's never gone before — though not before hitting some familiar beats along the way. Suffice to say, after a six-year absence, it's almost refreshing to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. And although No Time to Die doesn't explicitly address where the big screen action thriller series goes from here, there should be little doubt that the powers that be have every intent on continuing the globetrotting adventures of Ian Fleming's iconic character well into the foreseeable future.

Adapting a beloved and critically acclaimed book series for the big screen is an endeavour fraught with danger. And with his highly anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi magnum opus, Dune, director Denis Villeneuve manages to succeed where his predecessor, David Lynch, failed. Best described as Game of Thrones meets Star Wars, what follows amounts to only one half of Herbert's epic Hugo and Nebula award-winning novel. But make no mistake, the result is still every bit as jaw-dropping as the material that inspired it. Bolstered by an impressive cast as sprawling as its alien landscapes, this is Dune as it was meant to be seen. The only caveat is that you need to see it on the biggest screen possible to truly appreciate the gravitas and the grandeur of it all.

With hundreds of songs spanning an incredible 50-something-year career, the pop rock outfit formed by brothers Ron and Russell Mael has been a source of inspiration to generations of their peers, such as Duran Duran, Sonic Youth and Franz Ferdinand. But who are they — and if they're so influential then why haven't more mainstream music fans heard of them? That's the burning question director Edgar Wright sets out to answer in The Sparks Brothers. An in-depth and oftentimes funny documentary chronicling the life and times of the world's most obscure well-known band, this delightfully quirky look at pop music's most delightfully quirky duo is a love letter to anyone who enjoys music, comedy, or just an engaging story about triumph through perseverance.

As superhero movies like The Avengers, Justice League and The Incredibles have shown us, saving the world can be a challenge, even when you've got super strength, super speed or the most advanced technology at your fingertips. But what if you're just your average dysfunctional family? Part National Lampoon's Vacation, part Terminator, The Mitchells vs the Machines blends Pixar-level CG animation with some colorful 2D flare to create one of the most visually mesmerizing family comedies in recent memory. Ultimately, though, the film's heart and soul lies with its four main characters, whose adventure not only proves thrilling for viewers of all ages, but also carries with it a heartwarming message of acceptance, understanding and inclusion.

On the big screen, Kenneth Branagh has spent the last four decades making a name for himself, both as a talented Shakespearean actor and as a thespian of many genres. But for his latest film, the aptly titled Belfast, the Irish-born actor-turned-director is going back to his roots, with a semi-autobiographical story based on his formative years growing up in Northern Ireland. A heartfelt coming-of-age tale, the result isn't so much a fictionalized account of real-life historical events, but rather a loving ode to family near and far. As Branagh himself puts it in the movie's poignant closing moments, this is a film "dedicated to those who stayed, those who left, and those who survived." And no matter your age, ethnicity or religion, we can all find some relatability in that message.

The term "body horror" has been used to describe everything from Seth Brundle's grotesque transformation into a human-fly hybrid in David Cronenberg's The Fly to mad doctor Josef Heiter's attempt to surgically conjoin three unwitting victims in Tom Six's The Human Centipede. In her followup to her 2016 feature debut, Raw, however, writer-director Julia Ducournau gives audiences a body horror tale unlike anything the genre has ever seen. A visually uncompromising, thematically unsettling, and altogether unique tale that mixes automobile fetishism with a narrative about a gender-bending serial killer, Titane isn't a film that can be easily categorized or neatly summarized. You'll just have to see it and judge for yourself — if you can stomach it.

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