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Brandon’s Sensational Top 10 List of His Favorite 2021 Films

Last week was the favorite physical media I had to weed down to a short list, this week its the actual films of 2021 to which I must choose a mere 10. As is true in any year, its hard as hell to crack this thing down to 20-30, let alone 10. But, that’s the sort of “fun stress” we film writers/reviewers tend to enjoy putting ourselves through. This year seemed super loaded with filmmakers I admire and adore and it pained me to cut some of them from this list. At the end of the day, there were films I just found I want to watch more and others that surprised me or took me for a wild and unique journey, while some just kind of did their thing (very) well. My final cut that didn’t make the list might end up being one I revisit or think about more than some of these on here. I’m pretty certain there’s a few here I like more than most and are probably on the other end of the spectrum and despised by people. But here, on this day, this 29th day of December at the end of the year, this is how I have felt in this moment, in this capsule.

FAVORITE “NEW TO ME” FILM OF 2021

Straight Time (1978)

I wanted to start this list a bit differently than I have before. Every year we all take in all the new films. The blockbuster tentpoles, the indies, the streamers…la la la. But, as a film lover, I’m also always taking in the history, always learning. While visiting with old friends, I also seek out “new” old friends, taking in plenty of films from yesteryear. And I always love when you find that film that hits you quite hard and it resonates like you found some treasure hidden in a cavern. There’s almost no better feeling. Sure, they are an older film, but its quite new to you. And if its something that’s been perhaps forgotten, you can share your discovery and attempt to bring it to relevance again within your inner circle.

In 2021, that film was Straight Time. Out of blind curiosity, I was offered and accepted it for review from Warner Archive some months back. The film was quite notable upon release, but I’d never heard much of it and it doesn’t really seem to have a big legacy. Dustin Hoffman hasn’t been a household name for the kiddos in a couple decades, so that’s not driving its memory. Watching it, I felt like I was watching a beta version of the James Caan starring Thief. Low and behold I found that Michael Mann had actually worked on the script for this film, which he probably obviously further explored in his own film years later. Hoffman is excellent, and the film is of the best of those 1970s anti-hero movies and features plenty of fantastic drama, chase sequences and good suspense. This is a new favorite I’ll be returning to with some sort of frequency for years to come.

Read my review HERE

BRANDON’S 10 FAVORITE FILMS OF 2021

10. @zola

@zola is probably the film that took me most by surprise this year. Catching the trailer, I was like “eh”, but James Oster from JoBlo sang it some high praises to me when we were chatting one day and I decided to make an effort to check it out. And holy cow, what a trip the film is. Its funny, shocking, suspenseful and pretty innovative in its technical aspects of storytelling. Diretor Janicza Bravo brings a rich, fresh take on it that feels like she has a successful handle on bringing a story steeped in social media and modern tech culture to life while also have a grasp on making the insanity here feel grounded and intense.

Read my review HERE

9. No Time To Die

Daniel Craig’s final trot in the sight of the gun barrel was possibly my most anticipated film of 2019, 2020 and 2021! While the competition isn’t too heavy, the 007 of the last 15 years went out better than any of his predecessors. It was a rather lengthy affair that luckily I wasn’t ready to see end, wanting to stay and keep finding action sequences to follow along through. Cary Fukunaga brought some nice action sensibilities to the film with good intensity and suspense with some terrific and memorable sequences. He managed the film in a way that felt he was at least somewhat channeling Martin Campbell’s beginnings of the film. It strengthened the (aging well for me) SPECTRE, and I respect it following through on what came before despite however popular it may not have been in an era where so many (including Bond) toss aside and restart. No Time To Die is a grand scale spy fantasy putting James Bond back on top once more and hits quite hard when it comes to a close.

8. Last Night In Soho

Edgar Wright channels into much of my 70s/80s Italian horror loving sensibilities and absolutely nails them while sort of weaving and sculpting his own kind of tale. Last Night in Soho is definitely a film that asks you to leave yourself and just sort of vibe with it. Wright really has nice flourishes in his lighting and camera schemes while doing some in some pretty sets full of pretty people in marvelous attire. Thomasin McKenzie absolutely aces a rather difficult role. She’s a unique presence herself, but this film asks a lot of her, fair or unfair and she wanders through it all with a genuine ease. The film also has plenty of things to say as well as playing with your expectations and film tropes. And it also gives us one last dance with the lovely and wonderful legend, Diana Rigg.

7. Nightmare Alley

Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar victory lap just continues his mastery at work, this time tackling a noir. You can hear my thoughts on the film if you check out Out Now With Aaron & Abe the very day this has posted. Nightmare Alley has a grand scale for this intimate carnie story that few superhero movies even are able to come close in scope. There’s del Toro’s natural care for those “creature” folk in life that makes them well rounded and rich. There are some excellent lines in this thing as well as exchanges that extend not just for the good of this film but to even personal levels for a viewer. It says a lot of about hungry artists, how they push themselves, those they affect and their sometimes overconfidence and belief in themselves. The cast here is excellent, with fantastic turns from Cate Blanchette, Toni Collette, Rooney Mara, Richard Jenkins surrounding a strong lead in Bradley Cooper.

6. The Last Duel

We’ve marveled this year that 84 year old director Ridley Scott had two, quite different and quite praised, films released. The Last Duel is one of his best in years and quite possibly argues to be in the tops of his cinematic canon. It was unfortunately lost in the fold of a tentpole/event loaded October this year, but nonetheless the film wound up being better than all of them. This medieval Rashomon is quite dramatically epic and somehow works like hell, even though there are some aspects people might scratch their head at on paper (Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in a medieval period drama? Scott has them working terrifically in this). There are slight nuances and pieces/clues that are subtly placed around the film that plant seeds for rewatch/studying value. Jodie Comer continues to rise (Also quite good in Free Guy) and Adam Driver keeps putting in great work for great directors. Oh, and the titular duel of the film fricking delivers, too.

Read my review HERE

5. Malignant

I couldn’t stop thinking about the absolute delight of watching James Wan’s bonkers horror film, Malignant. I’ve watched this beauty three times. Wan directed the hell out of thing. From a purely technical standpoint, its a stunner to sit and behold. He’s always been great with the camera, but it is truly the star of the film. The film isn’t afraid to take big swings (the whole thing itself is a big swing, honestly) and never apologizes for delivering in camp. Malignant also is a total charmer in the make-up, gore and action department as well. Its always such a joy when a director isn’t afraid to explore new territory and craft a new piece of the genre without crutching on an IP or putting out a sequel or reboot. This one clearly has its influences, but its truly the vision and voice of its creator. The more I watch, the more I think about Malignant, my feeling is just one of being grateful of James Wan’s “One for me” between Aquamans.

Read my review HERE

4. The Green Knight

At one point of the year, this stood strongly as my #1 film. And perhaps at another time, it will be again. The Green Knight is a beautifully envisioned interpretation/adaptation of the Arthurian tale. The cinematography on the film is jaw droppingly excellent (Even on the 4K releases behind the scenes featurette!) with this little story playing absolutely huge. There’s a fondness I have for a sort of minimalist fantasy film, yet this one still brings creatures, paranormal elements and such while also feeling grounded in some sort of natural world. There’s a trippy quality to some of it that is fun, but it never veers too far into that end. Dev Patel is quite excellent here as the film hinges on him carrying the whole thing. While the film has been rightfully appreciated and well received, it feels like if it doesn’t hit on awards season, The Green Knight will be a great addition to film geek midnight movies and the like down the road.

Read my review HERE

3. Dune

Possibly the riskiest film of the year, but also one of the most impressive. If ever there was a director to actually succeed in adapting Frank Herbert’s novel, it was Denis Villeneuve. And so far, he’s 50% of the way there. The film really understands and relishes in the novel’s lore and actually finds itself improving the book in some areas as well. Villeneuve’s craft continues to get bigger and more impressive. However, one of the greatest things about his Dune, is that in a time where we are overloaded with sci-fi and fantasy films and television as well as being the 3rd adaptation of the source material, it looks absolutely fresh and transcendent from the costumes to the set and ship designs on display. That’s not easy, but this film just swims in it. Its truly unbelievable. This was absolutely one of the very best movies this year (and in many) to just sit in a theater and let engulf and consume you.

2. Licorice Pizza

Paul Thomas Anderson has a remarkably strong output for me in the fact the guy has never once underwhelmed me in his career. And Licorice Pizza has wound up no different. This adorable story sits in his bread and butter of 1970s set films sharing us the struggles of being in your mid 20s as well as the overambition to move past your teen years. The friendship at the center of the film is endearing and handled incredibly carefully, honest and earned in its many stages through the film. Anderson is also displaying some terrific craft with one of the funniest suspense sequences of the year (Featuring Bradley Cooper’s cameo as Jon Peters) as well a one of the most dramatically suspenseful. The latter plays on a similar thing Quentin Tarantino did on Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood in the way he shot Cliff Boothe’s visit to the ranch like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. In Licorice Pizza, there’s a buildup to a reveal that finds Paul Thomas Anderson mimicking Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver which had me extremely worried for the well being of a few characters. This movie moves and bops and is quite a splendid, good vibes film.

1. West Side Story

No film grabbed me from the opening shot as intensely as Spielberg did with West Side Story. A film I had thought “Okay, I guess if that’s what he wants to make” when it was announced, it absolutely floored me. The master truly had this one on the brain and in the plans for years as every single moment in this film feels incredibly well thought out and only there because it was 100% perfect and what he wanted. I mentioned the film grabbing me from the opening shot, but it never let go. This one has the best cinematography of the year, easily as the camera does things for this musical in the dance and song numbers that feel like they are breaking new ground. Spielberg is incredibly clever with how this thing swings around and how the film cuts. You’ll forget all about the original, what is considered a masterpiece, while watching the beard go to work. There is a look to this film that is almost indescribable because of how “new” and different it feels. I’ve described the film to people as “I felt like I was watching magic happening before my eyes.” Every performance here is remarkable and Rita Moreno is back giving Academy Award level chops, too. Its a shame that the film that is probably the year’s finest technical achievement and one of Spielberg’s all time best is also one of its biggest bombs to the public. I can’t stop thinking about the experience I felt in the theater watching this film and if there’s any one movie I’d see again in the theater, its West Side Story. When I was walking to my theater to see Nightmare Alley recently, I could hear a number from West Side Story playing on another screen and I was incredibly tempted to just walk in and take it in from there. That’s just how drawn I am to the film. West Side Story was quite possibly the most impressive thing you could have seen in the theater in 2021 and my personal favorite.

Honorable Mentions: The Power of the Dog, In The Heights, The French Dispatch, The Mitchells vs. The Machines, Pig, Drive My Car, Get Back

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Brandon is the host, producer, writer and editor of The Brandon Peters Show (thebrandonpetersshow.com) on the Creative Zombie Studios Network. At Why So Blu he is a Writer/Reviewer. Brandon is a lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash. You can also find older essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

5 Responses to “Brandon’s Sensational Top 10 List of His Favorite 2021 Films”


  1. Aaron Neuwirth

    This picture, I can’t! 🙂 🙂 🙂

    What a list! So many great picks here, and man was it tough not to have West Side Story on mine, but it sure is amazing. Obviously plenty of overlap between us, but digging how much fun there is to have between all of these films. Plus, I gotta watch Straight Time, which is currently sitting on my table.

    And let’s get those honorable mentions!

  2. Brandon Peters

    You got it. I added Honorable mentions to the bottom.

  3. Aaron Neuwirth

    Ataboy!

  4. Gregg

    Last Night in Soho was one that got away from me this year. I really want to see that one. Green Knight, ehhh, you know my thoughts on that one. Agree to disagree. The Last Duel was another one that got away. I had every intention of seeing it, but it got yanked from theaters faster than I would have guessed. Of anything I missed out on this year, that one is at the top.

  5. Brian White

    Great list with an incredible lead in photo to boot! That photo definitely makes me pay attention to all in here and you definitely got it loud and clear with West Side Story. I forgot about that title, but definitely want and need to check it out! And Last Night in Soho still and Licorice Pizza!!!