The Skinny's Films of 2021

The history books will record 2021 as the year the movies bounced back from the brink, but the pandemic had little impact on the quality of work on our screens. Whether you saw these films in theatres or on your laptop, their artistry shone brightly

Feature by Film Team | 29 Nov 2021
  • Films of 2021

20. Sound of Metal (Darius Marder)

"Director Darius Marder has crafted a profound story about deafness, intimately exploring the nuances of hearing loss and the many degrees of deaf identity that have been hidden away from the screen, and wider society. The integration between sound design and perspective enriches this character study, with the film's presence of captions cementing both the film's narrative and genuine advocacy for access." Read Charlotte Little's full review

19. Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennel)

"Visually and sonically, Promising Young Woman is similarly full of contrasts. The aesthetic suggests Jeff Koons by way of Nicolas Winding Refn. By day, the world is kitsch and candy coloured, all pink coffee shops and quaint local pharmacies, while by night we’re in a seedy, neon-lit world curiously scored to a slowed-down version of Britney Spears’ Toxic, which incidentally sounds remarkably similar to the atonal strings of Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin, another film about a woman scouring the town for horny men." Read Jamie Dunn's full review

18. Annette (Leos Carax)

"Carax relishes in artificiality. In Annette, he gleefully leans into the illusionary magic of classical cinema; during the film’s greatest set piece, the couple dance across a ship’s deck in front of a projected storm. And, of course, there’s Annette, a puppet: perhaps a statement on celebrity children, perhaps just another way to heighten the film’s artifice, perhaps Carax just didn’t want to work with a child actor." Read Katie Goh's full review

17. Undine (Christian Petzold)

"Undine is of a piece with Christian Petzold’s earlier work in several ways. His protagonists tend to be adrift from their surroundings. In 2007’s Yellen the title character is a literal ghost, while in films like TransitBarbara and Phoenix we follow people trying to throw off their own identity and escape their past. Petzold also likes to weave genre elements into his ostensible realist dramas, but Undine’s clash with fantasy and reality make it quite a different beast from his run of extraordinary films this century." Read Jamie Dunn's full review

16. The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal)

"The Lost Daughter is based on the Elena Ferrante book of the same name and it translates Ferrante’s trademark probing of womanhood’s ugly, wounded centre with shattering vitality. Director Maggie Gyllenhaal’s eye is extraordinarily perceptive, the camera almost indecently intimate in its attention to the unhappy puckers of Olivia Colman’s mouth, to the heady sensuality – hands pressed in underwear, creased bedsheets – of frustrated desire. Colman is unsurprisingly excellent, but Jessie Buckley as Leda’s younger self is mesmerising, punctuating the middle-aged Leda’s peace with ghostly keenness." Read Anahit Behrooz's full review

15. Spencer (Pablo Larrain)

"Spencer, Pablo Larraín’s anti-fairy tale about the late Princess Diana is, in many ways, a natural successor to his highly lauded Jackie Onassis biopic, Jackie. Yet one crucial difference is hinted at within the very titles; one a familiar first name, the other an abandoned second. Where Jackie sought to excavate the personal behind the public facade, interrogating the illusion of American mythmaking through a private account of the First Lady, Spencer is markedly less interested in the (re)humanisation of its subject than in how such mythmaking corrodes agency, how one woman’s sense of self was sacrificed in an act of self-preservation by the powerful." Read Anahit Behrooz's full review

14. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)

"After Fern (McDormand) loses everything in the 2008 recession, she sets out in a van filled with all her earthly possessions for a new life of cross-country travelling. Nomadland builds on Chloé Zhao’s previous films with a naturalistic style that delicately captures Fern’s journey and friendships without forsaking any of the blistering emotion the characters all try to conceal. It’s a visually gorgeous and deeply moving portrayal of humanity under tragic circumstances." Read Rory Doherty's full review

13. Pig (Michael Sarnoski)

"Rather than a film about revenge, what emerges is a surprisingly sad and satirical exploration of authenticity and grief. Despite his physical and emotional disarray, Rob might be the most put-together person in this city of haute cuisine posers. His approach to cooking is less is more, and the same could be said for Cage’s acting here. His soulful, lived-in performance in Pig isn’t likely to join the actor's infamous YouTube showreels but it’ll linger long in the memory, like a really great meal." Read Jamie Dunn's full review

12. Dune (Denis Villeneuve)

"Out of the stellar ensemble cast led by the always charming Timothée Chalamet as Oedipean prophet Paul, the greatest surprise is Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, a salt of the earth swordmaster. With enough charisma to flood the arid lands of Arrakis, Momoa swiftly steals the coveted spotlight, split by a parade of big names that are granted very little time on screen." Read Rafaela Sales Ross's full review

11. The Power of The Dog (Jane Campion)

"As a study of masculinity, The Power of the Dog covers well-trodden ground: that male repression engenders male violence; that instincts for domination are born out of a thousand pathetic insecurities. Where Campion excels, however, is less in her psychological investigation of Phil’s sadism but in its tightly-wound orchestration. Cumberbatch prowls the house with a chilling, mocking tread worthy of Daphne Du Maurier’s most twisted villains, yet his viciously acquired power is no guarantee of triumph." Read Anahit Behrooz's full review

10. Shiva Baby (Emma Seligman)

What happens when your sugar daddy, his wife and baby, your parents, your ex-girlfriend, and your overbearing relatives gather under one roof for a funeral service? Emma Seligman’s Shiva Baby dares to ask that question, and the result is a queasy firecracker of a film, stuffed with knife-sharp wit and claustrophobia. Move along, Uncut Gems. [Xuanlin Tham]

9. The French Dispatch (Wes Anderson)

Consensus says this is Wes Anderson’s most Wes Andersonian film, and where one falls on it certainly depends on how much one likes him in the first place. It’s nice to know the writers at The Skinny still love Anderson’s compulsive architectural symmetry, striking emotional openness, and the shuddering dynamic between the two; The French Dispatch displays the director at his best. [Thomas Atkinson]

8. Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) (Ahmir Khalib Thompson)

Ahmir Khalib Thompson (BKA Questlove) has done the Lord's work by unearthing footage from the 1969 Mount Morris Park Festival in Harlem. The archive is vibrant, overflowing with indelible performances – a hyperactive and fresh-faced Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone at their funkiest, Nina Simone in sun goddess mode – but it’s the way Thompson weaves the music with the history of African-American oppression and resilience that make Summer of Soul truly sing. [Jamie Dunn]

7. Minari (Lee Isaac Chung)

The tender Minari follows a Korean-American family who've moved to Arkansas, hoping to build a better life for themselves. The family’s high tensions are coupled with moments of humour and warmth, creating a true closeness, rare to see on film. In Minari, Lee Isaac Chung creates a story of love and resilience that moves through both its joy and pain. [Eilidh Akilade]

6. Drive My Car (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)

Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s ingenious adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s short story is a piercing examination of grief and the mysteries of the heart. He uses long car rides and a production of Uncle Vanya to illuminate each character’s thoughts and emotions, and after three hours we feel we know them intimately. Drive My Car is as playful and intellectually stimulating as it is deeply moving, and the ensemble cast is perfect. [Philip Concannon]

5. The Green Knight (David Lowery)

Arthuriana emerges from the ground in David Lowery’s vision. The rich moist earth, echoes and shadows of stone halls, and creaking, constantly re-growing vines comprising the court’s mysterious Christmas visitor dominate The Green Knight's visual and aural palette. Lowery's film moves with impartial, relentless deliberateness; watching Patel’s Gawain spend his journey – unwisely, but well – proves a haunting picture of youth. [Carmen Paddock]

4. Titane (Julia Ducournau)

Julia Ducournau’s stomach-turning horror takes the French Extremity to its most extreme, inspiring walkouts at its premiere at Cannes but deservedly winning director Julia Ducournau the coveted Palme d’Or. With its visceral imagery, Titane uses serial murder, vehicular intercourse and buddy comedy to illustrate the bodily terror of being a woman. Like a roaring engine, it pumps motor oil, fear and pure adrenaline through the veins. [Iana Murray]

3. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)

Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow might focus on the successful business venture of an American cook and a Chinese immigrant in 1820s Oregon, but it sits comfortably alongside her more contemporaneous studies of economic alienation. A loose adaptation of Jonathan Raymond’s novel Half-Life, this offbeat exploration of friendship, capitalism and culinary ingenuity is a welcome recalibration of the American frontier myth. [Patrick Gamble]

2. Limbo (Ben Sharrock)

The hostile environment takes on new and literal significance in this absurdist drama about a group of asylum seekers sent to a remote Scottish island for processing. This is filmmaking defined by breathtaking empathy: meticulously framing his characters in wide, grief-tinged landscapes, director Ben Sharrock locates tenderness in the most fraught of conditions, crafting a quiet yet unequivocal condemnation of the West’s response to the refugee crisis. [Anahit Behrooz]

1. Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma)

A profoundly moving fable which above all invites the viewer to ask themselves a simple question: What would it be like to be an eight-year-old, meeting your mother when she too was eight years old? Told with an otherworldly simplicity by director Céline Sciamma, with gorgeous music by her frequent collaborator Para One and tender, intelligent performances from twin leads Josephine and Gabrielle Sanz, this is a transcendent experience. [Ian Mantgani]

Read the team's individual ballots from our Films of 2021 vote by clicking here