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Top Ten Films of 2021

Based on UK release, the team of five at Focus Film and talkabout have compiled a Top Ten list of the year on the big (and sometimes small) screen.

As I predicted in last year's Top Ten post, 2021 has been jam-packed with exciting films. The movie blockbuster managed to thrive again, seeing flocks of people return to the big screen to see new releases in franchises like Fast and Furious, Ghostbusters, James Bond and of course Marvel with all 73 of their new projects. I exaggerate but Marvel is just one example of how much cinema has thrived this year, and still now in December every screening I attend for any major release is close to full. People have missed that sense of unity; that indescribable feeling when you sit with a bunch of strangers and endure at least 90 minutes of laughs, scares, tears and cheers. And though those big screen triumphs have been the highlight, streaming has thrived too with Netflix giving opportunities to up and coming creatives and platforms like Disney+ and Apple TV+ releasing more original content. And as we look ahead to 2022, the worlds of franchises and independent projects will continue to grow, but those independent projects are the ones that get me most excited.

There were nearly 40 films up for contention on this list, and that is just a testament to the year it's been; but now read ahead, and see what myself, Gareth, Gwilym, Becci and Oli picked as Focus Film's Top Ten Films of 2021.

- Ellis Barthorpe (Editor at Focus Film)


10. The Harder They Fall

Directed by Jeymes Samuel | Run time: 139 mins | ★★★★★ | Netflix

The Harder They Fall opened the BFI London Film Festival this year, and it opened the show in style. It's hard to think of a cooler cast, and the performances elevate this film to the 5 star rating that Ellis deemed it worthy. Since then, it has landed on Netflix, and continues to gain a new audience. Director Jeymes Samuel makes a debut unlike many others and whether it's a future with Netflix or a future independently, it will be a bright one for both him and every single suave cowboy & cowgirl involved in this picture.


9. The Green Knight

Directed by David Lowery | Run time: 130 mins | ★★★★ | Amazon Prime Video

The Green Knight split audiences but we bloody loved it at Focus. It's smart, stylish and looks phenomenal. There's something therapeutic about the whole film and what it lacks in plot it makes up for in metaphor; there is nothing unintentional about this film and every frame is truly beautiful. The film shows a richness in British history that other films have not managed to do on quite the same scale; and with a change in pacing and symbolic structure this is sure to go down as a 21st century classic.


8. Minari

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung | Run time: 115 mins | ★★★★★ | Now TV

On face value, this seemed a film about Steven Yeun's Jacob, but in actual fact it's about David (Alan Kim), a seven-year-old Korean American boy who has to adapt to a life that his father wants to lead. It was the performance of Kim and Youn Yuh-jung that stole peoples hearts and made this film even more memorable. It's refreshing and lovable and yet still anxiety-inducing in all the best ways.


7. Last Night in Soho

Directed by Edgar Wright | Run time: 117 mins | ★★★★★ | Out on DVD/Blu-Ray 31st Jan

Edgar Wright is always fun and always ardent, and somehow in a modern-day horror film about misogyny and mistreatment of women in the 60's, he still finds room to breathe fresh, new ideas that showcase the directors love for film and music. The performances from Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy are exceptional and eery. Both have a confidence that makes it difficult to imagine anyone else in the roles. This is just the right level of creepy and the perfect amount of style. Our horror of the year!


6. West Side Story

Directed by Steven Spielberg | Run time: 156 mins | ★★★★ | In cinemas now

It was expected to be one of the big releases this holiday season, and it did not disappoint. People all over the world have been reintroduced (and in some cases just plain old introduced) to the Sharks and the Jets and their leading stars Tony and Maria. The film follows a long line of 2021 musical films: tick, tick...BOOM!, In the Heights and Encanto to name a few, but Steven Spielberg's West Side Story ticked all the boxes, working as a modern-day musical whilst still encapsulating that classic Hollywood feel.


5. Promising Young Woman

Directed by Emerald Fennell | Run time: 114 mins | ★★★★★ | Now TV

Behind the camera, Emerald Fennell made her mark in every single frame. In another outstanding debut of 2021 she asserts exactly who she is as a director and the story she tells is so unbelievably well-balanced with the messages coming through confidently, sparking conversation amongst film lovers and naysayers alike.

In front of the camera Carey Mulligan gives a career-best performance, playing a number of exquisite characters through Cassandra. This will hopefully open up more castings, she is excellent and her work here with Fennell blends together seamlessly.


4. The Mitchells vs. The Machines

Directed by Michael Rianda | Run time: 114 mins | ★★★★★ | Netflix

It was hard to believe after Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that any later animation could ever be as good, but The Mitchells vs. The Machines (also a Sony Animated picture) did just that. It did something entirely different with the genre and resonated with families no matter how big or small. The film gets the chaos of family life but still creates laugh-out-loud moments and is full of unpredictability. Our animated film of the year!


3. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Directed by Jon Watts | Run time: 148 mins | ★★★★ | In cinemas now

It may be a surprise to see a 4-star film this high up the list, but there's no denying its scale and what it has done for the superhero genre. Never has there been such a sense of triumph and community in a cinema screen to see all of the events unfold. Tom Holland gives his best performance yet, and all of the supporting cast around him are fun and assertive. It's up there with some of the MCU's best, and it leaves exciting prospects for things to come. It's position in the list just shows how many of us loved it!


2. Another Round

Directed by Thomas Vinterberg | Run time: 117 mins | ★★★★★ | Now TV

This was seen by 3/5 of us at a Screen Unseen event at the Odeon. We had no idea going in what film we were going to be watching, but we were not disappointed when the end credits rolled. This Danish masterpiece shows joy, depression, love and triumph in all the best ways. It knows when to be heartbreaking and when to make you laugh, and finishes with genuinely one of the greatest scenes in cinema history.


Honourable Mentions

Each of the team's top pick that didn't quite make the Top Ten

Ellis - Palm Springs - a delightful comedy, using that familiar time-loop format to create fun antics and even more fun characters.

Gareth - Sound of Metal - the sound design for this film is off the charts, detailing the struggles of deafness and the anxieties that accompany it. Riz Ahmed is impeccable.

Gwilym - Demon Slayer: Mugen Train - a film that only Gwilym has seen, but he hasn't stopped raving about. Animé lovers are raving about it, so we are too!

Oli - Free Guy - The number 1 film of the year for Oli was Free Guy, a film about loneliness and expectations through the world of a role play video game.

Becci - Shang-Chi & The Legend of the Ten Rings - This Marvel feature wowed us all, creating an instant affection for Simu Liu in the same way Iron Man did for RDJ. It's bold, dramatic and unbelievably fun.


1. Dune

Directed by Denis Villeneuve | Run time: 155 mins | ★★★★★ | Out on DVD/Blu-Ray 31st Jan

So here it is, our film of 2021...Dune. Every shot is breathtaking; from the first sound to the final frame the film doesn't put a foot wrong in it's sandworm-avoiding dance. It generated more buzz than many others have managed to do and it did not disappoint; it introduced new viewers to a new world and book lovers to a familiar one. In the same way that Columbus did with Harry Potter, or Jackson did with Lord of the Rings, this first instalment leaves us excited for what's to come and so happy that we lived to see the release of this fantasy epic.


So there it is, the top ten of the year. It doesn't feel like 12 months ago that we were talking about 2020...oh wait...but now a new year begins, and how exciting it is to look ahead to another jam-packed year.

Perhaps you don't agree with our list; perhaps there's something that you're upset that we left out...if that's the case then don't be shy, we want to know! You can contact us on Instagram @focusfilmmovies to let us hear your thoughts. Plus, check out our video on Focus Film YouTube talking all about the year 2021.

talkabout AWARDS 2021 COMING SOON!

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