Posted in 2020-2029, Awards Season, Ranking

94th Academy Awards: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

Another awards season has come and gone. While this year’s awards season has unfortunately been full of controversy, it has been extremely satisfying to see films back on the big screen where they belong in 2021, after the previous year’s awards season was much changed due to the pandemic. With so many films coming out in 2021, it also is extremely satisfying to see ten films being selected for the top prize this year. This year’s crop includes a new adaptation of a classic musical, part one of an enthralling adaptation of a beloved sci-fi novel, a heartfelt coming-of-age story, the inspiring story of the father of two of the best athletes of all time, a gothic-noir thriller, and a beautiful semi-autobiographical film of the significance of the place we call home.

A (mostly) impressive crop of nominees, but as usual, only one film will emerge victorious. So, without any further ado, here’s my ranking of these films worst to best, starting with…

10. Don’t Look Up

Full review here

I always say, that every year there’s going to be one Best Picture nominee potentially that you are not going to get the fuss about. However, it has been a few years since a film has appeared in this lineup that I’ve completely and totally LOATHED. Adam McKay’s latest attempt at a satire takes that title this year, and the last time it happened, was another McKay film, Vice.

There’s not been a single one of McKay’s satirical films that I’ve enjoyed. The Big Short had its moments, but I was not a fan of it for the most part. It’s been a recurring theme throughout each of these films, there’s an overbearing smugness and pomposity to them that just winds me up something fierce. I thought Vice was bad, but here, that smugness was dialled up to the maximum, and it was just an extremely unbearable and rage-inducing film to sit through. There is an important, urgent message at its centre which I begrudgingly give the film credit for. However, by attempting to portray that message with the most unsubtle and unfunny satire, which is at times is practically insulting its audience, it renders the whole thing utterly pointless. The Academy clearly has a love for Adam McKay’s satires that I don’t think I will ever have. This film won’t want to look up and see its position in this list.

9. Licorice Pizza

It is incredible to think that for a director as beloved as Paul Thomas Anderson, he has so far, failed to win an Oscar, despite his films often getting recognition. There was much hype about his latest film, and on paper, it ticked all the boxes. A sweet 1970s set coming-of-age story, drenched in nostalgia. It could be the one film to end his long wait for an Oscar, but I for one, find the love for this film completely baffling. While it’s not as infuriatingly offensive as the preceding film on this list, it’s not a million miles off.

The film is immaculately shot and the performances of its leads Cooper Hoffman and Alana Haim are excellent. However, there’s so much about this film that just fell completely flat. Firstly, the plot (if you can call really call it that) meanders and is at times extremely tedious, and it all felt extremely aimless and unconnected. But the film commits a couple of massive indiscretions that are just completely baffling, and avoidable. The first of which is the age gap between the leads. As a 25-year-old woman falling in love with a 15-year-old boy, the age gap felt extremely icky, especially as the film wanted these two to find a way to be together. If the genders were reversed, there would be a justifiable furious outcry. There’s a fantastic piece on why this age gap is so problematic, which you can read on In Session Film. It was a problem that could have been so easily avoided, Hoffman’s character is perceived to be grown up because of how mature he is, so why not just make him an adult? As if that wasn’t problematic enough, there are also two scenes that feature instances of a deeply uncomfortable depiction of a racist stereotype that serve no purpose to this story, and could have very easily been taken out of the film.

 

8. Nightmare Alley

Now, we’re into the stuff that actually deserves to be here. The newest film from Guillermo del Toro since he scooped Best Picture and Best Director for The Shape of Water at the 90th Academy Awards. Whenever you think of the Mexican auteur’s films, chances are you might associate them with the mythical monster genre. There’s nothing quite like that in his newest film, but there’s still a distinctly noir vibe to this enchanting mystery that pulls you in and keeps you engaged. A fascinating thriller focusing on Bradley Cooper’s Stanton Carlisle, a con man who charms his way into working at a carnival. As usual with any GDT picture, the production values are all excellent, from the stunning production design, Dan Lausten’s cinematography, it’s all visually immaculate. The first half is a bit sluggish in its pacing, but from the moment Dr. Lilith Ritter (a riveting Cate Blanchett) enters the picture, the film pulls you into the mystery and never lets up.

 

7. West Side Story

In 1961, Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins’s West Side Story won a grand total of 10 Oscars, including Best Picture. 50 years later, acclaimed director Steven Spielberg took on the challenge of bringing this musical to a brand new generation. Quite the daunting task, especially for a director even one as acclaimed as Spielberg, especially when you consider that he’d never done a musical before!

In the hands of Spielberg, there was never any doubt that the film would be visually tremendous, even though Spielberg got a bit too trigger happy with the lens flares. Rachel Zegler, in her first film role, proves that she is an absolute star in the making with an incredible debut performance as Maria. Alongside her, Ariana DeBose excels as Anita with a performance that will surely land her a history-making Supporting Actress Oscar win. The story of finding love and hostility between rival communities remains as painfully relevant now as it did back in the 1960s. However, the presence of Ansel Elgort here really drags the film down. He lacks the charisma to be a leading man, but furthermore as everyone else around him by comparison, is a much more talented singer/performer, he really sticks out like a sore thumb.

 

6. Drive My Car

Grief is something that all we go through whenever someone near and dear to us departs this world. How does one process this when that happens to them? While there’s no right answer to that question, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s moving film provides a meditative and thorough examination of this process and how we as humans cope with it. Clocking in at three hours, the film does its best to keep the audience engaged right throughout as it takes a thought-provoking look at melancholy, and how we process the grief that we experience when someone extremely close to us has passed away.

The film focuses on a renowned theatre director (an outstanding Hidetoshi Nishijima), who’s struggling to come to terms with the loss of his beloved wife. To that end, he is driven to work by a chauffeur hired by the production company. A film that touches on such a difficult subject matter, with that runtime could have very easily been a recipe for disaster. While it is extremely heavy to watch, and you do begin to feel the three-hour run time by the end, Hamaguchi’s nuanced screenplay packs a lot of layers into the film and is a thought-provoking look at how we come to terms with grief and loss.

 

 

5. The Power of the Dog

Full review here

To the first film that is one of the two favourites to be the film that takes home the big prize of the evening. Jane Campion’s return to the director’s chair after a 12-year wait was a layered Western that has much more than shootouts on its mind than Cowboys and shootouts. Focusing on the tense relationship between two brothers in 1925 Montana, one very unhospitable and unkind to pretty much everyone and every one, one very much the opposite. So when one brother gets married,  it becomes a great source of tension between the more cruel and inhospitable brother and his more gentle brother’s new family.

Brilliantly acted by its entire cast, especially Cumberbatch and Smit-McPhee, Campion’s layered and nuanced screenplay slow-burner is a fascinating exploration of the concepts of toxic masculinity and homosexuality at a time when it would have been extremely taboo to talk about both. It bides its time with its script, thoroughly exploring the characters and the internal conflicts that are raging in them,

4. CODA

Full review here

And now to the second film that’s heavily tipped to take home the top prize. Coming-of-age stories have been plentiful over the years, so it can be hard to distinguish yourself from the crowd, but this is exactly what CODA does, and it does it in a beautiful and emotional manner. Focusing on Emilia Jones’s Ruby, a child of deaf adults, as she pursues her dream of going to a prestigious musical college. A dream that her deaf family can’t understand as they’re unable to appreciate Ruby’s talent.

There are familiar narrative beats that you will see in plenty of coming-of-age stories, and while CODA doesn’t deviate from these, it provides crucial representation for the deaf community. This is a very sweet and sincere love letter to the warm embrace and the emotional support that comes with being surrounded by a loving family, with Troy Kotsur stealing the show as Ruby’s father. With just one word, he was able to break the audience’s emotions into a million pieces. Plus, the fact that the two films that are the favourites to win Best Picture are both directed by women is something to be celebrated.

 

 

3. Belfast

Full review here

No matter where we go in this crazy world we live in, you never truly forget where you come from. Those formative years can play a massive part in shaping you as a person and they may well define the later years of your life, particularly if you’re growing up at a time when your country is in the midst of political turmoil and the threat of political violence erupting at any given moment. In what is his most personal film to date, Kenneth Branagh frames all this from the perspective of young Buddy, who watches all this unfold while trying to enjoy his childhood surrounded by his beloved family.

Jude Hill excels in what is a fantastic breakthrough performance as Buddy. He leads an outstanding cast of exceptional performances. From Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe as his loving parents, to Ciaran Hinds and Judi Dench as Buddy’s Grandparents. The mark of a quality performance is one where you see the character and not the actor, and this applies to every member of this cast.  Given when the film is set, it seems unlikely that there’d be much room for comedy, but Branagh’s screenplay expertly balances the political tensions with brilliant moments of humour.

2. King Richard

Full review here

Venus and Serena Wiliams: two of the most instantly recognisable names in any sport. Over the course of their careers, these fantastically gifted athletes have cemented themselves as two of the best athletes not just in the sport of tennis, but of all time. While you will undoubtedly know their name, someone whose name you might not know is their father: Richard Williams. This emotionally uplifting biopic provides a detailed look at the integral impact that Richard had on two of the best athletes of all time.

The film pays tribute to the parents who sacrifice so much so that their budding sports superstars can achieve their dreams of success. Will Smith’s likely Best Actor win will be so well deserved. He’s a man who’s committed to his plan to ensure his daughters achieve their superstar dreams, and will not suffer fools gladly. In a film that is the biopic of two of the biggest stars in the history of tennis, it might seem odd to frame it from Richard’s perspective, yet the film makes you understand just how much of an impact Richard had on his daughters’ early careers. Yet, crucially,  the film doesn’t lose sight of the women in this story. Aunjaune Ellis’s towering performance as Venus and Serena’s mother Brandy goes toe to toe with Richard, and Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the young versions Venus and Serena are all equally brilliant.

1. Dune

Full review here

In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closure of cinemas across the world meant that there was a distinct lack of the iconic cinematic blockbusters that audiences have enjoyed for decades. With the return of cinemas last year, it was extremely pleasing to see these blockbusters return to where they belong. No film typifies the wondrous experience of seeing films on the big screen in 2021 than the first half of this adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel from visionary director Denis Villeneuve.

Villeneuve’s passion for the source material shines through with every frame. The sheer scale of the world-building is awe-inspiring, in a manner that’s akin to Lord of the Rings, for example. It sweeps the audience up with its breath-taking visual majesty, perfectly accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s score that will transport you back to Arrakis in an instant. The stacked ensemble cast is all pitch-perfect in their roles, and Villeneuve’s direction is masterful in every respect. The novel was said to be unfilmable, but Villeneuve proved everyone wrong. I cannot wait to make the trip back to Arrakis in 2023 to witness Part Two.

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Could/should have been nominated…

 

This year, for the first time in what feels like a long time, we have a full set of ten films that are up for the biggest prize. But like I do every year, I like to have a look at what could have been, because there are some films that simply put should not be in this year’s race. So if I was an Oscar voter, here are three films that would make a perfect Best Picture lineup this year. So out go Don’t Look Up, Licorice Pizza, and Nightmare Alley and in their place, we have:

The Last Duel (review). I am at a complete loss as to how this has completely missed the mark for this year’s awards season. It really should be a contender in numerous categories and should be absolutely running away with Best Actress, as with the exceptions of Kristen Stewart and Tessa Thompson, no one came close to matching Jodie Comer’s brilliant leading actress performance in this enthralling historical epic. Directed by the legendary Sir Ridley Scott, the film’s poor box office probably didn’t help matters, but that shouldn’t have mattered. Its important and timely themes meant that it should have been a frontrunner, and the fact that it’s not is something I will forever be bitter about.

Spencer (review). Speaking of Stewart, the fact that hers is the only Oscar nomination for Pablo Lorrain’s biopic of Princess Diana is so baffling. While that nomination is thoroughly deserved, the film was an extremely unique biopic that took creative liberties with the troubled marriage between Diana and Prince Charles as it was clear that the marriage had broken down. It should have been a shoo-in for production design and costumes at the very least…

Passing. The subject of race has been a major talking point over these last few years, and in her directorial debut, Rebecca Hall takes a considered and thought-provoking approach to this topical issue, and gets awards-worthy performances out of Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga. Two more actors who, along with Comer should have been nominated this year at the very least. Like The Last Duel, Passing being completely shut out of this year’s awards season is just beyond baffling.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Feature, Ranking

Best Films of 2021

2021, a year that initially began as 2020 ended, with the cinemas still closed amid a continuing lockdown that kept us at home. New releases were being brought to us through the streaming services, but it was wonderful to see the cinemas finally reopen in May. That feeling of being back in the cinema, watching films where they are meant to be seen, there’s honestly nothing like it. Given that the year saw the release of many films that were pushed back, there were lots of films for cinephiles to enjoy, and so let’s have a look and see what was the best films that 2021 had to offer.

Whenever I compile these end-of-year lists, the aim is always to include films that are listed as 2021 releases on IMDB. Yet, as will probably be the case till the end of time, some films had very staggered release dates. Consequently, there are some films appearing on this list that came out in 2020, but they weren’t available to UK audiences until 2021. Hence, this makes them available for this year’s list. Also, as much as I would want to, I’ve not seen every film that was released this year, so apologies if your favourite is not on here, as I may not have seen it. On the flip side to that, some films featured here that are listed as 2021 releases on IMDB, haven’t yet made their way to UK cinemas. However, as I was able to see some of these at London Film Festival this year, this means they are eligible for inclusion here.

Additionally, as I say every year, the grades I give the films do not determine the rankings of these films. A film that gets a perfect grade is not guaranteed to be my favourite film of the year. Lists like these are always a chance for the person compiling them to be as biased as they want to be. These are the films that, for me personally, defined 2021 as a strong year for film.

Before I get into the main list, I must give a shout out to some honourable mentions. These films are excellent that you should definitely check out, but they just didn’t quite make the list:

The Power of the Dog [review]. 12 years after her last film, Jane Campion returns to the director’s chair for an enthralling Western that focuses less on the cowboys and the shootouts, and more on the tense relationship between two brothers on a 1925 Montana ranch.

Encanto [review] The first, and not the last, film on this list that has the involvement of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Disney celebrated their landmark 60th animated feature film in some style, with a beautifully animated film that depicted a heartfelt story to prove the House of Mouse still has the magic touch.

Spencer [review]. Princess Diana’s story is one that is all too well known. A tragic figure in British history, Pablo Larrain’s unconventional biopic zeroes in on a time when Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles had grown cold. There’s a lot of creative liberties in terms of the story, but it all comes together thanks to an astonishing, transformative Kristen Stewart performance as Diana.

A Quiet Place Part II [review]. The first film that I saw in cinemas when they reopened. John Krasinski returned to the director’s chair to bring us a sequel to one of the most unique horror films of recent years. Recapturing that tension that of the first film was always going to be a tough ask, but Krasinski pulled it off, delivering a sequel that proved to be a worthy follow up to the original, with an incredible performance from Millicent Simmonds.

Spider-Man: No Way Home [review]. Since the pandemic began, there’s arguably not been a film that had quite the level of hype going into it as the concluding chapter to Tom Holland’s Spider-Man trilogy. Where previous Spider-Man sequels failed, this threequel webbed all of its plot threads tremendously well and delivered an extremely satisfying film that should change the MCU as we know it.

 

Honourable mentions honoured. Now, since we had so many films this year, let’s dive into the top 15

15. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

 

review

It had been a long time coming, but at long last this year, the MCU made a film that was led by an Asian superhero, alongside a predominantly Asian led cast. A landmark moment, and thanks to the outstanding stunt work, the film brought a unique visual style to the action scenes that are unlike anything that previous MCU films had brought to the table. Thanks to the brilliant performance of Simu Liu in the titular role, a new hero was born. Plus, in Tony Leung’s Wenwu, you have one of the best MCU villains in years.

14. tick, tick… BOOM!

As time goes by and we hit the later years in life, we begin to feel the pressure of wanting to leave our mark on the world. Taking the truly tragic story of Jonathan Larson and his struggles to craft the missing pieces of the puzzle for a play he’s writing doesn’t sound like the most invigorating combo in concept. But when you have a career-best performance from Andrew Garfield, and the usual catchiness of the songs that Lin-Manuel Miranda pens, and you have an extremely emotionally impactful combination that is beautifully directed by Miranda.

 

13. In the Heights

review

Continuing on the subject of Lin-Manuel Miranda, after being delayed by a year due to the pandemic, this Jon. M Chu-directed adaptation of Miranda’s 2005 musical was the much-needed blast of sun-soaked joy that we needed after many months of cinemas being shut. Filled to the brim with a plethora of memorable songs, all of which had a unique visual style to them. The film’s screenplay packed some important changes that made it extremely topical for the political landscape of 2021. In a year that saw a number of musicals, this is the best of them all and further proof that 2021 was the year of Lin-Manuel Miranda supremacy.

 

12. Belfast

review coming soon

In this beautiful semi-autobiographical film, director Kenneth Branagh tells the story about centres on a young boy growing up in the centre of Belfast just as the Troubles were beginning in Northern Ireland. Given that background, it seems unlikely that there’d be much room for humour, but Branagh works it so wonderfully well into his script, and gets awards-worthy performances out of every member of the main cast, especially Jamie Dornan and Catriona Balfe.

11. Raya and the Last Dragon

review

In all of the 58 Disney films that preceded this one, they’d never given audiences a heroine of South-Eastern Asian origin. As was the case with Shang-Chi, the film was a ground-breaking moment for representation that had been a long time coming. A lot of lore is packed into the story, but it married that up with an extremely exciting adventure. Plus, in Raya, you have yet another fearless and badass warrior princess that gives young girls a positive role model, and Awkwfinha as the voice of a dragon. One of Disney’s best films in years.

Now for the top 10…

 

 

10. No Time to Die

review

Being one of the first films to be affected by the pandemic, and being hit with a number of subsequent delays on top of that, it was starting to feel like we’d never get to see Daniel Craig’s final turn as James Bond. But thankfully this Autumn, it was finally released to the world, and it was worth the wait. The film had the extremely difficult task of tying all the loose ends from all of Craig’s previous Bond films, and managing the enormous expectations of the fans beforehand. Thankfully, while it wasn’t all plain sailing, it was mission accomplished with a compelling story that gave one of the best actors to play Bond a memorable final bow, and the send-off he deserved.

9. The Last Duel

review

Credit where credit is due for Ridley Scott. The veteran director is, at the age of 84, is still producing incredible pieces of cinema. He’s got a history with swords and sandals epic. However, what sets this apart from his previous films in this genre is that this is a medieval epic, with a modern, and very important message. Presenting its story in three distinct acts from a different person’s point of view, the first two acts are compelling and well written. However, it’s not until the third act, that the film truly soars, thanks to the award-worthy performance of Jodie Comer. This is, along with another film in this list, one of the most important films of the Post #MeToo Era of Hollywood, that absolutely did not deserve to be a box office bomb.

 

8. Sound of Metal

review

Losing one of your senses would undoubtedly be an extremely traumatic time in your life, especially if one of those senses was integral to your job as a drummer in a band. This is the devastating position that Ruben finds himself in, and must adapt to the changing circumstances of his life. With stunning sound work, the film puts you in Ruben’s (an extraordinary Riz Ahmed) position, and examines how his life will forever be changed by this painful diagnosis. An extraordinary directorial debut from Darius Marder that shines a deserved spotlight on deaf communities across the world.

7. King Richard

review

Serena and Venus Williams. Two names who need no introduction, as they have established themselves as two of the greatest athletes to have ever lived. What you probably don’t know, is the story of their father, Richard Williams, and the impact he had in shaping their early careers. The parents of any budding young superstar athletes undoubtedly have to work tirelessly to help their children achieve their dreams, and this uplifting family drama takes us on that journey. The film is packed with incredible performances, including an arguably career-best performance from Will Smith as Richard. He’s very ably supported by star-making turns from Saniyya Sidney and Demi Singleton as the young Venus and Serena respectively, likewise for Aunjanue Ellis as their mother Brandi.

 

6. The Harder They Fall

review

The Western genre is one that has so often been dominated by white lead characters. Meanwhile, for any black characters in these films, they are too often reduced to bit-part roles that don’t give them a chance to shine. However, as the words “These. People. Existed.” flash up on the screen at the start of this slick and stylish Western, it is a timely reminder that these people have stories of their own that deserve to be told. Enter Jeymes Samuel, with his feature film directorial debut that puts these characters front and centre.

Looking at what Samuel brings to the table in terms of his cast and the action scenes, it almost defies belief that this is his feature film debut. His passion for the genre comes through with every frame, and with the super talented cast he has at his disposal, it all meshes together tremendously well. An enthralling and much-needed revitalisation of the Western genre.

 

5. The Mitchells vs. the Machines

review

Technology has very much become a crucial aspect of modern life. From computers to mobile phones, it seems every so often we’re bathing our eyes in the blue light of some fanciful gadget. Films have often tackled the seemingly probable eventuality of a robot apocalypse, but what if when said robot uprising begins, humanity’s last hope is in the form of a hilarious, but extremely dysfunctional family? The answer is the latest hilarious film from those animated wizards at Sony Pictures Animation.

Filled to the brim with funny commentary about how dependent we are on our gadgets, the film’s animation brilliantly combines 2D and 3D styles of animation. The voice performances are all first-class, and the film has, hands down, THE best scene involving Furbies that will ever be seen in any film, ever.

 

4. The Suicide Squad

review

It’s fair to say that DC’s first attempt to bring their collection of super villains and mould them into a team of heroes didn’t get the reception and adulation that DC would have wanted. So what do you do to make a second attempt at this crop of characters work? Well, you bring in the guy who turned an obscure collection of Marvel anti-heroes into box office gold, and apply that to DC’s equivalent collection of characters.

While the film retains some characters from the 2016 film, it’s very much a soft reboot than a direct sequel. James Gunn brings his unique sense of humour to the story, and this new iteration expertly combines previous fan favourites, such as Harley Quinn, with exciting new recruits like a walking, talking humanoid shark, and a character who’s fond of rats. On paper, it sounds ridiculous but under Gunn’s direction, the end result is glorious and gory comic book movie mayhem.

 

 

Now, when it came to the top 3, putting these three films in some kind of order was extremely tough. At one point this year, I had all three of these at #1, and they all would be thoroughly deserving of that spot. If I could have them as a three-way tie for #1, I would. But as they must be ranked, we go on with…

 

3. Judas and the Black Messiah

review

The Civil Rights Movement in the US has seen a number of highly charismatic and influential leaders take a stand and leave their mark on history. The likes of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Muhammed Ali are all important figures whose story has been told throughout history. Yet there’s one important figure whose name has seldom been told, but who really should be held in the same breath as these aforementioned historical figures: Fred Hampton Jr.

The story and film’s message have only become more important and relevant in recent years since events in 2020 forced the world to have an urgent conversation about race relations in the US. LaKeith Stanfield’s leading performance as the FBI informant is incredible. However, it is Daniel Kaluuya’s transformative, Oscar-winning, supporting turn as Hampton himself that cements this biographical historical drama as one of the most important films of the year.

2. Promising Young Woman

review

Every so often there is a film that holds up a mirror to our society, that demands us to have a conversation about a particular topic. It’s the power of a truly great film. Not only do they generate a discussion, but they stay with you even after the credits have rolled. This was most definitely applicable for this enthralling directorial debut from Emerald Fennell.

Forced to drop out of med school, following a tragic incident involving her best friend, Cassie goes out at night pretending to be drunk, to catch in the act, would be sexual predators who would take advantage of a drunken woman. The film grips with you with the opening act, and only escalates when circumstances present Cassie with an opportunity to take revenge against the person who inflicted all that pain on her years ago. Fennell expertly juxtaposes bright and colourful romantic comedy moments, with the more dark and brutal revenge mission, all while getting a career-best performance from Carey Mulligan.

 

And so my favourite film of 2021 is

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1. Dune 

review

For two years running, this was my most anticipated film of the year, and it absolutely delivered on those lofty expectations. Denis Villeneuve has cemented himself as one of, if not, my favourite directors working today. He has consistently delivered incredible films every time, and it was clear from interviews in the build-up to the film’s release just how much of an impact Frank Herbert’s iconic novel had on him growing up. It was said to be an unfilmable book, but Villeneuve absolutely proved everybody wrong.

Right from the off, the film immediately pulls the audience into the world of Arrakis and Dune. Villeneuve brings the visual majesty that he brought to his previous sci-fi works, and with a packed ensemble cast tells an utterly enthralling story, or at least the first part of it. The scope of the novel meant that Villeneuve was able to take his time, and it pays off. Dune very much stands on its own as an enthralling piece of sci-fi storytelling, and it was made for the big screen. Experiencing films like this was an experience that was sorely missed in 2020, and so to get the opportunity to experience this on the biggest screen possible was absolutely special. Plus, the great news is that we’ve Part Two still to come.

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And that brings the curtain down on my list of the best that film had to offer in 2021. Thank you for reading, especially if you read all the way through! Let’s hope that it won’t be long before the cinemas reopen and we can witness more films on the big screen. What were your favourite films of 2021? Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on the following platforms: TwitterFacebook or Letterbox’d.

For my picks for my most anticipated films of 2022, please click here.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Dune (2021)

© Warner Bros and Legendary Pictures

Dune  – Film Review

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, David Dastmalchian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Synopsis: On the harsh desert world of Arrakis, the Atreides family are entrusted with the stewardship of the planet that is home to the most valuable resource in the world….

Review: When it comes to science fiction and fantasy storytelling, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings are two of the pinnacles of the genre, and have inspired generations of filmmakers and audiences. Yet, there is another body of work that is hugely influential to the genre. A story that featured a vast array of planets and civilisations, hailed by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. Now, in the hands of one of the finest directors working today, a new adaptation of Dune is here, and ready to win over a brand-new generation of fans.

In the far future, the most valuable resource is the spice Melange, harvested on the planet of Arrakis. For years, the planet and its people, the Fremen, have been under the brutal rule of the Harkonnens, who have ruled with an iron fist of fear. Now, it has been decreed that the planet, and the monumental task of mining the spice, will fall to the House Atreides, led by Duke Leto (Isaac). By his side, will be his son Paul (Chalamet) and Paul’s mother, the Lady Jessica (Ferguson), who belongs to a mystical order of powerful women known as the Bene Gesserit. There’s a lot of pressure on Paul’s shoulders, as the Bene Gesserit believe Paul could one day turn out to be the Chosen One.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that Frank Herbert’s novel has been adapted for the big screen. However, for reasons that are far too numerous to list here, David Lynch promptly disowned his 1984 adaptation upon release. Villeneuve has cited Dune as one of his favourite novels growing up, and from the very first minute, it is clear why he was the perfect director to helm this new adaptation. A glance at Villeneuve’s body of work has demonstrated his outstanding skill to bring jaw-dropping visuals to any story he directs, often in part due to astounding cinematography. While there’s no Roger Deakins behind the camera here, Greig Fraser is an extremely capable replacement. The gorgeous visuals are expertly combined with the sheer scale of this universe, and it is nothing short of epic.

Due to the extremely dense nature of the source material, it is a necessity for Villeneuve and writers Eric Roth and Jon Spaihts, to take their time. There is a staggering amount of existing lore and mythology to establish, as well all the various planets and Houses that exist within this story. It would be easy for any newcomers to get lost in the enormity of the world-building. Hence, the screenplay bides its time, and gives the audience ample opportunity to take everything in. The use of the practical, real life sets for the film’s production design, such as the immense Jordanian desert amplifies the impressive nature of the construction of this universe. As Villeneuve memorably said in an interview last year, “They didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool!” The use of practical sets adds so much richness to the film and ultimately it makes it unlike anything that we’ve seen in this type of big-budget blockbuster filmmaking in a very long time.

At the centre of all this is Chalamet’s Paul. He’s an actor who has carved himself a career in a plethora of Indie films over the years. The central role in a gargantuan behemoth that is Dune, is quite the step up. However, he makes that transition into a leading man seamlessly. Ferguson as the Lady Jessica is a fierce and strong-willed woman. However, there is a vulnerability that she brings to the role as she is fiercely protective of her son and the gifts that he possesses. This adds considerable depth and nuance to the relationship between Paul and Jessica. Oscar Isaac brings a lordly aura to that of Duke Leto. Yet, despite his very many duties as the leader of a great House, he still exhibits warmth, especially where Paul is concerned.

Meanwhile, the characters of Jason Momoa’s Duncan Idaho and Josh Brolin’s Gurney Halleck, core components of the inner circle of House Atreides, are the notable standouts. Opposing the Atreides, is the ruthless House Harkonnen. Right from the moment they are introduced, they are instantaneously the foreboding and ominous threat that any film with such a richly developed universe, incomparable in its scope and majesty, requires. Furthermore, Stellan Skarsgård as the villainous Baron, is an on-screen presence that you will not be forgetting in a hurry.

Reuniting with Villeneuve after collaborating on Blade Runner 2049, it feels like there aren’t enough superlatives to describe just how special this score by Hans Zimmer really is. The true power of a good film score is how a single note can transport you into that world, and this score by Zimmer will take you back to Arrakis in an instant. While the cast are all phenomenal in their roles, given the obvious influences of Arab culture into the source material, it is disappointing that there is a distinct lack of MENA cast members present. However, as this film only represents one half of Herbert’s novel, a second part would give Villeneuve the chance to rectify that missed opportunity.

To give audiences one half of this incredible story, only to not tell the second half would be extremely disappointing. Sweeping epics like this seldom come around very often. Hence, the spice must flow sufficiently enough to ensure that second part will come to fruition, and not be something that will be swirling in our dreams from the deep forever more.

It was said to be unfilmable. Yet with a superb cast, incredible world-building and a sweeping and enthralling narrative, Denis Villeneuve has accomplished something truly special, and we’re only halfway through the story.

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