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, Awards Season, Ranking

93rd Academy Awards: Best Picture Nominees Ranked

After what is one of the longest awards seasons in living memory, it is finally time for Hollywood to pay tribute to the best cinematic offerings of 2020/21. It was certainly a strange year that forced cinemas to stay shut for many months, hence the slight delay to the main event this weekend. But that didn’t prevent a number of outstanding films from being released. With a total of eight films up for the big prize this year: including the behind the scenes of how one of the most iconic films of all time came to be, a couple of heart-warming tales about life in America (from two very different perspectives), a gripping and timely courtroom drama, a heart-breaking character study of a man suffering from a terrible disease, an urgent film about an overlooked figure of history, and a dark and thrilling tale of revenge.

There’s lots of quality cinema in this year’s crop, but only one scoop that Best Picture crown. So, without further ado, let us rank these from worst to best (as always per the opinion of yours truly), starting with….

8. Mank

It seems like every year there’s always one film, no matter who you are, that you just don’t get the fuss about, and this year Mank is that film. I never thought a film by David Fincher would be the bottom of this list, yet here we are. When you have get a maestro like Fincher directing a film, that covers how the script of one of the most influential films of all time Citizen Kane came to be, expectations are going to be set high. Having watched (and loved) Citizen Kane for the first time just before watching Mank, it raised my expectations even higher. Furthermore, with a cast that is packed with talent like Gary Oldman, Amanda Seyfried and Charles Dance, surely that’s a sure-fire hit for cinematic gold. Yet, sadly for me, this film just didn’t match those lofty expectations.

To give credit where credit is due, Fincher directs the film beautifully. The production design, costumes and cinematography are all absolutely stunning, and the performances across the board are all very good, with Amanda Seyfried being a particular highlight. What let the film down for me is the script, it had its moments, but I just wasn’t as intrigued by the film as I wanted/expected to be, and that is really disappointing.

7. Minari

Full review here

For generations and generations of people looking to migrate to the United States, the notion of the American Dream to achieve economic success has been the source of their desire to move to the country. Yet, that desire to achieve that dream is not always so straightforward, and in this semi-autobiographical film from Lee Isaac Chung, Minari captures one family’s trials and tribulations as they bid to achieve that dream by opening and running their own farm in 1980s Arkansas.

The cast is filled with impeccable performances, from Steven Yeun’s loving but stern portrayal as the family’s patriarch, to Youn Yuh-jung’s likely Oscar winning turn as the family’s Grandmother. The interaction between her and little David (Alan Kim) is extremely heart-warming, but also extremely amusing. While the film focuses on the lives of this one family, the themes about finding identity in what can be at times (especially right now), a very unforgiving world, is something that we can all relate to.

 

6. The Father

Full review coming soon

Sir Anthony Hopkins is an an actor whose career started all the way back in 1960. Over the years, he’s given us plenty of extraordinary performances. Yet, as his career reaches its seventh decade, it is quite the accomplishment to say that a film released in 2020/21, could arguably be the greatest performance that he has given across his glittering career. In this heart-breaking film from Florian Zeller, it might just have got the best ever performance out of this veteran actor, or at least his best performance since his memorable Oscar winning turn in Silence of the Lambs.

The way in which Zeller directs this film is extremely innovative, and it pays off as it is clearly to try and establish to the audience just how much of an effect a disease like dementia can have on the human brain. As well as Hopkins’s absolutely devastating performance, special mention must go to Olivia Colman’s tender performance as the daughter of Hopkin’s character. It cannot be easy to watch someone you love go through this terrible condition, and who is put in the most uncomfortable position of watching her father’s condition slowly deteriorate. The way the film is told from his perspective enables the audience to go into his mind as his grip on reality slowly begins to unravel, and it’s truly harrowing to watch, especially if someone you love has been affected by this terrible disease.

 

5. Nomadland

Full review coming soon

The Economic Crash of 2008 was undoubtedly an extremely tough time for lots of people. Countless jobs lost, lives and economic livelihoods shattered. For one woman, having lost everything that tied her to a town where she spent many happy years of her life, it leads her to selling most of her belongings and starting a new life as a modern day nomad, living in a caravan in the American West.

Written, directed, edited and produced by Chloe Zhao, Nomadland’s beauty lies in the depiction of the nomad lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that undoubtedly comes with its challenges, but due to the inspired casting of some real life nomads, it brings their lifestyle to life in a manner that is poignant and emotional. The beauty of the film shines through, in part thanks to the gorgeous cinematography, which makes it feel like a world away from the constant noise of the capitalist world that seemingly (at least pre the COVID-19 pandemic) never stops turning. At the centre of all of it, is a subdued, but wonderful performance from Frances McDormand. While it is not my favourite film of this year’s crop, it would be a very worthy winner if, as expected, it takes home the top prize on Oscar night.

 

4. Sound of Metal

Full review here

Imagine if you’re a musician, music is your passion and you live for the thrill of playing music to live crowds. But what if one day, you begin to realise that you are rapidly losing your hearing and your entire future career as a musician is in jeopardy? It’s a position that no one would want to be in, yet it is a position that Ruben (an extraordinary Riz Ahmed) finds himself in. Faced with an impossibly difficult decision, he must decide how to handle the devastating loss of one of his senses, and he seeks assistance from a centre for the deaf, led by a very compassionate recovering war veteran.

Directed beautifully by Darius Marder in a passionate directorial debut, the film shines a light on the deaf community in an extremely touching manner. Bolstered by some absolutely extraordinary sound work, the film’s heart comes from the time that Ruben spends with the deaf community. And most importantly of all, the film is a lesson about coming to term’s with one’s circumstances, whilst reminding the world that deafness is not a disability.

 

3. Trial of the Chicago 7

Full review here

There are certain names that automatically just capture attention whenever they’re brought up in discussions, and Aaron Sorkin is certainly one of those names. Having written a plethora of memorable screenplays over the years, he made a seamless transition to directing. for his second film, he writes and directs once again, to tremendous effect to tell the story of the Chicago 7, who were essentially put on trial in front of the whole world in the build up to the 1968 Democratic Convention.

The film draws a strong correlation between the protests that occurred in the 1960s over the Vietnam War to the protests that erupted across America in response to systemic racism, in a year that felt extremely politically charged due to the 2020 US Presidential Election, and the previous four years under an administration that sought to swiftly quash any dissent and protest. Filled to the brim with top performances, there’s so many that could have got nominations, but in the end it was Sacha Baron Cohen’s excellent turn as Abbie Hoffman that took the deserved plaudits. Once seen as perhaps the frontrunner, it might have lost a bit of steam since its release last October, but it still remains a powerful piece of filmmaking from Aaron Sorkin.

 

2. Promising Young Woman

Full review here

Rape and sexual assault are never comfortable subjects to talk about, but in the years since the Me Too Movement spoke out, it has forced the world to have an urgent conversation about these subjects, and how women are too often subjected to this kind of horrific abuse. In her bold and daring directorial debut, Emerald Fennell tackles these themes head on, and in so doing has created a film that holds a mirror to society in an extremely arresting manner.

At the centre of this thrilling tale of revenge is Carey Mulligan’s Cassie. A woman who once had a bright and promising future, but due to this traumatic incident, her once bright future has faded. Instead, she is focused purely on her revenge mission. Mulligan’s tour-de-force performances keeps you hooked from the get go as you watch her go about her mission to extract revenge against those who caused her that trauma all those years ago. The film keeps you guessing right until its ending, which has, and will undoubtedly continue to generate much discussion in the coming years.

1. Judas and the Black Messiah

Full review here

When you look back at how the Civil Rights movement is taught, there are certain powerful historical figures that are universally recognised all over the world. Names such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X to name but a few. Yet the name of Fred Hampton is not one that is nearly well known, probably because it is barely taught at all, and that is staggering. As when you watch this extraordinary film, it is incomprehensible to work out why this man’s name is not mentioned in the same breath as those other names.

What makes this film so relevant and so extremely powerful is the unmistakeable parallels between the time that Fred Hampton campaigned against injustice, and in the 21st century. To put it bluntly,  not a lot has happened in all those years as the systemic racism that Hampton rallied against is still very much present in our society, as demonstrated by the worldwide protests that took place in 2020, with people taking a stand. While LaKeith Stanfield does incredible work, it’s the absolutely scintillating performance from Daniel Kaluuya that drives the film forward as he imbues Fred Hampton with powerful leadership qualities. Every time Hampton is on screen talking, you’re listening to what he has to say.  “You can kill a revolutionary, but you can never kill the revolution.” Over fifty years later, and Hampton’s words are truer now than perhaps they’ve ever been.

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Could/should have been nominated…

Every time I come to write this list, I always ask myself why the Academy doesn’t fill take the opportunity to nominate the maximum number of 10 films for the top honour? While these eight do all (just about in the case of one film) deserve their spot for the biggest prize of the night, I always like to have a look at what could have joined their ranks to compete for the top honour. So, what could have joined their company? Well if I had my way, Mank drops out, and then I choose the following three films to make it a perfect ten:

One Night in Miami (review): Four influential figures of the Civil Rights Movement, one fictionalised evening, directed by Academy Award winner Regina King, I mean what more needs to be said? Adapted from the Kemp Power’s stage play of the same name, the film isn’t held back by its stage play roots, as the four performances of the men playing these historical figures are all extraordinary. Furthermore, the screenplay that goes deep in exploring powerful historical themes that very much related to today’s society.

Another Round (review): There’s an undeniable joy that comes when no matter what the occasion, we sit down and have a tipple or two to celebrate. Yet you’d think that no one would have a drink whilst working on their day job Yet that is exactly what a group of four schoolteachers do to try and bring a bit of excitement back in their lives. Thomas Vinterberg’s film expertly walks the line between comedy and tragedy, whilst getting one of the best performances out of Mads Mikkelsen in a long time.

Wolfwalkers (review): Seldom do animated films make the leap from the animated category to competing for the top prize. Yet in the case of Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers, this is a film that absolutely deserves to make that list. In an era where most animation studios are going for fully CGI animation, there’s something to be admired about a studio that creates hand drawn animation, and Wolfwalkers is a magically enchanting tale that continues to enhance Cartoon Saloon’s growing reputation as a powerhouse animation studio.

Posted in 2020-2029, Film Review

Sound of Metal (2021)

© Amazon Studios

Sound of Metal  – Film Review

Cast: Riz Ahmed, Olivia Cooke, Paul Raci

Director: Darius Marder

Synopsis: A drummer in a death metal band has his life thrown into disarray as he begins to lose his hearing…

Review: Touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste, the five senses that we have as humans that we use to make sense of this crazy world and everything that goes on around us. Many of us will go through our lives with all of our five senses intact. However at some point, for any number of reasons, some of us may end up losing one or more of these senses. How does one cope when faced with such a tumultuous and life-changing event, especially when the sense that you’ve lost is intrinsically linked to your profession or the thing that you love doing the most? The answer to that question, and so much more, can be found in this thought-provoking, extremely moving directorial debut from Darius Marder.

Ruben (Ahmed) is the drummer and one half of the death metal band Blackgammon, along with his girlfriend Lou (Cooke) the band’s vocalist/guitarist. The two of them travel across the USA playing out gigs wherever they can find them, all the while living out of an RV. For deeply personal reasons, these two have formed a close bond, having been an integral part of each other’s recovery from addiction, and the chemistry between them is evident of just much they mean to each other. Yet one day during a gig, everything changes for Ruben when he suddenly finds that he’s starting to lose his hearing. This threatens to put his whole music career, and indeed his whole life with Lou by his side, in jeopardy. Determined to do whatever she can for him, Lou arranges for Ruben to visit a centre that helps people who are deaf, led by a very compassionate recovering war veteran Joe (Raci).

Ever since he burst onto the scene with his stunning breakout performance in 2014’s Nightcrawler, Riz Ahmed has been consistently putting in excellent performances. Yet his role as Ruben, is a stunning, career best central performance that has solidified Ahmed’s reputations as one of the best actors in the business. Listening to music is an experience that generates waves of emotion, and the same is almost certainly true for anyone who creates and plays music. For a musician, it is incomprehensible to think of the prospect of a future of being unable to hear the music that you are playing to the world, and the sudden loss of one’s hearing, especially in that field of work, is almost guaranteed to cause some anxiety and pain. Right from the moment he feels his hearing starting to fade, Ahmed portrays with heart-breaking authenticity the horror and devastation that someone in that situation would find themselves in, especially when music is Ruben’s life, and it is all he’s ever known.

While the first half of the film is resting on Ahmed’s shoulders to bring the emotional weight of this massive moment in his life, the performance of Paul Raci as Joe, the deaf former war veteran who is offering to help Ruben find his place in the world, is considerably more understated. Yet crucially, it is just as effective. The first half of the film as Ruben and Lou grapple with this, captures the drama and anguish of the situation. Yet the second half of the film is where the heart of the film lies as Ruben slowly but surely comes to terms with his ordeal. Through his own personal experiences, Joe teaches Ruben that while he may have lost a significant part of what made his life so enthralling in the creation and the playing of the music that he and Lou created and shared with the world, there is a whole other world that is opened to him as a result of his deafness. Or, to borrow a well known phrase, as one door closes, another must open.

When a film has “Sound” in its title, focus is inevitably going to turn towards the sound work, and the work done by the sound team of: Nicolas Becker, Jaime Baksht, Michelle Couttolenc, Carlos Cortes, and Philip Bladh, is truly outstanding. Through every aspect of their incredible work, they fully immerse the audience into Ruben’s world. Right from the opening shot of the thrum of the music that Ruben and Lou are creating, to the distortion and muffling that Ruben starts to experience as we watch his hearing disappear before our eyes, to the sound of total silence that follows once Ruben’s hearing has completely disappeared. It all puts the audience in Ruben’s shoes and makes us understand his perspective. There’s been no shortage of films in the past year or so that have brought powerful and urgent messages, and Sound of Metal offers a powerful and meaningful message that deafness is not a handicap, or something that needs to be fixed.

With a career best performance from Ahmed, Darius Marder’s directorial debut is passionate film-making that, quietly and effectively, communicates a very powerful message that the demands to be seen and heard across the world.