Movies We Loved in 2021

January 31, 2022 4 min read

When theaters shut down two years ago, we feared for the future of movies. But the film industry courageously kept going and produced some of their best work. Thankfully, we got exciting releases not only from American masters but also from international filmmakers. Some of them may have escaped your radar, so here are some of the best ones in 2021. Here’s why we loved them!


Drive My Car (Doraibu mai kā) 

Director Ryusukue Hamaguchi brings his audience on a devastatingly emotional ride in this multi-awarded masterpiece, which also won Best Screenplay in the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Drive My Car is based on popular writer Haruki Murakami’s 2014 short story collectionMen Without Women

Languorous and introspective, the 3-hour film could easily have been dragging if not for Hamaguchi’s and co-writer Takamasa Oe’s narrative grace and poetic restraint in examining the in-between spaces of a complex marriage. 

The story begins with the perfect marriage of Kafuku (Hidetoshi Nishijima), a director and his wife Oto ((Reika Kirishima), a screenwriter. However, their 20-year relationship is marred by secrets–Oto’s infidelity with multiple lovers and Kafuku’s knowledge yet silence on it. The lie of marital bliss eventually takes an emotional toll on both and is brought to a head when Oto dies from a brain hemorrhage. Two years later, Kafuke recognizes one of her lovers Takatsuki (Masaki Okada) at an audition for the playUncle Vanya.

Inexplicably, Kafuku casts Takatsuki in the lead role of the middle-aged Uncle Vanya despite his young age. While tensions mount among the cast, Kafuku is forced to confront his past. As part of his job, he reluctantly accepts being driven around by a chauffeur, the close-mouthed Misaki (Tōko Miura). Kafuku’s outdated red car is an intimate space where audiotape recordings of Oto’s voice give him a lifeline. In this place of refuge and accompanied by Misaki’s respectful silence, Kafuku’s pain is finally given time to unfold. 

Surprising and emotionally gripping, the melancholic film blurs the lines between art and life and makes the desolation of living in simultaneous guilt and grief palpable.


The Worst Person in the World

A “coming-to-aging” film that won the Best Actress award in the 2021 Cannes Film Festival,The Worst Person in the Worldfollows the life of Julie (Renate Reinsve), a millennial living in Oslo. 

In her twenties, Julie is intelligent and capable yet undecided about where to go and what to do. Julie changes hairstyles and lovers as often as she changes careers. Amid her indecision, she starts a relationship with the popular cartoonist 40-year-old Aksel ( Anders Danielsen Lie) who is around 10 years her senior. They have an easygoing relationship, but Aksel wants kids while Julie is on a quest for self-discovery. She breaks it off and after crashing a party, finds herself with the more happy-go-lucky and younger Eivind (Herbert Nordrum) who comes with complications of his own. 

Compassionately told,The Worst Person in the World is an incisive look into the human longing for living life on our own terms, unfettered by time and the expectations of others. Julie is happiest when time stops, and she can share an illicit kiss with a lover and enjoy life as it happens. We can empathize with her problematic relationship with her father, her line “I love you, but I don’t love you” when she breaks up with Aksel, and her longing for more than what the world defines as success. 

While we might not completely identify with Julie’s flakiness, we find ourselves rooting for her. Who is to say that living in between uncertainty and certainty isn’t a valid decision as well?

 

Dune

Creating a film out of the best-selling science-fiction novel of all time is no easy feat. The first attempt in the 1970s to adapt Frank Herbert’sDune into the cinema was soon scrapped because of budget problems, while the 1984 adaptation suffered negative reviews. 

The Dune 2021 film adaptation is far from perfect and the dialogues could be better, but it is still one of the most stunning, immersive, and beautifully executed movies in the sci-fi genre. Coupled with retro-future music by Hans Zimmer, this movie by Denis Villeneuve is a worthy visual introduction to the Dune franchise. 

Dune is set in the distant future and tells the story of young Paul Atreides, who leads the Fremen and whose family stewards the planet Arrakis. Even if inhospitable to life, the harsh wastelands of Arrakis is the only source of melange, also called “the spice”, which plays a vital role in space travel and cultural development. 

The story interweaves politics, technology, religion, and emotions as competing factions battle for Arrakis.Dune fans will be pleased to know that Villenueve does not depart from Herbert’s vision, providing its legions of followers with an epic experience.


Raya and the Last Dragon

A fun treat for young and old alike, Raya and the Last Dragon is Disney’s next foray into Asian culture after Mulan. 

Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) goes on a quest to find Sisu (Awkwafina)and fragments of a magical gem that saved their land from a villainous force. In the past, this force turned people into stone, but the dragons led by Sisu united to form a magical gem and save them. Legend says that Sisu sacrificed herself in the process, but there are those who believe that she survived. The stone was later guarded by Raya’s clan. However, other clans stole it and broke it up into fragments. 

Filled with lively characters, striking imagery, and an unforgettable musical score,Raya and the Last Dragon is an action-adventure that will keep you glued to your seat and afterwards, start meaningful conversations with your kids. Inspired by different Southeast Asian cultures, the film builds an enthralling world of its own.  Raya is not your traditional princess, but a fierce female lead who learns courage, forgiveness, and trust amid grief. Truly a heart-warming and relevant tale for every generation.

While this is not an exhaustive list of movies we loved in 2021, we hope that you find a few gems here for your weekend viewing.

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