Returning to a new normal in cinema: 2021’s top 5 films

Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr.

2021 was the year of audiences slowly but surely returning to cinemas to enjoy films in a theatrical format, on top of streaming services becoming more viable and acceptable for new movie releases and audience enjoyment. It’s become clear that audiences are willing to exchange the big screen experience for safety, as we all carefully watch the development of our almost post-apocalyptic world.

While the list below is personal, I have also tried to take into account the importance the following five films of 2021 have on critical, creative and financial progress in our current media and pop culture zeitgeist.

The first film that requires mentioning is “Dune,” an adaptation that was deemed impossible for decades but finally saw the light of day a little over a month ago. This was one of those films released simultaneously in theaters and on streaming, and its release showcased that audiences were willing to return to theaters for a spectacle, which this film most certainly was.

The film itself was a fantastic adaptation of its source material, as well as just a beautiful film in its own right, both visually and narratively. A lot of people enjoyed this adventure from home, and while the experience is definitely more incredible on the big screen, the magic of Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack, Denis Villeneuve’s directing and Greig Fraser’s cinematography is not lost on even the smallest of screens.

For fans of the production house A24 and weird indie movies — two things I am a huge fan of — “The Green Knight” was a dream come true. Another adaptation, this time of an Arthurian legend, that somewhat divided critics and audiences, showed that filmmakers and studios are still willing to experiment and that audiences are willing to give those experiments a fair chance.

Fantasy storytelling is currently in a modern renaissance, and creative endeavors like the one David Lowery achieved with “The Green Knight” are needed if fantasy wants to develop as a genre. Furthermore, works like these help us move above and beyond the thinking that everything is either the next “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones.”

Animation is often quite underappreciated when it comes to films, typically being thought of as only made for children, and that is why it is very important for me to mention the animated movie “The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” one of the best science-fiction comedies I have ever had the pleasure to watch, and definitely the best one of this year.

Not only does this Mike Rianda film — in Rianda's feature directorial debut — succeed in its animation and science fiction endeavors, it also manages to give its audiences a beautiful family story perfect for all ages.

As a huge fan of horror and Edgar Wright, it would be criminal if I did not mention his latest film “Last Night in Soho,” a film that might have divided the critics but proved to me that Wright is definitely the most interesting working director today, as well that he is still learning and developing as an artist.

The final film I will mention is “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” a film that proves that the “Marvel Cinematic Universe” is not stuck in place and is in fact growing in more diverse and engaging directions.

All of these movies are extremely different from one another, showing that this year was fantastic for film and that COVID-19 did not stop the industry, but only made its hunger for creativity stronger.