20 of The Best Films I Have Seen in 2021 + 10 Honourable Mentions – End of 2021 List – Part One

Hello All,

This year I set myself the challenge of engaging more with films – this should be a norm for me, but over the last few years, I haven’t to the degree that I wish I had during my time at university.

Over this last year I have watched exactly 135 new films, which is the most I have ever watched – also all of them are films that I have never seen before. You would be surprised at the amount of revered classics that I haven’t seen yet, which I am still yet to catch up to.

To conclude what has been a full year, I want to summarise everything that I have seen. It’s extremely difficult to create a list like this as it comes down to preferences and how you connect with a film. Like last time I want to include an honourable mentions list – there have been so many films and I want to at least honour the ones that I still love, but didn’t make it on the list. The original reviews will be linked in the list.

Also some of the films from the previous mid term list have been dropped and others moved into other lists – fresh eyes offer new perspectives so I wanted to reflect that.

As the post will be extremely long if I post it in its entirety, I will be splitting it into two – both will have five honourable mentions, and I will be counting down from number twenty to number eleven.

So with all that being said, let’s proceed – honourable mentions in no particular order.

Honourable Mentions

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Director: Werner Herzog

Studio: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Hessischer Rundfunk

Release Date: 1972

“The film depicts the savagery of the environment, which was mirrored by the real-life production as they struggled massively to achieve the film.”

The Falling

Director: Carol Morley

Studio: BBC Films, British Film Institute

Release Date: 2014

Poetic, surreal and haunting is the motion of fainting that will stay in your head long after the credits roll.”

Under the Shadow

Director: Babak Anvari

Studio: Wigwam Films

Release Date: 2016

“A suspenseful and terrifying experience, but also a demonstration of what makes horror so compelling.”


Director: Olivia Wilde

Studio: Annapurna Pictures, Gloria Sanchez Productions

Release Date: 2019

Olivia Wilde coming of age comedy populates a world with real, three-dimensional characters who never enter the cliché category at any point.”

I am not a Witch

Director: Rungano Nyoni

Studio: Kinology, Soda Pictures, Clandestine Films, unafilm, Film4, Quiddity Films

Release Date: 2017

“Beautifully realised in all aspects, from the direction, performance and cinematography – the film feels full of life, which seems ironic as we see people robbed of theirs.”

The List…

20. The Exorcist

Director: William Friedkin

Studio: Hoya Productions

Release Date: 1973

William Friedkin’s genre-defining classic still shocks and amazes in equal measures. It’s no surprise that this film holds up after nearly 50 years because so many of the thematic arguments presented are still relevant, from the crisis of faith to one’s relationship with religion. The performances across the board are legendary, a very young Linda Blair stealing the show as Regan – but all the supporting performances are incredible, which gives the story so much depth and life. The cut I watched missed some iconic imagery, so I may have to watch a different version. From the one I experienced, I feel that all the motivations, narratives and performances were coherent – and the main meditations of the story are consistent. It’s a classic for a reason – still to this day, it’s a benchmark for horror and films in the genre would do well to hold a candle to this mesmerising film. A must watch

19. The Green Knight

Director: David Lowery

Studio: Ley Line Entertainment, Bron Creative, Wild Atlantic Pictures, Sailor Bear

Release Date: 2021

David Lowery’s epic medieval fantasy drama sees Dev Patel play Gawain – the nephew of King Arthur, Gawain must set on a long journey to find the Green Knight, a year after accepting his challenge. The film explores the themes of self-actualisation, legacy and honour, which culminates within Gawain, who is played brilliantly by Patel. The way the film moves also feels like a visual poem with some magnificent visual moments that do take your breath away. The film is incredibly daring too, both in its narrative form but its creative choices, which lead to some compelling moments. The film is beautiful, compelling and memorable – it still has me thinking about certain moments. I highly recommend this film.

18. Oldboy

Director: Park Chan-wook

Studio: Show East

Release Date: 2003

A classic of South Korean cinema. A violent, heart-breaking and mesmeric portrayal of revenge and love. When Oh Dae-su is imprisoned on the day of his daughter’s fourth birthday, sealed hotel room for the next fifteen years he plots his revenge, until he’s… let go. He tracks down his captors, which leads to perhaps some of the most shocking twists seen in the last few decades, as it unwinds so does the violence, which leads to some of the most beautiful yet brutal scenes you’ll see. Not one for the faint-hearted, but a classic and a must-watch nonetheless.

17. Judas and the Black Messiah

Director: Shaka King

Studio: MACRO, Participant, Bron Creative, Proximity

Release Date: 2021

Daniel Kaluuya steals every scene as Fred Hampton, legendary revolutionary and Chairman of the Illinois Black Panther Party. The story revolves around an informant in the party as he’s under the thumb of the FBI as he committed a past crime. An incredible insight into the grassroots movement of the part and the length the FBI go to stop the movement and Fred Hampton. This film moves from inspiration to harrowing very quickly and it is an incredible portrait of an inspirational man. His influence is still felt to this day due to how his words have lived on. This is an incredibly well written and directed film and the cinematography is incredible as well.

16. Sound of Metal

Director: Darius Marder

Studio: Caviar, Ward Four, Flat 7 Productions

Release Date: 2020

Riz Ahmed shines in a story of a drummer who suddenly loses his ability to hear. In Darius Marder’s first film, he creates a narrative that centres on the sensations of losing something important but gaining something inexplicable. The sound design is incredible and deservedly won the Oscar, but the performances allow that to carry heft. What this film does best is illustrate the affliction without making it feel like a burden or a disability.

15. Spencer

Director: Pablo Larraín

Studio: Komplizen Film, Fabula, Shoebox Films, FilmNation Entertainment

Release Date: 2021

Kristen Stewart is incredible in Pablo Larraín’s historical drama. The film has more of a ghost story quality, as it goes from reality to dream states seamlessly, which creates the never-ending nightmare for Diana Spencer as the walls enclose on her. The film is beautifully shot and designed, which gives an almost horror edge that makes some of the sequences almost unbearable as the tension cranks up. Kristen Stewart’s lifelike performance relies on much more than mastering the accent and mannerisms – it focuses on embodying the character, which gives the portrayal more dimension instead of falling into caricature. Overall an incredible film, which I would highly recommend.

14. This is England

Director: Shane Meadows

Studio: Warp Films, FilmFour

Release Date: 2006

Shane Meadows’ coming of age drama depicts the skinhead movement in the early 80s and its subsequent infiltration by the far-right, all on the Thatcher backdrop. The story focuses on Shaun, a young boy who has lost his father in the Falkland’s war and how he comes to meet a group of skinheads lead by charismatic Woody. The group is then taken over, with Shaun being taken under the wing by the sociopathic and racist Combo, brilliantly played by Stephen Graham. The film is unflinching with its depiction of racism – none of which is softened, but what Meadows does so well is to show the original reason why the skinheads existed – as well as how the movement defined an era in British history. The performances across the board are mesmerising, and the humour is equally matched in shock and brutality. A brilliant film, which is worth your time and attention.

13. Mowgul Mowgli

Director: Bassam Tariq

Studio: Pulse Films, Left Handed Films, BBC Films, Cinereach, VICE Studios, RYOT Films, Silvertown Films

Release Date: 2020

Riz Ahmed plays British-Pakistani rapper ‘Z’ – an up and coming rapper who gets the chance to see his career take off with a supporting role on a rapper’s tour of America. Out of nowhere – he is struck down by a debilitating muscle disease that compromises his body. An introspective look into identity, generational traumas and religion. A hard film to put your finger on, but as it takes over – it flies with a verve, which comes from a powerhouse performance from Ahmed – who is emerging as one of the most diverse and incredible actors working today. This needs to be experienced over and over again. My first use of the BFI Player – an incredible service dedicated to the cinema – a must for any cinephile.

12. The King of Comedy

Director: Martin Scorsese  

Studio: Embassy International Pictures

Release Date: 1982

In terms of his quality, his back catalogue is one of the most consistent and impactful. I feel like this places him as one of our greatest ever directors. An uncontroversial opinion, but this is Scorsese’s best film. This absurd and realistic depiction of fame holds so much weight to this day it’s hard to believe it came out so long ago. Robert De Niro is on the form of his life as Rupert Pupkin, a failing comedian who decides to kidnap Jerry Lewis and hold him a ransom so that he can appear on his show.

11. Parasite

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Studio: Barunson E&A

Release Date: 2019

Bong Joon-ho’s meditation of social class is a gripping, funny and violent affair, which details the almost impossible nature of climbing the social ladder. This film is difficult to describe in such few words, but it is worth the watch and a bona fide masterpiece, which I think gets better as time goes on. Not only because of how remarkable the direction, writing and performances are, but how relevant it is in this current climate. A must watch.

This part of the list is a blend of films seen this year and other classics which have been impactful. That’s what the list is about – how the films made me feel. Some of the films on this list are jaw-dropping in their approach, but some more nuanced and patient, which works well for their respective stories.

Part two will be released soon; it’s a mixed bag – some of the films have been chopped and changed as I revisit and ponder what I have seen this year.

Stay safe, be present, enjoy things that you like,


Stills courtesy of FILMGRAB / Kiss Them Goodbye / Bluscreens.net / anothermag.com / Elevation Pictures / Movieclips Classic Trailers movienco.co.uk / screenmusings.com / Screen Goblin /commonsensemedia.org / NME / Joe’s Movie Blog / cultandexploitation.blogspot.com / fancaps.net / ingloriousbaguettes.com / starwarsscreencaps.com / boardchairman / animationscreencaps / forum.pixarpost.com / shattereddteacup / MyCenterMovie / disney.fandom.com / talkbass.com / indyweek.com / theguardian.com / echoartists

Published by Adam Shafi

Here's my work, ranging from films to essays. Hope you enjoy it!

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