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

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 extremly long if I post it in its entirety, I will be splitting into two – both will have five honourable mentions and I will be counting down from number ten to number one.

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

Honourable Mentions

Summer of Soul

Director: Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

Studio: Onyx Collective, Concordia Studio, Play/Action Pictures, LarryBilly Productions, Mass Distraction Media, RadicalMedia, Vulcan Productions

Release Date: 2021

“The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival was all but forgotten, lost for 50 years, unseen until now – it shows how important it is to archive these events, as some of the people in the documentary who attended believed the festival never happened.”

Palm Springs

Director: Max Barbakow

Studio: Limelight Productions, Lonely Island Classics, Sun Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment

Release Date: 2020

“A new spin on the time loop device, which focuses on the pointlessness of life until you’re trapped with someone else.”


Director: Sean Baker

Studio: Duplass Brothers Productions, Through Films

Release Date: 2015

“Sean Bakers’ raw and vibrant look at love, friendship and family has such a pace and energy.”

Phantom Thread

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Studio: Annapurna Pictures, Ghoulardi Film Company, Perfect World Pictures

Release Date: 2017

“Daniel Day-Lewis’ last performance is perhaps one of his finest.”

Battle Royale

Director: Kinji Fukasaku

Studio: Battle Royale Production Committee

Release Date: 2000

“Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale was a transcendent event in cinema, so much so that it has guided the way that entertainment has been shaped over the last decade.”

The List…

10. Raw

Director: Julia Ducournau

Studio: Petit Film, Rouge International, Frakas Productions, Ezekiel Film Production, Wild Bunch

Release Date: 2016

A coming of age film with cannibalism – what’s not to like. Following Justine, as she starts her first year at veterinary school – a hazing ritual sparks something in her, breeding a desire for flesh. An incredible rich film in regards to its depiction of maturation and how the characters grow and form. It’s unsurprisingly a very graphic film, which I think balances very, very well. I loved this film.

9. Solaris

Director: Steven Soderbergh  

Studio: Lightstorm Entertainment

Release Date: 2002

Steven Soderbergh’s adaptation of legendary director Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1971 Solaris distils the original epic in a way which many re-makes seem to miss in this day and age. What this film does in such a small amount of time is encapsulate what was so great about the original, it still wrestles with the lofty ideas of existence, belief and even depression in such a way, which could even be argued elevate the source material. Well worth a watch, this film and the original are massive markers in the genre

8. There Will Be Blood

Director: Paul Thomas Anderson

Studio: Ghoulardi Film Company, Scott Rudin Productions

Release Date: 2007

Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnum Opus sees Daniel Day-Lewis’ career defining performance as Daniel Plainview. A ruthless oil tycoon, who after striking it rich with silver invests in oil and goes on to become one of the most influential men in the oil business. A film that demands your undivided attention and repays in spades – it’s one of the true masterpieces of 21st century cinema. The exploration of religion and capitalism in the emerging United States is something to behold as the visual and audio arrest you and bring you in to the magnificent performances of Day-Lewis and Paul Dano, but also the peerless direction of Paul Thomas Anderson. A must watch for anyone.

7. Rashomon

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Studio: Daiei Film

Release Date: 1950

Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece tells the story of a group of people who discuses the events regarding the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife by a bandit. All recollections of the events are different and varied, which makes it naturally very difficult to trust any version of events, but the film is a moving portrait of the nature of humanity – the good and the bad and it has an almost ethereal quality of it which reads like a fairy tale. A truly stunning film, which has even had the phenomena named after it.

6. Morvern Callar

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Studio: Company Pictures

Release Date: 2002

Lynne Ramsay’s magnum opus, Morvern Callar is one of the most heart wrenching, poetic and remarkable British films which have been released over the last few decades, which when you take a look at Ramsay’s next film ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ and ‘You Were Never Really Here, seem to come to no surprise. In my opinion, Ramsay is one of the greatest living directors and any film of hers is an occasion. This film is a testament to it, when Samantha Morton’s Morvern Callar’s wakes up on Christmas her boyfriend has committed suicide, she along with her friend go travelling, there is so much more to this film than that, Morton gives her greatest ever performance, which is saying something. Heart-breaking, moving and a masterclass in filmmaking.

5. The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Director: Andrew Domnik    

Studio: Virtual Studios, Scott Free Productions, Plan B Entertainment

Release Date: 2007

A masterpiece in every aspect – a study of legend, fame and cowardice all methodical put together through incredible direction, cinematography and performance. An older Jesse James is placed on the back foot as he plans a heist – along with him are the titular Robert Ford and his brothers as anxiety, jealousy and tension build through the power dynamic of the legendary outlaw and his new gang members.

4. St Maud

Director: Rose Glass    

Studio: Escape Plan Productions, Film4 Productions, British Film Institute, A24

Release Date: 2020

Perhaps one of my new favourite films ever. An incredible portrait of a character emerging from trauma into loneliness while looking after a retired dancer. This film keeps you guessing to the very last frame – it’s a rich, textural film in terms of its visuals and score (which is incredible). Recently added to the Amazon Prime library – it’s an electrifying watch and well worth your time.

3. Crash

Director: David Cronenberg

Studio: The Movie Network, Telefilm Canada

Release Date: 1996

David Cronenberg’s adaptation of J.G Ballard’s novel of the same name explores a group of symphorophiliacs (people who are sexually aroused by car crashes). This is an extremely daring film – which explores the relationship between sex, violence and fetish in a way in which I have never seen before. Perhaps one of the most lauded films of the 90s for its originality and how it pushed further than the novel, according to J.G Ballard himself, Crash is a very challenging film to watch with how it looks into its subject matter, but it’s truly an extraordinary film to behold and David Cronenberg at the peak of his powers. Just like this film, his back-catalogue is also exceptional, The Fly and The Brood being just a couple – a classic and a must-watch for any cinephile.

2. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Director: Céline Sciamma

Studio: Lilies Films, Arte, Hold Up Films

Release Date: 2019

An absolute masterclass in every conceivable aspect. This was the last film I saw this year and I could not have ended it any better, I think about this film a lot and I’m still in awe. Céline Sciamma’s breathtaking exploration into the female gaze is set within 18th Century Brittany and centres on the relationship between painter and subject, but that describes one of many layers to the film. The love story which unfolds is performed perfectly, which unfolds as subject is being told that once the portrait will be finished she will be marrying an nobleman. The relationship between the artist and muse is surgically dissected with precision without feeling cold. The inevitability of the period and circumstance doesn’t soften the devastating outcome, which is perhaps on of the very best films I have ever seen. It’s a masterclass in filmmaking and shows how important Sciamma is to the art of filmmaking.

1. Ran

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Studio: Herald Ace, Nippon Herald Films, Greenwich Film Productions

Release Date: 1985

One of my personal favourite films now. Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece translates Shakespeare’s King Lear to feudal Japan to create a film that reminds you why cinema exists. An action laced politically charged story which gets more and more chaotic as a whole country teeters on the brink of war. An absolute masterclass in the art form from one of the greats of cinema. Kurosawa was 75 when he made this – his eyesight was failing, he nearly took his own life. This was supposed to be his last film, but he made more after this and cinema wouldn’t be the same because of directors like him. Ran is truly a great and important film in the landscape. A goosebump-inducing film that knocked me out.

To summarise, it’s been an incredible year for me concerning films – having watched so many masterpieces – I hope to take this into my work. I look to grow as an artist, but overall, I just really enjoyed engaging with the art form that has given so much to me.

Going back to the cinema after such a long time was a special moment. The cinema is such a communal experience, which I have missed that a lot. I will continue the film list next year – so I’m hoping to top the amount I have watched this year, although I think it’s impossible as so of the films were seen during lockdown – maybe 100 will suffice.

Thank you for reading my posts for 2021 – I appreciate the support, I hope you keep reading in 2022. I’m hoping to have a few surprises along the way.

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!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: