The worst of the worst is finally behind us (in terms of films, we mean), leaving us to finally focus on some of the brightest spots of the year! But first, a roundup of honourable mentions (in no particular order):
The Mitchells vs. The Machines
The Boy Behind The Door
Spider-Man: No Way Home
The Power of the Dog
Tick, Tick… Boom!
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
And we’re kicking things off with…
15 – NO TIME TO DIE
Don’t you just love it when you look forward to a movie for what feels like forever, and then it finally comes out after months and even years of delays, for it to be just as awesome as you had hoped? That’s exactly what happened with the 25th James Bond film, which concluded Daniel Craig’s run as 007 in the most spectacular and satisfying way possible.
Craig saved his best performance as the world’s most famous spy for last, in a film where his iteration of Ian Fleming’s character faced personal challenges like no other Bond before, executed with strong direction by Cary Joji Fukunaga who has a knack for delivering stylish and certifiably epic action, and punched up by a thoughtful script which introduces concepts that make this one of the fresher and more unpredictable entries in the entire series. More than ever, you feel for Bond as he goes on a far more personal journey than ever, leading to a shocking resolution that still has some people in disbelief (no spoilers, but suffice to say Daniel Craig is definitely not going to be reprising the role any time soon).
It was a Bond finale to remember, and a challenge for whoever takes on the role next to find ways in which he can easily outshine his perfect predecessor…
14 – SUPERNOVA
Colin Firth and Stanley Tucci’s real-life friendship strongly benefits their believable chemistry in Harry Macqueen’s devastatingly beautiful romance, which quietly but no less powerfully gives both actors some of their most emotionally-charged performances to date.
As a middle-aged couple travelling through the Lake District as a diagnosis of early-onset dementia begins to rapidly take over their lives, Firth and Tucci are outstanding as a perfectly balanced pair of lovers whose sexuality is never challenged nor made in any way an issue, and are given the freedom to give nuanced and heart-breaking turns without judgement or prejudice. It is remarkable in and of itself that Macqueen’s film was initially given as strong a theatrical campaign this year as some of the more major cinema releases like Peter Rabbit 2, because not only is it giving audiences a chance to be aware of the cinematic emotional power that is this film, but also by putting a same-sex romance drama firmly at the forefront of general releases it is strongly emphasising the normality of universal love, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
It’s a beautiful film that has been just as commendably been accepted by audiences, hopefully guaranteeing more films like this in the mainstream conversation…
13 – SHIVA BABY
The year’s most terrifying non-horror movie doesn’t sound like it’s particularly scary – a real-time black comedy set during a Jewish shiva event – but when you see it, you too will find yourself completely on edge the entire time.
A feature-length version of writer-director Emma Seligman’s short of the same name, we are trapped alongside weary family outcast Danielle (a perfectly wound-up Rachel Sennott) for the entire 77-minute runtime, as she is forced to endure intrusive relatives, bitter exes, and worst of all her secret sugar daddy who’s unexpectedly shown up with his wife and newborn. Seligman’s direction is nail-bitingly tense, always toying with audience’s expectations and even implementing the kind of horror score you’d hear in something like Hereditary, while never letting anyone’s guard down as the misunderstandings and awkward run-ins pile more and more on top of each other, until everything finally comes crashing down.
It’s a wildly intense ride, and absolutely one of the most unnerving experiences you’ll have all year – which is something you’d never expect out of a film set during a funeral reception…
12 – SUMMER OF SOUL (…OR, WHEN THE REVOLUTION COULD NOT BE TELEVISED)
During a summer with few festivals taking place, Roots frontman Questlove ensured that the party kept going, by taking us back fifty-plus years to an extraordinary event that only now are we finding out about.
Piecing together several hours’ worth of footage that had been sitting in storage since 1969, this immersive and fiercely jovial documentary showcases the Harlem Cultural Festival in all its glory, with astonishing live performances by Black artists like Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and many others celebrating the music and culture of late-60s Black America with glee. It’s a groovy journey through time that’s at once entertaining, but also sad that the event has since faded into obscurity by the powers that be.
Not anymore, if the strong reception of this film is anything to go by…
Summer of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised) is now available to stream on Disney+.
11 – THE HARDER THEY FALL
While Questlove’s Summer of Soul took us back to the 60s for a true cultural experience, fellow musician turned writer-director Jeymes Samuel took us back even further to the Old West, introducing the world to some very real Black figures in a fictional, yet highly entertaining, story that encompasses everything that’s cool about the Western.
The stellar ensemble cast including Jonathan Majors, Idris Elba, Lakeith Stanfield (as one of the year’s best characters, the cool-as-hell sharpshooter Cherokee Bill) and Oscar-winner Regina King are having an absolute blast playing on familiar Western conventions within a slick and stylish world that Samuel has created, complete with a fist-pumping soundtrack that amplified everyone’s natural charisma and screen presence, making the film an even more enjoyable experience. There’s also a great notion about having an all-Black Western exist in our stratosphere, surely setting up for plenty more diverse genre-bends in the future, which will hopefully raise the bar as much as this movie does.
Samuel’s movie proves that even a genre as rundown as the Western can be given an extra spark of life by the right talent and the right actors…